Photo: Some children grow up to love their chickens like pets. Credit: Shutterstock
12. Keep Your Chickens Entertained
When you observe a chicken, it might be easy to assume that they’re not very intelligent. After all, all they seem to do is pick up the grass, eat, and sleep. But just like dogs and cats, chickens get bored very easily. And if you leave them to their own devices, they might be more likely to get into trouble by flying the coop. In the winter time, they become even more bored than usual, because they can’t walk around in the snow or enjoy beautiful weather like they can in the spring, summer, and fall.
You actually need to buy them toys and give them ways to keep themselves entertained throughout the day. One of the most popular toys is a xylophone, because the chickens can peck at it and make “music”. You can also install ladders, swings, dust baths, straw bales, and more. Holding your hens, petting them, and giving them love has been shown to help lower their blood pressure, and keep them calm. Just like dogs and cats, they need attention from their owners! And the more human interaction they have, the more social they will be.
Beginners assume that you can buy any chicken wire at the hardware store and you’re good to go. However, there are different types of wire depending on whether you are simply trying to keep chickens out, or if you are trying to prevent predators from getting in. If you go to your hardware store and ask for “chicken wire”, this is only going to stop your chickens from escaping. In order to protect them from big predators, you’ll need to buy something called “hardwire cloth”.
If you own a full backyard farm, you’ll also want to make sure that you put chicken wire around your garden to prevent time from eating all of your fruit and vegetables. Many people decided to double up on chicken wire if they need to make sure your flock is secure. As time goes on, be prepared to purchase additional wire if your setup needs an upgrade. For first-time users, be sure to watch YouTube tutorials and follow the instructions on how to install it properly.
Chickens have a life span of 5 to 10 years if you let them live out their natural life. If you plan to eat your chickens at some point, you need to do a lot of research in order to properly kill and prepare your animals. It’s always possible for you to hand off your chickens to a local butcher and pay him to do the work for you. However, if you’re trying to stay on your own property and be self-reliant, this means that you’re going to have to deal with the consequences of preparing meat. For a lot of people, this can be a traumatizing experience. This is especially true for children.
Of course, there’s always the option to let your chickens live out their natural life expectancy. Some farmers feel as though they don’t want to spend the money to take care of these chickens long-term if they no longer lay eggs or become unproductive in some other way. If that’s the case, look for an animal rescue in your local area. There are places out there where they will allow your chicken to live out the rest of their elderly life without resorting to killing them.
Since most backyard chicken coops are built by hand, a lot of people try to use leftover materials or whatever they can afford to use at the time. One of the roofs that people commonly make is sheet metal similar to what you might see in a garden shed. Technically, this might be okay with your town ordinances. But just because it’s not against the rules doesn’t mean that it’s a good choice. Believe it or not, raccoons are strong, and they have little paws with five fingers that are like human hands. They can grab and rip those metal roofs off like a pull-tab can. It’s very common for raccoons to break into a chicken coop and all of your livestock.
This is why it’s always a good idea to build a roof with wood and shingles, similar to one that you would see on a real house. It might be more expensive and difficult to install in the short-term, but it means that you’re going to be building a much safer and secure house for your chickens to live in. It can also potentially be more insulated to keep out the cold in the winter time, and keep it cool in the summer. If you were considering building your own coop, this might be more incentive for you to actually buy something pre-made, because it’s often more safe and secure.
There are pros and cons to having a rooster in your flock. On the upside, roosters will become the dominant bird, and keep the hens in line. Without a rooster, hens typically choose an alpha based on whoever the biggest bird is. This can cause fights among your hens, if they can’t agree on a leader. It’s part of a rooster’s natural instinct to want to protect the hens. When you have predators in your area, it’s important for you to have this rooster to keep them safe. It’s also obviously necessary if you want eggs to become fertilized so that you can have baby chicks.
However, for all of their upsides, roosters aren’t actually necessary for laying eggs. Unfortunately, roosters can be a real handful sometimes. Certain breeds tend to be aggressive, and can potentially attack the humans who are trying to take care of the hens. They also crow at all hours of the early morning, and can make your neighbors angry. Some cities even ban keeping a rooster in your backyard, because they are known to cause too many problems. Hens will lay eggs on their own, even if a rooster is not present. Obviously, they are needed for baby chicks. But if all you want is eggs, just skip the rooster.
Something that a lot of people don’t realize about chickens is that they do in fact fly. And they also tend to want to roost in high branches at night so that they are safe from predators. If you allow your chickens to walk around your backyard, this means that they will always fly up into the trees when they are ready to go to sleep. For most people, they are shocked to see their chickens in the tree and completely unprepared. Some families even go through the process of getting the chickens out of their trees every night, simply because they want to give him the freedom to roam around the backyard as much as they want.
An alternative to dealing with chickens getting caught in a tree is to simply give them a room inside of their coop that is high up off the ground. Make sure that they feel comfortable and safe. Some people even go as far as to make a fake tree inside of the coop so that they feel as though they’re in a natural habitat. Others make sure that they have a large enough fenced-in area to encompass everything that they need, including one or two small trees.
Plenty of people who keep backyard chickens will sprinkle the feed over the ground and let them eat it that way. However, if you’re trying to keep your chickens in the coop for the majority of their day, it’s best not to put their food or water on the ground. Chickens can be dirty animals, going to the bathroom or kicking dirt into their water. Obviously, this is not sanitary, and it can lead to them getting very sick. This is why most experts recommend hanging or elevating their feeders and watering system. Some people create their own cheap and easy feeding and watering systems using Home Depot buckets suspended on chains that are hung to the roof of the chicken coop. They drill holes into the bottom of the bucket, and attach nipples so that the chickens can drink from that.
With that being said, some people still put their feeders and waterers on the ground for a number of reasons. Maybe their coop isn’t set up for this, and other chickens simply can’t reach or have a beak deformity that makes it impossible to drink out of the suspended watering system. For those backyard farmers, they are willing to change out fresh water every day. In the winter time, make sure you buy a heated water bucket for chickens, so that the water doesn’t freeze over. Earlier on the list, we already mentioned some automated feeders that you can buy online. If you want to elevate your chickens food and water, it’s a good idea to do some research about your options online.
It is very common for people to keep several kinds of birds on their backyard farm, because it gives you a lot of variety. You might be thinking about also keeping ducks or turkeys on the property as well. Just keep in mind that these birds all need different types of nutrients depending on whether you’re growing them for meat or eggs. Don’t assume that you can use the same seed for all of the birds. Do some research on what kind of nutrients that each of your birds need. There may be some overlap in what they can all eat and enjoy at the same time. However, make sure that they all have what they need in their respective areas and that they are all given space to thrive.
Also keep in mind that your roosters might not like seeing other birds near their hens. This can lead to a lot of aggressive behavior, and some of your other birds could get hurt. Turkeys aren’t very intelligent, but they can also cause a lot of property damage if they see their own reflection, and think it’s a rival mate trying to start a fight. Before you go and buy a bunch of different poultry eggs, be sure to do your research beforehand to make sure everyone can be one big, happy farm family.
4. Keep Your Dogs and Cats Away From The Chickens Until They’re Trained
If you own dogs or cats, You might be excited to make all of your animals into one little happy family. However, this can be especially dangerous if you bring home baby chicks. Your dogs and cats might assume that the chicks are a toy they can play with. This can lead to the baby chicks dying or getting eaten very quickly. And if you have a rooster, be prepared for your dog to get attacked or scratched by its claws.
Most chicken owners keep their dogs as far away from the coop as humanly possible. However, there are plenty of farmers who have trained their dog to not only stay away from the chickens, but actually protect them. In order to accomplish this, you have to train your dogs to know that you, as the alpha, have first dibs over the chickens. Once they have calmed down, they can happily co-exist. Unfortunately, cats can’t really be trained in the same way. So it’s best to keep baby chicks away from your cats until they have grown until adult birds. When the chickens are fully grown, cats will leave them alone.
Earlier on this list, we mentioned that you can give chickens scraps from the garden as food. However, you need to be careful, because the wrong foods can have unintended consequences. If you plan to give your chickens scraps of food from the garden, be aware that their eggs will begin to smell like it. For example, garlic and onions are so strong, that the flavor will transfer over to the eggs. If you’re making an omelette, maybe that’s a good thing. But no one wants to crack an egg into your mixing bowl, only to realize their cake tastes like garlic.
You also need to make sure your birds are eating a balanced diet. For example, a lack of calcium could make the egg shells too thin, and break easily. This is why many people buy store-bought food that’s fortified with extra calcium supplement. And if you were planning to eventually eat the chicken for meat, you would need to do some research to see which vitamins and minerals are going to result in the best-tasting bird.
2. Keep Your Chickens Away From Plants That Can Kill Them
While it may be tempting to throw all of your food scraps to your chickens, you need to be very careful with what you’re feeding them. There are a lot of foods and plants that will make chickens sick, or could even lead to their death. Avocado pits, dried beans, rhubarb, and moldy or rotting foods are examples of what can make a chicken very sick. Certain foods like potatoes are toxic when they’re raw, but okay for chickens to eat if they’re fully cooked beforehand.
Before you even think about giving your flock of chickens a new treat, do a quick Google search to make sure they will be okay. The full list is too long to include here, so pleasecheck out this website for all of the plants that are toxic to chickens. If you have children, it is very important to teach them this, because it’s all too easy for kids to unwittingly give the chickens something that will make them sick or die.
1. Look Into Homestead and Small Farm Tax Deductions
If you plan to create a backyard farm, it might be a good idea for you to look into potential property tax deductions. With urban sprawl taking over natural landscapes, most municipalities have incentives for people to maintain farmland. Every state, and sometimes even towns are very different from one another with their rules of what constitutes a “farm”. Keep in mind that some of these rules have become more strict as time goes on. Some older farms have been grandfathered in to the looser restrictions.
Where I live in New Jersey, we have some of the most expensive taxes in the entire country. By becoming a farm, you get a 90% discount on property taxes, so it’s totally worth it to qualify as a farm. You need a minimum of five acres, and prove that you make at least $1,000 annually selling products that were created on your farm for two years before you get any tax breaks. There is a 20-page rule book that goes over all of the eligibility requirements. Your local area will most likely have similar rules and regulations.