Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chickens

So, you are ready to get chickens, but you don’t know where to start? I’m glad you stopped by! This beginner’s guide to raising chickens will answer your questions and give you a great list of all you need to start your own backyard flock.

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Check The County Ordinances

Before you spend one penny on chickens, check with your county or township as to whether you are legally allowed to own chickens. Every county has its own rules. Some allow hens but no rooster and some set a limit to how many hens you can keep or what kind of coop you can have. It’s good to know the law before you bring chickens onto your property.

Where Do You Buy Chickens?

Decide whether you want to buy chicks and raise them, or buy a full-grown hen and get eggs right away? If you want to buy day old chicks and raise them read my post on 3 Places to Buy Chicks. For full grown hens I would look on your local Craigslist or find a poultry group on Facebook.

Be aware that there is a huge price difference between chicks and hens. A chick will cost around 3.50 each while a hen can go for 25-30 dollars each depending on the breed.

What You Need for Chicks

Brooder: A heated enclosure used to raise chicks until they grow feathers, and the heat is no longer needed. A brooder can be a large Rubbermaid container or a DIY wooden box with a wire lid. The size of the brooder depends on how many birds you are raising, but in general aim for 1/2 square foot per chick and 12-15 inches high.

Water: Your chicks will need water immediately upon arrival. I always put 1 tbs of raw apple cider vinegar with the mother for every gallon of water in the chick’s waterer. I buy my raw apple cider vinegar with the mother in five-gallon bucket from Azure Standard they have the best price. The apple cider vinegar provides electrolytes and helps prevent pasty butt.

Feed: Choose a non-medicated starter feed. I use a non-gmo starter feed from our local feed mill. This feed is higher in protein for a growing chick. You will switch to a layer feed once the chicks are full grown. I use flip top feeders that have small opening at the top (in the picture above) similar to these. They work well for the tiny chicks.

Bedding: We buy pine shavings from Tractor Supply or Rural King as bedding for the chicks. As the chicks grow bigger, they will soil the bedding more often so replenish the bedding on a daily basis or as needed. After the chicks move out of the brooder the spent bedding can be composted and used in your garden!

Heat Lamp: The chicks require a warm environment. They do not have feathers and cannot keep themselves warm. Usually, the hen will sit on her chicks to keep them at the correct temperature. You will mimic this with artificial heat in the brooder. The 1st week they need 95 degrees Fahrenheit, weeks 3-5 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and once the chicks have developed their feathers, they no longer need the heat and can live at room temperature.

The use of heat lamps are controversial because they can cause a fire if the bulb comes into contact with the pine shavings. Do your research and decide what is best for your family. If you do use a heat lamp just make sure to secure it so that it cannot fall. There are alternatives to heat lamps that are a safer option such as this Chick Heating Plate.

How Many Chickens Should You Buy?

Careful! You are entering the danger zone!! How many is too many? LOL

Chickens are a social animal so you must have more than one. I would suggest a minimum of six chickens for your flock.

What Breed Should You Choose?

This is the fun part! Chickens are so beautiful and come in all sorts of colors and sizes. Here are some things to consider when choosing a breed.

Climate: Do you have really hot summers? Welsummer, Brahmas, or Barred Plymouth Rock may be a good choice. Extremely cold winters? Consider Rhode Island Reds, Australorp, or Plymouth Rock. Don’t get too caught up in choosing a breed, chickens are hardy birds and will do fine if given proper living conditions.

White Plymouth Rock Chickens are one of my favorite!

temperament: Some breeds are known for being docile and friendly such as Australorps, Brahmas, or Buff Orpingtons and some are known for behaving more aggressively or flighty. All chickens are naturally nervous in nature, but the more you interact with your chickens the friendlier they will be.

Egg color: You are not limited to the white and brown eggs from the store! You have options! Chicken eggs are speckled, blue, chocolate, brown, pink, and green! Your egg basket can be as colorful as you like.

Build a Coop and Run

Once the chicks grown in their feathers and are around 5 weeks old it is time to graduate the chickens to their coop.

Coop: The actual building that a chicken stays in during the nighttime. 4 square feet of coop space per bird.

Choose a coop that will provide adequate space and safety to your chickens. There are permanent coops, mobile coops that have wheels so that you can move your chickens daily, or DIY coops made out of pallets. You name it you can probably find it on Google.

Run: An enclosed area where your chickens will spend their day outside of the coop during the daylight hours. 8-10 square feet per bird. Again, this can be permanent or simple as a movable solar fence.

Ground cover: A chicken spends its day pecking and scratching. They never hold still. If your chicken coop is stationary, they will destroy the grass in the run. Eventually it will become poopy, muddy, and stinky. Use a ground cover to keep the run clean, dry, and smell free. Wood chips (not mulch! It is full of chemicals!), straw, hay, pine needles, or leaves.

This is our mobile flock. My favorite way to raise chickens…on pasture!

Items You Need Inside the Coop

roost: Chickens need a roost to sleep on. They have an instinct to perch on something elevated off the ground to protect them from predators. They need 8 inches of roost per bird. Start at about 1 1/2 feet off the ground up to 3 feet at the highest. Space each level 15 inches apart so that the chickens will not poop on each other.

If you want to know who the dominant chickens are in your flock, check the top roost. The most important chickens get the highest roost, and the least important chickens sit at the bottom.

Nesting boxes: A container, 18 inches off the floor, with nest material inside such as hay or pine shavings that a chicken can get into and lay an egg. One box per four chickens. FYI no matter how many nesting boxes you provide they will choose one that is their favorite and fight over it. We use plastic file crates from Walmart. They are washable, cheap, and have lasted several years.

Basic Needs for Chickens

Besides the coop and run chickens have a few basic daily needs. Make sure you have the following things for them on a daily basis.

Water: Each chicken needs 1 pint of water per day. During the summer we use a five-gallon poultry waterer, and a black rubber bowl in the winter. There are many options to choose from at your local farm store.

Feed: 1.5 pounds of feed a week per chicken. Chicken feed can be bought in a 50 pound bags. Consider storing the feed in a rodent resistant container. We use metal trashcans to store ours. You can fit 3, fifty pound bags in each trashcan.

Oyster Shells/Calcium: This is broken up oyster shells that provide calcium for your birds. They need it on a daily basis for egg production. Without calcium the egg shells will be weak and sometimes malformed. Calcium should be given as free choice in the coop. We bought a double mineral feeder and put oyster shells on one side and grit on the other.

Grit: Made of broken pieces of granite or flint. Chickens use grit to help digest their food. Again, this should be given free choice on a daily basis.

Dust Bath: Chickens love to take a bath in dirt on a daily basis. The dust bath prevents the chickens from getting infested with bugs such as mites or fleas and helps cool them off in the heat. A dust bath is made up of dirt, sand (construction grade. avoid play sand), diatomaceous earth, and even wood ash.

I hope that helps you get prepared for your new adventure with chickens! They are worth it, and the eggs are better tasting than any egg you have eaten from the store!

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