Before deciding to bring home those extremely cute, newly hatched chicks, take a look at what is involved in raising chickens. Certainly, raising chickens is an enjoyable hobby with the delicious fresh eggs as a reward. But do you know the needs of the day old hatched chicks? Can you even have chickens in your neighborhood or on your property?
The first thing I recommend for anyone is to check with the local zoning office. Chickens are a common sight in many rural areas, but many neighborhoods are reluctant to allow backyard chickens. Before setting up your brooder, coop, and fencing, check with any agencies or neighborhood ordinances that would prohibit chickens.
Once you determine that you can legally keep chickens in your yard, it’s time to look into breeds and get the brooder ready for the new chicks. All chicks need to be kept warm for the first few weeks of life. When raised without a broody hen, you have to provide the safe space and warmth, in your home or a secure building. During winter months, even a heat lamp might not provide enough heat for the chicks if they are in an unheated barn or coop. You may want to keep them in the house the first few weeks. Chilling is the leading cause of death in chicks, so keep them warm and safe.
Setting Up The Brooder Box
The first home the chicks come home to is called a brooder box. The box does not have to be anything fancy, in fact many people use an inexpensive plastic storage box. These storage boxes come in varying sizes and are sold in many stores. Do not use the lid unless you cut out a sizable area for appropriate air flow. The bedding should be pine shavings. Newspaper can be slippery footing for little chicks and lead to a condition called splay legs. An alternate floor covering is rubber shelf liner.
The brooder will also need a heat source. The most common item for warmth is a heat lamp hanging over the brooder. Raising and lowering the heat lamp will adjust the temperature in the brooder. If your chicks are huddled together, they are cold and need the lamp lowered. Seeing the chicks hanging near the outer edges of the brooder means the heat is too high and you can raise the heat lamp higher to cool the brooder temperature. When a heat lamp is too risky for you, try the Brinsea indoor chick and duckling brooders.
Continue to Get Ready for Raising Chickens
Finish outfitting your brooder box with a feeder and water fount. These are commonly available where chicks are sold. Choose a chick starter ration. This feed is formulated to provide the growing chicks all the nutrients they need. Starter ration is a combination of grains in a small particle size, easy for the small chicks to ingest. Chicks will eat a starter ration until 16 to 20 weeks of age when they switch to a layer feed formula. After the first few days, if the chicks are eating well, you can supplement with small amounts of fresh or dried herbs, or scrambled eggs. The treats and supplements should not interfere with the chicks eating enough of the chick starter. Make sure the chicks have feed and fresh water at all times.
Choosing a Breed
After you have the brooder set up you can bring your chicks home. Did you decide which breeds to start with? How many are you going to buy? There is one more question to answer. Egg layer breeds or meat chicken breeds? There are some breeds often referred to as dual purpose breeds. Rhode Island Red, White Leghorn, Sussex, and Barred Rock are popular egg laying breeds that many people start with. Examples of dual purpose breeds include, Brahmas, Orpingtons, Wyandottes, and Cochins.
No matter what breed of egg laying chicken you decide to raise, keep in mind that the lifespan of a chicken can reach ten years. Some people choose to keep the older hens as pets and let them live out their lives—eating bugs and enjoying life. Others may use the older, no longer laying hens as table birds. The important factor here is to have an end plan for your chickens.
These breeds and others are kept for egg laying and sometimes as a table bird, too. Cornish Cross and Red Rangers are breeds raised for meat. They mature quickly and are butchered between 10 and 16 weeks of age.
Transitioning Chicks to the Big Coop
Finally, the day arrives and your chicks are big enough and feathered out enough (completely feathered normally around 8 weeks) to move to the big coop! It’s a big step. Make sure you have secure latches on the coop door, shavings on the floor, straw for warmth, and a sturdy roost bar. Chickens don’t need food and water inside the coop when they go to roost at night. Food in the coop will often attract rodents, which you definitely do not want in the coop.
Continue feeding the chick starter feed until the pullets reach 16 to 20 weeks of age. At that age, they are very close or entering the egg laying stage. The need for increased calcium has been reached, and it’s time to switch the chickens to a layer ration.
Raising chickens is a rewarding homestead project. There are daily, weekly and monthly care chores that need to be attended, and lots of fresh eggs to enjoy! Daily feed and water changes, quick spruce ups and cleaning, followed by a heavier clean up weekly or monthly, will comprise the chores. The coop needs to be dry, and ventilated properly. The cleanup chores will keep it that way. Less frequently, chores such as dusting, cleaning the droppings board, scrubbing the feeders and water founts, and replacing the shavings and straw, will take a little bit longer.
All said, it’s not too stressful raising chickens. You can expect to find some interesting personalities among your flock. It’s not a bad benefit that your backyard chickens will soon provide fresh eggs for your breakfast and baking.
Janet Garman is a farmer and author, and shares homestead information from her property, Timber Creek Farm. They raise sheep for fiber, chickens, goats, and more! Follow their journey online at www.timbercreekfarmer.com