31 May 2012

Grow your own eggs!

Now that more people are enjoying the pleasure of growing a few vegetables, herbs and maybe a berry bush or two, there is renewed interest in having a few backyard chickens.

Eggs from backyard poultry are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, have more vitamin A, E, beta carotene and omega 3 fatty acids.

The Walton Family of Muskogee has had chickens for 7-years. Charley Walton, age 15, is primarily responsible for taking care of them.



“We buy pullets (chickens that are 20 weeks old) from someone who sells at the Farmer’s Market,” said Charley. “Chickens that age are already ready to lay and you don’t have to raise them from chicks.”

The first step in deciding to raise chickens is making sure they are legal in your area. The Waltons live in the County but many families who live in towns and cities keep a few chickens as pets.

Horticulturist Russell Studebaker has raised chickens all his life and has 5 Bantam chickens in his Tulsa backyard garden.

“Select the breed that you want, and whether it is Standard or one of the Bantam breeds,” Studebaker said. “Almost all the Standard breeds come in Bantam breeds too. Bantams take less room, require less feed, lay almost as many eggs, and besides they are so cute. “

Clip feathers to prevent escape
While looking at the various breeds, consider where you can put the birds. They will need shelter, cool shade in the summer, warm sun in winter, and a place where they will be safe from predators. A doghouse with a 4-foot tall fenced yard can be used for a little flock of 3 birds. Walton said be sure to clip their wing feathers.

“Ten hens is plenty to produce eggs for a family of four because you’ll get 6 to 8 eggs a day from them,” said Walton. “After 2 or 3 years, each hen lays fewer eggs. Our five hens are 4-years old and they give us about 3 eggs a day.”

Daily fresh water is essential for chickens but be sure the sprinklers do not run in their area.

Walton said he gives the chickens 20 percent protein commercial food plus kitchen and garden greens in the morning and scratch corn at bed time.

“It’s important that they eat their food before bed in order to keep other animals away from their pen,” said Walton.

Studebaker said, “Crumbled feed is better than pellets for an older flock because they don't like the size of the pellets. Let chicks and adults have access to grass as much as possible. They love grass, it is healthy for them, and it reduces feed costs.”
Roosting box at Walton's Farm
  Hens require 14-hours of light in order to lay eggs. When daylight hours are short, add artificial light to keep them laying. One-foot wide and deep nesting boxes with perches are constructed in a separate room to make it easy to collect eggs.

And, speaking of eggs, Studebaker said, “Some breeds only lay brown eggs, some only white eggs, and some lay colored eggs (green, blue, etc). Some of the breeds are for eggs and meat; others mainly for egg production.”

Charley and Kim Walton said that raising chickens is rewarding and they are fun to watch.

“There really is a pecking order,” said Walton. “

More resources: OSU Poultry Fact Sheets http://bit.ly/KAj5Ro, Backyard Poultry Magazine (www.backyardpoultrymag.com and 800-551-5691, and a new well-illustrated book
“The Chicken Whisperer's Guide to Keeping Chickens: Everything You Need to Know and Didn't Know You Needed to Know About Backyard and Urban Chickens”, by Andy Schneider and Dr. Brigid McCrea, published 2011 by Quarry Books, www.chickenwhisperer.net.


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