You may want chickens just for eggs, or maybe for meat. There are many different breeds for
different uses. Think about what you want from your chickens and then decide what breed to
get. I like colorful eggs, so I get chickens that lay colorful eggs. Meat chickens would be Cornish
Cross. These are genetically designed to grow fast and grow big. These chickens you need to
plan on harvesting between 8-10 weeks of age. If you let them grown much longer they will get
so big they break their legs. Meat chickens can be raised in low shelters once they are fully
feathered out. If you plan on processing meat chickens, figure out how many you can slaughter
in a weekend and get that many at a time and then space your chick orders out every 3-4 weeks
or however often you plan to slaughter.
What do you need to start your own chicken yard?
Just like all other people and animals, chickens need the basics… Shelter, water, fire (warmth),
Shelter: As young chicks they need to be in a small area that has a heat lamp(see Fire section
below) and pine shavings or ground corn cob to soak up their waste, food and water. Their
waterer needs to be shallow so they do not climb in and drown, but up off the ground where
they scratch litter into the water. Feeder also needs to be up off the ground.
Grown or growing chickens need shelter mostly for night. They can be let out to “free range” or
roam about the yard. They can be placed in a coop, chicken tractor or even kept in a barn.
Laying hens need nest boxes in their shelter also. They will continue to lay all winter if their
shelter has lights on inside for at least 10 hours a day.
Water: Chickens need access to clean water all the time. They need it to keep themselves cool
and also hydrated. A chicken’s normal body temperature is about 100.5 degrees F. So summer
is hot and they need water and shade.
Fire: Baby chicks need heat to keep them warm or they will die. Momma chicken usually keeps
them warm under her, but when we are raising them in a brooder, they need heat. A heat lamp
can be used or there is something called a “Thermal Poultry Brooder” that is like a heated table
they can get under for warmth. Chicks also need to be kept safe from pets and other dangers.
Please watch children when they are holding chicks as they might drop one.
Food: They need access to food all the time. Once they are fully feathered out they can be
moved into an outdoor coup. The coup needs to have ventilation so there is no ammonia
buildup and is secure from predators. They need food and water also. Backyard flocks can be
let out to roam around your yard and eat bugs and grasses and also seeds. These are called free
range chickens. We feed our chickens a mix of “Egg Producer”, Scratch grains, Black Sunflower
seeds, Flax seed. We mix this 8:1:1:1/2 in order listed. They also need some calcium rich rock
either mixed in with their feed or available “free choice”, meaning they have access to it all the
time and can get it when they feel they need it. The rock is used in their gizzard to break down
or grind the grain they eat. Adding Flax seed to their diet increases the Omega 3 fatty acids in
their eggs. They are designed to utilize the Omegas in the Flax seed as we are not.
Ever wonder what to do with all those egg shells you will have? Collect till you have a bunch,
break up into smaller pieces and place on cookie sheet. Bake at 250 degrees F for 2 hours then
powder to put either on chickens food to add calcium without encouraging egg eating, put in
your garden to add calcium to your soil. Your tomatoes will LOVE this and it will also decrease
blossom end rot.
>Questions to ask yourself before getting chickens:
~ Do I want chickens for eggs, meat or both?
Consider this… Chickens lay eggs for about 2 years consistently then they stop about 3 years.
These chickens can be eaten after they have slowed production if you choose. Cornish Cross are
the most widely used meat birds and grow fast, so you need to be able to slaughter them in
about 8-10 weeks. Road Island Reds are considered a dual purpose breed as they grow fast but
are also good layers.
~Do I build a chicken coup or a chicken tractor?
Consider this… A coup is a permanent place for your birds to live. You can add a “yard” for them
to get out of the coup for sunshine and access to pasture. A chicken tractor is designed to be
moved regularly so the chickens are on fresh pasture every day or two and should not be
returned to the same spot for a year or the nitrogen levels in the ground becomes too high..
Advantage of a tractor is that the ground underneath is not saturated with manure and you do
not need to “clean up” the chicken poop. A Coup requires regular cleaning and maintenance
and the ground underneath becomes unusable over time.
Slaughtering chickens can be daunting. We played a video at the fair of Joel Salatin doing a
demonstration of how to process chickens in a very humane way. You can watch his Youtube.
>Resources for more information:
- Backyard Poultry magazine
- Hobby Farms magazine
- Mother Earth News
- Book: The Chicken Whisperer’s Guide to Keeping chickens
- Book: Hobby Farms Chickens