Raising your own backyard flock can be challenging, but we are here to help. Here’s the five big things you should know before you get in to owning your own flock.
Is a Backyard Flock Right for You?
Raising chickens can be rewarding (and not just because you’ll get delicious organic eggs from your own backyard) and fun. However, it isn’t for everyone. Chickens have special needs, and require some extra time. Keep in mind that it’s okay if you decide chickens aren’t for you.
Chickens Are Weird Animals.
Chickens are crazy smart, and hilarious to watch as they peck their way around the yard. But what makes them so cool, also makes them a little weird too. Chickens have crops. Not like corn or green beans, but little organs that do all of the digesting of their food. These crops don’t work on their own though. They need grit (aka little rocks) to eat. This grit goes into their crop and is used to literally mash up their food so it can be digested. However, their crops don’t develop until they are at least 18 weeks old. So for the first 18 weeks of their life they need to be fed special chick food (food they don’t need rocks to digest). After that you can switch them to the traditional layer food.
What Kind and How Many Should You Buy?
There are chickens that are ideal for meat production and chickens that are ideal laying hens. What you want to do with your backyard flock will determine what kind of chicken you’ll need to buy. Even within the laying breeds, some are heavier layers while some lay more decorative eggs. The kind of layer they are will also determine the age the chicken will start laying (6 months old is a good estimate). When you decide what kind of chicken is best for you, then you have to decide how many you want. Keep in mind that chickens are very social creatures. They need their flock. We recommend you have at least three. And hey, more chickens mean more backyard eggs!
Chickens Sleep on Roosts.
Contrary to popular belief, those nice boxes you fill with the good cushiony stuff aren’t where your chickens will sleep. They’ll only use those boxes for the few minutes it takes them to lay an egg (bonus fact – you don’t have to have a rooster. Hens will lay their eggs with or without that big old rooster around!). Chickens prefer to sleep on a roost – a pole up off the ground. When you go to build or buy your coop, you should keep a couple things in mind: you’ll need one nesting box for every three chickens, and a roosting bar for them to sleep on (ideally a roosting bar inside an enclosure you can completely seal off at night to keep your chickens safe). A good rule of thumb is 1 square foot of space per chicken in their enclosure. Additionally, chickens like the warm weather. How warm should your chicks be? For their first week of life, keep the temperature around them at 90°F and reduce it by 5°F each week until their ideal temperature reaches 70°F and then you should try to always maintain a 70°F temperature for them.
Clean Chickens Are Happy Chickens.
Cleanliness is key to not only your happiness and the chickens’ happiness, but to their health as well. There are many options for bedding that will keep your chickens’ enclosure an easy chore to clean, as well as organic sprays and dusts to keep parasites like mites away from your flock. Unfortunately, sometimes even when we do our best, our chickens still get sick. This is because chicken diseases are air-borne. The best protection for your chickens will always be prevention (again – cleanliness is key). If your chicken starts to become lethargic, their comb (big red thing on their head) becomes dry or faded in color, or you notice something off about your chicken, come talk to us right away. If it’s ever anything we don’t know about, we will get you in touch with UGA’s poultry department who can assist you.