When deciding to raise chickens, there are a few things to consider before you just go out and get chickens.
You need to decide type of chicken, breed of chicken, how big of a coop, whether you need fencing or free ranging, nesting boxes, and feed.
TYPE OF CHICKEN – Your reason for raising chickens
Do you want chickens that lay eggs? If so, do you want small, med, or large eggs?
Eggs come in different colors due to the breed of the hen. Colors include white, cream, brown, dark brown, blue, pink, green, and speckled.
Did you want to raise chickens for meat? You will need a dual-purpose chicken or a meat chicken.
The dual-purpose chicken lays eggs and can also be used for meat, though some dual-purpose birds become tough after 6 months of age if not butchered before then.
A meat chicken grows large with 6 to 8 weeks of age. Most people butcher meat chickens at 8 to 12 weeks of age. Going meat chicken means you only raise chickens for a short time each year.
Now that you decided what type of chicken you want, are you raising them for just eggs and/or meat, just for show or do you want to sell hatching eggs or live chicks for sale?
How much space do I need for chickens?
Before you get your chickens, you have to decide how much space they will have to either be cooped up, in a run, free-range or in a chicken tractor where you can move them around.
Choosing how much area your chickens will occupy will determine your flock size. A smaller breed means more chickens in a smaller space.
Small breeds each bird needs at least 2 square feet inside a coop and 5 sq ft outside.
Standard sized chickens each bird needs 2 to 3 sq ft inside the coop and at least 10 sq ft outside.
Large breeds each require 3 to 4 sq ft per bird inside the coop and at least 15 sq ft outside the coop.
Giving your chickens lots of space is better for their health, less stress, less disease, and fighting.
BREEDS OF CHICKEN – choosing the right breed
There are hundreds of breeds of chickens. From small sized chickens, usually called Bantam, the standard sized chicken and then up to large heavier breeds.
Bantam chickens weigh 1 to 2 pounds. Bantam breeds can be miniature sized chickens of any standard breed. Some bantam breeds do not get a larger counterpart, one example is the Silkie breed.
Bantam chicken eggs are smaller than from a standard or large chicken. Smaller chicken means more chickens per square foot, less to feed and less manure.
Standard chickens weigh in at 4 to 7 pounds. Eggs vary from medium to large eggs.
Large breeds of chickens weigh in at 10 to 12 pounds. More laying birds means more eggs. One hen will lay up to one egg every 25 hours.
Some breeds can lay up to 300 or more eggs per year. Chickens start laying at approximately 6 months of age. Their best laying is in the first year.
As a hen ages their egg production does slow down gradually. Chickens can live up to 8 to 10 years or more.
They will take a break from laying to molt in late summer to early fall starting at about 18 months of age. Molting takes a lot out of the chicken and all of their energy goes into producing new feathers.
You only need roosters if you are wanting to raise chicks from your hens. Your hens will lay eggs if they have a rooster or not in with them.
COOPS AND CHICKEN RUNS – what you need
In your coop you want it big enough for the size of flock you plan on having. Remember the bigger the chicken the more square footage it needs.
If you live where temperatures can get way below zero, you will want to consider an insulated coop. This helps to shelter the chickens against the freezing cold better.
You can build your own coop or reuse an old granary, shed, playhouse, or shelter for a chicken coop. A coop with windows makes for a coop with natural light. You want to have air flow in all seasons.
Having some ventilation helps to cool the coop off in hot weather and in cold weather you want to make sure the condensation from the chickens breathing can be expelled out of the coop. Sickness in cold winter months can be caused by not enough moisture escaping the inside of the coop.
In your coop you want to make sure you have roosts for your chickens to sit and sleep on. I recommend making them removable for easier cleaning of the coop.
Also in your coop, you will want nesting boxes or something similar for chickens to lay eggs in. One nest per 4 to 6 hens is average.
As for the chicken run, again make sure it is large enough for the number of chickens in your flock. A good fence made of sturdy strong wire helps to keep predators out.
CHICKEN Feed – What do chickens eat?
Chickens eat a lot of different things. They love to scratch and peck the dirt for insects, worms, seeds, grass, grains, frogs, and many other things.
You can buy bagged feed already mixed or you can mix your own by purchasing grains from your feed store or other sources.
Some people buy screenings from grain elevators as these screenings are cheaper than bagged feed.
You can also buy from a grain farmer. When buying from a private source, make sure you do your math! Some will advertise per pound but do not include feed bags or bagging fees in the per pound price.
Chickens also love table scraps. You do have to be careful how much salt and sugar may be in table scraps. Just like in humans, too much is not good. They love vegetable and fruit scraps, peels, etc.
Raw potato, citrus fruit and peels, and onions are a few foods not to feed chickens.
Why not get into Chickens?
Once you have decided the type and breed of chicken, you are well on your way to “Going Chicken”! It does take some thinking, time and work to get started.
Chickens are easy to raise and can be very rewarding in many ways!
Make sure you always create your coop and chicken run larger than you really need.
First off it’s healthier for your chickens to have lots of space and secondly, chickens are addicting!
You never know when you will want to add to your flock!
I would love to hear what made you decide to start “Going Chicken”!