A couple years ago, Hemopet published a post titled, “The March to Cage-Free and Free-Range Eggs: Are they safe and nutritious?” Due to SARS-CoV-2, we wondered about raising backyard chickens for eggs to stave off food shortages. We sought out the expertise of Chris Lesley, editor of Chickens & More.
Daily life has been impacted by the SARS-CoV-2 global pandemic that causes COVID-19 disease in a variety of ways. Even though we are starting to open up again, we are still in the first wave of exposure. Indeed, the current wave and predicted additional waves will likely result in more stay-at-home orders, and recommendations for continued use of personal protective equipment and social distancing. Panic buying and the SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks in meat processing plants have caused many grocery stores to experience food shortages of staple items such as milk, bread, eggs, as well as household supplies. Honestly, this will probably continue.
For those looking for a self-sufficient way to put food on the table, especially during the pandemic, raising backyard chickens can be a great hobby to pick up. However, keeping chickens requires lots of prior preparation and research.
Here are a few things to know before purchasing chickens to raise in the backyard for eggs.
Some Breeds Lay More Eggs than Others
Chickens breeds are usually divided into three categories: egg-laying breeds, meat breeds, and
hybrid breeds (those that are suitable for both eggs and meat). Those looking to get a lot of eggs
from their chickens should purchase a good egg-laying breed.
Chickens and More recommends the Rhode Island Red, the white Leghorn, and the Sussex (to
name just a few) as prime egg-laying chicken breeds. These egg-laying breeds can lay between
three to five eggs a week, totaling up to between 150 and 250 eggs a year!
It is important to remember, however, that these numbers are just an estimate. Chickens may
produce less eggs than expected.
Chicken Backyard Laws Vary by City
Before purchasing chickens to raise in the backyard, it’s important to research local city ordinances and regulations regarding chickens. For example, most cities have a limit on the maximum number of chickens that can be kept in a backyard. Others may only allow chickens to be kept inside a coop and prohibit free ranging.
The City of San Diego, for example, clearly lists all of its regulations concerning backyard chickens on its website.
Chickens Require Lots of Space
It is important to remember that chickens, like any other animal, require a lot of space to be as healthy and happy as possible. The number of chickens purchased will dictate how big of a coop is needed.
The University of Minnesota recommends buying or building a coop that gives each bird three to five square feet of room. Additionally, a coop will need a nesting box for every four to five birds. A nesting box is especially important to avoid having broken or stepped-on eggs around the coop.
However, simply having a large coop is not sufficient. Chickens also need room to free-range around the yard. A small, fenced-in area surrounding the coop will provide chickens with enough room to happily range.
Chickens Usually Do Not Lay Eggs Consistently
Although there are certain chicken breeds that are known to lay more eggs than other breeds,
there are lots of other factors that impact how many eggs a chicken will lay. Here are some of
the most common factors that affect egg-laying.
Chickens typically don’t start laying eggs until they are about 18 weeks old. According to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, egg laying declines in chickens after they reach the age of three years old.
Oftentimes, if a chicken is laying fewer eggs than expected, it’s because they aren’t getting the proper nutrients. Nutrients such as salt, calcium, vitamin D, and protein are all necessary for a chicken’s diet in order to reach full egg-laying capacity.
According to the University of Florida, chickens need around 14 hours of daylight to lay eggs. Egg production will likely decrease substantially in the fall and winter. A supplemental light can be purchased to mimic daylight.
High temperatures can negatively impact egg production and the overall health of the chickens. In the summer, it is especially important to provide chickens with proper ventilation, shade, and water to lessen the effects of high temperatures.
They May Carry Salmonella
One risk that comes with raising backyard chickens for eggs is the possibility of their harboring a Salmonella spp. bacterial infection.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that live poultry can carry Salmonella spp. bacteria in their droppings or on their feathers, feet, and beaks. These germs can easily spread to a chicken’s eggs as well.
Although Salmonella typically do not pose a major risk to healthy individuals, they can be life-threatening for those who are immunocompromised. They can also pose a threat to children and the elderly.
To avoid a Salmonella or other infection, minimize closely holding and touching the chickens and always wash collected eggs thoroughly. Children and people who are immunocompromised should not handle chickens. Cooked eggs should have an internal temperature of at least 160° Fahrenheit (or 71° Celsius), or until the yolk and white are firm to avoid ingesting any Salmonella.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has brought about an increased need for and awareness of self-sufficiency to help protect our food supply and avoid food scarcity. One way to contribute to sustainable food production during the pandemic is to raise backyard chickens for eggs. Not only is raising chickens a fun experience, but it allows for self-sufficient food production that can help lessen the impact of food shortages across the country.