So you are tired of paying a fortune for eggs and you don’t even know if the hens are actually free range or just not in cages but still indoors – now you want to keep your own chickens and enjoy fresh eggs every day. It’s not hard to raise chickens but there are a few things you must realize. This tutorial will cover the basics.
Chickens need a protected “house” called a coop which usually has roosting spaces and nest boxes. Since their ancestors used to rest in trees, as do most birds, they need a sort of very wide ladder to perch on at night. They will use their nest boxes to lay eggs in and you need about 1 box for every 5 hens. If you train them correctly (not difficult) they will go to their coop every evening by themselves and you can just lock them up and let them out in the morning.
I prefer mash (finely ground maize, soya and other ingredients) and chicken feed comes in pellets too but for young chicks you need chick starter mash. As they get older their feeds are supplemented with extra calcium. Bear in mind that you don’t need to worry about calcium as much with free range hens because sunlight is excellent for calcium production. It’s the poor things stuck in cages 24/7 that suffer from lack of nutrients and get stuffed with an assortment of things to help them be healthy. It’s also a good idea to get special waterers because they could knock over bowls or get them filthy very quickly so waterers help prevent this. Chickens drink a lot of water so never let them go thirsty.
Chickens are creatures of habit and territory. I once had 2 Blue Leghorns who used to sleep in one of the outside rooms. I later got more chickens and these new chickens refused point blank to sleep with the 2 Blue Leghorns in the coop. I had to build a separate temporary coop in the evening in the middle of winter for the new chickens. Then when I wanted to move them to the new structure I erected they wouldn’t leave their old spot. Eventually after much manipulation and chasing and drama I managed to get them to go to where I needed them to go and that problem was solved.
Egg laying typically starts at about 20 – 30 weeks but it could be earlier or later. The eggs start out small and get bigger as the hens get older. Even if you provide nestboxes the hens may still find other places in your backyard to lay so keep an eye out for surprises. Once we found 20 eggs that they had been hiding. A rooster is not needed for egg production. If you do have a rooster fertilizing some of the eggs they are exactly the same as normal eggs and you won’t notice any difference in taste or appearance but keep them in the fridge to completely halt development of the embryo, just to be on the safe side.
The best breeds are hardy indigenous breeds like Rhode Island Red, Boschveld, Leghorn, Potch Koekoek and Wyandotte to name just a few but there are many different breeds.