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Chickens 101

November 9, 2020

Hey everybody! Welcome or welcome back. Thank you for taking time out of your day to spend with me. I know how busy everyone is so I appreciate your time. 

     I get asked a lot about raising animals and by far the most common inquiry is about chickens. Everybody wants chickens (or every kid wants chickens and therefore every parent is asking about them)! And that’s a great thing! I believe very strongly that kids should have responsibilities greater than themselves early on. It teaches them dedication, follow through, work ethics, mercy, grace, responsibility and lots of other core values society is losing as well as showing them they have value in the family. Plus if all goes well and you have extra eggs they’ll earn some money by having a side job. So anyway, given my feelings on THAT and the fact I love our chickens I have some tips to share with you on raising  chickens as well as how to keep them happy, healthy and (most importantly) alive.

     1.  Okay! So you’ve decided to take the plunge and purchase some sweet chickens. Congratulations! You’ll love this journey you’re about to walk down. Truly. I think you’ll be happy with the decision. 

     The first few decisions will need to be made now. You need to decide  what you want your chickens to do, in other words are you getting them for meat (these are called broilers) or for eggs (these are laying hens)? I recommend laying hens first for multiple reasons and you should feel free to contact me if you want to talk through this with me. But let’s say you’re getting laying hens. You need to decide which breed you want and where to get the chickens. I would strongly recommend a heritage breed of chicken, like Buff Orpingtons or Dominiques or Rhode Island Reds or Buckeyes or Wyandottes. Generally speaking heritage breed chickens have more personality and tolerate a greater variety of weather. You can google breeds to get information on which breed is good for your location. I am partial to the Buffs, Wyandotte’s and Dominques. They are sweet, lay well and are just good additions to your family. We always always have Buffs. No matter what other breeds we get we always add a few buffs to the flock. 

     Now, where do you get the chickens? If you have a reputable hatchery nearby I would recommend that and if you don’t (those are few and far between) I would recommend either a general farm store or purchasing online at a hatchery who will then send the day old chickens to your post office. Don’t be scared about going that route! Call the company and ask all the questions you need. Those hatcheries are generally better on the phone anyway. I have found they are easier to reach by phone than email and they know their stuff! They are very knowledgeable about all things chicken related. So ask away. I recommend Cackle Hatchery. We’ve used them for years and they are wonderful. Strombergs is also a great company. Once you order your chickens you’ll choose a shipping date and get ready. . . The post office will call you very early in the morning to come and pick up your babies. 

      2.  So now you’re getting those day old chicks and bringing them home. You better have your housing ready! 

     Housing for baby chicks is called a Brooder and it can be super simple. You need a space with a heat lamp to keep them warm (they can’t control their body temperature until they get their feathers so need to be kept warm), water and food. That’s about it. Just make sure the brooder doesn’t have breezes and predators can’t get in. A lot of people use the kiddie pools from WalMart and they work fine. We’ve used Rubbermaid totes and they work just as well. Just don’t worry about it. The babies won’t care as long as they’re fed and watered. 

     After about a month the chickens will have all their feathers and be ready to move out of the brooder. We use chicken tractors but there are lots and lots of options. The chickens will stay there their whole lives. Again it doesn’t have to be fancy. Some people do have fancy chicken houses with play grounds and everything! That’s so awesome and if my girls ever find out about that they might run away but so far they’re good with what they have at Bales Farms (it’s probably the love they get from Marshall). 

     3.  Okay, so food and water. The first 24 hours you’ll need to give the chickens sugar water or simple syrup as some people call it. I make a jar of simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water cooked over medium heat stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves) and keep that jar to use the first day. You just need a few tablespoons for each waterer you use. And you can get the waterer anywhere – pet stores, Tractor Supply, Amazon, General Farm stores. When you’re picking up your waterers get some start and grow food. That’s what it’s called. Start and Grow. You’ll feed that for the first 18 weeks of their lives so don’t forget it! After that you’ll switch over to layer food. 

     4. Do not expect eggs right away! If you do you’ll be sorely disappointed. Depending on the breed you will wait anywhere from 20-28 weeks for eggs. I know. That’s a long time. But don’t be discouraged! The hybrids lay earlier than the heritage breeds but usually can’t lay in the winter or hot part of the summer. So that might be something to consider when choosing a breed. But yeah, they don’t lay instantaneously. (I will share that some folks just go ahead and buy laying hens at 20 weeks and you can do that if you choose. Almost every county has a 4h program who offers “chick chain” where members auction off 20 week old chickens they’ve raised from babies. It’s a great auction supporting an awesome cause. Marshall’s done it for years and it is just so fabulous I can’t even make it fit in this article but call me if you want more information and I’ll talk all day about it.)

     5.  Your egg expectations will differ with breeds. Most heritage breeds lay about 5 eggs per week. So 2-3 chickens will generally do most family needs. We started with 6 and now have over 600. So watch out. They’re addicting. 

     6.  The rooster question. Here’s the answer. No. 

     You don’t need a rooster to get eggs. I wouldn’t recommend a rooster. They’re generally mean, aggressive and pick on the girls. Plus they eat a lot and don’t really improve the quality of life for anyone in your home or your neighbors’ home. They’re loud. In the morning. Early morning. If you do really really want a rooster you need 1 rooster for every 10 hens. We’ve had lots of roosters. In the past. 

     7.  The life expectancy of a laying hen is anywhere from 3-7 years. They’ll lay for 2-3 years but they can have long healthy lives after they’ve retired if you choose to keep them around. But that’s definitely something you need to think about when you have them. That being what you’re going to do after they retire. We live on a farm so we let them free range with the beef cattle and they cut down on the fly population, which is great for everyone, but you do need to have a plan for that time of their lives. 

     I think that covers most of the questions I get about chickens. If you have any other questions feel free to call me at 423-823-1397 or stop by the farm. 

     Thanks and have a great day!


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