Starting Your Own Backyard Flock? Here Are Some Things You Should Consider

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Owning your own backyard flock of chickens is very popular. If you are thinking about starting your own backyard flock, there are some things you may want to consider. First, consider why you want chickens, for what purpose. There are many reasons why people own chickens. You may want to collect your own fresh eggs, have them on the supper table one evening, or help control pests, or insects in your yard. Having chickens may remind you of times when you visited your grandparents’ farm when you were younger. Some people raise chickens as pets and some raise show birds. Determining why you want birds before you start will help you select the type of breed that fits your needs best.

There are many different chicken breeds for you to choose from. When considering the breed or breeds you would like to own, you need to consider the size of the bird, the temperament of the birds, and their adaptability to our climate. In addition, you need to know how much area you have in your backyard that you are willing to devote to chickens. Oklahoma State University’s Department of Animal Science has an online listing of breeds of chickens. It includes a brief history of that breed, characteristics, uses, and other useful information to help you determine which breed is best for you. The website for this resource is http://www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/poultry/chickens/chickens.html.

There are two sizes of chickens:  standard, or large fowl, and bantams. Bantams are one-fourth size of the standard bird. When considering the size of bird for your backyard flock, think about how many birds you would like to have and the size of the space you have available for birds. You should allow a minimum of 2.5 to 3.5 square feet of space in the coop per bird, with an additional 4 to 5 square feet per bird in the fenced yard area. Keep in mind that low-density housing can be less stressful on the birds. You will also want a fenced area for your birds for their protection.

You can start your flock in a variety of ways. You can purchase eggs to incubate, day old chicks, 18-22 week old pullets (young female hens), or mature hens. Chicks that are started in the fall (October or November) or pullets from late fall started chicks will be more productive as laying hens in their first year than chicks started in early spring. When purchasing chicks, you want to make sure they come from National Poultry Improvement Program (NPIP) Certified Flocks.

Caring for your flock is very important. Care includes nutrition, health, and housing. Sanitary conditions are a must. Animals must have access to fresh, clean water and fresh, dry food daily. Grit is also needed for any bird that is consuming large particle sized feeds such as grass, weeds, grain, or kitchen scraps. All laying hens should have access to a separate container of crushed oyster shell as well. You can provide access to scratch, which is typically corn, but you should do so sparingly. Be sure to choose the right feed ration for the type and age of bird being fed. For laying hens, you will start with a starter feed for the young chicks, followed by grower feed, then developer feed, and finally layer feed.

Many health problems in your flock can be prevent by proper management and excellent sanitation. Be sure to have biosecurity measures as part of your management plan. Biosecurity is important as a means to stop the spread of diseases and is as simple wearing a designated pair of shoes when feeding or being around your chickens. Do not wear the same shoes that you tend to your chickens with to the feed store. Other ways to help keep your flock healthy is to isolate new birds, sick birds, or birds returning from shows isolated for 30 days, keep birds confined to an area using coops or fencing and especially keep them away from farm ponds, and wash your hands.

Chicken coops for egg laying chickens needs to have at least one nesting box for every four to five birds. Each bird also needs approximately six to ten inches of roosting space per bird. The roost needs to be higher than the nesting boxes or you will find the hens will roost in the nesting boxes. Coops need to be well ventilated. One wall, typically the south wall, should be left open. Once the birds are feathered out, they only need protection from the wind and rain.

One final piece of information you need to know is that backyard poultry owners must register their flock with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. This registration is only required to aid in the state’s preparation for a possible highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak. As you may remember, last year there was a ban on the sell and transport of live poultry.

If you have any questions about starting or managing a backyard flock, contact Sara Drake, Davidson County Livestock Agent, at 336-242-2082. For more information regarding N.C. Cooperative Extension, call the Davidson County Extension Office at 336-242-2080.