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Congratulations! You are thinking about owning backyard chickens! Here is a list of 10 tips on chicken care before you take the plunge.
We started raising backyard chickens about five years ago. Chickens make great pets and we love knowing where our eggs are coming from. Chickens make great pets because they each have their own unique personality. Always check with your city, town, or village to see if they have specific requirements for owning chickens!
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10 Tips on Owning Backyard Chickens:
- Chickens are relatively low maintenance pets. As long as you feed, water and talk to them daily, they will be happy and healthy.
- They do not like to be alone! You will need to have at least two chickens, but three or more is recommended.
- You will need electricity by your coop. In the lower light months and cold months you will need a water warmer and a light to keep them healthy and laying (they need at least 10 hours of light a day to continue laying through the winter).
- You can order your chickens to be delivered to your local post office. The post office will call you when they arrive to pick them up. They are generally shipped as soon as they hatch, hatchlings do not require food or water for the first 24 hours, so believe it or not they will arrive safe and sound.
- When your chicks arrive make sure you have a small area to keep them warm and safe until they are big enough to be introduced to their coop. As soon as they arrive, open the crate and start by taking one chick out, check for any injuries and say, “Hi” to each chick. Then quickly dunk their beak in the water dish, this will let them know where to get water and introduce them to their surroundings. Make sure you have starter chicken feed available to them too. They may or may not eat right away.
- Generally, you will know if you have received a rooster around the 2nd or 3rd month of age. If you have a chick that is overly aggressive, starts to grow a larger and brighter comb, and starts to crow, it is probably a rooster. You DO NOT need a rooster for your chicks to lay eggs. The breeder tries to make sure you get hens, occasionally you get a rooster. If you get a rooster, you will need to decide what to do with him. You can check your area for local 4-H clubs or farms that are willing to take him. If not, you do not want to keep him around the hens for long, he will become aggressive and when your hens start to lay, the eggs may be fertile and some people do not like fertilized eggs.
- Baby chicks need to stay warm, since you generally get chicks in the early spring or late fall you will need to keep them warm with a warming lamp. You do not need a heated coop for the winter months, chickens have feathers for a reason. If the temperature drops to well below freezing, you can place a warming light above their coop to keep them warm.
- Talk and pet the chicks several times a day. This will get them used to you and they will make better pets. You can start training them to follow you and some love to do little tricks like jump on your shoulder when they are about 4 to 6 weeks old.
- Chickens can live a few days without food (not that you would ever go days without feeding them, but it is good to know), but will not tolerate not having water. When chicks are young, we feed them chick starter formula. We do not use the medicated brand, but we add a little apple vinegar to their water to help prevent any diseases. When they are a few weeks old and you can start to feed meal-worms, crickets, and greens. When introducing these new foods, make sure your chicks have access to grit, they will need it for the rougher diet. Make sure your chicks are getting a good amount of their regular feed and not just eating table scraps. When they get closer to laying eggs (around 5-6 months), start feeding them layer feed. You can also use oyster shell grit to help supplement their calcium intake at this time.
- Chickens love to perch and play. Make sure you have branches in their coop for them to perch. You can hang cabbages, broccoli, or other greens from string for entertainment. Let them out in the yard when you are available to supervise them. Although, ours have never tried to go near the road, we did lose one to a hawk last summer. They love to wander and peck the yard, they tend to stay close to their coop, and are easily herded back when it is time.
Chickens are fun and entertaining pets! My next post will be on how to choose a breed that will be domestic, quiet, winter hardy, pretty, and produce many eggs!