Raising chickens in your backyard is a very fulfilling activity that requires dedicated time and practice. No matter how large of an operation you’re running, there are many important tips on raising poultry that every beginner should know. Once everything is up and running smoothly, you may be surprised how little maintenance is necessary, but this, of course, is the product of proper planning and preparation.
Begin by choosing a coop location on your property. Chickens do not need a ton of space to thrive, but it’s best to reserve at least a 6 ft x 6ft plot for 2-3 chicks. The coop preferably should be in open space, away from wetlands or portions of your property that are susceptible to flooding or standing water. The general rule of thumb is that a larger space is better for the general health and longevity of the chick, but space can definitely be economized if this is an issue. Your greatest monetary investment, however, will probably be building a sturdy fence to protect your chickens from hungry wild animals. Chickens are extremely vulnerable creatures, so make sure that a proper enclosure is erected surrounding the coop. You can find chicken wire or hardware cloth here in our store, or, if you'd rather not fuss with building your own coop, check out the options that we have available here!
Once you’ve isolated some space for your flock, the exciting part begins – choosing the actual chickens! There are many, many different breeds and mixing and matching them is absolutely allowed and even encouraged. An ideal beginner’s flock size is anywhere from 3-6 birds. As we like to say, chickens are like potato chips, and you'll likely end up with more than what you start with in the long run. You can either start with several day old chicks, which we get in sometime in the spring, usually around March through May, or you can get ready-to-lay pullets, which we typically have in April-May. When you opt to start with chicks, you have a much wider variety of breeds available to choose from, as the ready-to-lay pullets are typically just Golden Sex Links. We usually put out a chick order form sometime in January, so keep an eye on our events page to find that order form! If you do choose to start with chicks, just know they will need to be kept indoors in a brooder for the first 8 weeks of their lives, or until they are fully feathered. This brooder can be a large Rubbermaid stock tank or some other container that you already have on hand with tall sides to help keep your chicks contained and safe from any curious cats or dogs in the house.
Once the flock is ready to be moved outside, you'll find that your chickens require only minimal daily maintenance! Your chickens should begin laying anywhere between 16 weeks and 20 weeks of age, depending upon their breed. Once they do, you'll of course have to collect eggs everyday, along with ensuring that your birds have feed & water in front of them always. You can figure that one adult chicken will eat roughly 1/4lb. of quality, complete feed a day, such as Purina Layena Pellets or Crumbles. Besides feeding, watering, and collecting eggs, you will also have to clean out your coop. Dependent upon what kind of bedding you use, you may have to do this anywhere from once a month to once a year! Many people use pine shavings, which are more economic and do a good job with absorbency. However, they are dusty and do require composting before potentially adding any waste to your garden as fertilizer. Another popular option that requires less frequent cleaning (maybe even only once a year!) is hemp bedding. Many people begin using hemp bedding due to its impressive odor control, lack of dust, and longevity. It is a more expensive product, however, if you begin with a thin layer of hemp bedding and slowly add more as each layer gets dirty, the bedding can last for many many months on end! Not to mention, you can throw hemp bedding directly onto your garden, with no composting required.
Even if you’re not looking to capitalize on the scrumptious products of owning a flock, raising your own chickens is an undoubtedly fulfilling activity. Whether it be 3 chickens or 30 chickens you wish to raise, you’ll be surprised at the minimal upkeep necessary to raise a healthy flock.
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