Many people do have backyard folks and many more are interested in the venture. Backyard flocks can be an excellent way to be involved in agriculture while producing a product you can use to feed the family. I will share information from a UGA publication written by Jean Sander, Extension Veterinarian and Michael Lacy, Extension Poultry Scientist. The publication has been revised by Claudia Dunkley, UGA Extension Poultry Scientist. We will be able to just skim the surface in this article, but just note we can provide several UGA publications that can assist your efforts.
The first thing you must do before buying equipment or the first chicken is to make sure your area is zoned to have backyard flocks. That is your responsibility to make sure you do not have restrictions on raising chickens in your area. If you are legal in raising a backyard flock, you then need to decide what kind of birds you want and for what purpose. You will then need to research on how you are going to house your birds. Are you going to buy your shelter or are you going to build your housing? You can find or buy ready structures or find a design that you want to build. You need housing that will meet the growth of the bird. According to Sander and Lacy, the minimum space required per bird depends on the breed of bird. This can range from ¾ to 1 square feet for smaller breeds to 3-4 square feet for turkeys.
A general rule of thumb is 3- 3 ½ square feet for each bird for egg production for example. Many people are raising free-range chickens now so the birds have a tremendous amount of space. Again, make sure of your zoning restrictions and remember that your neighbors may not like roaming birds on their property. Also note, birds not protected by fencing is an easier target for predators. Another option is to have a poultry house so the birds can come inside, but also have a fenced area so they can go outside. The outside area fencing should extend to the ground, be small enough mesh to keep the birds in and predators out. Also, you may want to cover the top of the fenced area to keep the birds in and also predators out. You have a small flock of birds so you want to protect your investment.
Going back to the poultry house, it needs to stay about 70 degrees F. The term poultry house can be all kinds of things. Some folks will buy or build a very elaborate poultry building or have a small chicken structure they have used for years. I remember when I was in Louisville with one of my livestock judging teams, they had a very detailed, mobile poultry building you could hook up to your truck and move very easily on display at the trade show. Bedding material is suggested to be pine shavings, rice hulls, peanut shells or ground corncobs. Depending where you live, may determine what is more easily available. Hardwood shavings are not suggested due to mold that can grow in the hardwood shavings that have been composted in storage. According to the publication, the potential mold could cause serious health issues for the birds and humans when inhaled in the structure so stay away from hardwood shavings in the poultry housing. If raising small chicks you need to understand about temperature control in the house. For the first week, the chicks will actually need a temp of 90 degrees and then you reduce by 5 degrees each week until they are five weeks old. After that maintain the house at 70 degrees. Again, research on properly heating and even cooling your structure.
There are many points to think about when raising a backyard flock of birds, but feed is a major one. Feed is your greatest cost when raising birds. You need to make sure your birds are getting a balanced diet for their age for proper development. Some people will feed some table scrapes such as leafy type vegetables and peelings in addition to a balanced bagged feed. It is suggested to limited this to only what the birds can eat in 10-20 minutes. Overfeeding scrapes can get your birds on an unbalanced diet and hurt performance. UGA actually has a publication based on nutrition of the backyard flock.
For more information contact Gordon County Extension at 706-629-8685 or email email@example.com.