How to Raise Chickens

Learning how to raise chickens may seem daunting, but I have found raising chickens enjoyable and rewarding. Chickens provide eggs, manure, and bug control.

Before you begin to raise chickens you’ll want to decide where you are going to house them, what breed you want.

Well you raise chickens for eggs? Or just bug control?

Before you jump into raising chickens you’ll want to do your research and read books about how to raise chickens and learn all you can. This article is a good starting point but if you’re serious about raising chickens, the extra research will save you a lot of head ache in the future. Check out your local library for books on chickens.

4-H guide to raising chickens by Tara Kindschi and Storey's guide to raising chickens by Gail Damerow is great to get you started.

Most cities now have ordinances that let you keep a small flock of chickens in your backyard. Check your area for rules in your area.

Breed Selection

Chickens come in Standard and Bantam varieties.

Standard varieties grow to about 6 to 10 lbs depending on the breed and lay large brown and white eggs. They need about 3 to 4 square feet of coop space and about 5 square feet of run space. If you have lots of run space or let them free range around your yard, you can provide less coop space.

Bantams are miniature chickens growing to 1 to 2 pounds. Most standard varieties have a bantam equivalent. Bantams are popular as pets and exhibition birds and although their eggs are smaller than standard breeds, some bantam breeds are prolific layers.

If you have a smaller yard bantams may be a good choice. Bantams need 1.5 to 2 square feet of coop space per bird. The following breeds are popular backyard flocks. These are the varieties I have raised.

    Barred Plymouth Rock is a Standard American breed first shown in Boston in 1849. By 1882 the Barred Rock was the most popular in America known for its hardiness. I have found this breed to lay well even in the cold winters of northern Utah. They are friendly and mild mannered. My flock of barred rocks laid eggs for four years before I moved and found them a new home. Hens reach 7.5 pounds and lay large, light or pinkish to medium brown eggs.

    New Hampshire in 1915 breeders started developing the New Hampshire using the Rhode Island Red as a base. They are fast maturing, have beautiful color and mild manners. Hens reach 6.5 pounds and lays large light to medium brown eggs.

    Rhode Island Red is an all American breed laid claim by Little Compton, Rhode Island. Rhode Island Red is a mixture of Red Mal Games, Leghorns and Asian stock. A hardy duel purpose bird and the state bird of Rhode Island. My Rhode Island Reds out lay my Leg Horns in the cold of winter. Hens reach 6.5 pounds and lay medium brown eggs.

    Delaware originally called “Indian Rivers” later changed to honor the state where the breed was developed. In 1940 George Ellis crossed Barred Plymouth Rock male and New Hampshire Red female for increased meat production. Used until the late 1950’s as broiler chickens. Very docile and friendly. This is my friendliest chicken in the coop. Hens reach 6.5 pounds and lay large brown eggs.

    Leg Horns are the best egg layers and are smaller then the other breeds mentioned above. The leghorn is from Italy and was brought to the United States around 1835 by Spanish sailing ships. They are important to the poultry industry because of their prolific egg production. They lay large white eggs year round, even in cold weather. Because of their size they don’t eat as much as the heavy breeds so the feed to egg conversion is great. Hens reach 4.5 pounds and lays medium white eggs.

I have 5 hens. One Delaware, 2 Rhode Island Reds and 2 White Leghorns. In the summer I average 4 eggs a day and in the winter I average 1 to 2 eggs every other day. In our area of northern Utah the winters can get down to -20 degrees F.


How to Raise Chicken Housing Criteria

Before buying chickens you’ll want a house to protect them from predators at night. Chickens are very vulnerable to dogs, foxes, raccoons etc. Do this before acquiring your chickens.

Chickens are not particular where they sleep so if you have an old shed or play house that is not in use you can easily convert it. Each standard adult chicken needs 2.5 to 3 square feet of coop space to keep them happy. Over crowded chickens tend to pick at each other. For example a 3 x 5 foot house will house 5 to 6 hens.

The house needs a window to let in light, a roost for the chickens to sleep on at night and a nest box to lay their eggs in. I like to have the feeder inside the coop to keep the feed dry in all kinds of weather.

You’ll need a run for the chickens to use when they come outside during the day if you don’t want them to have free range of your yard. It is important for chicken's health to have sunshine each day.

Feeding

Commercial Chicken feed can be purchased at your local feed store. Inter Mountain Farmers and Cal Ranch are two stores in our area. Prepared chicken feed comes in pellets or mash. I prefer pellets as they don’t make a mess and the chickens can find them if they push them out of the feeder. Chicken feed comes in starter, grower and layer formulas.

Baby chicks are fed starter mash for the first 4 to 6 weeks. From 6 weeks to 5 months the chickens are fed grower mash. When your hens reach 5 months you’ll switch them to layer pellet as they come into maturity and begin to lay eggs. The layer pellets have calcium to help with egg production.

You can mix your own chicken feed with a mix of whole grains. I like the prepared feeds because they contain all the vitamins they need. If your chickens pick around in the dirt and grass they will find plenty of bugs and fresh greens to give them variety.

I feed my chickens our vegetable and fruit scraps as well as weeds I pull from my garden. This is a nice supplement to their commercial feed. A 50 pound bag of chicken feed lasts 2 months feeding 5 chickens. I have feed available at all times in the chicken coop.

Chickens need plenty of fresh water. Chickens drink as much as 1 gallon a day in hot weather. You can use galvanized drinkers or plastic drinkers. They come in 1 to 25 gallon sizes. I use an automatic fountain in the summer and heated dog dishes in the winter because of the freezing temperatures.

Buying Chickens

There are several choices on acquiring your chickens. You can purchase day old chicks from a hatchery. Ordering from a hatchery will require purchasing a minimum of 25 chicks. When they arrive you will need to provide food water and a warm home until they are fully feathered and can go outside. It takes 5 to 6 months before they will be mature and start lay eggs.

I have ordered chicks from Meyer Hatchery in Ohio and Cackle Hatchery in Missouri. Both delivered healthy chicks in a timely manner. You can mix and match your breeds with your order. If you don’t want 25 chickens, share with a neighbor or sell the extras. It is fun raising chicks and they bond with you as they grow.

If you don’t want 25 chickens you can buy individual chicks from your local feed store in the spring. You can also purchase pullets or hens from a local source. In our area you can find chickens already laying from the classifieds on the internet or news paper.

Laying hens in our area cost anywhere from 10.00 to 25.00 dollars each. The advantage to buying hens over baby chicks is they are already grown and ready to put in the coop. Baby chicks take care and time and need more attention.

Caring for Chickens

You want to prepare the coop before your chickens arrive. Have the food and water and litter on the floor. I use pine shavings on the floor of the coop to absorb water and droppings. Put shavings in the nest boxes about 4 inches deep.

The hens like to scratch around before laying their eggs. Pine shavings can be bought in 3 cubic foot bales for a reasonable price. They smell fresh and have good absorbent properties. Straw can also be used for bedding and on the floor.

Keep fresh food and water available at all times. When the coop begins to smell of strong ammonia add more pine shavings or straw. Keep adding shavings as needed through out the year. The chickens will scratch around in the shavings looking for bugs and such. In the winter I throw a handful of wheat on the floor of the coop.

It encourages the chickens to scratch and stirs up the shavings. I change the bedding and clean out the coop every 6 months, in the spring and in the fall before winter. I remove all the shavings and put them in the compost pile to become rich fertilizer.

Use the garden hose and wash out the coop cleaning the roosts and nest boxes. I only use water, but you can make a bleach water solution of 1 tablespoon household bleach per gallon of water.

Spray the whole coop with a hand pump sprayer to disinfect. Let the coop dry for a couple of hours. I then spray the whole coop with a miticide following the label directions.

If you don’t want to use an insecticide, dust the coop with Diatomaceous Earth. Food grade Diatomaceous Earth is a fine white powder and can be sprinkled on the bedding and in the next boxes to control insects. The chickens can return to the coop when it dries.

With a little care You'll learn how to raise chickens.

As you raise chickens they will give you years of eggs, bug control and compost for the garden.

Learning how to raise chicken is fun and relaxing after a long day of working.



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