By CELESTE BAUMGARTNER
HAMILTON, Ohio — The backyard chicken industry is expanding, as more people are interested in producing their own food. The Butler Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) thought a Poultry College would be an excellent way to bring together the urban and rural portions of the county.
Chickens need an area of 3 square feet for each bird, Brady Smith, rural specialist with Butler SWCD, told those attending the College. This is in addition areas for nest boxes and roosting space; generally, as many as five birds can use one nest box.
“For the outside pen you need to look for protection from all kinds of predators,” he said. “It will need to be covered at all times. You’re going to need a good, strong metal fencing that the chickens cannot, and predators – even smaller predators – cannot get through, and protection from predators digging under the fence.
“A good rule of thumb is to bury the fencing straight down in the ground about a foot.”
Also, chickens produce more than just eggs, Smith said. Backyard chicken enthusiasts also have to deal with manure. It is a good resource for gardens, but needs to be “aged” first. Manure managers can do that by stockpiling or composting.
“Chicken manure composting is going to be your best friend,” he explained. “Compost piles need to be covered, they need to reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees (Fahrenheit), and they need to have enough moisture. Sometimes it may be necessary to sprinkle them with water if the compost gets too dry.”
Ohio has laws that dictate what can and cannot be done with manure, said Kelly Crout, Butler SWCD district administrator. She explained manure can cause excessive nutrient loading and said to keep it away from waterways, pools of water and ponds.
Next, Timothy McDermott, DVM extension educator in Franklin County, touched on health, nutrition aspects and the biosecurity needs of keeping backyard poultry. Families who choose to keep backyard poultry need to do it in the healthiest way possible for the birds and the family, he said.
“Diseases can be spread from bird to bird or bird to human,” he noted. “This is important in the backyard level where you have families or children that are interacting with the birds, but it is also important because in Ohio and surrounding states, we have a tremendous commercial poultry operation. It is important to watch for these diseases.”
Everyone should buy chicks from a healthy source. McDermott recommended purchasing them from a National Poultry Improvement Program (NPIP) certified hatchery. Those birds either come from breeding stock that has tested negative, or they’ve been vaccinated against diseases such as salmonella.
“What we’re seeing in the backyard industry is birds which are food animals are being treated like pets,” he said. “People are keeping them in the house, in the living room or kitchen. Birds have diseases that can affect humans.”
An essential part of keeping people and chickens healthy is maintaining a healthy flock. Just like healthy people, a healthy flock can resist disease and illness. Chicken owners should optimize the critter’s nutrition, and make sure their water is clean and fresh and at the right temperature.
“You need to maintain sanitation in the coop and be sure that it is properly ventilated, but not drafty,” McDermott explained. “Especially with winter coming, we don’t want to have problems with a moist and drafty coop that can cause respiratory disease or frostbite conditions that might make a bird sick or unhealthy.”
For more information on chickens, consult NPIP and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service biosecurity resources online.