Ten Tips for Getting Started With Chickens

| 2/13/2014 9:32:00 AM

Tags: backyard chickens, Virginia, Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton,

Chicken tractorMy husband and I have been keeping chickens for the last seven years, and we've learned a lot in the process.  You can jump-start your own chicken learning curve by planning around these top ten tips.

Don't use an old-fashioned coop-and-run combo.  Chicken tractors are a great way to house chickens and provide fresh grass for small flocks.  For larger flocks (especially if you have a rooster), I recommend a rotational chicken pasture.

Chickens shouldn't stink and you shouldn't have to handle fresh manure.  If you make a chicken tractor and move it daily, the manure issue takes care of itself.  In a permanent coop, we're big fans of deep bedding, a system in which you keep topping off the floor of the coop with straw, leaves, or other organic matter whenever manure builds up.  The result is a warm compost pile on the floor of the coop that smells good, provides your chickens with supplemental food, and fertilizes your garden.  Choosing the right chicken waterer will also keep the mess factor way down.

Outdoor chick brooderKeep chicks close to home as long as possible.  Baby chicks are delicious...and stupid.  If the wildlife doesn't eat them, they'll get stuck away from their heat source and perish.  Some people keep newly hatched chicks inside for a month or longer, but our house is tiny and I get sick of the bustle within a week.  My compromise is to raise our baby flock inside a very tight brooder no more than twenty feet from the back door when they're young.  I can hear their alarm calls from my desk, and as a result we now rarely lose a chick.  As a bonus, we can let them out on warm days to forage in the lawn.

Learn chickens' calls.  Speaking of alarm calls, a good chicken-keeper knows what her flock is saying when a ruckus comes from the coop.  I ran out to check on every egg being laid for a while, but eventually came to realize the difference between a proud cackle and a scared squawk.  The latter is a sign I need to chase away a hawk before he can consume my prize egg-layers.

Pasture chicken watererDon't leave an injured chicken with the flock.  As terrible as it sounds, chickens will peck an injured flock mate to death.  So if that hawk gouges out a gash in your chicken's neck, she'll need to be separated from her sisters for her own safety until she heals back up.  Unfortunately, if she doesn't heal properly and ends up with some kind of deformity, chances are good she'll never live in harmony with the flock again.

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