Getting Started with Chickens—What You’ll Need

©2010 Shanna Ohmes

So, you are excited about raising chickens in your backyard.  You are ready for homegrown eggs, raising some of your own food and showing your children how to connect with where their food comes from.  So where do you start?

Here are a few pointers to get you started:

  • Start with day-old chicks.  You can order these in the spring through mail order from hatcheries.  The downside is most orders are a minimum of 25 chicks.  This way, the chicks keep each other warm en route.  If you don’t want that many, you can share your order with friends.  Or, you can go to farm-supply stores and order what you want.  You don’t need roosters, so only order females (pullets).
  • You need a brooder.  This is a box with a heat lamp to keep the chicks warm until they are old enough to be kept outside.
  • Bedding.  You can use pine shavings, dry leaves or straw.  Change it when it’s soiled.
  • Feeder and waterer.  Designed for chicks, keep these cleaned and filled.
  • Portable coop.  When nighttime temperatures stay above 50° F., the chicks can be moved out to their mini-coop.  This keeps them safe from dogs, cats, skunks, opossums, foxes and other predators that love an easy buffet.  You might be surprised that many of these predators do roam city streets at night.
  • Feed.  In the beginning you will probably start with chick starter feed.  As adults, they will need a “laying mash” available at your farm supply store.  Chickens love grass clippings, weeds, kitchen scraps and most veggies from the garden.
  • Crushed oyster shell.  Hens need grit to help them grind their food because they have no teeth.  Oyster shell also provides calcium and makes for stronger eggshells.
  • An appetite for eggs!  Your hens will start laying eggs when they are 24 weeks old.  One hen will lay 5-6 eggs a week.  In one week, with 4 hens, you can have about 2 dozen eggs.  Don’t worry, you will find plenty of ways to enjoy those eggs.  And if you share some with your neighbors, they will appreciate them and support your backyard chicken raising adventure.

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