So you want chickens, do you?! It can be very daunting to start a new animal hobby. We’ve started new animals a couple of times and each time I was super worried that I was going to kill my new pets due to my lack of knowledge. Hopefully this post will give you a great start and you’ll be able to learn from our mistakes.
First thing that you need to do is decide if you are going to raise chickens for eggs, meat or both. If you want just meat chickens, you’ll have to look at a later post about that. Laying hens are pretty easy and if you want them for meat when they’re done laying (about three years), you can do that too. Just keep in mind that chickens that are three years old are not going to be the roasting type, they’re better in soups or put in a pressure cooker.
I have absolutely loved having chickens. They were our first rural animal. They are super easy to take care of and require the least amount of work of all our animals.
Items You Need:
- Chicken Coop
- More Knowledge
Chickens don’t need a big fancy coop and they don’t need to be super expensive. We spent $300 on our first coop that could hold 8 to 10 birds and I think we paid too much. Check your local craigslist or other online classifieds for good deals. Also check your local farm store, IFA and Cal-Ranch for us. You need to decide how many birds you want. The size of the coop will depend on the number of birds you want. The standard is 4 square feet of coop space per bird and 10 square feet of run space (check here). We fudged this a little and did not have any problems. Just realize that these ladies poop a lot and a lot. Many birds in a small space will lead to a big mess for you to clean often and they will get agitated with each other if they don’t have enough space.
A coop should have a nesting box or two. When we bought our first coop, we were excited to see that it had 6 nesting boxes and thought that would be sufficient for our 8 hens. We soon learned that all 8 birds only used two of the boxes and they chose the hardest ones for us to get at. We closed off four of the six boxes. In our current coop we have six boxes again with 13 hens and they all share just two boxes again. Silly girls. Sometimes we see two of our fluffy butts in the same box.
Also make sure that the coop has a roosting bar. Our first coop had a couple of different levels of bars and the ladies fought and fought for the highest bar. Our new coop has a single bar so that they wouldn’t fight as much. They still fight for the spot closest to the wall but it’s not as bad as before. Also keep in mind that the hens like to snuggle, especially in the winter. They don’t need a ton of roosting space. Beware of the area below nesting boxes. Chickens do most of their #2 while they are roosting. So keep the area clear and put something underneath to catch it so you can just remove it, scrape it and return it.
You also need to make sure the coop has ventilation but not drafts. Chicken don’t need heaters in the winter, at least in Utah, but they don’t do well if they have cold wind blowing directly on them. If you do put a heater in with them, they don’t climatize as well and if you lose power to the heater you could lose your babies. Because chickens are such awesome poop machines, the ammonia can build up if you don’t have good ventilation. That ammonia is not good for the girls or you.
For our current coop we found a used firework stand in the classifieds and paid $150 to have it moved from SLC to our house. It’s not the prettiest but it’s big. We converted the right side to a chicken coop and the left side to a shed/milking area for our dairy goat.
Feeding chickens is pretty stinking easy. We just buy layer pellets from the local farm store. You can make your own if you want. They don’t eat a lot either. For just a couple birds, a single bag would last at least a month. You can buy a plastic or metal feeder to put the feed in. We built the current one we’re using now out of wood scraps. Make sure that the feeder and waterer are not under where the chickens sleep, they will poop in their own food and water.
Nothing too special about watering your chickens. Just get a waterer and try to keep the water as clean as possible.
If you have any kind of question about chickens, feel free to ask a question on this page or look at backyardchickens.com. I had to scour backyardchickens for months to feel comfortable enough to get our chickens. They have lots of useful information.
Now for the fun part, choosing your chickens. This is my favorite part. There are so many different types of chickens. Each one has their own unique traits. Try to pick chickens for your needs. There are people down the street from us that get 25 birds of the same breed every year. I like having the variety of different birds.
If you want to research the different breeds, I’d recommend going to the Chicken Breed choosing tool at backyardchickens. They have a lot of breeds listed. Watch out for the chicken math. Last year we were supposed to get five birds and ended up getting 15 new birds.
I’ve always picked up my birds from the local feed store in the spring but you can order them online from places like Murray Mcmurray or you can hatch out your own eggs using an incubator. The eggs should come from someone that has a hen that is “contact” with a rooster or order them from online. I’ve never done the incubator thing so I can’t give you any advice on that.
Once you have your babies, you’ll need to keep them contained in a brooder box. Chickies aren’t very good at keeping their own body heat so you’ll need a heat lamp to help them out. They also a need a special chicken feed called chick starter. It’s typically medicated. After six weeks of being in the brooder, they’re ready to get out to the coop. Depending on the breed, I’d expect them to start laying at 4 to 6 months old. Every time that we move our babies out to the coop we are very tired of being chicken mamas. However, every spring we are very excited to have new babies.
Please feel free to ask any questions or correct me if you have a different opinion.