Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Novice's Guide to Preparing for Chickens

In the next day or two, we will officially be true farmers with the arrival of 25 tiny, adorable chickens.  This is our first endeavor with any kind of livestock (are chickens even considered livestock??) so we are excited/nervous about their arrival.  We have done a lot of prep in the last year or so including reading every book we could find, searching the web and talking to/badgering every chicken farmer we knew.  We are by no means experts or really have any idea what we are doing, but based on our research, anyone planning on having chickens for the first time may find some helpful information complied here instead of having to look a ton of places like we did.  So here we go:


Obviously, the most important ingredient in having a chicken farm is the actual chickens.  I found an online supplier that had a good refund guarantee (if chicks die in the mail) and had great prices:  www.dunlaphatchery.net.  The minimum order from this supplier is 25 chickens but you can mix breeds/types.  

We decided we wanted chickens for eggs as well as chickens for meat.  Yes, if you grew up in the suburbs like we did you probably had no idea that there ARE two different kinds!  The chickens that you get for egg production stick around for a few years and provide eggs for your consumption.  We chose to get females only so we wouldn’t have a noisy rooster to deal with and so we don’t have to worry about vaccinating babies- the chicks come vaccinated from the supplier.  You want the egg layers to be friendly and produce a lot of eggs.  You can choose breeds that lay brown, white or blue eggs.  So why are brown eggs you find at the grocery store more expensive than white ones?  No reason at all- it just came from a different breed!  

We ordered 10 egg layers, all pullets (females under a year old):  

5 Barred Plymouth Rocks 

and 5 Black Astralorps.

These both lay brown eggs.  We chose these because people claim they are both friendly breeds and huge egg producers (generally 1 a day; though in the winter production slows down).  Also, they are both black which helps with camouflage from predators (ie. eagles).

We also ordered 15 boilers (chickens meant for butchering for meat)- White Cornish Cross.  

There wasn’t much choice from our supplier on this and the cornish cross seemed the popular choice.  These are straight run so they will be mixed male/female.  This doesn’t matter as much as the egg layers since they will be dressed (killed) at 7-8 weeks old.  Any roosters in this batch while grow a bit faster but that will be the only difference.

The chickens are overnighted from the supplier and should show up at the post office tomorrow or Thursday.  The post office will then call me to pick the box up.  I think it will be a completely surreal moment, carrying a cheeping box home with me.


Since we live on a farm, housing is pretty simple for us.  If you have to create your own coop, there are tons of resources online- the most important thing is making sure there are no places for predators to get in.  We decided to use an attachment on the barn as our coop.  

We chose this area because we only needed to add chicken wire to a couple spots, it had access to electricity and it would give the chickens easy outdoor access.  

I was worried about air flow in the summer, so Andy built a screen door attached to a screen wall on the outside wall of the attachment.  He added a spring to the door so it slams right behind you as well as a lock so the kids can’t wander in their unsupervised. 
E posing with Murphy outside the door.  The  red metal to the left is a sliding door that covers all the screened in areas.

On warm days, we can open the metal sliding door all the way to get nice air flow.  I imagine on these nights, the screen wall will be lined with raccoons eying their wanted supper.  In the winter, we can close the sliding metal door to give some escape from the elements.  

The space has a door that also opens to the interior of the barn, so Andy built a screen door for this side too.

We have some time before the egg layers start producing so we haven’t built the nests inside the coop yet.  This will come soon!


I am very lucky to have a friend who lives across the field from us who raises chickens as a hobby.  She brought by her baby chicken supplies and told me what else to get.  

Since the chicks are so little, you keep them in a ring for a while.  My friend brought by a ring she made which is metal and has holes drilled in every 2 feet so you can make the ring bigger as the chicks get bigger.  

Above the ring, I hung a heat lamp about 1 1/2 feet from the ground.  

The heat lamp stays on at all times when the chicks are little.  A nice tip I learned today- if the chicks are all huddled under the lamp, they are too cold and the lamp needs to be hotter; if the chicks are scattered outside the lamp they are too warm.  They should be meandering around the ring kind of equally.  Apparently, they are so dumb that if they are all huddled under the lamp they can suffocate each other.

I picked up some food, grit and pine shavings at the local Farm and Home.  

I got medicated chicken starter for food.  I opted for the medicated just to be safe, though since these are our first chickens, they would probably be ok without but I wanted them to have a good start.  They also need fine grit mixed in with their food to help with digestion until they can go outside and pick up their own grit.  When you fill their food tray, you sprinkle the grit on top so they are attracted to the glitter of the rocks.  Finally, the pine shavings are their bedding which we laid on the floor inside the ring.

So now the stage is set and we are all ready for our new arrivals.  Everyone on the farm is very excited!

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