Have you been thinking about getting backyard chickens? If you have, there are some things that you need to know before you get them! I love the convenience of having fresh, organic eggs anytime that I need them. After all, it is such a bummer when you go to make brownies and you discover you don’t have enough eggs, right? But there is more to having backyard chickens than just fresh eggs daily!
I should mention that people ask me sometimes whether having backyard chickens saves us money (on eggs). By the time we feed, house, and provide bedding for the chickens, I don’t really think they save us much (if any) money. That said, chickens don’t cost a lot to keep. And they are really fun to watch!
11 Things You Need to Know
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There Are Laws About Having Chickens
Before you start preparing to get baby chickens, you need to find if it is legal to have chickens where you live and if so, how many you’re allowed to have. Some places have no restrictions at all, but if you live in a city it’s very common for them to have rules about chicken-keeping. Some cities don’t allow it at all. Others allow it, but only allow a certain number of chickens per household and often they don’t allow roosters.
Baby Chicks Need Special Care
Once you are sure you can have baby chicks, you will need to get some supplies to get ready for them. They will obviously need a home. However, baby chicks shouldn’t go straight outside to the kitchen coop. They need special care. They need a brooder to live in. The brooder needs to be a large container that they can’t chew their way through and something that’s predator-proof. It also needs to allow them adequate oxygen. We use a huge wooden shipping crate, minus the lid. We lay a screen over it instead. Placing a screen over the top of the brooder is usually adequate to protect the baby chicks from cats and helps keep them from getting out as they get bigger.
Check out this Facebook live video I did when we were setting up the brooder for some new baby chicks! (While you are there, be sure to “like” me on Facebook, too!)
(while you are there, be sure to “like” me on Facebook)!
- It is important to remember that baby chicks won’t be cute little chickens forever. You will be surprised at how fast they grow! They need you to take care of them, though. Baby chicks can die if not cared for properly.
- Once you have your brooder, there are a few supplies you will need. First of all, you will want to get some sort of bedding for baby chicks. Pinewood shavings (manufactured for use with animals) or chopped straw will work well. Keep in mind that chickens will poop in their bedding, so you have to be prepared for the fact that you’re going to need to clean the brooder and change out the bedding periodically.
- Baby chicks are covered in fuzz, but unfortunately, that fuzz doesn’t keep them very warm. When they are small they will need a heat lamp until they get their feathers. You will notice if you have a large crate for them, they will tend to congregate in the area where the heat lamp is. They like to be kept warm. They will need that heat lamp until they get enough feathers to keep their body temperature stable by themselves.
- You will need to have food and water in the brooder for them. We hang ours just slightly off the ground so they can still reach it, but can’t get in it to poop in it. Another reason it is a good idea to elevate the feed and water slightly is so they don’t roost on top of it. Chickens will roost on any elevated surface.
- We feed our baby chicks medicated chick starter. You don’t have to use that, that’s just what we like to use. Some people just use organic chicken food. The reason that we like the medicated baby chick starter is that a lot of people we know who’ve tried to raise baby chicks end up losing some to illness. We’ve never really had that problem with the medicated baby chick starter. That is completely anecdotal evidence, so you do whatever you prefer.
Sexing Baby Chicks
It is important to know some things about sexing baby chicks, especially if roosters aren’t allowed where you live. When you get baby chicks sexing (determining if they are male or female) is difficult and depending on the breed sometimes cannot be done with great accuracy. If you see that the chicks you’re looking to buy are listed as “straight run”, that means they’re just sent as hatched and there is absolutely no way for them to tell whether they’re boys or girls…it is a total crapshoot. You just have to hope for the best
With some breeds, those who sell them do their best to tell you what gender the chicks are, but it’s not unusual for them to be wrong. Over the years we’ve had a few of our baby chicks that were supposed to be girls turn out to be boys. That is a PROBLEM, my friends! Roosters in our city are a big no-no because they’re so noisy and people in the city live so close to their neighbors. We’ve had to give a couple of roosters away. It’s sort of sad really because roosters are often the most beautiful chickens. However, I don’t want my neighbors to hate me due to a rooster’s early morning wake-up call, nor do I want to be in trouble with the city, so I comply.
Moving the Chickens to the Coop
During the few months that your baby chicks need to grow and get their feathers so that they can move outside, you can work on building your chicken coop. You can also buy chicken coop kits if you want to make it a little easier. Several years ago my husband recorded a tour of our homemade chicken coop:
Once feathers completely cover their body, which is around two months old, you can move them outside into a coop (wait a little longer if it is cold weather). When we first put our young chickens outside we usually start off having them in an old dog crate. Having a smaller home like that at first seems to help them feel a little bit more secure as they move out into the Great Big Wide World. As they get a little more comfortable with their surroundings, we then move them into the chicken coop and get rid of the dog kennel. If you are integrating these chicks in with a flock of adult chickens that you already have, there are some important things to keep in mind.
Integrating Young Chickens with an Existing Flock
As I mentioned, when baby chicks are finally big enough and get fully feathered, you can start letting them spend time outside more and also let them move into the chicken coop. If you have no other chickens, that’s easy enough to do. BUT, if you have older chickens and the young ones are moving in with them, you have to do it carefully. The older hens rule the roost and are often not so welcoming to the newcomers. You will need to gradually let them have more and more time together (supervised to help keep the little ones from getting pecked a lot).
When you can’t be out by the coop to referee, you should separate the older chickens from the younger ones. Like I mentioned, we have a large dog kennel that the young ones can hang out in that keeps them safe. We keep the dog kennel in the chicken run for this (remember to have food and water in the kennel, too).
Keeping the young chickens in the kennel in the chicken run keeps it so that the older hens can still see the younger ones. That way can keep working on get used to each other. After some time (possibly several weeks) of gradual integration, they will eventually be ready to be a family. That does not mean the younger ones won’t get harassed at all. Click here to read about Jemima, a chicken of ours that had integration problems when we moved her in with our flock.
Have a Chicken Run
We don’t give our chickens free run of the backyard all the time. We do, however, open the chicken run gate and let them run around the backyard when we’re home to keep an eye on them. The rest of the time they hang out in the chicken run. You will want to make sure there are no toxic plants in the area where they will be.
Protecting Chickens Against Predators
Also, keep in mind the potential for outdoor predators like hawks, raccoons, neighborhood cats, etc. Assess your surroundings and decide whether you need some kind of screen over the top of your chicken run to protect your chickens.
Chickens Like Treats
Chickens like treats. The best treats give them entertainment, too. One of the things that we do is make them a treat block. Pecking at that gives them something to do that will entertain them for days! We also have a berry bush in the yard. The chickens like to jump up (yes, they literally jump) to get the berries. Other treats we give them include bread crumbs, leftover fruit (remove apple cores), or a handful of scratch grains. They will eat just about anything you give them. Just make sure whatever you give them is not toxic to chickens-do a little research! 🙂
As the hens start to mature, they will start laying eggs. Their eggs start out very small when they first start laying, but eventually get to be “large” or even “extra-large”, such as you would see at the store. (Am I the only one who used to wonder how the store how eggs could come in different sizes?)
Now then…are you wondering what are you going to do with all of the eggs from those backyard chickens? Don’t worry! I’ve got your back, Jack! Check out these yummy egg recipes and start cooking!
Backyard Chickens Have a Role in Emergency Preparedness
I have to say that having backyard chickens is one of the best things my husband and I do in the name of emergency preparedness. We have a never-ending supply of fresh eggs, which gives us a good protein source in case of a serious emergency in which we could not go to the store. When the chickens are too old to lay you could also use them for meat-another protein source (it would kill me to do that, but if we were desperate…)
See you next time!