Sunday, October 24, 2010

Raising Chickens for Eggs

Springfield just recently passed ordinance that allows residence to raise up to 6 chickens for egg production-no roosters allowed. There is just nothing like a good fresh egg for breakfast! There are so many good reasons to raise your own chickens for eggs. However, chickens are not low maintenance critters.

First, let me say that I have never raised chickens in the city. We allowed our chickens to free range when we lived in the country. The chickens had about 5 acres to roam over to gather bugs and just generally be chickens. We did coop them up at night and in really nasty weather. We allowed our chickens to stay on a natural cycle of day light and dark. We only left a light on in the coop for warmth on really bitter nights.

Having given that disclaimer, raising chickens is fun and we still miss them. The eggs had a wonderful taste and had a much richer, deep yellow yolk. Since we free ranged our chickens, cleaning the coop was only a weekly job. We had hay in the coop floor and then composted the hay and droppings.

Starting a new chicken coop in the winter months may be more of a challenge than the average urbanite will be willing to undertake. Unless you are starting with full grown laying hens, spring is really the best time to start a new coop. Chicks do not tolerate even moderately cool temperatures. If you start them in the fall or winter, there will be lots of work involved in keeping them warm.

Also, egg production is a function of the amount of light available to the chicken. So production will naturally fall off in the fall and winter, and then increase again in the spring. If you are going to fool the chickens and leave the lights on in the coop to increase production, you might as well just by your eggs from the store. Now is the time to gather information, understand the ordinance and all its nuances and gather your supplies. Starting your new chicken project in the spring makes so much sense.

Coops are one of the most important aspects of raising your hens. You can easily make your own coop; there are several good designs on the internet. Here is just one example: . Another option is a chicken tractor which is a portable coop. We started with a chicken tractor, but then added ducks and guinea hens to our growing chicken brood. They quickly out grew the tractor space. But a chicken tractor is a great idea if you have any interest in letting your chickens safely free range your yard. This link will show you a couple of designs:

Pre-made coops are also widely available. Hostetler Feed and Farm Supply in Buffalo, Missouri has a nice supply of hand made coops. It is worth the drive to check them out. The Amish Furniture and bulk store in Branson also has some small coops. These are only two of the many places around Springfield to purchase your coop.

You will have to feed your chickens in the winter months when there are no bugs to eat. In the summer, you can back off on the feed a bit and let the chickens eat bugs and greens. Your chickens will always love fresh green when they are available. Thinned garden plants and any grubs that we found while gardening always went to the chickens. We always tossed a little calcium supplement to keep the shells strong. Fresh water is an absolute must, as is fresh bedding.

As you can see, this is rapidly becoming a big project. You will need to have a place to store the chicken feed that will keep the rodents out. A place to store the bedding to keep it dry will be needed. And a plan for changing the bedding and what to do with the waste is essential before you start. Be sure to keep abreast of the rules regarding waste composting and disposal. At this point there are limits on how much waste can be composted.

Be honest with your self if raising chickens is for you. If you decide that the answer is yes, you are in for a great treat. Once you get into a routine with the chickens, the rewards are great. Fresh eggs that are generally higher in folic acid and lower in cholesterol than store bought eggs. Plus you are in charge of what your chickens eat or donĂ¢€™t eat. It is rewarding to know that there are no antibiotics in your morning scramble.

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