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|Publisher:||Storey Publishing, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||7.40(w) x 9.60(h) x 0.50(d)|
|Age Range:||8 - 12 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Most folks begin keeping chickens primarily for the eggs. Why wouldn't you want a pet who can deliver breakfast to you every day, no matter what the weather?
And with their bright, electric-orange yolks and perky egg whites, fresh eggs can't be beat. Eggs from your own chickens taste better and are healthier for your body. But as people begin to explore the idea of keeping chickens, they find other reasons why chickens are great.
For one thing, you don't need much room to have a couple of hens. Chickens take up very little space, and whether you live in a big city, the suburbs, or the lush countryside, a small flock of hens can be tucked away anywhere. A small chicken coop can fit into practically any yard. Chickens are easy to care for and require a minimal amount of attention. Chicken-keeping supplies are readily available at feed stores, as well as at many hardware stores and also online.
Chickens are also part of the local food or locavore movement, which is sweeping the country in response to consumer demand for locally produced food, sustainable farming practices, and more self-reliance. As more and more people want to know where their food comes from, and want to be able to grow as much of their own food as they can, farmers' markets, pick-your-own farms, and restaurants that use local ingredients are becoming increasingly popular.
But there's another reason that so many people are jumping on the chicken bandwagon — these birds are just plain fun to have around!
More than Just Eggs
I first started thinking about getting chickens when my kids were little. They wanted a dog; I wanted a pet that did not require quite as much attention. We had just moved to a place where we could garden, and I wanted to show them how to plant vegetables and harvest a crop, and to share with them how valuable the land can be. I also wanted them to understand that producing food isn't as easy as it seems. At the time, they thought that if you wanted eggs, you could just head down to the supermarket. In reality, each egg is a gift that takes time and effort to produce.
Chickens and kids seem to go hand in hand. We soon learned they make wonderful pets. Each one has her own personality. We had no idea how much fun they could be! Our hens recognize us. They nuzzle with us and sit in our laps. They love to be petted, like a dog or cat. They can be trained. They are capable of emotions. They form a family in which each bird has her own role. They have their own language and communication techniques.
Our chickens have taught us many basic lessons. They remind us about love, patience, acceptance, camaraderie, and compassion. We have learned about the circle of life: saying goodbye, witnessing new life, caring for those with handicaps, and so much more. Our birds are such wonderful teachers that we call living with them going to "chicken school," and you'll see boxes throughout this book that tell about what we've learned from them. But that's not all!
Chickens work hard from dusk until dawn, helping keep your yard free from insects such as ticks. They enjoy dining on weeds and scraps from the kitchen. Their manure can be turned into the most amazing compost, which in turn nurtures the garden. Another wonderful thing about keeping chickens is spending more time outside. We all enjoy gardening for ourselves and for the chickens.
Before You Begin
If you are like us, the most fun is choosing the types of chickens you want to have, but first you need to think about all that is necessary for keeping chickens. Chicken housing should be at the top of your list. Chickens need a dry, safe place to take shelter from bad weather and predators. Chickens also require care and attention — not a lot, but you can't neglect them!
They need fresh food and water daily, and the coop needs some light housekeeping each morning and a good cleaning now and then. You will need to collect eggs a couple times per day, too. Chicken keeping requires a responsible and dedicated owner.
One of the most important things to take into account when planning for chickens is the amount of space that you have for your flock and where they will live. Anyone with a little bit of space can raise chickens, but you must keep your space and living conditions in mind when you select your breeds. If you live in the country, your flock can have more space. If you live in the city, your chickens will most likely be confined to their coop and an outside run most of the time.
Some breeds handle confinement well. Other breeds do better when allowed to roam free. The important thing is to provide enough space so that the living areas do not develop odors, the chickens don't fight, and everyone is healthy and thriving.
How Much Space?
A standard-sized chicken needs a minimum of 10 square feet of space to live comfortably. The coop should provide 2 to 3 square feet of that total, with an additional 8 or so square feet in the run. Bantams need 5 to 7 square feet per bird.
As an example, a flock of four standard hens should have 8 to 12 square feet of coop space and at least 32 square feet in their run. A coop that is 3 feet wide by 4 feet long (12 square feet) allows for 3 square feet per chicken. A run that is 4 feet wide by 10 feet long (40 square feet) will provide adequate space for a flock this size.
It is always best to give your flock as much space as you can, especially if they will spend most of their time confined to the coop and run. In colder climates, where chickens spend more time indoors in poor weather, a larger coop might be a good choice. In warm climates, where the flock can spend more of its time outdoors and use the coop only for laying eggs and sleeping, a smaller coop works just fine.
Another important thing to keep in mind is how long your chickens will live. Chickens typically live anywhere from 5 to 7 years, but some can live as long as 20 years. Hens lay the most eggs during the first couple of years, but after that, egg production tapers off and becomes more sporadic. When egg production dips, some people choose to find a new home for their entire flock and begin again with young chicks in the spring.
Other folks keep their aging chickens and add new chicks to the flock, which means increasing their living space. As you figure out space requirements for your initial flock, you might want to factor in a little extra room just in case you decide to add to your flock later.
Learning about Chickens
What is the best way to do your research before you order your flock? A poultry show is a terrific place to start and lots of fun to go to. Poultry shows happen throughout the year all over the country (a search on the Internet should turn up a few near your home). At almost any show, you'll find many different breeds and plenty of owners who are willing to "chat chicken."
Don't feel shy — just be friendly and ask questions. Look for kids like you who are showing their birds at the event. Most chicken owners are happy to share their experiences and tell you why they fell in love with a particular breed.
When you can't find a chicken show in your area, here are some other places to look for information.
* The Internet. While you must be careful about the material you find online, plenty of good resources are available. One of our favorites is My Pet Chicken. This site has a breed selector tool to help you narrow down your selections. You put in the qualities you want, including egg color, weather-hardiness, number of eggs, and even personality, and it suggests the best chickens for your family.
* Your library. See if your community library or school library has any books on getting started with chickens. This might be a great way to do some of your required school reading, too. Who knows, you might even convince some of your classmates or your teachers to think about adding a flock to their backyards!
* A local feed store. Many feed stores sell baby chicks in the spring, so the folks there will probably be excited to help you start up a new hobby. They can let you know which breeds they are ordering and direct you to all the necessary supplies.
* Other backyard chicken keepers. You might be surprised to discover that your classmates, family friends, or neighbors have already embarked on the chicken-keeping journey. Most would be happy to share all they have learned about their flock, their coop and run setup, and some great tips to get you started.
ANATOMY OF A CHICKEN
Some chicken body parts are the same as a human's (even though it's hard to see their ears!), but some are very different. And some have funny names like "wattle" and "hackle." It's a good idea to become familiar with the parts of a chicken.
Choosing the Best Chickens
Once you begin to investigate chicken keeping, you will quickly discover many breeds to choose from. When we first started out, we had no idea that so many types of chickens existed!
Frankly, it can be a little overwhelming, and if you are like most kids, you will want to meet and keep every single chicken breed. Certain breeds, however, do work better in certain situations.
What should you consider when beginning to select your flock? Most people use these criteria when picking out their breeds:
* Needs of the breed based on climate
* Personality of the breed
* Number of eggs laid per week and their color
* Feathering and color
* Size of full-grown chickens
Some people want to raise their own chickens to serve at the family table, and some breeds are better suited for that purpose than others. This book is more about chickens who are going to be family pets, not Sunday supper.
Where Do You Live?
Where you live plays an important role in which breeds you select. Chickens have been bred to tolerate various climates all around the world. Heat-hardy chickens are best suited to live in warm climates, and cold-hardy ones do well in places that have snowy, freezing winters. If you live in the desert, you will need chickens who can tolerate warm weather. We live on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, so we keep all cold-hardy breeds.
It may seem strange, but chicken coops do not need to be heated in the winter. Placing a heat lamp or two near dry, combustable tinder such as pine shavings is a setup for disaster. In climates where winter temperatures regularly dip below freezing, you can insulate your coop to help keep your flock warm. In very hot climates, you need to pick a partly shady spot for the coop and cover portions of your run to provide shelter from the sun. Some chicken keepers even add fans to keep their flocks cool.
Chickens are birds, not mammals like us. Their bodies handle changes in temperature quite differently than ours do, because they have higher body temperatures to begin with. Their feathers help regulate their body temperature, allowing them to tolerate colder temperatures than we can.
Another difference is that their lungs work more efficiently, and they have larger hearts compared to mammals of the same size. If you select breeds that are suitable for your climate, you should not have any problems with them adapting to your backyard.
Pick a Nice Chicken
We think a hen's personality is far more important than what she looks like or what color eggs she lays. We started keeping chickens when Jacob was only six years old and Maddy was three, so it was important to choose breeds that would be comfortable being picked up and handled by the kids. We wanted chickens who would come to us when we would call them and who would follow us around the yard.
Fortunately, plenty of breeds are known for their friendly personalities and mellow natures. Just be aware that even if you pick breeds that tend to be docile, it is not a guarantee for each individual bird. Each has its own personality. (See Top 10 Breeds for Kids.)
Green Eggs? Sure!
One of the most wonderful rewards of having chickens is collecting the eggs. Such a great feeling comes from heading out to the nesting boxes in the morning and lifting the lids to discover those warm little orbs of goodness. Most chickens lay three to five eggs per week. The eggs can be beautiful, too. Easter Eggers lay eggs in light hues of pink, green, and blue, and there's a breed called Copper Marans that lay chocolate-colored eggs!
The color and size of the egg are basically the same in all chickens of the same breed, but each hen lays a specific size, tint, and shape that are the same during her entire life. We can tell which chicken has laid which egg. This observation comes in handy because you can tell when certain chickens are not laying eggs and you can investigate the reason why.
Check Out That Chicken!
Of course, we are all drawn to the particular look of one breed or another. Some of these birds are really beautiful! Some have poufy topknots; others have feathers streaked with an array of colors. Some have yellow feet, some have black feet, and some have feathered feet. Their combs and wattles (those fleshy appendages on their heads and under their beaks) come in all sizes and shapes.
You can choose a flock of chickens that all look alike, or you can have fun picking out different breeds to make up your flock — it's up to you!
Standards versus Bantams
Chickens come in a couple of different sizes. Standard chickens grow to about the size of a large house cat and weigh anywhere from 7 to 10 pounds when fully grown. They can be an armful to pick up. Bantam chickens are smaller, about the size of a small bunny or guinea pig, and weigh 3 to 5 pounds. They are easier to handle, making them perfect for smaller children. Our Silkie Bantams are so lovable and easy to handle that we always let first-time chicken holders carry one of them around first.
Of course, smaller hens do lay smaller eggs! Two bantam eggs equal one standard egg.
If you are looking for very big birds, then check out the Jersey Giants. They are some of the largest chickens available in the United States. The hens grow to more than 10 pounds and the roosters are usually more than 13 pounds!
As you learn about chicken keeping, you will surely read that keeping roosters (male chickens) stirs up controversy. Roosters can't lay eggs, but they do serve three purposes: they protect the flock, help keep order among the hens, and fertilize eggs to make chicks.
It is not necessary to keep a rooster with a flock of hens, however. Hens are perfectly capable of defending themselves and sorting out their relationships, and they will lay eggs just fine on their own. But if you want your hens to hatch out their own chicks, you will need a rooster, and some people enjoy having them around.
Roosters are fun to watch. They show off for their girls with a dance in which they shuffle their feet and drag their wings on the ground. They share food with the hens by picking up and dropping special treats, a behavior called tid bitting. They are also quite brave; a rooster who notices danger will herd the flock to safety and then come out to face the predator. He might even sacrifice his life for his hens.
Because they are so protective, however, they can be aggressive. When a rooster perceives danger or competition for his girls, he may chase, peck, and dig his spurs into whomever he interprets as a threat, and that can include you, your friends, and your pets. If you have more than one rooster, each should have at least seven hens of his own to protect; with fewer hens available, roosters will fight with each other and may try to mate too often with the hens.
Some people end up with roosters accidentally, either from hatching their own chicks or from a mistake at the hatchery. The hatch rate is exactly the same for males and females, 50 percent. If you decide to hatch or incubate your own eggs, approximately half of them will be males and grow up to be roosters. Have a plan for what to do with those extra roosters.
Finding Your Flock
One of the most important things to realize about keeping chickens is that they are very social birds. In order to thrive, they need company.
I always tell people who are starting out that four chickens is the smallest number they should keep, and those should all be hens. With four hens, your flock would still number at least three should something happen to one of your birds. With a small flock, it's easier to introduce new members.
A flock of four is about the perfect size for a family of four. That number should supply you with about a couple dozen eggs per week. Of course, don't be surprised to find yourself wanting more chickens. Chicken keeping can be addictive!
Which Comes First?
After you have decided on the chicken breeds you want and figured out where you will house them (see chapter 5 for information on building a coop), you need to figure out how to obtain your chicks. You have several options. The most common are to purchase chicks from a local feed store or to order them from a hatchery. In either case, have your brooder ready for their arrival. (See here for tips on how to set up the brooder.)
Excerpted from "A Kid's Guide to Keeping Chickens"
Copyright © 2015 Melissa Caughey.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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