Chickens are one of the most frequently found animals on farms and homesteads. Even agriculturalists who focus on other crops or animals often keep a few chickens running around.
They are readily available and cheap, so it makes sense to most people to keep chickens if they have the space. Chicken farming has been studied extensively, and many factors can influence your success with chickens.
Chickens may be kept free-range, in a coop, or a battery. They require daily food and water with shelter essential in bad weather. Chickens need a place to roost, nesting boxes, and protection from extreme temperatures. Vaccinations, parasite management, and protection from predators are critical.
Chickens, like most animals, have basic requirements that must be met for them to flourish. This article will answer your questions on keeping chickens from the initial purchase to healthy producing birds.
Table of Contents
Where to Start with Raising Chickens?
There are a few different options when starting your chicken enterprise. The first and easiest option is to buy young adult chickens. The advantage of starting with adults is that they are easier to feed, less prone to disease, and more resistant to adverse weather conditions.
Buying adults allows you to choose how many hens and roosters you wish to keep. The disadvantage is that they cost more per bird to purchase.
The second option is to buy chicks, usually sold as one day old. The chicks can be purchased at a fraction of the price of adults. The price varies according to the breed, with rarer breeds costing more. Always buy vaccinated chicks to ensure success.
If you purchase broiler (meat) or layer chicks, they may only be sold in boxes of one hundred. Some agricultural supply companies have a mixture of chicken breeds in stock each week during spring.
The disadvantage of starting with chicks is that their environment must be carefully controlled. Heating, space, the correct feed, and hygiene are essential. Raising young chicks is time-consuming and hard work.
They are vulnerable to disease and die easily. Furthermore, it is difficult to predict how many hens and roosters there will be in any batch of chicks.
The third option is to buy fertilized eggs and incubate them. This requires an incubator that controls heat and humidity. The chicken eggs must be turned daily for the first two weeks. Some incubators do this automatically, but others must be done by hand.
Incubating eggs is not ideal for beginners and can result in disappointment and financial loss. Not all the eggs will hatch, and beginner chicken keepers find this very disappointing.
What Chickens Should I Keep?
The chicken breed you choose to keep depends on your goal for keeping poultry. If you want to grow chickens for slaughter, most people select broiler breeds as they grow fast and can be slaughtered at six to eight weeks.
These chickens usually have white feathers and yellow-white skin, which is most popular with consumers. Examples are Cornish cross chickens, red broilers, and Delaware broilers. Different broiler breeds are popular in other countries or even different states.
Homesteaders often prefer to get slower-growing meat chicken breeds. Many are heritage breeds such as Australorps, Orpingtons, Leghorns, and Chanteclair chickens.
Dual-purpose chickens can be used for both meat and egg-laying purposes. These breeds include Wyandottes, Light Sussex, Plymouth Rocks, Orpingtons, and Brahmas. Most homesteaders opt for dual-purpose breeds.
Some dual-purpose breeds do better in different climatic conditions. It is best to research local breeds that do well in your area’s climate.
What Housing Do Chickens Need?
Chickens need housing to protect them from bad weather and predators. Many people are surprised that predators arrive at the chicken house. You need to know which predators are common in your area as the design can prevent predators from gaining access.
Chickens can be kept in a battery. Batteries are rows of cages stacked on top of each other that house the chickens. The chickens never leave these cages and have limited space to move. This practice is inhumane and has many ethical issues.
Chickens can be kept in a chicken run where they can exercise and have a good life. A coop attached to the chicken run provides night-time protection and a place to shelter from bad weather.
An advantage of the coop and run system is that the chickens have some protection from dogs, predators, and other environmental dangers. Some people argue that the chickens are still caged, but this is a necessary compromise for many people.
The disadvantage of free-ranging chickens is that they are much more vulnerable to predation. Collecting eggs can be time-consuming if you have to search the whole yard to find the eggs. However, it is a natural way for chickens to live, so some people choose this method.
Keeping chickens in moveable tractors is a compromise between a chicken run and free-range. The tractor compromises a low moveable cage that is relocated regularly. The chickens spend their days in the tractor, foraging for food in new spaces every day.
Chicken tractors require a commitment to move it every day and to ensure the chickens are not exposed to sudden storms. Proponents of this method claim a marked reduction in the amount of chicken food used. If you are interested in finding out more about chicken tractors, click here.
How Much Space Do Chickens Need?
How you choose to keep your chickens will influence the space requirements. The length of time chickens spend in coops determines the amount of space needed. Free-range chickens that spend very little time in a coop need much less coop space.
The breed of chicken also influences the amount of space required. Small bantam chickens will not need as much space as a Jersey Giant or an Orpington.
Chickens require ten to twelve inches of roosting space per chicken. There should be extra space for the chickens to flap and move as they settle down at night or wake in the morning.
There are online assessment tools to determine coop size for the chicken breed you keep and the number of chickens you have.
It is essential to consider environmental factors when designing coops. Coops built for dry, hot climates will differ markedly from those for frigid, icy regions.
Both overcrowding and too much space can be detrimental to chickens, making coop and run size important.
What Should Be in a Chicken Coop?
Chickens are most comfortable when they have roosting perches for nights. Roosting is a natural behavior for chickens and helps keep them out of reach of predators. It can also help chickens stay warm in cold climates. Being away from the icy floor and huddling together on the perches allows them to share body heat.
Chickens look for nesting boxes when they wish to lay eggs. These should be comfortable for the chickens and be placed inside the coop in a secure area. Some nesting boxes have outside hatches to allow for easy egg collecting.
What Bedding Should I Use in a Coop?
There are a variety of beddings that can be used in a coop. The best beddings have minimal dust, are absorbent, light, and easy to handle when cleaning out the chicken house.
Big flake wood shavings are excellent bedding as they have very little dust and are absorbent and light. It is important to note that some wood shavings or sawdust are very dusty, leading to upper respiratory problems for both the chickens and the keeper.
Some chicken keepers like to use sunflower husks that have almost no dust. They are not very absorbent, but the oil residue in the husks is said to be good for the chicken’s feet, skin, and feathers.
Other bedding options which may be considered are:
• Shredded newspaper
• Peat moss
The chicken keeper should evaluate bedding materials against their budget, suitability, and availability in their area.
What Should I Feed Chickens?
Free-range chickens forage for food during the day and are usually only given a small amount of food at night when they come into the coop. The additional night feed allows the farmer to ensure the chickens have sufficient vitamins and minerals.
Chickens in a coop and run need to be fed good quality food. Their heaviest feeding time is usually the morning. Although broilers will eat the entire day as they bulk up rapidly. There is a significant difference in the feeding patterns of broilers and layers or dual-purpose chickens.
Broiler chickens should be fed chicken food that is aimed at broilers. There is a starter mash for chicks for the first two weeks. This is followed by a second food that may be a mash or a crumble (slightly bigger food particles).
Some food manufacturers have mash or pellets depending on the farmer’s preference. Finisher food is used for the last two to three weeks of broiler chickens’ lives. It is important to investigate the brand of food you choose as they each have their own system, altering the food formula to meet different stages of the chicken’s life.
Layer chickens are generally fed a high protein formula to encourage the hens to lay as many eggs as possible. The food should have sufficient calcium and other nutrients to allow the hens to produce eggs without developing deficiencies. This can be pelleted, mash, crumble, or grains.
Each chicken keeper has a preference for feeding bowls. Some like an automatic feeder with less waste, and rodents do not have access to much of the food. It also ensures that the birds do not run out of food during the day and eat at will.
Other keepers like to allow their chickens the opportunity to scratch in their food, a natural chicken behavior. In this case, the food is usually supplied in flat trays or even directly onto the ground.
Do Chickens Need Vitamins and Minerals?
If your hens produce eggs with thin, weak shells, the food has too little calcium and should be changed, or a calcium supplement added. Many symptoms can appear as a result of vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
If you are concerned about the vitamin and mineral supply for your chickens and want to check what symptoms to look out for, read the MSD vet site. Many chicken keepers supply their chickens with greens to supplement vitamins and minerals.
How to Supply Water to Chickens?
Chickens drink an astonishing amount of water and can quickly become dehydrated, especially chicks. The easiest way to ensure a permanent water supply is to have an automatic water dispenser. This may be attached to the main water supply or a large container that slowly leaks water into a tray.
It is vital to check the water supplier every day, even if it is automatic. There have been dreadful accounts of thirsty chickens suffering and dying because the water connection broke.
It may be challenging to have an automatic water supplier in smaller low-cost establishments. Any dish that can hold water can be used for adult chickens. Water must be supplied to chicks in flat trays. Chicks drown themselves very easily and have even been known to drown themselves in an automatic water supplier.
How to Maintain Good Hygiene in the Chicken Coop
Hygiene is essential in a chicken coop. This includes removing feces and soiled bedding that contain ammonia. Ammonia in the coop makes the birds vulnerable to respiratory problems and can cause feet issues.
The coop should be cleaned regularly. The frequency of the coop cleaning will depend on the number of birds in the space. A heavily populated chicken coop will need daily cleaning. When there are only a few chickens, weekly or biweekly cleaning may be adequate.
Dirty coops attract rodents, flies, and other insects, making the chicken housing a problem in the neighborhood.
Leaking water pipes in the chicken house is a prime site for the growth of fungi and bacteria and increases fly infestations. Check there are no wet areas in your chicken coop and run.
Keeping chickens is a rewarding and pleasurable experience. It is not difficult if some basic rules are followed, and the chickens’ needs are met.