Keeping Chickens in Your Backyard or Garden
Though ‘keeping a few chickens’ is generally regarded as the prerogative of country dwellers, they can, in fact, be kept in the smallest of town gardens.
Well-kept poultry units will neither smell unpleasant nor attract rats, and so long as you do not keep a cockerel — which is unnecessary, anyway — there will be no dawn chorus to annoy neighbours.
No licence is required to keep domestic poultry, nor isnormally necessary when installing a small poultry house. All the same, before keeping them it would be wise to check your local by-laws and search your house deeds or rent agreement for any restrictions there may be on keeping livestock.
You can start poultry-keeping at any time of year, but perhaps the best plan is to buy your first batch of growing pullets during the summer. They will start laying in late summer or early autumn, and will have settled down to full egg production before winter.
Outlay and returns
Ever-rising costs make it difficult to present the beginner with exact costs and returns, though these can, of course, be checked at the time of buying. However, certain percentages do appear to remain fairly constant.
The most significant is that you should obtain fresh eggs at perhaps three-quarters of the price you would pay for them in a shop. This takes into account the cost of the birds and their feed, and allows for annual depreciation of housing and equipment. It takes into consideration, too, the value of the carcases, whether you sell them or eat them yourself.
Another bonus, often overlooked, is the manure that you will collect throughout the year. Added to the compost heaps, it will hasten the rotting of vegetable matter and make a real contribution to growing good crops.
This estimated cost assumes that you will be keeping a minimum of six pullets, each of which will eat about 100 lb. (45kg) of feed in a year, and give you in return about 21 dozen eggs. Once they begin laying, your flock should provide about two-and-a-half dozen eggs a week — which is ample for the average family.
One way of producing eggs even more cheaply is to keep 12 birds instead of six. Though your initial outlay will be higher, you will be able to sell surplus eggs to neighbours. The price obtained should pay most of the feed bills for the whole flock.
If you are intending to keep 12 birds, it is advisable to buy six at first and another half-dozen six months later. This will assure a continuous egg supply throughout the year.