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Backyard Chickens are Easy to Raise

A few chicks can grow into nice, egg-producing chickens. Raising backyard chickens isn’t that complicated, but you probably want to start off right. Mark Guelker, manager of Tractor Supply Co. in Marble Falls, says getting chicks in late summer usually leads to more success because you’re not dealing with the possibility of a cold snap. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

MARBLE FALLS — Racing to the chicken coop at Grandma’s house was a highlight when my brother and I stayed with her.

When we were younger, Grandma would escort us to the coop, which stood next to the barn. She said she wanted to make sure we didn’t zap ourselves on the electric fence, which we had to ford to get into the pasture where the coop resided. Even if we went through the barn, we would still have to cross the fence, which was erected to keep the cattle in check.

But, mostly, I think Grandma wasn’t 100 percent certain we could collect the eggs without breaking them. Eventually, after earning her trust, getting the eggs became a regular activity during our stays.

While Grandma lived on a farm, chickens have left the more rural areas over the past decade and moved into urban and suburban backyards.

“There’s been a tremendous surge in backyard flocks the last 10 years,” said Mark Guelker, manager of Tractor Supply Co. in Marble Falls.

The store has a selection of chicks and ducklings in stock. If you can’t find what you’re looking for among the 12 different chicken breeds in the store, more are available online.

Interest in backyard flocks has grown for several reasons, including people’s desire to raise their own food. In the move to localize food sources, what’s more local than your own backyard?

Eggs and chickens are a good source of protein and easier and more convenient to raise compared to other livestock such as pigs or cattle. Even families with small yards in a neighborhood can raise a flock of chickens and produce enough eggs to meet their needs.

“You only need about two square feet (per bird) if they’re in a coop,” Guelker said. “They do need to have at least two square feet, but more is better.”

Coops offer shelter and protection for the birds, but, if you have enough room, you can also turn the birds loose.

“If you let them run around the yard, you also have a natural way of getting rid of insects,” Guelker pointed out.

Of course, outside the coop, you have to be wary of predators, including raccoons and neighborhood cats. Even if the birds are kept in a coop, Guelker said it’s important to secure the structure against predators.

Raising backyard chickens is pretty easy. You can begin the chicks on starter feed before moving them to grower feed. Guelker said a good starter feed with plenty of fresh water and a place for the chicks to stay warm is all you need. Chickens will start laying eggs at about 20 weeks.

There’s always the chance you’ll lose a few chicks, especially after bringing them home. But by providing the proper food, water, and shelter, Guelker said you’re likely to reduce those losses. Once the chicks get situated, they’re fairly easy to care for, he added.

“They’re probably one of the easiest farm animals to raise,” Guelker said.

If you’re new to raising backyard chickens, it’s a good idea to visit local farm and ranch or feed businesses because they’ll have the supplies and the advice you need. Other good resources are local Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service offices or people already raising chickens.

Though many cities and communities allow backyard chickens, check with your property owners association or city about rules and regulations.

And remember to consider your neighbors: Unless you live in a rural area, you might want to avoid raising a rooster. (Most cities have restrictions on them.)

Late summer is a good time to buy your chicks because you won’t have to worry about a cold snap like you do in the spring.

“They do well now,” Guelker said.

You can stop by Tractor Supply locations at 1507 U.S. 281 in Marble Falls or 401 Texas 71 East in Llano, or other farm and ranch stores, to check out the chicks and learn more.

“We sell our chicks here in the store in multiples of 10, and six birds would probably more than provide enough eggs for a family,” Guelker said. “Chickens are also fun for the kids.”

I think Grandma would agree after watching my brother and me race to her chicken coop on the hunt for eggs.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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