Whether you’re an experienced farmer with two hundred acres of land or a suburban landowner with just a few feet of space, raising chickens is an easy, fun process. It requires very little land, expense, and time, with the amazing turnaround of dozens of eggs and pounds of meat. However, it can be tough for a beginning chicken farmer to collect all of the information necessary upfront.
When you’re first starting out, you’ll need to consider the following questions.
How much space do I have? Chickens need, on average, about two square feet of space apiece in order to develop properly and prevent aggression. If you live in a crowded area or don’t have much acreage, you’ll need to consider this when designing your coop.
Do I want to raise birds for meat or eggs? It is rare for chicken farmers to raise birds solely for egg production, as most modern breeds are able to be eaten as well. However, deciding whether you want to raise birds for one purpose only (versus purchasing and raising a dual purpose breed) will impact coop size and structure, feed, and other important decisions.
Do I want to free-range my birds? If you plan on free-ranging, make sure you examine local zoning laws. Some areas do not allow animals to roam freely. If you have close neighbors or live in a suburban area, free ranging might not be an option. The existence of predator species may also have an impact.
Can I have roosters? Many residential areas do not allow roosters because of the noise they produce. If this is the case, you will have to purchase all of your chicks as started, day-old birds. Your hens will still produce eggs, but they will not be fertilized. A rooster is needed to produce fertilized eggs.
Do I want to keep birds over the winter months? If you live in a cool climate, this is a decision you will need to make. Winter weather will impact your coop design, feeding plan, and egg production.
How much work am I willing to do myself? Although chickens are arguably the most low-maintenance type of livestock, there is some work involved. The more chickens you have—and maintain throughout the entire year—the more work you will need to do. At a bare minimum, you will need to feed, water, and clean your chickens and their shelter daily, weekly, or monthly (depending on your specific set-up). If you raise meat birds, you’ll also need to factor in butchering and processing. Depending on your schedule, certain breeds, quantities, or types of birds may not be right for you.
At the end of the day, raising chickens is a worthwhile opportunity that helps to improve your overall health and contribute to a sustainable environment. They provide boundless enjoyment and are a great introduction to farming for any beginning homesteader.
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