I know you must be laughing right now and saying “Really Aaron… Chickens”! Well, I had to get your attention somehow because these little gals are so beneficial to your home that you’ll be thanking me. Listen, we all try to gain control of what to put on the table for family and friends to enjoy. Whether it’s buying organic or going to the local farmers market. None of those options are as satisfying as gardening or raising your own livestock.
One thing Barb and I have always done is garden, but when she came up with the suggestion of having our own chickens I thought it was a crazy idea. The only animals we ever raised were the typical cat or dog. So we sat down one day and looked into what it would take raise backyard hens. What we would save. The health benefits they would bring to our home. With a little leap of faith and creative thinking, we went all in. Never did it cross our minds that raising chickens would be easier than a cat or dog. These little backyard raptors are so worth the effort that I suggest starting a flock of your own and I’m here to help you learn how.
Now that you are a bit interested, lets massage that brain with a few helpful facts about those backyard raptors… First and foremost, chickens are quite hardy animals as long as they have someplace to keep dry and get out of the wind.
- These ground-dwelling fowl can use their wings to help perch in small trees, short fences, and sometimes low rooftops. Which they will do to get away from predators and when they go to sleep at night.
- There are two main categories of chickens: Layers (grown for the purpose of producing eggs) and Meat birds (raised and slaughtered to provide meat).
- Most backyard chickens are layers and among the two categories are many breeds that come in different sizes, colors, temperament, etc. As you investigate them you’ll notice the most commonly raised breeds of the bunch. Ameraucana, Barred Rocks, Leghorns, Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Marans, Wyandottes, and one of my favorites is the Black Australorp.
- In general, chickens need about 3 sq. ft. of space to be happy and healthy. This can be anything from free-ranging the yard during the day and perch in a shed for the night, to having a coop/run setup. The options of housing really are limitless and can be a lot of fun to design and build.
- Chickens are omnivores and will eat around 3% of their body weight in food a day. That’s roughly about 1/4 lbs of food per 8 lbs chicken per day.
- Like all birds, chickens have a gizzard. They need a form of grit to help digest their food.
- Egg laying is based on how much daylight a chicken has in a day. Meaning that in the fall and winter where the days are shorter, chickens will not lay as often. Sometimes they will not at all until spring comes.
- These backyard raptors make good weed-eaters. Fence them off in your garden area during the late winter/early spring and watch them get to work cleaning your garden for you.
- Chickens do not bathe in water. Their preferred method is called dust bathing. It helps clean their plumage of any unwanted nasties.
- Last but not least, Happy chickens make extraordinary eggs.
Making A Choice
I know it’s a lot of info just to raise one type of animal and trust me there is more out there. All of these facts will come into play as we continue on this path to a better food option. And so with all those facts at hand, there is one last thing you’ll need to know and ask yourself to help choose the right chickens for you…
“How many eggs do you and your family eat in a week?”
It may appear to be a silly question but by knowing this you are able to answer many questions that will arise as you venture forward. Two of those questions being:
- What breed should I get?
- How many chickens do I need to raise?
Here’s a helpful site I use to choose my backyard raptors: Mypetchicken.com. You can also ask people at your local farmer’s supply store. They are full of helpful info and can let you know what breeds they offer.
If you are planning on having a small flock (10 chickens or less) like myself. You should know that chickens are social animals and as a rule, I suggest getting a minimum of three chicks at one time. No matter how careful you are at following what I have posted here. There is always a slim chance that you may lose one of your chicks.
What It Takes
From this point, we can begin going over what it takes to have your own backyard raptors. As I said before, chickens are hardy animals and they only truly need three things to thrive.
All are important but when it comes to the chicken’s health and the eggs you’ll be eating, food is the most important. You will need to provide food even if you have your chickens free range in the yard, clean out your garden space, or give them veggie scraps. Your gals will need more nutrients than what can be provided in a backyard. Thus, chicken feed is vital to give them the additional nutrients. The nice thing is that feed comes in three varieties (listed below) and all will provide what is necessary.
- Mash – The old, traditional, loose, and unprocessed version of chicken feed. The nice thing about mash is you can go step further and ferment it. This increases the nutrients for your chickens and the tastiness of the eggs. Please ask your feed provider if you are interested.
- Pellet – Feed that has been ground down and compressed into little cylindrical shapes. It will hold its shape better than crumble so that there is less waste. Pellets are usually the first choice in feed due to it’s easy to store, serve, and manage.
- Crumble – In-between mash and pellet, this type is about the same texture as dry oatmeal and not compact like pellets.
Grit (Food Supplement)
Along with feed, you may need to provide grit for your egg laying ladies. Though I joke about chickens being backyard raptors, they are birds. Which means that they have gizzards and will need some sort of grit to help digest their food. Grit can be anything from small stones or pebbles the chickens will pick up while roaming the yard or garden space. You can also provide it for them in the form of crushed oyster shells. This is a really good option due to the oyster shells also help give the chickens much-needed calcium for their eggs.
Of course, you will need to continually purchase feed and/or grit to keep your gals happy and healthy. The costs are very reasonable in comparison to the number of eggs you’ll be getting. Especially if you and your family eat a lot of eggs.
This is pretty self-explanatory but you will need to make sure your chickens have access to plenty of fresh clean water daily to avoid issues that could arise. There are a couple of things you can do to their water to help give it a boost. One is by adding some garlic to it; a crushed clove or a spoonful of minced garlic will do. The other is adding 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar to 1 gallon of water. With this one, you will need to be careful because the apple cider vinegar will actually cause a chicken’s body temperature to increase. This could be dangerous during hot summers and should only be done once a week with you giving them fresh water daily.
To me, this was one of the more fun aspects of getting our chickens and if you’re anything like me you will agree. “Why?” you ask.
It’s because you get to search for, design, and/or build the shelter (called a coop) for those feathered friends you’ll be getting. Trust me there are so many configurations and ideas out there for you to choose from. One of my favorite sites I would visit when I first started was backyardchicken.com.
As I mentioned in Basic Facts, you will need two things with your set up and one I have not mentioned yet. First is plenty of space for those gals to roam during the day. Second, the coop must have some place for them to perch and sleep at night. Last, they will need what is called a nesting box. This is where your chickens will lay their eggs for you. It can be anything from a milk crate to a simple box you made. Again, the options are pretty plentiful.
Just keep in mind, whatever you decide to do for your coop it should help keep them dry, out of heavy winds, and protect them from predators. Also, have everything set up before you bring home any chicks. I made that mistake and they were ready to go outside before I had the coop finished.
Bedding (Shelter Amendment)
This is optional to use depending on your coop design but not for the nesting boxes. Bedding in the coop will make the chore of cleaning chicken poo much easier and changing out the bedding depends on your setup. I personally change it out about once a month but I also layer mine pretty heavy. If you do use bedding be sure the wood shavings used are not cedar. Cedar causes respiratory issues with chickens. As for the nesting boxes, I suggest using straw or hay so that the ladies are comfy while they lay those glorious eggs for you.
Baby Raptors… Chicks!
Finally, we can get into those little chirping fuzzballs you’ll see at the local farmer’s supply store…
Raising your own baby raptors are not much different from the adults. They need the same things in addition to heat for them to get to adulthood.
- Shelter – called a brooder and just like coops have many options. You can use anything from an old tote to building a box of your own. Be sure to line the floor of the brooder with plenty of bedding.
- Food – comes in only two varieties; crumble and mash, because they are easy for the chick to digest. Just remember to get the start feed and you’ll be fine.
- Water – same applies here as the adults. There is a recipe for what some call magic water for chicks. It consists of apple cider vinegar, honey, and garlic to help boost their immunities and give a burst of energy. I’ve never used it till recently and only did it for the first week. Then just fresh clean water until they are ready to go in the coops. (Recipe listed below)
- Heat – Due to not having a mother hen, chicks need some form of heat provided to stay healthy. Most people will use an infrared heat lamp for just this purpose and you can pick them up at many different stores. Be sure to get the red colored bulb. It not only serves to get the needed heat but the color will also mask any wounds or scratches the chicks have. This is important so that the other chicks do not peck at those spots causing them not to heal quickly. The heat requirements for those baby raptors are around 95 degrees the first week. Then reduce the temp. by 5 degrees every week by raising the lamp until they are fully feathered. Keep a close eye on your chicks and they will show you if the temperature is just right. Chicks clumped together are cold, spread out away from the heat source or panting under it means they are hot.
- Grit – Since most brooders are set up indoors, you’ll need to provide grit for those fuzzballs. Unlike adults, you should not provide oyster shells as an option for grit. The chicks do not need the extra calcium until they start to lay eggs and can cause issues as they grow. Your local farmer’s supply store should have the grit that is just the right size for chicks, usually tiny pieces of granite in a bag.
- 2 quarts warm water
- 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 cloves garlic (crushed)
Are They Chickens Yet?
After all that we have covered, you may have one question that is bouncing around in your head.
“When do I know my chicks ready for the outdoor coop I built?”
Well, chicks in their own right are pretty hardy too. I realized this by watching what they do when raised with a mother hen. They don’t just lay under her to keep warm but will follow her everywhere, scratching, and eating anything they can. Most of us don’t have the time to take the chicks outside on sunny days, then bring them back in for the night. Nor the equipment to set up a protective area for our baby raptors to be safe from all types of creatures. Sooo…
If this is your first brood of chicks, I would get the enclosed portion of your coop prepared for them. Just make sure it is completely shut up so they can’t get out or something else can get in. Arrange the coop as if it is a brooding box. Start by layering the floor with bedding. Put in their food, water, and heat lamp than you’re ready to watch them grow.
When it comes to already having some chickens you’ll need to go the brooder route. Placing it indoors such as a garage, basement, or even a shed for their protection. Besides what I have already provided the following chart will help you during your chicks growth to being full-blown backyard raptors.
Simple Growth Chart
- week 3 – More feathers are appearing and now is the time you may want to consider putting a lid on the brooder. Along with raising the food and water height by placing a board under them.
- week 4 – They can have supervised visits in the coop or outside for a few hours depending on the weather and temperature.
- week 5 – Your baby raptors should look less like little-colored cotton balls and more like teenage chickens. Also, you may want to switch the feeder and waterer to the adult size.
- week 6 – they are ready for the coop.
- weeks 7-16 – Continue to feed them starter feed even though they are now in the coop or roaming the yard freely. Feeding adult layer rations too early can lead to growth issues and kidney problems. At 16 weeks you can switch them over to layer feed safely.
- week 20 – Your now full-grown backyard raptors are ready to start laying you some yummy eggs.
Reap The Rewards
Woohoo! We made it to the end. I know this is a ton of information. Many things I’ve covered can have their own posts. Though I hoped to cover all the basics and then some so that you can have your own friendly feathered egg laying raptors to take over your backyard. With that, I’ll say…
“Venture forth, start a flock, and enjoy the many delicious eggs to come!”
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