Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How to get started with chickens

Here is a quick little primer for getting started with chicks. Honestly getting started with chicks is quite easy. The first handful of weeks they can even live in a big box! Really, easy. It's only when they get bigger that you have more to consider. I'll start with the beginning basics now and as Frankie and I work on the run for the coop I'll show more about coops and tractors and just general chicken housing.

If considering getting chicks the first thing I would do is sign up at backyard chickens. It's really the most comprehensive place for chicken information. You can find anything you've ever wanted to know about raising chicks at BYC. But if you're more of a book type person and just like to hold information in your hand here are a few recommendations for books:

There are a few ways to get your chicks. Around here most common is feed stores, Tractor supply or farmer co-ops. We live in a rural area so when it's chick season you pretty much can find them being sold all over the place. We also have very reputable local hatchers that sell on craigslist. But if those aren't an option for you you can order them online. There are many hatcheries out there. Here's a few of the top hatcheries:
McMurray Hatchery - this is where we always order from when we order for ourselves. The have an insane catalog. If nothing else, order a catalog. You'll learn SO much about chicken breeds!
Ideal Poultry

Cackle Hatchery - This is where our friend who owns a feed store orders from and he likes their service a lot.

Meyer Hatchery

Onto basic supplies. You really don't need a whole lot to get started with chicks. You'll need a waterer. Something like this:

You'll also need a feeder. Once again a couple different basic designs. I like the long red ones with the holes. It's what we've always used.

A heat lamp. As chicks are most often sent off as day-olds. In the wild they'd be spending most of their time under the warmth of their Mama Hen and as such NEED a heat lamp. Heat lamps are pretty cheap actually. About $10 or so. Plus a heat bulb - a couple more bucks.

A note on heat. If you notice your chicks always huddling 100% of the time under the lamp it may be a tad too cold. On the other hand, if they are always huddling away from the light, move the light back a bit. Over time you should be able to slowly back off on their heat until they don't really need heat anymore. Hopefully it's warm outside and it will be time to move them out!

What you house them in is up to you. Some use big rubbermaid tubs. Some use big boxes. We've done both in the past. This year we happen to have ours in the house part of a chicken tractor that Frankie and I fixed up. There are actual brooders you can build or buy.
Ours in years past looked something like this:
or this:
Now we haven't used a galvanized tub but I've seen it done a lot. Really anything will work!

And they even sell cardboard brooder "kits". The kits come with heat lamp, that cardboard, the feeders and waterers.

Chicks need heat, food, water and dry housing. Aside from maybe a little love (that they really would do fine without as horrible as that sounds) they will do just fine with that.

And last but not least, here's a little shot of our current set-up. I should say that the ventilation hole up top is covered in chicken wire for safety.

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