I hate to keep bringing up a sore subject, but the coronavirus pandemic sparked a nationwide interest in backyard poultry flocks. Quite frankly, I am a huge fan of the gig – fresh eggs, roaster chicken (if meat birds are your thing), and of course, colorful birds plucking around the coop or yard. In a rural setting, having backyard birds isn’t an issue. However, if you’re in an urban or suburban area, you’d have to check with the city or township to make sure having a couple of chickens is allowable in your backyard. In the suburb I grew up in, having up to three chickens was permitted as long as they were contained in a coop.
The beauty of chickens is they are versatile and efficient. You can raise layers, broilers, or dual-purpose breeds depending on the end goal of your operation, regardless of your flock size.Purchasing your birds can occur a few different ways. A majority of “chicken tenders” will select chicks at a local farm store or order them from a hatchery website.When you purchase at a store, you’ll be able to take them home the same day but will be limited to the breeds they currently have in stock. If you choose to go through a hatchery, you will be able to select the week they are hatched and shipped to you. They are shipped as day-old chicks and will arrive within two days of leaving the hatchery. As someone who has ordered through a hatchery, you will likely be plagued with indecisiveness just as I was – you’ll want them all! Laying hens also can be purchased as 4-week-old chicks or started pullets, reducing the wait time before they start laying at 4-5 months of age. Broilers, or meat chickens, do not provide you with that luxury because of their quick finishing rate. Your stories live here.From the time a broiler chick hatches to the time it can be enjoyed on the table is between six-eight weeks.
If you order from a hatchery, you can opt to have your chicks vaccinated against coccidiosis and Marek’s disease. An interesting point about this is vaccinated chicks need to be fed unmedicated feed to prevent a nulling effect of the vaccine. If the chicks are not vaccinated, make sure to feed a medicated chick feed to safeguard them against disease.
When your chicks arrive home, they will need a few items to set them up for success. For starters, where will they be housed? They will be very small and vulnerable, so make sure they are protected from predators and the elements. Additionally, they should be provided with a heat lamp or brooder box to keep them warm – about 90-95 degrees for the first week of life. A chick feeder and waterer are also essential. If you can purchase them in red, do so, as it will attract the birds to them. When placing the chicks in their new abode, dip their beaks in to the waterer so they know where to drink from.
Now let’s talk about a few breeds.
Cornish Cross: The most popular meat breed and what you will find in the grocery store. Chicks are yellow and will feather out to be white birds. Their feed to gain ratio is about 1.5-1, meaning they will put on 1 pound of muscle for every 1.5 pounds of feed eaten. Finished to 8 pounds in in 6-8 weeks.
Barred Rock: The quintessential backyard chicken. These stately birds start out as black chicks with a white dot on the top of their heads and feather out to have black and white feathers. They lay large brown eggs and can be used as a meat bird. Mature females weigh about 7.5 pounds.
Ameracauna: A breed of bird with no limit on variety. These birds can come in all feather colors and patterns and may have beards or muffs, giving their head and necks a puffy appearance. These birds will lay green, blue, or rarely, pink eggs. Mature hens are petite at 4 pounds.
Buff Orpington: Plumage the color of a gold watch, according to some poultry judges. They are quiet birds that start as buff-colored chicks and mature to a golden color. They lay large brown eggs and can also double as a meat bird. Hens will mature at 8 pounds.
Backyard poultry is an exciting new adventure for all ages and provides fresh and nutritious food for the family. Some birds may even decide to be you pet, making the experience all the more rewarding.
Haley Zynda is an OSU Extension ANR educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722.