Guide to get started Raising Chickens
So, you’re thinking about raising backyard chickens? This is a rewarding and enjoyable hobby. It can, however, be a little daunting if you’re a beginner, especially if you don’t know what to expect or where to get started.
Here is a simple beginner’s guide on how to get started raising backyard chickens – these are the absolute basics you need to know.
What you need to Know Before Getting Chickens?
- There are council regulations relating to keeping backyard chickens. You need to understand and comply with these for your local council area. It will depend on whether you live in an urban, suburban, or rural areas and dictates limits and restrictions on how many chickens you can keep; whether you may keep a rooster; and how your coop is constructed.
- In most cases, chickens will coexist with family pets such as dogs, cats, rabbits, and other domestic pets, though some supervision may be needed, at least initially.
- Decide whether to purchase hatching eggs, chicks, pullets (young birds) or adult birds. Most beginners choose chicks at a day old, purchased from a local farmer, farm supply store, or hatchery.
- Choose healthy birds with clear, bright eyes, nice feathers or fluff, and that are curious, social, and interested in their environment.
- Chicks require extra care and lots of warmth, so use a heat lamp until seven weeks of age.
- Chickens are social birds and you should start with two to four hens.
- Are you prepared to:
- Build a coop
- Spend time with your hens
- Clean the coop regularly
- Make suitable arrangements for their care if you go on holidays
The Amount of Time you need to take Care of your Chickens
Chickens are social birds and they do require some attention and loving care. They are not as demanding as some other pets however they do require daily care, including feeding, watering, locking in the coop at night, and regular coop cleaning. They will get themselves up in the morning and put themselves to bed at night.
You will also need to maintain and monitor the health of your flock with veterinary attention if necessary.
Problems that may arise when Keeping Chickens
- Chickens can be vulnerable to the disease Coccidiosis for which they should be vaccinated or given medicated feed.
- Chickens are messy and bacteria can thrive – sanitize and clean their feeder, waterer, and brooder every day, and the coop frequently. Wash and sanitize your hands after handling chickens.
- Be aware of molting, broodiness, stopping laying, bullying amongst the flock (there is a hierarchy), and predators.
- Some breeds can be noisy and not all suburban neighbors will be “chicken-friendly”
What you Need to Keep Chickens
- Space – chickens need space to coexist and not be bored or overcrowded. They can fight or create mischief if they are bored or feeling antisocial.
- Coop – needs to be weather-proof, predator-proof, with good ventilation, protection from extreme sun and wind, and with fitted roosts. It should have an outdoor roaming or pen area that is either free-range or enclosed. The coop needs to be cool in summer and warm in winter.
- Bedding – straw or pine shavings need to be freshened regularly.
- Nesting Boxes – have at least one box per three hens.
- Feeders – protect feed from rats, mice, and other pests, as well as preventing your hens from spilling their feed. Chicks, in particular, are messy and will scatter and poop in their food.
- Waterers – prevent spillage, being knocked over, and prevent chickens from getting into and soiling their water supply.
What to Feed your Chickens
Chicks need starter feed up to 8 weeks; starter and grower feed 8-14 weeks; finisher from 15-18 weeks, and thereafter layer feed.
Your chickens will need to be fed a diet of a constant supply of chicken feed, shell grit and plenty of fresh water daily. They will also benefit from being able to free-range and forage for insects and grubs.
Your chickens will also need a constant supply of water in a shallow bowl or waterer. Baby chicks can drown so keep it very shallow! Adult chickens will drink between 500ml to 1000ml of water per day.
Chickens love treats! Offer crushed eggshells, oyster shells, yogurt, scrambled eggs (never offer uncooked egg), porridge, leafy greens, and other non-citrus scraps.
Chickens need to be protected from Predators
Your chickens need to be protected from dogs, cats, foxes, and snakes and large lizards. Even in suburban areas, snakes are present (if rarely seen) and they LOVE to eat eggs and tiny baby chicks. A quality, strong coop into which you shut your birds safely at night or when you are absent for a whole day will have a galvanized wire mesh (small enough that snakes can not squeeze through).
Chicken Breeds that are Best for Beginners
There are hundreds of different chicken breeds from which to choose. Some are better for beginners than others. Those we recommend include:
- Rhode Island Reds – gorgeous and prolific layers
- Australorps – docile and great layers
- Buff Orpingtons – a great lap chicken”
- Jersey Giant – gentle, large birds producing extra-large brown eggs
- Sussex – sweet disposition, reliable layers, inquisitive, will follow you around looking for treats
- Leghorns – intelligent, great layers, but somewhat loud and not ideal as a pet for small kids
- Easter Egger – great for kids, stunningly beautiful eggs in pinks, blues, and olive hues.
- Barred Plymouth Rock – beautiful, lots of large eggs, will follow you around, good with kids, quietly chatty and widely considered as flock “watchdogs
- White Plymouth Rock – reliably lays an egg a day, calm and gentle, they love humans
You may certainly mix your flock with a few different breeds, including birds known more for their aesthetic appeal than their egg-laying prowess.
Breeds that are Best for Laying Eggs
Chicken breeds fall into four broad categories:
- Heritage Breeds – natural breeding chickens that grow slowly and live a long life
- Egg Laying Breeds – prolific layers producing large quantities of eggs, but have a relatively short lifetime
- Meat Breeds – bred for eating, grow alarmingly fast and are ready for slaughter at just 9 weeks of age
- Dual-Purpose Breeds – bred for both meat and egg production; layers earlier and used for meat later in life
Assuming you want friendly, placid birds who provide a reliable supply of delicious eggs (as opposed to raising them for meat), choose egg laying breeds such as ISA Browns, Leghorns, Australorps, or Rhode Island Reds.
Raising backyard chickens is a hobby full of joy and wonder – they can be curious, entertaining, friendly and affectionate pets, and they provide a steady and reliable supply of beautiful fresh eggs. Free-range, backyard eggs from healthy happy chickens are tastier, more nutritious, and incredibly good for you. Backyard chickens are great for sustainable living too – they help with composting, grub and insect control, eliminate scraps, and produce natural fertilizer. Connect with nature and experience the joy of your little flock of these birds for yourself.