Fresh eggs the best: Tips for backyard chickens
By Rose Vaughan
If you’re like many consumers, you know the difference between fresh eggs and eggs you buy from the grocery store.
What you probably don’t know is those egg layers are excellent garden and yard workers as well.
Chickens have a keen eye for insects in the garden – on plants or around the yard. Fire ants, ticks and produce pests beware. These animals are great at keeping soils healthy. Not only do they constantly churn up the soil, they provide manure that keeps the soil fortified with minerals. Chickens are also great at cleaning up rotten and damaged fruits and vegetables, and they are an excellent learning opportunity for kids.
If you’ve decided to take the plunge and invest in backyard chickens, there are some things you’ll want to do before bringing birds home.
Make sure you’re allowed to have them. Many neighborhoods may not permit backyard chickens.
Choose your birds. Determine the number of chickens you’ll want to keep based on the amount of space you have and the number of eggs you’ll be expecting to collect. Typically one laying hen produces two eggs over the course of three days at peak production.
Then determine the breed. Two breeds commonly raised in North Carolina are the Barred Rocks and the Rhode Island Reds. You do not need to have roosters for your hens to lay eggs, purchasing only females will increase egg production.
Chickens will need a place to avoid predators, drink, eat, roost and lay eggs. Build or purchase a chicken coop that provides a dry, closed shelter with an outdoor area that is fenced. Consider weather conditions and take necessary precautions for hot or cold weather. The enclosed coop should provide 2.5 to 3.5 square feet per bird while the outdoor space should include 4 to 5 square feet per bird. Do not overcrowd chickens, this can be a big issue in terms of pecking order. Make sure there are several nesting boxes in the coop for birds to lay their eggs; typically about one nesting box per four or five hens. It’s also a good idea to think about making enough room for shoveling manure.
Purchase feeders and waterers. There are a lot of affordable options. Make sure you have enough room in feeders and waterers for each bird to have a third of a pound of feed every day and free access to water. Make sure you do your research on the type of feed to provide based on the age and stage of production.
There are three options for buying chickens. Buy young females called pullets, ready-to-lay hens, or day-old chicks. Avoid hatching eggs for chickens to add to your flock. Keep in mind that chickens begin to lay eggs around 16 to 24 weeks of age. Keep a cycle of birds entering the flock in order to maintain egg production. The egg production of hens is highest in their first year, then it declines each year. If you purchase chicks, you’re going to need to provide a separate space from the rest of the older flock. Consider raising them in a separate housing unit. Provide a heat lamp, waterers, feeders, and a layer of shavings to keep them dry.
Once you’ve brought your chickens home and introduced them to their new living arrangements, you’ll need to make sure you keep them healthy and happy so they’ll keep laying eggs for as long as possible.
Provide feed, water, and hay daily. Topping off feeders and waterers is never a bad idea. Access to food and water keeps the chickens laying consistently. Keeping hay in nesting boxes prevents eggs from being broken plus it generally stops the chickens from pooping in the nests, so the eggs stay clean. While making plans for trips out of town, you’ll want to be sure you have a chicken sitter to take care of these responsibilities.
Keep things clean. Regularly shoveling manure will keep the chickens cleaner and healthier. Not to mention it will keep you from slipping.
Eggs need to be kept clean as well. Once collected, they should be wiped with a dry or warm, damp towel depending on how dirty they are. After cleaning eggs, make sure to put them in the refrigerator right away.
For more information, visit https://poultry.ces.ncsu.edu/backyard-flocks-eggs/ or contact the N.C. Cooperative Extension Davie County Center at (336) 753-6100.