FLOCKING TOGETHER Raising Chickens in the Backyard

backyard-chickens-1BY Rob Zimmer

Part one of a two part series

Whether you’re interested in growing your own backyard chickens for eggs, meat, or both, there is no better time than now to get started.

Kylea Dowland of Forest Junction began this year after learning more about the topic at NWTC where she is currently enrolled studying sustainable agriculture and horticulture.

“When I grow up, I want to be a farmer. I eventually want to buy farmland and start a little homestead,” Kylea said. “I’m studying sustainable agriculture and horticulture at NWTC, and this past semester I took an organic poultry class. Chickens are probably the easiest livestock animal to start with on a farm. You just have to take a leap and get them; you learn as you go.”

Benefits of backyard chickens.
There are many great benefits to raising chickens at home in the backyard. Growing chickens and having them around the yard and garden goes far beyond just the obvious benefit of fresh eggs and poultry.

Maintaining a flock of the birds helps homeowners to be more sustainable and “go green” in many other ways as well.

Chickens are excellent pest control, consuming large numbers of slugs, beetles, grubs and other harmful insect pests.

Chicken manure, or droppings, is one of the best sources of natural fertilizer for growing your own food and other garden plants.

Chickens act as your own living compost pile, turning your kitchen scraps and waste into a valuable garden amendment.

Many families find that the responsibilities of raising chickens are an excellent way to help teach children and youngsters the ins and outs of taking care of not only animals, but themselves as well.

In our society, many families and children have gradually lost sight of our connection to our food sources. Raising chickens in the backyard is a great way to help reconnect our youngsters back to the roots of food production and where healthy foods come from.

Dowland’s dream is to take her passion for backyard chickens to a whole new level, raising her flock sustainably, organically and naturally.

“I’m interested in raising laying hens,” Dowland said. “My dream is to have a poultry farm. I want to raise them on pasture, and incorporate a permaculture design with different shrubs, berries, fruit trees, and perennials to create a sustainable and permanent landscape for the chickens to forage through.”

Getting started
There are many great sources to help you get started raising backyard chickens at home.

backyard-chickens-3The first is to check legal requirements or regulations in your specific community. If unsure, contact your local city hall, town hall or village hall to determine if any limits exist on raising chickens.

Decide whether your birds will be free range throughout your property, or kept in a coop or pen.
“Advice for people to get started? Just get the birds,” Dowland said.

Do some general research, but don’t spend too much time pouring over articles and websites. The best way to learn is to simply obtain the birds and begin your adventure. Once they are at home, the chickens basically take care of themselves, as long as you provide their basic needs of food, water and shelter.

“You can’t know everything and understand everything until you experience it for yourself at home,” Dowland said. “Chickens are really easy to take care of. You don’t have to babysit them.”

There are many sources of birds online and locally. Online swap and sale websites such as Craigslist offer a great choice, as do local retailers such as Tractor Supply Company and Purely Poultry in Fremont. Visit

“We started out with three roosters from a friend,” Dowland said. “This was my trial run to see if I could keep them alive. This was my first experience with farm animals. I let them live in the barn and free range through the yard. They slept on top of a wood pile at night, knowing exactly when to return to the barn at 6 pm. And they went out again in the morning to eat bugs, all on their own.

The flock soon began to grow.

“My uncle gave me one hen to add to my three roosters. Eventually we found out she was laying eggs, then sitting on them. We decided to let her incubate and hatch. She hatched six babies and taught them how to search for bugs in the garden.”

As Dowland quickly discovered, predator control was an issue, especially with free ranging birds, even within urban limits.

“My biggest problem was with predators,” she said. “Having a secure coop at night will solve some of your problems, such as owls or raccoons. It’s helpful to have shrubs or brush and shaded areas for the birds to take cover in. You also have to think about how you will protect your birds from stray dogs or cats.”

More on starting from scratch, predator control, maintenance and winter protection of your first flock.

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