Raising chickens is a fun and rewarding activity for your family. It’s entertaining, educational, and you get fresh eggs! Chickens also eat bugs and aged chicken manure makes an excellent, all-natural fertilizer. Here’s what you’ll need to get started.
A brooder box is any cage or box with a heat source that provides protection from predators (including children and pets). A heat lamp will be needed if chicks are kept outside, while a standard light bulb will work indoors. Any box or tote will do as long as the heat source is attached in such a way that the box won’t melt or burn. When you buy your chicks, they are usually just a few days old. Young chicks will need to be kept warm, ideally around 90-degrees for the first week. Decrease the amount of heat they receive by 5-degrees per week until they develop feathers. Your chicks will let you know if they’re too hot or too cold by huddling close to or far from the heat source. Within four to six weeks, your chicks will have developed enough feathers that they no longer need a heat source.
Pine shavings are the ideal bedding material for your brooder box. (Never use cedar – it’s toxic to chicks.) The brooder box and bedding material must be kept clean at all times to minimize the threat of disease.
Food and Water
Non-medicated starter feed has all the nutrients your chicks need. As they mature, you should switch to adult feed and provide grit to aid in digestion. Fresh water at all times is essential. Chicks are messy, and they will walk, bathe and even poop in their water, so be prepared to change it at least daily.
After four to six weeks, your chicks – now chickens – will be ready to move into their permanent home or coop. Plan on providing roughly three- to four-square feet of space per bird, and be prepared to feed and water them daily. Make sure the coop is well secured to prevent predators from attacking your chickens. Chickens can be kept in a pen during the day or allowed to roam freely. They’ll return to their coop at night to roost. Hens will start laying eggs when they’re four- to six-months old, and at that point the real payoff begins.