Backyard Poultry Rearing - A Leisure Pursuit


9 Years
Mar 3, 2010
Dr. Syed Mohammad Altaf Gilani
In our Valley, the changing lifestyles have rendered us dependant on imports which are increasing with every passing day. Imports of mutton, poultry, eggs, cereal grains and even vegetables and fruits have become the order of the day. The situation has precipitated from our sloppy approach which of course makes us different from the same race of the developed world. In our self-styled urbanized culture we have elapsed the self-contained routine dealings of recent past wherein the agricultural activities, including livestock rearing were considered as a symbol of welfare and security. The poultry rearing was one such endeavor and even the urban family units would possess not less than ten birds each, not to mention of rural house holds. The imports those days were not so colossal and even the late hour guest could be offered a chicken. The children were well nourished with the eggs from ones own backyard and the locally produced brown-shelled eggs were also available on the grocery shop. The present state of affairs have resulted in the imports of table eggs alone to the tune of 160 lakhs per annum amounting to Rs. 400 lakhs which as per the approximation after five years would swell up to 1500 lakh eggs per annum amounting to flight of capital from Kashmir Valley worth Rs. 4500 lakhs, if allowed uncontrolled. This simulated approach towards the day to day affairs needs to be altered in favour of a self-sustained economy.
Our cultural, socio-economic and religious beliefs make poultry rearing in our backyard, other than the commercial rearing, an ideal part-time. Feeding of chickens, collection of eggs, cleaning of coop, hatching of eggs, all take us very close to the nature and give us a feeling of the essence of life. Owning of birds from a very good breed with beautiful plumage and excellent production characteristics gives a feel of contentment and adds to the compilation of exhibits which one would love to share with the visitors. To peak it all, the collecting of fresh eggs from your backyard which are far more superior in taste, flavor, nutrients and free from drug residues makes whole process worth getting pleasure from.
The art of owning and breeding poultry can be very rewarding and enjoyable indeed. The challenge of improving a breed, the feeling of accomplishment and pride in owning and maintaining beautiful fowls with unique heritage, or just relaxing in the enjoyment of observing one of the most stunning and useful creatures on Earth in your very own backyard. Keeping poultry can ensure a plentiful supply of eggs superior in taste and freshness; meat with flavour and texture that's real and authentic; gardens that grow and produce like never before. The hierarchical behavior being exhibited by the flock is a treat to watch wherein the alpha male can be seen foraging and inviting other birds lower in hierarchy for the seize. The rearing of a fowl gives us a feeling of owning of a pet without any religious taboo.
The biggest initial expense is the pen, which consists of an enclosed area for the chickens to walk around in by day (they need exercise), and a coop for them to sleep in at night. A coop should have at least 2 square feet of floor space and 1 1/2 feet of headroom per bird, as well as space for a nest. Larger birds need more room. You can make the coop as elaborate as you want, or put it together cheaply using salvaged timber. Use chicken wire of a heavy gauge, though. The coop can be designed to meet ones aesthetic sense. One feeder and one drinker are sufficient for a medium sized enclosure. The egg nest can be placed in such a way that the laid eggs can be collected though a small window from outside without disturbing the birds in the coop. A coating of dry saw-dust can be laid on the floor to act as a bedding material and to steer clear of the stink. During the winter season, polythene should be wrapped on the enclosed area to shield the birds from cold drafts.
White Leghorns are the most popular commercial breed because they lay 250 to 300 white eggs annually during their prime laying years. For the home poultry keeper, however, the heavier red, brown, and black hens are probably better choices. Hybrids are a little larger than Leghorns and lay 180 to 240 brown eggs a year. In comparison the indigenous local birds lay only 50 to 60 eggs a year and exhibit broodiness for most of the time. Egg production is related to the length of day, so the pen should be in a sunny spot, although it should also be shaded during summer. Some backyard-poultry enthusiasts put lights in their coops to increase production. Hens mature at 5 to 6 months, depending on the breed, and then start laying eggs. They will lay at their best rate for one or two years and at a reduced rate into their third, fourth, and fifth years. Many poultry keepers, however, put their non-productive hens into the cooking pot.
Eggs from hens allowed to peck on pasture are a heck of a lot better than those from chickens raised in cages or under semi-intensive system (deep litter system). Most of the eggs currently sold in the markets are nutritionally inferior to eggs produced by hens raised on pasture or in the backyard. Testing has found that the eggs from such hens contain 1⁄3 less cholesterol, 1⁄4 less saturated fat, 2⁄3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E and 7 times more beta carotene. The stress factors and the drug residues in the farm produced eggs rank such eggs mediocre in quality while as in the backyard eggs such factors are lacking which makes the backyard egg nutritionally far superior. Nutritionally, there is no difference between the white shelled egg and brown shelled egg produced under the same circumstances. Birds with white plumage and white ear lobes lay white shelled eggs and the birds with brown plumage and brown ear lobes lay brown shelled eggs.
Lot of kitchen waste, vegetables, bread and rice left-over and some grains are being recycled by the backyard poultry into a highly nutritious 60 grams packaged breakfast food, called egg. Garden cuttings, lettuce and cabbage leaves, pea vines, and leafy green carrot tops can go to the chickens, which also eat weeds, worms, and all kinds of table scraps. Sometimes even the chickens can be let to wander around the yard to keep the slug population in check.
The surplus males got out of the bunch make a very tasty dinner again far more superior in taste, texture and nutrition than the commercial chickens sold in the market. When the pen is cleaned out, the manure can be shoveled into the compost pile, where it degrades and eventually gets spread over the garden to feed next year's crop.
Being part of this earthy cycle can be pleasurable almost as much as opening the back window and hearing the musical cluck, cluck, cluck of your happy hens. Buying cold eggs at the grocery store is no match for gathering warm ones each morning and marveling at the freshness and perfection of nature.
(The author is a Poultry Consultant and can be mailed at [email protected])

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