I dove in head first with my first set of six hens 3 years ago, before we even had the coop finished, and I cannot imagine not having chickens now. With everything going on in the world, a lot of people I know are wanting to get their first chickens, and I 100% back that decision. At this point, many people probably want hens that are already laying, since it can take 4 or more months for babies to start laying, but I find raising them from chicks to add a little something to the experience you wouldn’t get otherwise. You can also handle and build trust while they are babies way easier than with grown hens.
The following will be from an entry out of my Little Black Book that I keep things I don’t want to forget. It has been years in the making and is almost full, and I still go back to it quite often. I have added a few things that arent in the original entry that I have learned over the years. There will be two parts to this post because of all the info I have, so stayed tuned for Part 2! I cannot remember where I got a lot of this info, but I do know that I binge watched Justin Rhodes while researching and took extensive notes from his videos. He has expanded quite a bit beyond chickens since that time, but I am sure you can still find a lot of his first chicken videos on his YouTube channel. You can find it here.
GOOD LAYING BREEDS
- Rhode Island Red & Barred Rock-docile, not too noisy, high-laying, dual purpose birds (meaning eggs and meat) that take confinement well for those who do not have a lot of space, although chickens need at least 2 sq. ft. of space each. Happy chickens lay more!
- Sex Links-not cold tolerant (for those in colder regions, East Texas is fine for them. Never had a problem with my Goldies.) and eat a lot, but that can be good for helping in the garden. Docile and great egg layers. Not quick when getting away from predators. Eggs are rather large and plentiful. They will eat almost anything, so be careful what they can get into. Not the best for meat. Fairly light birds.
- Welsummer-very good egg layers. Eggs are large and chocolate colored. Cold tolerant and takes confinement well. They are not especially docile, but they are smart and friendly. Dual purpose, medium sized bird. *Gorgeous birds, but I had to put down my rooster and hen for the same swollen gullet and lethargy about a year apart. Not sure if it is normal to the breed or just happenstance. Let me know if you have this breed and have experienced this before.
- Jersey Giant-large black laying birds, with very large eggs. Calm and docile, but need more room to accommodate for size. *My rooster is HUGE, but he is the ultimate gentle giant. They do eat quite a bit also.
- Sicilian Buttercup-very rare breed that has a double cone, unique to its breed. I say rare, but I found them at my small town Tractor Supply. Decent layers of smallish white eggs, maybe 2-3 eggs per week. Not cold tolerant and prefers room to roam. Not known for being broody. Agile, able to reach high roosting places. *I ended up with two roosters and no hen from a straight run, so no egg experience. They are beautiful, but the roosters have been the only chickens I have had that will not even let me get close to them, and they are FAST.
- Leghorn-can be more dog-like than other breeds, and actually want your attention, or super flighty, I guess depending on how you raise them. I have a Barred Rock that runs up to you like a dog. Friendly, curious, doesn’t eat a lot, and great at foraging. Easy to breed. White Leghorns can lay almost every day.
- Australorps-friendly with humans and other birds. Great layers, hardy, and lay for a long time. Set the record for 364 eggs in 365 days. Eggs are large and brown. Breed is large and heavy, making a good dual purpose bird. Will lay through the winter. *This will probably be the next breed I get.
- Americana-flighty, but thrive in almost any climate, take confinement well, and are quiet. Aka Easter Eggers, because eggshells comes out blue or green. Smaller body size.
- Black Copper Maran-lay deep, rich, chocolate colored eggs. Hardy, calm quiet, and take confinement well. Good foragers that aren’t too destructive to the garden. Broody. *I would really like a few of these, if I could ever find them around where I am at. I don’t care for mail order chickens.
*I personally have only dealt with Barred Rocks, Golden Sex Links, Welsummers, Jersey Giants, and Buttercups. Please drop a comment if you have more information on any of these breeds, or favorites that I didn’t list.
PULLETS are supposed to be guaranteed hens. I think some places will let you exchange them if they turn out to be roosters. This is the best route to go in my experience, and I have gone both routes.
STRAIGHT RUN is luck of the draw. I went this route the second time I bought chickens, and ended up with 4 roosters and only 2 hens. You can slaughter roosters at 18 weeks for meat if you have a surplus, while the meat is still tender. You can of course also find them homes or keep a few.
SUPPLIES FOR BABY CHICKS
- Brooder-can be anything from a cardboard box to a fancy metal trough. I use a large Tupperware storage container. I cut the middle out of the lid and put mesh over it to cat proof it while in the house when we had a cat, but it could be good for outside as well to keep snakes away from your babies.
- Chick Starter Feed-make sure food is for chicks, not adults, or they will miss out on some much needed developmental nutrients.
- Chick Grit-(once they are 3 weeks old) chickens eat dirt and pebbles that help with their digestion. You need to substitute it until they can get it for themselves outside.
- Pine Shavings-or similar soft wood. Do not use cedar or other hardwood. The oils can be toxic to chicks, as well as other animals, and cause respiratory problems. Shavings go in the bottom of brooder. Change frequently. *Don’t throw away droppings. Compost and use for the garden. Chicken poop is gold in the garden department, but don’t use fresh, as it could burn your plants.
- Food/Water Dispenser- keep full and clean. Make sure you aren’t using something to hold water that babies could get in and drown in, like a bowl.
- Red Brooder/Heat Lamp-you need a red bulb because white light shows injury, and any bloody spots immediately attracts pecking. Chicks will happily peck one another to death. Keep temp at 95 degrees 2 inches from the floor, until they start feathering out. Then decrease the heat by 5 degrees per day until you no longer need it. If chicks are huddled together, they are cold. If they are lethargic and panting, they are too hot. Shouldn’t need lamp after 6 weeks or so. Switch to grower mash/feed then.
- Thermometer-for temp checking of course. You don’t want your temps to fluctuate too much.
CHICKEN TIPS 1.0
- Block corners of brooder with cardboard so chicks don’t get pinned and suffocate under the others.
- Waterers need to be shallow, so chicks don’t drown. A one gallon waterer p/100 chicks is recommended; if you have that many, use multiple smaller ones so they aren’t fighting over it.
- Put about 4″ of shavings in your brooder. Add more when you start to smell it, and clean out well once a week or so.
- Don’t let heating lamp any closer than 18″ to any flammable surface. You can place a cardboard box over chicks at night that acts as mother hen, if you are worried about leaving it on. I have also seen people use feather dusters they have hanging in the brooder that acts the same way.
- Optional Water Additive-1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar p/ gallon of water. Helps digestive health. Give plain water 2-3 days out of the week. Keeps pH balanced and prevents growth of algae in water, as well as other bacteria. You can also add 1-2 cloves of garlic p/gallon with the vinegar. Helps prevent mites and protects against other parasites.
- Most places won’t sell you less than 6 chicks, but it is a good place to start. Chickens are sociable and need friends.
Fun Fact: Chickens are the closest living relatives to the T-Rex, and outnumber humans 2:1.
I will have Part 2 up tomorrow, and will be mainly about older chickens. If you have any questions, leave a comment and I will answer if I can. I don’t know everything!