New to the world of chickens

Discussion in 'Raising Baby Chicks' started by Hands On Dad, Dec 10, 2014.

  1. Hands On Dad

    Hands On Dad Out Of The Brooder

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    Let me start by telling you a little about me. I'm from south Louisiana on a 9 acre slice of heaven. I have two boys, age 7 and 4. They are everything to me and we do everything together, from hunting/fishing to science projects to deciphering common core math.

    My oldest loves nature and my wife suggested that we start to raise some chickens. 1. for the eggs obviously but 2. also and more importantly for the experience for my boys, seeing nature grow and flourish.

    We have 3 dogs (all inside) so I have experience with animals. I grew up hunting and fishing, so the "disgusting" parts of this new undertaking won't bother me. My grandparents also had dairy cows as I was growing up, and I still remember those cold mornings milking the cows before school.

    That being said, I have no idea about how to raise chickens. Which led me here. I have a vast amount of questions, many of which I have been able to find simply by searching and reading.

    I have 9 acres, of which mostly is wooded, which will come with natural chicken predators I assume. I live in the country, so no city ordinances of any kind, and no close neighbors to worry about. I'm not planning on getting started with live baby chicks until the spring, so I want to have all my ducks (chickens?) in a row before then. So here we go...

    I have plenty of room but would like to keep the chickens contained, mainly for their safety. Do I need to fence an area in? I've read about chicken runs and chicken tractors, however I'm not sure what they are.

    What breed of chicken would be best for a beginner. One that lays 3-4 eggs a week but is also friendly around little kids.

    I figured on 4 hens, do I need a rooster too? I would guess so, I remember that birds and the bees talk with my dad.

    Basically these are just my beginning questions, I want to do it right and I'm sure my boys are going to love this. Just trying to get ahead of the curve before D-Day. Thanks in advance!
     
  2. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    I have plenty of room but would like to keep the chickens contained, mainly for their safety. Do I need to fence an area in? I've read about chicken runs and chicken tractors, however I'm not sure what they are.

    There are many different models for how people keep chickens. Some people just let them roam wild and sleep in trees. Some build a coop and run and keep them tightly contained. Many are going to be somewhere in between. A lot of that depends on room but also predator pressure.

    A coop is a building that normally has roosts where the chickens sleep and nests where they lay. A coop can be anything from a tiny building up on stilts to a huge walk-in building. People may or may not feed and water in there. Since most predators are more active at night and people are usually not stirring around to help keep predators frightened away, the highest risk from predators is at night, so many people lock them in a predator-proof coop overnight. Many people think that predators are only active at night, but that is not the case. Foxes, dogs, coyotes, hawks, raccoons, skunks, bobcats, and many others will hunt during the day. The risk is greater at night though.

    A run is a fenced area where the chickens can go during the day. It gives them protection from predators but is usually not as safe as a coop. The bigger it is the harder it is to make it truly predator proof. The other advantage to a run is that it keeps the chickens contained. That’s quite handy in the city to keep them out of the street and off neighbor’s property, but it also keeps them out of your garden. And there are times where you might find it useful to keep the chickens contained. Even if you don’t normally keep them contained a run gives you flexibility in how you handle them.

    Growing up in the ridges of East Tennessee many decades ago a few miles from not much, my parents and many of the neighbors kept chickens that were not confined during the day. Most had coops or chicken houses where most of the chickens slept at night, but some slept in trees or open barns. We’d often go years between predator attacks, but a dog or fox might show up and have to be dealt with. Predator pressure really wasn’t too bad. But where some people are, their entire flock could be wiped out the first time they tried something like that.

    A tractor is a specialized coop/run. It is generally small enough to be portable and is totally enclosed. The chickens can graze on grass then you move it to fresh grass. If you don’t move it pretty regularly, the ground underneath becomes a quagmire of chicken poop and can really stink, especially if it rains a bunch. Some people move theirs twice a day, though others can go longer between moves. Tractors require a commitment to move them when you need to.

    What breed of chicken would be best for a beginner. One that lays 3-4 eggs a week but is also friendly around little kids.

    Some people really get hung up on breeds. People tend to really like the breed they have, even if they have never had any other to compare to. Practically any breed will work for you, or even a flock of mixed-breed backyard chickens. Breeds do have tendencies but you have to have a lot for averages to mean much. Each chicken is an individual and can have many traits not common for that breed.

    How do you determine what breed you want? First you need to decide what traits you want in chickens. It’s hard to get what you want if you don’t know what you want. This may actually be the hardest thing about the entire process. But at the end of the day, the things you agonized about the most are probably not the important ones. It’s the not knowing that is the hardest.

    You could look through Henderson’s Breed Chart to see general tendencies and characteristics, then go to Feathersite to get some good photos.

    Henderson’s Breed Chart
    http://www.sagehenfarmlodi.com/chooks/chooks.html

    Feathersite
    http://www.feathersite.com/Poultry/BRKPoultryPage.html#Chickens

    You could go to an online website and use a breed selection tool.

    http://www.mypetchicken.com/chicken-breeds/which-breed-is-right-for-me.aspx

    http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/chick_selector.html

    https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/316042/new-feature-breed-selection-tool-search-tool

    Your oldest son may or may not be old enough for 4H. You could talk to your parish extension agent about the local 4H program and maybe get started in that. Some people are pretty passionate about their chickens and will love to talk and educate.

    I figured on 4 hens, do I need a rooster too? I would guess so, I remember that birds and the bees talk with my dad


    The only reason you need a rooster is if you want fertile eggs. Anything else is just personal preference. Many flocks without any roosters are quite happy flocks. It sounds like you want to use chickens as an educational tool. It also sounds like you want to raise some for meat. You can always buy chicks but you probably do want a rooster to hatch your own. There can be some issues with this.

    Some people will tell you that it is a disaster waiting to happen to have a rooster around small kids. You are dealing with living animals so no one can give you any guarantees, but for thousands of years people have kept flocks with roosters on a small farm where small kids were growing up.

    Not all hens go broody. Actually few hatchery hens do though some breeds have more of a tendency to go broody than others. That does not mean that all hens of that breed go broody, just that they are more likely to. Remember living animals don’t come with guarantees. Going broody means that her hormones cause her to want to be a mommy. She quits laying eggs, sets on eggs to hatch them, and then raises the chicks. You cannot cause a hen to go broody and you certainly cannot control when a hen goes broody. You may need to buy an incubator and hatch them yourself, which creates a whole lot more opportunities for education.

    If your kids clean fish or skin rabbits, or see you doing that, and you are up-front with them from the first about your intentions with the chickens, they can usually handle the butchering and eating part really well. Maybe they will want to know what a gizzard or liver looks like. But if you spring a surprise and suddenly want to eat their pet, they can often have a problem with that. They are your kids but it sounds like you have a good relationship with them.

    Where you are you don’t have to worry about cold weather at all. Chickens can handle any cold weather you will ever see down there but heat can kill them. You need a coop with lots of ventilation and they need plenty of shade. You will get plenty of rain down there. A wet coop or run is a dangerous coop or run, a breeding ground for disease. When the weather sets in wet it is real hard to keep any decent sized run dry, but this article may help you in your design.

    Pat’s Big Ol' Mud Page (fixing muddy runs):
    https://www.backyardchickens.com/web/viewblog.php?id=1642-fix-a-muddy-run

    You might follow the link in my signature for my thoughts on space. Plan for the future in how many you may eventually have. In general, the tighter I crowd them, the more behavioral problems I have, the harder I have to work, and the less flexibility I have in dealing with problems.

    Good luck and welcome to the adventure.
     
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  3. Hands On Dad

    Hands On Dad Out Of The Brooder

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    Thanks a ton. I've been doing more reading since I posted this. Found out the male is only need to have "fertile" eggs. With such a small group I don't think I'm going to start off with a rooster. Based off of what I've read so far, I think I've decided on Rhode Island Red. Seems to be about the right speed for a beginner.
     
  4. AmyLynn2374

    AmyLynn2374 Humidity Queen

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    My chicks are all barnyard surprises (mixes) and I've never had a purebred, but I don't think I would enjoy them as much unless I paid a lot of money for a special very pretty one...lol Mixes are so different and they're like a box of chocolates-you never know whatchyou'll get. [​IMG] But you got to add a Turken (necked neck) in there at some point. The boys would love them...lol Mine aren't old enough to lay yet, but it is my understanding that they lay good size eggs, often through the winter and rumor is they are delicious too...(not that I plan to find out...lol) They are the so ugly they are cute type...lol
     
  5. AmyLynn2374

    AmyLynn2374 Humidity Queen

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    Oh and incubating eggs if you do decide to keep a roo is an awesome experience for the kids. That's how we got started with chicks - we did a oviparous animal study and incubated eggs for it. My son learned about conditions such as temp and humidity as well as how they form and seeing them move inside the egg when you candle is so awesome! Not to mention the hatching. You can't beat that for learning!
     
  6. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

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    Ridgerunner did a great write-up, as always.

    Myself, I think everyone needs to have a predator proof coop and run. Your birds dont' have to use it 24/7 if you're comfortable free ranging, but I'm a "be prepared" person. What if you want to go on vacation, or have a family emergency and need to go out of town for several days? having that safe place for your birds to stay will help whoever looks after them keep them safe while you're gone. Predators can be an issue also. Weather sounds like not so much an issue for you, but I'd advise to build an open sided coop for ventilation and air flow, with your heat and humidity. With your space, I'd seriously look into some electric poultry netting. The flock could be in the coop at night, secure from predators, and have access to a larger area inside the netting during the day. You'd still need to have some sheltered areas inside the netting in case or aerial predators, but even pallets up on cinder blocks does well for that.

    With that small a flock, and the ages of your boys, I'd plan to get four different breeds of hens. If you get all reds, you'll never be able to tell them apart easily. Get a Red, a barred Rock, a buff Orpington, and for egg color toss in an Easter egger....something like that. The chicks will look different, and the hens will be easy to tell apart. Having different colors and shades of eggs is lots of fun for the kiddos (hey, I love the different colors, too!). Those breeds are just an example, pretty much any heavy or dual purpose breed bird is going to do well in your backyard flock. Some breeds look great on paper, but in person they just don't do it for you.....that's why I like to try different breeds in person and see how we get along.

    I'd say nix the rooster until you've had a flock for a while. After you've had your girls a year or so, and are looking at adding new chicks in say spring 16, you might want to put a rooster in the mix. I'd advise not to buy one, just check your local Craigslist or whatever in the spring and pick one up from someone who got one by mistake.

    Your boys are adorable!
     
  7. chickincrazy

    chickincrazy Chillin' With My Peeps

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    WELCOME! [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2014
  8. BayBay Peepers

    BayBay Peepers Overrun With Chickens

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    Welcome to BYC and good luck on your new adventure! [​IMG]
     
  9. Bobbye

    Bobbye New Egg

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    Hi, I am also a newbie and live on the MS Gulf Coast. I ordered my babies a few days ago. As I wanted only hens due to living in a neighborhood I paid extra to get them. The lady that helped with my order told me that I had done my research with the ones I ordered so I thought I would share with you. I do not have children but that was my first requirement as I wanted them nice to me, next they had to be kind of quiet, calm, docile and very friendly. I ordered four hens and will not receive them until 4-21-14 but this is norm in the chicken business unless you buy from a feed store and get chicks you don't know what they are, boy or girl.

    Buff Brahma
    Buff Orpington
    Easter Egger
    Golden Buff

    These all fit my want list plus they are good egg layers. My husband has bought my a very nice coop to get started to see how I like it and if "I" pass the test he will build me a nice coop. I am looking forward to that as he is a great carpenter and it will have all I want in it. I am an artist so I can't wait. I hope this has been helpful.
     
  10. luvmychix2014

    luvmychix2014 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Roosters have such wonderful personalities and beautiful colors you should at least have one :) My two loves which I got knowing nothing about chickens but wanted 2 hens for eggs ended up being roos ... conformation of this last week when they started crowing (4 months 2 weeks old) but I wouldn't trade them for the world they are loving and so fun!!!
     

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