Rising Price of Eggs Increases Interest in Home Flocks
As egg prices rise in the grocery store, some folks have started thinking about raising their own flock of backyard chickens. The idea is appealing, but there are a few rules to follow in Columbus County when contemplating poultry farming.
City, county and commonsense guidelines
According to the N.C. Agricultural Extension Office (NCAEO), the first rule of thumb before purchasing your egg layers is to make sure you can even have them. Many neighborhoods may not permit backyard chickens, and if you live in the city of Whiteville, you're restricted to only keeping them for your personal use.
Town ordinance 80.15 addresses regulations regarding species, enclosures, and care within city limits. Fowl destined for both commercial egg and meat production are not allowed, and all your feathered ladies and gents must be contained in their coop. Chickens can't free range in Whiteville, and no one is allowed to raise turkeys and guineas.
According to Tanya Hiltz of Triple H Farms of Lake Waccamaw, you may also want to consider if you're up for the time, investment, and commitment it takes to rear fine feathered friends.
"If anyone is interested in hens because of the recent spike in egg prices, just be mindful that coop building, fencing, and everything else for materials to house chickens is rather expensive," explained Hiltz. "It is a twice daily chore to feed and check on the hens, so there is a commitment involved as with any animal. It also takes six months for those cute chicks to start laying eggs."
She explained that feed prices have doubled this past year, and if you're just starting out, it may take a while to get a return on your investment.
The next part of the plan involves the breed and number of chickens.
Hiltz suggested Silkies, Easter Eggers, and Buff Orpingtons to keep as pets. The NCAEO described Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks as the best choice for egg layers.
The organization said it's also best to keep in mind that the typical mature hen can lay two eggs over the course of three days and purchasing only females will increase your total egg production. Roosters are not needed for hens to lay eggs. Keep in mind that your chickens may lay less or take a rest from laying during the winter months.
Space and coop
Your chickens will need a place to go to avoid predators, eat, drink, roost, and lay eggs. Tina Hascup, a backyard chicken farmer Hallsboro, commented that the most important thing about raising your flock is protection.
"They have to have proper protection in our area because Columbus County is more populated with coyotes and hawks that prey on chickens," said Hascup.
Hiltz emphasized the need for proper precautions against opossums, racoons, and foxes.
"I have a buried woven wire fence going 8-12 inches in the ground to deter any of these. Opossums are the worst for me. They will kill my smaller hens, and I have to ensure there are no holes in the coop fence," Hiltz added.
Both ladies also suggested providing laying boxes. The NCAEO said one box is needed per four or five hens.
Food and water
When purchasing feeders and waterers, it's important to keep in mind the amount of consumption by each bird. The agricultural office said that each chicken will eat up to one-third of a pound of food every day and should have free access to water at all times. They also suggest researching the type of feed to provide based on the age and stage of production.
Not only should you feed your feathered friends grain and crumble from the feed store, but you should also offer other items to help the little ladies along.
"I have a mix of cracked corn, mixed grains, and also sunflower seeds for my hens. My family saves oyster shells – these are great to break up with a hammer and offer to hens. This is a great additive for calcium for egg-layers," noted Hiltz. "You can also save eggshells, dry them in an oven on low heat, and crunch them up to add on top of their grains."
Hascup also stressed the importance of calcium in an egg layer’s diet.
"Laying hens need to have the proper diet. Not just corn. Corn is a filler and good for a snack, but they need to get the proper protein and calcium as well," she explained. "Aside from eating bugs, clovers, and things from the yard, they also need a diet of laying pellets."
The NCAEO explained that once you have your chickens home and happy, it's important to keep things clean. Regular shoveling of manure keeps the flock cleaner and healthier.
Hascup noted it doesn’t hurt to keep food grade diatomaceous earth sprinkled in and around the coop to combat fleas, insects, and other parasites.
Egg cleaning is the last step of the journey when it comes to backyard flocks, and there is an appropriate way to clean those shells before cracking them open to enjoy your morning omelet.
They should be cleaned with a warm damp paper towel at the point of collection. The dampness of the towel should depend on the dirtiness of the egg, and clean eggs should be stored in the refrigerator right away.
For more information about how to raise your own backyard flock, you can visit the N.C. Agricultural Extension website at https://poultry.ces.ncsu.edu/backyard-flocks-eggs/ or call the Columbus County office at 910.640.6605.