As a backyard homesteader adding chickens to your homestead for the first time can seem quite scary. Being responsible for those little fluffy butts can make one quite nervous. Before we delve into raising chickens you need to know that sometimes chicks/ chickens die and there’s nothing you can do about it. They are delicate especially when they first hatch and sometimes even in a adult chickens death you just don’t know what happened. So don’t beat yourself up if you lose chicks. Raising Chickens can be a scary endeavor but these tips will give you the confidence to get started.
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Before you even think about bringing home chicks you will need to check your city ordinances especially if you live in a suburb or inner city. There’s nothing worse than trying to hide chickens from your neighbors and city. Some places may only allow hens and not roosters so it’s better to be safe than sorry. Once you’ve established that you can in fact have chickens you have to find space to keep them.
Chickens like to roost at night and if you don’t provide a coop they will try and roost anywhere that’s off the ground. Coops are good for protecting chickens at night from predators and Inclimate weather. Your site will need a coop on level ground that doesn’t flood. There are some MUST haves when it comes to building or buying a chicken coop. You will want to make sure the coop can be closed up at night so a door where the chickens can come in and out but can be locked when they go to sleep.
Air vents preferably two so that there is a cross breeze. Air flow is very important in a coop during the seasons. It allows heat and moisture to escape.
An access door for easy cleaning and checking on your birds along with nesting boxes where your chickens will lay eggs. I know this sounds like a lot but, prefab coops come with all this and if you are not handy with building prefab is the way to go If you build your own you will want to make sure to include all of these necessities.
There are so many options for chicken coops from wood to plastic and large to small. All have pluses and minuses.
To learn about the 100% Recycled Plastic Nestera Chicken Coop Read this post!
Protecting Your chickens
You will need to decide if you want your chickens to free range, stay in a run or both. Either option is fine its all up to you and how your property is set up. If you live in a area with a lot of predator pressure you may want to keep your chickens in a run. Or if predators are not as prevalent you may consider allowing your chickens to free range.
Many think that using chicken wire will protect their chickens from predators but many predators can get through chicken wire. Chicken wire is only good for keeping chickens in but not at keeping predators out. Hardwire cloth is what you need to use when you are protecting your coop and run.
Raccoons, possums, snakes, weasels, hawks, dogs, foxes are just a handful of the predators who would love to eat your chickens. Pretty much any animal that eats meat would love to make a meal out of your flock. If you have dogs as pets you are going to have to teach them to be chicken friendly.
If you live in an area that has bears, bobcats etc. You may want to reconsider the whole chicken keeping idea because there’s not enough hardwire cloth in the world that will keep a hungry bear or big cat away from your flock.
Picking out Chicks
Now for the fun part of picking out which chicken breed is right for your homestead. Believe it or not there are many different breeds that serve multiple purposes. You can pick chickens for egg production, Meat, breeding, Egg color, Broodiness, Cold tolerance, heat tolerance, friendliness the list goes on. Many backyard homesteaders choose for friendliness and egg production but as your experience grows your curiosity for different poultry will change.
Ordering chicks online is a very common thing these days, the chicks are typically shipped just after they hatch. Make sure that the company you are buying from has good reviews and that your chicks have their shots prior to being shipped. You will pay more when having chicks shipped to your home.
Many areas have stores that sell chicks starting in spring through late fall. Two major retailers where you can buy in store in the midwest are Rural King and Tractor Supply
Setting up your brooder
When you bring your chicks home you will need a place to put them. A brooder is a sort of a nursery for chicks. It has a substrate, heat source with food and water. There are many configurations of Brooders but its best to start small with your first flock. Chicks require a specific temperature each week in the brooder to ensure they transition to being outside in the coop. They are unable to regulate their own temperatures in the beginning.
You can keep the brooder in your home, garage, barn wherever you have space. What’s most important is that the chicks be kept under stable temperatures.
You can make brooder out of just about anything. The most basic brooder can be a plastic tub. It’s a very simple set up and can be very cost friendly.
For a chick brooder checklist read this!
Once you have your chicks you will have so much fun looking after them. They are cute, tiny, fuzzy and make the most adorable sounds. Every day you will need to clean their brooder. Chicks are messy and no matter what you do they will get messier and smellier as they get older. So cleaning the brooder daily is key to keeping the smell down.
They need fresh food and water daily. You will likely need to change the water multiple times a day as the chicks will kick their bedding in it or will poop in it. There’s no way around the messes that they will create.
Chicks grow so fast. You will see them change almost daily, it’s sad and exciting all at once. The fuzz will disappear and feathers will show up in their place. They will look more and more like chickens daily and before you know it they’ll be laying eggs.
Transitioning 6 Weeks Old chicks
Six weeks is such an exciting time for your chickens! They are so much bigger than those day old poof balls you brought home. They are finally at the stage where they can move into their coop. To start this transition be sure that you start with small increments of time within a run. Keep a close eye on them as they are very vulnerable at this time.
Day One: One Hour
Day Two: Two Hours
Day Three: Four Hours
Repeat this until your chicks are out for eight plus hours. If you are transitioning during winter take longer with your transitioning schedule as your chicks will need to get used to colder temperatures. You will want to keep them in a run attached to their coop while they are still learning about being outside. When your chickens start spending the night outside you will want to keep a close eye on them making sure they learn how to get into their coop. You may find yourself putting them into the coop at night for a while. It’s natural for them to go roost at night.
I have heard that certain breeds do not roost such as silkies but you’ll want to do your research on the breed(s) you choose.
Once your chickens have learned to put themselves to bed in the evening all you need to do is make sure they are all in then close and lock the coop door. If you wish to let them free range you can start doing so. They will come back to the coop each night to sleep. When free ranging your chickens especially in the beginning keep close eye for predators and make sure they get back into the coop each night.
If you choose to free range your chickens they will supplement their diet with lots of greens and bugs. Chickens will eat anything so if you don’t want them to eat your vegetables or ornamental plants you’ll have to put up a barrier, otherwise it’s fair game. If you are keeping your chickens in a secure run than you will want to provide snacks such as fresh leafy greens, herbs, dried soldier fly larvae the list goes on.
**Do your research before you give your chickens any new foods. There are some foods that they shouldn’t eat**
See raising chickens isn’t so scary! Now that your chicks are big chickens now there’s so much to look forward too! Chickens are so goofy and provide endless entertainment along with fresh eggs so take good care of them and they will reward you for years to come.