Are you interested in raising chickens in your own backyard for the first time but have absolutely no clue how to do it? No need to panic, somebody has been there before you. And that somebody is me. (If you’re an Enrique fan, then we have more than one point in common).
I had to go through a whole process of trial and error in which I made a couple of mistakes that I could have easily avoided had I known some basics. Of course, one doesn’t need to be a professional farmer to raise a flock of a couple pullets, but it is only now, after more than one year and half of experience, that I can say quite confidently that I master the elementary tools to handle my chickens in almost optimal conditions.
In this article, I share few tips that I find important based on my experience. I hope it will be useful in saving someone else’s time, energy, money and most importantly some little innocent chicks lives.
Back when I was a little child, I was already passionate about the chickens we had at my parents’ backyard. I remember spending whole afternoons playing with the little chicks or chasing Hector, our cat at the time, and trying to stop him from doing them any harm. As my passion got more intense, my parents decided to give the flock away since it prevented me from doing other useful activities (including eating, and going to school).
But I guess my passion never faded away. When my wife and I move from our small New York apartment to a bigger house in the suburbs, I felt I needed to recoup my old passion since I had the space and time necessary.
So, are you ready to embark in this wonderful journey? Then let the fun begin.
But first, make sure to check with your local authorities if there are any limitations concerning your activity, especially if you live in an urban area. In my case, I didn’t know there was until my neighbors complained about my rooster obliging them to wake up at 6am every day for more than a week. I sent him back to the farmer without realizing that he did an incredible job getting two hens pregnant.
Raising laying hens, as I said earlier, doesn’t need any special skills. But a minimum of regular upkeeping is necessary: rich and balanced nutrition, clean water, and good coop hygiene. Also, even though chickens are not considered to be pets, try to maintain a regular contact with them. You’ll be surprised to see that you can actually create real interactions.
All of this doesn’t take more than few minutes per day: Few minutes of pure happiness I must say.
I can guarantee you a successful experience if you keep in mind these steps: Choose your chickens, feed them, and take care of them.
- 1 Choose your chickens
- 2 Feed them
- 3 Take care of them
- 4 Final thoughts
Choose your chickens
Chickens differ in their attributes and capacities. Some are used for eggs, some for meat and others in beauty competitions. You can find them in regular markets or in a garden center. Or you can choose, like I did, to get them directly from a professional farmer. The agricultural shows, if held nearby you, do offer some rare breeds in case you wish to participate in their preservation.
Most importantly, make sure to clearly express your quest to your provider so he can supply you with the breed that suits best your expectations.
What breeds suitable for your needs?
I personally raise my flock because it has been a passion for me. In a way, it reminds me of my childhood memories. It has been a rewarding passion thanks to the quality eggs I get almost every day. I do not get to enjoy the meat because of the emotional bond that I tied with my pullets during the process. My chickens are my pets.
That is, there are plenty of other reasons why one would want to raise a flock of chickens. For their eggs, for their meat, or for their appearance. For each of these considerations, I’ll share my opinion on what breeds suit best. Of course, your breeder knows your need better, and can provide you with more accurate information and better piece of advice.
Above all, no breed is better than the other, but some satisfy some needs better than others: Some are more productive, others are cuter. Some are vivid and noisy while others are calmer.
I present here the most popular breeds. I hope it will give you some insight on what to look for.
If eggs are your main interest, then you are looking for breeds like Leghorn, Red star, Black star or Humburg.
They are excellent layers. The downside is that they are quite nervous and have little tendency to go broody.
Look for breeds that tend to grow rapidly with as little food as possible. You may want to consider getting a Red ranger, a Jersey giant or a Cornish rock-cross (the big roasters on the supermarkets are generally made of this breed).
Are also available some hyrbrid breeds that are as good in egg production as in meat production. They are called dual purpose chickens. Sussex, Australorp and Orphington are among the best. My first flock was formed by a combination of these breeds, they are actually calmer and more inclined to forage.
If you have a crush on a beautiful, multi colors flock, then you might want to consider choosing you chickens with different patterns of plumage. Given what is actually available on the market, you will be served: black, white, red and even grey, you can virtually get whatever color or combination of colors you can think of.
Your options are of course way richer than what I mentioned here. FarmingStyle has a comprehensive guide on different breeds. You can check it here. The choice won’t be easy. Trust me!
How many chickens should there be?
I would suggest that the ideal number to begin with is two, especially if you’re doing it for the eggs. In fact a hen can lay up to 200 eggs per year. Therefore, two hens can fournish enough eggs for a family of four persons. Again, this is only what I think is most suitable for you as a beginner: the upkeeping is easy enough and space needed is limited (no more than two hundred foot square).
Do you need a rooster to get eggs?
That’s what I thought in the beginning. And as I told you, I was quite ignorant. Our dear hens do not need any male intervention to lay eggs. Roosters are only needed to impregnate the ladies.
If you wish to try breeding, then treat your rooster (one is enough) as a king. Still, if you live in an urban area, I don’t think this is feasible as the court would surely consider your adorable morning rooster’s cluck to be noise.
Chicks or chickens?
Avoid chicks. Yes I know: they are charming. But they are very fragile. I recommend you to go for chickens. Since 16 weeks of age, they attain their adult size and they are robust enough to live independently in the coop. Hopefully, they will be laying eggs in week 20.
As for chicks, they need constant attention because they are very sensitive to changes in temperature. I lost a couple of them, so trust me, losing such a lovely creature isn’t something you want to experience as a beginner.
Another important detail, for almost all the breeds, it is difficult to tell hens from roosters. Imagine your deception when you find out later that you ended up with two roosters.
For whatever reason you are raising them, one golden rule: nourish well your chickens. Laying capacity, meat quantity, and plumage quality all depend on a rich, varied and well balanced diet (Laying capacity also depends on seasons of course).
Here are some tips.
Leftovers are not enough to feed your flock: I used to feed my hens solely on my food leftovers (especially vegetables), but I quickly noticed that they didn’t lay as frequently as I wished.
Not all your leftovers are good for your flock.
Sort them first: Leftovers from Argus, bananas, melon, watermelon and mango need to go directly inside your garbage can. For other vegetables, feel free to crush or to grind them so that your hens can absorb them easier. When you give them food, pay attention to what type of vegetables they prefer. Generally, they aren’t very demanding (I wish my two kids weren’t as you well).
Reduce sauce: For example, if you’re giving them some lasagna leftovers, make sure to mix it with some pasta or rice.
Keep animal protein low Cheese and red meat are tolerable in small quantities. Otherwise, they can make the flock quite aggressive.
Provide fish and shellfish: Go for it, your chickens will adore it.
Learn to make chickens’ food yourself: Chickens’ food is available in supermarket. Using such products is a real time and effort saver. Otherwise, you can prepare your pullets’ food yourself. In my sense, it is the best option as the pesticides free, 100% organic mix you will prepare will nourish your flock better. In return, you’ll end up with healthier and tastier eggs and meat.
Plus, their is nothing complicated about the preparation. So get your apron ready, you’re going to learn how to make some delicious chickens’ food. Put some dry bread dry in your chickens’ bowl and pour some water on it until it becomes a sort of soft pasta. Add the other ingredients (salad, carrots… etc.) from leftovers and make sure you crush them well.
Take care of them
The coop is your chickens’ home: make sure it is adequate
Unless you are a carpenter: Don’t build the coop, just buy it. Building it is time consuming. It is also frustrating to see that the result you get after hours of work is no better than other coops you can easily get at affordable prices. A good coop contains adequate watering place and a feeding device. It also contains a litter box with enough straw for you hens to lay their eggs on as well as enough woodchip where they can relax. Above, there should be a comfortable perch where chickens like to be on during the night.
Make sure that the coop you choose contains a removable drawer so you can easily change the used litter. Perfect coop higiene is paramount for your chickens’ health.
Wether you choose to build or buy the coop, here is a complete guide to help you.
Get to know chickens’ diseases
The health of your flock is a determining element to the well-being and productivity of your cherished pets. And as we all know, prevention is better than cure. This rule is also valid for chickens.
As a way of preventing potential diseases, make sure to:
- Observe your flock on a daily basis
- Provide them with the best nutrition possible
- Improve their conditions inside the coop (cleanliness, temperature)
- Consult a veterinarian in case of infection.
Chickens are very sensitive. A big number of hens and roosters in the same coop represents a risk of infection. It is easy to detect an ill chicken: dull eye color, ruffled up feathers and most importantly inactivity.
It can be caused by a virus (Newcastle illness), a bacteria (typhoid) or a fungus. Also, some parasites can cause growth disorders. I am referring to fleas and roundworms.
Keep in mind that it is the veterinarian’s job to diagnose and to suggest appropriate treatment. Don’t hesitate to consult him in case of doubt.
All along this article, I tried to provide comprehensive information and useful insight based solely on my experience and readings. It is important for me to emphasize that my experience taught me a lot about chickens, but I’m sure there are many more things I’ll get to learn in the future.
Finally, better than any sort of guidelines you’ll find on the internet, in my opinion, passion is and will always be your best teacher. Take care of your chicken, they’ll surely return you the favor.