We'd like to have some chicken, for their eggs in our garden. But we would like the chicken to be healthy, so that we can have healthy and delicious eggs.
Any ideas or tips on how to raise/feed/keep/... chicken? What foods? How much space? Do you need a rooster? Do they prefer free weights or machine based HIT? (kidding)
My friend uses these amazing chicken tractors to ensure her birds are maximally pastured without being prey to other bird-hungry critters. http://twwly.com/2010/07/02/chicken-lickens/
You might want to look into Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens: http://www.amazon.ca/Storeys-Guide-Raising-Chickens-Facilities/dp/158017325X
We've been buying free-range organic local eggs from a neighbour for several months now; the eggs are bigger, the yolks are darker, almost orange, and boy do they ever taste good. We're planning on getting a few layers ourselves next spring.
Depends on your situation. Around here, some people put up coyote fencing (expensive) all around the yard and just have a small flock of hens and one rooster to keep an eye on them. Having a few chicken friendly dogs around to keep an eye on things can help as well. Then the chickens just run around inside the fenceline and eat whatever they can find in the grasses and bushes plus they get a bit of healthy feed to supplement them. They can also eat a lot of leftover scraps like from your veggies and even meat. You set up a place to encourage the hens to lay their eggs and most of the time, they will choose that spot for laying. Of course, they will poop hither and yon so if you have a really nice yard, this may not be for you. But there is something really relaxing about have a dog or two and a couple of chickens strolling around in the yard doing their thing! Just make sure that chickens and especially roosters are allowed in your housing zone before purchase. City regs don't always allow 'livestock.'
My wife and I started with 7 hens two years ago. (We had a rooster, but he was really too noisy for the middle of town. Neighbors never complained, but I think they were just being nice.) They're all still alive, and just started kicking out eggs again after taking the winter off. I grew up on a farm with chickens, and ours are the healthiest I've ever seen. The eggs are big, with firm, dark yellow yolks, and the hens all still have a full growth of glossy feathers. Even on humane, pastured farms, chickens this old will frequently be missing clumps of feathers.
We keep a feeder full of the standard layer ration from the feed store, but we also give them all our kitchen and garden scraps (except egg shells; don't want to start any bad habits) and let them graze as much as possible. When the snow melted and they could start getting outside, their consumption of the layer feed dropped to maybe 20% of what it was when they were cooped up. We keep kelp meal and oyster shell in front of them too for nutrition, but they don't touch it much. Apparently they get their nutritional needs pretty well covered by the bugs and grass they eat. We just moved to a new 1-acre place in the country, and they stay busy all day long, roaming our yard and the neighboring field. It's amazing to watch them hunt for worms; they'll scratch the ground a couple times and then wham! -- the beak goes down and comes up with a worm.
The purposes of a chicken tractor are A) to make them work on a particular patch of ground, and B) to keep them from picking some other patch of ground (like your rose garden) and overworking it. If you're not worried about them making a dust hole in your yard or wandering into the road, you can skip the tractor and let them roam. The other issue is predators; we have to shut ours up at night or raccoons and owls would get them in no time.
Oh, and you don't need a rooster, unless you want fertilized eggs to raise your own chicks, which is really not for novices. Most common breeds today don't have good mothering instincts, so they won't sit reliably on a nest, making an incubator a necessity.
+1 on the recommendation of the Storey book.
We used to have a fenced chicken pen (including wire mesh overhead to deter hawks) and a small henhouse with nests for laying and roosts with wire messh under for sleeping. There was a flap door to raise and collect eggs from the nests and it was easy to rake the manure out from under the roosting area for the compost heap. All fruit and veggie garden scraps and spare leafy greens were thrown into the yard for their enjoyment and the yard was large enough to provide insects and weedy greens. We supplied grit and also dried crunched up egg shells for calcium to keep the egg shells strong. NOTHING beats home grown eggs!
I've been looking into this myself recently...the BBC's article on keeping "urban chickens" (and the wealth of egg-shaped benefits they bring!) is well worth a read.
Omlet looks like a great site for chicken-related gear - you can even order an "iMac-style" urban chicken run called an Eglu that comes delivered complete with chickens!
Googling for "chicken tractor" yields all sorts of results, including how to build your own:
I've looked into this before, but I'm afraid my small standard Chicago-sized (owning chickens in Chicago is legal, if I recall correctly) lot couldn't possibly support enough chickens to keep my family supplied with eggs.
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