One of the many benefits of living in the country is having space on your property to care for horses and farm animals. Sure, we all love dogs and cats, but for some of us this isn’t enough. That’s why acreage living is so appealing…you have room for all your animal friends!
These days, one of the most popular animals we see acreage owners gravitating towards is chickens. Caring for chickens on your property can be a fun and rewarding activity for the entire family (and the endless supply of farm fresh eggs isn’t too bad either).
Thinking about starting a backyard coop of your own? Let’s look at what you need to consider before you begin raising chickens on your acreage.
First things first, why should you even raise chickens in the first place? Well as mentioned, the endless supply of delicious farm fresh eggs is an absolute joy. There is nothing better than the sound and smell of frying up an egg that was laid just outside your door earlier that morning. Truly one of the finer things in life!
In addition to providing fresh eggs, chickens also make for wonderful gardening companions. They are natural insect repellant, as chickens love to root up pests in the soil for a tasty treat. They also love to eat weeds out of the garden, and all their pecking and walking naturally aerates garden soil.
And if that weren’t enough, chickens of course provide an endless supply of manure that can be added to your compost pile, and eventually used as a healthy additive to your gardening soil.
The Prep Work
Before you begin with backyard chickens, there is some work you’ll need to do to ensure they have a safe home on your property. First off, you’ll need to decide on the number of birds you wish to keep, as this will affect all your other decisions. Chickens are social creatures, so you definitely want to be sure to keep at least three or four birds (if not many more).
When deciding how many birds to keep, consider that each chicken will require about 2 square feet of coop space (so 10 birds would require a coop at least 20x20ft.).
Speaking of coops, another decision you’ll need to make is where and how you’ll build one. For those looking for something easier and/or more elaborate, there are plenty of pre-fabricated options that you can have delivered right to your home. But you definitely do not need anything fancy. A simply shed structure built using 2×4’s and plywood can totally work fine too. Just be sure to leave enough room for the birds to roost comfortably, enough space for you to come in to collect the eggs, and enough ventilation for the chickens to breathe.
In addition to their coop, your backyard chickens will need an outdoor space to roam freely. While you may envision allowing your birds to be truly “free range”, keep in mind that chickens have many natural predators (even your lovable dogs inside the house). Thus for their own safety, it’s best you create a chicken run using poultry wire. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant; just a place where chickens can roam protected, and stretch their wings away from the coop.
Choosing the Right Breeds
With your coop and chicken run ready to go, it’s time to think about the breeds of chicken you’d like to raise. No one knows for sure, but it’s estimated that there are several hundred breed of chicken worldwide, each one with unique features and unique considerations you’ll want to make before deciding if they’re the right breed for you.
Here’s a look at some of the most popular breeds for backyard chickens:
As the name suggests, these chickens originally hail from Australia, and are a great choice for any backyard chicken enthusiast. They lay approximately 250 eggs per year, and are great at foraging for their own food. Plus they are very hearty birds, making them ideal for rough Canadian winters.
These beautiful birds come in a variety of shades, and lay upwards of 200 eggs per year. These chickens tend to be quite friendly, and for those with children in the house, this is a must! However beware that their friendly demeanor and lighter shades mean that they are easier targets for predators, so ensure you have a secure coop and chicken run ready!
Another common and proven bird for backyard flocks, the Plymouth Rock chicken is one of the most popular choices for a variety of reasons. They come in a variety of colours, all of which are beautiful to look at. They are very calm and hardy birds. And they lay upwards of 280 eggs per year. What’s not to love?
Of course, this is just a small sample of the available options for backyard chickens. Your best strategy is to talk with someone local who already raises their own chickens, and get a feel for which breeds have worked best for them. And remember that you can always introduce new birds later on. So just pick a breed or two and get started!
Raising Your Chicks
Now that you’ve decided on a breed(s), it’s time to start raising your chickens. If you’re starting with adult chickens, they can be moved immediately into your newly constructed coop. However, if you plan to start with baby chicks, you’ll need to make some special considerations.
Like any baby animal, chicks require a lot of attention and special care at the beginning. To start, you’ll need to plan on housing yours in a brooder; a special heated enclosure for poultry. You can buy a pre-made brooder from most local farm supply stores, or simply create one yourself. The brooder should be small enough to keep chicks contained near the heat source, yet large enough where they can move away from the heat slightly if they get too warm.
Speaking of heat, you’ll need to provide a heat lamp to keep the chicks warm during their time in the brooder. A 250-watt infrared bulb suspended 18 inches above the chicks should do just fine. You want the heat to be intense enough where the litter at the bottom of the brooder (2-3 inches of wood shavings) feels warm to the touch.
In addition to the heat source and litter, you’ll need to include a small trough for chick feed (which you can buy online or at the store), as well as a fresh water source. Chicks will exist on this feed until about 6-8 weeks or age, which is when they’ll be ready to graduate to the adult hen house.
Note: while chickens are wonderful backyard friends, they are known to carry diseases, including salmonella. Be extra careful in the handling of your chicks when they’re young, as their immune systems have not yet developed, and they are more likely to spread germs to humans. Always wash your hands thoroughly after handing your poultry.
Collecting the Eggs
By 20 weeks, most chicken breeds are ready to begin laying eggs. You can train your birds to lay their eggs in the desired location by placing an egg-shaped object in the nest ahead of time, as hens feel safest laying their eggs where other “eggs” have been laid.
You should plan to collect eggs twice a day during peak laying season (generally the warmer months). In the morning, plan to retrieve eggs before 10am, starting with any visible ones, and then finishing up by lifting any hens that may be sitting on top of their morning egg.
As soon as you collect your eggs, be sure to give them a thorough wash. As mentioned, chicken are known to carry diseases, so you want to be sure eggs are nice and clean before spending any time in your kitchen. After their wash, you may cool and store your eggs as you normally would.
The Joy of Backyard Chickens
Raising chickens on your acreage is a lot of work, but is most certainly rewarding. I mean, what’s not to love? Raising chickens means you always have a lively group of friends to entertain you, a great gardening partner at your disposal, and a lovely source of morning protein every single day.
For those thinking about taking the leap into backyard chickens, we hope this guide gives you a better idea as to what you’ll need to do to get started. And of course if you’re still looking for that perfect acreage to call home, I’d love to help you find a place for your future coop!