Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms
Our Extension office occasionally receives inquiries about raising chickens in the backyard. University of Illinois Extension Poultry Specialist Ken Koelkebeck put together a packet of information for me to distribute whenever anyone contacts us about backyard chickens. Before you contact your Extension office, please consult your local municipality to see if backyard chickens are approved. Think about your reasons for raising chickens. Are they for eggs, meat, exhibition, or breed preservation? Raising any livestock can be challenging with everything from territorial roosters or losses by the family Fido or coyotes or hawks. In December, I discussed H. W. Mumford's "Tribute to the Stockman" that is at the south entrance to the Animal Science Laboratory. You might check that out before getting too far along with your chicken adventure.
To research your endeavor, start with the University of Illinois Extension web site at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/eggs. This is a listing of 33 resources on poultry. They cover various breeds, egg information, incubation and housing. Another useful site is the Illini PoultryNet at http://www.livestocktrail.uiuc.edu/poultrynet/. This site reviews the latest poultry research at the U. of I. plus recent research papers. Purdue Extension also offers a wealth of information at http://ag.ansc.purdue.edu/poultry. They cover broiler production, diseases and pests, biosecurity, egg production, ducks, poultry exhibition, exotics and farm management. Ken also included lists of hatcheries, poultry equipment suppliers, feed suppliers, and sources for fertile eggs. The American Poultry Association is also a useful research site at http://www.amerpoultryassn.com. On the site, they have posted an informative article, "Helping Poultry Breeders Raise Birds in an Urban Area" by Bart Pals.
You have your reasons for backyard chickens so you need to determine what type of chicken to raise. Purdue Extension (AS-518-W) offers an excellent article on breed selection written by Doug Akers, Pete Akers, and Dr. Mickey Latour.
Egg Production: White leghorns are prolific layers of white eggs. Golden Comets and Red Sex Links are excellent layers of brown eggs. In general, chicken breeds with white ear lobes lay white eggs and chickens with red ear lobes lay brown eggs.
Eggs and Meat: Dual purpose breeds include several American and English breeds such at Plymouth Rocks, Sussex, and Wyandottes. These breeds lay well and are large enough for meat production.
Meat: For meat production only, nothing compares with the fast growth of the Cornish Cross (White Cornish X White Plymouth Rock). They reach 4-5 pounds in 6 weeks and 6-10 pounds in 8-12 weeks.
Exhibition: Exhibition poultry shows are popular throughout the Midwest. The America Poultry Association publishes "The American Standard of Perfection." This book gives a complete description of all recognized breeds and varieties of domestic poultry. Chickens are judged according to those descriptions of ideal breed type, color, weight, and other characteristics for the breed and variety.
Contact me for more information on backyard chickens at 333-7672 and invite me over for scrambled eggs after you get started!