5 Quick Tips For Raising Chicks
This year we picked up a new flock of chickens. This will be my 3rd flock.
My first flock taught me a lot, and I had to find them a new home after a life changing event sent my husband and I out on the road to “find ourselves” and each other for a year.
Our second flock had a lot more balance in their lives, a large run, a new system, but my first real experience with predators and rodents. From raccoons and foxes to hawks trying to eat the chickens to rats and snakes trying to eat their eggs and food we really had a run of it. They found a new home on a woman’s rescue chicken farm when we moved a year ago to a property with no support for a flock of hens.
But now we’re ready. We’ve built a new hen house and a larger run and have some experience that makes that new build even better than the first. Here are 5 Tips I’ve got for starting your flock.
It really doesn’t matter what breed you get.
I’ve had a lot of different types of chickens. Some I knew what I had, some I didn’t. Sure you can choose them by what they look like or what color eggs they’ll lay but what it comes down to is that every chicken has its own personality and when you pick up a bunch of chicks you just don’t know what you’re gonna get. I’ve had some really cool chickens that were so friendly and humorous and others that were on the more flighty side. Some people say that’s based on breed but it hasn’t been my experience. I had a long list of chickens I was going to add to the flock this year but with the uncertainties of the pandemic my selection was slimmed down significantly. This year I got some Silver Laced Wyandotte, Arucana, and Welsummer. I can tell there are 2 in the flock that are curious about us so far. The rest are quite indifferent.
Chickens cost about as much as a dog I’d say…
Maybe less, you don’t take them to the vet as much. But start up costs can be high. Chicks are relatively “Cheep” at about 3-6$ a chick but then there’s the coop and run and feeders and waterers. With these it really matters who you are and how you want to go about it. You can buy the feeders and waterers from the store, you can even buy pre-made coops or you can make it all yourself with reused supplies. Just matters who you are, how much time you have, and what you’re willing to put in. Some people have the time but not the money and others the money and not the time. I do suggest finding some way to heat their water so it doesn’t freeze in the winter. But otherwise I’m not sold on any particular supplies.
Food is the main cost after the set up and runs about the price of dog food. And mice or rats will be very interested in all that free grub which can cost you. If you give them table scraps and access to your compost you’ll have lower feed costs. That’s one of my favorite things about chickens, they speed up my composting by about 100%. My compost heap may take 2+ seasons to become soil without them digging in it. But with them they can turn my compost into soil in about a month.
My favorite thing to feed the chickens is my table scraps
I know this was kind of under #2 but it's such a huge part of why I keep chickens. Sure you get eggs from them for some of the year (Yeah they only lay eggs spring through Fall if you’re in an area with a winter) but my passion is the garden and I’m always looking for ways to get nice fluffy compost. I like to do a deep mulch layer in their run (it means you keep adding stray, hay, or leaves to their run and their droppings help to compost it and the leaves and straw help keep the smell down. Then twice a year, fall and spring, I clean up the chicken run and pull out all the good compost underneath adding it to the soil in my gardens as an amendment. Did I mention that feeding table scraps to your chickens means you’re not wasting food and you’re not filling the landfills with compostable waste? There are so many layers of win to this.
Make sure you build your coop for convenience
The first coop I built was pretty nice. Without really knowing much about chickens I built it a little too small and my access to clean it out was big enough but in a really inconvenient location. I also didn’t incorporate nesting boxes which meant I had to dig through the soot to find the eggs. It was thoroughly unenjoyable.
This time around I put in a rubber floor, nesting boxes, perches for them to sleep on, insulation, and a light so I can see at night. I’m a cheater and put a camera in there to watch them! Doing these extra things will make it far more convenient to care for them and clean up after them because yes they are messy. A rubber floor means easy cleaning. A nesting box means you don’t have to go into their stinky coop and get muck on your feet to get the eggs. Perches and insulation are just nicer for the chickens and will make them happy and keep their house temps regulated in the winter.
Get an automatic door!
If you can afford it or are handy, get or build an automatic chicken door for the coop. I promise it’s so worth it. As the sun sets your chickens will learn to go in for the night and to keep them safe you really want to be able to close the door to their coop or chicken house so predators can’t get in. It really sucks when you’re laying down to bed at night to realize you didn’t close the door. Having it automatically close at sunset and open at sunrise means your chickens are safe and that they aren’t waiting for you to open the door if you tend to sleep in.
Lots of people like to let their chickens free range. Go for it but know that they will DESTROY your garden. I mean literally eat/peck/scratch/ and otherwise demolish your plants, seedlings, boarders, mulch, whatever. The only time I let my chickens in the yard is late fall or very early spring. But with a keen eye on them.
Hope those tips help you decide if chickens are right for you. They can be really funny and personable animals but it really matters on the chicken. I used to have a chicken that would somehow always escape and we’d find her pecking at the back door to come in and hang out. She was a cool chicken.