Chicken tips and tricks: Backyard farming advice from old hands at hens

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Betty and Tort do the chicken dance. They are kept by Carol Tabakaru of Antrim. Photo by Meghan Pierce Photo/Meghan Pierce

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The experienced backyard chicken farmers say to remember these are living creatures, they will need care and attention and don’t stay cute and fuzzy chicks for long. They get bigger and so does their poop.

Christine Bemis, administrator for the NH Backyard Chicken Exchange Facebook group, said chickens need fresh water and food. She advised people that they do not need to heat the chicken coop during the winter.

“Heating it can actually lead to respiratory illness in your birds,” Bemis said. “Basically chickens just need a predator-proof coop and run. Chicken wire is only for keeping chickens in, not for keeping predators out. Welded wire ‘hardware cloth’ is the way to go. With the increase in bears in the area, and the ever-present foxes, raccoons, possums, etc., if you want to be successful you need to make it like Fort Knox.”


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Carol Tabakaru of Antrim has been keeping chickens her whole life.

“I can’t see life without them,” she said. “My grandmother was called the ‘Little Red Hen,’ – always had chickens. I’ve always had chickens, cats, dogs.”

You will have plenty of eggs, but not in winter. Courtesy Photo

Tabakaru said there is only so much you can do to prevent predators and recommends keeping the coop close to the house. “But the best predator prevention is man pee,” she said, human male urine. “The number one predator is a man. I lost two chickens that were just gone, vanished, gone and I suspect hawk.”

She keeps 16 hens and a rooster.

“You don’t need a rooster, for one thing, to have eggs, if your goal is eggs,” her husband Phil Tabakaru said. “You can use anything for a chicken coop. An old Volkswagen outback with a screen in the windows, you can use that as a chicken coop, they don’t care.”

She loves her chickens, each has a name and answers to it. Chickens are great for keeping your yard bug free, because they eat ticks in her yard, protecting her cats and dogs. A $14 dollar bag of grain lasts Tabakaru a few weeks during the summer since they forage for bugs in her one-acre yard. During the winter she goes through a bag of feed a week.

Don’t expect chickens to lay eggs during a New Hampshire winter since chickens need about 16 hours of daylight to lay eggs, she said.

“I don’t provide mine with extra lighting or extra heating or anything other than what nature gives us, because I find it too dangerous. Electrical fires are horrifying,” she said.

Spring chicks will not be laying eggs for at least four months, depending on the breed even longer, and if it is an early winter that means they will not be laying till next spring, she said. “Eggs take a year. I don’t care. Four months they say, four months, and some of them will produce in four months.”

She advises people not to buy chicks on a whim.

“Don’t buy them if you are bored. That’s the worst thing you could do. Those chickens are going to be inside your house for six weeks,” she said.


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