Chicken keeping for beginners

Chicken keeping has really become the in thing to do lately. Over the past 10 years or so chickens have gone from a farm and rural thing, to a suburban backyard staple. Everyone knows someone who raises backyard chickens! I mean, why wouldn't you? Fresh eggs from your own hens is an amazing way to control your own food supply and teach your children about where food comes from.

How to raise chickens

Over the last 11 years I've learned a lot of things about chickens that I didn't expect. I have maintained a very large flock of up to 100 chickens, ducks, geese & guinea fowl! 

I've compiled a lot of that knowledge into this guide which is written for those that are just getting into chicken keeping for the first time.

Since I've already written about many of the topics I'm going to talk about, this page is going to contain a LOT of links! Just click on the underlined text to learn more about any topic. 

How to raise chickens


You only need a few things to raise your own chickens. 
A safe place for them to live.
Food & water.

That's pretty much it, actually. Raising chickens is not too difficult. Before you commit to getting chickens though, check with your local ordinances. Many places allow chickens now but they often have rules about the amount of land you must have. Some also only allow for hens as roosters violate noise ordinances. 

Your local township building should have all the information you need about your particular zoning. If you are allowed to have one, I recommend having a rooster in your flock. He will protect the hens, he can help keep harmony in the flock and you'll need him around if you want to let the hens hatch chicks!

First you'll need to decide if you want to start with full grown chickens or baby chicks? Starting with chicks means you'll need to assemble a brooder, get some special chick feed and a heat source. 

Normal air temperature is too cold for young chicks, so you'll need to get a heat lamp or brooder plate to keep them warm. You'll have to keep them in this brooder for about 8 weeks. Once they grow their feathers out and get big enough to be without extra heat, then they can move out to the chicken coop.

Brooder heat chart to show how warm chicks need to be

Full grown chickens can go right into the chicken coop, which is easier by far. Of course you miss the fuzzy chick stage is which utterly adorable, but raising chicks is not difficult at all however it is kind of stinky! 

You can also get something called started pullets, and  they can go directly into the coop also. These are female chickens that are almost old enough to lay eggs, but not quite. Most hens start to lay eggs when they are about 5 months old, though this varies by breed. When you buy started pullets they are generally close to laying age.

The different ages of chickens have different names. Like we have baby, teenager, adult for humans. A baby chicken is a chick. As they hit the teenager stage a female chicken is called a pullet and a male chicken is called a cockerel. As they become adults we then refer to chickens as hens and roosters. 

The chicken coop. 


When you find out how many chickens you can have in your area (or if there is no limit...woo hoo!) then you can decide what size chicken coop to get. You can either build or buy your coop but your going to need at least 3-4 feet of coop space per chicken. Of course smaller sized chickens need less room and larger chickens need more. Most standard breed laying hens fall into the 4 foot range.

So a 10X10 coop can house 25 laying hens. A little extra space is better though. If you have a specific number you have to stay under it makes it super easy to pick a coop size. 

If you don't have any regulations on how many chickens you can have, then you can either decide on a flock size and choose a coop slightly larger than that (it has to do with chicken math...you'll learn that one later) or choose a coop you like and figure out how many chickens fit in it.

Be careful where you put your coop. Make sure it's not in an area that gets too wet like we did with our first coop or your wood will rot. You'll want it close enough to the house that predators stay away, but not so close that you hear the roosters crowing at night. They crow all the time

Choosing a chicken coop for your new flock.

Coops come from all different places and I talk more in depth about it in Where do chicken coops come from. You can build or buy a coop. If you choose to buy a coop be wary of the premade ones that come in a box that you just assemble. They're rather flimsy and I've seen them get blown to bits in a strong windstorm! 

You'll probably want to have a run attached to your coop. A run is a fenced-in area, preferably with a roof where the chickens can be outside but be safe from predators. Many chicken keepers do not have a run attached to their coop and instead opt to free range their chickens everyday. 

Free range is when the chickens basically wonder your yard eating bugs, pieces of grass or weeds and they're outside the whole time. It's great for the chickens, but free ranging can be quite risky as they are more vulnerable to predators when they're outside the safety of their coop and run. 

I have runs on all my coops, but let my chickens out to free range when I'm home. I also keep an LGD...Livestock Guard Dog, in the yard with them to watch out for predators and help keep the chickens safe.

Inside the coop 


The chicken coop is going to need roosts which are bars the chickens sit on to sleep at night. Many people use 2x4s, large fence posts or even natural branches for the chickens to perch on.

Whatever you choose, make sure it it wide enough so their toes are mostly flat. This way in the winter when they sit on their feet, they'll keep them from getting too cold. This is a great help if your temperatures get cold enough to cause frostbite.

Place the roosts up high. In a coop I can stand up in, I like to have them above my eye level. You'll want to place your nest boxes lower than the roosts. 

Since chickens like to sleep up high, if the nest boxes are higher than (or equal to) the roosts, the chickens might opt to sleep in the nest boxes. Chickens poop in their sleep so the nest boxes will be dirty when the eggs are laid the next day.

What wood are coop roosts made of?

Speaking of which, you also need nest boxes for the hens to lay their eggs in. They say you need 1 nest box for every 3 hens, but that's pretty much a lie. They'll all probably pick the same nest box to lay their eggs in. *sigh* So while you should have multiple nest boxes for the hens to choose from, don't be surprised when some sit unused! 

Put some bedding in the nest boxes to prevent breakage and to just be more comfortable when the hens lay their eggs.

How many nest boxes in coop?

You'll need feed and water containers and some type of bedding for the floor and nest boxes. There are many types of bedding to choose from, but the most popular by far are wood shavings. 

I buy the big bags at the feed store, but make sure you get pine shavings not cedar! Cedar shavings can cause damage to a chickens respiratory tract through inhalation of cedar oils and dust.

If you want more ideas for your chicken coop check out the 4 Coop Additions I can't live without. Things like doors that automatically let the chickens into the run in the morning will make your life so much easier!

What do chickens eat?


If you're starting with hens then you'll buy a feed called layer feed. It comes in two versions pellets and crumbles. I prefer the pellets because the crumbles are very very tiny pieces and it seems like they waste a lot of those, but some people like the crumbles better. They are exactly the same feed just in a different bite sized shape.


I have hanging feeders in all my coops. They tend to keep mice out of the feed better, especially if you hang them a few inches off the floor. 

Unfortunately mice are often a problem in chicken coops because they are attracted by the feed. Since the coop door is open during the day they just waltz right in like they own the place. Keeping the feed a bit off the ground keeps them from climbing into the feeders.

Chickens can also eat mealworms, seeds, fruit, vegetables, kitchen scraps, scratch grains, weeds from the garden, Black Oil Sunflower Seeds (also called BOSS) and almost anything a person can eat with just a few things they can't eat.
 
I do keep water inside my coops, but a lot of people keep the drinkers outside in the run. It can be helpful in winter to keep the waterers in the run to prevent moisture buildup in the coop. In summer though I've found no difference between keeping them inside the coop or out.


Related reading: Can chickens eat grapes or chocolate?


Maintaining your flock of chickens


Make sure you fill feeders and give the chickens fresh water daily. Wipe or wash out the water containers at least once a week, more often in summer. This will help to remove excess bacteria that builds up. Plus chickens are notorious for pooping in their water and even though they will drink dirty water (hello there mud puddle!) you want to keep it as clean as possible.

You'll need to clean the coop occasionally. There are two types of coop cleaning. The first is shovel up the poop under the roosts every few days since chickens tend to poop in their sleep. Once a month scoop it all out and replace it. 

The other type is called the Deep Litter Method. This is basically starting with a huge layer of coop bedding, stirring it up every week or so, adding more when needed and changing it all once a year. 

You'll want to look your chickens over regularly for signs of lice, mites or other health problems. Just watch them all for a few minutes a day and you'll be able to see if anyone is acting sick, limping or behaving oddly.

So there's your basic overview to raising chickens. Of course that's not accounting for things like illness, injury or predators. Hopefully you won't have to deal with those issues, but if you do you'll find those answers in other posts on this site...just click the links. 


Still have more questions about raising chickens? I wrote an ebook with even more details: The Beginners Guide To Chicken Keeping. This book has everything you need to know to get started whether you're starting with chicks or hens. 

It will be available through kindle in November. To be one of the first to purchase it, sign up for my newsletter by Clicking right here to join my email list. I'll be announcing the book release throug the newsletter first. You'll also get new posts sent directly to you every Sunday ... plus, you'll also get 4 free downloadable cheat sheets including '25 Ways to save money raising chickens'.

Hope to see you there!

~L

Want to know more about raising chickens? Check out my most read chicken keeping articles!

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Is there any egg which tastes better than the next for chickens? Thanks :)

    ReplyDelete