Michelle Smith, a physician associate, and husband Erich, a New York City firefighter, who own The Farmer’s Grind (South Salem) coffee shop, also own 10 chickens they keep in a backyard coop. As well as laying eggs, chickens eat bugs and ticks, fertilize the ground, and till the land. They produce eggs for about five to seven years; after that, local farms often take them.
The Smiths learned from rookie mistakes as first-time chicken owners and have some handy tips for setting up your backyard chicken coop.
Garden centers often stock vaccinated baby chicks. They got theirs from Copia Home & Garden, next to the Farmer’s Grind. They have everything needed to get started, such as organic feed, feeding trays, heat lamps, water containers, hay chips, dried worms, and cleaning tools.
A strong coop will protect your chickens. The Smiths dug a 10’ × 10’ section of yard and placed chicken wire eight inches below the coop so that predators could not dig and tunnel underneath. In addition, they attached a six-inch chicken-wire skirt to the coop with rocks placed around the perimeter.
For the best eggs, use organic layer pellets. Chickens also love food scraps. Make sure to give them extra organic fruits and vegetables.
Chickens are targets for birds of prey and wild animals. Make sure that the coop is under a shaded area so that they are not easily seen by hawks. If the chickens are free range, be sure to lock their coop at sunset to keep other animals from getting in. If you have a compost or are thinking of making one, put it as far as possible from the coop.
According to the Smiths, cleaning the coop out every week is an essential part of their care, especially during summer months. During the winter, you can go two to three weeks without cleaning the coop.