Understanding your own reasons for growing chickens will help you choose the right flock and get setup with the right equipment. The main reasons people grow their own chickens are:
What you plan to do with your flock will determine (to some degree) what you will need to do to get set up. For example, if you want to let your chickens run through your garden once in a while to gobble up insects, you will need to set up some means for controlling their access to the garden so they can't get in to eat tiny seedlings. If you want chickens for eggs, you will need to include nesting boxes in your hen house design.
The end purpose will also determine the composition of your flock. Some chickens, such as Leghorns, have been bred as layers, others have been bred for rapid meat production. Yet others, such as Rhode Island Reds, are good dual-purpose birds. If you are raising chickens to show, you will become very selective about their breeding.
good way to get started is to buy baby chicks. They are usually available from
feed stores in early Spring.
You can also start by getting fertilized eggs and keeping them in an incubator
until they hatch. Either way, you will need to get a brooder and keep it in
the house or put it out in the garage where cats and other predators can't
get at the chicks. For heat, be aware that chicks need 95 degrees for the first
week. You can drop this by 5 degrees every week until they're 6 weeks old.
Then they are fairly feathered out and unless you live in a very cold area,
they are able to withstand normal temperatures.
water should be available to the chicks at all times. As an energy supplement,
I add one tablespoon of sugar per quart the first time I water newly hatched
Bedding For Chicks
start young chicks on a slippery surface such as newspaper. If you are using
newspaper as bedding, for the first 4 days spread paper towels over it. Be
careful using wood shavings on young chicks until they learn what their food
is. They may start eating them which will block them up and kill them.
Inside The Coop
the chickens mature, you will need to provide them with a shelter that meets
their basic needs. The ideal chicken coop will protect chickens from rain,
wind, and temperature extremes. There should be perches adequately spaced and
arranged so that the chickens can perch comfortably.
Special Accommodations For Egg Layers
Hens for laying will be benefited by special nesting boxes. These should be constructed so that they don't serve well as perches but will appeal to the natural instincts of a hen when she becomes "broody" especially if you want your hen to incubate a batch of fertilized eggs. The nesting boxes need to be somewhat enclosed and nest like. Hens are known to lay eggs and establish a brood wherever they feel conditions are best. Sometimes they have to be coaxed into using the nesting boxes by using artificial eggs.
arrangements such as a rear trap door can facilitate the gathering of eggs
for eating. A laying hen will produce an egg every one to two days. Frequent
gathering will assure freshness, keep eggs clean and minimize breakage.
The hen does not start to incubate the eggs until the whole clutch is laid. The physiology of a hen changes after she's laid her clutch. She will remain on them, with her wings slightly spread to help keep them warm, for 21 days. She will make muttering, growling sounds if disturbed, and may even peck or otherwise try to defend her nest. She will only leave the nest once a day to eat, drink and defecate. You should make sure the hen does do this at least every other day so she will not either starve or get the eggs dirty with her droppings. (Broody droppings usually come out in one large, very bad-smelling glob.)
the chicks start to hatch she will remain on the nest with them for 24-48 hours.
Any eggs that have not hatched by then will be left behind when she takes the
chicks for their first walk. At this time water and chick feed should be available
for the chicks.
"Breaking Up" A Broody Hen
When we remove the eggs, the hen supposes: "There are not yet enough," and continues to lay. We don't always want to have our hens hatching eggs. When we want to stop one, this is called "breaking up" a broody. Sometimes just putting her in a pen where she can't see her old nest and keeping her there for 4 days will do the job. She should, of course, have feed and water. Some strong broodies will just continue to set even in a pen with no eggs. For the more stubborn hen, a wire-bottomed cage is necessary. The airflow up through the wire keeps her underside cool and after a few days she will usually give up. Again, she should have feed and water available at all times. Some commercial people and old-time chicken raisers deprive a hen of feed and water when trying to break her up, but this is cruel and also not good for the bird. Lack of feed weakens an already weak bird (since they don't eat much when broody anyway) and lack of water for several days can damage the liver.
The Hen's Cackle
Wild chickens are forest animals. They live in small groups called flocks. They scratch in the dirt and forage for things to eat. While one hen sits on the nest to lay, the group may wander away through the undergrowth searching for food. The hen's cackle serves to renew the contact with the group as if to yell "where are you?". The cock (with the other hens) answers "here we are!".
arrangements are possible for the poultry yard. The basic requirement is a
good fence to keep predators (sometimes including family pets) from getting
in. Sometimes a yard will be split into two halves with a gate connecting the
two. The chickens are kept in the first half while a green cover crop grows
in the second half. When the crop matures, the chickens are moved into the
second half where they can nibble on the greens. In the mean time a new crop
is started in the first half.
are available to suit the changing needs of the chickens. Chicks can be fed
a starter mix until they are feathered out. Then they can be fed maintenance
feed until they start laying. Layers can be fed egg booster and scratch.
Feed comes in 3 forms: mash, crumbles and pellets. Mash is powdery, just as
it sounds. Pellets are made of compressed mash, and crumbles of broken up pellets.
I find mash wasteful and never use it. I use crumbles for my chicks and pellets
for the older birds. Then when they kick it out of the feeders they can still
pick it up. Some feeds are medicated. Coccidiosis is a disease that can kill
chicks that have not built up a resistance to it. They can pick it up outside
from the droppings of other birds. If your chicks go outside you may want to
give them a feed medicated with Amprolium, which controls the coccidiosis while
allowing the birds to build up a resistance. Some medicated chick feeds are
sold with antibiotics in them. There is no need to waste money on these. Note:Don't
feed medicated feeds to ducklings. They eat much more than chicks and can overdose
What is grit? It is small stones that the bird stores in its gizzard, where they act like teeth and are used to grind up food. For chicks, grit is only necessary if the chicks have access to grain or other foodstuffs. Chicks on mash or crumbles don't need it. You can get a chick-sized granite grit through your feed store. I sometimes use old aquarium gravel if it's small enough. Warning: Do NOT give chicks oystershell. It is not grit, it is used to give laying hens extra calcium for egg shell production. This extra calcium will cause bone development problems in young birds.
Laying Eggs From A Hen's Perspective
There's much more to learn. You will need to know how to prevent diseases, eradicate parasites, and deal with chicken idiosyncrasies like egg eating and cannibalism. But, with good advice to get you started and time to learn, raising chickens can become a rewarding experience.
Unless you are a true vegetarian, you will want meat and eggs in your diet. A flock of chickens is probably the best conventional protein source available to the self-sufficient gardener with the side benefit of nitrogen rich manure. It is possible to find a butcher to slaughter and prepare your chickens for you.
A Short Chicken Glossary
Article Donated By:|