Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Ready for Chickens
So you have decided that you want chickens!
First of all, I can say that chickens are easy to care for! They are healthy and hardy, and most people don’t experience any issues or problems. Chickens are truly a pleasure to raise and great for raising in conjunction with a vegetable garden.
But you do have to get properly set up to be successful with chickens and be proactive to avoid the issues and problems that can occur. Fortunately getting yourself set up for chickens is usually very doable on most pieces of property.
Here are 12 Steps for getting yourself set up – once you have gone through each step, you can order your chickens fully knowing that you will succeed and be able to fully enjoy your experience!
1. Check with your town or local government to make sure that chickens are allowed where you live. There may be rules against roosters or limits to numbers of birds. So check first and choose your chickens accordingly.
2. Evaluate your property. Chickens will need two main things: a coop or safe predator-proof nighttime house and a safe space to roam during the day. Consider fencing in your yard. The main predators of chickens during the day are neighborhood dogs, foxes, and hawks. Fencing helps protect against dogs, but foxes find a way under or over regular fencing. Consider electric portable fencing, which can thwart the efforts of foxes. To avoid hawk predation, give your chickens access to brush or shrubbery where they can retreat if a hawk is flying overhead.
3. Coop Design. There are two main coop options: a permanently-placed traditional coop and a chicken tractor. A traditional coop should be positioned in a spot out of direct sun. A chicken tractor is a newer idea – it is basically a portable chicken coop that is moved about a large field or yard. This is a good option for people who cannot fence in their property. You can also enlarge the area the chickens have access to with their tractor by using electric portable fencing. Also, your chicken coop must be predator-proof. You will be locking your birds up inside it every night, and it must be a solid fortress against nighttime predators which include raccoons, coyote, mink and weasels, opossum, skunks, rats, and more…
Coops will need roosts for your flock to sleep on and nest boxes for laying eggs.
We have a nice selection of our favorite pre-made coops available. Or if you are handy and want to build your own coop, we also have a nice selection of books with coop designs.
4. Other Coop Placement Considerations. Find a convenient location – not too far from your house. Also, consider how far the coop is located from a water source, electric source, and from your compost pile. In the winter, hoses may freeze up, and you’ll end up carrying water. You may want to run an electric water-heater during the winter if you live in a cold area.
5. Decide on your breeds. Once you have a clear idea of how you can set up your property for your birds, start thinking about what kinds of birds you want to start with.
Consider why you want chickens – Eggs? Meat? Companionship? Read about the different breeds and chose ones that are appropriate for your needs. Also consider your situation – some breeds need special care like Silkies. Others are quite fine all on their own like Leghorns. Some are gentle and friendly like Orpingtons. If you live in an area with harsh winters, pick cold hardy breeds from Northern locales like Sussex and Rhode Island Reds.
Some breeds are specifically good egg layers like New Hampshires. Others are bred for meat production such as the Cornish Cross. And some are truly dual-purpose breeds like Marans and Jersey Giants.
6. Decide on Number of Birds. Even if your town allows you to raise unlimited numbers of chickens you need to make some decisions. Consider space – how big of a coop will you be building? A coop needs at least 2 square feet of space per bird. How much foraging and pasturing space will you be able to provide your birds?
7. Consider your finances. Decide on a budget. The set up is the most expensive part of raising chickens. Building the coop and putting up fencing is costly. But also consider the regular cost of feed as well as the costs of pine shavings/bedding, possible medications, etc. Feed prices will vary depending on your location and if you use certified organic feed or not.
8. Consider your time. You will need to be present in the morning to let them out and then again at dusk to lock them up. Plan on setting aside at least a half-hour each day for feeding, freshening the water, collecting the eggs, and cleaning up nest boxes and bedding when needed. In winter, if you have to shovel snow or if the water is freezing up, your chicken chores could take longer. Eggs should be collected at least once a day; I usually check for eggs when I open the coop in the morning and when I close it up in the evening. If you go away, you will need to ask someone to take on the chicken chores.
9. Supplies. Besides feed, you will also need some other supplies for your flock. Laying chickens should be given access to Oyster Shell or another calcium/mineral supplement. All birds need access to grit in order to properly digest grains. A granite grit of appropriate size for your birds is an important supplement. Feeders and waterers for distributing the feed and water in clean and sanitary ways would also be necessary supplies.
10. Consider some treats! Treats can be useful as you get to know your chickens and establish a relationship. Using treats, such as Mealworm Delight or Garden Delight, to train your chickens to come when called or go in the coop at night time can make life simpler.
11. Prep your yard. Chickens are great contributors to the vegetable garden – they eat bugs and provide manure. But if they have access to your garden while you are growing your vegetables they will eat and destroy all your efforts. They will also dig and scratch up flower beds and lawns. Be prepared to give them areas for digging (it is a natural and effective way to prevent parasites). Fence in your garden and flower beds to protect them from the chickens.
12. Decide if you want to start with chicks or started (young) chickens. It is important with either option to start your flock off on the right track. You’ll have healthier, happier, and easier-to-care-for chickens.
Starting with Chicks
The most important thing to remember with chicks is that they are delicate and need warmth. They will need to be kept in a brooder until they are big enough, and the weather is warmth enough for them to graduate to the actual outside coop. A brooder is a protected space with solid sides and a heat lamp. You can set up a brooder in your house or a cozy shed or barn. Chicks will need to be kept at about 95 degrees F for their first week so find a safe and warm spot. Have your brooder all set up before your chicks arrive so they can be placed directly inside the warm space immediately.
You will also need a chick-sized waterer and feeder in your brooder. And you should use a sturdy flooring like paper toweling or an old terry cloth towel (pine shavings can be too slippery for the chicks).
Our Chick Starter Kit is designed to provide a new chick owner with everything they need.
It is good to handle your chicks often and get them used to people. That is one of the benefits of starting with chicks.
Check out our Chick Care Sheet for more tips on successfully caring for your chicks.
Starting with “Started Birds”
Started chickens can be 2 months old or adults. You don’t need to go through the brooder stage, which makes life simpler. But you don’t get to establish a relationship from early on as you would when starting with chicks. However, chickens in general have strong personalities and after initial caution, they will accept you and react to you depending on their own individual social nature. Some will be friendly, and others simply will have more standoffish personalities.
The main rule to bringing home Started Birds is to make sure they understand their new home. You don’t want the new birds to get creative with where to go at nighttime. To establish a clear ‘home base’ don’t allow your new birds to free range for at least 2-3 weeks. So that means you will have to keep them cooped up in either your coop or chicken tractor for that time. Once your flock understands that is where they roost or sleep, they will automatically gather back to ‘home base’ every day at dusk.