It seems like lately everyone has caught the “chicken bug” and started raising chickens in their backyard. Of course, this is a great thing and can be very rewarding. Not does this bring great, fresh eggs and meat to the table, but can also be very entertaining, therapeutic and also teaches children about work, life and responsibility. And I have to mention, it does become very addicting. Because once introduced to the different breeds of chickens with their various colored eggs, etc… there’s always another one or two you just “have” to get.
There is also a learning curve and some basic tips that can make raising your own chickens much easier and successful. I have posted the following tips on other forums, but thought it would be good to post them here as well.
- General rule for optimal space for dual-purpose type chickens: 10 sq feet per chicken for run, 4 sq feet per chicken in coop (this is optimal, but not required… free ranging changes this number… less can work fine, but not optimal and should be at a minimum of 6 sq ft per chicken)
- Perch space requirements per bird: 1 foot. If there’s not enough room for one perch, use two smaller perches at the same height, 18″ apart and at least 18″ from the wall. Some prefer using a ladder-like perch system, with perches starting around 2 feet off the ground, with each perch 12″ higher and 12″ over. The mature birds (highest in pecking order) will claim the top perches, while younger (lower in pecking order) will occupy the lower ones. The step system is also convenient for the birds to get to the higher perch.
- Perches count as space for chickens… add perches to increase space coop space
- Nest box space requirements: 12″ wide x 12″ deep x 12″-14″ high is generally a good size for most chickens
- Nest box numbers: 1 box per 3 birds. Keep them at least 1.5 feet off the ground.
- Litter for nest boxes: Pine wood shavings (not sawdust) are great and highly absorbent. Do not use ceder shavings!
- ALWAYS have perches higher than the nest boxes…they’ll perch at highest point (this will help eliminate chicken droppings in nest boxes and give you clean eggs)
- Sand on ground helps absorb moisture and keep things dry, also eliminates almost all of the smell (be sure to get medium grain, SANITIZED sand, usually bought at Home Depot or Lowes)
- If using sand, get a kitty litter scoop for cleaning up droppings in sand (picks up droppings, leaves sand)
- If you live in the desert (AZ), get a small mister to point into the run and have it on from around 12pm to 4pm on the hot days… it will keep things much cooler, eliminating overheating and panting. The sand will absorb the moisture and become very cool, regardless of the outside temperature. If you have a dirt floor, this may become very stinky (which is why I’m a big believer in sand floors, which eliminates that stench).
- During the winter, have a timer for lights in the coop. 14 hours of light per day results in optimal egg laying. Less light during the day results in less or even halted egg laying.
- If you have more than one rooster, have a feeder for each rooster and keep them at least 10 feet apart. This may reduce fighting as each cock will claim a feeder and his hens will generally use that one as well.
- Chickens will molt (lose feathers and grow replacements, a little at a time) once a year (after 18 months of age) for about 2-3 months. During this time, egg production ceases or slows drastically.
For baby chicks…
Temperatures in the brooder should stay as close to the following:
- 0 – 1 Week: 95 Degrees F
- 1 – 2 Weeks: 90 Degrees F
- 2 – 3 Weeks: 85 Degrees F
- 3 – 4 Weeks: 80 Degrees F
- 4 – 5 Weeks: 75 Degrees F
Make sure that you watch their behavior around the heat lamp. If the are spreading out away from the heat lamp, it’s too hot. If they are laying on top of each other in the very center of the heat lamp, it’s too cold. If they are gathered, but not on top of each other, it’s usually perfect.
Once a baby chick has reached 5 or 6 weeks (sometimes up to 8 weeks, depending on the breed), they usually have a large portion of feathers (or at least enough) to stay out in a coop. However, extreme weather conditions may need adjustments.
Also, make sure that if you are adding chickens to an already established flock, there is an introduction period (post for another day). If you don’t do this, you could lose some of the new chickens.
Have fun raising those chickens and I’ll be sure to continue to post helpful information here on my blog!
Also, my two cents on feed:
- Start with chick start (I like the powder vs the crumble) for the first 6 weeks.
- Then transition to chick grower for the next 6 weeks (weeks 6 to
12… or to egg laying). Transition by mixing the chick start with chick
grower, gradually adding less and less chick start until its all chick
- Then transition to chick finisher (weeks 12 to egg laying). This
isn’t really necessary, but still helps. I’ve personally never done this
step, but many of my friends have and it's just an extra benefit.
- Then when they are at laying age, switch to layer pellets.
During the year (except for summer) I’ll throw some scratch out on the ground for them every morning once they are out in the coop and have had an opportunity to get some grit in their system. Scratch is meant to be thrown on the ground, not in feeders. They enjoy scratching around for it. The corn in the scratch gets them too hot during the summers here in AZ so should be avoided during the hot season.
I have used all kinds of feeds and finally ended up on layer pellets. You will have the least amount of waste and the coop will stay the cleanest. Really, they have everything they need with the pellets for egg layers (meat birds like Cornish X Hens is a different story) but they love the scratch and it’s good for them. If you free-range your birds, you probably don’t need scratch, just pellets.
The lay crumble (vs. lay pellets) result in more waste. So I’ve transitioned from the crumble. The bags have lasted nearly twice as long since that transition.
I’ve also never really paid attention to the protein ratios either. I just get the standard bags at the local feed store. A 50# bag of layer pellets around here ranges from $13 to $15. Scratch is around $11 to $12.
I guess it all depends on what you like to feed them. My personal opinion is to use what will keep my chickens healthy, maximize production, minimize waste and make things easiest.
What about egg eaters?
The easiest solution is to get rid of the egg eaters.
Some people have built special nest boxes with a padded flooring or astro-turf type floor (with the grass leaning toward the back). They have the floor of the box at a slope toward the back. In the back, they leave an opening around 2.5″ high (or big enough for an egg to roll through) with a bumper pad about 12″ behind that. That way, when a chicken lays an egg, it rolls through that opening to the back of the box. It is 12″ or so behind that opening so that the egg-eating hen doesn’t stick his neck through the opening and eat the egg. It needs to be out of reach. Of course this takes more time, money and space than a simple box, but some people prefer these fancier boxes anyways.
I’ve also heard that the chickens that eat eggs may have a calcium deficiency and might need oyster shells or ground up egg shells added to a small feeder for them to eat as needed. I’m not sure about the truthfulness of that. Sometimes malnutrition leads to it. Maybe add calcium and some protein to their diet (canned chicken, cat food, etc.) Sometimes some cut up boiled eggs help (make sure they’re cut up so they don’t have an egg shape).
Some have used fake eggs in the nest box. Separate the hen if possible and leave a fake egg in her nest. When she lays an egg, take the real one out. She’ll attempt to eat the fake egg and after failed attempts, will stop. Some have even hollowed out the egg and filled it with mustard and pepper and this stopped the problem. One taste and they're no longer interested. Golf balls in the nest have also been successful for some. They don’t peck at those too long.
Maybe try a couple of these things and if all fails, time for chicken stew…
What about washing eggs?
I've been asked what the best way to wash eggs is and if bleach is necessary.
Do not use bleach. The best way to clean eggs is to let your tap water run until it's hot... as hot as you can get it and still put your hand under without burning yourself. Then get a little plastic bristle brush or green scrub pad and just scrub them a bit (or a lot, if really dirty) and set them on a paper towel or something to dry. Then stick them in the carton and into the fridge. You don't need to "sanitize" them, just clean them if needed. The reason you use hot water instead of cold is that the hot water "draws out" while the cold water would "suck in" the bacteria and such. In other words, cold water could contaminate the egg if you rub off the protective oily film.
There is a natural oily film on an egg that protects it. When you wash it, this film is washed off. This doesn't matter if you eat eggs often and won't be keeping them in your fridge for longer than a few weeks. But if you're wanting to keep them in the fridge for several months or keep them outside the fridge, you can put this protective film back on by rubbing some olive oil around the egg. If you eat your eggs regularly and keep them in the refrigerator this is overkill. If you raise chickens and eat the eggs often, I don't know why you'd keep an egg for many months. But if you didn't have a refrigerator and you had only a couple eggs left and wanted to save them to bake a cake 6 months down the road, rub some oil around them and stick them in a cool, dry place.
The best method of all is to have a clean nest box located at a lower level than the roosts so they can lay clean eggs without needing to wash them at all. If done right, washing them becomes and exception instead of the norm.
Enjoy the journey!