You can raise chickens in your backyard; find out more in two classes

boy holding a Rhode Island Red hen
Weston Henning, 4, of Newfane holds a Rhode Island Red hen. Upcoming classes will cover how to raise chickens in your backyard.

by Connie Oswald Stofko

“Chickens are easy to take care of, they don’t cost a lot and they can be good pets, said Amanda Henning, Agriculture and Food Systems Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County.

But before you run out and get a bunch of fuzzy chicks, find out what is really involved in raising chickens.

Henning, who raises chickens herself, will teach two classes on “Backyard Chickens” in the small meeting room of the 4-H Training Center of Niagara County Cornell Cooperative Extension, 4487 Lake Ave., Lockport.

Class 1, “Backyard Chicken Basics,” will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1.

Class 2, “Backyard Chicken Keeping,” will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15.

The cost is $10 for each class or $15 for both.

To register, call Karen at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County at (716) 433-8839, ext. 221.

The classes are being held now because fall and winter are the best times to prepare for new chickens, which are widely available in the spring.

A big issue is whether you are allowed to keep chickens where you live. Henning lives in Newfane, where rules allow her to keep one horse, one cow and 10 chickens.

In nearby Lockport, you can keep chickens if you live in an agricultural district, but they must be penned, not free range. If you live in a residential area, you’re not allowed to keep chickens.

However, even if you live in an area where chickens aren’t allowed, you might be able to get a variable use permit, Henning said.

To find out what the rules are where you live, call your municipality. It can be very helpful talking to and working with your local officials, she said.

With the local food movement, many people are more interested in knowing where their food comes from, Henning said. Some people have gardens, but they want to take it one step further. You can raise chickens to provide eggs or meat.

With the price of eggs so high right now, it can be economical in the long run to raise your own chickens, Henning said. You don’t have to use expensive feed.

Building or buying a coop can be the largest expense, but you could use an old dog house to raise a couple of chickens.

“You can be creative,” she said, “and chickens are pretty hardy.”

Henning’s coop is about 3 ½ feet by 5 feet and their pen is about 6 feet by 8 feet.

“You don’t need a lot of room,” she said.

Chickens generally lay one egg in a 24-hour period, but their laying is affected by the number of daylight hours. In the winter, when there is less daylight, people will often have a light on the coop to get the hens to lay.

Henning has Rhode Island Reds, which lay brown eggs, and Americana hens, which lay turquoise eggs. The taste and nutrition of the eggs is the same as white chicken eggs, but it’s cool to have blue-green eggs, she said.

The other reason she chose those breeds is because her children interact with the animals.

“My kids feed them and pet them,” Henning said. “Depending on what breed you get, they can be really friendly. But honestly, some breeds are not family friendly. They have a little grouchier disposition, I would say.”

Having proper housing is important when keeping chickens.

“There are so many things that want to eat them,” she said. Snakes will try to eat the eggs. Foxes, raccoons, rats and even hawks will go after the adults.

“Then there’s your neighbor’s dog, or your dog,” Henning said.

Cats aren’t much of a threat, she said.

“Cats are about the same size as a chicken,” she said, though a cat would go after baby chicks.

Henning will also cover how to keep your chickens healthy. This summer, fairs in the state cancelled poultry competitions to prevent the spread of avian flu. While the current strain isn’t harmful to humans, it can be deadly to chickens. Owners can have their birds vaccinated, and it’s a good idea not to have someone who also owns chickens touch your birds. However, this is more of an issue when there are lots of chickens confined to one area.

Starting with chicks or eggs from certified dealers is also important to have healthy chickens, she said.

The classes will also cover hatching chicks from eggs, nutrition and anatomy.

Chickens are easy to care for, but the classes will help you know what is involved.

“With a coop, food and clean water, and they’re good to go,” Henning said. “But do your research just to make sure this is something you want to do before you get into it.”

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