A year ago I would have never imagined that I would be raising chickens in 2018, or ever for that matter. But here I am, raising chickens! Our new-to-us homestead is around 3 acres so, while we don’t have a huge farm, we do have a decent sized homestead, capable of raising a few animals and growing a nice garden.
Our oldest daughter is in FFA and for her project, my father-in-law took it upon himself to buy her 6 chicks. SIX! We’d discussed getting some chickens in the future but we weren’t ready for them, yet. We don’t have a coop. We didn’t have food. And we didn’t have a clue how to raise chickens!
Needless to say, we were tossed another curve-ball we weren’t quite prepared for. Moving to the mountains and taking up homesteading was the first! But, we were, and still are, determined to make it work. My friend, Celene, over at My Happy Place gave me some advice on what to do. She raises chickens in her backyard! With her tips and a ton of online research, I learned a few things to get us started. By the way, Facebook Groups are invaluable for chicken rearing!
Let me start by saying that raising chickens isn’t really all that hard, but it does take quite a bit to initially get set-up. And we’re not quite finished just yet.
Here’s what we’re doing to get started raising chickens and how our journey is going so far:
Shelter: First thing you need for raising chickens is a coop of some sort. It doesn’t have to be a big fancy coop. But your chickens need shelter. They need something that has nesting boxes and a roosting bar that they can go into at night to rest, roost or during the day to lay eggs.
Our chicks are growing quickly and we still don’t have a coop! We’re making due while we work on converting this playhouse into a coop. It’s taking time because we recently had a lot of snow. You can’t do much building or renovating in the snow. Especially in higher elevations. It’s cold!
We plan on running electric so we can have a light and, in the winter, heated water bowl. We’re also going to build some nesting boxes and install a roosting bar. I want to have the coop and the run divided down the middle to keep our rooster’s and hens separated. So, we may need to do two small doors, side by side, or sort of a french door. The building is plenty big enough to have 3 chickens on each side.
Chicken Run: If you’re not going to free range, then a chicken run of some sort is needed. I don’t want our chickens to be all over the yard for a few reasons so a run is a must-have for me. I’d like for the run to be attached to the front of the coop with chicken wire down the middle to separate the roosters and hens. I haven’t planned exactly how I want to do this just yet but I think I have an idea how I want it to work.
Livestock Guardian Dog: Ok, so this one is not a must-have. But we have one! We recently adopted an adorable Anatolian Shepherd mix. She is classified as a Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) so she should be really great with guarding our flock and keep them all safe from predators. I’ll be introducing her in another post. I can’t wait to show her to you all!
Fencing: You’ll also need to be able to protect them from predators. This can range from skunks and hawks to big wildlife like coyotes, bobcats and bears! They’ll need something secured from digging animals, climbing animals and flying ones that can get in from the top. I learned that it is a great idea to bury your fencing a foot or so below the surface to help deter digging animals.
This is another reason we wanted a run. I like the chickens to be able to peck around in the yard as much as possible without the worry of something getting them, so we won’t be totally free ranging. I can’t watch them at all times. Plus, we have a crap ton of coyotes around these parts. You can hear them at night in every direction. It’s pretty scary to be outside at night and hear them howling in the NEAR distance. Like, really, really close by. I’m not ashamed to admit that I ’bout peed my pants thinking one was right behind me! I was scared y’all!
That’s another reason for wanting to run electric, in case we ever need to install some electric fencing to keep predators at bay.
Feeding: When you get their shelter set up you need to think about food and water. Baby chicks need a little different food than adults. You can find store bought food at places like Tractor Supply. In the warm months it’s not too bad but in the winter you’ll want to make sure their water stays thawed out. Or you’ll have to take warm water out a couple time during each day so they have fresh, thawed water. You can buy heated water bowls. For the food and water I prefer hanging feeders. I also say a neat DIY PVC chicken feeder on Pinterest that I may make.
Chickens are MESSY! And they’re kind of nasty little creatures. Chicks will trample all through their food and make a huge mess. They knock the water bowls over. They poop in it. So hanging ones or the PVC kind help keep it a little more tidy.
Digestion: They need grit along with their food to help them digest it. All it is really is ground up rocks. But they need it. Also along with their store bought food, you can give them table scraps. They like cornbread, eggs, etc. Crushed eggshells are a great source of calcium for them and is a wonderful way to recycle your egg shells.
Chicken scratch: Some farmers swear by using chicken scratch and some say that it deplets nutrients by letting them eat it along with their feed. For me, I see that my chickens like to scratch around in the dirt and adding a little scratch gives them that. We live on a mountain. It’s rocky and hilly. There’s not a lot of good space to be a chicken so I have to provide that for them.
Wood ash and or food grade Diatomaceous Earth: Ok, wood ash is not necessarily needed but if you have it, save it and re-use it. We save the ashes from our woodstove and when cooled, add some to the chicken pen and, when we get it built, to the run and coop. This does a couple things. A pile of wood ash gives them a little area to “bathe” in. The chickens will scuff around in it and get it in their feathers. I’ve heard this helps keep mites away. The Diatomaceous Earth is also used to keep feather mites at bay. Make sure you get food grade! In the pen the wood ash helps to break down their poop and helps with the smell. Sort of like kitty litter!
Egg basket or apron: If you’re going to be gathering eggs from your chickens you’ll need something to gather them in. There’s no need to be fancy but if you want some pizzazz to your daily chicken chores, why not get a cute egg basket. I like this egg collecting basket on Amazon. You can also make or buy an egg gathering apron. It has a dozen or so pockets along the front for placing the eggs. This is a great way to stay hands free while gathering. But if your clumsy, like me, you may not make it back to the house with un-cracked eggs.
Egg cartons or counter top basket/holder: you don’t have to wash or refrigerate your fresh eggs. I’ve been told that fresh, unwashed eggs will keep on the counter for up to 45 days. There is a natural coating on the egg that keeps it from spoiling when unwashed. But I’m a little grossed out by that. I know there hasn’t always been refrigeration but there is now, and the thought of poop on my eggs makes me sick. And it can literally make me sick with salmonella. So I’ll prefer to wash mine and keep them in the fridge in an egg carton. You can buy them at some Wal-Mart stores and on Amazon. If you prefer to keep yours on the counter, a cute egg dispenser like this is adorable!
So, there you have it. These are a few things we’ve learned about raising chickens. Ours are currently in a large, wire dog kennel kept out of the elements. They’re not big enough to start laying eggs, yet, so we have a month or so to get our coop in order.
If you’re thinking about raising your own chickens, I hope these tips will help guide you. And if you are an experienced chicken farmer, who’s been raising chickens for awhile now, please leave me a comment with your own tips and advice! There’s always more to learn!
Until next time… Happy Homesteading!
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