This is a question we have been asked time and time again, folks want to know how to take care of chickens? In this article, we will explore several things involved in taking care of chickens.
Although they are not one of the harder pets or critters to care for there are things you need to know. Such as, how to raise baby chicks and what to feed them. When are they old enough to be put outside? Do you change the food at certain ages? Do they need a coop? How many laying boxes do you need? The list can be long but not complicated! So, to find lots of information on taking care of chickens, just keep on reading!
Keeping chickens has been traditionally known as a way of getting eggs and tasty meat but did you know that chickens can actually be a good source of company also?
Believe it or not chickens are loyal, sweet and lovely companions that can brighten up your life. Most people who grew up in the countryside or on farms were attached to chickens when they were young treating them as pets, feeding them and caring for them in their own little way. Children like these grew attached to the chickens since they felt responsible for them, and naming chickens was a common trait among such children.
Now if you did not have a chance to grow up on a farm and get this wonderful experience, why not take your shot today. On the farm for example, you would enjoy listening to a rooster crowing, something the rooster does every morning before the break of dawn and before the birds start singing.
Keeping chickens as pets or as backyard birds can also be an enjoyable experience for your children. It is a wonderful experience to teach children to play with and feed the chickens. Gathering eggs is also a chore they learn early and from my experience, they love doing this!
Keeping chickens as either backyard birds or as pets has many advantages like eggs, company, give you that feeling of being responsible and can be a source of fresh chicken meat, if you are keeping the chickens for that purpose.
The decision of keeping chickens is however not as easy as you might be thinking. There are various considerations that need to be taken into account before actually bringing the chickens home.
1.Laws and regulations
In the U.S there are many municipalities, which forbid residents from rearing backyard chickens. It is therefore, important to make inquiries from your local authorities beforehand. There are also some municipalities especially city municipalities that allow residents to keep only a certain number of chickens if this is the case for your situation find out the maximum amount that is allowed per household.
Be sure to find out these things before you purchase chickens and building a place for them to live. There have been many people who have spent a lot of money just to find out there were laws against owning chickens. Many try to get the laws changed without much success. Know the laws!
2.Are you capable of taking care of chickens?
This is a question that you need to ask yourself if you are keeping chickens as pets you should be aware that they need your time and attention. You will have to consider building or buying a coop for them, cleaning the coop, feeding them with the correct feed among other things these will all cost you money and time. You should also ensure there is enough space in your backyard for the chickens.
3. Ask your neighbors if they would have any problem with you keeping chickens.
Before you purchase the chickens you should let your neighbor know about it. You obviously do not want to be such a nuisance to your neighbor as to have them not want you around. Chickens can be noisy and this might be a problem. Chickens are also known to peck on plants and if by some chance the chickens sneak to your neighbor’s yard or garden and peck their plants this might cause a problem. If you neighbor only minds the noise you can avoid this by not keeping roosters since they are the ones responsible for most of the noise. Most female ones are very quite and you rarely find one that will crow. Yes, from time to time a chicken will crow but it is not a frequent thing.
4. Do enough research on the subject of keeping chickens.
People often underestimate the task of keeping chickens especially when it’s their first time. To avoid making such a mistake you should do a lot of research to find everything you can about raising the chickens. If you are keeping just one or two as pet chickens this might not be a big deal but if you are planning on keeping a huge number then a lot of research would be needed. This is a good place to start. Just keep reading for lots of great information!
5. Find out the advantages and disadvantages of keeping chickens
Chickens can have various advantages including access to fresh eggs, a good source of company, bug control, etc. Chickens feed on pest and parasites such as, ticks, snails, worms, bugs etc.
Disadvantages can however, include the fact that chickens attract flies, often peck on plants or flowers in your backyard and garden if not protected and will also require your attention hence taking up your time.
However for the purpose of pets, giving them attention can be a refreshing experience it is just like caring for a dog or cat.
6. Which breed should you keep?
Different breeds of chicken have different qualities and are good for different purposes. Chickens meant for meat or the so-called broilers have breeds that are perfectly suited for the purpose, so do layers and pets.
If you are considering keeping layers here are the top breeds you might want to consider.
This is a hardy breed of chicken that can adapt to most climatic regions of the country. They have an above average laying rate and can also be good as meat chickens. If you are looking for an all-purpose breed the Rhode Island is the best. The breed produces an average of 250 to 300 eggs per year.
Is among the best layer breed of chicken, they are known to produce over 300 eggs every year and can be useful for commercial egg laying purposes.
This is a docile chicken breed with an above average laying rate and are good brooders hence make excellent mothers and are good for a beginner. They also make good pets due to their docile nature.
They have an average laying rate of 150 to 200 eggs per year. Being broody is good for raising chickens. To use these wonderful layers as egg producers you will need to keep an eye on them and try to not allow them to go broody too often or you will end up with a lot of little doodles running around.
4. Black star
Is a hybrid breed of chickens that was bred from crossing rock hens and roosters of the Rhode Island Red. They are good brooders and hence make a good beginner breed. They are a hardy breed, which are easy to raise, with an average laying rate of 250 to 300 eggs per year.
This is a chicken breed that is also commonly known as the Easter egger. They lay medium sized eggs that have different shades from blue, blue-green, cream and green. They are a non-aggressive easy to handle breed, making them ideal family chickens. They have an average laying rate of 200 to 250 eggs per year.
This is a fast growing breed, which reaches a harvest weight of 4 pounds within 8 weeks.
These chickens are a rather large breed. They were developed with the aim of replacing turkey. It grows to a weight of 11 to 13 pounds in about 6 months hence it is not attractive to the commercial industry.
3. Heritage or Heirloom Chickens.
This is a category of chicken breeds that are facing extinction as they are replaced with the faster growing breed of chickens. The heritage breeds are however larger and meaty but are rare to find they include breeds like:
Relatively calm dual breed of bird making it ideal to keep around children. The Dorking is also a winter layer and continues laying eggs even when the others stop and its meat is tender with meaty breasts and wings.
Grows to a weight of 8.5 pounds for males while female hit a maximum of 6.5. It is a fast maturing breed which is hardy in cold and hot weather. They are also known to lay jumbo eggs.
For pets almost any breed can do but in order to choose the best breed that will best suit the purpose here is a list of ten best pet breeds:
Have smooth silky hair that is attractive to touch and lays two to three brown eggs per week.
Typically lay 100 eggs a year
Friendly and Docile
Interact well with other breeds
Have a tendency to be bullied by other breeds as they are so docile.
2. Cochin chickens.
This is one of the fluffiest breeds of chicken and the thick layers of feathers make them look larger than they really are. They are docile and friendly can tolerate cold weather but during summer they would need a shade. Lays about two brown eggs a week.
Avg. 2 eggs a week
Docile and friendly
This is one fairly large breed of chicken it has a single comb and its feet are free of feathers. The have beautiful color patterns are curious and interested in people making them good pets. They lay 4 to 5 eggs per week up to 250 yearly
Docile, friendly and very alert.
Dual purpose, a good egg and meat chicken.
This is one really beautiful breed of chicken known to be among the few breeds with five toes per feet, They are simply gorgeous French breed with a single comb. They have ear turfs, feathers on legs and feet plus an outstanding beard. They are attractive and holding would be equivalent to holding a warm pillow.
4 eggs per week or avg. 200 yearly.
Good Dual Purpose, eggs and meat.
Docile and friendly
This is one that is better adapted to cold weather and is able to resist frost bites. They have beautiful color patterns on their feathers making them attractive to hold or touch. They are a friendly breed, can grow to a weight of 7.5 pounds and lays about four light brown eggs in a week.
Lay around 200+ eggs a year.
Docile and friendly.
Dual purpose makes a good layer and good meat.
Other pet breeds you can consider are: Barred Plymouth rock chickens, Australop Chickens, Easter Egger Chickens, Orpington chickens. etc.
The above breeds have various qualities in terms of temperament, size, hardiness, egg- laying capacity, color, beauty and patterns which make them better pets than other chicken breeds.
Find out where to get chicken pet breeds in your area.
It might not be an easy task getting a specific breed of chicken in your area and you might, therefore, have to consider one among the above best pet breeds.
Local farmers in your area for example, could have some of the breeds and could be willing to sell them to you however if this method does not work you can also try online sources.
There are various websites selling chickens breeds that make great pets including:
Cackle hatchery among others you can choose from.
The advantages of buying from these websites is that you can order as little as three breeds of chickens, unlike the typical hatcheries where the minimum number ranges between 15 to 25.
You will also be able to choose a different breed for each chicken that means you can buy only three chickens but all of them of different breeds.
After considering all the above things you should now be getting a better understanding about how to keep your chickens. If you are looking to keep pet chickens it is advisable to buy young chicks that are easier to train as pets. However, if you are adopting a chicken for example from a sanctuary, please do not hesitate to do so. You are giving a chicken a new lease on life and they adapt very quickly to their surroundings.
1. Adjust your daily schedule for a few days.
Baby chicks require a lot of attention therefore, you should have an adjustable or even set schedule for the first month. Avoid going on day trips or vacations during this crucial time. However, if you must go you must have a chick pro to stand in for you. Anyone who takes care of your newborn chicks needs to have some understanding of taking care of them!
2. Prepare a coop for your chicks
After the first three or four weeks the chicks would have grown and will start making a lot of mess in the house and that is the time you need to move them outside into their coop. (Messy houses are never fun J ). You will need to build ahead, within the first four weeks so that you can move them outside as soon as the time is ready. Once they are adjusted, if you are not free ranging them you might consider a Chicken Tractor if you have the room. These mobile tractors are great for keeping the chickens safe in a controlled environment. You might want to check out our article on Chicken tractor Plans.
3. Create a suitable living environment for your chicks
The brooder should be protected from drafts but at the same time should get adequate ventilation so you can make use of a large plastic storage bin, a kiddie pool etc. Whatever brooder solution you will pick make sure that each chick has a space of 2 square feet. You should make sure that the new shelter is safe from predators, you might consider using an old garage, a spare bedroom or another place that you are not using etc.
4. Give the chicks a source of heat
Chicks need heat and would be comfortable with 95 degrees for the first week and the temperature should be dropped by 5 degrees every week to the time the chicks can be let to go outside.
The red brooder heat lamp is a recommended solution.
Also, make sure that you observe the chicks. If for example they are crowded together around the bulb then they are feeling cold, lower the bulb. However, if they are at the edges of the brooder it is too hot, with the right temperature you will observe chicks happily exploring around.
5. Provide absorbent bedding
Young chicks are known to be big poopers, therefore, providing absorbent bedding like soft pine wood shavings pine wood shavings is the best, however, avoid using cedar shavings at all cost. The beddings should be spread to about one inch deep. This will need changed as it becomes messy. A clean bed is good for all!
6. Use correct water
Chicks will always find a way to mess the water they are drinking so use the correct chicken waterer to reduce this. Keep checking on the water and make sure that you change the water a few times a day to reduce the mess. Avoid using bowls or any other ridiculous containers as they might only end up drowning your chicks.
7. Provide the correct feeder
Starter feed is best for chicks as it contains everything a chick will need to grow and thrive. As the chicks grow you can start them off with growers feed usually after four weeks this will however, depend on the feed manufacturer’s instruction, so make sure you read and understand them well. Provide your chicks with as much feed as they can take do not ration it, unlike dogs they are able to self-regulate.
8. Grit .
Provide grit for your chickens, you can buy this from your local pet store and sprinkle it on their food or put in in a bowl or feeder where they can access it.
9. Use netting:
This is going on top of your brooder to avoid chicks flying out of the brooder. You can also build a run onto your coop and use netting to keep the chickens in and the flying predators out!
10. Ordering chicks:
Make sure that you pick the chicks from your post office as soon as they arrive. The Post Office will not feed, water or regulate the temperature. It is important to be ready for them to arrive!
11. Health notes:
(1) Check the chicks for pasting up as soon as they arrive and deal with it to avoid death.
(2) Provide water as soon as the chicks arrive.
(3) Do not tamper with the umbilical code, please note the difference between umbilical code and pasting up.
(4) Change the beddings at least once a week.
(5) Ensure your kids do not tamper with the chicks.
After 4 to 5 weeks the chicks are ready to move outside and will need a coop.
(1) Predator and rodent proof.
(2) Should be well ventilated to avoid respiratory diseases but should not be too breezy to prevent them from freezing during winter.
(3) Should be easy to clean to prevent bugs and bacteria from thriving.
(4) Provide roosting poles in the coop for the birds to perch on.
(5) Provide at least 1 nesting box for every 4 chickens and make sure it is slightly raised above the ground.
(6) Should have at least four square feet per bird.
(7) Should accommodate feeders and waterers recommended to hang at least 6 inches off the ground.
(8) Provide a run if you are not going to let them out during the day! Just like the coop, the run should be predator proof. You cab accomplish this by burying the sides, which are attached to the chicken run at least 12 inches deep to prevent predators from getting in through digging.
(ix) If you live in an area where you have large predators such as coyotes, large cats or other very strong predators, you might want to consider reinforced wire instead of standard chicken wire.
The first five weeks are critical for a chick’s survival after five weeks you can now move them to their coop and you can go back to your normal routine. However make sure that they continue to receive right care, feed, attention and treatment to ensure their continued healthy growth. From this point also you can now begin to train them, give them names, teach them how to cuddle sit on your lap etc. or anything you can possibly fancy.
At this stage you only need to:
Provide pine shavings to act as bedding, pine wood shavings is the most recommended and is very affordable for a 50 pound bag. The beddings should also be changed regularly.
When the chickens are fully grown you can even take a few days off on a vacation or trip without having to worry about anything provided that the feeders and waterers are filled.
(1) Keeping waterers and feeders full.
(2) Cleaning and refill waterer regularly.
(3) Collect and refrigerate eggs and make sure the pointy side is facing upwards to ensure maximum freshness.
(4) Keep the coop door open during the day but make sure to close it at dusk after all chickens have gotten into the coop. Always count the chickens to ensure of all them are in if one is missing grab a spot light and go find it, especially if you live in an area with predators.
(1) Scrub the coop clean.
(2) Change the beddings.
(3) Make sure that you remove feed and water containers during cleaning and clean them thoroughly before bringing them back. A cleaner with 10 parts of water mixed with 1 part of bleach and one part of dish soap is ideal, a citrus cleanser can also be useful.
(1) Citrus fruits .
(2) Meat that has gone bad.
(4) Onion or garlic.
(5) Long grass.
(6) Shavings from a raw potato.
(i) Avoid heating the coop during winter unless it is not vented correctly and the chickens are in danger of being frost bit. The birds are very adaptable to cold weather. In very cold moths you might want to apply a little petroleum jelly to wattles and combs of chickens to prevent frostbite.
(ii) Keep checking water in the water container to ensure it does not freeze. You also bring water into the house each night, and take it outside in the morning.
During summer ensure that you provide adequate water, provide a shade for your chickens and provide maximum ventilation in the coop.
Avoid using Fertilizers or “Turf builders” in a case where your birds are free ranging. They will not be able to tell the difference between turf builder, fertilizer and small pebbles.
Lastly but certainly not the least advise!
If you notice that a chicken is sick isolate it from the rest of flock in order to curb spread and if you do not recognize the illness and don’t know what to give it, book an appointment with the vet immediately.
There are also forums on here that you can find help pretty fast if you can describe the problems or symptoms your chicken is having.
This is also a site for common Chicken illnesses and diseases.
I also found a site that list the Chicken Health and Poultry Management Contacts by State! Mark this one as it could be the difference in the life and death our your pet chicken!
I do feel it necessary to say to all who are going into this for the first time. Chickens, just like dogs, cats, or and other pet or livestock need some care and maintenance! They are not completely self sufficient in an environment where everything they need is not available! In the end, it is up to you, the owner to be sure they have what they need, just as you would any other pet. They are your responsibility whether you keep them or not!
Please, if you decide to not keep them for any reason, I urge you to find a farm or other chicken owners to give them to. Don’t just turn them loose to fend for themselves or drop them off somewhere! They get hungry, thirsty and feel pain just like any other creature! Please, be responsible for your critters!
Happy chicken raising y’all!
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