Raising Backyard Chickens
Pioneering A Journey Towards Self-Sufficiency 
Written By Victor Alfieri, editor woodlotfarms.com 
Urban Homesteader
Revised 4-2017

The following data, info, links, and research is from my own personal experiences in raising chicken hens. My thought process is from a logical and practical stand point. 

Some towns do not allow residents to raise hens. Please check your town laws and understand them before moving ahead. If raising chicken hens is not permitted in your town, you can, must, and need to change the law.  
E-Mail Editor For Help: editor@woodlotfarms.com  

A Few Points On Raising Hens To Get You Excited 
Chickens are and always will be the most efficient, cost effective, and practical protein food source for the small urban homestead. Raising chicken hens pays for itself, you will save money by raising backyard hens. 

The fact is eggs from backyard chickens have 25 percent more vitamin E, 35 percent more vitamin A and 75 percent more beta-carotene. They also have significantly more omega-3 fatty acids and lower levels of total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, than factory farmed eggs. Raising backyard chickens is now synonymous with sustainability.

Nothing goes to waste with hens. Hens produce fresh organic healthy eggs, the egg shells are high in calcium and perfect for enriching soil, and the rich high nitrogen waste is excellent for adding to flower and garden soils. No waste because everything is used. 

Another fact is the minute you start raising chicken hens, your family's carbon footprint goes down. Raising backyard hens has a positive effect on the environment. 

Excited Yet? This should do it. Most importantly, owning and raising hens creates a tremendous sense of food security. Regardless of what happens around you. Your family has the ability to produce ounce for ounce and pound for pound the highest packed protein food source on the planet. Know where your food comes from!!!

OK Let's Get Started
First you have to get prepared mentally. You need to forget about and remove all the preconceived notions that you have been told about raising backyard chicken hens. 

Do not ever let any negative energy into the process of planning, building, and maintaining your backyard flock. Chicken hens feed off your energy, good or bad. 

Tending to and sitting with hens is a wonderful form of meditation. Raising hens should never be stressful, we have too much of that in our everyday life, our yards should be tranquil calm and relaxing. 

Raising chicken hens is about living healthy, having fun, learning, sustainability, gaining back some control, and becoming less dependent on outside resources. 

Why Do You Want To Raise Chicken Hens? 
First you need to decide why you want to raise chickens. Do you want fresh eggs, meat, or both?  There are chicken hens for laying fresh eggs. Hens that grow big and fast for meat, or there are combination of laying hens and birds for meat. Also many people raise chickens as show birds. 

How Many Are You Going To Raise? 
How many chicken hens are you going to raise? This is important to know before you get started on your coop design. Keep in mind 3 hens will produce 900 eggs per year, 5 hens 1,500 per year. When raising hens for fresh eggs, 3 to 5 hens is perfect number for a homestead with 4 to 6 family members. 

I recommend raising at least 3 hens or more. Any less than 3 hens will put your small flock in danger. In the winter hens huddle together to use each other's body heat to keep warm. With more eyes looking out for predators chickens feel more comfortable in minimum pack of 3. 

Finding The Perfect Spot In The Yard
If you want happy and healthy hens they need the sun. Everything the chicken does revolves around the sun. The amount of eggs they lay per year is based on how much light they receive. The sun feeds hens vitamins like D3 that keeps them healthy.  Hens also need shade to cool off in the hot summers. 

Find a spot that is convenient for you and your family. Going to care for the hens should be fun and not feel like a chore. I think being able to see the chicken run from the house is very important. Watching and sitting by the hens is very relaxing. 

The Hen House 
Never purchase chickens with-out having your coop set up first. There are many possibilities for chicken coops. Coops are now designed for all types of applications. Coop designs can be totally charming, upscale and even whimsical. You can convert an existing shed for under $50.00 or spend up to $5,000 for a beautiful dollhouse replica. 

They can be small and simple, made from salvaged material, massive and complex, or beautiful enough to exist in a city backyard. They can be purchased pre-made or built yourself. The important features are: adequate size, protection from predators, 
roosting poles, adequate ventilation, and nest boxes. 

Hens need 2 square feet per hen in the coop and 10 square feet per hen outside for a 
chicken run. 10 hens 100 square feet run.

The Chicken Run 
Chickens can fly so the run should always be enclosed with some kind of netting. Most importantly the enclosed run helps to protect the hens from flying and ground predators. 

Runs should contain a rock or 2 so the hens can clean and smooth their beaks. There also should be a roost about 8" off the ground, so the hens can get off the cold and wet ground in the rain and snow. 

Chicken Trackers - Portable Houses - This is the most efficient way to raise backyard chicken hens. Chicken coops on wheels so you can move the coop around the yard to feed your lawn with rich nitrogen and stop using harsh lawn chemicals. 

Also known as "chicken tractors" portable housing makes it possible to keep your chickens on grass or in your garden for  de-bugging. Chickens also eat weeds and do a great job tilling and mixing garden soil.

Hens that have access to greens will produce higher quality eggs with an orange yolk. 

Yellow yolks indicate that the hen is not getting enough daylight, and is not on 
pasture or grass.   

Laying Boxes
Each hen does not need a laying box. 1 laying box for every 5 hens is perfect. 

Size: 14" wide, 14" front to back and 18" high so the hens can stand and spin.

Put in about 2" of pine shavings on the bottom on the box for a soft egg laying surface. Clean and replace shavings as needed.

The Roost 
At night chickens roost. The roost needs to be at least 24" off the coop floor and large enough to hold all your hens. The roost helps them feel secure and relaxes them for a good night sleep. Hens need to be able to walk up a ladder to get to the roost. Hens use roosts for grooming and sleeping.

Some of the coop designs I have seen are just remarkable and very innovative. As long as the hens have a dry box for egg laying, a roost for sleeping and grooming, and are kept out of the wind in the winter, really anything goes. 

Choosing The Right Breed
There are over 400 varieties of chickens available today! Amazing, isn't it? When choosing a breed or breeds for your flock, consider climate, breed temperaments, egg production levels, and whether you want a "dual-purpose" bird that is good for eggs and meat, or purely an egg producer.

Combining multiple breeds in one flock is fine. They'll all get along, and whether you have one breed or seven, they will establish their pecking order. 

Starting My Small Backyard Flock 
There are a few ways to start your backyard flock. One way would be to buy chicken hatching eggs. That's right eggs with chicks inside and about a week from hatching shipped to your front door. Staring this way I would have to say is the hardest method.  Click For Example Murray McMurray Hatchery

Another way is to buy one day old baby chicks. Caring for baby chicks in the first few weeks is a time-intensive but fun process. You'll need to keep them under a heat lamp, monitor their temperature and make sure they have food and water. Each week you lower the temperature until they are comfortable at outside temperature, and then you can remove the heat lamp and move them to the main coop. One day old chicks can be ordered online and shipped to your door.   Click For Example Efowl.com

Keep in mind new born chicks cost from $.50 to $3.00 each but will not start laying eggs for about 16 to 20 weeks old. Hatching eggs and new born chicks need a constant temperature of 95 degrees for the first month or so. You will need to care form them with no reward. Consider the care and cost of raising baby chicks.

The most practical, cost effective, and easiest way to start raising hens is to purchase 16 to 18 week old "pullets". Pullets are sold right before they start laying eggs. Pullets are more expansive because of the cost to raise them to the point of egg laying. 

If you are just getting started this is the best way to go. There is a lot to learn, take your time, and start from the most practical place. 16 weeks old pullets should cost between $6.00-$15.00. 

Local Chicken Hen Delivery Service Is Offering Rhode Island Red & White Rock Mix.
In and Around Wayne NJ For The Week Of April 16th delivery. Click For Details 

Do I Need A Rooster?
The short answer is NO. You can get fresh healthy eggs from hens without ever having a rooster present. Roosters do not lay eggs. The only reason you would need a rooster is if you intend on hatching your own chicks. A rooster will have to fertilize the eggs.

Where To Buy 
The very best places to buy your chicks is from small local farms and private breeders concentrating on the breed of your choice, especially if that breeder is raising them organically.  Place your orders by early spring to get the breed or breeds you wish to raise. 
Order On Line
Click For Murray McMurray Hatchery

The Right Supplies - Things You Will Need
There are a few things you'll need to raise happy healthy hens, waterer, feeder, bedding, feed, scratch, grit, and ground up oyster shells. The chicken hen industry is just like the cat and dog business. There are thousands of gadgets you can buy for raising chicken hens. 

It comes down to how much money you want to spend. But, please keep in mind, that many of these items can be made from things you may already have in your home and most of the time work better than anything you can buy in the store. 

Non Food Must Haves For The Coop
1. Clean fresh water is the most important thing chicken hens need. The waterer has to be heavy in weight and off the ground because chickens will walk on and tip over the water.  Being a little off the ground discourages them from standing on the sides and tipping. Very important. The water container needs to be scrubbed and cleaned before refill. Do not let algae build up on bottom of container. 

2. Feeder same thing, use something sturdy. Chickens will try to scratch the food and flip feeders over. Wall mount gravity feeders made of PVC are the best. Feed container needs to be scrubbed and cleaned before refill. Use your eyes, if it looks dirty clean it. 

3. Pine shavings are used for the bottom of the egg laying boxes for bedding and is also sprinkled around the coop to help dry out waste. About $8.00 for 3 cubic feet and it goes a long way.    Click For Example

4. Metal scraper. Scraper is used to scrape off the hard waste that sometimes gets stuck to coop floor. You will find this tool very useful in tending to your coop. 

Chicken Feed 
It's important to understand that chicken feed (livestock feed) is a commodity and trades on the open market every day. The price is determined as a function of its market as a whole. 

This means feed prices will always change. Chicken feed is mostly made up of whole grains. If there is bad weather, flooding, droughts, and it effects the crops, chicken feed price will go up or maybe down depending on the factors. 

Chicken feed comes in 3 ways. Crumbles, Pellets, and Scratch. Crumbles and Pellets are the same thing. Crumbles is just ground smaller for smaller birds. Pellets are for more mature larger birds. Chicken feed is sold in 50 lbs. bags for about $18.00. They do offer smaller bags, but it will be more expensive.   

Crumbles                           Pellets                              Scratch  

Chicken feed is going to have everything your chicken needs to stay happy and healthy. Chickens not fed properly will result in unhealthy less productive hens. Know whats in your chicken feed, always read the ingredients. Try different brands and types and find what fits for you and your budget.

Scratch is also chicken feed but is lacks all the essential nutrients your chickens will need to live a have healthy life. Scratch is made up of small whole grains. 

Buying and using scratch grains is not necessary but, thrown on the ground in the chicken run, it keeps the hens busy all day scratching and pecking for healthy treats. Scratch feed is sold in 50 lb. bags for about $18.00.

There are also All Natural and Organic feeds available. The organic chicken feeds are the best, but it is also the most expensive. About $35.00 for a 50 lb. bag. 

Blue Seal Home Fresh Chicken Feed
Purina Mills Layena Chicken Feed
Local Chicken Hen Feed Supply 
Mike's Feed Farm - 90 Hamburg Turnpike - Riverdale New Jersey
Pequannock Feed & Pet Supply - 85 Marshall Hill Rd. - West Milford New Jersey

Throw Some Grid & Oyster Shells
Chickens do not have teeth and therefore do not chew their food. Chickens swallow their food whole. Chicken grit is simply small rocks to be used as a supplement to your flock’s diet. These rocks are rough in texture which is much more effective in grinding and helps hens with digestion. Sprinkle a small hand full around the chicken run from time to time. Grit bags come in a 5 lb. bag for under $8.00. With 10 hens or under this size bag should last you one year.   Click For Example      Why Grit For Chickens?

For strong eggs, Oyster Shell is a must have. Laying hens need a source of calcium to keep their eggshells strong. Hens that get too little calcium will lay thin-shelled eggs that will be prone to breakage. Eggshells are made of calcium carbonate, the same as found in oyster shells. Ground up shells come in a 5 lb. bag for under $8.00. With 10 hens or under this size bag should last you one year.    Click For Example

Should you wash eggs?
No. It's not necessary or recommended for consumers to wash eggs and may actually increase the risk of contamination because the wash water can be "sucked" into the egg through the pores in the shell When the chicken lays the egg, a protective coating is put on the outside by the hen. 

Maintain Your Flock 
Ongoing chicken care is fairly easy. Feeding, watering, gathering eggs and periodically cleaning bedding are the main tasks. The key is to be sure you keep your schedule regular - hens can't go very long without water.

More to come.

Urban Heamsteading Site Coming Soon - Under Construction

Have Chicken Problems?  Call  "The Chicken Man"  201-220-4862
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Home Experiment

Are Your Eggs Fresh?

Fill a tall bowl with water room temperature. Grab 3 eggs from 
your fridge and softly drop in to bowl 
of water. Shake bowl lightly to help 
the eggs get settled. 

A. If the eggs sinks to the bottom 
and lays flat, the eggs are fresh.

B. If the eggs sinks but floats at an angle. Egg are over 20 days old.

C. If the eggs sinks but than stands straight up. Eggs are not fresh 
and are over 40 days old. Should 
only be used for baking.

D. If the egg floats, discard.
Throw in compost bin.

How Old 
Are Your Eggs?
The USDA assigns a plant number to 
each official plant where the eggs are packed. The number is always preceded by the letter "P" and must be 
stamped on the side of the carton.

The day of the year that the eggs 
are processed and put into the carton must be stamped on the carton with 
the USDA grade shield. 

This number can range from 001 
(January 1st) to 365 (December 31st).
One full year. 

There is a 7 day packing window. 
Eggs are packed within 1-7 
days after they are laid. So it's very difficult to find the exact date the 
eggs were laid, but you can 
get very close.

It is done this way for a reason, 
to hide the truth.

In my example the pack date number 
is 311, meaning they were packed 
on the 311th day of the year or November 7th.

Find the 3 numbers on your egg 
carton and match it up with the
chart below. 

Day Of The Year In Numbers Chart 
To Find The Age Of Supermarket Eggs