After the garden, the most practical addition to your backyard homestead is a flock of backyard chickens. Not only do hens provide fresh eggs every morning, but they also make great low-maintenance pets. Our personal flock varies in size (currently 22) and breed (currently Rhode Island Red, Buff Orpington, and Production Red) but has always been an integral part of our own backyard homestead.
First, a word of encouragement: Raising hens is actually very easy. They are hearty creatures who only require food and water to live. No need to arrange for a pet-sitter if you’re leaving town for the weekend – they’ll be there when you get back. But before you run off and buy a coop, there are several factors you will want to consider:
As in, how much do you have? Do you plan on keeping your hens cooped up or letting them range? There is a lot to think about here. Ranging hens are far healthier, but they will tear up your yard in a hurry (even a big yard). If you don’t have a space to range your hens, consider a smaller flock of 3-4.
Safeguarding backyard chickens against predators is actually tricky, and it can be frustrating when you think you’ve done everything necessary only to find a dead hen the next morning. In our area of South Carolina, you’ll need to consider attacks from all sides: Possums, foxes, dogs, hawks, snakes, skunks, and even vandals. You’ll even have to protect one of your birds from the rest on occasion.
Laws and Rules
Be sure to check your city/county/HOA rules for anything about backyard chickens. Many times you can get by if you refer to them as pets, but there will probably still be limits on how many you can have within city limits.
Hens and feed are cheap, but coops and equipment can be expensive. If you are looking to cut your startup costs, consider building your coop out of reclaimed materials.
The “Yuck” Factor
It may sound funny now, but what are you going to do when you find one of your hens without a head or feet as the result of a possum attack? What will you do with your hens when they’ve stopped laying? Who is going to shovel the coop? Will you take a $5 hen to the vet when she’s been pecked bloody, or will you make a broth? Let’s be up front with each other right now – if you are uncomfortable with these things, you probably shouldn’t raise hens.