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You Want To Buy Backyard Chickens?

by Paula C. Henderson 2 years ago in how to
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Here's What You Should Know First

You Want To Buy Backyard Chickens?
Photo by Will H McMahan on Unsplash

Backyard Chickens Here’s What You Should Know

Feeding, Cleaning, Care, Toxic Foods To Avoid & The Coop

First of all make sure it is legal to have live chickens at your address. Call your city ordinance department to find out. Even if you can, you may need a permit.

Chickens need cared for on a daily basis. Seven days a week. Rain or shine or blizzard or hail. Every single day. Even on the holidays. If your family takes vacations or even weekend jaunts do you have a plan in place for someone to care for the chickens while you are away? Are you healthy enough to shovel snow out and away from the chicken coop as needed? To clean out the coop and the pen area of chicken poop on a daily basis? Too feed and water daily? Does your schedule allow for you to care for your chicken’s health? What if you wake up one morning and a chicken is sickly? Do you know what to do? Do you have a way to isolate that one chicken from the rest? Do you have a vet that has experience with chickens?

If you want to avoid the loud roosters (they really are loud: please be a good neighbor. Remember your neighbors did not get chickens). To avoid this problem be sure to only buy females (hens) and not males.

How do I care for my hens?

• The coop and the run (or pen) as well as the feeders and waterers will need cleaned daily in order to avoid disease, mold, and attracting predators. How long that takes you depends on the size of your coop and run as well as your physical health and probably the time of year.

• Check each of your hens a couple times a week for mites, illness or any injuries. Be sure to have a preplanned space for a sick hen to isolate them.

• At night your hens should be secured inside the coop and then open the coop back up early morning every day to allow them to roam inside the run or free range within your yard.

• Be sure to have someone already lined up for those days where you need someone to fill in for you whether it be for part or all of the care that day. What if you get the flu? Or have to go out of town overnight for a family emergency or just stay at the local hospital with a loved one and cannot get home to take care of the chickens?

• Does your local vet have experience caring for chickens? Something you will want to find out prior to buying chickens.

Another concern are predators. Does your community have coyotes? Fox? Snakes? Rats? Buzzards and Raccoons? Even the neighborhood dogs or your own dogs. The suggested pen requirement is a seven foot fence to keep predators from jumping over the fence and at least one foot underground to hinder predators that dig beneath the fence to get to the chickens. Backyard chickens getting killed by area predators are quite common and per the folks I’ve talk to it is heart wrenching and difficult to stop once it starts.

On that note, a good time to clean the coop and runs is evening before putting everyone inside the coop for the night. Leaving food crumbs and pellets as well as the manure will attract predators and rats overnight. Food need only be available during the day. They do not eat at night so be sure to clean it all up and put it away.

How much space per chicken? How big a coop per chicken?

It is recommended that you should have no less than four square feet per bird if allowed to free range during the day. Ten square feet if they are confined. If you allow your chickens to free range in your backyard during the day you should be prepared for not only your lawn to be destroyed but they also love flowers and plants. Even plants in pots! The constant foraging in the yard quickly leads to a muddy mess the first time it rains.

Here are some of the more popular chicken coops. Many, now, have the run included! Just remember that you may need to build on and make the run larger depending on the number of chickens you plan on having. Among other items you will need:

Chicken Coops:

Nesting Boxes:

Be sure you have a reliable heat source. Once your baby chicks are past the first 48 hours they will move into what is known as a brooder box. Be sure they always have water throughout the day. For baby chicks you can choose a ground waterer or a hanging bottle. A brooder box is a plain old cardboard box or a large plastic container with a water bottle hanging for fresh water and paper along the bottom. Large enough to feed and contain a heat source. The room temperature the brooder box is in should be at about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Not in direct sunlight and with adequate ventilation. I suggest reading up on this stage as the chickens during this time are at an age of hopping out of the box. Most people will choose to keep the brooder box in their utility room in the house and don’t realize what a mess they are in for.

The Brinsea Heater was the most popular used among those I spoke with. It is designed specifically for this use. Here is what they look like and approximate costs: Brinsea Heater

How long do hens generally live? Hens live anywhere from four to ten years.

What do chickens eat?

Baby Chicks (from hatch to eight weeks):

The first 48 hours of life baby chicks should not be fed any food or water. This is the time the chicks are still in the incubator. Introduce food and water after the first 48 hours. What they should be fed is literally called Starter Feed when you go to make the purchase. Go to your local feed store and buy commercially produced Starter Feed. Your healthiest choice is one that is unprocessed whole grains. You can also buy it online. Here is an example of a healthy Starter Feed Brand: Scratch and Peck Feeds: Naturally Free Organic Starter for Chickens and Ducks

When feeding baby chicks begin the first few days by just sprinkling it on newspaper. They will naturally know to peck at it. After the first few days begin to use a feeder. You also will want to use a different style feeder than with older hens and chickens. The most popular among those I polled said the flip top poultry feeder like this one is best for baby chicks: Flip Top Poultry Feeder

Unlike dogs, chicks and chickens instinctually know how to regulate their food intake so you will want to make food available to them at all times during the day. The chicks should stay on the Starter Feed until they are about two months old (eight weeks).

One thing repeatedly told to me was to be sure the Starter Feed has been completely cleaned out of the area and not made available at all to the 8-18 week old chickens and vice-versus. It can have devastating effects on the health of the chicks and/or older chickens. Apparently the food is very precise and chicks and chickens have very different and specific nutritional needs. Talk to your vet and be sure to read as much as you can to educate yourself on the feeding of your chickens.

8 Weeks to 18 Weeks:

Once your baby chicks have reached the 8 weeks mark you will need to switch them to what is called Grower Feed. They should remain on this food until shortly before they begin to lay eggs known as the “Point of Lay”.

You will also want to change the style of feeder. Most commonly used is the metal trough style like this one: It like most items should be available at your local feed store but if you are not near one they are available online: Metal Trough

At the “Point of Lay”:

At this point your chickens should be changed to what is called a Layer Feed. Layer Feed is available in pellets or mash and either is okay. Again, be sure to make food available to them at all times.

Foods that are Toxic to Your Chickens:

• Dried beans

• Raw beans

• Nothing moldy. This is one reason to be sure to keep coops and runs very clean; to avoid mold. But certainly do not feed them any foods that are moldy.

• Avocado: no part of the avocado

• Green potatoes

• Green tomatoes

• Chocolate

How often does a hen lay eggs? Hens can be unpredictable in that they will often stop laying eggs during the winter when it is cold, or if they are feeling stressed, during excessive heat waves and also as they age they will lay less eggs.

When they do lay eggs, they lay one egg per day. This can help you determine how many hens you need or want. Per the Poultry Extension Organization it takes 26 hours for an egg to fully form. They stress that happy healthy chickens will lay an egg each day.

Do chickens need vaccinated by the vet? Apparently it depends on your individual situation but everyone said you should consult your veterinary.

Further reading that I recommend:

The Beginner’s Guide To Raising Chickens:

Backyard Chickens: A Practical Handbook to Raising Chickens:

how to

About the author

Paula C. Henderson

Paula is a freelance writer, healthy food advocate, mom and cookbook author.

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