How to Raise Backyard Laying Chickens

in Barnyard,Beginner Barn

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Okay, now that I’ve done this for a while, I feel like I might have some things to say that would make it easier to get your own backyard chicken flock going.

First, you need chickens.

If you order them from McMurray, you can get vaccinated chicks that are one day old. Only thing is that you have to order them in batches of 25. So, you either need to find a friend who wants to split them with you or head to your local feed store to get them individually. However, the feed store only has them at certain times of the year. If you’re impatient like me, splitting an order is better.

I found mine on Craig’s list for $4 each. Someone close to my house had ordered the whole McMurray batch and was selling off the extras. Worked out great. Just the breed I wanted. RED STAR. Good layers, friendly to kids, quiet, gentle, tolerate being held.

Second, you need housing.

For the first six weeks of life, a cardboard box lined with newspaper in warmish location or with heat lamp is just fine. These babies SMELL though, so keeping them in your house probably won’t work. We overnighted them inside when it was really cold, but P-U!

After six weeks, they can live outside. Then, you need an enclosure to:
1) protect the chickens from predators at night
2) keep your eggs in one location so you don’t have an easter egg hunt all over your yard.

As long as your enclosure does these two things, it doesn’t matter what it looks like. For a couple of months, my chickens lived in an old dog house with a super-gate around it and chicken wire tied to the top. It was UGLY, but it worked just fine. I propped up the end of the run on a toy dump truck in the morning and put it down in the evening. Chickens put themselves to bed. Which rocks.

But now, I have a swanky-cute coop.

I would recommend you not have such a wonderfully roostable roof, though. I have to regularly put them inside by hand now. They want to sleep up there. I think the shingles are easy to grip. There’s a place to roost INSIDE, but it’s so totally not as cool as the roof, apparently.

Third, you need food and water (lots of water). Go to your local feed store and get a bag of Chick Starter. It’s like 5 bucks for 25 lbs. After three months, start buying Lay Crumbles, which are about 9 bucks for 50 lbs. We use THIS BRAND.

What you do not need…
According to my feed store owner, who has raised yard chickens for over forty years and his family before him, and me after him (for a whopping nine months):

1.) There is no need to buy ‘grit’.

If they need it, they’ll find it in the dirt.

2.) There is no need to buy poultry feeders.

They can eat out of bowls just fine.

3.) There is no need to buy poultry waterers.

Unless you intend to hang them, these suckers get poop in every hard-to-wash crevice possible, in about two seconds. Actually, I find that the best watering container for them so far is one of those 1$ shoebox-size plastic bins that had been living in our sandbox. But, anything that when filled is too deep to tip or accidentally walk through is perfect.

So, basically, they only thing you HAVE TO BUY to raise backyard chickens is CHICKS and FOOD, unless you’re vain, like me. Then, you need a fancy-pants coop.

Well, you can make your own chick feed, but I doubt I’ll be doing that. Besides, I have a tiny crush on the old dude at my feed store.


P.S. (Edit 12/30/08: I conferenced with my chicken guy about the necessity of oyster shells or other calcium supplements. He said they can be offered as a preventative, and the chickens will eat them just fine, but that they are only necessary if your chickens start giving you soft shells. )

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