Growing up on a small farm in Maryland and being a 4-H’er, we had chickens. I always enjoyed caring for the chickens, collecting the eggs, and showing my Speckled Sussex chickens in the local fair. So for quite some time and with a young child, I have wanted to have a small flock of our own. This spring, we finally picked up six laying hens from the local Tractor Supply. We chose traditional laying hens but there are an amazing number of chicken breeds that one can choose from. Here is how we did it:
ONE / GETTING STARTED
1. Heat lamp for the cold spring month(s). The lamp will likely be on for an extended period so place in a safe spot and with easy access to a plug.
2. Baby Chicken Feed (we picked up ours at Tractor Supply and go with the Purina brand).
3. Chicken Waterer / Chicken Feeder (you will likely have a set for the baby chicks and then another set after they move outside/get larger)
4. Pine Shavings. We buy these shavings.
5. Large box/enclosure with no top for keeping the chickens until they move into an outdoor coop.
6. Outdoor Chicken Coop for when chickens move outside. We purchased ours from The Chicken Coop Company along with a fully enclosed run. Check to make sure that your coop size is consistent with your flock size.
After purchasing the chickens, for about one month, we kept the baby chicks in our garage with the heat lamp on 24/7 (excluding a few hot days on which we turned off the heat lamp during the day and turned back on at night). Once consistently warm weather starts and the birds have feathers, they are moved outside.
On a food note, we feed non-medicated chicken feed. Also, consider getting a container for your chicken feed to keep it fresh and protected. We use clean (not previously used) trash cans for our feed.
TWO / THE COOP
Chickens are fragile and need a good coop for protection from predators and from weather. We purchased this coop + run from the Chicken Coop Company. This coop has high quality wood, good construction, and made by folks who know chickens. We especially appreciate the fully enclosed but large run, high quality wood, ease of opening next boxes, closing doors to/from coop). FYI: the coop was shipped in three large boxes and took a bit of time to construct (i.e. three long afternoons by P + G). Also, consider adding a “predator apron” to the exterior of your coop to protect from wildlife. We followed this instructional video. FYI: make sure to watch this video in advance + purchase supplies from hardware store (e.g. PVC coated fence wire, hot galvanized fencing staples, etc.). Using an apron will maximize the inability of predators to dig underneath your run/coop.
THREE / MOVING OUTSIDE
The first week of June, we moved the hens outside. We lock the chickens up every night in the coop at dark and let out in the morning. We use a pie pan for their chicken food and use this waterer. I have also heard good things about this feeder/waterer combo as it is good for a larger flock. We feed this food and this scratch feed. Once the hens start laying, I will also feed ground oyster shells by “free choice” because laying hens need a strong supply of calcium for strong eggshells. Here is a good suggestion for ground oyster shells.
A lot of folks also feed backyard and small farm chickens food scraps excluding, beans, garlic, potatoes, onions, and citrus. Potatoes are poisonous to chickens.
Thanks for stopping by, X.
Gabriella (and P + G)