Raising Chickens – A Beginner’s Guide
When living off the land, there’s no better way to get food than to raise chickens. Sure, gardening and hunting wild game are good options, but they can be difficult if you’re not experienced. Raising chickens is something that doesn’t require a lot of knowledge. In fact, by the end of this article, you’ll know enough to get started. Most people think that learning how to raise chickens costs thousands of dollars to do. This isn’t true. When done properly, you can raise chickens for much less. With that being said, let’s get started.
The Benefits of Raising Backyard Chickens
So, why chickens? It’s simple really: chickens are easy to raise, don’t require a lot of money, and can give you eggs on a daily basis. For a long time, only people in the country raised chickens. But today, things are changing. More and more people are raising chickens in their backyards. In fact, I first learned how to do it in a backyard that wasn’t much bigger than 20 x 20. So whether you’re living off the grid, or in an urban environment, know that you can still learn how to raise chickens (obviously, you’ll want to keep city ordinances in mind). Here are the main benefits of having your own flock:
- Daily Egg Supply: This is the most obvious reason for having chickens. Hens will begin to lay eggs starting right around six months old. From that point forward, they’ll lay an egg once every 2 days or so. Believe me when I say that these eggs are way more delicious than anything you’ll find in the store (and they don’t cost anything!).
- Source of Compost: Do you need compost for your garden when living off the grid? Then consider raising chickens! Chickens can be an excellent source of compost. They’re able to turn practically any kitchen scrap into a garden additive (a.k.a. poop) that’s nutrient-rich. Chickens love grains, bread, vegetable scraps, and meat scraps.
- Insect Control: This is one of the more unknown benefits of learning how to raise chickens. When you allow chickens to roam out of their coop, they’re hunt down insects like it’s going out of style. Just make sure that you’ve fenced up your property to make sure they don’t get away! Note, free roaming chickens are susceptible to predators like hawks and foxes.
Aside from that, chickens make for great pets. Chickens will do all the things that you’d expect from a “normal” pet- sit on your lap, eat from your hand, etc. Despite what most people think, they have unique personalities and connect very well with humans. They are beautiful creatures that, when treated humanely, can return the favor by providing you with a fresh source of food on a daily basis. Now that we’ve covered why raising chickens is beneficial, let’s take a look at how to do it.
Raising Backyard Chickens – What You’ll Need
Some people prefer to raise chickens by hatching their own eggs in an incubator. Others prefer to raise chickens starting from small chicks. Finally, some like to buy mature hens and start from there. All three options are fine. Remember, you need to pay extra close attention to the shelter requirements for baby chicks. It’s different than what teenagers and adults need. Let’s look at the shelter requirements based on the chicken’s age.
For Chickens LESS Than Two Months Old
When learning how to raise chickens, know that spring is the best time to begin raising chicks. For the first two months of the chick’s life, you can keep them inside your home or garage. The majority of farm supply stores will have live baby chicks available around Easter time. Note, it can be difficult distinguish boys from girls at this age. You’ll simply need to take a chance here. Why is this important? Well, hens (girls) are the only ones who are able to lay eggs. They start laying around 4-5 months of age. Be sure to check on Craigslist to see if people are selling chicks locally.
One of the more rewarding options (in my opinion) is to buy an incubator and fertilized eggs online and hatch them yourself. With this method, you’ll be able to develop a much stronger bond with the baby chicks. Amazon has a pretty good selection of incubators to choose from. I’d recommend starting here if you’re serious about taking this route. To learn more about incubating and hatching your own eggs, click on the big orange button below.
For the first two months of a baby chick’s life, it’s fine to raise them in a cardboard box. But you must remember to regulate their temperature. Heat lamps are a good way to do this. Keep a thermometer in your box so that you can adjust the temperature accordingly. When learning how to raise chickens, here are the temperature guidelines for baby chicks in their first two months of life:
- Week 1: 95 Degrees Fahrenheit
- Week 2: 90 Degrees Fahrenheit
- Week 3: 85 Degrees Fahrenheit
- Week 4: 80 Degrees Fahrenheit
- Week 5: 75 Degrees Fahrenheit
- Week 6: 70 Degrees Fahrenheit
- Week 7: 65 Degrees Fahrenheit
- Week 8: Room temperature
Here’s a quick tip to remember: pine shavings work really well for the floors of your baby chick’s living area. You’ll quickly realize that chickens poop a lot, so having wood shavings there should help with this. The last two items that you’ll need are water bowls and food. The bowl shouldn’t be higher than two inches or so (otherwise, the baby chicks won’t be able to reach over the rim). When learning how to raise chickens, visit a farm supply store and invest in some formulated chick food. It will be called “Starter Ration” or “Chick Crumbles”.
Key Takeaways: Just like humans, baby chicks need food, water, and shelter to survive. You need to make sure that the water is always filled, and that the temperature is always being regulated. Use the guidelines above to ensure that you’re regulating the temperature based on how old your baby chicks are. Not everyone likes to go through the work of raising chickens from such a young age. But since it helps you connect more closely to your chickens, it’s the recommended option.
For Chickens MORE Than Two Months Old
Once your chickens have reached two months old, you can now move them to an outdoor chicken coop (assuming that the conditions are right). You don’t want to do this if it’s extremely cold outside. There are thousands of chicken coop designs to choose from. Obviously, I don’t have time to show you each one in this article. You’re better off typing in “Chicken Coop Designs” in Google and seeing what pops up. I will, however, provide you with some basic chicken coop guidelines that you can follow. Here’s what you should know:
- Security: When learning how to raise chickens, security should be your #1 priority. Chickens are really vulnerable against animals higher on the food chain- cats, dogs, raccoons, minks, and even weasels. Your chicken coop should be wrapped in wire cage on all sides (360 degrees). Make sure that each wire hole isn’t larger than 1 inch. Finally, make sure that there are no cracks in your coop, otherwise, a predator can make its way inside.
- Space: By this point, you’re probably wondering, “How big should my chicken coop be?” Great question! Your chicken coop should have enough space so that your chickens are able to freely move around (they aren’t crammed) and get fresh air. In the past, I’ve raised three hens in a coop that was just 4 x 8. This goes to show that it doesn’t need to be huge to get the job done. If you have a small backyard, then obviously you’ll need to focus on a smaller design.
- Elevated Roost: Like most birds, chickens like to roost (lay eggs) in high areas. When learning how to raise chickens, I highly recommend building an elevated roost. This space needs to be well-ventilated, especially during the summer. Also, make sure that it’s sheltered. Finally, include something called a “Perch Bar”- this is where the chickens are going to sleep. I would consider having an elevated roost more of a rule than an actual guideline.
- Nesting Boxes: No matter what type of design you choose, your chicken coop should have nesting boxes. This is where the chickens are going to lay eggs. I’ve used nesting boxes sized 12 x 12 x 12 that work just fine. Put wood shavings or straw in the nesting boxes to make it more comfortable, as well as provide insulation. The number of nesting boxes you have will ultimately depend on how much hens are going to be laying eggs (more hens = more nesting boxes).
I don’t know if I made this clear earlier, but your chicken coop should have a roof. When learning how to raise chickens, they need to be protected from rain, snow, and the sun. Not only does a good roof prevent predators from entering the coop, but it also maintains the health and well-being of your chickens.
Here’s the golden rule about feeding chickens: what you feed them you ultimately end up eating yourself. Most chickens love leftover kitchen scraps. This includes meat scraps, egg shells, grapes, potato peels, apple cores, and even stale bread. Also, as gross as it sounds, you can even give them leftover chicken. A good option to consider is to buy a chicken feeder. Check it every day to ensure that it’s clean and isn’t getting wet or moldy. Chicken food can either be purchased online or at a farm supply store (both options are fine).
Like all farm animals, chickens need a daily supply of fresh water. When learning how to raise chickens, this is something you can’t skimp out on. Make sure that you clean their water bowls daily (chickens like to poop in their water for some reason), as well as make sure they have enough. During the winter, it’s a good idea to have a self-heating watering bowl to prevent the water from freezing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here’s a short list of questions that people tend to have when learning how to raise chickens for the first time:
How to Raise Chickens – Bottom Line
Chickens are a cheap, easy, and fun way to get food when living off the land. Most people don’t realize that chickens make for excellent pets, and that their personalities mesh well with humans. When learning how to raise chickens, remember that baby chicks require different shelter requirements than adults. The guidelines above should get you started in the right direction. Do a quick Google search on “Chicken Coop Designs” to get the exact blueprints for building a chicken coop. Thanks for reading.