They’re so messy! They’re poop factories! Don’t get your chicks before your coop is ready! Get the right breed for your needs! Beware of chicken math…
The internet is packed with tons of great advice for first-time chicken owners. If you’re like me, you’ve perused gobs of information and sucked it up like a human vacuum cleaner. Years before I bought my first chicks, I read chicken books. I started a “Chickens” Pinterest board where I dutifully pinned all the articles I thought I might need to reference in the future. I checked local stores for price comparisons and collected scrap materials to build the coop. I made myself a member of BYC.
Finally, the day came. We had just moved. Our coop was not yet built, the brooder not quite ready. But it was the end of chick season. Only one more batch coming! Get ‘em while they’re hot, folks! I didn’t want to wait for one more whole year! We took the plunge.
Boy am I glad we did. Raising chicks has been fun and educational, full of surprises. Despite all my preparation, there are some things I have found that I wish I’d known. I had some misconceptions, too. So, hopefully I’ll provide some information here that is a bit off the beaten path of advice for chicken beginners, and that will be helpful to someone (particularly those in rural areas)...
1. Be prepared for the stores that sell chickens to know nothing about them.
I’m talking about breed, types of feed, vaccinations, whatever.I bought eight chicks.Four of them were supposed to be white leghorns, two of them barred rocks, and two were labelled “araucana.”Well, I (think I) ended up with three leghorns, two barred rocks, and three easter eggers/hybrids of unknown origin.I don’t mind the hybrids because they’re unique birds and I’m excited to see what color eggs they lay, but the store did charge much higher prices for the birds labelled “araucanas,” which after doing much research I now know they clearly are not.They are mystery birds.When I asked whether the chicks had been vaccinated, I was referred to three different people before I finally got to one who told me they had been, but didn’t know for what diseases.After checking around, this seems to be par for the course.Regarding chicken feed, I was confused because different sources give different information, and different brands have different instructions.In my area, I cannot find grower feed for laying hens, any organic feed, or unmedicated chick starter.
My goodness, there are so many little things I had not figured into the cost of starting a flock.We tried to repurpose materials and use what we had around to build the coop and brooder, but just the cost of the hardware we needed for the coop is worth several dozen eggs.There are some amazing people out there who raise flocks in a bare bones, super economical way.That’s awesome, but when I read about using Sweet PDZ/Zeolite in coops to control odor and help with clean-up, I was sold.That stuff costs $15/bag.I wanted to get some mealworm treats for the chicks because everyone wants to spoil their pets, right?$8+/bag.There is the cost of bedding, heat lamps for the brooder, and a dozen other little things that come up.Then I read that you need a chicken first aid kit.Yikes, vet supplies are expensive!!Examples:
Now, I know that some folks probably have alternatives to these items or do without them, but as a first-time chicken owner who knows no experienced chicken-keepers, it’s difficult not to feel derelict somehow in not having at least some of these items on hand.
- Vetericyn Wound Care = $20/8oz.,
- Anti-peck spray = $8/4oz.
- Verm-X = $28/250ml
- Nutri-Drench = $38/qt.
I am not saying it’s not all worth it in the end, but I think it’s important to think of it not only as an investment, but to make sure you will enjoy the chickens and get much more out of raising them than just the eggs and/or meat.
3. Speaking of first aid kits, are you squeamish?
This was something I hadn’t thought of initially, but it’s a good idea to review medical issues which commonly affect backyard flocks.From pasty butt, bumblefoot, and prolapsed vents, to nastier issues like fowl pox and avian influenza, I think it’s important to have at least some knowledge of these conditions and plan to be able to be deal with them should they arise.Are you capable of securely holding a chicken to lance a wound and apply wound care?
4. Chickens are not garbage disposals.
Okay, so I admit that one of the things that attracted me to keeping chickens was getting to feed our food waste to animals who then convert it into eggs and garden fertilizer.Win, win!But it’s not quite that simple.Apparently chick feed is specially formulated to meet all of their nutritional needs, and if you feed them too much other stuff it can upset their growth and nutritional balance.I’ve had to back off on giving them too many table scraps in order to make sure they get their feed.Also, there’s a lot of conflicting information out there on what it’s okay to feed them.(Bread vs. no bread; no citrus vs. okay to give citrus; etc.) I say, use your educated common sense.They’ll probably be okay.
5. Chickens carry salmonella.
Interestingly, I came across very little information about salmonella during my initial research.But I recently read something about children contracting salmonella from backyard flocks and had to look into the situation a bit more.You see, I have a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old.Part of my impetus for wanting chickens was for educational purposes for the kids.They both have been allowed to handle the chicks and my older child has been very involved in their care so far.My conclusion after reading through a bunch of literature:it is possible for people to get salmonella from backyard flocks, and young children are especially prone.However, this is rare and if you use proper hygiene, it is extremely unlikely.So, I put some hand sanitizer in the coop and I have the kids use it after handling the chickens. Then I make sure they wash their hands once we come inside.I’m pondering the idea of having special “coop” shoe covers to make sure traces of feces don’t get tracked into the house, but we already (usually) remove shoes at the door, so that might be a bit overboard.
Well, I could say a bunch more here, but I don’t want to rattle on too long for my first article, so I will finish with this: Chickens are fun!! I had this conception that chickens are like robots and devoid of personality or affection. Well, it’s not true. They are curious and inquisitive. Each one is unique and they are absolutely hilarious. Some of them are friendly and let you pet and hold them. Others are bossy, or skittish. Having chickens has been a wonderful experience for us so far…and we’re only three months in! Enjoy!
Meet the flock: Blackish and Boxie (the two barred rocks), Cabbage (easter egger), Onions, Yellowie, and Junior (leghorns), and Feisty and Fluffers (the two non-araucanas in back). Hint: The green legs on the non-leghorn labelled leghorn were a dead giveaway. If I'd known any better, it would have been obvious she wasn't really a leghorn.
P.S. The chicks were all named by my daughter, niece, and nephews who are all between 3 and 7 years old.
Here's Feisty. Still trying to decide if it's a rooster. No comb to speak of (yet), but s/he seems to be developing saddle feathers.
**Update: Fabulous BYC sources say she's not a rooster. Hooray!
Backyard Chickens from a Beginner: What I’ve Learned So Far and What I Wish I’d Known
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