I want to get chickens, please help me to get started - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 06-07-2010, 11:37 PM - Thread Starter
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I'd really like to get some chickens but I am clueless as to what to do with them. I live in a rural area and my house is set back from the road and enclosed with trees so I'd like them to roam free. I have a shed, can that be used as a chicken coop? It's really rickety though, I think I'd have to nail some boards to keep drafts out or something.

Anyway, what do I do? Please tell me every little detail you can think of because I will be a complete novice!

Also....are they a lot of work? I've recently become a single mother so my life is a bit chaotic and my mother asked me "who's going to walk through the snow to feed them in the winter?". She made it sound like I'm crazy to be taking this on. I'm thinking the kids and I could take turns.

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#2 of 6 Old 06-08-2010, 09:32 AM
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I've only had my chicks for two weeks, and I'm no expert. But in my very limited experience, they are not a lot of work at all. There definitely exist much more high-needs animals!

The chicks need to be kept indoors in a brooder (a box, a rabbit cage, etc all work well) under a heat lamp until they have feathered. Usually by six weeks of age they can go outside. The heat lamp should be at 95-100 degrees during the first week, and reduced by 5 degrees each week thereafter. You can feed your chicks a chick starter crumble, medicated or not (your preference). They need constant access to water.

We handle our chicks daily, several times a day, so they'll be social and friendly creatures when they reach adulthood. So far, so good! We started taking them out into the yard to scratch around (they are two weeks old) on nice days, and they will follow us all around the yard. It's pretty cute to see them chasing after my kids' feet.

With new chicks, you need to watch for "pasted vent" which can occur after shipping. It usually shows up a few days after the chicks have been shipped, and is the result of a chick getting chilled. The poop will stick to the chick's butt (hence "pasted vent"), and will need to be removed so that the chick doesn't get all backed up. Two of my chicks had pasted vent, and were easily fixed up by holding their rear ends under warm running water until the stool was soft enough to pull off. One of the chicks did lose a bit of the down around that area, but she's totally fine now and thriving just like the rest of them.

That's all the input I have for now, as like I said I'm just starting out. Hopefully you'll get some more answers.

Check out http://www.backyardchickens.com and http://www.mypetchicken.com for some good information and resources.

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#3 of 6 Old 06-09-2010, 09:27 PM - Thread Starter
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#4 of 6 Old 06-10-2010, 03:27 PM
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My family is raising a dozen free range chickens that we got as chicks back in march. The post above is right on about getting them started.

I would add that if you are going to be doing free-range you should take coloring into account when considering which kind of chicken to get. Generally browns and reds are harder for predators to hunt. White contrasts with just about everything, so they're beacons for hungry hawks. Many predators are nocturnal so keeping them in a secure coop during the night will help with most predators.

The other thing that you might want to add to your shed to convert it into a coop would be some perches for roosting at night and some laying boxes. You can use dowels or whatever boards you might have lying around. Just turn the boards sideways so the birds' feet will be able to kind of wrap around the top for roosting. As far as laying boxes go, you can just nail some wooden boxes to the side of the shed and put some straw in them. It helps to have the boxes covered because chickens like to lay in private. Both roosts and nesting boxes are kind of optional in my opinion, but they are helpful. If you don't have nesting boxes in the coop, then you will be easter egg hunting every day for your eggs (maybe thats a fun way to get the kids involved!). But your chickens will probably get somewhat consistent with places they are laying. The downside is that the eggs that don't get found can attract more predators. Roosts are not essential either as long as there is enough space in your coop for all your birds. i would say 1sqft of floorspace at least for each bird if they are only sleeping in there. At least 3 sqft per bird if they are in during the day (perhaps in winter). Having roosts can maximize a small coop.

Do you have ideas about what kind of chickens you want? Things to consider about selecting a variety are whether or not you intend to have birds for eggs only, or meat and eggs. Do you want them to lay through the winter? Are your winters harsh? Do you need cold hard birds? Are you considering a rooster too so you can keep your flock going? In that case it can be nice to get a breed that doesn't have all of the brooding insitincts bred out. Getting really broody birds can mean that they don't lay as consistently. Do you want birds that are friendly? A lot of that has to do with handling, but it can be specific to the kind of chicken you have.

We are raising Buff Orpingtons, Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, and Wyandottes. I would say that the buff orpingtons are generally the friendliest of our bunch, they also have good brooding instincts. The reds are also pretty personable, followed by the wyandottes, followed by the barred rocks. All those varieties are relatively cold hardy and will lay through winter.

If you're ranging your chickens, they will get a lot of nutrition from forage once you have them out all the time. So then you'll only need to supplement with grain as long as the earth is green. You can also toss them your food scraps (though there are a few things chickens don't like) for variety. In the winter they can get by on grain and food scraps (just make sure they are getting enough variety and protein, especially if you want them to keep laying for you). How much they need will depend on how severe your winters are and whether or not they have any access to dirt to scratch in and plants to eat or if everything is covered in snow. Its nice to feed a variety of grain to help them get a variety of nurtients. We like to give some coursely ground flax seed in their food to help keep a good omega fatty acid balance in their bodies and in their eggs. Stale bread makes good chicken food (provided thats not ALL or even too much of what they are eating). Make sure your chickens always have access to grit (course sand/fine gravel) so their gizzards keep working and clean water. As far as protein goes they can eat just about any source of protein you can think of. Chickens are not vegetarians, contrary to what some people believe. Just don't give them things that are rancid. As an alternative to all of this, you can worry less about getting everything balanced and just feed them commercial feed. The downside is that isn't not as wholesome or economical.

I hope thats helpful. If you tell me more about what your preferences are for keeping your flock (are they for eggs? meat? pets? do you want to feed them a "homegrown" diet or commericially? what is your climate like?) I might be able to share some more details and specific info.

Good luck! Happy hens!
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#5 of 6 Old 06-12-2010, 09:34 AM
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I have new chicks from dd's school right now inside:http://msmvchicks.blogspot.com/

I got chicks last year.Once they were old enough,all feathered out, I moved them into an old metal shed.I added pine shavings and boards so they can roost. You need to make sure the shed you use will be VERY secure,because possums,raccoons,or even rats will kill them at night. During the day dogs and hawks are the most common killers. Free range means free dinner or play toy for other animals.If you are ok with that then there is no issue.I have mine in a plastic fence run with bird netting.The plastic will not stop predators,so I am outside with them so they are under guard.Gotta make sure your hens don't get into neighboring yards.If I let them out of the run I walk with them.We have fenced yard,but they could jump the fence if they tried really hard. I have dogs,but keep them away from the hens.

I feed them in the am and pm.Give fresh water inside the coop and the run. In the winter I went out am/pm to give food and water,collect eggs,and put in hot water in milk jugs to help with the cold.My 3 hens survived the winter in the dinky metal non-insulated shed. I might have some pics posted on my picasa page.

It has been easy to have the hens.Only issue is I can not go on vacation,but I can go on day trips.Eventually I will find a house sitter so I can vacation.I don't mind though.
Look up the backyard chickens forum
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#6 of 6 Old 06-12-2010, 10:21 AM
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We have 12, 5 buff orpingtons, 6 black giants, and a white crested black polish.

Free ranging during the day is fine, but they need a safe place from predators at night. Even during the day they can be attacked and killed by hawks and the like. You'll also need a coop for when they start laying, unless you want eggs randomnly all over your yard. They like some seclusion when they're laying.

They're pretty easy to take care of. Keep their living area clean and feed and water them. We use big feeders and waters so we don't have to do it every day. If they're free ranging during the day they won't need to eat as much. Ours get a mixture of layer crumbles and cleaned oats with a little bit of oyster shell and grit occasionally. They like kitchen scraps, too We had them free ranging but they're stuck in the pen for now while the garden grows. Once it's done giving for the year they'll free range again.

I think buff orpingtons are great for first timers. They're calm and gentle and pretty hardy. And I second checking the forums on backyardchickens dot com. Great place for newbies! (I'm KatieH on there )

A shed is fine. Make sure it's free of drafts but also gets light and has ventilation. You want some places for them to roost and a nesting box or two.
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