How to Raise Chickens for Beginners
Research Your Local Poultry Ordinances
Some cities have regulations for keeping chickens, such as how many hens you can own or if a rooster is permitted. You’ll want to comply with these ordinances for the best results. Some major cities do not permit chickens while others promote their keeping.
I Know My Ordinance, Now What?
It’s time to plan your flock and get a coop! Have you considered what kind of chickens you’re going to have or how many? Are you keeping a rooster or just hens?
What Breed is for Me?
There are hundreds of chicken breeds and varieties to choose from. Consider your overall weather and climate, space and breed purpose before selecting your breed(s). Heavy feathered breeds like the Brahma or the Cochin prefer cooler climates opposed to the Mediterranean breeds like the Leghorn or the Andalusian which thrive in warm climates. Maybe you live in an area with both harsh summers and winters, then you should consider hardier breeds like the Barred Rock or the Buff Orpington which do well in either climate. If you live in an excessively damp climate don’t purchase feather-footed breeds like the D’Uccle Bantam or Faverolles, consider clean legged breeds like the Wyandotte or the Sussex. Some breeds are tamer than others, but there are always exceptions. Some commonly kept pet breeds are the Silkie Bantam, Barred Rocks and Brahmas. The pet breeds listed are also commonly kept as pets for children. Small breeds, known as “bantams”, which allow you to keep more chickens in a smaller area. Bantam chickens produce tiny eggs, about ⅓ the size of normal eggs; while heavier breeds take up more space, consume more feed and lay larger eggs. If you’re looking for chickens to consume, consider fast growing and feed efficient breeds like the “Cornish” or have both. Breeds that are good for both eggs and for consumption are called “Dual-Purpose Breeds”. Some commonly kept dual breeds are the Barred Rock, Orpington and Wyandotte. Consider a variety of breeds for a colorful egg basket. Remember chickens prefer to live in groups of three but at least groups of two.
I’ve Picked My Breeds, Now What?
Green Garden Chicken offers a large variety of pre-made chicken coops for various flock sizes. Approximately four square feet per bird is recommended for large birds while a small breed only needs about three square feet. Take this into consideration when selecting your coop. If you are a skilled craftsman you could look into building your own coop. You can also start making arrangements to purchase chicks or be preparing their coop if you’ve already got them. If you choose to buy older chickens, which are already feathered, they can be placed in their coop.
Coop and Run Specifics
If you choose to raise hens you’ll need nesting boxes. One box for every five hens is recommended, although most hens only choose one box to lay in. Chickens prefer to roost off the ground if the option is available. Some breeds like the Silkie Bantam will nest on the ground if the roost is too high. One square foot of roost is recommended per full sized chicken. You’ll need bedding for your coop to catch manure from the sleeping chickens. Common beddings used are pine shavings, sand and hay. The best bedding for your coop depends on the size of your coop, the weather and your preference. During cold months, hay is a good insulator, while sand does nothing for insulation. Don’t use cedar shavings in your coop, they are linked to respiratory problems in chickens. Pine shavings are usually the choice of first time chicken keepers. If you aren’t free ranging your chickens, keep them contained in a run. Their run should be covered to protect your chickens from aerial predators. Chicken runs will vary in size depending on the size of your chickens. Smaller chickens need less space and larger chickens the opposite. Generally chicken keepers have a run for their chickens and let them out to free range during the day, keep in mind the risks involved. If you live in the suburbs or would like to free range your flock on different patches of grass, consider a mobile or “tractor” coop that is covered. Keep your chickens safe from night time predators by shutting them in their coop at night. There are many varieties of feeders and waterers available for selection. Chicken nipples and PVC feeders are commonly used and recommended feeders and waterers.
Farmers call their baby chicks “iddies”, others call them “cheepers”, you call them what you like, regardless, they are tiny bundles of love that need your attention. The process of raising chicks is known as “brooding”. Hence, the box you raise your chicks in is called a “brooder”. Your brooder should include pine shaving bedding, a heat source, a thermometer (optional), a feeder with chick starter and a waterer of sorts. Wash your hands before and after handling your chicks to keep you and your chicks healthy. About an inch of bedding is sufficient for your chicks. If you incubated and hatched (or plan to) your own chicks, use a paper towel as bedding for the first day. A common heat source is a heat lamp, with an infrared red bulb installed. Keep the brooder at 95°F and decreased by 5°F each week (90°F, 85°F, 80°F etc.). If you don’t have a thermometer, you can estimate the correct temperature by looking at your chicks’ movements in the brooder. If the heat lamp is too hot, chicks will only walk around the outside of the brooder, away from the heat source. If your chicks are crowding under the light, the brooder is too cold. The temperature is correct if your chicks are moving around all over the brooder with energy. Chick-naps are common. Baby chicks will sleep standing up, while slowly falling over. Young chicks should have marbles placed in their waterers to prevent accidental drowning. Consider vaccinating your chicks if you have a large flock of 50 or more chickens. If you notice an odor from your brooder, it’s time to clean it. Dispose of the old bedding and replace it with a clean layer. Chicks are ready to head to the coop in just a short 6-8 weeks of age. If the weather outside is poor, brood your chicks for a longer time.
Nutritional Needs Your Flock
Your flock will have different nutritional needs as it ages. From ages day old to eight weeks, feed your chicks Chick Starter. From ages eight weeks to sixteen weeks feed your chickens Developer Feed. From ages sixteen weeks and older feed your chickens Layer Feed. Feeding your chicks and chickens treats will add to your chicken keeping experience. Meal worms, watermelon and yogurt are common flock treat favorites. Always provide fresh feed and water to your flock and clean your waterer regularly. For your mature laying hens, provide an extra source of calcium other than their feed such as crushed egg shells or crushed oyster shells. Hens will know if they need more calcium and will eat the calcium provided to them if they need it, which helps build stronger egg shells and helps prevent soft-shelled eggs. Chickens love to eat bugs and grass, they’ll do just that if you choose to free range them.
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