Our August 2016 issue features a guide to homesteading, including hydroponics, foraging, composting, bee keeping, alpaca herding, and a myriad of other ways to get your hands good and dirty.
So you’re thinking backyard hens. Chickens make a good case for themselves: They’re smart and personable; they deliver eggs at very little cost; and they can be an important part of a sustainable backyard system—consuming table scraps, pooping out fertilizer, eating bugs. Some even like to cuddle with their people. But ditch any ideas of a low-maintenance pet: They need a clean and sturdy coop, fresh water daily, a varied diet, and good ventilation. Every night they need to be locked in securely. The happiest hens have access to the yard, where they can take dirt baths and peck around.
Megan Ayers keeps hens in her Sayler Park backyard, where her birds wander, dust-bathe, and loll on the grass and in the shade. She started in 2013 with four, purchased online from My Pet Chicken, but her menagerie has grown to include heritage breeds like Blue Andalusians, Black Australorps, and Barred Rocks.
How does a chicken novice turn semi-pro? Ayers recommends Carleen Madigan’s The Backyard Homestead as a study guide, and websites such as The Chicken Chick and Fresh Eggs Daily. Before opening her coop, she says, “I consulted these (and other reputable) websites—mostly if I thought I was making an error—and I read a lot before I got them.”
The research doesn’t stop there. “The very first thing any potential chicken (rancher) should do is find out if their city allows it,” she says. “Good neighbor laws.” (The City of Cincinnati allows hens but not roosters, requires that the coop be cleaned daily to minimize smells, and codifies manure disposal.)
Problems a chicken owner should be aware of? “(Hens) are delicious,” Ayers says. “And lots of predators like to eat them.”
→Secure the coop with hardware cloth or other sturdy mesh to keep out predators–and don’t use chicken wire.
→Provide shade and room to dust–bathe, as well as a roosting bar.
→Add a few drops of apple cider vinegar to their water to prevent algae and promote healthy digestion, and learn natural remedies for scaly leg mites (e.g., lavender/garlic spray).
→Get ready to cuddle: Baby chicks need a lot of attention (and readily take to being handled).
→Don’t over–crowd your birds.