How to raise chickens in Ontario
Chickens. The gateway bird. The most common starter ‘animal’ for beginners. And highly popular in Ontario. Just check Kijiji – there is a breed and a bird for everyone!
Ontario provides a fun set of circumstances to work around when raising chickens. Weather runs the full gambit from hot and dry to wet and cold. Available grains and feeds vary from location to location. Organic or GMO-free feeds are not always available.
But…what is the best way to raise chickens in Ontario? And how do you do it?
Let’s start with winter
Chickens adapt well to many environments and can handle temps down into the low single digits if they are dry and out of any drafts. Dry air is also a huge factor in keeping chickens healthy in the winter. Chickens create very damp air if they are in a small, enclosed space and it is vital to their overall health, and specifically, their lungs, to provide air circulation.
During the winter feed quality is very important; hens are working hard to both keep themselves warm and lay eggs. Offer spoiled greens and compostable foodstuffs to supplement their diet. Frequently check their water sources and keep them thawed or the ice broken. Chickens will eat less dry feed if there is no water available.
To help combat dehydration and promote gut health, I recommend looking into fermenting or soaking feed. It helps break down grains for easier digestion and more. Check out this excellent post to learn more about that topic.
Garlic cloves are an excellent addition to your flock’s diet in the winter as well, it is a natural immune booster and can help with any worm problems.
In summary, keep your chickens:
- Out of drafts/breezes
- In a well ventilated area but not drafty
- Low dust area
- Offer high quality feed and greens
- Keep water available
- Consider adding garlic to their diet
Many coops are stationary wood coops that are hard to vent properly, keep clean, and relatively dust-free. While they may be cute, they are not at all practical or good for poultry’s health. Such coops invite vermin such as rats to live underneath them or in the walls.
If this is all you have, there are ways around such issues. Such as getting a good cat, researching how to add proper ventilation without causing drafts, or renovating the coop during the summer.
All that aside, our favourite way of housing chickens in the winter is on deep bedding packs in a greenhouse. We roll our 812 cackellac and 1312 cackellac into the greenhouse for the winter – which also means we don’t have to take the tarps off of them – and set the 322 cackellacs in as well. The 1312 is used to house the layer flock. We add end panels to it and at night it acts as another layer of insulation, capturing the heat from the chickens and keeping it closer to them than the greenhouse does.
Side note – we love using the 322 cackellacs as brooders for chicks or hens with chicks.
The chickens are let out to roam the greenhouse, which also houses the goatherd, during the day. Our barn cat has a free run of the greenhouse as well. As the bedding pack in the cackellac builds up, we lift the cackellac up so it’s not sitting in the pack. The wheels on the 1312 raise and lower, and it works nicely for this.
Another setup to check out for inspiration is Joel Salatin’s winter housing for his chickens.
Please, whatever you do, do not have stagnant, dirt runs for your birds. It’s disgusting, unsanitary, and smelly. If a stationary run is your only option, look into deep bedding on wood chips or straw. Deep bedding decomposes slowly and the vibrant web of life in that bedding helps keep bad bugs and such at bay. Check out this video from Joel Salatin for example.
The best way to house chickens in the summer is in portable coops, tractors, or nettings. Keeping them moving provides a clean, fresh environment each day. Fresh forage, fresh bugs, fresh ground. Not only does moving chickens daily keep them healthy, but it also provides you with nutrient-dense eggs and meat.
Chicken manure is pure gold on any pasture or grassy area. Looking to improve your ground? Use your chickens!
Soaked/fermented feed is also an excellent idea in the summer. Keep an eye out of mites, provide dust baths, and grit. During the summer, chickens must have access to shade at all times as their feathers prevent easy heat loss.
The summer is definitely when it’s truly fun to have chickens! There is nothing like watching your flock enter a fresh spot of grass, happily clucking and pecking.
Rules & Regulations
Before rushing off to buy your favourite breed, here are a few things to know.
- Not all towns allow backyard poultry. Be sure to check your town’s bylaws regarding this.
- If you’re on a “country” town lot but not quite true country, check your property’s zoning – whether it is agricultural or residential. This will affect what you are allowed to have as well.
- There are still limits on how many chickens you are allowed to have. There is currently a limit of 300 meat birds at a time and 100 layers. There are limits on other fowl as well.
- It is permissible to process your own poultry for personal use only. Otherwise it must be processed at a liciensed facility.
Where to buy chicken supplies
Our favourite spot to buy any kind of chicken feed is 5 Star Feeds. If you’re anywhere in the Chatsworth/Owen Sound area, be sure to check them out! They have everything you need feed or mineral-wise for basically any animal.
If you are doing a stationary run, your local hardware and feed store will have everything you need. Chicken wire or mesh, wood, feeders, and waterers. As well as chicks – most feedstores offer the option to buy chicks through them.
For moveable chicken tractors, check out the cackellac pages. We love the 1312 for our yearly batches of meat birds or turkeys. Or rouge goats that don’t stay in…
The 812 is perfect for backyard flocks, smaller batches of meat birds, or breeder flocks. It houses up to 40 birds and is very easy to move. Only have a small space or just a few birds? Take a look at the 322. Housing up to 6 layers, it is also perfect for broody hens or young chicks.
Where to buy chickens – and what to look for
This is by no means a comprehensive list or discussion about what to watch out for, but it’s a start 🙂
There are plenty of hatcheries – both commercial and small specialty ones.
Frey’s is the one we have used in the past for meat chicks, as well as Bonnie’s through our local feed store. Since I love collecting different breeds for a colourful flock – and egg basket – I constantly check Kijiji for good quality birds as well as keeping an eye out for breeder listings.
When purchasing birds, listen closely for any sneezing, wheezing, and coughs. Look out for birds who are constantly itching themselves, gunky eyes, and dull feathers. Poultry should be plump, well feathered, with bright, clear eyes and beaks. Feathers should be clean and shiny. These are the basics of what to look for.
Do not buy from sales barns. This is where people send old hens, sick or weak birds. Be aware that breeders and Kijiji ads can and will sell bad quality, sick birds as well.
Be ready before you buy your birds 🙂 Have shelter, food, and water available before you bring anything home. A chicken expedition started without proper infrastructure is doomed from the beginning. Plus, it is a lot more enjoyable and stress-free when everything is in place from the start.
I hope this gives you an idea of what is needed when raising chickens in Ontario 🙂 Enjoy the journey!
P.S. chickens are addicting….