Chickens are in old species of animal that have been around for centuries. They are commonly used for eggs, meat, pets, and exhibition/ornamental (showing). There are different classes of chickens such as Exhibition/Ornamental (such as a Silkie), dual purpose birds used for meat and eggs (such as a Barred Plymouth Rock), meat (such as a Cornish game), and eggs (such as the Leghorn). Chickens have been bred over the years to have different sizes, combs, and feathering. There are two sizes of chicken, Bantam and Large fowl or Standard. Bantams are smaller chickens that lay smaller eggs. Large fowl are bigger chickens that lay bigger eggs. Bantams are shown more often, but both can be showed if recognized by the APA (American Poultry Association.
There are many breeds in the world today. A true breed is recognized by the APA (American Poultry Association). If it is not recognized by the APA then it is considered a cross or hybrid (such as the Olive Egger, Lohman Brown, or Sex-link).
Eggs and Meat
Eggs and meat are the most common uses for chickens. Most people get chickens for small time production in their own backyard. A few backyard chickens are good learning experience for kids and adults, and fresh meat and eggs from your own chickens is very satisfying! If you are getting chickens for eggs then you will need one nest per six chickens (1:6 ratio), you might want perches for your chickens comfort (that is your choice), and clean sawdust. If you choose to free range your chickens (its a great idea) then you will need chicken wire or some type of fencing with no big holes, and wooden posts. Chicken wire can be found at your local feed store. Chicken wire can be expensive, but if you want to keep your chickens safe its worth it. You can find wooden posts at your local lumber yard. You will want your fence to be about 5-6 feet tall and netting on top is optional. Remember, if your chickens get frightened by predators their egg laying will decrease. SO MAKE SURE YOUR COOP IS PREDATOR PROOF!! The same will apply to meat birds, though with meat birds you may not want to let them go out of there coop because you might want them to fatten up on grower pellets.
Chickens as Pets
Some people keep chickens as pets. I know it sounds weird, but many people have pet chickens! They can be a fun thing for your whole family, and you can learn a lot about how chickens think and what they do. Chickens can't learn much but they can follow you around and be devoted to you (for food of course).
Many people like to show, whether it's just a small hobby or what they do every weekend. Showing is for birds that are pure bred (recognized by the APA) birds. Not all chickens can be shown. If they have a problem (such as angle wings, too many toes, or the wrong type of comb) they can be disqualified from the show. Basically the birds are judged by what degree their backs are set at, their comb, and the rest of they’re appearance. I wouldn't suggest showing right away, go into it gradually, the chickens should be close to a year when shown.
You can also start breeding your own chickens. I would not recommend starting with this right away either. You would need to research further before you jump into breeding. What you will need for breeding your own chickens is:
1. A fertile rooster
2. A hen
4. A broody hen or an incubator (A 'Broody hen' is when a hen stays in the nest for a long period of time incubating her eggs)
5. Information on how to do it
6. A brooding area (little box for the chicks)
7. Heat lamp
What type is good for you?
Well, what do you want them for? Eggs, meat, showing, or pets? It all depends on what you want them for! It all comes down to opinion!
Here are some birds that might be good for you.
Cornish Rock giants/or other broilers***
Leghorns (Very good at laying)
(It can be anything really)
Old English game
***a broiler is a combination of breeds for the purpose of producing a fast growing bird that is butchered at 6-8 weeks.
Parts of a chicken
It is important to know the body parts of your chickens so that you can understand what people are talking about in books and on the internet, and so that you can make sure your birds are healthy and in order.
This chart should help:
You should also know the parts of your chickens wing, if you know the part of your chicken like the back of your hand you can win showmanship awards at chicken shows and then you won't be totally confused when people talk about Coverts, Bow, Bar...
Here are the parts of the wing:
Where to get your birds?
There are three options for getting your birds. You can, order them from a hatchery, get them from a local breeder, or get them from your local feed store or farm.
If you are thinking of showing these birds, then you won't want to order from a hatchery because hatchery birds aren't very good for showing (They are poor quality), not meaning that they aren't healthy, they just aren't good for showing. If you are going to show then a local breeder would be a good option if he breeds show quality birds. Your local feed store will probably not have the best quality birds but they should be pretty cheap, and there will be no shipping fee like the hatchery birds.
It is ultimately your choice though, so think about it carefully.
What You will need to start
You will need to be prepared before you get some chickens. You will need, a coop with wood shavings (some people use sand) inside, nesting boxes, perches (that is optional), food and water, artificial lighting (if it is winter), ventilation system, a run (if you plan to free range your birds), and you might want to have extra calcium on hand (helps make their egg shells harder).
Feeding and watering
From day 1- Week 8 give your chicks starter crumbles. From week 8 – when your birds start to lay feed them grower crumbles. For the rest of there life give them layer pellets. Give them extra calcium in their food if they start laying soft shelled eggs. You can give them scraps too. That will help balance they’re diet. MAKE SURE YOUR CHICKENS ALWAYS HAVE FOOD AND WATER!!!
Please note that meat birds have different eating patterns.
Should I free range?
If that were a question for me I would say “Yes” right away.
Helps in there diet
Its good for them to have fresh air
Desease doesn't spread as fast in the open
Less of a food bill because they eat bugs and greenery
Easier for predators to get them
Can get lost
Takes up more land
BYC has a lot of info. So does the feathersite. I also highly recommend the book "Mini encyclopedia of chicken breeds and care"
Chickens are great to have. They are fun and its a great learning experience! But it is a commitment that you have to follow through with. The rest is your choice!