When we decided we wanted to get chickens, my wife and I attended a continuing education class which was an hour and a half overview about getting into chickens. Obviously, this isn’t going to teach you everything you’ll ever need to know about chickens, but it did help us understand the basics and gave us a “checklist” for getting started.
Probably the best thing about attending this was realizing that raising chickens isn’t overly complicated. The needed items weren’t outrageously expensive or difficult to obtain. At one point the woman running the class asked people who had chickens if they felt ready when they got them, and all of them agreed that they were “learning as they went”. This wasn’t my experience at all. Starting with adult chickens and getting the necessary items, I’ve felt like we’ve been on top of our chickens’ needs since day one.
There is a WIDE range of options for your coop. The labour-intensive, cheap option is to build your own. You can also spend as much money as you want on some gorgeous (and very expensive) commercial coops. We went middle of the road and bought the Pawhut 64″ Chicken Coop Hen House w/ Nesting Box and Outdoor Run (affiliate link). It says it holds up to 4 chickens, but in the reviews some people have had as many as 5 in it. We only put 3 in it.
We saw a very similar coop at the Farm & Home Supply store, which was more expensive than Amazon, even after shipping. Sam’s club had a sale on a bigger coop, that we just found out about after we’d bought and set up ours. We probably would have gotten the Sam’s club coop if we’d known about it.
You do get what you pay for. A number of reviewers claimed that our coop needed weather sealant put on it, which we were prepared to do but determined it didn’t need. Bits of our coop are already falling off and getting to be in rough shape, so this isn’t a high-quality, long-lasting coop.
As well as the coop where they sleep, chickens need an area to go out to during the day. With our coop this was part of it, however you can buy or build a separate run that you can put the coop in or attach to it. With free-range chickens, the entire yard becomes their run. We’ve considered building a large fence around our backyard and letting the chickens have the run of the place, however I’m nervous about predators – large prey birds, neighbour dogs, and the like getting into the yard and chowing down on our birds.
We buy 50 lbs bags of chicken feed. There is special food for chicks, layers, and meat birds. Since we’re using our birds for dual purposes, we just got the feed with the highest protein content – 18%.
We bought one feeder off of Amazon, which they forgot to include the reservoir so it was useless (it has since been discontinued, so I guess other buyers felt the same way we did). We then got a feeder locally and it worked fine. It would be ideal to hang it, however we need to keep the feeder out of the rain – it’ll destroy the food – and we haven’t set up a hook yet, so it’s on the ground in the run for now. With the feeder being on the ground, the birds sometimes make a mess in it, so you need to clear it off periodically. Filling the feeder lasts our 3 birds for quite a few days, but with a larger flock, or a smaller feeder, you’d need to keep a closer eye on it.
Chickens need continuous access to water. Our first waterer (affiliate link) has a plastic reservoir that keeps refilling the base and has a 1-gallon capacity. Like the food, it would be ideal to hang this, but we haven’t set that up yet. The chickens mess up the water even more quickly than the food, so every couple of days I need to rinse this out so they have access to clean food.
We tried using a waterer which was a nozzle that screws onto a soda bottle, then turns it into a big water bottle like hamsters have. Our chickens couldn’t seem to make heads or tails out of it and it just sits attached to our run unused. I’ve read on chicken forums that other people have had great luck with these, so hopefully we’ll figure out how to get our chickens to use it.
It surprisingly *IS* possible to keep chickens in cold climates during the winter. Apparently, the biggest issue is giving them continuous access to water (it can’t freeze). There are waterers that you plug in and they stay heated, and waterers that are heavily insulated. We don’t want to mess with keeping chickens through the winter yet.
Part of chickens’ digestive systems includes a gullet, where food is ground against small stones (called grit) that the chicken has swallowed. It is important to provide this to your chickens, and you can buy a small bag of grit for $6 or so at Amazon or a local supply store.
Oyster shells are bits of calcium that chickens need to keep their eggs strong. If they don’t have this, their eggs will break far more easily, they may stop laying and, in some cases, the chickens have started consuming their own eggs to get the calcium back.
Again, you can get a bag of this for $6 or so.
Chickens clean themselves by rolling around in the dust. It is important for their health that this is provided for them. We had wanted to find a commercial product that would set you up with a dirt bath, but as far as we can tell it doesn’t exist. Basically, you want a container that is at least 12″ deep, 15″ wide, and 24″ long. The dust bath itself is made from equal parts of builder’s sand, wood ash, soil, and diatomaceous earth.