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Q&A: Chicken Commitment

How much care do garden chickens require?

I’ve heard that chickens make a good addition to the garden because they help control insect pests. I like the idea of having some hens clucking about, but I wonder if I can keep up with them. How much care do garden chickens require?

Although chickens and bantams (small chickens) are not time consuming to look after, they do appreciate a routine and like to be let out of their house and fed at regular times. Keeping to a daily pattern is important, so before you decide to make any purchases it is vital that you consider how you will carry out the apparently simple tasks of shutting the chickens up at night and letting them out in the morning.

In the winter months in the north, many people leave for work in the dark and, therefore, before the birds come down off their roost. Will there be anyone at home to let your chickens out once daybreak comes? Can you rely on them not to forget this simple chore? In the middle of summer, there may be problems at the other end of the day, as your chickens may still be scratching around when you are ready for bed. If the birds are kept in a secure pen this may not be a problem, but if they are free range there is a strong possibility that they will be taken by a nocturnal predator.

Ideally, chickens should be fed little and often, which is easily accomplished by providing a hopper feeder so that they can feed when they choose. Where this is not practical, feeding morning and evening is the best option. Don’t leave out too much food: Not only is it wasteful, it will encourage vermin, and pellets or mash can go sour if left in damp conditions. If food and water are given free choice in the henhouse, the floor covering will get scratched into the feed, and water will be spilled, increasing the likelihood of fungal disease.

Other parts of the daily routine include scraping the previous night’s feces from the droppings board, checking that no eggs have been broken in the nest boxes and changing damp litter around any indoor drinking vessels. In the winter, waterers need to be kept free of ice.

Although none of these chores takes too long, there is no point in choosing to keep chickens if you cannot also spend some time watching and enjoying their antics. In addition to providing relaxation at the end of a busy day, time spent leaning on the gate is essential in order to keep a check on your birds’ well-being.

Read more about gardening with chickens

Note: This text is excerpted from Keeping Chickens by Jeremy Hobson & Celia Lewis (David & Charles, 2007).
Make a small investment in your future, for big returns, with Self-Sufficiency on a Shoestring.

Learn all about raising chickens for eggs or meat with the beautifully photographed, comprehensive The Joy of Keeping Chickens: The Ultimate Guide to Raising Poultry for Fun or Profit, which was written by an organic gardener. Why stop at chickens? Learn about taking care of goats, pigs, sheep and cows, too, in The Joy of Keeping Farm Animals.

Follow the easy instructions in Backyard Projects for Today's Homestead to create your own chicken coop, chairs, pergolas, grill caddy and more.

Think you need a lot of space in a rural zone to go back to basics and become self-sufficient? Not true. Check out Little House in the Suburbs, a guide to incorporating homesteading principles into your life in suburbia.

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