So you are thinking about raising chickens? How exciting for you! Our family has truly loved the experience and the ability to have fresh, healthy* and happy eggs is just a bonus.
Making the decision to raise chickens is a big first step. The second step is deciding if you will be raising them from chicks or starting with a full grown chicken (Layer) or maybe you would like to compromise in the middle with a teenager chicken (Pullet). Hopefully this little post can help guide you through what is right for your situation.
The first four to five weeks of a baby chick’s life are extremely critical. They require regular attention and care as well as the proper environment in order to survive. Because of this, many first time chicken owners opt into adopting chickens once they are older and sometimes even once they have already started laying eggs. Chickens that are no longer chicks, but not yet egg laying, are referred to as “Pullets“. Pullets are considered “Teenage” chickens. Once a hen begins laying eggs, they are then referred to as “Layers“. The first time we took on backyard chickens we decided to adopt Pullets and it was a great option for us. We still lived in the city and I had no idea how to raise chickens (let alone chicks). Our chickens were around 8-10 weeks old when we adopted them, and this was the best decision for our family at that time. You can see our post of our ten week old chickens and it may surprise you to see how big they are! They really do grow quickly.
Once chicks have obtained their feathers and can regulate heat well, (so once they are Pullets) they truly turn into one of the easiest animals to raise. Chickens require food, water and nighttime shelter, but for the most part entertain and watch after themselves. They do a great job of keeping your insect and pest population low and they are happy to help you out with end-of-the day table scraps (except citrus or dairy). If you have a compost pile, these ladies are expert compost pile keepers! You will have fresh new soil in no time. On top of these great benefits, you also get incredibly healthy eggs. A heavy laying chicken will lay 5 or 6 eggs per week, or almost 1 per day. Maybe starting with chickens that are already at this stage is what you are looking for? If so, wonderful. Start asking around or searching craigslist for some older chickens that may be available.
However, maybe you are looking for a little more adventure? Or, economically you are looking for the cheaper option? Maybe you just want the experience of growing your chicks from birth? That is where we found ourselves 18 months after our first chicken raising experience. We are now living in the country (in our cabin in the woods) and we felt ready to take on raising baby chicks! My husband felt we could handle 6, so I went ahead and ordered 40. That’s how I roll.
There are many ways of obtaining baby chickens. Local feed and tractor supply stores will start carrying baby chicks in early spring. This is a good option if you are wanting a small flock (six is the typical minimum to purchase at stores). If you have not begun to look at chickens, you should know that there are MANY different types of breeds. Some are knowns for laying eggs consistently (a heavy egg layer will lay 5 to 6 eggs per week), others are known for their interesting eggs colors (these are typically called “easter-eggers”, they lay colored or spotted eggs but are usually less consistent layers) and even others are known for their weather tolerance and stamina. There are many things to consider before choosing the your breed of chicken. Typically your local feed store will have the most popular heavy layer chickens available that are also tolerant of your local weather. They will also have some that are considered “broiler” chickens, which are intended to be raised for meat. If you are wanting to raise your chickens for egg production, make sure and specify that you would like egg laying chickens.
I chose to order online after much research. We decided we wanted a wide variety of many different breeds of chickens. We had two heavy layers (Rhode Island Red and Sex-Linked) when we lived in the city and they were wonderful. They were extremely friendly, excellent around our children, sat on our laps and even tried to sneak into the house every chance they could get! We absolutely loved our chickens. Even though we were happy with those two breeds, we just thought it would be fun to mix it up and have all kinds of different chickens in our flock. Our three year old is in a wonderful stage of learning. He is continually asking questions and wanting to know more. We knew it would be fun for him to learn about all of our different chickens and one of the main reasons we are choosing this lifestyle is for our children to have the experience of homesteading, actively learning and exploring the great outdoors.
If you decided to order baby chicks online their are some very important things you should consider. Research the hatchery and make sure they have high reviews and standards. I was referred to Murray McMurray Hatchery by word of mouth and others who were extremely pleased with the quality of chickens and their practices. In order for your baby chicks to be mailed to you, they must be in a well ventilated box with proper bedding, and it is also extremely important that they arrive to you quickly. They need to be fed, watered and put under a heat lamp as soon as possible. I am happy to say that all of my chicks from McMurray arrived alive. I have talked to a few people who have ordered from other places and this is not always the case. I was very hesitant to order our baby chicks online. I struggled with if it was the humane thing to do or not, but in the end, realizing that the way the feed stores upturned their baby chicks was not much different…I decided for it. This gave us the ability to choose more variation of breeds for our flock and I also could raise them right after they were hatched, instead of taking the risk of them getting sick or infections while being in an extremely crowded environment at the feed store.
Best practice would be to find someone local that hatches their own eggs. I unfortunately could not find that, but if you can, more power to you!
If you decide you are going to raise chickens from chicks, there are some very important things for you to know. The first four to five weeks baby chicks need more frequent attention and care, and the first two weeks are especially critical. They will need a warm, dry and small environment (not too small, but small enough that they will huddle for warmth and easily find their food and water). The first week of their life their brooder needs to be approximately 95 degrees. Each week the temperature can be lowered 5 degrees, until their feathers are fully in and they can regulate their own body temperature. For more information on how to raise chickens from chicks, hop on over to our post: Raising Baby Chicks: The First Four Weeks.