June 15, 2021

Koelkebeck: The basics of keeping hens in your backyard

The movement of keeping hens in your backyard for the purpose of providing fresh eggs has received a lot of attention the past 10 years or so. Many local communities have approved the practice of keeping a few hens for the purpose of providing fresh eggs. Some communities, however, have not approved this practice. It is essential to follow proper management practices in order to be successful in keeping a few hens in your backyard.

There are many benefits for doing this. The obvious reason as to why some people like to do this is because the production of eggs will provide a source of fresh eggs for consumption. In addition, chickens can also make good pets if they are taken care of properly.

There is a lot of satisfaction in taking care of a few hens and providing a source of clean fresh eggs to consume. If done properly, the proper care of hens can be a good learning experience for children.

The use of their waste material fits in with the model of “going green,” as the waste material can provide a source of rich nutrients for some plants and gardens, as long as not too much is put on plants.

There are several important criteria that must be followed to do this successfully. Hens need five basic things to survive and produce eggs:

• The first thing is they need fresh feed every day. You should purchase a laying hen mash feed which has the proper amount of protein, energy, vitamins and minerals to produce good strong egg shells and keep egg production at a maximum level.

• The second thing is fresh, clean water. Without good, fresh water they will not produce eggs very well.

• They should also have access to fresh air. This should not be a problem, unless you keep them in a small building with no access to fresh air, even in the wintertime.

• They also need to have access to natural plus artificial light to help hem keep laying eggs at a good rate. They should be given a maximum of 16 hours of constant light and eight hours of darkness per day. So, if you have a small building where they can lay their eggs, you should have an incandescent or LED light bulb in there that provides enough light that you could read a newspaper at arm’s length. You could use an inexpensive time clock to control the hours of light they receive. So, if the maximum day length is 15 hours of light per day, you might have the light come on at 5 a.m. and go off at 9 p.m. This should provide enough constant light to stimulate good egg production.

• The last thing they need is good and adequate security and safety. You should have a high fence around the chicken house to keep them safe from predators.

In summary, if you follow proper poultry husbandry practices, the keeping of laying hens to provide you with a fresh source of eggs will be a worthwhile endeavor. Good luck.

Ken Koelkebeck is a University of Illinois Extension poultry specialist.