Raising chickens for backyard animal companions as well as egg-producers can be a wonderful adventure when the needs of the chickens are properly met. The following list is a good place to start.
#1 Keep Chicks Safe and Warm
Baby chicks need to be kept safe from predators, other pets, small children, and inclement weather. For this reason, set them up in a protected brooder where you know they will not be bothered (in the garage is common). Additionally, chicks need to be kept at 95 to 100 degrees, so set up a heat lamp on one end of the brooder and keep it about 18 inches above your chicks. It’s also a good idea to keep the heat lamp on the opposite side of the brooder from the food and water, so they can regulate their temperature by moving around. Over 6 weeks, the temperature can be slowly decreased as chicks are able to self-regulate and prepare for moving outside.
#2 Change Their Bedding Often
Baby chicks like to be clean, so remove soiled bedding at least once a day. Wood pellets, paper towels, and paper bedding are all great choices. Avoid using pine shavings, Kay-Cob, and straw, particularly when the chicks are young. Check the chicks’ backsides daily to ensure they do not have feces stuck to their bottoms and feathers. Keep them clean.
#3 Food and Water Always
Little chicks are going to eat all the time! Make sure their food and water are clean and fresh. Check it at least twice a day and clean out feces and dirt. See #6 for specific feeds and when to feed them.
#4 Coops, Nesting Boxes, and Laying Eggs
At about 6 weeks, most chicks are fully-feathered and you can begin assessing if your chicks are ready to transition to a safe, protected, outside chicken coop. Some things to consider in the timing of this transition are:
- Feathering – some breeds take longer for full feathering, which allows the bird to self-regulate temperature.
- Outside temperature – when outside temperatures maintain over 65 degrees, no supplemental heat will generally be needed in the coop.
- Number of chickens in the coop – if needed, chickens can cuddle up and keep each other warm.
- Age of the other chickens in the coop – it’s best to wait to introduce younger chickens to established chickens until they are a similar size to avoid pecking-order behavior.
Provide at least one nesting box for every 4-5 chickens to lay their eggs. However, in the initial transition outside chickens are stressed and sometimes choose to hide (and poop) in the nesting boxes. Give them some time to settle down to outdoor living before giving them full access to nesting boxes where they will be laying eggs.
#5 Twelve Hours of Light
As they grow up and head outside make sure they have plenty of time in the sun. Your Hens need a minimum of 12 hours of light to remain productive layers. They love to be hot so have their run and coop face south if possible. In winter months when there are fewer hours of daylight, consider supplementing light in the early morning before sunrise.
#6 Chicken Feed
For food, begin with Zamzows Chick Starter, then transition to Zamzows Pullet Developer at 6 weeks for optimum growth and health. When at least half of the flock has begun to lay eggs (typically around 22 weeks old), transition the birds to a diet that will support the increased biological demand associated with laying. Lay Crumbles and Lay Pellets are two feed options for laying hens. Lay Pellets are a nutritionally complete diet consisting of about 16% protein. This diet is intended for birds that can do some foraging for insects, greens, and vegetables during the spring and summer months. During warmer months, hens require less energy (i.e. food) to maintain body heat and perform daily activities than in the cooler months. Due to the lower energy requirement and the supplemental food items collected while the hens forage, 16% protein in Lay Pellets is enough. When the cool season hits, the hens will require more energy to maintain body heat and will not have as much opportunity to forage. During these cooler months, hens should be fed the 20% Lay Crumbles, which provides more protein for the hens.
Providing a portion of Hen Scratch alongside a nutritionally complete diet offers the birds variety and gives the birds the opportunity to practice foraging behavior. Hen Scratch is a mixture of scratch grains, such as cracked corn, whole white wheat, and whole red wheat, amounting to about 9% protein. Because this feed has a lower protein percentage than the complete diet, this feed should be offered as a supplement to the main diet. It should amount to no more than 20% of a hen’s total diet during the summer months, and no more than 10% of a hen’s diet in winter months.
Oyster shell is a natural calcium supplement that helps to maintain shell quality. Providing a portion of Oyster Shell in a separate feeder allows hens to free feed to boost the amount of calcium in the diet, which strengthens hens’ eggs.
Hen Grit is an essential supplement to laying hens and adult birds. Very similar to Chick Grit, Hen Grit consists of coarse, insoluble material that resides in the bird’s gizzard when ingested. This supplement aids in breaking food items into small, manageable pieces and promotes overall digestive health. Hen Grit should be provided in a separate feeder and should always be available.
Chicks and adult birds benefit from being free-fed (having a constant supply of food available). Feeders should be easily accessible and free of moisture. When using flip-top trough feeders or gravity feeders with dividers and/or openings, make sure there is a ratio of at least one opening per bird. Lastly, maintain a clean feeder.
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