Backyard chickens are the first project many families research when they want to learn how to be self sufficient. A small flock of hens provides great tasting eggs, plus a good introduction to animal husbandry and a self-sustaining mindset.
Are you considering how to raise chickens and be more self sufficient? With a small coop, a few chicks and a long-term plan of action, backyard chickens can bring families fresh eggs, healthy meat, responsibility and the enjoyment of watching a baby chick grow into an egg-laying hen. Before starting your backyard chickens and becoming more self sufficient, here are six common questions and answers about how to raise chickens.
1. What are the best chickens to lay eggs?
Poultry breeds come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Families looking to produce eggs or meat are encouraged to start with common breeds of backyard chickens
Determine what you’d like to gain from your flock. If you want fresh eggs, consider: White Leghorn hybrids (white eggs), Plymouth Barred Rocks (brown eggs), Rhode Island Reds (brown eggs), Blue Andalusians (white eggs) or Ameraucanas/Easter Eggers (blue eggs). Cornish Cross chickens grow quickly and are best suited for meat production. If you’re hoping to produce both eggs and meat, consider dual-purposed breeds like Plymouth Barred Rock, Sussex or Buff Orpingtons. Exotic breeds, like Sumatra, Crevecoeur or Sultan, are best for show or pets.
2. How many chickens do I need?
The number and gender of backyard chickens in your flock may be determined by local ordinances
and your flock goals.
Remember, young chicks grow into full-grown birds. Create a budget while considering: the time you can spend with your backyard chickens, the housing and space the birds will require; a plan for how you’ll collect and use eggs; and what you’ll do with the birds after they retire from laying eggs. Then start small with a flock of four to six chicks.
3. How much do chickens cost?
Another popular question is how much do chickens cost? The price you pay for your backyard chickens will vary widely based on where you live, what breeds you purchase and where you purchase them. Search for a credible U.S. Pullorum-Typhoid Clean hatchery. To prevent potential disease problems, ensure the hatchery vaccinates chicks for Marek’s Disease. You may also consider having your birds vaccinated for coccidiosis, but you can always protect your birds from this parasite with medicated feed. Ask questions
before buying your chicks.
Many local Purina®
retailers have chicks available for sale in store during spring Chick Days promotions
generally in February-May. It’s a great time to meet and speak with your local retailer about how to raise chickens and purchase everything you’ll need to get your chicks off to a great start.
4. How to take care of baby chicks?
Your baby chicks will first live in a warm, draft-free shelter, called a brooder
. The brooder is a completely enclosed area with a bottom surface that can be covered with bedding. Add a heat source to the brooder to help keep your chicks warm. The heat source could be a heat lamp or an electric heating platform. Avoid square corners in the brooding area to prevent chicks from being trapped in the corner should the birds huddle in one area.
Each chick needs at least 2 to 3 square feet of floor space for the first six weeks. Set the brooder temperature to 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the first week and then gradually reduce heat by 5 degrees Fahrenheit each week until reaching a minimum of 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Watch the birds and let them tell you when the temperature needs adjusted. If they are all huddled together, then it is too cold. If they are spread out and standing far from the heat source, then it is too hot.
When your chicks turn 6 weeks old, they’ll be ready to move from the brooder to a chicken coop
if the outdoor temperature is at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit and if the coop is empty. If the coop is already occupied by older birds, it is best to wait until your chicks are 16 weeks old to introduce them to the older flock members. Older hens can sometimes become territorial and not want young birds in the coop. Provide a spacious, clean coop for the chicks, paying close attention to predator-proofing steps
Continue to feed your chicks starter feed until they are around 16 weeks old. Then gradually transition them to a complete layer feed
5. How often to clean the chicken coop?
Focus on sanitation before new chicks arrive – and throughout their growing process. Young chicks are susceptible to early health risks, so disinfect all materials prior to use and again at least weekly.
The correct household disinfectants can work well. Make sure to read the directions to ensure your disinfectant is safe to use and doesn’t leave a residual film. A mixture of 10 percent bleach and 90 percent water works, if you rinse thoroughly after cleaning.
6. How much do chickens eat?
On average, a laying hen eats about ¼-pound of feed per day or 1.5 pounds of feed per week. If you’re buying a 50-pound bag of feed, it would feed your chicken for about 33 weeks. If you have four hens in your flock, eating about 6 pounds of feed a week, you’ll go through a 50-pound bag of feed about every 8 weeks.
For long-term success, feed a complete Purina®
chicken feed. You will simply need one complete starter feed for day 1 through first egg; and one complete layer feed for when hens start laying around week 18.
For chicks who will later lay eggs, select a feed that has 18 percent protein, like Purina® Start & Grow®
or Purina® Organic Starter-Grower
feeds. For meat birds, Purina® Meat Bird feed
is the best option to get those birds to a market weight as quickly as possible. For mixed flocks, choose a complete feed with 20 percent protein, like Purina® Flock Raiser® Crumbles
Transition layer chicks to a layer feed with the Purina® Oyster Strong® System
when they begin laying eggs at age 18 to 20 weeks. Which layer feed Oyster Strong®
System is right for your flock?
Our most popular layer feeds
Includes added omega-3 fatty acids for your health
Includes insect protein
Certified USDA Organic
Thinking about getting your first chicks? Visit our Baby Chick Resource Center
for everything you need to start chicks strong.