Prioritising food security is everyone’s business these days. If you have not realised by now, we have reverted to the ‘old time’ days where kitchen and backyard gardening was a must in every household. As the saying goes ‘Old is gold’.
With many different articles being published on the importance of food security, it is vital we ensure that we can produce at least 70 per cent of what we consume on our plates.
In previous articles, we focused on vegetable production with specific detail on hydroponics and all its branches, container gardening, traditional agriculture and many different techniques of producing our own crops.
I want to highlight a very important food source, the egg. Eggs contain lots of essential vitamins and minerals that comprise a healthy diet. They are excellent sources of protein which aid in strong muscles, brain development and keep our immune system healthy.
Other benefits include good eye health, weight loss and maintenance, healthy pregnancies and boosted energy levels derived from the Omega-3 fatty acids. In Caribbean culture, it was a norm for your grandparents to raise a few chickens mostly for the fresh eggs that they produced. COVID-19 has now shifted our way of life and we must return to some of these traditional practices.
Three or four chickens are enough to supply a small family with eggs. Hens lay one egg every 23–32 hours which is approximately 300 eggs per year. The hens will start laying at 19–21 weeks of age.
Chicks are usually fed fine-grained ‘starter’ food (20 per cent protein) up to their sixth week and then from six to 20 weeks, they eat ‘grower’ food (18 per cent protein), until they start to lay eggs.
An adult bird can consume up to 1.4 lbs of feed per day. It is vital to have clean, fresh drinking water for the chickens and you can add poultry vitamins once a week to the drinking water for a healthy bird. You can also feed your chickens leftover vegetables and kitchen scraps such as rice and peels.
Building a basic chicken coop is easy. The first thing to consider is size and location. The accepted minimum sizes are 2 to 3 square feet per bird inside the coop and 4 to 5 square feet per bird in the run (an outdoor enclosure attached to the coop for the chickens to roam).
Chickens are prone to squabbling when they’re packed in tight quarters so ensure you leave a little extra space. You want to choose a location where the chickens will not be a problem for you or your neighbours as they tend to be a bit noisy and can produce odours if they are poorly maintained.
The next step is to build a frame for the coop. A basic wooden rectangular frame works. You can improve the design if you like. There should be an open-air run covered with chicken wire (metal mesh) on all sides to prevent predators from entering. You can construct a gate for the entrance, and you can choose a meshed or galvanised roof or a design including both.
The interior of the coop can comprise more than a thick layer of straw or saw dust over the ground to absorb chicken droppings and moisture when it rains. A watering device should be attached to the coop and nest boxes (at least one 12-inch square box for every four birds) should be included.
You can visit YouTube for countless videos on how to build your own chicken coop. Remember to keep your chicken coop as clean as you possibly can. The manure can be integrated into a compost heap as it is an excellent organic fertiliser. I’ve been told that the feeling of collecting your first egg is exciting especially when it comes to taste and quality of a fresh egg when compared to a store-bought egg. I hope this encourages you to give raising your own chickens a try!
Finally, a joke: How do chickens bake a cake? Answer: from scratch!
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