It finally rained today, a nice steady gentle rain.  It was exactly what we needed–exactly what I needed. 

I promised a few days ago that I’d write another post on the specifics of keeping chickens.  Chickens are wonderful for anyone who is looking at keeping animals for food, because 1) they eat so little, 2) they take up so little room, and 3) you don’t have to kill them to get food out of them. 

First of all, where can you keep chickens?  The answer is almost anywhere.  Even tiny pockets of yard can be fenced in and given a little roof to protect the birds from rain and hot sun.  A fence is necessary to keep neighborhood cats and dogs out and chickens from getting run over or leaving little presents all over your yard.  It’s important for chickens to have a little room to scratch. 

What kind of chickens should you get?  If you have the choice, Buff Orpingtons are a large, docile chicken with soft golden feathers.  Their gentle nature makes them an excellent choice for families.  Plus, they’re excellent layers. 

 What should you feed your chickens?  Chickens will eat almost anything–table scraps, grain, even dog food.  But if you want the best egg production, consider going down to your local co-op and picking up a bag of laying pellets.  (Be sure you get the pellets; laying crumbles tend to get lost and wasted.)  Give each chicken a handful of laying pellets and a couple of handfuls of kitchen scraps per day, and reap the rewards in eggs and black gold for your garden. 

 How many chickens can you keep?  An eight-by-ten enclosure will hold three to five hens, or even a couple more, depending on their size.  And the average Buff Orpington hen will give you five to six eggs a week during all but the hottest summer months. 

Do you need a rooster?  That depends.  If you have room, and you want to produce fertile eggs and raise chicks, you’ll need a rooster.   But hens will lay just as well–and sometimes even better–without a rooster.  And if space is limited, or you don’t want to keep a chicken that isn’t going to produce food for you, a rooster will be a liability. 

Similarly, you don’t want to keep a rooster if you live in a crowded suburb.  Their cock-a-doodle-do is the epitome of the farm and country living, but neighbors tend to frown on a rooster crowing from 4:00 or so until daybreak or later. 

Chickens are worth their weight in gold.  I have eight hens and two roosters in different coops.  I get an average of six eggs a day, or a dozen eggs every two days, which is plenty for our family to eat and give to friends and family.  And that’s to say nothing of the fertilizer for our garden.  When your clean out your chicken coop, put the manure in a pile to the side of your garden, cover it with leaves, and let it sit for a couple of months.  The result will be a fabulous rich soil that you can spread over your garden for the best vegetables you’ve ever tasted. 

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