How To Raise Chickens
Learn how to raise chickens with this brief but informative article.
It is important to know when raising chickens that the breed of the bird can determine whether you get eggs or meat. While Plymouth Rocks and Rhode Island Reds are duel purpose bird that produce both meat and eggs, both breeds lay brown eggs. White Leghorns are one of your best layers but they are thin birds that do not tolerate the cold well and never plump out. Chickens can be bought at almost any stage of their development. Most people are drawn to the day old chicks since they are cheaper to buy. But chicks require added attention and special equipment until they are grown. Pullets are females that have reached about four months old and have just began to lay. This is the easiest way for a novice to begin raising chickens.
Chickens can be purchased from local hatcheries but it is common today to buy them through the mail. In deciding the number of birds you will need you will need to calculate the number of eggs you want. A good laying hen will produce at least one egg per day except during the molting season. For a dozen eggs a day you will need approximately 15 birds. When buying unisex chick be sure to buy twice that number plus a few extra to allow for the high morality rate in younger birds. If you are only interested in egg production you will not need to buy a rooster, so all females will suffice. When buying your chickens it is wise to try to obtain birds that have been vaccinated against typhoid, pullorum and any other prevalent diseases.
No matter what type of chicken you decide to raise be sure you make arrangements well in advance. Begin by making sure you have the space for a shed or chicken coop. It is mandatory that your building is warm, dry, draft free and easy to clean. It should be large enough to provide at least two square feet of floor space per bird. A dirt floor is acceptable but it helps to cover this with wood shavings or other cheap absorbent materials. You will be shoveling this away as it becomes dirty which is about twice a year so using about six inches of the chosen material will suffice. This litter will do more than just catch waste, it will also provide heat and natural antibiotics as it decomposes. The chicken coop of your choice will need insulation in the ceiling and walls. Providing a temperature of close to 55 degrees fahrenheit will keep your chickens comfortable and productive. Good ventilation is also important to keep the coop and litter dry and disperse odors. This can be high slots in the walls or double hung windows with the top part opened. The windows in your coop should face in a direction to allow in winter sun and away from the wind.
The coop will need perches which can be made of 2 inch stock with rounded edges. Each bird should be allowed 8 inches of perching space. Place these perches approximately 2 feet off the ground and about 2 feet apart. Nest boxes should be in a darker corner of the coop and there should be one for every four birds. Set up feeders and waterers as high as the bird's back allowing one inch of space per bird. The coop will need to be wire enclosed allowing plenty of space for the chickens and come up high enough to keep out predators. Most hardware stores will carry a good gauge chicken wire and the boards or posts you will need. If you are planning on raising day old chicks you will also need a chicken brooder. This will need to be in a very warm, draft free area.
To use the chicken brooder you can start with a temperature of 95 degrees fahrenheit and then reduce it 5 degrees each week for six to eight weeks. If the weather is warm, a cardboard box can be used as a brooder. You will also need to dip the chicks' beaks in water until they learn to drink. Inside your coop you will need a 40 watt light bulb set up on an automatic timer to provide 14 hours of daylight for your birds. During the day you can allow your chickens to roam free on your land, although a chicken run will keep them safe from dangerous enemies. If you choose to use a run, make sure it has a wire covering or a fence that is tall enough to keep the chickens inside. Always be sure that all of your birds are tucked safely away in their coop each evening.
Since the quality, taste, appearance and quantity of a chicken eggs and meat depend on proper food and water, fresh water must be available at all times. Chicken feed or mash can be bought at any local feed store. Most chickens prefer a mixture of fine ground grains such as corn, wheat, oats and other grains, soybeans or other sources of protein, ground oyster shells which provides calcium and other vitamins and minerals. There are a wide variety of mixes to choose from including an all purpose mix that provides everything your birds will need. The feeders should be filled half full once a day. Chicken breeders agree that it is unwise to spread your chicken mash on the ground since when it becomes dirty it is not eaten.
There are some problems you can watch for when raising chickens that can be easily corrected without causing harm to your birds. To keep down infestations of lice in the coop, dust the birds and coop with louse powder about twice a year. If your chickens begin to eat their own eggs simply increase the feed and calcium. Darkening the nest boxes and gathering the eggs often will aid with solving this problem. If you notice that your chickens are pecking at each other you will need to increase their feed and space. Be sure your bedding is always dry to give the chickens something to scratch in.
One way to save money on your chicken feed is to grow your own grains and feed the birds table scraps. If you decide to do this you will still need to provide your birds with mash. Additional protein and calcium must also be provided when you feed from scratch. Feeding your chickens ground egg shells or oyster shells should do the trick. Chickens can also benefit from fresh greens such as grass clippings and vegetable tops. Always be sure to feed your birds only as much as they will eat.