The following article was contributed by Bill S in NY state
This is a big topic to cover, so I will break it down into a series of articles, to make it manageable. This article covers basic terms and facts so you can learn enough to make wise choices when starting your new flock.
Having your own chickens is a great way to supplement your food supply and to increase your food security. Even if you only have them for the eggs, you will have the peace of mind to know that should times get hard, you always have the option of butchering them for meat. In many situations, though, it is usually a little more expensive to raise and butcher your own, then it is to buy packaged chicken at the store. But, meat you have raised yourself will be fresher and usually healthier than most store bought meats. Even if there is a large scale contamination problem arising from store bought meat someday, your own food supply will probably not be affected, as long as you take some precautions, which I will discuss later on.
Important Things to Know Before You Start Raising Your Own Chickens
They will need you to provide feed and suitable housing year round, so they can remain healthy and productive. Keeping them restricted to your own property is a must and can be challenging, since chickens can fly, after a fashion. Flying up to and over a 6-foot-tall fence, for most chickens, is not a problem, but finding their way back over it to your property, without help, and before it gets dark, may be expecting too much of them. Chickens are almost blind at night. You may need to go round them up and help them find a way back to your yard. Limiting noise and odors and providing sanitation are vital unless you live in a very rural area. While some neighbors may welcome a rooster crowing early on a Sunday morning, most will not.
Unless you have someone who is willing to take care of them twice a day when you are not there, going on a vacation or staying away from home is difficult to do. Chickens, like any livestock, need to be cared for 7 days a week, rain or shine, summer and winter. Predators will quickly know where to find a good meal and, at some point, you will most likely lose some birds to them. But there are ways to keep this to a minimum.
Any animal that eats meat, loves a dead chicken.
Predatory animals can vary with your location, time of day and season. The main culprits are hawks, owls, fox, raccoon and can include your neighbor’s dog. It is just something you should be aware of from the beginning. You will, most likely, at some point, have need to kill an injured or sick bird quickly. This usually means a firearm, which can be a concern for some – especially if you have small children.
Another thought is bio security.
With the Avian Flu that is infecting so many these days, you must be able to limit the people who are allowed to have access to the chickens. Especially other people who raise chickens.
It is a good practice to leave a pair of rubber boots to be used only in the chicken’s area. This way you won’t bring in unwanted disease into the chicken’s area and you won’t track in manure or disease into your home.
Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling the chickens or any equipment used in their care. Keep feeders and watering equipment clean and pay attention to the birds so you will notice signs of injury or illness quickly and keep loss to a minimum.
How to Keep a Low Profile when Raising Chickens
You should make sure you are allowed to raise chickens where you live.
I would first look around and see who, if anyone is keeping a flock. (A flock can be any number of birds) I would use caution asking town officials if you are allowed to keep chickens. If they say “no”, you will then be on their radar. Most towns will allow you to keep at least a few chickens as long as you keep it clean and quiet. I find it best to ask for forgiveness rather than beg for permission. But use your judgement.
Chickens come in almost any imaginable color, so if you do not want to advertise, look for birds in subdued colors, like the one’s below.
If you want to be even more discreet about raising chickens, you may be able to put your coop inside a kids play set or hide it in a shed or even a large dog house. Making it look like an old hot tub may work too.
You can make just part of it hidden, too. Like under a porch but with an enclosed run in the open. If you use shrubs in the corners, you can string thin wire mesh between the shrubs for a run. It shouldn’t be very noticeable. Put some lawn furniture around it, maybe. Some people have built them partly underground even. Just remember to give them a way to run above ground as much as you can. They shouldn’t live locked away in a shed all the time.
Examples of Discreet Coop Designs
Here are some examples of coops that would stay under the radar:
Keeping Your Flocks Under-the-Radar
You can raise just hens (females) for eggs and go unnoticed by most people if you are discreet. Including a rooster (male) in your flock will make a lot of noise and announce his presence to the world. The positives are that they will guard the flock or at least warn them (and you) of danger, as they perceive it.
But, they can be loud and aggressive, even towards larger animals and people. Having more than one rooster in a small flock can lead to fighting that may leave one or both injured or dead. If you want to keep under the radar, because you are worried about hungry neighbors
stealing them or using force against you or your family to acquire food, or if you might be going against town regulations by keeping chickens, then a loud rooster might not be a good idea. Discretion rarely goes unrewarded.
But, if you plan to have a self-sustaining flock, meaning a new generation of chicks each spring, then a rooster is a necessity unless you want to butcher the flock before winter sets in and then buy new chicks in the spring. Hatching eggs and raising chicks can require some special equipment and knowledge plus time and work. You may want to get used to raising mature birds for a while first before jumping into that.
Important Facts about Keeping Chickens
- The color of an egg has no bearing on how nutritious it is or how it tastes. All other factors being equal, they are the same. Different breeds lay different color eggs. In the early 20th century, most people thought that a white egg represented a more “farm fresh” or “natural” egg.
Today, the brown egg is the fashion. Eggs come in many colors like dark brown, speckled, blue/green and others. The only factors that effect taste and nutrition is the diet and health of the hen.
- “Chicken wire” fencing is not good to use when building your coop. It is too flimsy and will not keep out any predator and can trap the head of a chicken accidentally. Use hardware cloth. You can get it with different size mesh and it is much stronger.
- When making “hard boiled” eggs, using a slightly older egg will make peeling the shell off easier. As the egg ages, the albumin, the clear, runny liquid in the egg, pulls back a bit from the inside of the shell and when boiled will make getting the shell off easier.
- Fresh eggs have a GoreTex like membrane covering the egg to allow the egg to “breathe” and keep moisture out. Once you wash it though, you wash the membrane away.
- Chickens use the same orifice (called the “vent”) for defecating and laying an egg. Urine and feces are excreted from the vent together. Chickens do not have a separate orifice for urinating.
- Chickens absolutely love meat of any kind
- Gardening and raising chickens are a perfect combination but chickens should not be let loose in your garden while it is growing, they will destroy it.
- If you are concerned about ticks and Lyme Disease, get a few Guinea fowl. They LOVE ticks and will keep your property almost tick free. They can be kept with chickens and will not destroy your garden like chickens, because they do not scratch at the ground or peck your veggies. The hens also lay some eggs, which are very good to sell to restaurants, but will not lay as many as chickens. But, they make great “watch dogs” for your property as they will sound the alarm when any intruder (human or animal) is near. Their alarm call sounds like they are hollering the word “buckwheat”. They love to look at themselves in a mirror. Guinea fowl are low maintenance, too. They will tend to fly higher and range father than chickens do. If you need to keep them away from prying eyes, they may not be for you.
- Ducks are also great for eating bugs in the garden and will not damage anything, unlike chickens. Plus, they are very weather resistant and tolerate cold well, usually. But, they are messy and take more maintenance than chickens or guinea fowl.
All of the poultry you read about today will help keep you and your family a little healthier, safer And more secure.