Keeping chickens takes just a few minutes a day.
When everyone in your household is either at work or school all day, it can be daunting to think about getting a pet dog or cat, much less a flock of backyard chickens! But in reality, chickens are very easy to raise once you have your set-up and routine figured out.
You can’t beat fresh eggs for taste and nutrition; they’re a wonderful source of protein and a kitchen staple. Just a small flock of 5 or 6 hens will keep the average family in eggs for much of the year.
Of course your chickens, like all flocks, will need a coop to sleep in at night. Since you won’t be home during the day, you’ll also need a nice, safe enclosed pen, or run, for your chickens to spend their day in. Keeping them confined when you’re not home will not only protect them from predators (including dogs, foxes, raccoon, weasels, hawks, eagles and owls), but also keep them out of the road and away from your neighbor’s garden. It also will keep them from making camp and pooping all over your patio or porch.
- Predator-proof latch on the door (ie, locking eye hook, latch with carabiner, key or padlock)
- Good ventilation with all windows and vents covered in 1/2″ welded wire
- At least 3-4 square feet of floor space per chicken
- 8″ of roosting bar space per chicken
- One nesting box for each 3-4 hens
- Predator-proof latch on door
- 1′ or 1/2″ welded wire fencing, or chain link wrapped in chicken wire
- Fencing sunk into the ground about a foot
- Top covered with a solid roof or more welded wire
Chickens are very routine oriented. You should open up the coop and let them out into the run about the same time each morning. Normally around sunrise is best. If your work schedule dictates that you leave before sunup, as long as your run is predator-proofed, you can open the coop door and the chickens will come out on their own when it gets light out. Conversely, they’ll head into the coop and hop up onto the roosting bars at dusk. The coop door should be shut and locked shortly after.
If your work hours don’t allow you to be home at sunrise and sunset, a good option is to install an automatic coop door. There are lots of different types. Some run on electricity or battery, some are solar. They can be set to open and close at the proper times. They work very well to keep chickens safe and locked up when they need to be.
When you open up the coop, you will need to feed the chickens. You can measure out feed every morning. To save time you can purchase a large feeder that holds many days’ worth of feed. Chickens, unlike dogs for example, won’t overeat. A hen will eat about a half a cup of feed a day, but you can fill a larger feeder on the weekend when you have more time and the feed should last a small flock all week. Each hen will only eat as much as she needs.
Same goes for waterers. Chickens, like all living things, need constant access to water. A large waterer can be filled over the weekend and should last several days for a small flock. However, if you won’t be home all day, especially in the warm weather when the chickens will drink more and need to cool down and stay hydrated, setting up several watering stations in your run is a good idea in case one gets knocked over, emptied or full of dirt and chicken poop.
On a daily basis, letting the chickens out and checking feed and water in the morning should only take a few minutes. At the end of the day, collecting eggs and locking up should also only take a few minutes. Weekends when you have more time can be set aside to clean the coop, refresh bedding and nesting boxes, clean and refill feeders and waterers and head to the feed store to restock your supplies and feed.
Caring for a small flock of chickens doesn’t have to take lots of time. You and your family will likely find yourselves relaxing after school or work watching the chickens roam around the yard, enjoying a bit of free range time before bed. And while chickens do need to be cared for on a daily basis, often a neighbor or family member will offer to take over the duties in exchange for a basketful of fresh eggs when you are on vacation or away for a few days!
Lisa Steele is a fifth-generation chicken keeper who has been around chickens most of her life. It’s no surprise she has made her name raising her own backyard flock and sharing her farming adventures. Lisa is also an avid gardener and aspiring herbalist. She shares tips and advice on both her award-winning Fresh Eggs Daily blog (www.fresheggsdaily.com) and Facebook page of the same name. She holds a Maine Master Gardener certification and her popular website has been named one of Better Homes & Gardens Top Ten Gardening Blogs.