Roosters crowing, sun peaking up and chickens scratching in the yard. There is something about chickens that make them nice to relate to. Jesse Lyons, Poultry Specialist at the University of Missouri said “There is a fairly small cost to add chickens to a farm.”
What makes chickens technically free-range is they are allowed access to the outdoors. In reality, here in the Ozarks, the extent of the ‘range’ varies widely.
1. Protection – “Probably the first thing to consider when starting a chicken project would be how to protect against predators, including the neighbor’s dog,” said Jesse. If chickens are allowed total free-range without a roosting coup, nesting house or fencing, they will probably hide their nests.
2. Product – Consider whether meat, eggs or both are the desired product. For broilers, the mobile chicken tractors work well. This is a great summer project. There is no worry about frozen water or cold chickens. The chickens can be moved to fresh pasture throughout the season. It doesn’t take long to get chicks to frying size.
3. Time – A longer term view is needed if laying hens are added. They will produce well for a couple of years. A decision about what to do with the old hen has to be made. To raise a chick to laying age takes about 5 months. They will need a commercial chick starter for at least a month. The hen will typically lay for about a year and then go into a molt for a month or so before beginning to produce eggs again.
4. Space – The chickens will need about one square foot of roost space and more floor space. The nest boxes should be as dark as possible and protected on top and sides. Nest boxes should be about two feet off the floor with a rough plank ramp for easy access.
5. Varieties – Several varieties of chickens produce brown eggs, including the Gold sex-linked. The Ameraucana, a smaller breed, produces a variety of colors and can be a fun addition. The White Leghorn has a smaller body, but will lay more white eggs. The smaller bodied, high producing egg layers will probably not be as winter hardy as some of the dual-purpose breeds like Barred Rock and Rhode Island reds. “Chickens are a nice endeavor for a hobby, but they probably won’t produce less expensive eggs or meat,” Jesse said, “especially if you count your time.”
6. Health – The health of a small flock should be monitored much like the large flocks. Mice or rats can be a source of salmonella contamination. Junk should be kept away from chicken housing so rodents have no place to hide. A control system should be in place. Chicks and feed can also be a source of contamination. “Not to be negative,” said Jesse, “it is just realistic to be aware of these things.”


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