Tips for raising Chickens

Tips for raising Chickens

I wanted to write a post with some tips for raising chickens in case any of you out there think you might want to venture into a backyard flock.

This post is all about the basics – shelter, food, and water.

There are a lot of really good books out there that cover the information about shelter. One of the best resources I have found is the county extension office. They will have information that is peculiar to where you live. I have also found other extension offices to be incredible resources. If you want a quick reference guide, nothing beats Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens. You might be able to get a copy at your local library. I do recommend you get something you can keep as a reference though.

Shelter

Chickens are hardy animals. That said, the happier they are, the more eggs they lay. We want the most eggs we can get from each girl, so we want to make them as happy and stress free as we can.

Chickens need 1 foot of roosting space each. If you have 5 chickens, you need a 7 foot long roost. You’ll also need at least two nest boxes.

Roosts should be no higher than 24 inches off the ground. 18″ is ideal. Nest boxes should be at least 1 cubic foot and made of material that is easy to clean. I use a  plastic insert in mine and then fill that with wood shavings. This protects the eggs from breakage, keeps the chicken comfortable, and is easy to clean. Nest boxes should be in the darkest part of the coop. This helps the chicken feel safe during the vulnerable time of laying the egg.

Here is a link to an agriculture extension service’s video on how to make the ideal chicken coop. I recommend you bookmark it, watch it and discover what will make the best coop for you and for your hens. Watch the 1 hr presentation here

The bottom line is that chickens need protection from predators and extreme weather at the very least. My hens have a secure roosting and nesting area which they have access to 24 hrs a day. They are locked in at night for their protection. During the day, they free-range but can enter the coop to eat, drink, lay an egg, or just relax.

Food

Feeding chickens is easy. Chicks get starter crumbles, pullets get a growth ratio – slightly more carbohydrate than starter feed – and layers get layer pellets or crumbles. Chickens are omnivores, so they will eat scraps of meat and any insects or worms that cross their paths. By the way, if you want to make sure that your chickens lay eggs with nice orange yolks, make sure they are getting plenty of beta-carotene in their diet.  Pumpkins, carrots, marigolds, tomatoes, watermelon, parsley, basil, red cabbage, apricots, paprika, corn and the leaves of most green plants are all great sources.

Food storage, however, is tricky. The problem is how to get it feed to your flock in a way that they won’t waste it and won’t run out if you are gone for a day or two. The commercial feeders are expensive. Most of them are cheap

The commercial feeders are expensive. Most of them are cheap plastic or pressed metal. They have a cylinder that holds 5 or so pounds of feed and a gravity keeps the tray full as the chickens eat. This sounds great in theory, but there are several problems with the design. First of all, chicken feed typically comes in 25 or 50 lb bags. The larger the bag, the less cost per lb. Most people want to save money so they buy the 50 lb bags. Well, now you need a place to store that food. A dry cool place that won’t attract mice, rats, and other animals that want to eat your chicken food.  For

First of all, chicken feed typically comes in 25 or 50 lb bags. The larger the bag, the less cost per lb. Most people want to save money so they buy the 50 lb bags. Well, now you need a place to store that food. A dry cool place that won’t attract mice, rats, and other animals that want to eat your chicken food.  For years, I used a metal trash can with a tight-fitting lid. I would put the bag in the can, open the top and scoop out enough to fill the feeder.  Depending on how many chickens you have and whether or not they get to free range, you could find yourself refilling the feeder every day. Not a good plan if you want the freedom to take a road trip or go on vacation.

Another problem with these feeders is that the chickens will spill food all over the ground, and they will find a way to get poop and other debris mixed in with the food. Bottom line, they are expensive, inconvenient, and wasteful.

I recommend using a feeder that will hold a full 50 lb bag of feed. In this video, you can see a video on how to make a simple feeder using a 5 gallon bucket and a few PVC pipe fittings.

I would use this if you have less than five chickens. If you have five or more, you will need to provide more access to the food. I have 24 chickens so I made a gravity feed box that will hold 100lbs of feed. This is what mine looks like.

 

Water

Chickens, like more living things, need access to clean water at all times. This can be challenging for several reasons. First off, chickens don’t have any problem pooping in their water and drinking it. This is not healthy for them. For this reason having a bowl of water is not a good idea. The chickens will roost on the lip and defecate in the water. Most commercial watering containers are also woefully inadequate for a couple of reasons. For one thing, they are expensive as all get out. $40 for a piece of plastic that is a pain to fill, still allows the chickens to get the water dirty and freezes in winter weather.

The best design I have found and the one I use myself, is something you can make yourself with a 5 gallon bucket, lid, and a few water nipples. This is a fairly simple watering device to make and it will allow you to put a small aquarium style heater in it for the winter months. You can get the water nipples here. Or you can purchase a readymade device here. They are as expensive as the ones that don’t work, however, these will work well. They are easy to fill, easy for the chickens to get sufficient water, and they don’t freeze.

As the chickens grow you raise the bucket. When I first switched to this system I was worried that my girls wouldn’t figure out how to use it. Figuring it out was no problem – it was as if they had used one in a previous life. They all went right to it and started drinking. Now the water is always fresh and clean. I’ve developed a method to automatically keep it full too. I’ll write a post about that later.

chicken waterer
5 gallon chicken waterer (picture from Amazon.com)

Here’s the commercial version of this watering device click here

http://amzn.to/1CKCL1B

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