CLAY COUNTY – Raising a small, backyard chicken flock has gained interest in recent years as many small-farm owners, hobbyists and homeowners desire to produce their own high-quality food. Producing your own eggs from a small chicken flock can be extremely satisfying and a great way to teach your kids about agriculture, nature and instill a sense of responsibility. But connecting with agriculture requires planning, research and dedication.
If you are just starting out or interested in starting a small flock, first find out if it is legal to raise chickens where you live. Many communities have regulations that restrict the location and quantity of poultry. In Clay County, the ability to house chickens on your property is dictated by your property zoning district. Certain zones, such as AG have no restrictions for raising poultry. Other zoning districts have a permitting process but do allow a small number of chickens. Other zoning districts or within certain city limits, such as Orange Park or Keystone Heights, chickens may not be allowed at all. It is best to check with your local county zoning department to make sure you can raise chickens on your property. If you reside in an HOA, it is also advisable to check your HOA ordinances to see if chickens are allowed on your property.
If your goal is to produce eggs for you and your family, all you will need is a few hens in your flock. Hens should begin laying around six months of age and can continue for several years. Peak egg production usually occurs within the first two years and will decrease production over the next couple of years. A layer hen should produce an egg every one-to-two days, but this can vary based on breed. The amount of daylight that is available is very important to egg production and the amount of eggs produced will vary based on the seasons. Hens will also go through a process called “molting”, where the hens will lose their feather, in order to produce new fresh feathers. During this process, egg production becomes non- existent, but have patience! This process is only temporary and usually lasts for one-to-three months.
Egg production is also affected by the health of the hens. Diet and nutrition have a direct effect on the amount and quality of the eggs. If your flock isn’t provided a well-balanced diet, what little energy the hens have are diverted from egg production to maintaining their own health. Make sure the feed you are providing is proper for the age of your flock, is of good quality, and not moldy or stale. Also keep it free of rodents or other animals by storing it in a rodent-proof container. Vegetable or fruit scraps from the kitchen can be fed to chickens, but never used spoiled food, raw potato peels, avocado skins, raw beans, candy, raw eggs, or anything salty. Clean fresh water should be provided. A typical bird will need a half-pint a day depending on age and outside temperature.
Just like any pet, companion or agricultural livestock, you need to continually monitor your flock for health concerns. A healthy bird will be active, alert, and communicative. They should be moving around, pecking, talking or singing quietly. Unhealthy birds can potentially show the following signs: no longer active, will not move, limp, no longer talkative, diarrheic droppings, coughing or sneezing. Sanitation and coop ventilation are very important processes to maintain a healthy flock. After handling the chickens, eggs, or cleaning the coop, always wash your hands with soap and water to prevent bacterial infections.
While raising your own hens can be demanding, it can also be extremely rewarding. Chickens can be funny creatures and have the ability to put a smile on your face after a rough day. Besides providing fresh home-raised eggs, it can teach responsibility and can connect us with agriculture and nature.
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