28 February 2008 |

Raising Chickens - The Basics To Get Started

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Other than a small garden or a few fruit trees, I believe that raising chickens is one of the easiest ways to gain some self-reliance in your food supply. It can also be a very rewarding and enjoyable hobby for adults as well as children. An adult chicken only needs 3-4 square feet of space. Hens do not need a rooster to lay eggs (only to reproduce). Anyone can have a few chickens and their own natural egg supply. Here are a few reasons why I think raising chickens is a great idea: Chickens are easy and inexpensive to maintain Home raised eggs are great tasting & nutritious You are in complete control of what goes into the production of your eggs. Chickens are fun & your children can get involved in their care (maybe even show one in the state fair) Chickens provide free fertilizer Chickens eat bugs! What a great idea for pest control Everyone has a dog or cat. Why not be the interesting neighbor raising their own hens and eggs? Now that I've convinced you that this is a great idea...Where do you buy chicks?

 

In the spring, many local feed stores carry day-old baby chicks. Many of these stores will also have everything you need to get started. You can also find many hatcheries with websites online. We have purchased day-old chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery and also from our local farm store. The only draw back to ordering from a hatchery is that they often have a minimum order. You will need to order 20-25 at a time. This is because baby chicks need each other to stay warm during shipping. So if you go with this option, you may have to convince some of your friends, neighbors and family to split the order with you...unless of course 25 chickens is just what you want!

What will you need to get started?

Baby or day-old chicks need housing; for approximately the first 45-60 days a cardboard box or a small cage will do kept in your garage or the laundry room. The size of the box depends on how many birds you plan to start with. A good rule of thumb is 1 square foot for each bird during the first 60 days. If you use a cage, you need to remember to use something to shield them from drafts. We have found that a cardboard box works best for us.
These small chicks need an area where they can get warm. We use a clamp on light attached to one side of the box with a light bulb. A regular light bulb may not provide enough heat. Look for a bulb in Lowe's or Home Depot that is specifically made for heat (colored also). You should start chicks at about 95°F (measured near the heat source at chick height), dropping the temperature about 5°F each week until the birds are feathered or until room temperature is reached. If the chicks are all under the heat source, it is probably too cold. If they are all far away from the heat then it's too hot. If they are clumped away from the heat, it may be drafty. The ideal situation is they are using all areas of the pen, then the temperature is correct.
It's best to use shavings or shredded newspaper in the bottom of your box or cage. Keep changing this daily as chicks need a clean environment to keep the disease and pests away. I have read that smooth newspaper (un-shredded) is not good because it is too slippery for your chicks. Just make sure the shavings or shreds are large enough that the chicks are not tempted or tricked into eating them. Simple waterers and feeders can be found at your local farm store or online. The proper chick starter feed can also be found at the farm store or online. All birds should be able to eat and drink at the same time...they probably won't all do this but if they can than you know you have enough food and water for them. Keep the feed and water filled at all times.

During the time that your chicks are small enough to stay in the box...that is when you can be thinking about building or buying your chicken coop. Build or purchase a safe home for your flock and keep in mind what your local predators might be. A coop needs several basic features. A place to keep the chickens secure from predators. Chickens need a nest for laying eggs in and a place to roost in the evenings. Also, a small fenced in area for them to get fresh air and scratch (some may say this is not necessary but I think it should be a basic necessity provided to all chickens). Chicken coop plans are widely available online and through farm magazines so I won't go into too much of that info here. Just remember that it can be as simple (left over building materials or salvaged materials) or as fancy (built and painted to match your house) as you like.
Depending on weather in your area, chickens can be moved outside after the first 60 days. If they are beginning to grow out of or fly out of their box, it might be time to move them. Just make sure that if it is needed, you provide heat and a secure roosting area for your chickens until they are fully grown. At this time you can invest in a larger waterer and feeder for your chickens coop. If you do not mind feeding them daily then a feeder is not needed. Their scratch and scraps can be tossed right into their pen.

These are the basics to get started with a few chickens in your own yardstead. We'ill be posting more articles about chickens soon. If you would like more information in the meantime, you're welcome to post questions or comments in the forums. Here is a link to one of our favorite resources for chicken information.

This book has just about everything you need to know about raising and caring for chickens {jumi} <iframe src="http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=theyard-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=1592280137&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0"></iframe> {/jumi}

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