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I don’t know about you but I am sort of a research-aholic. When I decided to bring chickens into my life, I read everything I could find on them and to be truthful I probably read too much! The internet is full of information, and sometimes too much information is a bad thing. Before I go on, the most important advice I can give you about raising chickens is “Keep it Simple.” With that in mind your chickens just need a safe and healthy environment!
Types of Chickens
- Laying Chickens-Chickens you raise for eggs.
- Meat Chickens-Just like the name, they are raised for meat.
- Dual Purpose Chickens-They are meaty and provide eggs. Dual purpose chickens are a great choice if you have a small area and want both meat and eggs.
- Fancy Breeds-The beauties or show stoppers are mainly raised for pets, showing and entertainment.
Choosing what to raise
Honestly this is more of a preference than anything else. However, if you are having difficulty deciding then here are a few questions that might help you make a decision.
- What purpose are your chickens going to serve? meat, eggs, both, etc.
- Can you provide the minimal space, basic needs, and care that chickens require? coop, run, food/water, etc.
- Is it legal to raise chickens in your area? I mention this because people sometimes don’t think about this one.
- And finally, are you going to start with day old chicks or adult birds? Day old chicks require additional equipment and special care for the first month or so.
Like I said earlier, I did a ton of research to determine what was best for us. With that, we decided to raise meat birds and layers. The main reason was “simplicity”. Remember I said, “keep it simple”, I wanted to know from the beginning which ones would be around for a while and which ones were going to be dinner. Furthermore, our young children new from the beginning which ones they could name and which ones were food. And finally, we chose to raise day old chicks and order them from a hatchery.
What breeds we raise:
- Cornish Rocks for meat
- Layers that were an assortment of standard breeds (I didn’t have preference on which breeds I wanted)
Basic needs and equipment
Before ordering or buying chicks or chickens, plan ahead and have everything set up and ready to go. Especially if you are starting with day old chicks.
Day old Chicks
- Brooder – Your chicks will need a to be in a brooder for the first six weeks. Of course, this is dependent on the climate and temperature for your area. A brooder provides food, water, warmth and protection that day old chicks need. There are a number of resources, like Pinterest, on how to build a brooder.
- Mail order chicks need special care once they arrive. They will need to be put in their brooder immediately, shipping is stressful and they will need to drink water with vitamins and electrolytes to aid in digestion and give them a healthy start.
- Store bought or auction chicks may not need the same care as mail order chicks. Make sure to get care instructions before you leave the store, auction, or any private purchase or sale.
*If you decide to hatch eggs then you will need an incubator for the eggs.
Other Must Haves
- Coop or Pen
- Yard or Run
- Waterer or Fount
- Nest boxes for layers
Our Coop and Run
We have approximately 4500 square feet fenced off to accommodate our feathered friends. We also have aviary net over the entire area to keep them safe. Our coop is built from pallets and scrap material left over from projects and such. Not to mention, my husband is a contractor, a very nice bonus when he built our coop! 😉 We chose to have a gravel floor with farm fencing attracted to the bottom of the coop to keep burrowing predators out. And we chose pine shavings for the bedding but this is really a personal preference not a must have. Below are some pictures of coop and run. (Some are from early construction to give you an idea of how he decided to build it.)
Our meat chickens are housed in the fenced section next to the coop. We keep our meat chickens separated from our rooster and laying hens. We chose not to free range our chickens, we have two dogs and several types of predators. So far, this set-up has worked out wonderfully, we haven’t lost a chicken, YET! 🙂 We also added some solar motion censored lights to the corners of our run to deter predators but this isn’t a must have.
A little about Feed
- The first 4-5 weeks, use a chick starter/grower feed with at least 20% protein. This feed can be used for both meat birds and layering birds. Some places will recommend 23-24% protein based feed for meat chickens, but I have good results using chick starter/grower feed (6-8 lb chickens at 8 weeks).
- Feed meat chickens continuously for the first two weeks then start feeding 12 hours on/12 hours off for healthy broilers. Layers will feed continuously, as they don’t eat as much.
- Layers can go to a grower feed of 18% protein after the initial 4-5 weeks. Honestly, I just kept them on starter/grower feed until 15 weeks.
- At 15 weeks switch to a finisher feed to prepare your layers for egg production.
- Layer feed is started at 20 weeks or when you see the first egg.
*Make sure you chickens always have an ample supply of water.
- Meat chickens require continuous care until they are butchered, usually at 8-10 weeks. We butchered our chickens at 8 weeks.
- They are messy, they eat and eat, meaning they poop more and their bedding needs to be changed and cleaned more often.
- They do free-range and forage, but they don’t free range or forage like laying hens do.
- These guys get large very quickly and are not meant for the same long life that laying hens or pet chickens are.
- Make sure that you can commit to butchering them before you decide to raise them. Otherwise they will start kealing over and dying.
- laying hens will produce their first egg when they are approximately 6 months old.
- It is good practice to have one rooster for every 10-12 hens, Roosters help aid in egg production and in most cases assist in deterring predators.
- Supplement oyster shells to allow laying hens to produce hard egg shells.
- Choose a litter method and keep the coop clean. We live in Michigan and use the deep litter method year round.
- You will need one nesting box per two chickens.
- Keep the nesting boxes clean.
- Use golf balls, ceramic eggs, etc. to help teach laying hens were to lay their eggs.
- And finally, spend some time with your chickens! They need to become familiar with you. Roosters can be particularly ornery when strangers or unfamiliar people enter their territory.
The Tale of a Ornery Rooster, Named Tyrone!
True Story! My stepson recently went into the run with me one day. I warned him to stay close to me because my husband has had a few encounters with the rooster. My husband rarely goes in there because I mainly take care of the chickens. All went well, until he started looking around for stray eggs. The rooster went after and attacked him. I don’t think I had ever seen that kid move so fast while he high-stepping to get out of the run! As funny as it was, I felt bad that he got attacked, he is 14 years old and tall for his age. I told him that running away was the wrong thing to do, to show dominance he needed stand his ground and stick his foot out to block the rooster until he backed off!
In conclusion, my best advice is “spend time with your chickens” to minimize and avoid similar situations.
No matter what you choose to do, be prepared and plan ahead. Just like any other animal, chickens need care and attention. Chickens are easy to care for if you “keep it simple”, understand their basic needs and spend a little time getting to know them. Have fun raising and enjoying your chickens, they have been a fun and entertaining addition to my family!
Do you want to raise chickens? Do you still have questions? What are your experiences? Drop me a line and tell me all about it.