Friday, March 19, 2010

Fowl Play: Enjoying Backyard Chickens

It goes without saying that a garden - large or small, potted or free-range - with a few favorite vegetables, herbs, and flowers is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get fresh food. Backyard chickens are another. Fresh eggs from birds that are surprisingly funny, affectionate, and a fantastic source of fertilizer for the garden make them an instant delight!

Getting Started
While the idea of having chickens is appealing, knowing where to begin can feel a bit intimidating. A good overview on chicken basics is helpful as is learning about different chicken breeds that are well-suited to the backyard are great first steps.

Coop designs range from the traditional coop (stationary chicken house) or chicken tractor (a mobile coop that allows for contained free-ranging in safety). Your final choice will depend on the chicken ordinance you live under as well as the available space in your yard.

Chickens don't require a great deal of specialized care (no need to take them for a walk every night, etc.), but they do have a few minimal requirements. A safe enclosed coop that keeps them sheltered from the cold of winter and the heat of summer, fresh water, a little extra food to augment bugs and grass, and at least an annual cleaning of the coop to keep things tidy.

Classes, Books and Blogs
Our upcoming class on chickens led by Peter Thomason of Thomason Family Farm is full, but here are some other good resources to check out in the meantime.

A good basic primer on chicken-rearing is Christine Heinrich's How to Raise Chickens: Everything You Need to Know (2007) while Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens, Third Edition (2010) is perhaps the definitive reference for your shelf. (Check out Christine Heinrich's blog, too!) There's also Martin Gurdon's Hen and the Art of Chicken Maintenance (2005) to inspire the chicken farmer in all of us.

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