By Megan Mann, Livestock and Natural Resources agent
Small chicken flocks, a staple of turn-of-the-century American yards, have come back into vogue over the past several years. Backyard chickens supply their owners with ready access to farm fresh eggs and small flock husbandry can be a rewarding and entertaining hobby. Chickens can lay up to one egg every twenty-four hours and a flock of three to five birds are typically more than enough to meet the egg needs of the average family of four.
Like dogs, chickens come in a variety of breeds, colors, and plumage patterns. Popular laying breeds include the White Leghorn (remember Foghorn Leghorn?), the Rhode Island Red, and the Barred Rock. The color egg a hen will lay is dependent on her breed. White leghorns lay white eggs, while Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks lay a light brown egg. Some breeds, like the, Ameraucana, have an expanded color palate laying blue and green eggs. This breed has earned the nick name “Easter-Egger”. One of the prettiest eggs, a dark rich chocolate, is laid by the Copper Maran hen.
No matter the shell color, eggs are the same on the inside. A white egg and a brown egg are nutritionally equivalent, though you may find yourself paying a greater price for brown eggs at the grocery store. This is because of the commonly held misconception that darker shelled eggs are more nutrient dense.
Want to raise chickens?
Would you like to try your hand at small scale chicken farming? The first step is to find out if chickens are allowed to be kept in your area. Roosters are typically prohibited because of their tendency to crow at impolite hours. Once you have determined the legality and requirements of backyard chickens in your area, you will want to select a site to construct a coop. Coop blue prints and full building kits are readily available online and at local farm supplies stores. You may also choose to repurpose an existing structure.
Coops should provide your hens with shelter from the elements and protection from predators such as snakes, owls, raccoons, and neighborhood dogs. Within the coop you will need to create a nesting box where your hens can lay their eggs. The nesting boxes should be easy to clean and readily accessible. Laying hens require a good quality high calcium feed and constant access to fresh water. Most breeds will begin laying between 18-22 weeks of age and continue to produce an egg most days for the first two years of life. Hormonal changes in the fall will often result in a decrease in egg production. This drop off can be prevented by installing a coop light on a timer to artificially extend the day light hours on both ends of the day. Any sudden changes to temperature or exposure to stress can result in a temporary cessation of egg production.