Topic of the Week - Getting Started, Keeping Chickens

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by sumi, Dec 26, 2016.

  1. sumi

    sumi Égalité

    Jun 28, 2011
    Tipperary, Ireland
    This week I would like to hear you all's tips and advice for new chicken keepers… Many of us here are old hands at the hobby, but many of our members and visitors are just starting out. What tips and advice and lessons learned would our "old timers" like to share with new chicken owners and/or people thinking of getting into the hobby? Things like...

    - Before buying birds, what do first?
    - How to pick breeds, what to look for when buying birds, etc.
    - Where and who to buy birds from. (Breeders, hatcheries, farmers' markets, feed store?)
    - Coop and housing do's and don'ts.
    - Feeding and watering do's and don'ts.
    - Keeping the flock healthy and safe.
    - General tips, advice and everything else you'd like to share.

    For a complete list of our Topic of the Week threads, see here:
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2017
    3 people like this.
  2. Yusuf

    Yusuf Hatching

    Dec 26, 2016
    minna nigeria
    how can i start the business and what would it cost
  3. Pork Pie

    Pork Pie Flockwit

    Jan 30, 2015
    Hi Yusuf and welcome to BYC. I know that there are a couple of members from Nigeria - one I recall keeping meat birds as a business. I can't recall their username, but maybe if you post on this thread - a fellow Nigerian may be able to advise.

    All the best
  4. sumi

    sumi Égalité

    Jun 28, 2011
    Tipperary, Ireland
    Yusuf, welcome to BYC! I see you are from Africa (I'm from down there myself). The laws, regulations, availability of stock, equipment, costs etc is something you will have to research. Your local agri supply store would be a good place to start. I think you may also find this article helpful for the more general aspects of raising chickens for profit:
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2016
  5. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler!

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    - Before buying birds, what do first?
    Spend one year reading and researching, weigh very carefully what you read.
    Just because something is repeated over and over, doesn't mean it's a good idea-think.
    There are many different ways/things that will work well.....and many that won't work for you or anywhere.
    Look for the failures/mistakes/errors so you don't repeat them.
    Don't buy birds/chicks until after your coop is built.

    - How to pick breeds, what to look for when buying birds, etc.
    What are your goals....eggs, meat, pretty pets???
    Find what breeds meets your goals and buy a few different ones.
    Start small 6-12...realize adding birds takes extra space.

    - Where and who to buy birds from. (Breeders, hatcheries, farmers' markets, feed store?)
    I would recommend buying chicks from a hatchery (direct or farm/feed store), all other sources are a risk for disease and pests.
    Adult birds or ready to lay birds can be great, but often come with problems you'll have forever. BTDT.

    - Coop and housing do's and don'ts.
    Do not buy a cute little prefab coop, they are always too small-most premade coops/kits/plans grossly over 'estimate' the space needed for a healthy harmonious flock.
    Go big, read up on space requirements, you need more room than for just the main flock...adding new birds, supplies, feed, shelter for maintenance.
    I highly recommend a walk in coop with several separable sections...main coop, new/sick/bad/broody birds, feed/supplies.
    The oft cited 4sqft/bird in coop and 10sqft/bird in run is a minimum, IMO, especially in a cold climate.
    Dont' skimp on coop space 'because you mostly free range'....there may be times(days/weeks/months) when they need to be confined for protection.
    Ventilation is very, very important.

    - Feeding and watering do's and don'ts.
    Keep it simple, a good balanced chicken ration and clear clean water.
    Tons of supplemental stuff out there, mostly hogwash/snakeoil/misunderstood/misapplied/etc, can cause more harm than good and can greatly complicate diagnosing any problems.
    Learn to read nutritional labeling, sewn into the bottom of all feed bags (in the US anyway).
    'Treats' and/or other foods can dilute the basic essentials in a balanced formulation, especially protein and essential vitamins/minerals/amino acids needed for nutritional uptake...yes, you can 'kill' them with 'kindness'.

    - Keeping the flock healthy and safe.
    All of the above plus predator protection.
    Make coop absolutely predator proof for night time safety...and maybe run too.

    - General tips, advice and everything else you'd like to share.
    Have fun, be flexible, if it doesn't work-fix it.
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2016
  6. CuzChickens

    CuzChickens CountryChick

    Apr 24, 2016
    Well, what a coincidence! I'm currently writing an article called ''101 crash course-things to know before you get chickens.''

    I personally spent a year researching before I got them. When I was 11 1/2 I began baking and selling yeast breads from my home kitchen. When I started making some money, my mom suggested I find a purpose for it, something to save up for. After jumping from one thing to another, I settled on chickens. I set a goal of money I needed to have by the next year and began reading. I read every book in the library system, which included requesting books from the seven other libraries linked to my local one. I found BYC, though of course the smart thing to do would be join BYC right away, I didnt do it till I had a chicken on deaths doorstep. In March of 2016, my first 25 chicks arrived, for my 13th birthday in June, my brother gave me 15 more chicks. I became addicted. OK, so maybe that isn't what newbies need to know, that is just my story.

    Research. I hear the same story again and again, I was at the feed store getting dog food and ended up home with chicks and ducklings, how am I supposed to do this? Well, if you'd done your research you would know that they can't be brooded together, and let me guess, you probably don't even have two heat lamps. That year I spent researching was the longest year of my life, but it would have been unfair to those new lives I was responsible for to not do that and end up doing the wrong thing and killing them.

    Look at local laws, are you allowed to own chickens? I didn't have to worry about this, I live ten miles from the nearest gas station, but it is something others should consider.

    Build your coop wayyyyy bigger than you think you'll ever need. You will kick yourself-hard later when you found this awesome deal on the exact chicks you've always wanted, but need a house for them and its maxed out.

    I personally thought all I would ever want was eggs, and pets. So it didn't really matter where I got mine. Stupid me, here I am a year later with an incubator ready to sell chickens all year long and wishing I had better quality birds. Find NPIP certified breeders and if you are allowed, visit the farm and see if you feel like they are raised in a healthy environment and look healthy themselves.

    ALWAYS, ALWAYS quarantine them before putting them in together if you get birds from different sources.

    I realllly do not recommend feed stores. Big no no. A. They don't come from great hatcheries in the first place. B. Think of all the people walking in with diseases! If they aren't sick before, they are a lot more contaminated.
    BTW, did you mean livestock swaps when you said farmers markets? I have never been to a farmers market that sell animals. Seems like people don't want animals around their food.

    Don't ever ever ever buy a prefab coop. Ever. Terrible idea. I built my own for about $500 and if you were to buy the same sort of coop somewhere, it would probably be $1,500.

    Like I said earlier, never build it to what you think you'll need. Build as big as you can.

    I highly recommend a moveable coop with electric poultry net so you can give them fresh grass. They will thank you.

    I have a raised coop, and though it is challenging to clean the coop sometimes, (not for me, I'm five feet tall, but a full grown adult might have some problems) I love it. It gives my birds a chance to get shade without being in the house, and we all know there are those ones that get bullied so even if they can't go in the house as much, at least they have some shelter from the elements. Everybody talks about how difficult it is to retrieve dead birds, use a rake.

    I use those snake oils and they have saved my flock on many occasions. I personally call them essential oils. Now, there are terrible brands out there that could cause your flock a lot of harm, but I use a good brand, and love it. I had 4 chickens die in twenty four hours during a rainy spell and figured they had some sort of respritory illness. After giving them oregano in their water, not another one died.

    Always have fresh water available. I hear of some folks who only give chickens water during the day to keep the coop cleaner. Mine is a bit messier, but at least they have water 24/7.

    I'd give my take on the other two, but the chickens need to be let out and the animals fed.
  7. bobbi-j

    bobbi-j Crossing the Road

    Mar 15, 2010
    On the MN prairie.
    This pretty much sums up everything I would say. Research, research, research. Learn about adequate housing, learn what breeds of birds will suit your flock goals. Make sure your coop is big enough - build one, rather than buy one of those "doll house" coops. More space is better than not enough. Feed them good, quality feed. Always be open to ideas or suggestions. "Because we've always done it this way" doesn't mean that's the best thing for your flock. Also, how I raise and take care of my flock out here in the country on the Minnesota prairie is not going to work for someone who has chickens in San Diego. Glean information, take what works for you.
  8. Egghead_Jr

    Egghead_Jr Crowing

    Oct 16, 2010
    NEK, VT
    A lot of info given already so I'll keep it simple.

    The biggest understated problem you will encounter unless prepared in advance is rodents. It's a natural law of nature- provide food and animals will congregate and the last thing you and especially your neighbors want is a boom in mice, rat, chipmunk and squirrel population. Have a plan and implement it from day one. Personally I use bait chunx poison in tamper proof bait boxes right in the run and side of house closest to coop or where feed is stored. Love it and wouldn't think of keeping chickens without. There are other methods and some are effective without use of poison but none work if not used. Drowning stations for example are effective to extent but certainly wont put a dent in population once your overrun.

    Chickens get a bad rap as it is by the uneducated causing bans and ordinances. The last thing the hobby needs is more fodder against it. Invite rodents and have them move into your neighbors house is yet another nail in coffin for suburban chicken keeping. I've seen poor use of poison and the cause was a person keeping chickens without any preventative measure for rodents. Neighbor on one side took action by use of boxes of pellet poison shaked out along fence line and neighbors dog on other side of property died. Things like this don't happen if people prevent rodents from populating in the first place. Pellet poison is not a good method, chunx poison in tamper proof boxes is. And for those not wanting poison at all they certainly need to be vigilant when using the far less effective methods. It's one thing to be lax and let rodents move into your house if your in the country it's quite acceptable to let them move into your neighbors homes if you live in towns and suburbs.
    1 person likes this.
  9. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Crossing the Road

    Nov 7, 2012
    - Before buying birds, what do first? Do your homework. Go to the learning center, and read many of the articles there. Find a topic that interests you and type it in the search bar, and read the posts on that topic. Familiarize yourself with the key players on this site who seem to have the same general outlook on life, and who's poultry management styles seem to match the way you'd like to manage your flock. Follow their posts, or even contact them. Realize that for every question asked, there may be a dozen different approaches, and realize that there is no one "right answer" as long as the needs of the bird are being met. Research chicken breeds, methods of housing, talk to your friends and neighbors who might have chickens. Research your town's zoning laws. Contact your county Agricultural extension office and get their free literature re: all things poultry. Go to your state thread, and look at pictures of the coops that represent folks in your state. Ask the posters what they like and don't like about their coops. What would they do differently?

    - How to pick breeds, what to look for when buying birds, etc. Henderson's chicken breed chart is a good place to start. What are your goals? Eggs? Meat? Cute fluffy pets? What will you do with the birds when they no longer lay eggs? What is your plan for accidental roosters? IMO, you should get ALL of your birds from the same location for your first flock. Do not get a few and then add a few more. Do an all or none approach for that first year.

    - Where and who to buy birds from. (Breeders, hatcheries, farmers' markets, feed store?) A lot depends on how many birds you want (IMO, you should start small the first year). Realize that the birds that come from the feed store have just arrived from a hatchery. There is no magic about feed store birds being better than the birds you order direct from the hatchery. IMO, you are better off ordering direct from the hatchery. Those feed store birds will have survived the first round of "death from shipping stress", but they are still in a stressful environment, perhaps even subject to being handled by multiple dirty hands. While most feed stores have a do not touch policy where customers are concerned, others do not. Those chicks are at risk of being mauled by both adults and children with dirty hands, and also at risk of being dropped or put back into the wrong bin after being handled. Feed store chicks: common policy is "once that chick is in the parking lot, all bets are off. If it kicks the bucket on the way to the car, that's the customer's problem. No refunds." If I order chicks from the same hatchery that sent chicks to the feed store, I will have a 48 - 72 hour refund policy. My direct shipped chicks will only have to deal with that first shipping experience, and once they have arrived, I know how they have been handled, and can take immediate steps to ensure their success. If you don't need/want enough chicks to make doing direct order feasible, look at the option of splitting an order with someone. Don't overlook local, though they are apt to be barn yard mixes. Not a bad thing. Barn yard mix are hearty little buggers, apt to be colorful, good layers, and are already ensured to be well adapted to your local climate. They are likely to be straight run, unless they are old enough to be sexed. Also, don't overlook the option of hatching eggs. This option is for the more adventurous. You should never hatch an egg unless you are willing/able to cull any malformed/failure to thrive chicks and have an exit plan for your cockrels. It's also not terribly difficult to make your own incubator.

    - Coop and housing do's and don'ts. Above all else, never spend money on one of those pre-fab coops. They are poorly designed, often by someone who has no idea what a chicken actually needs for housing. They are too small. A good place to start is by planning for at least 4 s.f. in the coop and 10 s.f. in the run (YES YOU SHOULD HAVE A RUN. EVEN IF YOU DON'T USE IT REGULARLY.) per bird. Not only do you need to think about floor space, but you need to think about vertical space. The roosts need to be ABOVE the nest boxes. And you need at least 2' above the roosts to prevent issues with moisture/frost bite due to moisture build up from bird respiration. Roosts should be about 2' above the floor. And those roosts need to be far enough away from the back wall that the bird's tail feathers don't brush against that wall, and far enough away from the front wall to allow them room to safely jump down without smacking their face on that wall. Also consider making your coop big enough to allow brooding successive generations in the coop, having a broody or isolation pen. Allow enough height to accommodate a deep litter. Ventilation: LOTS of it, at multi levels, without direct draft on birds on the perch. Lighting. Give those birds some good windows!!! Make them able to open without letting in the rain. Take a close look at the Woods coop. Wonderfully designed building to meet the flock needs.

    - Feeding and watering do's and don'ts. Fermented feed. Nutri-drench for starting chicks.

    - Keeping the flock healthy and safe. Deep litter in both coop and run will actually help meet their nutritional needs, cut disease and parasite risk, give them healthy gut flora. Free range when able to do so safely. Covered run to prevent hawk predation. Realize that you will have to do your own risk assessment: How much can you spend on your coop/run? There is a trade off between happy birds who are allowed to free range all day, every day, and the risk of loss to predation. By building a secure run, that is covered top and sides, with a skirt around it, you can keep them shut in on those times when predation is higher, or when you can't be around to supervise. Consider electronet fencing. Great for land predators, does squat for aerial predation. And many birds simply won't stay inside electronet. You could put a few strands around your coop and run to beef up security. Above all else, shut your birds in a secure coop every night.

    - General tips, advice and everything else you'd like to share. Have fun, and realize that there are plenty of different management styles.
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2016
    BrendaJune and Lynnski like this.
  10. Folly's place

    Folly's place Free Ranging

    Sep 13, 2011
    southern Michigan
    aart and others already gave great advise! Research first, build big, and biosecurity. Random source birds will bring in random diseases, and some will kill all your birds, and some will NEVER go away. It's really not complicated to do it right! Mary
    2 people like this.

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