Things to Consider in Backyard Breeding

Backyard breeding is becoming popular to poultry owners. It is less expensive and easier to manage. Starting one is just easy as you think, but there are key things that you should bear in mind before doing so. Luckily, a post Forbes list down the checklist on starting backyard breeding.

#1: Check out your local zoning laws. The city of Berkeley, for example, permits “unlimited” chickens as long as there are no roosters. In some cities, however, raising chickens is illegal, despite a growing trend for locally produced, sustainable food. More and more cities are open to the idea of urban agriculture, though, so make your case: One woman convinced the city of Seattle to legalize backyard goats.  You may also want to check with your insurance carrier — backyard chicken websites have carried scattered reports of home insurance policies being canceled due to chicken coops. Also, if you know your neighbors, talk with them about your plans.

#2: Invest in a chicken coop. I remember my great-uncles and aunts, farmers in Alabama, locking up their chicken barn coop every evening. A sturdy coop isn’t foolproof, but it’s like a Berlin Wall between your chickens and everything that wants to devour them. If you’re handy, you may be able to build your own: Just be sure it has a floor to keep out varmints and leave a couple of windows covered with wire mesh for ventilation (and to keep the ammonia from chicken urine from building up inside). But don’t feel bad if you’d rather buy one. In a Modern Farmer post entitled “Raising Chickens for Dummies,” Jason Price recalls his first and only attempt to build a chicken coop:

“I should have known better to attempt to build a chicken coop without a plan. I had dreams of creating an affordable coop using scrap wood [that] could be wheeled around the yard as needed. $500 and about 60 hours of labor later, I have built a battleship. The wheels sit on my porch, unable to bear the weight of the massive amounts of lumber and nails that went into this bad boy. Lesson learned.”

Farm and garden supply stores often have a variety of wooden chicken coops to choose from. (Look for 1 square foot of ventilation per 10 feet of floor space.). We ordered a coop online that looks like a miniature farmhouse and has laying beds with a handy door for egg collection. However, the coop is as flimsy as a doll house and a rat could gnaw through the floor easily, so we’re “retrofitting” it with hardware cloth and corrugated metal.

#3: Varmint-proof the chicken run. Probably the biggest mistake new chicken owners make is to think a chicken-wire cage (aka run) is a fine substitute for a chicken coop. Unfortunately, a small rat can squeeze through chicken wire or a small hole in the cage, and racoons can simply pull it apart. Backyard chicken websites are rife with night videos of racoons inside locked, roofed chicken-wire cages.

Like many backyard chicken owners, we learned this lesson the hard way. We had two small black pullets who finally made the transition from the incubator to the chicken coop. They were thrilled to be outdoors, so much so that they slept outside the first night in the chicken run, where a racoon reached through the chicken wire to grab and kill them. After a memorial with our tearful children, we made sure to lock all the chickens inside the coop every night.

As for keeping unwanted visitors out of the chicken run: Use U-nails to put small-mesh hardware cloth over the chicken wire. Add a sturdy roof (coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions can all leap a four-foot fence, and hawks and owls can also swoop inside a roofless cage.) Push hardware cloth mesh into the soil about a foot down around the cage to deter racoons or skunks from tunneling under it. And once you have the cage as varmint-proof as possible, don’t forget to put a couple of sturdy barrel latches on the door.

#4:  Don’t keep chickens too cooped up. To avoid a peck-fest, arrange for at least 4 feet per chicken in your coop and run. Letting them roam the yard all day is ideal, but carries its own set of problems: Our free range hens have recently begun hopping the fence to the backyards of our next-door neighbors, who fortunately like chickens and are great people to boot. One way to avoid this is by using a so-called “chicken tractor,” a sort of moveable coop without a floor that you can move to different parts of your backyard so that your chickens can forage freely in a protected environment. Recently, after a neighbor we didn’t know informed us that a chicken had “trespassed” on her lawn, the chicken tractor began to sound like a really good idea.

#5: Recycle your chicken manure. To avoid smells, flies and complaints from neighbors, turn your chicken manure into green gold. Chicken manure is a great natural fertilizer, but only after it’s composted. Raw or “green” manure has a lot of pathogens, including the germs that cause salmonella (more on that later); it also contains so much nitrogen it can burn and kill plants in your garden. The dangerous germs will be destroyed during composting. Just collect the hay from the laying pens every day along with the manure, throw in some kitchen scraps and compost everything, which you can do in an open pit (if you’re not worried about attracting creatures). If there’s a problem with pests, you can compost it in ventilated compost barrels sold online. If you don’t have time to compost, at least clean up the manure. Many cities have green containers for compostable materials, and chicken poop certainly qualifies.

#6: Don’t get too cuddly.  A few years ago, I wrote about finding my daughter Lila, then 5, cuddling and kissing a chick she had named Mint. “But mommy, I only kissed the beak — and that part’s really clean!” she protested as she was escorted to the bathroom for a good scrub. It turns out that she wasn’t alone: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC) issued an advisory in 2015 telling people to stop cuddling and kissing their birds and backyard chickens, since this had led to an upsurge in salmonella infections nationwide. Also, wash your hands immediately after touching the chickens, don’t let children younger than five handle them and keep the shoes you wear to clean the cage outdoors.

Now you have things set up, relax and enjoy your chickens.  Share your fresh organic eggs with your family, friends and neighbors or use them for barter (we get upwards of 30 eggs a week from five chickens, so everyone in our vicinity can have sunny side ups.) If you’re really enterprising and local laws allow it, you might even find customers to sell eggs to.

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