The most popular animal for people to begin with is chickens. The reason for this is they are pretty easy to care for, have a great feed to meat ratio and of course, produce eggs.
If you are considering welcoming chickens to your backyard or homestead, this beginner’s guide should help you find a good starting point.
Choosing a Breed
Choosing a breed can seem overwhelming at first due to the overwhelming amounts of advice and the sheer number to choose from.
A good starting point is knowing what you want out of your chickens. There are breeds that are much better producers of eggs and then there are those best suited for meat. For homestead purposes, a hardy breed that is good for both is usually what people are looking for.
Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rocks, and Australorps are all good examples of breeds that will lay over 200 eggs a year and reach at least 6lbs if allowed to reach full adulthood.
You can incubate eggs, buy chicks, pullets (think young adult), or adults.
While incubating is the least expensive route if all you are buying is the eggs, the incubator itself can be pricey and the eggs need extra care. This is probably not the best for a beginner.
But if you do want to go this way, you can even order them off amazon!
Chicks are relatively inexpensive depending on breed. They do take some extra time and care, but are still easy to care for and a great option. You can count on accidently getting at least one rooster depending on who you are buying from and if you don’t have a good idea how to sex yourself.
Pullets are more expensive, but the breeder has done the hard parts for you. They are almost ready to lay already and you will not have mistakes with sexing. They will also be hardier.
If you can find an already laying, ready to go adult, go for it. You are lucky, because they are hard to find! Who wants to put that much time into them and then get rid of them?
One chicken will average 4 eggs a week so a good number depends on how many eggs you can use. Start there, build up after you have the hang of it. Get a few extra as a buffer for any you loose or start crowing.
The coop is a safe haven for chickens, so it is a very important part of raising them.
The coop should be sturdy, have ventilation, protection from elements, and offer warmth in the winter. It should also be predator proof.
In the coop, hens need nesting boxes. A good ratio is 1 box per 2 hens. Be prepared for them to all want the same one… even if they are all the same. A roost (perch) is also required for sleeping.
Chickens also need an outside space. This can be a tractor, attached pen, or they can free range. It is hard to keep them as safe when they free range, but this is a great option for keeping them healthy. A movable tractor can work just as well though, while keeping them a little more protected. Some people opt for a pin style all the time or a mixture of these. Whatever works best for you is fine.
If you have chicks, you need a brooding box. I have often seen totes or cardboard boxes used for this purpose. They need to be tall enough the chicks cannot jump out, and large enough to fit feed and water areas as well as some room for the chicks to grow. You will want bedding such as pine shavings. Chicks are messy. They will need a heat source the first 7 weeks as well as starter feed, a feeder and a waterer.
You should decide how you want to protect your chicks from coccidiosis. There is medicated food as well as vaccines.
When choosing a feeder, remember that it will need emptied each time they poo in it. As for a waterer, make sure they cannot fall in. You can add rocks to facilitate this. It will also need changed several times a day as they will foul it up often.
A quick trick to showing the chicks where their food and water is, just dip their beaks in each.
Wash everything often.
You can find starter here:
Manna Pro Medicated Chick Starter Crumbles, 5 Lb
Adults drink a cup of water a day each and each roughly ¼ cup of feed. Feed varies a lot, but if feeding anything other than feed itself, be sure they have access to grit if they cannot free range. Calcium is also important, some give things like oyster shells as supplement, chicken egg shells help too, but will need more. We will make a more complete guide on feed later.
Care includes letting them out of coop (free range or into tractor) and keeping up with food and water needs during the day. Then in the evening they need safely put in coop. Of course, eggs also need collected. Everything needs cleaned around once a week.
That’s it! Or at least, it’s all you need to get started. I am sure there are a lot of people who know more about overall care and what can go wrong, but I hope I have given you a good place to get started so you can learn as you go!