Getting a chicken coop heater is definitely up there if you plan on taking good care of your girls. Beginner chicken owners, however, need to take into account a lot of complicated things like starting with eggs or hens, how to properly build a coop, or what to feed them every day.
As it happens, chickens are all the rage these days as more and more people start discovering how great it is to have one of these fluffy birds in their backyard. However, raising chickens is not an easy job so any responsible first-time owner will do thorough research before bringing his new friends home.
There is a lot of chicken raising information out there and, just like any new activity, it can be overwhelming at first. It’s quite important to understand that being prepared is crucial to starting this hobby, as not being prepared will end up with you spending more money trying to urgently buy everything you need for your new flock.
Since we’re assuming you’re completely new to the world of coops and eggs, we thought we’d start you out with a few general tips about being a proud chicken owner.
The starting point
While incubating and hatching your first batch of chickens from eggs sounds like a fun and romantic activity, it’s really much more simple to just start with a healthy bunch of chicks and go from there.
While hatching your own flock is definitely something you will be able to do in the future, it’s in everyone’s best interest if you allow yourself to become accustomed to all the nuances of chicken health and behavior before you embark on the difficult and sometimes-frustrating road of egg incubation.
The way this process works is most local feed stores receive chick orders sometime during spring, so watch store flyers carefully to become informed about this. If for some reason this isn’t an option where you live, it’s quite easy to go online and mail order your future feathery friends.
Another option, though this is one most people usually won’t go for, is to purchase mature hens which are already laying their own eggs. However, while this may sometimes work, you run the risk of ending up with the ‘culls’ from other people’s flocks, so make sure you keep a close eye on what you are buying.
When it comes to purpose, chickens are usually categorized into two varieties: the ones bred for meat and the ones bred for laying eggs. As a beginner, however, it may be hard to choose a route you wish to go with and stick with it so, if that’s the case, we recommend opting for a breed that is known as being capable to decently do both.
Some of the better-known breeds which can fulfill this double purpose are Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshire Reds, Barred Rocks, or even the fabled Araucanas. Furthermore, dual-purpose chickens seem to be hardier, more resistant, and more self-sufficient than other ‘specialized’ breeds, so you may have better chances of them thriving.
With the growing chicken trend, it was fairly obvious that some exotic chicken coops were bound to turn up sooner or later. Some of them look fancier than an actual human house and it’s hard to tell if they were intended for birds to live in them.
Remember that chickens don’t need a 5-star resort to be happy so you should not strive toward that. There are a few basic needs that you have to cover such as protection from predators, a place to roost, nesting boxes if you have layers, and a little bit of room to move around as these birds are not sedentary.
The trick is, you can easily meet these needs by modifying an already-existing structure like a small barn, shed, or even a larger doghouse. There are tons of websites out there with ideas for very efficient and roomy chicken coops.
Keep it natural
As the interest in chicken keeping grows, the imagination of humans goes to new levels and so do the gimmicks for this. Truth is, you can make your bird adventure as simple or as complicated as you like. However, it might behoove both you and your chickens if you keep it as natural as possible.
Try to free-range them as much as you can because not only does this cut down on feed bills but it also provides them with a diet that is closer to the one nature intended them to have. Besides, your chicks will love to roam around as long as you make sure you’re cautious of potential predators.
As a rule of thumb, you should avoid using chemicals or other special ‘washes’ to disinfect the coop. Try buying an organic one or simply making a natural, homemade solution.
Something not many people know is that feeding crushed eggshells to the chickens will really help boost their calcium intake. Also, giving them an assortment of kitchen scraps is not a bad thing to do as long as you control the amount.
Remember that chickens were designed to sometimes take a break from laying so don’t leave their light on year around to force them into giving you eggs year-round. This will also save you some money on your electricity bill. If this moment happens when the temperatures are low, you can leave some heat lamps in their coop to do the trick.
Chickens like it predictable
Especially since keeping chickens has started becoming the new trend, some people have started thinking of them as dogs and spend hours every day doting on them. However, your chicks are actually some of the lowest-maintenance animals you could have when you think about it.
As long as you take care of their food and water and collect their eggs, it’s easy to forget about them sometimes. For best results, you may want to establish some sort of a routine for filling feeders, freshening the bedding, and collecting their eggs.
Clean is the best way to be seen
While this should be a rule of thumb for pretty much everybody on planet Earth, it’s even more important with chickens. Dirty nesting boxes mean dirty eggs which translate to the dilemma of washing your eggs or not.
Since you want your birds and your eggs to be healthy, an ounce of prevention goes a long way here. It only takes a minute or two to do a proper cleaning and refreshing of the boxes if you do it every day.
Think about it: if you wait until the end of the week, you’ll have a much bigger task and a lot of dirty eggs to take care of. Furthermore, imagine how the floor of your coop is going to look like after a week in which you haven’t touched it.
Colder is not bolder
When living in a cold climate, your girls might encounter some problems in the water department since, you know, water tends to freeze in low temperatures. Since you want them to have the best care possible but going outside every couple of hours to break a new layer of ice and refill does not sound like fun, a plug-in dog bowl is your lifesaver.
The birds will really appreciate having decent water all the time and you will be able to do some other activities and not have to watch them all the time.
What did we learn?
As you can see, raising chickens can be as complicated or as simple as you are willing to make it. If you have the time, energy, and desire, by all means, build them a Victorian-style coop, style it with a butler and offer them gourmet treats.
If you can’t do all of that, however, you may find that with a little hard work in the beginning, you will be pleasantly surprised at the benefits you can receive from your birds without really putting in a lot of time every day.
Since starting out in this domain almost always leads to getting more chickens than you originally planned for, you might want to splurge out in the beginning and build a bigger coop than what you would need at that moment. You will thank us later.