In today’s post, I am featuring a guest author Chris Lesley who has been raising backyard chickens for over 20 years and is a poultry expert running the Chickens & More website. She has a flock of 11 chickens (including 3 Silkies) and is currently teaching people all around the world how to raise, keep and care for healthy chickens. You will learn the benefits of raising backyard chickens (they goes beyond the nutritious eggs) and how to get started with acquiring and raising your own chooks.
Those with a background in chicken keeping know not only how fun raising backyard chickens is but also how beneficial keeping them can be. One of the biggest health benefits of keeping backyard chickens is the delicious and nutritious eggs that they lay. And believe it or not, eggs from backyard chickens are actually healthier than store-bought eggs.
However, the benefits of keeping backyard chickens extend beyond eggs. Below is an overview guide to starting with your own chickens for eggs, including just a few of the many health benefits of keeping a backyard flock. For more detailed information, check out Chris’ complete guide to raising chickens here.
Health Benefits of Raising Chickens for Eggs
They Provide Companionship
One of the most obvious health benefits of keeping backyard chickens is the companionship they provide. Although most people would probably identify a dog or cat as a companion animal, chickens make equally wonderful pets. They are not only extremely social creatures but most breeds also thoroughly enjoy human interaction. Scientific studies have shown that chickens are even capable of recognizing emotion and are very empathetic as well, making them a great companion.
Irena: My friends recently got a few chickens for their backyard and every time we meet, they tell me about all the fun interactions they’ve been having. They really do talk of them as their pets or babies, it is very sweet.
They Help Reduce Anxiety
Although dogs are the most common therapy animals, there has been a recent surge in popularity of therapy chickens. The reason for this is that chickens are known for being excellent support animals and have a calming effect that is said to help reduce anxiety. Those with therapy chickens cite their vocalizations and funny behaviour as being helpful in relieving anxiety and lessening the severity of anxiety attacks.
They Give a Sense of Purpose
Chickens are not overly difficult to care for, but they do require daily care including coop maintenance. Keeping backyard chickens for eggs necessitates daily checks on the birds to ensure they have enough food and water and are in good health.
Because of their daily requirements, keeping backyard chickens provides a lot of owners with a sense of purpose and responsibility. For many backyard chicken owners, these birds give them another reason to get out of bed and do something fun and productive.
They Lay More Nutritious Eggs
One of the best health benefits of raising your own chickens comes from the eggs themselves. Although it might not seem like it, eggs from backyard chickens are actually much healthier than the eggs bought in cartons at the grocery store.
Various scientific studies have found that eggs from backyard chicken contain between two and three times more omega-3 fatty acids than store-bought eggs. For those with concerns over dietary cholesterol will be glad to hear that home-raised chicken eggs contain less than one-third the cholesterol of store-bought eggs.
Irena: I was curious to find out how long it takes for your newly acquired chickens to start laying eggs. I asked my friends who got two chickens for their backyard at the age of about 8-10 weeks and their first eggs appeared 10 weeks later. This will depend on the environment, the type of chicken, how young they were when you got them and so on. Generally, a chicken will start laying at 18 weeks of age; and, typically you’re looking at one egg per hen per day.
How to Raise Backyard Chickens for Eggs
Research Local Laws Beforehand
Before deciding to raise chickens for eggs, it’s important to remember that the laws and regulations concerning backyard chicken ownership can vary not just by state but even by city. Very few cities allow the ownership of roosters. Some cities will only allow backyard chickens to be kept if they are housed a certain distance away from houses and neighbouring residences. Other cities will limit the number of birds that can be kept at once or may prohibit the ownership of chooks entirely.
Because these rules and regulations vary so much from place to place, it’s crucial to do lots of research ahead of time to avoid getting into a predicament later on.
Irena: For my Australian audience, this is a handy article on keeping yard chickens in Australia.
Pick the Right Breed
Those who are less familiar with chickens may not know that there are actually several different breeds of chickens that are used for different purposes. Chicken breeds are categorized into three separate groups—laying breeds, meat breeds, and hybrid breeds.
When it comes to raising backyard chickens for eggs, it’s a wise idea to purchase either a laying breed or hybrid breed of chicken. Laying breeds will typically lay between four and six eggs per week while hybrid breeds lay closer to between three and five eggs per week.
Some of the more common laying breeds include the Rhode Island Red, the Sussex, and the white Leghorn. These birds can lay up to 250 eggs per year. However, for those looking for a slightly rarer breed of chicken, the Faverolles is a very unique bird that is an equally-great layer. A Faverolles can lay up to 200 eggs per year.
Where to buy backyard chickens? This will depend on your location, really. A simple Google search with that question will bring up the most localised answers so you can see what’s available in your area. In Australia, you’re looking at $30-35 per standard egg-laying chicken but you can pay much more for other varieties.
Purchase a Coop and Accessories
Before purchasing the birds themselves, it is necessary to understand the space requirements for backyard chickens. In general, chickens require more space than one might assume. Most breeds of chickens require between three- to five square feet of room per bird inside the coop (that’s 0.5 square meters) and between eight- to ten-square feet each of room in an outdoor run.
It’s also important that the coop has enough space for the necessary accessories. These include nesting boxes for collecting the eggs, perches, a feeder and a waterer.
Although space may not seem like a huge deal when it comes to raising chickens for eggs, crowding in a chicken coop actually takes quite the toll on egg production. Oftentimes when chickens are overcrowded in a coop they will resort to fighting and pecking at one another. This can be stressful for chickens and may result in a decline in their egg production.
Chicken coops can either be purchased or can be built from scratch. Building a coop from scratch is undoubtedly the cheapest option, but takes the most effort and requires a bit of specialized skill. Luckily, for those that are not quite so handy, there are tons of options for purchasing a chicken coop. The most inexpensive option for purchasing a coop is to purchase a second-hand one either from a neighbour, a garage sale or from an online marketplace. Pre-made chicken coops can also be found online for less than $200.
Here is a YouTube video for how to build a small chicken coop for your backyard.
Purchase the Right Food
When it comes to raising backyard chickens for eggs, the food given to the birds must be given special consideration because of the impact it has on egg production. Chickens are not picky eaters and tend to enjoy leftovers from the kitchen table. While leftovers are fine to be fed to birds on occasion, chickens need their own specific type of feed in order to lay healthy eggs.
The best type of food to give backyard chickens to increase egg production is a simple layer feed. Layer feed has almost all the necessary vitamins and nutrients chickens need to lay healthy, delicious eggs. However, in addition to simple layer feed, backyard chickens should be fed oyster shell supplements weekly. Oyster shell contains a lot of calcium which is necessary for producing eggs with strong, solid shells.
The list of reasons to raise and keep backyard chickens is never-ending. Not only are the eggs they lay more nutritious than store-bought eggs, but the chickens themselves provide a sense of companionship and can help lessen anxiety.
And luckily, raising backyard chickens for eggs is not overly difficult. Once the proper research is done ahead of time, the coop and supplies are purchased and the birds are introduced to space, chicken keeping can be a fun and relatively stress-free experience.
Have you got any experience with keeping backyard chickens? Got any tips for those starting out? Perhaps you’re interested to get started? Let me know in the comments below!