Have you ever thought about raising your own backyard chickens? It is actually easier than raising a garden!
Types of Chicks
Recently, we went to Chick Days at Tractor Supply to buy a batch of chicks. We had five chickens at our old house, but when we moved we asked our neighbors if they would like to add our chickens to their flock. We didn’t really want to move the coop and move the chickens to another place. Our neighbors at our old farmhouse have always had chickens as well, so they took them and we decided to start fresh.
At our last farmhouse, we lived in town on a quarter of an acre. Now on our 7-acre farm, we can fit quite a few more chickens. This time around we bought 12 chicks to expand our flock.
When you go to chick days you can wither purchase a “straight run” or “pullets”. Straight Run chickens mean that they can be male or female chickens, so you have a 50/50 shot per bird at getting hens. If you got 12 straight run chickens, you might end up with six roosters, six hens or any combination of roosters and hens. You really can’t know at the time. Pullets, on the other hand, are known to be female chicks. We decided to go with pullets, because we have bought the straight run before, raised them, and then found out that most of them were roosters. Since we were right in the middle of town, we didn’t want to hear the rooster crow. We just wanted hens and eggs.
If you are raising chicks for meat birds and eggs, a straight run may be a better option!
Backyard Chicken Essentials
#1 A Brooder
The first thing you are going to need is a brooder. A brooder can be anything from a cardboard box, to a plastic tote. I have seen people use homemade wooden boxes, or even designated brooders that you can purchase at your local Tractor Supply. We are using a good sized galvanized stock tank that my parents gave us. This tank had a hole in it so it doesn’t work for watering, but it works great for our chicks brooder!
How to Care for Backyard Chickens Video
Now the next thing you are going to need is bedding. We picked up some shavings from Tractor Supply and spread a layer on the bottom of the brooder.
You are going to have to clean out the bedding somewhat regularly, because it gets stinky and dirty.
Around six weeks, you can put the chicks outside depending on the weather in your area. You don’t want it to get too cold at night for them. As long as you have outside shelter, which we will talk about later, you can move them outside.
A barn, basement, garage, or mudroom, are all great options for housing your chicks. They don’t take up to much room at first, but chicks grow pretty rapidly. After a month, ours still comfortably fit inside our nice big galvanized tank.
The third thing you need is a heat source. When you first bring your baby chicks home they need about a 95 degrees Fahrenheit temperature. There are several options, but we always just use a heat lamp. We bought ours from Tractor Supply. I love how it has a little cage underneath the light, so that if it accidentally falls off, it won’t burn anything.
You want to pay attention to the chicks, and make sure they are not going to the outer extremities of the brooder to get away from the heat. If they are doing that, you are going to want to move the lamp up a bit so they will not get too hot. I noticed that our chicks go around the full length of the brooder, but at night they all gather underneath the lamp. That tells me it is still at the right temperature for them.
#4 Feed and Water
You will need some kind of system to offer your chicks fresh feed and water. We bought the Little Giant Plastic One Quart Feeder Base from Tractor Supply. I love it because it just screws into a normal mason jar. It is easy to keep clean and easy to fill. We use the same for the water. The Little Giant One Quart Screw-on Poultry Waterer Base is a continuous drip waterer. You might want to set your feeders up on a piece of cardboard, or a little piece of wood, so that the chicks don’t instantly get it all dirty
Our chicks are just getting large enough now that they fly right out of the brooder. Since we aren’t finished building the coop yet to move them outside, we put a piece of wire over the top.
Breeds of Chickens
Now as far as breeds, you are going to want to do some Googling to figure out what types are best for your needs and your geographical location. Some chickens do are able to tolerate hot environments, while others do better in cold environments. You should find the breeds of chickens that will do well in your area at your local Tractor Supply.
For us, we bought the Rhode Island Red and Leghorn breeds. We have had them before, and loved that they are really high egg producers. Certain chickens are better for meat, while others are better suited for egg laying.
A high producing chicken is one that lays one egg a day. In the middle of summer, when it is warm and there are long daylight hours, you will get the same number of eggs as you have chickens.
It takes about six months for chickens to start laying eggs regularly, and they start to slow down in their production around age two. Thus, about every other spring or fall, depending on what cycle you are on, you want to buy a new batch of chicks. When the ones you bought the previous year start to slow in their egg production, your new chicks will be ready to start laying eggs.
#5 Chicken Coop
When your chicks are six weeks old and ready to be moved outside, they need shelter that is secure from predators. In a lot of areas, the biggest threat is dogs, birds that swoop down and eat chickens, animals that burrow under the shelter, and coyotes.
There are many varieties you can buy from Tractor Supply, if you do not want to invest a lot of time in building one. The Innovation Pet Homestead Coop houses up to 8 chickens, making it the perfect solution for the first-time backyard chicken owner.
At our old farmhouse, we would lock our chickens up at night so that predators could not get them, but let them out during the day.
For our new farmhouse, Luke is building an A-frame chicken tractor coop. Every morning and evening we will move the coop to a new plot of grass, so that the chickens have fresh bugs and foliage to peck.
Another option is a coop and run. In this scenario the chickens have a coop for shelter, and then a fenced-in area to peck and scratch the grass.
#6 Laying Box
The next thing you are going to need is a laying box. This will be an area inside the chicken coop where the chicks will nest and lay their eggs.
We love to let our chickens scratch around in the grass and eat fresh bugs, but it is still important to supplement with feed. We like to keep everything organic, so we picked up a 35 pound of Purina Starter/Grower Crumbles from Tractor Supply.
When they are over 18 weeks of age we will feed them an organic layer crumble like this.
One thing I really like about chickens is that I can feed them our table scraps and then they give us nice organic eggs. It is such a great way to recycle your table scraps into food.
Easy Backyard Animals
And that’s it! Backyard chickens is seriously one of the easiest ways to get into home food production! They are a great way to start a homestead, even if you live on a quarter of an acre like we did. I remember last summer, while we were still living in our old farmhouse, feeling so accomplished coming into from the garden with my huge basket of produce, flowers, and five fresh eggs from to coop on our little plot of land.
I am so excited to start having eggs from our chickens with the nice and bright yellow yolks.
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