As I’m writing this, I can’t believe it is March. There has been very little rain, and I can kick up dust in our garden. Couple that with the sunshine and warmer weather, and I am getting ready for gardening season. It’s definitely not a normal wet or damp spring, although it looks like we may be getting some rain by the time you read this.
Late winter and early spring is the time of year that adorable baby chicks and ducks are arriving at local farm stores. Although they may be cute and fuzzy, and your kids may beg you to take a dozen home, there are several things you need to consider before you dive into owning poultry.
Area zoning laws
I’ve had numerous calls this year with questions regarding zoning laws. The first thing you need to do is contact your local zoning office to find out if you can even legally own poultry or livestock where you live. There are several municipalities in Trumbull County that prohibit livestock within their town or city limits. Ohio is an agriculturally friendly state, but local municipalities do have the right to restrict livestock. If you happen to live in a township, there may be a minimum lot size before livestock are permitted, which is commonly five or more acres.
Once you have cleared the legal zoning hurdles, you need to ask yourself if you are willing to commit to raising chickens for the next several years. Those cute little fluff balls will grow very quickly into adult chickens that commonly live over six years of age in backyard flocks. Also, you typically cannot buy a single baby chick from most sellers, so you would be committing to half a dozen live chickens or so for several years.
Owning chickens can be rewarding, and a good learning experience for kids, but they are not for everyone. Chickens love to scratch for food, and while you may love watching them in your yard, your neighbors may not have the same enthusiasm if they dig up flower beds. Chickens will definitely roam the neighborhood if they are not in a fenced area. They can be noisy, especially if you have roosters, so give some consideration where you place their dedicated housing. And, yes, they need dedicated housing. Letting chickens live in your home is unsanitary and can lead to severe health problems for you.
You should also have a plan to remove chicken waste, which includes poop, feathers, bedding, and so on, as letting it build up can be, let’s say, aromatic. You can incorporate the waste into your garden or compost pile as it makes an excellent fertilizer.
Providing free access to food and water is a year round requirement, so that will mean providing a frost free water source, or rotating waterers in freezing weather. You will be surprised at how much a small flock of chickens will eat. One of the perks of chickens is that you have access to fresh eggs, but factoring in the costs of feed, supplies, bedding, and other items, owning chickens is much more expensive than purchasing eggs. Depending on the breed, it may be 4-6 months until they lay their first egg. After their first egg, which will be rather small, expect a slow trickle of eggs to increase to an egg a day or every other day per chicken during spring, summer, and early fall. Once the days get shorter and colder you can expect egg production to decline or stop completely. If you are looking to have eggs in the winter, you can add a light to the chicken house and they may lay throughout the winter. Be sure to keep the light and wiring out of pecking distance to avoid any fried chickens or fires.
Owning backyard chickens is a great hobby that can be enjoyable and rewarding, but it is not an effortless. Make sure you are willing to take on the commitment before you decide to purchase those cute little chicks. If you have any questions about raising chickens, what breeds to choose, or want more practical advice about poultry, give me call at 330-638-6783 or email me.
Take care, and stay healthy!
Submitted by Lee Beers, an Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator for OSU Extension, Trumbull County.
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