In descending order, by date published.
Keeping laying hens in the backyard is popular, but along with a daily supply of eggs, the hens also produce a large supply of manure. Fresh poultry manure has an unpleasant odor and will attract flies. Bedding material, such as pine shavings, is put down on the coop floor to help control odors and flies, but eventually the litter (manure and bedding material) needs to be replaced. While poultry manure can be an excellent fertilizer, it should not be used fresh. "Raw" manure can burn plants and may contain pathogens that could contaminate any plants being grown for consumption. Composting makes the manure safe to use as a fertilizer on any lawn or garden. Composting involves a process by which billions of beneficial soil organisms decompose the organic material. Simply piling up waste is not really composting. With the right proportions for materials, the process has minimal offensive odor and destroys most of the pathogens in the manure. Compost is both science and art.
The terms urban poultry and backyard poultry both refer to flocks kept on a residential lot. Keeping chickens in urban areas is becoming increasingly popular throughout the country. The main reasons given for keeping chickens are as pets and for egg production--pets with benefits. Small numbers of hens kept in the backyard can provide an urban family with entertainment, eggs, and fertilizer. For those with children, backyard poultry flocks can also teach them responsibility and be used for 4-H poultry projects.
Molting is a common event in the annual life cycle of most avian species. Each year chickens lose feathers and grow new ones, and this occurs in both wild and domestic birds. During molt, laying hens go out of egg production and feathers are replaced. Molting, regardless of what stimulates it, is more than just the replacement of the plumage. Hormonal and physiological changes occur as well.
There are several things to consider before starting an egg production operation. The most important is market availability. Before you start production you need to have a market that your production can supply, in terms of both quantity of product and the price you need to get in order to be profitable. You will need to make sure that local regulations allow for poultry production on the land available to you. Cash flow is also an important consideration. A flock will require a considerable investment before the hens start to lay eggs to produce an income. You also need to have a way to deal with the manure produced, and any dead birds. You also need to have a plan for the hens after they have finished laying (referred to as spent hens).
Animals eat in order to get the energy and nutrients they need to live, grow and reproduce. Animals use energy to perform normal body functions such as breathing, walking, eating, digesting, and maintaining body temperature. Different types of nutrients provide energy as well as the building blocks needed for the development of bone, flesh, feathers, and eggs. These nutrients include: water, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals, and vitamins. Each of these components is important and a deficit of even one can have serious health consequences for poultry.
It is important that you comply with all the laws and regulations with regards to the marketing of eggs. Eggs are capable of carrying bacteria such as Salmonella enteritidis. As a result, eggs are considered a hazardous food and their sale is regulated. With regard to small-scale producers, if you sell more than 60 dozen eggs in any one week, you will require an egg handler's license. You will also need an egg handler's license if you sell to someone who sells eggs to someone else. This would include grocery stores, restaurants, or wholesalers. The same will hold true if you sell to a bakery, confectionary or ice-cream manufacturer.
Once you have decided you are going to go into egg production, you need to determine what breed of chicken will best suit your needs. A variety of different commercial breeds are available for use in small-scale commercial egg production operations. Most lay a brown-shelled egg, which is typically preferred by the people purchasing eggs produced in alterative production systems. Most of these commercial chickens are hybrids selected specifically for these systems.
There has been an increased interest in pasture-raising poultry for both meat and egg production in the last decade. Raising poultry on pasture was a common occurrence until the latter half of the 20th century. Fresh forage provided an important ration balancing factor during the years before poultry nutritionists fully understood the required essential vitamins and minerals for growth and optimum meat and egg production. With the development of balanced rations, poultry no longer require access to pasture and year-round production of meat and eggs is possible. However, there are still some benefits from the lush forage, invertebrates, and exercise that pasture provides. In addition, we continue to learn more and more about the positive influence that fresh grasses and legumes have on fatty acid profiles and general bird health. As a result, there is an increased interest in pasture-raised poultry for both meat and eggs.
Before purchasing chicks (or chickens) it is important to consider the cost of keeping them. Much of this cost is in the feed they consume. So the key question is, "How much will my chickens eat?" Chickens need a complete feed that contains protein (with the right balance of amino acids), energy, vitamins, and minerals. Today we know more about the nutritional requirements of chickens than any other animal. The amount of feed they need will depend on several factors.