Owning chickens can be very rewarding. Chickens make great pets, help out with your garden, and provide you and your family with delicious, farm fresh eggs. If you’re thinking about starting your own backyard flock, there are a few things you need to know and prepare before your chickens arrive.
Regulations and Laws
Of course, you want little chickens running around your yard, but there are different laws and regulations for each area. Some locations will restrict the number of chickens you can have or if you’re allowed to have a rooster. Other locations don’t allow you to have chickens on your property at all, so you want to be sure you know the laws when it comes to keeping chickens in your community.
Follow these steps provided by Purina Animal Nutrition to learn the chicken laws in your area:
- Contact Local Government Officials: Find contact information for your local planning board, county clerk or animal control representative, which can be found on your city’s website, and ask the contacted official if backyard chickens are allowed in your area.
- Ask About Rules and Regulations in Your Municipality: If flocks are allowed in your area, ask the official the following questions so you understand the rules and regulations:
- How many birds are allowed?
- Are both hens and roosters acceptable?
- Are there rules on where the coop can be built?
- What do I need from my neighbors before starting?
- Do I need a permit to raise chickens and/or build a coop?
- Who can I contact if I have to unexpectedly part ways with my chickens?
- Get a Copy of the Local Ordinances: You can find a copy of your local code of ordinance by going to your city’s website or calling your local courthouse. Save this document to be sure that your feathered friends can stay with you on your property.
Prepare a Home for Your Chickens
Don’t wait until your chickens arrive to build them a permanent living space. You’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to get things ready so you’re not in a rush and make silly mistakes. The stage of life your chickens are arriving in will determine what living quarters your birds will need to start out. Read through the section below to find out if you need one or all of these spaces.
If you are starting your flock from eggs, you will need to have an incubator since you don’t have a brooding hen (a hen that incubates eggs). Purchasing an incubator is a simple solution, or there are ways you can make one yourself.
Eggs usually hatch after around 21 days (approximately) of incubation, but it is not uncommon to lose 50% of your eggs. Follow these guidelines to ensure your eggs are in the perfect hatching environment and minimize loss:
- Temperature: 99-102º F (99.5ºF is ideal)
- Humidity: 50-65% (55% is ideal)
- Do NOT keep in a tightly sealed container
- Turn eggs 2-3 times a day for the first 18 days of incubation
- Do NOT disturb the eggs during the last three days
- During the last three days, ideal temperature is 98.5ºF and ideal humidity is 65%
- Once the chicks hatch, leave them in the incubator for a day before relocating to a brooder. They get energy from the yolk, and they need the extra warm environment one more day.
Before chicks are fully feathered, which, according to Art of Manliness, is about the first 8 weeks of their life, they need to be kept in a brooder. Brooders can be made out of wood, plastic, and cardboard, or you can simply purchase a brooder HERE.
Once you have a medium to a small container that is easy to clean, you will want some extra supplies to keep your chicks comfortable in their new brooder.
Your chicks won’t have a way to regulate their body temperature until they are fully feathered, so having a heat source is very important. Most folks use a 250W heat lamp, a chick brooder, or a reptile light, but no matter what you use, be sure you can adjust the height of the heat source for when the chicks grow.
Start the heat source at chick level and make sure the temperature is between 90-95º F. Raise the heat source so the temperature goes down about 5º F each week until the chicks are fully feathered.
Absorbent Ground Cover
Your chicks are going to make a mess, which is why you should always have an absorbent material to make sure your chicks don’t slip and potentially deform themselves. The best thing to use is wood shavings (preferably white pine shavings), but be sure to avoid cedar shavings, as the intense smell could damage the chicks’ delicate lungs.
You will want to have about 1″ of shavings from the bottom of the brooder.
Thermometer: Having a thermometer on hand can really help make sure that the brooder is at the optimum temperature for your chicks. You want to keep the brooder between 90-95 F, but your chicks can also tell you if the brooder is too hot or cold by their actions. If your chicks are all huddled under the heat lamp, the temperature is too cold. If there is a ring of chicks on the outer edge of your heat source, the chicks are too hot. The temperature is just right when you have a mixture of chicks moving around the heat source (some under and some outside).
Chick Feeder: Like I mentioned earlier, chicks are messy, so having a proper chick feeder needs to be able to keep chickens from “making a mess” in the feed, and it needs to be heavy enough to keep the chickens from knocking it over.
Chick Waterer: Your chicks are going to need water, but be careful of the container you use. If your chicks are able to get into their water source, they run the risk of drowning and contaminating the water with their “messes”. To be safe, use a waterer that is specifically designed for chicks, and set it on the cool side of the brooder.
If you are located in a particularly cold area or place that has harsh winters, it might be beneficial to purchase a heated waterer to prevent freezing.
For both waterers and feeders, it is best to keep them at the height of the back of your chicks. Simply keep both containers on a board or block to keep them elevated.
Once your chickens are fully feathered, they are ready to live in a coop. There are several different varieties of coops to choose from, and you can read all about the specifications, parts, and pros and cons of different coops in our Chicken Coop Blog. Below are a few things you’ll need consider before setting up your coop, no matter what design.
- Location: When deciding where to put your chicken coop, ask yourself these three questions. Is the ground flat/level (will you have an issue with water running downhill)? Is this spot close to utilities? Does this space have a roughly equal amount of sun & shade?
- Space: Plan on more space than you need in case you want to add more chickens later on. You will need room for your coop and for the run, which is a place where your chickens can wander, eat bugs, and sunbathe. You will want at least 4 sq. ft. of floor space per chicken on the inside of the coop and at least 10 sq. ft. per bird on the outside.
- Nesting Boxes: If you want eggs, you will need to have a quiet, dark spot for the hens to lay their eggs. You will want 1 nesting box for every 4-5 hens, and the dimensions shouldn’t be too roomy, 1′ H x 1′ W x 1′ D is just right for a good nesting box.
- Predators: Make sure there is no way for predators to make it into the coop. Electric fencing or chicken wire is great for keeping out ground animals, but make sure to dig down a bit just in case you have digging predators. Also, thin wiring or webbing above the coop deters hawks and owls from snatching your chickens out of their run.
The breed you choose should dictate some decisions in your coop and a number of chickens you have, but once everything is ready, you should pick a breed of chicken based on your needs. We talk all about different breeds in our blog post, Which Chicken Breed is Right for You?.
Where to get Chickens
After picking out the breed or breeds you want, it’ll be time to buy your chicks/chickens. You can purchase chickens from farm stores, online hatcheries, and local farms. For the most variety, ease of transport, and assistance we suggest your local Rural King.
Rural King has several common egg layers, meat birds, and a ton of rare breeds that other locations don’t offer. So, if you are ready to dive into backyard bird ownership, stop by your local Rural King and see just how many chicken breeds we have available.
Chickens are very entertaining animals to have around the farm or backyard. They each have very interesting personalities that make them a delight to have. Plus, they are great helpers in the garden!
If you have any questions about getting started with backyard chickens or think I missed something, please leave me a comment in the section below.
Also, if you have any tips & tricks for raising healthy, happy chickens, add that to the comments section as well.
More #RKChickDays information is available on our blog, so take a look. Oh, and have fun!