It looks as though my husband and I are soon going to venture into raising chickens in our back yard. The chickens will be intended only for eggs and not for meat. Since we are real novices in this area, I thought I'd share some of our questions and concerns here, in the hope that some of you who are experienced in raising chickens can give us a bit of advice. We have already read through Rhonda's excellent guide for raising chickens, but there are still some questions left.
A little note about the climate in our area: it's generally pretty warm here in Israel, but some winter days it can be as low as 0 degrees Celsius and that must be taken into account.
Nests. How do we arrange nests for chickens and make sure they lay their eggs there and not all over the place? There is one guy in our area who has chickens, and every morning he combs his entire yard, collecting the eggs. We would like to avoid that if at all possible.
We would like to get our chickens as young as possible, but we want only hens. How old must the chicks be before you can tell the hens from the roosters?
How do we make sure we avoid salmonella?
Frugal feeding. Any tips? How should the chickens' diet change, and at which stage, as they approach laying age?
Which breeds are the most reasonable to have in your back yard? I mean taking everything into account - a reasonably large number of eggs (doesn't have to be too many, but preferably not too little), friendliness, ability to get along with each other and with children, neighbors and other animals.
Do chickens like to eat ants, and if yes, which breeds prefer ants and other insects? We have repeated infestations of ants all over our yard no matter what we do.
We haven't got a chicken coop yet, but our back yard is very small so we think we'll get something of about 120X60 cm (that's about 4X2 feet), which should house a small flock of about 3-4 birds. Do you think that should be enough? What about the height? Should 80 cm be enough? We intend to let them roam around the yard during the day.
Predators. We have plenty of foxes in our area; is there a way to guard the chickens from the foxes without having to lock them in the coop every night? Sounds tricky, I know. Or will we have to lock them in every time we go to sleep? My husband came up with the idea of perhaps lifting the coop up from the ground and installing ladders, or maybe placing something that will ward the foxes off but I'm not sure it can work.
What do we do if we need to be away for a few days?
Are there plants or any kinds of food that are harmful to the chickens and should be kept away from them?
I think that's about all for now. I might come up with more questions as we embark on our chicken adventure. Thanks in advance for sharing your experience!