So, you want to raise chickens?
I don’t blame you! They’re awesomely fun to raise and they can be a profitable hobby! But I’ll be honest. You need to understand what you’re getting into. Chickens require attention and can be hard work if you don’t do it right.
But that’s why I’m here! I’m a proud mom of some beautiful hens and have useful tips to help you!
First, you must figure out which type of chickens you want. There are so many breeds! Four hundred and fifty distinct varieties to be exact. Wow! Who knew, right? AND you must be careful about the kinds you choose. Climate condition is an important factor in a hen’s survival. Some breeds will thrive where you live, while others can easily die. I know because I made that mistake! I chose a silver-laced Wyandotte which didn’t do well in my hot desert location. It was a hard lesson to learn…so to save a lot of tears… do your research!
Second, what are you hoping for? Better eggs? Healthier meat? Or do you just want a cute-feathered show pet? Breeds are specialized for these three categories so investigate them with your end goal in mind.
An additional idea is to mix it up some! You can have all your ladies of the same breed or see a variety of hens pecking happily at the ground. My mom grew up raising lots of snowy white leghorns. Her coop was a blanket of white feathers. But I like seeing different types hanging out and cackling together.
NEXT…do I buy CHICKS or ADULTS?
Well, of course I’m going to recommend chicks! They’re fun. Not only can you bond with them but you can teach them tricks. They love games like… “follow the human’, ‘jump for a treat’, and ‘chicken swing”! My girls respond to Potpie! Which translated in ‘chicken’ means ‘Look! I’ve got something yummy in my hand!’. Whenever I say it, they come running!
So, where to buy said chicks? Believe it or not, I bought mine from a nearby Ace Hardware! You can also shop from chicken breeders, or larger pet stores.
Tips on chicks:
DO NOT keep them outside! They still have their baby feathers and can’t survive. Instead, get a good-sized bin. No lid! Fill the bin with bedding. You can use newspapers, paper towels, or pine shavings. Once you have a comfy bottom, provide food and a water dish.
Feed them a proper diet. That means food formulated for chicks and not adults.
Buy a heat lamp or a heating table. I recommend heating tables, as they’re less of a fire hazard, easier to maintain, and are actually better for your chicks.
In a matter of months, the chicks will start to fly. Well… chickens don’t actually fly, but they can get pretty close! At this stage, they can easily hop/fly out of their bin so you’ll need to add a lid. The best choice is mesh, but if you use something solid, just make sure there’s plenty of breathing holes to keep them comfortable. As your chickens grow, continue calling them by their names and they each know who they are! Make them trust you. If you pick them up often and speak softly as you stroke their feathers, they’ll learn you’re their friend.
Chickens have ranks in their group. They will usually pick a leader and have a ‘pecking order’ with the highest to the lowest. The lower a chicken is in the rank, the more she gets pecked. This is normal, and depending on the breed you choose, certain breeds will be born leaders while other breeds are born followers.
Move them to their adult closure at 6-7 weeks or once they get their new juvenile feathers.
Making the coop…their castle!
The coop should be big enough to support all of your chickens. About 10 square feet per bird, which means you may have to add an additional run. If they can roam free in the day, give them a night-enclosure with room to sleep. Nesting box must have sufficient space as well; about 2-3 chickens per box. But if you have a lot of chickens (over 50), I recommend 1-2 chickens per nest. You can purchase special sand for your chickens at a pet store.
Most breeds start laying their eggs around 18 weeks. Use pine shavings for the nesting box so the ladies will be comfortable when they lay their eggs. They won’t use the box at first and you’ll find eggs randomly around the coup. But don’t worry! They’ll move in eventually.
Another convenient option is to make a good-sized coop, then hook it up to a larger cage. Put a door between them and that way, if predators get inside the cage, they can’t reach the sleeping chickens in the coop. Just make sure the gate gets opened and closed at the right times.
If possible, let your chickens out of their coop every once in a while. It’s not only good for them, but they love it! I like baby-sitting my girls when they’re outside because where I live, chickens have lots of predators! Raccoons, snakes, hawks, coyotes, owls, falcons, wolves, skunks, weasels, opossums, and bobcats just to name a few. Dogs will attack chickens too. I trained my hunting dog to leave the ladies alone. Now, he actually protects them!
Take a peek at some predatory ‘chicken lovers’ on the hunt!
See why I made my coop so safe?
I also suggest putting mesh at least 4 feet into the ground surrounding the coop so predators can’t dig in. Make sure the gaps between bars and wires are small enough to protect your flock. Racoons can reach through and grab a one …which is why I had to make a second coup.
Chickens should have a constant supply of water and food at all times. You can really mix it up with the meals too! They’ll eat just about anything including table scraps. They love dried mealworms and on a hot day I’ll freeze watermelon for a special treat. Add oyster shells with their food and it will keep eggs nice and firm. Check for eggs often, otherwise the hens will try pecking holes in them. If this happens, get some fake ceramic eggs and place them in their nesting box which curbs the destructive habit. This also shows them where to lay the real ones!
Sickness and Disease
Clean their living space once a month because clean coops means happy chickens. A dirty environment stresses chickens which can even lead to sickness and death. Also check for mites and ticks. Symptoms can be pale combs, droopy or mucky eyes, or a change in their appetite. They may also begin to lose their feathers when it’s not the season. Molting (losing feathers) in fall to grow a new warm set for winter is normal so it’s fairly easy to tell the difference.
Another problem is getting ‘things’ stuck between their toes. When something is wedged there long enough, a pussy lump could form. This solidifies and becomes infected. You can either take them to the vet or treat them yourself. FYI…it’s not pretty.
DIY: You’ll need rubbing alcohol, disinfected tweezers, a paper towel, a wrap to cast it with, tissue, towel, and a Q-Tip. Wrap the towel around your hen’s head so she doesn’t get too nervous. Use the tweezer to take out the pus and have the Q-tip ready to clean it. Once the lump is out, softly wipe it with a paper towel. Place the tissue on the wound and wrap it gently but tight with the cloth. Replace the wrap daily, or whenever it’s dirty.
Not all chicken diseases are curable from home so be prepared to take them to the vet. A vet specialized in farm animals (especially hens) is best.
OK! Now you’re prepared for anything your flock may throw at you! Have fun raising your ladies and eating some farm-fresh eggs for real!
This article was written and contributed by Madison Bright.
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