Raising Chickens in Your Backyard: Part 1

In this two-part series, we’ll discuss how you can go about raising chickens in your backyard.

As chicken farmers struggle to gain consents for free-range systems that become compulsory in 2022, consumers see not only a lack of eggs on supermarket shelves, but an increase in pricing as well.

By January 2019, the price of chicken eggs had risen by an average of 11.84 percent. In April 2019, a dozen eggs were $4.43, up from $3.89 in April 2018. Before long, eggs could become unaffordable for many average New Zealanders.

What’s stopping you from raising chickens for fresh eggs every day? Caring for these backyard animals is easier than you think.

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The Rules and Regulations

Rules and regulations can differ from one local council to the next. Most councils provide loose guidelines, such as making sure they don’t cause noise or hygiene problems. Like dogs and cats, there is also a limit on how many you can own. If you require a more detailed set of requirements, get in touch with your local council before you bring your new feathery friends home. 

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Caring for Chickens in NZ

Auckland Council requires any backyard chicken owner to provide an enclosed rainproof chicken coop for chickens to sleep and lay in. It should have a roost or perch for each chicken and a minimum roof height of 60 centimetres. The coop needs to have a pecking and scratching surface and a secluded nesting area as well.  

You must also follow all the rules surrounding hygiene. Line all floors and nesting boxes with hay or untreated wood chips, clean them out regularly and remove waste at least once per week.

If your section is smaller than 2,000 square metres, you may not be allowed any more than six chickens. However, chickens require company, so you should have a minimum of three in your flock.

Some councils also recommend that you keep them a minimum of two metres away from neighbouring properties. Make sure they are confined to your section to prevent them from becoming a nuisance to neighbours.

How to House Chickens

Because more and more people are seeing the value in keeping chickens, it’s not all that challenging to find a chicken hutch for sale. These can vary in price, depending on the quality and size. The hutch needs to have nesting boxes, a sheltered place to sleep, roosting perches, and protection from the elements.

Alongside a chicken hutch, they also need an ideal outdoor environment. Chickens love nothing more than to forage, take dust baths, scratch, and roam around. Make sure you have enough space for them to go about their natural chicken business! As a side note, chickens love to make a mess. So, if you have prized peonies or a beautiful garden, pet chickens might not be for you.

What to Feed Chickens

Healthy chickens produce delicious eggs, so you need to be quite careful with your new feathery friends’ feeding regime. Provide them with fresh food and water every day. If you find any mouldy, old, or stale food, throw it away to reduce the risk of rodents taking up residence nearby.

How to Feed Chickens

Head along to your nearest farm supplies store and stock up on commercial layer hen pellets. These pellets contain plenty of the vitamins and minerals your chickens need to remain in tip-top shape.

You can also supplement this feed with fresh food such as green leafy vegetables and the occasional helping of table scraps. Don’t give your chickens anything that you wouldn’t eat yourself.

Feeding Chickens in Winter

During winter, chickens may require additional nutrients to keep them in the best condition. They often lose their feathers and stop laying for a time. Ask your local vet or farm supplies store worker what they recommend.

Chickens also require plenty of calcium to produce quality eggs and to keep their legs strong. You can purchase soluble calcium grit for your chickens to peck away at, or you can dry crushed eggshells in your oven. Crushed oyster shell is also a preference by many chicken owners as well.

Where to Buy Chickens

Many people decide to hatch fertile eggs themselves so they can rear friendly hens. The problem is, at least half of those eggs that hatch will be roosters. If you live in an urban area, roosters are not permitted and can be exceptionally difficult to find a new home for.

The Type of Chicken to Buy

If you’re ready to bring chickens onto your property, consider purchasing hens that you already know are hens. Pullets are young female hens that are almost ready to lay, and hens at 21 weeks or older should already be laying. You can purchase chickens from breeders, local farmers, or even from the SPCA or another rescue group that may have hens to sell or give away from time to time.

What Now?

If you’re fed up at paying a premium for eggs from the supermarket, and you wouldn’t mind a new pet, then looking after a chicken or three could be for you. Check with your local council, purchase or create a hutch, fit it out with everything you need to keep them happy and healthy and bring them home! Chickens are sweet, nice-natured creatures that will produce beautiful eggs almost every day.

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Klaris Chua-Pineda