Monday, May 12, 2014

A General Intro to Keeping Chickens

            Hey folks! I have been enjoying sharing with you about our chickens so much that I thought I would put together a general little beginner's guide to chickens. I hope this comes in handy for those of you who may be tossing around the idea of keeping backyard chickens yourselves! Now, I am by NO MEANS a "chicken expert", but I think if you're as new to chickens as we were earlier this year you will get some helpful information from this post before jumping in.

What Will I Need?

I hate to admit it, but more than you would probably think...starting out for the first time, at least. For obvious reasons, I'm going to assume you have no previous experience with chickens or any full grown ones currently. Therefore, you're probably going to start by raising chicks indoors. Here is a list of some basic things you will need:

-heat lamp (And proper bulbs, of course. There are also infrared heaters available that are safer, but they are also more expensive.)
-extension cords (Will likely need one to plug heat lamp in.)
-proper container or area with a high "gate" of sorts. Chickens are escape artists and can fly higher than you may think. Trust me on this.
-bedding aka "flufff"
-chick sized waterer
-chick sized feeder
-chick feed

Also take into consideration what you want to use to clean their feeder and waterer with. (We simply used a scrubby pad and some of our homemade soap. Dish soap works just as well.)

How Time Consuming Will It Be?

Actually, not very. When they are still chicks, you will need to clean their feeder and waterer EVERY DAY. Chickens are little poop machines. It only took me about 5 minutes each day to clean these things. Since you will be cleaning these things every day, it goes without saying that you will need to make sure they have plenty of food and clean water too. Depending on how many chicks you have, there shouldn't be a need to clean out their bedding each day. In general, every few days is good to shoot for. This usually took us around 15-30 minutes.

Caring for Chicks/Pullets Once They Are Outdoors

Life actually gets a little easier once you move your chicks outdoors, in my opinion. Depending on what breed you decide to go with, the "perfect" time for transferring them outdoors varies. A good rule of thumb, however, is when all of their "fluffy chick feathers" are gone and their "big girl feathers" have come in. Trust me. You'll know the difference.

What Will I Need?

-coop (You can find plenty of pre-fab ones for sale or you can build your own like we did if you want to save a LOT of money.)
      -roosting bar (tree limb, dowel rod, etc.)
      -nesting boxes (Although these aren't necessary until they start laying. You might consider
      boarding yours over temporarily like we did. You can find more on that in one of the links at the
      end of this post.)
      -hardware cloth (for bottom of coop)
      -latches, hinges, etc.
-full size waterer (You can make this yourself too. Stay tuned this week and I will have a post on it!)
-full size feeder
-chicken feed (Even if you let them free range or out in a run, you will still likely need some supplement. Our 4 pullets have free range of our good sized backyard during the day, but they still eat the feed while they're inside their coop overnight.)
-diatomaceous earth or wood ash (This isn't absolutely necessary, but recommend. Some people argue against diatomaceous earth because it can irritate some chicken's respiratory systems. However, when mixed in with the dirt where chickens like to take their "dirt baths", it is said to help get rid of mites, lice, etc.)
-netting, fencing for a run, if you're planning on one
-sand or bedding (This makes for easier cleanup underneath the coop, at least if you have one raised off the ground like ours. To be honest, I'm not sure what most people do for poo cleanup. I think it just depends on how high or low your coop is set off the ground.) 

Also, as crazy as it might sound at first, you might want to provide some "entertainment" for your chickens if they will be cooped up most of the time or have limited access to your yard. A quick Google search for "chicken entertainment" will yield plenty of ideas.

How Time Consuming Will It Be?

Arguably, you will need to spend even less time doing "chicken chores" once they are outdoors than when you were caring for them inside. It makes sense, if you think about it. Human babies take a lot more caring for than, say, a 16 year old. The same thing goes for chickens. Once they are outdoors, chickens are pretty self-sufficient, especially if you let them mostly forage for food.

As far as "chores" go, you will be spending the most time on cleaning their coop. However, again depending on how many chickens you have, you will only need to do this roughly once a week. It takes me about 30 minutes to clean the coop out, clean the feeder (if needed that day) and refill it, and refill their waterer if needed as well. Likely, you will still need to clean and refill their feeder 2-3 times per week, but that only takes about 5/10 minutes, if that.

There you have it. My mini intro to keeping chickens. If you have any questions at all or see anything that doesn't sound quite right above, please feel free to send me an email or leave a comment below. If I don't have the answer, I'm sure I can point you in the right direction!

Previous posts on our chicken journey/shenanigans:

We're Getting Chickens!....
Chicken Coop Progress
Chicken Update 3/27/14
Chicken Update 4/14/14
Our Indoor Chicken Living Quarters
Chicken Update-(Almost) Complete Coop
Chicken Update-Home On De-Range

This post is linked up at the Homestead Barn Hop. Be sure to check out all of the great homesteading posts HERE.

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