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Rhode Island Reds are a popular dual-purpose breed that lay large, light brown eggs, but they can be aggressive toward calmer birds such as Brahmas. Breeds with thicker plumage do better in cold climates, while those without a lot of extra insulation, such as Silkies a fabulously ornamental breed with feathers that look more like fur live comfortably in warmer climates.

A coop provides shelter for chickens, but it will also be a part of the landscape, so consider aesthetics as well as the chickens' needs when planning for one.


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Debbie Hoffmann, who keeps chickens in her suburban backyard, paid a carpenter to build a stylish gray-and-white coop with a leaded stained-glass window installed over the nesting boxes. Even in a fenced backyard, it's not wise to allow chickens to roam free without supervision, both for their security and the safety of your garden.

Chickens love to scratch the ground looking for worms and seeds without regard for what plants might be in their way. And in urban and suburban areas, predators come in all shapes and sizes, from coyotes to raccoons to hawks. Danger can come from above and below, so cover the run and bury its fencing at least 1 foot deep. Chickens will dig up part of their diet — insects, slugs, snails, sand, and seeds — but you must also provide them with chicken feed. Clauer, a Penn State poultry expert, who notes that there are special diets for young chicks, growing birds, and layers.

As a treat, scatter scratch — a mixture of grains and seeds — into the run, as well as organic grass clippings and vegetable scraps. Plenty of water is especially important for consistent laying, Clauer adds: "If a laying chicken goes without water for more than 12 hours, it can go out of production for weeks. Chickens also appreciate human interaction.

The Economics of Raising Chickens

Although hens can lay as long as they live eight to 10 years isn't uncommon , they start producing fewer eggs after three to five years. When egg production drops to one or two a week, chicken owners must decide whether to keep the older hens as pets or use them for meat. Edwards-Anderson's husband, Greg, who grew up with hens in his hometown of Selma, Alabama, is not squeamish about turning their hens into stew when the time comes.

But he suspects his wife will have a problem: "This is her first farm-animal experience," he explains.

Do I Need a Rooster Along With My Chickens?

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RonBailey Getty Images. Jason Langley Getty Images. Related Story. However, experienced flock owners will tell you that, once you understand the basics, chickens will largely take care of themselves. Experience has taught that there are five key things that backyard chickens need to be healthy. The first stage to raising healthy chickens is deciding why you want chickens.

Some people start a small flock of chickens purely for the eggs, others for meat and some choose to keep them as therapy chickens. Deciding why you want chickens at the start will also allow you to properly set up your backyard for the appropriate number and types of chickens. Next up is water.

In my experience the single most important thing needed to keep your backyard chickens healthy is fresh and clean water.

A Complete Guide to Raising Backyard Chickens in 7 Chapters

The key here is making sure each day the water is changed so it is fresh. If you leave your chickens without water for any period of time it can significantly impact their egg laying and throw them off for a week or two. Behind water is food. You can use a high quality layers pellet; this should make up the core of their diet. You can give them the occasional treats from time to time e.

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The pellets contain all the key macro nutrients, vitamins and minerals a hen needs to be healthy and lay eggs.