One of the closest relatives to dinosaurs that is a live today and collected by modern day homesteaders and farmers a like. The chicken is the staple of small farms. Great for pest control, entertainment and suppliers of breakfast goodies. Chickens are one of the first critters I brought to Cedar Creek Ranch. I've been selling eggs for years and fondly remember my childhood with hens around for much of my younger years. Recently, it has been a topic of conversaton with people looking to begin their adventure with these feathered beings. So, i'm going to touch on the basics of chicken husbandry from my view.
Majority of my flock has been raised from chicks. I order from a variety of hatcheries, my favorite being Meyer Hatchery in Ohio. I have also been buying chicks from a local coop that does a chick day in my area. Make sure to order pullet chicks if eggs are your goal. You do not need a rooster for hens to lay eggs, you only need one if you want an alarm clock that goes of randomly during the day or if you plan to hatch your own chicks out eventually. But before you can jump into bringing the littles home make sure you have a sufficient brooder. This is where your chicks will begin their lives. This needs to be a protected space that provides heat and is draft free. I still do the heat lamps *insert a cringe here* but there are tons of new warming devices out there. Heat lamps work but also run a very high fire risk. I would recommend looking into the new heat lamps that are coop safe. For my draft free area, I use an old steel water tank that no longer works for holding water for the cows. You can also use large cardboard boxes or plastic tubs. If you only have a small number of chicks something smaller holds heat better than the large tanks like I use. I raise around 75 chicks each spring just for reference. Your heat source should have the floor temp 95 degrees F for the first week and slowly decrease by 5 degrees each week until you reach 70 degrees. Temperature can be monitored by placing a thermometer under the center of your heat source, I put a layer of wood shavings on the floor of the brooder. this gives them a nice space to bed down and they will even scratch through it. Make sure to provide a good chick starter, medicated/non-medicated is up to you. I use purina brand chick starter and move into a layer feed after 18 weeks of age.
As the chicks outgrow their confines of the brooder you can introduce them to the coop. A chicken coop can be anything that makes practical sense to you. I have mine in an old Grainery. I've seen people build beautiful coops from scratch, buy the put together ones at the feed stores or even renovate an old camper into a house for their feathered friends. My hens' free range, this comes with a few risks though, predators and occasionally they will be found in my house after a child lets them in. Ideally you should have your coop predator proof, something they cannot easily get into. Everyone enjoys a chicken dinner even raccoons. Your outside run should be predator proof from the ground and the air. bird netting helps keep flying meat eaters from stealing your birds and a good, welded wire fence helps keep the ground critters from dining. Always provide fresh water and quality feed. Chickens enjoy kitchen scraps as well. After about 18 weeks you can start to expect eggs. I have built in nest boxes, but Pinterest has lots of neat ideas for nest box ideas. Another downfall of free-range chickens is they are professional egg hiders. If you free range don't be surprised if you find nests of eggs in sneaky spots. Chickens can get ill throughout their lives, bumble foot and becoming egg bound can happen and that may be a topic for another post. Once chickens do get beyond their egg laying years they make a great addition to the stew pot, if that is the sustainable life you'd like to lead. I am mainly covering keeping chickens for egg production in this post, but meat birds are very similar. Broiler birds do grow much faster though and don't make it to the laying season of their lives.
This is only a short tidbit into owning your own dinosaurs and I am sure I missed things. Chicken ownership is fun and maybe the gateway to the world of owning livestock but take time to do some research on all of it. Each breed of chicken brings its own qualities. I personally don't have a favorite breed; they are all fun and you can decide which color eggs you would like too. It is fun to have a rainbow of eggs, browns, greens and white. Do some research, find the type of housing you like, a breed or breeds that suit you and enjoy watching your birds as they grow.
Hi, I am Mandy Onesti originally the author/blogger of Ponytails and Cow Trails. Which I had started to bring people closer to the life on the homestead. Running two websites, a house full of kids and a small farm, made me decide to conjoin my websites. I have a lifelong background in Agriculture and have worked on everything from rotational grazing organic farms to large scale dairy farms. I now run a small herd of beef cattle and strive for a sustainable lifestyle. Thank you for joining me.