Are you ready to raise your own chickens, ducks or other poultry but need help on how to start?
Perhaps you want truly fresh eggs or healthy, flavorful meat. Maybe you want the chance to teach your children how animals grow and let them share in the responsibility of caring for them. Or maybe you simply enjoy watching these beautiful birds from your back porch. Regardless, here are a few things you should consider before purchasing your first small flock.
Select the right breed
Poultry breeds come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Families interested in eggs or meat typically choose chickens. But show birds, game birds, waterfowl and turkeys are becoming increasingly popular for people who simply enjoy watching colorful, unique birds in their backyards. Regardless of your goals as a small-flock owner, there are many places to go for information.
For egg production
Want fresh eggs? Consider these breeds:
White leghorn hybrids
- For optimal egg production, the most efficient breed at converting feed to eggs
- About 3 pounds at 20 weeks, about 4 pounds when mature
Rhode island reds and andalusians
- Good egg layers that add a splash of color to your flock
Ameraucana, the “Easter Egg Chicken”
For meat production
- Known for their light blue, green and even pink eggshells
Chickens raised for meat are combinations of many breeds that result in desirable growth and carcass traits. Examples are:
For dual-purpose production
- Rapid growth, reaching 4 to 6 pounds by 6 to 8 weeks of age
- Excellent feed conversion (the pounds of feed needed to attain 1 pound of weight is quite low, which makes them very economical to raise.)
These breeds produce fewer eggs than Leghorn hybrids and are less meaty than true meat birds. But they do well serving the dual purpose of providing meat and eggs for your family:
Plymouth Rock, Sussex, Buff Orpingtons or sex-linked hybrids
- Brown-shelled eggs
- Meatier carcasses than Leghorns
- This class of birds includes many breeds in a variety of colors and patterns, making for a colorful, eye-pleasing flock.
For Show or Pets
There are a multitude of unusual, exotic-looking breeds that are fun to show or simply own as unique pets:
The Silkie, the White Crested Polish or Japanese
- Displaying a wide variety of personalities, colors, patterns, plumage styles and comb types
- Many standard breeds are also available as bantams, which are smaller and require less space.
Be sure to thoroughly research the needs of individual poultry breeds before purchasing them. Some have very specific environmental needs and may not mix well with the average backyard flock.
For more about breeds
Check out the following:
Any chicks you purchase should be from a U.S. Pullorum-Typhoid Clean hatchery to enhance livability and decrease potential disease problems. Hatchery chicks will be vaccinated against Marek’s disease soon after hatching or while still in the shell. If you hatch your own chicks or get some from a friend, it is essential that you get them vaccinated for Marek’s disease.
Good sources for chicks include:
- Your local Purina dealer (many carry chicks in-store each spring)
- A reputable hatchery that ships straight to your home
You will have the option to purchase birds of either sex. However, determining the sex of chickens shortly after hatch can be tricky, so you may get a few birds of the unwanted gender. To cull the unwanted sex from your flock, seek out homes through community forums or bulletin boards.
For instant egg production, purchase started pullets at 18 to 22 weeks of age — more expensive, but almost immediately productive. You may also purchase older hens that are past their most productive stage, but still have another year of reasonable production in them. You will need to rest (molt) these birds for 7 to 8 weeks before allowing them to resume production.
Consult your veterinarian before making a purchase.
The chart below lists recommended space allotments for different birds at different ages. Space requirements increase with age and size and can be affected by the availability of outdoor runs as well as by temperature (for example, the birds need more space when it is hot).
General equipment and supplies needed
- Safe, clean, draft-free room or building
- Heat lamps and/or brooder stove
- Litter and/or shavings
- Brooder guard
- Sanitizing solution
- Cleaning brushes
- Pitchfork or shovel (for large areas)
- Egg Flats or shallow pans
- 40-watt light blubs
- High-quality, natural feed
All the necessary equipment and supplies to start raising chickens and other poultry can be obtained from your local Purina dealer.