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Backyard chickens provide fun way to enjoy fresh eggs
By Karen Templeton
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Many people are finding that raising backyard chickens can be an easy way to provide their family fresh eggs, and also to enjoy a rewarding pastime.
“Raising poultry for egg production has become increasingly popular during the last few years,” said Danny Thornton, a poultry specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “With the current economic situation, a lot of people are hoping to save money on food by raising their own birds for egg production.”
Thornton said raising a small flock can be relatively simple if owners are willing to put in the work to get started, and keep the birds healthy and well-fed. Getting started requires setting up appropriate shelter before the birds arrive.
“Coops do not need to be elaborate. The shelter should be dry and provide adequate protection from cold or rainy weather,” Thornton said. “You should allow about 1 square foot of floor space per chick and also provide a fenced-in run outside of the coop.”
Letting the birds run loose can potentially expose them to diseases. Keeping them separated from wild birds can limit their exposure to viruses and internal parasites, Thornton said.
“Poultry owners should always follow good biosecurity practices such as keeping equipment clean and disinfected,” Thornton said. “It is a good idea to keep a separate pair of boots to wear only when working with your birds. That way, you don’t track bird feces into your house or bring unwanted parasites and germs out to your flock.”
Thornton said maintaining a flock is not expensive, but owners need to properly feed their birds and provide simple veterinary care.
“Don’t skimp on feed. Poultry need to have a balanced corn-and-soybean- based diet with calcium phosphorus,” he said. “They don’t need extensive veterinary care or vaccinations, but they should always be vaccinated for fowl pox.”
Thornton said good feed is reasonably priced and helps provide people with better quality eggs.
There are initial costs with getting started, but backyard bird owner Alicia Barnes of Starkville said the birds can quickly earn their worth.
“The biggest expense was in the shipping costs with the birds we purchased,” she said. “Not only are we getting eggs from them, but they also provide free pest control. Chickens will spend their entire day eating pests from the yard. Our birds are saving us on the cost of pesticide.”
Barnes researched raising backyard flocks before purchasing her first chick and has found poultry ownership to be manageable.
“Chickens take care of themselves as long as you provide safe shelter. Setting up the coop and run to keep out predators took the most work,” she said.
Barnes said she believes her chickens offer her and her husband significant health benefits. She manages their diet and environment carefully.
“I learned a lot about the nutritional benefits of eating eggs raised in a free-range environment,” she said. “Turns out ‘you are what you eat’ also applies to animals.”
Thornton said chickens can serve as more than just a food source to their owners.
“There is no shortage of good eggs here in Mississippi. With Cal-Maine here in our state, we have access to commercially produced quality eggs,” he said. “What I find people enjoy most about these backyard flocks is that they can serve as a great hobby.”
Thornton said many retirees across the state enjoy keeping their own birds. Parents find backyard flocks are a good way to teach their children about responsibility.
“It is a good opportunity for children to learn about poultry and the care they need,” he said. “Kids can be put in charge of feeding the chickens, cleaning the coop and collecting eggs.”
Chickens range in color and size, some with large, fluffy crests and others with bright red feathers. Some people purchase chickens based on the traits certain breeds have. Some breeds have been described as good layers while others are said to be protective and maternal.
Barnes enjoys learning about the many breeds and understanding their different personalities.
“I like pretty chickens, not just the plain white fryers,” she said. “We have a Silver Winedot and a Buff Orpington mix, and we just received three speckled Sussex chicks, two Partridge Cochin chicks and three Buff Laced Polish chicks.”
Raising chickens has become a labor of love for Barnes.
“My favorite part about keeping chickens is holding them at the end of the day,” she said. “When the sun starts setting, they get quiet and still. My adult chicken will go roost on our fence and then I sit her on my lap and pet her as she coos before she puts herself in the coop.”
For more information on biosecurity measures that should be taken when raising a backyard flock, visit http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/birdbiosecurity/.