There’s something about the comforting clucking of a brood of hens that sounds like home.
Whether you want a flock to lay delicious, healthy eggs, or you’d like to raise your hens for meat – some breeds are good for both – here’s what you need to get started:
Are You Allowed To Keep Chickens?
Before building a coop, check your local ordinances to make sure your flock won’t break the law.
In the city of Grand Prairie, your coop must be “150 feet from any residence, business or commercial establishment or office, (other than the owner’s), grocery stores, restaurants, schools, hospitals and nursing homes.” As in many cities, it is illegal to keep a rooster in the city of Grand Prairie, with few exceptions.
Even if your chickens are kept legally, they could be impounded if they disrupt your neighborhood. Make sure your enclosure is secure so your chickens cannot escape and roam. You may also need to account for any noise or odors that could offend your neighbors.
Where Will Your Chickens Live?
The chicken coop is the most expensive investment you’ll make as you start your flock. Intend to make the coop as large as possible – you’ll be glad you don’t have to get a new one when you expand your brood later on. You can build or buy a coop. You can cut costs by purchasing a used coop on your local Craigslist or Buy/Sell Facebook Group.
Your coop should be easy to access for cleaning and collecting eggs. It should have nest boxes, shade, and ventilation. Straw and wood shavings are great for bedding and nesting material.
The coop should be surrounded by a fairly large chicken run. Chickens are happiest and healthiest when they have room to roam and eat bugs. Make sure your run and coop are secure from predators. Foxes will be determined enough to dig under or climb over your fence to kill chickens and steal eggs.
What To Feed Your Chickens
The majority of your brood’s diet should be a complete, balanced feed.
Starter feed is high in protein. It’s for chicks that are 6 weeks old and younger.
Grower feed has almost as much protein as starter feed and less calcium than layer feed. It’s for chicks 6 to 20 weeks old.
Layer feed is for chickens 20 weeks and older, or those that have started to lay eggs. The extra calcium supports eggshell development.
Chicken feed comes in three textures: mash, crumble and pellet. The finer the texture, the more wasteful the feed will be, as chickens tend to sort through fine mash to find larger bits, leaving the dusty remnants behind.
You can ferment chicken feed for added nutrition. It’s a little extra work, but those that use this method say their chickens prefer the taste, and that fermented feed is better for digestion and more nutritious.
Allow your flock to free range so they can supplement their diet with bugs and other tasty tidbits they find on the ground.
You can also cut down on your kitchen trash by offering scraps to your flock. Cooked meat, vegetables, fruit, grains, and bread are all safe to feed. Avocados, potatoes, chocolate and coffee are all bad for fowl.
Layer hens need plenty of calcium to allow them to lay eggs with strong shells each day. You can buy oyster shells or crush eggshells at home to provide calcium.
Chickens are low maintenance creatures. However, it’s best to attend to them for a few minutes each day so you’ll have a routine and you won’t end up with extra chores at the end of the week.
Each day, give your hens fresh water. Spot-clean the coop and pick up any obvious messes. You can do a full cleaning once a week.
Do Chickens Need To Go To The Vet?
Unlike cats and dogs, chickens do not need regular vet visits. Most chicken owners are knowledgeable about common chicken disease and how to treat them, and will cull a bird if it develops serious health issues.
Humane Slaughtering For Meat Hens
Whether or not you choose to raise your brood for meat, you’ll likely have to learn how to properly and humanely kill a chicken. It wouldn’t be kind or economical to treat sick chickens and allow them to die naturally, though that is a decision you may decide to make.
Most small-time chicken keepers use a killing cone to make the process easier and more humane. The chicken is held upside down in the cone, then you’ll need to use a knife to slice the main artery – keeping the windpipe intact – so the blood drains quickly, allowing for a quick and relatively humane death.
Do you have any questions about raising your first chickens? Ask away in the comments!