Raising chickens is an exciting challenge that requires some basic knowledge for success. Much of the learning process happens on a trial and error basis but there are some important things to research and know before buying your chicks. You will need to know about legal barriers and you will require a dedicated space and well-built coop. Plan to spend time caring for your chickens every day of the year.
Know the Law
Consult with city and county officials to know if chickens are legal in your area. Many urban areas outlaw or limit the number of chickens for each household. Roosters are outlawed in many urban areas because they are a noise nuisance for neighbors. In addition to municipality restrictions, homeowner's associations also have restrictions regarding livestock and backyard chickens.
Locate and Purchase Your Chickens
Chickens are available through feed stores and hatcheries. Look to the hatchery option for rare breeds and bulk purchases. Also consider partnering with another person to split orders from the hatchery. Feed stores also have chicks in the spring and early summer. Feed stores are a good option for viewing the birds in person and selecting the colors and breeds you like best.
Raising Young Chicks
When you have your chicks at home, keep them in a large plastic storage bin for several weeks. Keep a heat lamp on the chicks and provide access to food and water. Keep the bin in a safe area, away from domestic pets and threats. Avoid handling the chicks as they are vulnerable at a young age.
Building Your Coop and Run
While the chicks are growing, build your coop and run. Chickens require 3 square feet of coop space for each bird. Add roosting bars for sleeping and nesting boxes for laying and collecting eggs. Coops with large access doors are easy to clean and ventilate as well. Add a ladder for entry and an access door that you can close during the night. Numerous free plans for chicken coops are available online. Build a fenced run for the chickens to roam during the day. Use chicken wire to keep the chickens in and the predators out. Bury the wire to prevent predators from burrowing and cover the run to block birds of prey.
The commercial feed options change several times during the life of your hens. For the first six weeks, use starter chick feed to encourage growth and a healthy start. After six weeks, supply pullet grower feed to bring the chicks to maturity. At week 20, change from pullet feed to layer feed. This is the time when egg production begins and the layer feed has the correct protein and calcium supply for productive egg laying. In addition to commercial feed bags, allow the chickens to forage for insects and supply extra vegetable and fruit scraps from your table. Also keep fresh water in the coop at all times.
Managing Your Flock
Determine how many hens and roosters you want in the flock. One or two roosters is ample for most flocks. In many cases, keeping only hens is advisable. Roosters protect the flock but are often aggressive towards inexperienced owners and children. You will not how many are roosters until they reach a mature age. You either will have to give away or cull any unwanted roosters from the flock. Monitor the health of your chickens on a daily basis. Clean the coop weekly to protect the health of the flock and sprinkle food grade diatomaceous earth in the nesting boxes to protect against parasites.
Zach Lazzari is a Montana based freelance outdoor writer and photographer. You can follow his work at bustedoarlock.com.