Free Range Chicken Farming
So you are tired of paying a fortune for eggs and you don’t even know if the hens are actually free range or just not in cages but still indoors – now you want to keep your own chickens and enjoy fresh eggs every day. It’s not hard to raise chickens but there are a few things you must realize. This tutorial will cover the basics.
Chickens need a protected “house” called a coop which usually has roosting spaces and nest boxes. Since their ancestors used to rest in trees, as do most birds, they need a sort of very wide ladder to perch on at night. They will use their nest boxes to lay eggs in and you need about 1 box for every 5 hens. If you train them correctly (not difficult) they will go to their coop every evening by themselves and you can just lock them up and let them out in the morning.
I prefer mash (finely ground maize, soya and other ingredients) and chicken feed comes in pellets too but for young chicks you need chick starter mash. As they get older their feeds are supplemented with extra calcium. Bear in mind that you don’t need to worry about calcium as much with free range hens because sunlight is excellent for calcium production. It’s the poor things stuck in cages 24/7 that suffer from lack of nutrients and get stuffed with an assortment of things to help them be healthy. It’s also a good idea to get special waterers because they could knock over bowls or get them filthy very quickly so waterers help prevent this. Chickens drink a lot of water so never let them go thirsty.
Chickens are creatures of habit and territory. I once had 2 Blue Leghorns who used to sleep in one of the outside rooms. I later got more chickens and these new chickens refused point blank to sleep with the 2 Blue Leghorns in the coop. I had to build a separate temporary coop in the evening in the middle of winter for the new chickens. Then when I wanted to move them to the new structure I erected they wouldn’t leave their old spot. Eventually after much manipulation and chasing and drama I managed to get them to go to where I needed them to go and that problem was solved.
Egg laying typically starts at about 20 – 30 weeks but it could be earlier or later. The eggs start out small and get bigger as the hens get older. Even if you provide nestboxes the hens may still find other places in your backyard to lay so keep an eye out for surprises. Once we found 20 eggs that they had been hiding. A rooster is not needed for egg production. If you do have a rooster fertilizing some of the eggs they are exactly the same as normal eggs and you won’t notice any difference in taste or appearance but keep them in the fridge to completely halt development of the embryo, just to be on the safe side.
The best breeds are hardy indigenous breeds like Rhode Island Red, Boschveld, Leghorn, Potch Koekoek and Wyandotte to name just a few but there are many different breeds.
I planted some mint out in a corner by the kitchen door, because there was an empty shady spot just begging for a bit of green and mint is a wonderfully prolific grower. The next day I almost screamed – every single leaf on the plant had disappeared! I looked around at the suspects, which were either my chickens or my Jack Russell dog Gemmy (pronounced “Jemmy”) but I was pretty sure who it was. My dog loves eating anything but I have never known her to eat mint. I covered the mint with an orange crate to form a quick cage, and when it grew back within days I uncovered half of the mint plant and noticed the chickens stopping by on their rounds for a quick nibble. It doesn’t surprise me though, what with mint being used in herbal medicine to treat stomach aches and pains. The chickens must love something in that mint!
So I thought that it would be fitting to start off the new blog with a picture of the first eggs my hens ever laid. These were laid by two hens from my first group of four Blue Leghorn chicks that I bought. They were only three weeks old when I bought them home and I loved them from day 1. They were so cute with their fluffy little bodies and big feet. It was great to see them enjoying their new environment.
These eggs were laid yesterday in a very secret spot in my yard, so secret I almost missed them. I took the two eggs (Leghorns lay white eggs) and the next morning there was another egg, this time a brown one which means that it was laid by a different breed, either one of the Potch Koekoeks or Boschvelds. Because the hens are still young the eggs are a bit smaller than they would be when the hen is older and also the Leghorn is thought of as a medium to small breed so the eggs are also not very large even when they get to their full size.