A guide for new chicken parents! Everything you need to know to get started, including recommended products and medical knowledge to feel like an "almost" pro!
New to chickens? I bet you have lots of questions? Let me start off by saying chickens are one of the easier farm animals to own once they reach laying age. They do have their challenges, but being knowledgable of what chickens need helps to have the best overall experience with raising chickens.
We absolutely love our chickens. They have personality, are so cute and funny, and give us eggs!
The below information is a summary guide to help new chicken owners get started. We recommend checking out our blog for answers to more questions we have put together based on the questions we see asked most commonly in the chicken world.
Topics in order:
Housing - Breed - Hatching - Chicks - Adult Chickens - Food and Water - Treats and Snacks - Care and Cleaning - Health and Biosecurity - Predators - Rehoming Coop Ready Chickens
*Please excuse the work in progress on this article. Check back with us this week as I finish each bullet point.
When selecting housing for your chickens you first want to consider ages. Based on age your set up will have to accommodate their environmental needs.
**Read this link to learn more about keeping chickens in each level and when to graduate chickens outdoors.
These are the different stages.
- After you have determined the right housing for your chickens make sure you have an adequate feed and water system set up inside. It's important that they have access to clean water and feed 24/7. You want to make sure they won't spill the feed to reduce waste and also not attract wild life. With water it's important to reduce water leaks and mess to maintain a healthy environment. Warm, wet environments leads to bacterial and respiratory infections and even coccidia. This can lead to the deaths of your growing chickens.
- Don't forget adequate ventilation too. Coops should be built according to region. If you live in hot areas, you want a more ventilated and open coop. In a cold region a more closed in and draft free coop. Ask locals for tips and advice on their coops set up in local chicken groups to get a good idea on setting up your own to suit.
Picking out the right chicks (to hatch) for your family: Not all chickens are created equal. There are differences with each breed. We highly suggest to research breeds before getting eggs to hatch or chicks if you are new to chickens or are not hatching from your own flock.
Things to look into:
Temperament: (especially if you have kids.) Red breeds like Rhode Island Red, Isa Browns, New Hampshire have aggressive temperaments to other chickens but are known to be more docile to people. However, with small kids there is a risk. So, these are things to consider, especially if you have smaller breeds like Bantams and silkies in your flock which are at risk of being bullied by red breeds. Be careful mixing red breeds with docile breed chicks and chickens. Moniton carefully, if they grow too rowdy or big they can kill the smaller and/or more docile chick/ens.
Weather Tolerance: I was about to get chicks of a certain breed and when I researched them I discovered they tolerate cold weather really well but not so much hot weather. They were very fluffy chickens too. Being I live in the hot, humid south. That is not such a good location for those chickens. So I passed on getting them.
Egg Count: This is especially important for those who want a lot of eggs but only can keep a few chickens. Some breeds may only lay up to 4 eggs a week. Others you can depend on 6-7 eggs a week. I have chickens that lay everyday even in winter. I also have chickens that lay only 4-5 days a week and some that lay 6-7 and slow down in winter. It can really vary. If you want a lot of eggs from each chicken, look for breeds that lay upwards of 280+ eggs per year. That tends to be the min number of eggs you will get. Keep in mind all chickens tend to stop laying during molting with some exceptions such as based on the diet.
Wether you are hatching from your own breeders or from other breeders hatching eggs, it's important to understand the guidelines to hatching eggs vary from breed and how you acquired your eggs.
Eggs by mail are tricky because there are so many variables involved to get a successful hatch. First you have to hope they are stored correctly during collection (pointy side down, in no warmer than room temperature, collected daily), second they are inspected to be sure there are no issues like hairline cracks or dirtiness etc.., third they must be packaged properly.
If you make it this far there is the shipping which is a lot of bumping and shaking going on. The impact to the eggs can cause lower success rate. You should be sure to store pointy side down for 24 hours after receiving eggs to settle the air sac. And hopefully by the time you candle to inspect then set the eggs you are setting by day 7 from first collection. Shew..
This is just a summery. In many cases, seems like most cases, people are lucky to get a 50% hatch rate. So we highly advise to research throughly before using this method and be an experienced hatcher.
Local Pick Up:
This is a much safer method if you can buy the breed locally. You still have some of the concerns above, but you are able to meet the seller in person. You can get eggs in incubator sooner and even inspect before buying. All while saving yourself the decrease hatch rate from shipping trauma to eggs.
Hatching from your own breed has so many benefits as you know everything about your parent stock and can remove all the risks above with buying elsewhere.
However, your chickens may stop laying or decide not to fertilize eggs. Yes, a hen can reject sperm. Also, we can only have so many breeders at a time. So, depending on other breeders in still necessary for when you wish to diversify your flock.
If you want to learn about hatching eggs read Learn To Successfully Hatch Chicken Eggs"my article here.
Congrats you're a momma or daddy of sweet adorable chicken babies! Or at least you're maybe considering it!
Let me be honest with you, IT's NOT EASY! But, it is definitely rewarding. And so gosh darn adorable.
Before you buy chicks you should have a set up ready for them so when you arrive home you can transfer them to their new living area. If you need some help on getting the brooder set up read our helpful guide.
A few more things I want to touch base on is making sure you don't forget vitamins and electrolytes for rehoming stress. Yes, chickens are very sensitive to stress and can literally cause their own demise not eating or drinking due to stress.
A great way to help them from a relocation is by boosting their immune system and helping them retain hydration, plus give them energy.
Week 1: We use Rooster Booster in their water.
Week 2: We use Rooster Booster poultry cell
Week 3: We use Rooster Booster Poultry Cell
Week 4-5: We use plain water.
Now you need to know all the feed, water, brooder care and more answers too. It's important to cover all bases for happy, healthy chicks.
Read our "caring for new baby chicks" guide.
Wonderful. They're off to a great start.
* cut off leg bands with wire cutters or nail clippers, if any from breeder
* Don't forget to keep food and water area clean.
* Keep their bedding dry and clean.
* Monitor their bums. If you see poop build up, that is pasty butt.. wash it off gently in warm water. Dry bum. And quickly put back in brooder to warm up.
* If you see blood in their stool.. Get Corid and put in their water. 1.5 teaspoons of the powder per gallon of water. Give for 5 days. Don't give vitamins while on corid. On day 6 start vitamins in water for another 5 days.
* If you see them huddling, they're cold. Check heat lamp.
* If they are pushing against wall. Too hot. Move the heat lamp making sure it's not covering the whole brooder.
* Keep food and water in cool side of brooder.
* Keep chicks safe by monitoring for bullies, docile chicks mixed with rambunctious chicks or chicks bigger than others. Chicks can kill other chicks if not properly matched based on temperament and size.
I know you have more questions. We have more answers. Here is a link to our blog section for "Chick Care" covering many chick care topic questions for quick to find answers.
Ok, So Adult chickens is pretty vague as this would be more geared towards chickens over a year old. Yeah, I get that. But, this article is a baseline guide to help get everyone started. We refer everyone to read our blog posts on "chicken care" for more specific information on chickens to get into further details and answers.
One thing I can understand is why there is a demand for chickens 4 months and older. As a poultry farmer I have learned just how hard it is to raise chickens to get to 6 months old. The little bitties are so fragile and require so much to keep them safe and healthy. There is so much involved and having to start with brooder needs, then grow up areas, finally to get them to an age they can get into the flock while hoping none die in the process.
Yeah, it can be demanding. So for those who don't have time or desire to set up everything getting chickens to 6 months old and older makes sense. It is even money saving as you know what gender, you aren't taking the risk of losses from deaths and the savings on all the equipment too.
We can't forget about those of you who have raised your chicks and you're like now what? lol
Chickens 6 months old and older are pretty easy to care for at this point. Just be sure to provide adequately safe, clean, and healthy environment and from there you will be able to enjoy your chickens and their almost daily gifts of eggs!
Be mindful of pecking order. Pecking order is when chickens establish hierarchy ranking. They peck at one another until the other gives up. The "loser" then has a lower rank and "winner" higher rank. All the chickens will do this to know their place.
Don't allow bullies. Bullies can be spotted by noticing how they don't stop pecking or letting up from chasing others. Bullies will create mobs to gang up on other chickens until they lead to eventual death. So know the difference between bullies and just pecking order behavior.
Bullies should be addressed by adding peepers, separating to train them not to bully, or culled. Bullies shouldn't be rehomed unless the new owner is aware and experienced to handle the chicken.
Bullies can prevent their bullied from getting to warmth, dry areas, food, water, etc... essentially causing stress, dehydration, starvation and ultimately death. The stress alone can kill the bullied chick/en. If you see a chick/en acting strange such as scared, avoiding the flock, timid, etc... immediately remove the chick/en and quarantine helping reduce stress offering vitamins water and feed. Follow appropriate steps and carefully introducing chicken back to flock. This may involve removing bully and introducing chicken to to the rest of flock and later placing bully back or putting chick/en in a safe place like a very large wire dog kennel in day and a coop at night until they're used to each other and establish them together using proper introduction methods.
Rooster ratio is generally 1 Roo to 10 hens. However can be more if the chickens are in secured area and you're not breeding. No one needs a rooster, unless you plan to breed.
Multiple Roosters can live together peacefully, even in only Rooster pens. The myth they will be aggressive and fight is not true. Roosters are a product of their environment in most cases. In less common cases an aggressive rooster is born. Those roos should be culled and never bred.
Learn more here. I raise roosters that live very well together and get along just fine. They are great with us too. Very friendly.
Size matters.. be cautious of mixing small breed chickens like Bantams or frizzles with larger breed chickens. If they feel scared or are unable to defend themselves, this can lead to them being killed by stronger chickens.
Temperament matters: Very docile friendly breeds are more prone to stress and being bullied. Keep a close eye on those breeds and make sure they have buddies and aren't left to fend for themselves. They can die from being bullied or the stress alone from being intimidated by the flock, even loneliness can cause their demise.
Proper awareness of things that get overlooked. I recommend reading this article: https://www.thehappychickencoop.com/top-11-ways-to-accidentally-kill-your-chickens/
It's important to know how to monitor the health of your chickens. Please read out chicken clinic guide for basic chicken health information.
Food and Water:
It's important to understand the needs of chickens based on age, breed, health, and time of year.
First decide on what brand and type of chicken feed to provide your chickens.
* Chicks get chick crumble
* 2-4 months can stay on chick crumble or put on grower crumble
* Almost layers and Layers on layer feed
You can give all flock for the whole flock, or grower crumble with oyster shells on side for mixed flock with bitties and layers too.
We recommend a feed that has essential oils, plenty of vitamins, prebiotics, and other very helpful health benefits. Avoids brands like Dumor or that have high corn and grain filler content that also lacks important health benefits. A brand we use is nutrena.
You will also need to select a feed based on protein needs. Read this post for more information on protein needs for chickens.
What do I do? I like to give their regular feed free fed, which means I do not have them on a schedule. I just keep their feed available 24/7. We supplement with Black Oil Sunflower Seed all year long with smaller amounts in warmer months, upping the amount in colder months. We then offer small amounts of mealworms when extra protein is needed. Last we offer treats from kitchen such a as frozen veggies in very hot heat days and fresh veggies from garden every so often not to exceed the 10% guideline.
When offering water to chickens we use plain fresh water for our chickens that are over 6 months. If necessary due to high heat index we will add rooster booster with electrolytes.
Here is our watering schedule for up to 5 months, and up to 6 months if deemed necessary based on time of year needs.
Week 1: We use Rooster Booster in their water.
Week 2: We use Rooster Booster poultry cell with a touch of molasses.
Week 3: We use Rooster Booster Poultry Cell only
Week 4-5: We use plain water.
For our younger chicks from hatch to 6 weeks we will rotate on the same schedule. However, depending on their hatch date we may alter the rotation starting off with Rooster booster the first week then switch them to the schedule above.
For example if they hatch Week 2. We start on rooster booster then week 3 we switch to poultry cell only.
Treats and Snacks:
You should consider treats in accordance to their needs and should be no more than 10% of their diet:
* Treats to avoid are anything with processed sugar, grease, processed grains (breads, cakes, cereals), etc...
* Treats to consider are safe fruits & vegetables, protein treats like bugs, worms, nontoxic caterpillars, kitchen scraps low in grease & salts, Black oil sunflower seeds, fodder, clovers, cut grass, etc..
- Care and Cleaning:
- Health and Biosecurity:
Rehoming Coop Ready Chickens:
Congratulations on your new chickens. What's next now? Well, it really depends on your current set up. Do you already have chickens or are these your first chickens? Getting started is a little different depending on which you fall under. But, after that pretty much everything else is the same.
At this point we recommend reading any above information such as housing, feed and water sections along with this information.
A few things to understand about chickens is they are really sensitive to stress, including relocation stress. So, it's important to know if there are additional elements involved that can add to their stressors and be problematic. We will talk about that first.
When you bring home a new chicken they will be stressed from the travel and the new environment. You want to make sure they acclimate before you interact with your chickens or set them to free range. You should also pay close attention to their behaviors to make sure they are adapting well and not getting sick. Relocation stress alone can lead the the demise of chickens. There is no way to predict this but we can increase chances of survival by following appropriate steps to reduce the stress that can occur.
I highly recommend reading both of these two articles about stress in chickens. It's very helpful to know and could potentially save your chicken's life. Remember one stressor is hard enough adding to each stressor makes it much harder such as relocation stress plus heat stress can be very difficult to overcome and recover from for chickens.
Talks about understanding stress in general :
Talks about the different types of stress and how to recognize more specifically:
These are my first chickens:
Once at home place them in their coop and run area. Make sure it is already all set up for their arrival with fresh water and feed. You should show them where those are at to make sure they know. Also, show them how to use the feeder and water in case it's not something they've used.
Give them 48 hours to explore their new home and learn to feel comfortable. In the meantime you can fill their feed and waterer if needed. Just walk in and don't bother the chickens. They will see that you are just helping and not a threat. You can even toss them treats when you go in so they start to bond too.
During that 48 hours if you see they're doing well and are open to visits, the it's ok to start to offer treats from hand and also go near them. Just make sure to walk slowly, even crouch down so you are at their level.
If they are not open to being approached or interacted with keep giving them their space and toss treats. Then after 48 hours work with building trust and a bond.
These are being added to my flock:
Once at home you should quarantine new chickens for 30 days to monitor their health before adding to your flock. This helps protect your flock from any outside illness that may be unknown at the time of purchase. Learn more about quarantining your chickens here.
After quarantining your chickens and they're ready to go with your flock you should add them to the roost with your flock at bedtime. This way they wake up in the AM together after already getting acquainted safely in the night. They think less of a new chicken when they wake up next to them, vs just added in the day while everyone is out and about.
Monitor your chickens over the next 48 hours to make sure they adapt well and there is no bullying or issues. They will establish a pecking order and that is ok. Just as long as it's not actually bullying.
The other chickens will teach the new ones where food and water is, so that won't be an issue there. But, it's still a good idea to make sure they know. So, at this point the same rules above will apply going forward to establish and built trust.
Things to know:
* Cut off any leg bands after 48 hours.
* Don't walk fast towards them or near them.
* Keep kids gentle around them, no loud laughing, holding, or chasing during acclimation.
* Don't behave in an aggressive manner around them. Such as don't swat them away,
* Offer Vitamins and electrolytes for the first week to help them with stress. * Stress lowers immune system which in a new environment around new bacterias can be deadly, vitamins and electrolytes help keep immune system strong and also helps them with energy.
* Free range chickens need to stay in coop and run area for at least 4 days to learn that is home so to avoid them running off.
* Free Range chickens are safest in afternoon after flying predators have had their breakfast. Monitor the skies to learn their flight schedules.
* Frozen treats in water to cool water and thaw treats help with hot days, especially to help reduce stress from relocation in combination with heat stress.
*Black Oil Sunflower Seed is better option than Corn.. It is great for winter and cold months to keep them warm and get healthy protein & vitamins. Corn is like feeding cupcakes for a filler and warmth.