Are you interested in raising chickens, but don’t know how? Here are some tips and tricks to help you start your own backyard flock!
It’s much simpler to start with a healthy bunch of chicks than from eggs. While hatching your own is definitely something you may wish to consider in the future, allow yourself to become accustomed to the inner workings of chicken health and behavior before taking on the sometimes frustrating world of egg incubation.
Most local feed stores receive chick orders in the spring, so watch store flyers carefully to determine when they’ll arrive in your area. If this isn’t an option where you live, you can also mail order chicks from places online like Murray McMurray Hatchery.
Another option is to purchase mature hens who are already laying for your first flock. While this works some of the time, you often end up with the “culls” from other people’s flocks, so be careful of what you are buying.
Choose dual-purpose chicken breeds
Chickens are usually categorized into two varieties: meat breeds and laying breeds. If you aren’t quite sure which route you wish to go, choose a breed that is known to lay a decent number of eggs, but also has adequate meat production in case you end up with extra rooster or a hen that doesn’t lay. Dual purpose chickens also seem to be hardier and more self-sufficient than other more “specialized” breeds.
You don’t have to go crazy with your coop
Chickens must have:
- protection from predators
- a place to roost
- nesting boxes (for layers)
- room to move around
You can easily meet these needs by modifying an existing building (small barn, shed, or even a doghouse) or building a small chicken tractor.
Stay as natural as possible
- Free range your chickens when at all possible, which cuts down on feed bills and provides them with a diet more like nature intended. (Plus, they LOVE it! Just be cautious of potential predators.)
- Avoid using chemicals or special “washes” to disinfect the coop.
- Feed chickens crushed egg shellsto help supplement their calcium intake.
- Give chickens an assortment of kitchen scraps, which helps to provide them with extra nutrients.
- Don’t leave lights on them year around to force them into laying. Since chickens were designed to take a break from laying, they shouldn’t be in light 24 hours a day. (However, heat lamps are recommended when the temperature drops).
Establish a routine with your chickens
Things run the smoothest when establishing a daily routine for filling feeders, waterers, freshening the bedding, and collecting eggs. That way, the poor girls don’t get pushed to the back burner.
Keep things clean
This goes along with the previous point of establishing a routine. Dirty nesting boxes equal dirty eggs which equals the dilemma of whether or not you should wash your eggs.
An ounce of prevention goes a long way – it only takes a minute or two to clean boxes and replace bedding if you do it each day. If you wait until the end of the week, you’ll have a much bigger task, plus lots of dirty eggs. The same goes for the floor of your coop – if you are using the deep litter method, take a minute or two to turn the bedding each time you are in the coop.
Get a heated water bowl (for cold climate flocks)!
If you live in a cold climate, shallow chicken buckets or pans freeze quickly, and you’ll be outside every couple hours breaking ice and refilling. Save yourself some time and headache by splurging for a plug-in dog bowl. (During warm weather, on demand waterers, which basically work like drip pet waterers on a larger scale, may be easier to keep clean than standard waterers, but they are prone to freezing).
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