Having chickens in your backyard is one way to ensure a steady stock of fresh food. Despite the effort and cost it takes to care for poultry, this can help you live more sustainably by eliminating scraps, producing fertilizers, assisting in composting as well as providing peace and connecting with nature. Here’s what you need to know if you’re thinking of raising chickens at home.
Choose a breed
There are four categories of chicken breeds:
- Heritage breed: Has a slow growth rate and can live a long productive outdoor life
- Egg-laying breed: Produces large quantities of eggs through their short production lives
- Meat breed: Grows quickly and is bred for meat purposes
- Dual-purpose breed: Both egg-layers and meat birds
But it’s important to know how many chickens you’d like to raise. A medium-sized chicken needs at least three square feet of floor space inside the coop (a chicken’s cage or pen) and eight to 10 square feet outdoors. Birds need space to spread their wings and walk around the backyard.
Get your chicken
Once you’ve chosen the chicken breed, it’s time to purchase the chicken. You can choose from the following options:
- Hatching eggs: If you’re new to chickens, hatching eggs are usually not recommended. However, if you understand the process of incubation (which is fairly straightforward), then you can try this option.
- Chicks: This is the most commonly used and often best choice for beginners. Typically, one-day-old chicks are the primary options.
- Pullets: Aged between six to four months, these birds are usually sold at point of lay. Since they’re about to lay eggs anytime soon, pullets may tend to cost you more for the time, care, and feed they need.
- Adults: Breeders usually move out adult birds before they get too old because they tend to eat more.
A medium-sized chicken needs at least three square feet of floor space inside the coop (a chicken’s cage or pen) and eight to 10 square feet outdoors. Birds need space to spread their wings and walk around the backyard.
Set up the chicken coop
Chickens aren’t too sensitive when it comes to housing. Even a basic, modified wooden coop will work. However, there are things you need to get right when creating a chicken coop:
- Weather-proof your coop. It must protect chickens from too much heat, strong winds, and heavy rains.
- Allocate enough space. This is to avoid chickens from pecking at each other when crowded together.
- Ensure proper ventilation. Temperature regulation is crucial in a coop. Good airflow within the coop secures an optimal environment.
- Provide nesting boxes. You will need one box for every three hens. Putting a few extra boxes will also aid chickens in choosing their most comfortable spot.
- Place roosts. Roosts are where chickens sleep together at night. Some chickens however prefer to rest in different perches alone.
- Secure an outside roaming area. Whether your chickens are contained or free-range, they still need access to wide spaces outside their coop.
- Predator-proof your coop. Your chickens can still be in danger, especially at night. You can set up chicken wires around your coop or cover it without decreasing its visibility.
Caring for chicks
It’s only a matter of time before your chickens will start laying eggs. If you choose to raise chicks instead of harvesting the eggs, then you have to properly care for them. You need to start with brooding boxes. It has to be tall enough to keep chicks from jumping out and large enough to fit the chicks, food dish, and water dish. Your brooding box must also be draft-proof as the cold can kill the chicks easily.
Provide soft bedding for your chicks (you can try using pine shavings). If your brooder box is slick, lay paper towels under the bedding so the chicks can get a proper grip and stand properly. This will prevent further problems when standing or walking.
Warmth is crucial for chicks. They do not develop feathers to keep them warm until they’re six to seven weeks old. You can use a heat lamp, light bulbs or an “electric hen” plate. You’ll be able to tell if the temperature is right based on their behavior inside the brooding box.
Warmth is crucial for chicks. They do not develop feathers to keep them warm until they’re six to seven weeks old. You can use a heat lamp, light bulbs or an “electric hen” plate. You’ll be able to tell if the temperature is right based on their behavior inside the brooding box. Huddling means it’s too cold, spreading out to the edges means it’s too hot, and being evenly spaced from each other means it’s the right temperature.
Have a nutrition plan
Chickens and chicks have different diets. They can both be medicated or unmedicated. You have to base your feed on what stage of growth they are in. Giving them the wrong food can result in weight loss and affect their ability to grow or produce eggs. They can also experience molting or the process of losing feathers. You can also give vitamins as well as administer vaccines as needed. Similarly, always check if your chickens or chicks have an adequate supply of clean water.
It’s the bare minimum to clean where you keep your chickens. Keeping their environment clean will lower chances of acquiring health problems. Utilize the right household disinfectants as well as sanitize the materials you use when handling chickens.