As egg prices continue to soar due to recent outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, more and more consumers are turning to backyard chickens to ensure a steady supply of fresh eggs. But before embarking on this endeavor, it’s important to learn the best practices for raising a healthy and happy backyard flock. In this article, we’ll share some expert tips from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s Acreage Living Newsletter to help you get started.
Plan Ahead for a Healthy Flock
According to Christa Hartsook, small farms program coordinator for Farm, Food and Enterprise Development with ISU Extension and Outreach, early preparation is key to ensuring a healthy and thriving flock. Before your chicks arrive, make sure you have everything ready, from the brooder heater to the chick waterer. This will help ensure the establishment of a healthy flock for your family's enjoyment and food production.
Selecting the Right Breed
When selecting a breed of chicken, it’s important to choose one that’s capable of withstanding Iowa’s cold winters. Heavier breeds generally lay brown eggs and include Americanas, Brahmas, Orpingtons, Silkes or Wyandottes. For white egg layers, a popular breed is the White Leghorn. Make sure to do your research and choose the breed that’s right for you and your family.
Ensuring Survival of Newly Hatched Chicks
Newly hatched chicks must be kept warm under a brooder light or brooder heater at 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the first week. After the first week, reduce heat by 5F each subsequent week until a temperature of 70F is reached. Access to food and water is also crucial for chick health and survival. Use a one-gallon chick waterer for every 50 chicks and provide them with commercial starter diets available from local farm or co-op stores for the first eight to 10 weeks of life. Egg layers also require grit for digestion, which can be added to feed starting the third day after receiving chicks.
Providing a Clean and Adequate Living Space
As chicks grow, it’s important to provide them with a clean, adequately sized space. Keeping the coop area clean and changing shavings regularly minimizes ammonia buildup, preventing contamination of water and feed. Attention should be given to roosting space, nesting space, and easy access for someone to enter to refill food and water, collect eggs, and clean the coop. Your coop can be housed in an existing building on your property, a small garden shed, or new construction using one of the many plans found online.
Get Started with Backyard Chickens eCourse
If you’re interested in raising backyard chickens but don’t know where to start, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach offers a free, online course called Getting Started with Backyard Chickens eCourse. This course will provide you with the basic knowledge and skills you need to get started on your backyard chicken journey.
In conclusion, backyard chickens have become a popular solution for consumers looking to save money on eggs while ensuring a steady supply of fresh and healthy eggs. With the expert tips from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s Acreage Living Newsletter, you can be on your way to raising a healthy and happy backyard flock. Just remember to plan ahead, choose the right breed, provide a clean and adequate living space, and access to food and water. Happy chicken raising!