Chickens: Lessons I've Learned Getting Started
A Brief Guide to Getting Started
Chicken keeping is becoming more and more popular today. They are not only found in farms but in backyards all across America. I thought I would share some of the things I have learned with everyone over the past few years. Our chickens have not only given us eggs but a lot of enjoyment also. My children like to help gather eggs and the whole family enjoys watching the chickens feed. I started a few years ago with a borrowed incubator and some fertile hatching eggs. Chickens, like all animals, are expensive to care for. The start up costs are: the price of the birds themselves, the price of the housing for the birds, and feed.
The first thing to do, once you have decided to keep chickens(please check all ordinances where you live) is to decide on a breed or breeds that you like. I suggest researching a lot before making any hasty decisions. There is more to being a good backyard chicken than just egg production. Certain breeds are more docile than others and do better in confinement than others. I currently have a few breeds: Silver Laced Wyandotte, Buff Orpington, Easter Eggers, and Dominiques. All of these have proven to be good egg producers. My suggestion for first time chicken owners would be either Buff Orpington or Wyandotte, both of these breeds seem to be a little more docile than the other breeds I have experience with. There are numerous other breeds in both large fowl and bantam. A quick internet search of hatcheries will provide you with each breed they offer and a description of the breed.
Now after you have decided on a breed or breeds you have a few different options on buying birds. You can buy buy day old chicks from a hatchery, buy mature birds from a breeder, or if you have a incubator you can purchase fertile hatching eggs. Each one of these has its advantages. It is nice to watch chicks grow and mature. If want eggs in a short time buying health mature hens would be the best way to start. I hatched the majority of my hens in an incubator. I have two children and they both enjoyed watching the chicks hatch. It was also a good learning experience for them. It takes a fertile egg twenty one days to hatch in an incubator.
Next thing to consider after you have decided on the breeds and age chickens you are going to get, you must prepare your brooder or coop before you actually get the chickens. If you buy day old chicks they will need to live the first few months of there life in a brooder with a source of heat until they feather out. I use a large wooden box with a heat lamp on top and pine chips in the bottom. For my mature chickens each of my coops have outside runs attached. The sizes of the coops vary in sizes depending on the number of hens to be housed in each. Make sure to have nesting boxes as well as areas for chickens to roost. The coop needs to be solid and also have ventilation. One of the things to think about is to make the coop as predator proof as possible with good solid materials. Do not cut corners when it comes to the housing for your birds. In one night a predator, such as a racoon, fox, or opossum, can nearly wipe out a flock.
Feed and water will be the next consideration. I feed my adult birds good high quality laying pellets with corn as a treat. My juvenile birds are fed medicated chick starter. This helps build immunity to coccidiosis. Make sure that clean water is accessible for the birds at all times.
If you have decided on day old chicks or hatching eggs you will have about six months of waiting before you will have eggs. Another thing to keep in mind when ordering chicks is if you order straight run you will have extra roosters to deal with. If ordering chicks I would suggest paying the extra and ordering sexed female chicks. The hatcheries that I am familiar with offer male, female, or straight run chicks when purchasing. Straight run is unsexed chicks, meaning you would receive both male and female chicks. A common misconception, is that a rooster is needed for the hens to lay eggs. A rooster is only needed is you want fertile eggs.
In closing, our chickens have supplied us with a lot of eggs and have also been entertaining to watch. Overall my family's experience with chicken keeping has been a very positive one. These animals can be enjoyable for the entire family.