1. Learn and know your local zoning, region, elevation and climate: call you local county or city hall for laws, zoning, regulations and details.
1.A. Are roosters allowed? how many? are chickens allowed? how many? etc.
2. Determine if you want egg layers, dual purpose, heritage breeds or industrialized meat birds. There are many birds to choose from, so do not be in a hurry. Ask questions, read books, magazines, look online and contact farmers and ranchers with experience.
(blue egg layers, white egg layers, brown egg layers, fast growers, slow growers, winter layers etc.)
3. Select breeds that do well in your region, elevation and that meet your needs. Not all birds lay all year, some do well in lower elevations and others high and inbetween, so contact experienced farmers/ranchers, learn all you can via books, hobby magazines, local agriculture support and internet to determine you best selections for your needs.
3.A. Select chicks from a reputable, certified breeder or hatchery, to ensure a healthy flock.
4. Brood chicks as per the instructions of the hatchery. Usually 96-99 degrees with an area where they can get away from the heat. Keep them in the brooder until fully feathered.
5. Once your young birds are out of the brooder, keep them safe from over-head flying and ground predators, (flight netting, , poultry netting etc..) Remember young birds can not regulate their body temperatures until they are feathered and young chicks can not protect themselves from large rats etc..
6. Provide your birds with plenty of room, at least 2-3 square feet per bird and be certain that they have semi-dark, safe enclosures (laying nests) to lay eggs.
7. Provide plenty of roosting posts/poles and keep them at least 4 feet + off the ground. Provide summer shade and shelter from the rains, hail, snow and high winds, they may not use it, but at least they have that option.
8. Allow them day ranging in a safe and clean environment, and remember to clean (rake) the fecal debris off the ground, and often (2-6 times weekly), in an effort to provide a clean and sanitary environment and to avoid health problems and cross contamination.
9. Fresh bedding is important, use pine shavings, straw or bermuda grass (never use cedar, since this can be toxic to birds). If bedding gets wet or is smelly, moldy etc.. change bedding more often (4-8 times monthly).
10. Provide plenty of free choice, clean water 24hrs each day. Providng a separate water trough with vitamins and minerals included, allows the birds to regulate themselves.
11. Chickens require at least 18% protein levels in food supply (Game birds 22-28% protein), and during the winter provide your birds with at least 12% fat levels. Most breeds do not lay well during the winter time, they are busy using energy to stay warm. Many breeds require more daylight hours and temperatures of 70+ degrees. This being said, some breeds do not lay well in temperatures over 100 degrees.
12. Offer your birds free choice oyster shell (or equivalent), this helps keep calcium levels strong and this may help to develop a strong egg shell.
13. Keep poultry mites and small pests at bay with diatomaceous earth, simply sprinkle on bedding and inside coops.
14. Collect fresh eggs daily and refrigerate (washing off the bloom is optional) "you should always wash your eggs before cracking".
15. Pay attention to your flock, learn their normal behaviors. If a bird is is not responding, or has a runny nose, swollen eyes, panting, not active, losing weight etc.. immediately separate that bird from your flock and contact your veterinarian, if you do not have a veterinarian, call the nearest Agriculture school or your state veterinarian, contact anyone you know that can help.
16. When possible feed your birds a certified organic diet, if this is not possible, simply add fresh veggies, berries and fruits from your kitchen to their daily diet. Greens are very good for chickens and in many cases, make for a healthier chicken and egg.
17. Problems to look for and avoid: pecking at each other, too much feather loss, not laying, losing weight, respiratory issues, not active in the range, overcrowding etc..
18. Some breeds, under "perfect" conditions can live up to 25 years.
19. Some breeds (in optimum condtions) can lay well, for up to 5 years, then production can slow down.
20. Care for your chickens with kindness and love, and if you have any questions or concerns, I am happy to help, in any way I can and you are welcome to contact me.
www.backyardchickens.com has a full spectrum variety of useful information, utilize your resources.
Edited by RainbowRanchFrm - 2/24/12 at 2:35pm