backyard chickens

Beginner’s Guide to Raising Backyard Chickens

It’s one of these days you might want to add a few chickens to your backyard or homestead. You will certainly have tons of questions regarding how to raise backyard chickens. In this post, we will go over those points, which will help you get started. From ordering chickens to transitioning them to outdoors, this guide has got it all covered. We will further discuss topics relating to chicken coop and runs. 

Why you want chickens?

First of all, you need to ask yourself why you want chickens. More often than not, people want it for eggs, meat or self-sustainability. It helps parents to ensure nourishment for their kids through natural eggs. In addition, some fancy having chicken as pets. Your choice of a breed should be based on the reason why you want chickens in your backyard. 

Choosing your breed

Urban vs. Rural

Besides the purpose of chickens, your living conditions do have a say on your choice of the breed as well. If you live in an urban setting, you may want to keep things quiet.

In addition, you can’t overlook other factors such as availability of space, compatibility with kids, etc…A breed like ‘silkies’ is fluffy cute, less noisy, less space demanding and kid-friendly. They are perfect for your urban home. Silkies are decent laying birds as well. You might also want to check out some of the fancy-looking breeds that can serve as pets. 

backyard chickens

Egg vs. Meat vs. Heritage

If you have over a couple of acres and want a free-range, you can aim for eggs and meat. Simply put, you can go for larger birds that are better on production. Breeds like black australorp and buff Orpington are definitely good for dual purposes. If you want to focus solely on egg production alone, we recommend going with a breed like Red Sex Link or white leghorn. Alternatively, if you want to focus mainly on meat, go for the Cornish cross. 

Meat birds are something to be called at the end of the year. If you want self-sustainable meat, go for some heritage breeds. A classy option would be ‘dorking’, which is a slow-growing heritage breed. If you want to move down the heritage path without compromising of chicken’s growing speed, you can go for a rainbow ranger. Regardless, heritage breeds bring in the best of flavours in the meat. 

You can also offset with a variety of breeds. One group of chicken will provide for eggs while another gets you the meat. Regardless, you need to do detailed research on your breeds. Make sure these breeds can survive in your region without air conditioning. 

How to get chicken?

You can get chicken via few routes now – online hatchery, local breeder and craigslist. 

The easiest route as of now is ordering via online hatcheries. These hatcheries give you the option to vaccinate your chicks. We leave that choice up to you since we don’t consider vaccination absolutely essential. Moreover, they do not vaccinate bantam chickens, which are otherwise called miniatures.

In regards to local breeders, you can do your research on what breeds they have. Generally, local breeders do not have a wide range of breeds.

The local breeders usually carry 2-3 different types of breeds. Without proper research, you might end up driving around different breeders to get the right mix. On the other hand, the chickens are not being shipped in an uncomfortable position. In addition, you are establishing solid relationships with the local breeders.

An interesting option to get chickens is via craigslist. You can find tons of chickens being given away or sold crazy cheap. If you are looking for some good bargain chicken, craigslist is where you need to be. You might find people who are giving their chicken for cheap since they are moving out of state.

If you are dealing with a hatchery or breeder in craigslist, make sure they are NPIP certified.  It ensures you are not introducing disease to the current flock if you have one. Try to know who the seller is, and how they are taking care of the chickens. 

Did you know?

All chickens have something called the egg tooth. It is what helps them to break out of the eggs. They will eventually lose them in 1-2 days. 

Getting the chickens home…

Sexed chickens: Roosters, hens & straight run

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When you order chickens, you can order roosters, hens or straight runs. Roosters and hens are obviously sexed chickens. A specialist looks into the vent to tell you about its gender before you order them. Whereas, a straight run translates to chickens which are not sexed.

You can’t be sure what will you get. As a rule of thumb, it’s usually 60 per cent roosters and 40 per cent hens. Going to a hatchery rather local breeder introduces you to the advantage of picking chicken based on gender. Moreover, auto-sexed chickens can be told on the gender-based on their colors and stripes. 

When should the chickens arrive?

Most people want their chickens to arrive in April because of its Easter time. Moreover, it’s easy to involve kids around this time. However, if you want some heritage breeds, there is no point waiting till March/April. The rarer breeds sell out quickly, even in large hatcheries.

If you want them for April, start planning by November. Once you place your order by November, you get a selection of dates for the chickens to arrive in your doorstep. Choose the date that is convenient for you. You need to be home during the day and even the corresponding week.

The chickens may arrive at any time of the day or week. With the kind of postal service for chickens, ignore the tracking number. They are seldom updated or precise. Chickens are good to survive for 3 days in the mail. 

Your chickens should be indoors for at least 4 weeks post-delivery. When you move them outside, the temperature should be – 75 degrees. If not, you need to provide the supplementary heat. There are mini-thermostats that can precisely set a temperature these days. 

Nurturing newborn chickens

For the first month, the chickens need to stay indoors. Considering there is no hen around to nurture them, you should rely solely on gadgets. Using an EcoGlow brooder or heat lamp becomes essential. You need to have the right setup prior to the arrival of chickens. As far as supplies are concerned, you need to invest in chicken feed, electrolytes and vinegar solution. 

Setting it up…

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Firstly you need a plastic tub to keep the chickens for about a week. You should put in an inch of pine shavings in the bottom. A few breeders suggest using a paper or sheet to cover the base of the tub. But, using a paper sheet may cause the chicken legs to frequently slip and result in splay legs. You can then place a water container for electrolytes and lid for chicken feed. 

Selection of brooders

As far as brooder is concerned, our first choice is definitely EcoGlow. It’s nothing but a warming plate that acts just like a mother hen would. The chickens can go under them to get warm and toasty, whenever they feel like it. You can control the temperature that’s under the brooder. 

We suggest keeping a temperature of 90-95 degrees during the first week. You can reduce the temperature by 5 degrees every week thereafter. Alternatively, people can use a heat lamp for the same purpose. Using a red lamp or amphibian light helps avoid pecking from the little chickens and doesn’t prevent them from sleeping. Nevertheless, chickens prefer heat plates. 

Supplies

The first supply you need is chick starter. It has higher protein content than grower feed and layer feed. Optionally, you can choose medicated feed, which helps prevent Coccidiosis, a parasitic disease affecting the intestinal tract of chickens. However, medicating the feed is not absolutely necessary.

We suggest going with non-medicated organic starter feed and medicating when necessary.  Organic being 100 per cent natural, has a default appeal to it.  

The immediate next thing you need after starter feed is electrolytes. Electrolytes will provide your chicken with energy. It’s almost like Gatorade for chicks. After being shipped, chickens tend to be dehydrated. Giving water after mixing with little electrolytes gets them perked up. 

Apple cider vinegar is good to have in your supply kit. Putting a splash of it on your feed supplies your chicken with potassium and energy. It also has anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-parasitic properties. More often than not, you can stumble upon a good organic brand in vinegar as well. 

A little board above the pine shavings can be used to place the water container. You can supply water with electrolytes and vinegar through the container. You can put in the feed on small lids. Ironically, a good treat for chickens would be scrambled eggs.

You can also give them corid amprolium, which prevents the intake of b1 vitamin, thereby preventing the formation of Coccidiosis. 

The first thing you need to do with your chickens is to pick them up and dip their beaks in the water. If helps in finding out whether they have arrived healthy and fine.

Secondly, you should tap on the feed to show them where the food is. After they have tasted the food, make sure they have access to food and water at all times. Ensure your chickens have arrived nice and warm. 

Transitioning to backyard

Transitioning to the backyard is never straight forward in case of chickens. You should introduce them to a bigger structure after the first week. Regardless, for the entire month, the chickens should stay indoors. A week prior to bringing them outdoors, you should introduce them to the native soil. For this purpose, add the native soil mixed with wood ash to their indoor shelter. 

Chicken coop and runs

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The one-month-old chickens which have been properly nurtured are considered fit to be introduced to the outdoors. You can either use self-built or industry made coops to house your chickens. My Chicken coop provides some of the best coops for chickens, hens and roosters. 

The extensive catalogue has deluxe chicken coop, premium chicken coop, super large chicken coop, villa chicken coop and more. You can also purchase chicken coop with the large run to enable chickens to roam freely.  You can place all the add-ons such as nesting boxes, chicken drinker and chicken feeder inside the coop. The hens and roosters can be introduced safely as well. 

Predator-proofing your backyard

Coops are so essential for raising chickens in the backyard.  Besides coops, you need additional protection as well. You need to know every possible predator in your area. 

From foxes to raccoons to black snakes, there are many ground predators. Using an electric fence effectively prevents the intrusion of ground predators. To combat digging ground predators, you can dig down under the coop and put some mesh down there. 

For aerial predators such as owls and hawks, string up colored mason lines 2 feet above the ground. It is because the bigger birds do not like to dive down in an area where they are likely to get trapped. They will fly over, come close, but won’t come past the colored mason lines. 

Final steps…

For the first two days, the chickens should be locked inside the coop. They need to make the coop their home before introducing them to the grass area. This way, they will know to get back to the coop during the night. To assist the transition, drop-in pine shavings in the coop. After a couple of days, you can open gates to the run. 

The chickens shouldn’t get past the run for at least 4 weeks. They shouldn’t meet the larger fowl before they are at least 8 weeks old. Move the coup regularly around your backyard. Make sure to close the gates before night, to lock the chickens safely inside the coop. when they are 8 weeks old, let them in and out of the run using a small chicken door.

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