Backyard poultry – egg production
By CLAY STAMM
Clark County Agriculture and Natural Resource Extension Agent
Backyard chicken flocks are popular in all areas of Kentucky. If you want to have a successful flock and produce your own eggs, preparation and education are essential.
Not everyone is suited for keeping a poultry flock. Make sure you check that your local city and county ordinances allow backyard flocks. Some ordinances require a minimum amount of land, and some subdivisions even have their own rules.
Remember, chickens require daily care. You must feed them, provide clean water and collect eggs every day. It is a good opportunity to teach children responsibility, but make sure they can fit it into their daily routine and that you supervise them. Keep in mind that chickens can get sick, and very few veterinarians will provide care for them. Anyone handling chickens needs to make sure to wash their hands before and after caring for them. Also, don’t bring chickens into the house, and don’t use your kitchen sink to wash equipment associated with your flock.
Chickens make noise. While it’s true only roosters crow, hens are not always quiet, and they can make a lot of noise to let everyone know they just laid an egg.
Keep in mind that chickens eat a lot. You probably can’t produce eggs cheaper than you can buy them in the store, but you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing from where they came. Hens use about 60% of the feed they consume; they excrete the rest as manure. Make sure you have a plan for what you’ll do with all the manure your flock produces. You could compost the manure to produce a valuable, odor-free fertilizer for your garden.
To complicate things, chickens stop producing eggs at some point, and they live longer than that window, sometimes a lot longer. You need to have a plan for what you’ll do with hens once they stop producing eggs. If you keep them because they are pets, you’ll have to be willing to continue paying for food while they are no longer earning their keep.
Another thing to consider is that chickens can destroy gardens. Chickens scratch when they forage, and if you let the hens run free, you may need to put a fence around your garden to prevent them from damaging your plants.
As for housing your flock, you’ll need a chicken house that provides shelter from the weather, nest boxes where your hens will lay eggs and perches for hens to roost at night. Housing needs to be easy to clean out and provide protection from predators. You’ll need to have an open run for hens to get into the open air. It’s important to keep your chicken house clean and dry to prevent odor and flies. Manage any bedding well to prevent rodents from making your chicken house their home.
It can be difficult to obtain ready-to-lay pullets, so you’ll probably need to raise your hens from chicks. You can buy online and have them shipped to your home, but some hatcheries require a minimum purchase of 25 chicks for safe shipping. You can also buy chicks and local farm stores, but Kentucky state regulations require a minimum purchase of six chicks. If you only want three, you could go in with a friend or neighbor to meet the minimum requirement. You will need to provide chicks with a heat source, such as a heat lamp, for the first six weeks.
For more information on small or backyard poultry flocks, contact the Clark County Extension Office by calling 859-744-4682. You may also visit https://afs.ca.uky.edu/poultry/poultry-publications.
Source: Jacquie Jacob, Extension Poultry Project Manager
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