Raising chickens is possible for anyone, no matter where you’re at in your homesteading journey! Here are a few tips to help you get started.
When my husband and I began raising chickens, we relied solely on his experience from raising turkeys on an industrial farm. There were a few tricks of the trade we implemented, like how to best feed and water our birds. Or signs of distress in the growth process. But properly caring for chickens? Getting them through those first few weeks? We knew nothing!
We have had chickens on our micro homestead for three years now. On our homestead, we have hatched chicks from a broody hen. We have bought chicks from a local farm supply store. And if I were to give my best friend all of my advice, this is what it would be.
Raising Chickens for Beginners – Free Printable!
In this blog post, I’ve included a free printable! This printable is the short and sweet checklist and facts I would give my friends and family if they were considering raising chickens. There’s so much more that I could say about it! But for just getting started, this printable is exactly what you need.
Chick, pullet, hen?
A chick is a chicken 0 to 12 weeks old. Scientifically, pullets are sexed hens (they’ve been scientifically confirmed to be female) but they’re considered pullets from 12 to 20 weeks. By and large, you’ll hear someone refer to a pullet so long as the hen is under one year. A hen is a mature, female chicken.
How to raise chicks
Whether you’re buying chicks from a farm supply store or hatching chicks yourself, you’ll want to prep their environment before your chicks arrive on the homestead. Your priorities will be a warm and clean environment and constant access to feed and water. You’ll also want to look for obvious signs of distress. There are times where separating chicks is necessary, but with time, they should acclimate just fine. For more things to look for in raising chicks, check out this post.
Consider investing in a lamp and red light bulbs. Be sure to buy a 250 watt lamp and red bulbs! White bulbs encourage movement. Red bulbs encourage lack of movement. Red bulbs are a great option for chicks. I also highly recommend this style waterer and this style feeder.
Finally, check on them several times a day! For the first two weeks I would even check on them a few times throughout the night. While they’re adjusting to a new environment under so much stress, you can never be too careful.
How to care for chickens
My backyard flock requires little maintenance. However, that’s not to be confused with no maintenance. Every day, I’m outside checking on my flock and watching my birds. But now that it’s become habit, it only takes up a small portion of my time.
The top priority in caring for any animal is making sure they have adequate access to food and clean water. Our birds get fed twice a day – feed in the morning and kitchen scraps at night. We collect eggs every afternoon. We clean their coop out every week or two during the summer and we use the deep-litter method during the winter. However, the coop still gets cleaned once a month. We also use food-grade diatomaceous earth during cleanings to prevent against mites and other pests.
1 – The more you’re around your chickens, the more likely they are to be happy being handled. You can also train your chickens. For example, if you’re struggling with getting them in their coop at night, you can bribe them with treats like meal worms or kitchen scraps. If you have a hen who’s determined to lay her eggs anywhere but the nesting box, you can use ceramic eggs (like these) or golf balls to encourage her to use a nesting box.
2 – Chickens are also notorious for getting bored. If you’re able, either install a swing or continually hang fun treats like zuchinni and cabbage in the run for your chicks.
3 – It’s not necessary to free range your birds so long as they have a balanced diet! I take a deeper dive into food options for chickens in this post.
4 – Chickens live to be an estimated 5 to 10 years old.
Raising chickens timeline
We have raised chicks twice – once with a broody hen and another from store-bought chicks. From experience, chicks are typically ready to go out on grass around 3 weeks, so long as the weather is warm. Why is that? Chicks have downy feathers, not mature feathers. At this age, they’re still huddling for heat. They’re simply not able to withstand colder temperatures by themselves yet. And as long as that is the case, keeping the brooder warm and dry with plenty of feed and water available is at the top of my priority list.
But around 3 to 6 weeks, a magical transition happens. While they’re still living primarily in your brooder, you can begin introducing them to your mature flock! We use a pen to introduce our new chicks to our mature flock. This pen usually abuts our chicken run. If you’re unable to keep the birds separated, simply free range them. However, I would encourage you to keep your brooder set up. To join the pecking order, younger birds may get injured and need to be removed from the flock to heal.
Around 4 to 6 months is when you start to see the fruits of your labor. Your hen is laying! Raising chickens is finally reaping a reward! For the next 18 months or so, your hen should lay fairly consistently, up to 6 eggs a week. However, that figure is determined by the breed of your bird and their environment.
Your hen will not lay as much, if at all, when molting. And when the days get shorter and the temps start to drop, egg production also tends to drop off.
Have you become a “crazy chicken lady”?
It’s so tempting to get inundated with how much you care about your chickens! Especially when you are raising chickens. You have a lot invested in them! Just remember – they’re heartier than you think. They can stand a little bit of cold and a day or two without snacks.
Do you want to get a micro homestead going but don’t know where to start? I made the guide that you need! Don’t let overwhelm keep you from growing your own food. Check out my Making a Micro Homestead Ebook and get started today!