Individuals and families are raising laying hens in larger numbers as he back-to-the-land movement and growing whole food nutrition education coincide with a weak economy. More people are cognisant of the need for self-sufficiency and desire more nutritious foods, making backyard chicken flocks an ideal situation for many reasons.
Raising laying hens in your backyard requires a few things for success:
- adequate shelter
- nesting area
- proper nutrition
- protection from predators
- free range or scratch yard
A solidly built chicken coop will provide shelter from the elements for your birds. They may choose to hide in the underbrush in the woods during storms, if you let them free range, but a warm, welcoming coop may prove their best bet depending on the terrain and whether they are able to move at will about the property.
The chicken coop needs a secure, secluded nesting area where they can settle down to lay their eggs. They won’t lay if there are too many distractions or disruptions, so a set of boxes lined with straw and closed off on three sides is ideal. Some flock owners hang fabric across the box openings to make the areas even more private for their happily spoiled hens.
When you are raising laying hens, make sure that the birds have access to grain, either chicken scratch or, preferably, a laying mash mix. Laying mash pellets have extra protein and thus make a better feed choice for the laying hens. You’ll also need to supplement with calcium, usually sold at feed stores as crushed oyster shell. Chickens will also enjoy garden and table scraps — as long as it is vegetarian (a little fish is okay, but never chicken meat).
To protect laying hens from predators, such as foxes, opossums, hawks, raccoons and other havoc-wreaking creatures, keep their pen shut tight at night and check it regularly for entrance areas, loose wire mesh or broken boards. If hawks, dogs or cats threaten them during the day, be sure to look after them while they are free ranging, or build an enclosed pen that allows them sunlight and access to grass without danger from animals looking for a warm chicken dinner.
When raising laying hens, a scratch yard, ideally one that is moved to fresh grass periodically, or the ability to free range, is best for your poultry. They need grass and live bugs to round out their diet, as well as the variety of the outdoors to keep them interested and prevent boredom (which can lead to hen-pecking and fighting).
Your own backyard chicken flock may prove itself a constant source of enjoyment as you learn through trial and error how to care for your poultry while maximizing their production. Keeping a variety of different breeds makes the flock more interesting, colorful and unique.