It can be exciting to start a new flock of chickens, and the benefits – entertaining pets, unique company, fresh eggs and healthy meat – are equally exciting, but it is important to start the flock carefully so your poultry will be happy in their new home. Happy chickens suffer less from behavioral and health problems, and everyone who keeps chickens should take steps to be sure they start their flock the right way.
- Check Your Local Laws
Some towns have regulations that prohibit barnyard poultry or regulate flock size and composition, such as prohibiting roosters. Check your local restrictions, including those for any homeowners’ association, before committing to a flock. The Town of Dennis, for example, requires an application through the Health Department in order to start a flock, followed by annual inspections by the Animal Control Officer. Town bylaws pertain to cleanliness and structural soundness of the coop and require keeping feed in a vermin/insect proof container, among other things. These guidelines are in place to help you and keep your chickens healthy! Keep in mind that each town is different, so check with your Town Hall before bringing home your chicks.
- Learn Chicken Breeds
All chickens aren’t the same, and there is an astonishing array of sizes, colors, and other characteristics available to choose from. Learn which breeds may be better egg-layers or may be best for meat, study their personalities, and investigate lifespans so you can choose the best chickens to meet your expectations. You’ll be amazed at the range of personalities among breeds – chickens are much like dogs in that respect!
- Provide Proper Room and Board
Before you bring chicks home, be sure you are set up to meet their housing, food, and water needs. A sheltered coop is essential, as well as adequate space for scratching, foraging, perching, and roosting. Have the proper feed available along with kitchen scraps and other nibbles they will enjoy, and provide a fresh, clean source of water for chickens to access.
- Purchase Chicks or Fertile Eggs
When you’re ready to bring the birds home, you can visit your local farm store for chicks or juvenile birds, or a local farmer or another chicken fan may have older hens to sell. Online retailers are also a good source. Cape Cod chicken expert Melissa Caughey, author of the award-winning blog Tilly’s Nest, recommends www.mypetchicken.com and suggests ordering a minimum of 6.
- Protect the Flock
Be prepared for the hazards your flock may face. Cape Cod is home to a variety of chicken predators, including coyotes, fox, hawks, weasels, racoon, snakes and fisher cats. The Cape and Islands Farm Bureau recommends the following precautions for flock safety: 1. Use predator proof locks on all your coop’s and run’s doors. 2. Use only ½ inch hardware cloth on your coop and run. Do not use chicken wire. 3. Bury the hardware cloth 18 inches around the perimeter of your run and coop, bending the bottom portion of the buried wire out a couple of inches. This will help deter digging predators. We also recommend installing bird netting over the outdoor run to protect the flock from hawks.
- Think About Healthcare
Like all domestic animals, chickens require proper healthcare. Do some research on common chicken diseases and their symptoms. If you believe you have an ill chicken, separate it from the flock until it can be checked by a veterinarian. Also keep in mind that only a small number of vets have specialists trained to treat chickens. Fortunately, we have some wonderful ones on the Cape, including Brewster Veterinary Hospital and Oceanside Animal Hospital in Sandwich.
- Stay Social
Chickens are social birds that require interaction and entertainment. There are toys you can offer your chicks or you can plan other ways to keep chicks entertained. They will be happy to see and socialize with you, as well – remember that you’re as much a part of your flock as any individual bird! A well-socialized flock will produce more eggs and live a healthier, happier life.
By starting your flock properly, you’ll find that keeping chickens is a very rewarding experience. In addition to providing a bountiful of eggs, they’ll give you hours of amusement, companionship and laughs!