BATAVIA, N.Y. — “I have had chickens for quite a while, since I was 7 and now I am 13. My dad has taught me a lot along the way but I am here because I want to learn a little more,” said Brooke Frega of Batavia, who, along with nearly a dozen other 4-H youth and their parents, attended a forum style session to discuss backyard poultry production with small farms Extension specialist Nancy Glazier at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Genesee County on Dec. 4.

Topics planned for the evening included sourcing chicks, early chick care, nutrition basics, keeping your flock healthy and bird housing. Glazier opened her presentation by sharing the pros and cons of backyard production. She said the pros of backyard production are “low capital investment, the option to start small, children and family members can be involved, supplemental income, and the project has a quick turn around.”

The cons, Glazier said, are “risk of predators, adverse weather, daily labor, processing facilities are hard to find, and it can be cheaper to purchase eggs in the store.”

With all of the pros and cons set aside, if you are ready to source your chicks, Glazier said to look for disease-free and inspected birds.

“It is ideal to get them vaccinated when purchased because a lot of old diseases are making their faces shown because there are so many backyarders that don’t have their birds vaccinated and they are exposed to wild birds,” she said. Another option to source is hatching your own using an incubator and fertilized eggs.

“There are all scales of production. The basics that all animals need are water, food and shelter,” Glazier explained. “Water really is the most important nutrient. Think: ‘would you drink that water before you give it to your chickens?’”

Outside of feed and water, shelter is another important component when raising backyard poultry. Brooders or dry bedding and a box or plastic tote with a heat lamp are good options to keep the birds warm and safe. Once the birds are older they can be moved into a space that is draft-free but well ventilated and bedded with dry bedding. The birds need a place to roost, nesting boxes should be provided, and the space needs to be secure and safe from predators.

“Chickens need a safe place, make sure their house is enclosed at night,” Glazier said. “Consider using a Nite Guard machine to protect the birds, and guard animals such as dogs or geese work too.”

Bio-security was another major topic addressed during the evening. Sick birds, rodents, stray animals, waterfowl, vehicles, contaminated feed bags, egg cartons, and humans are some of the many ways to contaminate an operation.

To protect your backyard flock Glazier said “wash your hands, keep waterers and feeders clean, keep wild animals out, keep your boots clean, and don’t mix old and new birds.”

Lastly, Glazier gave a few other tips for raising backyard poultry including the prevention of cannibalism in small flocks.

“To avoid conditions that encourage cannibalism, do not introduce new birds and upset the social order, avoid stress, avoid overcrowding birds in pens, and beak trimming is effective,” she said.

Alicia Keller is a freelance writer in western New York.

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