Raising chickens is surprisingly fun and rewarding. Whether you have them around as companions, family pets or a constant source of nourishing food, you will be surprised how attached you can become.
Chicken rearing is not as difficult or expensive as some other farm animals but there is still a lot to learn to ensure they are happy and healthy and have a great life.
Raising chickens as family pets teaches kids a ton about looking after another being besides themselves. Chickens are safe pets to have around and are very social creatures.
Also if you have a surplus of eggs, your neighbors or family will be forever grateful for a few eggs you may be able to spare- they taste SOOO much better than store bought eggs.
And if you have a huge surplus, perhaps you may be able to sell the excess and collect some extra cash.
This ultimate beginners guide to raising chickens will help you know what to do to get started to have a successful and rewarding enterprise.
If you live off the grid or are planning to live off the grid, raising chickens is one of the first steps many people choose on the way to being self-sufficient.
If you are a prepper, it is important to learn how to look after several animals, so you are well prepared should anything apocalyptic happen down the track and affect our global food source.
Are there any zoning issues in your area that restricts raising chickens?
Do not assume anything, check first.
Why will you be raising chickens- As family pets? Source of eggs? Source of meat? Know this at the outset- it is important.
How much room will raising chickens require- do you have adequate space? Do you have appropriate space- ie not too hot, not to cold, away from predators etc
Are you prepared for some dirty work that comes with raising chickens- like mucking out the cage?
How much time do you have to spare- raising chickens? Chickens require attention and care. Will you be at work all day? Will your kids help? What about vacations?
There are certainly the usual things to consider when you bring any animals into your environment. They will be some learning to be done and some initial setup, but once you get going, you will wonder how you ever managed without them.
Not all chickens are the same. Some grow rapidly in just a few weeks while others mature at a slow rate. Some are better for laying eggs, some are better for kids pets, some are better as a source of meat.
This is why it is so important to be clear at the outset about your main goal when raising chickens.
Plymouth Rock, Leghorn, Sussex, and Rhode Island Red are great examples of chickens that lay about 200-250 eggs a year. They are bred to supply large quantities of eggs in the market.
Some chickens are bred and raised purely for meat purposes. Within a short period of time, these chickens put in massive weight which makes them ready for consumption. The meat you usually eat in a local restaurant come from this breed.
Heritage chickens grow at a slow rate, naturally mated, and has a long productive outdoor life. The breed was fathered by an American Poultry Association preceding to the mid-20th century.
This breed can provide your needs on both eggs and meat. They lay eggs in a production rate and also matures enough to produce good-sized meat as they grow.
Now you must decide whether to buy chicks, pullets, adults, or hatching eggs?
This will depend on your budget. Among these four, chicks are the cheapest to buy as the others are expensive due to their age and they are expected to give you eggs as soon as you keep them in the coop.
Most people buy chicks – you can buy them as young as one to two days old. They need your intensive care for about 12 weeks before you can decide to put them outside to run. With proper attention to food, water, health and security from predators, they will start to thrive and be more independent.
Pullets – these are chicks that are typically four to six months old and are ready for meat consumption or for egg laying.
Adults – chickens that are reared to adulthood are not productive like the young ones. Usually, farm stores dispose the chickens before they get too old because aside from eating a lot from the feed, their meat is not that tender and juicy.
Hatching Eggs – these are the fertilized chicken eggs that require incubation. If you are new and inexperienced with incubating chickens, it's better to have hands-on knowledge of raising chickens first instead of taking on the hatching eggs on your first try.
Raising the chicks can engage your family. It will teach your kids how to love and care for animals and educate them to poultry and agriculture at a young age.
There is something to be said from the view that happy and healthy animals will produce healthier food for you and your family. Over time, learn to ensure your chickens are happy and thriving.
It's best to buy chicks at a hatchery, local farmer, or from farm supply stores. It's a good idea to physically see them before you purchase them. Chicks are very sensitive when they are young like most living creatures. Check they look healthy and robust before purchase. I have provided a list below of what to look for.
If the farm store is too far away, some people buy them from an online hatchery. However, the shipping condition and delays can put the chicks at risk of dying.
In addition, you should choose the sex of your chicks. If you are planning to get eggs, you should obviously pick female chicks. Most stores are selling chicks that will give you a 50% chance of getting a rooster or a hen. To buy a sexed chick, you can talk and negotiate with the hatchery. If you wish to get into the breeding game and raising more chickens yourself, you will also need a few roosters.
When buying a chick, here are the things that you should look for:
- Active and energetic
- Has no eye or nasal discharge
- Bright and clear eyes
- Clean feathers
- Not reluctant to move
- Good posture and does not hunch into a ball
- Not sleepy or drowsy
- Participates with other chicks instead of sitting by itself
You already decided what breed to buy and what chicks to get. It's now time to choose a number! Meat or eggs or both? A hen lays up to 5 eggs a week. How many eggs does your family consume a week? Assuming that you need about 20 eggs a week, you need to have 7 or 8 hens.
Remember don't take all the eggs for food but save some for soon to be chicks!
If you want extra eggs to give to neighbors or family or to start a side business, you will need more chickens.
However if this is your first time raising chickens, start small and get used to the process first.
Here is a helpful video sharing some of the things beginners at raising chickens need to be aware of:
Learn how they behave, how they grow, what they need, get used to how to look after them, how much care they will need before you scale up the numbers.
Chickens are social animals so never get just one chicken. Perhaps start with 4-6 chickens. Get used to what's involved with raising chickens, then add more as you go and become more comfortable with the process and your growing family.
Chickens, just like other pets, are not weather-resistant. Wet chickens have higher chances of dying. In order to take good care of them, you need to give them a shelter. Make sure you provide plenty of places that provide shade. Chicken can easily overheat.
The shelter as well as keeping them healthy needs to be protect them from predators. Racoons, possums, hawks and shunks will try to get over the top of the chicken fence to get to the chickens.
Foxes, dogs and wild cats will try to dig down under the fence to get to the chickens.
Make sure you take extra pre-cautions to secure the chicken coop for your new flock. Use high quality chicken wire and make sure you dig it down deep enough.
If you decide to raise newly hatched chicks, these should be separated from their mother hen and other older chicks. A brooder is a small environment that enables the little baby chicks to thrive and grow.
You can build the brooder on either plywood or cardboard box. It should also have comfortable bedding (corn cob), a feeder, waterer, and a brooder lamp that imitates the heat of a mother hen. A good brooder must have these elements to ensure the proper health of the chickens: food, water, heat, cleanliness, and security.
The coop is your chicks' permanent home. Once they have grown enough from the brooder, this is the place that they will be transferred. Typically, you'll take care of the chicks in the brooder for about 6 weeks and you can use that time to build the coop.
In building the coop, you need to consider the space. You don't want to put many chicks on a smaller area but a sufficient space where their movements will not be limited.
The coop must have proper nesting boxes for hens, good ventilation, and must be predator and weather-proof.
Ever heard the phrase “pecking order”?
You are about to witness first hand where it comes from.
Chickens will peck at each other to establish their rank within the flock and see who is dominant. This is ok and perfectly natural. But if it starts to get too violent, or one or two chickens start to have bald patches- you may need to provide them more space. Do not over crowd them.
Give them plenty of dust and dirt to roll around in.
Once the housing is all set up, it's time to enjoy raising those baby chickens. Aside from having a good shelter, a chick needs two major things to survive – food and water.
You should feed the chicks with good quality food. You will notice when raising chickens that they will eat almost anything. But it does not mean that everything is good for them.
You can visit your local farm for recommendations on what best chick starter feed to buy. Organic chicken food pellets are a staple of their diet. Pellets normally contain: wheat, salt, maize, sunflower seed and oats. You can buy these from local farm supply shop.
You can also feed them corn or wheat for some variety. They love weeds and grass clippings also.
Chickens love fruit and vegetables. Vegetable peels, bananas, apple cores, carrots and broccoli are well tolerated and loved by chickens. You are safe to feed chickens pretty much any vegetable or fruit except any citric fruits such as oranges and lemons.
Do not feed them chicken leftovers from your dinner.
They love pecking around the garden for insects and worms.
Water is vital to the health of your chicks. If you keep them hydrated, they will become active and grow at a proper rate. The water should be clear and not too cold or too hot but be at proper temperature. Supply plenty of fresh clean water each day.
Make sure that the young chicks will not fall down and drown themselves in the water dish. Regularly change the water about two to three times a day to keep it clean. To keep the chicks energized, it's also advisable to add a vitamin and supplement to the water.
If it rains fairly often near you, you may be able to set up a little rain water catchment for the chickens.
This will vary enormously depending on how many chickens you have and the space you provide. Some people do a very basic version. Others do a luxury version.
I will give you a very basic guide here. But know you could do it cheaper or more expensive than this depending on your goals.
Set Up Costs:
Chicken coop: $800
Chicken fencing: $100
Feeders and drinkers: $40
Annual Running Costs:
Health supplements: $80
Obviously raising chickens has set up costs at the beginning, like most endeavors in life. However if you buy your land on owner finance you can spread out the costs of your land over time so you have enough left over to fund your chicken raising project.
Pretty soon they will start producing eggs and paying you back several times over.
Raising chickens can be one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. You will be surprised how attached you get to them without meaning to be.
Overall they are pretty easy to look after and maintain. Though keep in mind they do require some attention every day. If you have a little time to give and do the basics right, they will more than reward you with beautiful eggs that are healthy, good for you and actually have flavor.
Who knows, perhaps you will be the next omelet king or queen before the end of the year?