by Dr Tara Hueston
Backyard chickens can be wonderful pets, companions, egg-producers, or food animals. Raising your own chickens may sound like an appealing idea, but be sure you do your research before investing in your new chicks.
Make sure that raising chickens is legal in your area. Double-check your local city/town ordinances and homeowner’s association to confirm that having backyard chickens will not cause any legal problems. Please check that your neighbors are ok with you having chickens as well.
Where to get Baby Chicks and Chickens
A question you may have is: where is the best place to get chickens and chicks to start your new flock? A more important question is: what do you want your chickens to do for you, and what breed is best for your needs?
Choose a chicken breed that works for you, whether it will be primarily used for eggs, meat, or a pet. Raise a breed that you want to nurture and love. As their primary caretaker, you will need to clean up after your chickens, feed them, and take care of them when they are sick or injured.
Animal feed stores carry day-old chickens from February to June, and you can acquire day-old chicks or fertilized eggs from hatcheries such as Metzer Farms. You can also buy chicks from breeders. Be sure that your source is reputable to avoid acquiring sick or subpar chickens or chicks.
Ask your hatchery if they vaccinate chicks, and what diseases they vaccinate for. If you hatch any of your own chickens, consider vaccinating them at home.
Some breeds do not mix well, so be aware that although a mixed-breed flock sounds good in theory, it may not work in reality.
How to Care for Chicks:
Pine shavings and corn cob bedding are best. Stay clear of other kinds of wood shavings, because they might be toxic, and avoid newspaper or straw, which can be messy and quickly become soggy. Chickens create a lot of organic waste so be prepared to clean up after your chicks.
Temperature should be 90-100 degrees for the first week, and then decreased by five degrees per week for your chicks.
Chicks grow rapidly! Make sure that you have a brooder large enough for all of the chicks you acquire.
Chicks should be fed chick crumbles starter, and a chick waterer should be used. Nipples are preferred for waterers. Chicks can drown in water dishes. If you choose to use water dishes, then be sure to put large petals inside of the dish to prevent accidental deaths.
Please play with and handle your chick so it gets used to being around people and any animals that you wish to socialize your chicken with. Exposure with supervision is the best way to introduce chickens to dogs. Remember that dogs will naturally be inclined to chase and kill chickens. The more you socialize your chick, the better it will behave when you have to handle it for other reasons.
After the First 60 days, General Chicken Care:
Chickens need a lot of room! Provide 2-3 feet per chicken inside the chicken coop and 4-5 square feet per chicken outside the chicken coop. Please keep local chicken predators in mind when you build your pen and coop! Hawks can pick off chickens, and foxes, coyotes, raccoons, dogs, and cats will eat chickens and their eggs, so build sturdy fencing. Chickenwire is often not sufficient for protecting chickens from coyotes and foxes.
For litter inside your coop and in the yard, consider pine shavings or pine chips. For nesting boxes, use straw, don’t put pine shavings or chips. Buy water heaters for your chickens and make sure they are sufficiently warm at night. Temperature requirements are breed dependent.
Be aware that normal chicken behavior can be destructive. Chickens may scratch away gravel and destroy your manicured lawn.
Feed a balanced commercial chicken feed to your chickens. Make sure that treats do not make up more than 10% of your chicken’s normal diet. Bananas without the peel, strawberries, apple slices or applesauce, and whole cabbage heads can be excellent treats for chickens.
Lice and mites are a threat to chickens. Be sure to prevent parasites.
Chickens need to be dewormed every 6 months, and new chickens should be quarantined for a month before introducing them to the flock.
Remove any sick birds from the flock and put them in a separate coop. Other chickens will pick on them.
Remember: Chickens are an investment and a responsibility just like any other pet, and they can be a lot of work! Consider all the needs of the chickens before purchasing any.
Happy chicken keeping!
References: Backyardchickens.com is an excellent source for your chicken questions.