How could we not love them?
They spoil us with yummy eggs, they are great little helpers in the garden (with guidance of course! ), they have distinct personalities, and they do love us back!
Today I want to share with you 7 essential steps on how to get started with backyard chickens , and some fun things we learned from our 3 lovely pet chickens: Lily, Rose, and Daisy.
Note: all photos are taken before my blogging + DSLR days, so they may not do justice of how beautiful our feathered friends are!
1. I want them ALL!
It’s hard to choose from all the cute baby chicks at the feed store, so a little research will be helpful before you go.
Important tip: bring an old bath towel or some T-shirts with you when you go buy baby chicks! Because the feed store will give them to you in a cardboard box, and putting a soft towel on the bottom of the box will make their car ride home with you so much more comfortable and less scary! You can also buy some soft bedding and put them in the box.
The most popular and easy to find kinds are Rhode Island Red, Plymouth Rock, Buff Orpington, Araucana, and Leghorn. They are all great egg layers. By the way, hens don’t need roosters to lay eggs, you know that, right?
How many? Well, one chicken is lonely, 10 chickens will make your fridge overflowing with 70 eggs a week. So think about the needs of your family, and the room you have: chickens love to play!
Some of the differences to consider is how well they adapt to cold or heat in your climate, their unique beauty, and egg sizes /colors, etc.
We simply could not resist those charming blue – green eggs! Both Lily and Daisy are Araucana chickens, originated from South America. They are both gentle and friendly, and are great egg layers.
Lily sometimes skips a day, then surprises us with a huge double yolk a day later!
Rose is a Rhode Island Red. She’s fun and energetic, and lays 1 pinkish brown egg a day.
2. The First Playhouse
When you bring the baby chicks home, it’s best to give them a sheltered area protected from the wind and cold, they need to be babied for a few weeks!
There’s a formula that 1 week old baby chicks should be kept at 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and reduce 5 degrees each week as they grow older until it can meet the outside temperature.
We set up a big cardboard box by a bright window in our guest bedroom, cut out some window openings and taped chicken wires to them, added soft wood shavings bedding, a Clamp Heat Lamp, a Mason Jar Waterer, and a 6-Inch Round Poultry Feeder.
It wasn’t long before we realized how playful and adventurous they are! So we placed clay pots upside down for them to jump up and down on, and a bamboo pole for them to practice roosting!
You will be surprised how high they could fly! When we found Rose strolling OUTSIDE the big box, we realized that we also need an open fence panel on top of the box!
3. Coop Sweet Coop
Once they are about 5-6 weeks old, it’s time to introduce them to their new home outside: the chicken coop!
There are lot of things to consider when building a coop. I will write a post on just that in a few weeks and link it here.
The most important factors in a coop design are: protection from predators, open fenced area for them to run, dust bath, and be in the sun, solid roof hen house with roosting bar, and nesting boxes ( they can be funny about that, you shall see in a bit!) .
Based on the formula in tip #2, if the outside temperature is around 60 degrees Fahrenheit, they won’t need additional heat. If it’s still cold at night, consider adding a heat lamp or bring them in at night!
The first couple of days when we brought them outside to their coop and run, they were so excited that they flew, and flew, and flew….
When we brought them back in at night, they just passed out flat on the bedding! Too much playing!
We did this for a couple of weeks, bringing them outside during the day, and back at night to let them adjust to the coop.
Rose and Daisey checking out their new coop!
Dust bath: their favorite thing!
We built 3 nesting boxes, but you probably have heard from other people that once a chicken decides that she likes a certain nest box, she will use just that one! It does not matter if there are empty ones around, or the one she wants is occupied.
Sounds unbelievable? Well, see this “movie” below of what Lily did:
5. Summer Kiddie Pools
We had our 3 chickens when we lived in Arizona. Those summers were often above 100 degrees for 3-4 months straight! We could see they were breathing heavy. =(
First we brought them into our air conditioned guest bath room, with a tarp on the floor. It became obvious that they missed playing outdoors.
After some research, we found a great way to help them deal with summer heat outdoors that worked like magic!
Each morning, take a few shallow nursery plant saucers, fill each with about 2 inches deep of cold tap water, place them in the yard.
The first time you might have to help them learn by picking them up and putting them gently into the saucers.
They will soon realize how much this helps them to cool off in the heat, and will often happily step into the saucers .
5. Little Garden Helpers
With a little guidance, chickens are great little helpers in the garden!
First of all, they fertilize the garden, no guidance needed.
If you have a garden bed that needs weeding at the start of a season, or need cleaning up at the end of a season, just set up a temporary fence, and bring in the chickens!
They will be thrilled to dig, scratch, attack weeds, eat bugs, and put nutrients into the soil.
For you, chickens, and your garden, it’s win – win – win !
6. Eat Like Queens
If you were a chicken, would you prefer to run around finding delicious fruits, veggies and bugs, or to stay with the same dry and boring commercial feeds everyday?
That leads to our next tip: how to give them a nutritious and healthy diet.
Many garden weeds are among their favorites, such as Dandelion greens, chickweed and tender grasses. Clovers are high in calcium, niacin , potassium, Vitamins A and B, iron and protein. Purslane can increase the omega 3 content of eggs!
A simple way is to grow rotating patches of “weeds” and move their run as one patch matures, so the other patches can recover.
Trees such as Mulberry can be planted to provide great food for 2-3 months when the fruits are dropping. Chickens also love the greens from vegetables such as kale, broccoli and cauliflower leaves, as well as fruit peels and trimmings.
Ornamental plants like Sunflower and Amaranth can provide lots of nutritious seeds.
In cold winter climate, sprouts can be a good source of fresh greens and lots of vitamins!
7. Great Communities and Resources
Our feathered friends never cease to amaze us with their new adventures and teach us new things everyday. To cover everything in just one blog post is impossible!
Luckily, there are many great books and backyard chicken communities for us to learn from. Below are a few of my favorites:
1. Keep Chickens! Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Suburbs, and Other Small Spaces : this was the book we started with. It explains everything so clearly in a loving and humorous way. Wonderful book!
2. Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard : a wonderful book with lots of great ideas and tips on plants grown for chicken food/forage, as well as chicken-resistant plants, and how to have a beautiful garden with happy chickens roaming in it!
3. My Pet Chicken Handbook: Sensible Advice and Savvy Answers for Raising Backyard Chickens : another great book with loads of helpful advice and details on raising happy healthy chickens
4. BackyardChickens.com : a great community full of enthusiastic members sharing their great tips and helping one another on everything related to backyard chickens!
As you can see, raising chickens not only will enrich your own life in so many ways, it also has a positive impact on our society: we are increasing the numbers of happy free range chickens!
End of Part 1 : Tales of 3 Chickens. To be continued… xo
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