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10 Tips on Raising Backyard Chickens

Food
10 Tips on Raising Backyard Chickens

Raising backyard chickens is very trendy these days. With news of arsenic in our chicken and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's move to allow the sale in the U.S. of chickens processed in China, many people are choosing to raise their own chickens. Businesses around the country are catering to this growing demand among urbanites and suburbanites who want to have their own fresh daily eggs or raise their own chickens for meat by offering chicks, feed, coop design plans and even prebuilt coops.

Jason Price's backyard chicken coop. Photo credit: The Hungry Dog Blog

But raising chickens definitely has its challenges that first-timers might not be aware of before they begin. Jason Price at The Hungry Dog Blog offers the following tips that he has learned through trial and error while raising his own backyard chickens in Seattle, Washington.

1. Go into it with a design plan or buy a pre-built coop: This may seem obvious, but Price wanted to use as much recycled material as possible and do it on the cheap, which you certainly can do. But you should have designs to go off of if you want your coop to be structurally sound. If you want to raise chickens but don't think you can build your own chicken coop, Modern Farmer has found some very cool, modernist, pre-built chicken coops.

2. Seek out neighbors and chicken farmers in the area: Yes, the internet is full of useful sites for raising backyard chickens, but nothing beats the advice and knowledge of someone with whom you can talk in your area. Seeing other people's setups will help you troubleshoot your own, and you can have people actually come see your operation and your chickens when you are having problems.

3. Be prepared to stumble upon some horrible chicken deaths: Harsh, but true. Price had a horror story of dog sitting for a demon dog that took out three of his baby chicks. Dogs, weasels, coyotes, raccoons and foxes are just some of the common predators of chickens. This is another reason that it's best to follow a design plan for a chicken coop so that your hens are well protected.

4. It's possible you will have a rooster in the brood: Determining the sex of chickens when they are young enough to sell is only about 90 percent accurate, so occasionally you will get a rooster or two in with your hens. It's illegal (and annoying) to have a rooster in most urban and suburban areas, so you'll either have to eat the little guy or find him a new home.

5. Don't expect your chickens to lay eggs on a consistent schedule: The breed helps determines when your chickens should lay eggs, but chickens will often take longer than standard estimates and egg laying will vary with the seasons. Making sure they have good, whole grain food with at least 17 percent protein, a healthy amount of water and ample light will help, but Price warns your hens might lay every day for a month, take a break for a few days, and then lay every other day.

6. Plan to spend lot of time on "chicken blogs": Much like how parents pore over blogs and books about what's ailing their sick children, when backyard chicken farmers' hens get sick, they spend lots of time perusing sites like The Chicken Chick, Backyard Poultry Magazine, Backyard Chickens.com, Oh Lardy’s Backyard Chicken Series and Pam’s Backyard Chickens. Sadly it's inevitable that you may lose some chickens to disease.

7. Farm life is not all roses: Materials such as straw and Diatomaceous Earth help keep the odor down, but chickens still produce lots of waste, which attracts flies. Price says the best thing to do is to clean and replace your straw weekly and use fly traps.

8. You can't beat the taste: Before you begin to think this is a list of 10 reasons why not to raise backyard chickens, let's not forget that fresh, organic eggs and the meat from chickens that you raise yourself taste amazing. Taking ownership of your food by growing and raising it yourself is an empowering feeling.

9. The zen of watching chickens: Price said this surprised him, but he really enjoys watching the chickens express their innate behavior. They all have different personalities, and he gets a kick out of watching them play together.

10. Chickens come and go: Chickens have about two good years of laying before their production declines, and the feed costs more than you save in eggs. You can either eat them or keep them as pets and let them die of old age. And then you can buy more chicks to start the cycle anew. As mentioned previously, you should be prepared to lose a few chickens along the way. Price started with 11 and ended up with 6 due to predators (the evil dog he watched), disease and one being a rooster.

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A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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