In this article, Nature’s Best Organic Feeds® will provide you with a guide for beginning backyard farming, covering how to raise chickens from the time they hatch – whether they’re feathered, egg-laying friends or raised for meat. How to raise chickens for meat varies slightly from how you raise them to lay hard-shelled, rich eggs (the kind you’ll see by providing our premium feed!). Details like the temperature matter (regarding how to raise chickens in winter), as do the instructions on how to clean a chicken coop! Luckily, we are here to guide you through those details and more as you venture into the world of backyard farming.
The chick breed and gender you select should consider several variables, including the climate of your home’s location and how you’d like your flock to behave. Some breeds do much better in the cold than others, some lay more eggs than others, some are calmer than others. Appearance is a factor, too! When it comes to the sex of the bird, we highly recommend more hens (female chickens) than roosters (the guys)! Roosters, though protective and often beautiful in appearance, can be jealous to the point of harm. They will often fight over the hens, not to mention they are loud and obviously cannot lay eggs. One rooster in your flock of less than ten birds is a great number.
You might be thinking: “that’s a lot of information – where do I start?!” Remain calm. What better way to organize your thoughts and research than with a handy breed chart (provided by our friends at livestockconservancy.org)?!
In the link above, you will find the most common backyard chicken breeds, along with their temperature preferences, behavior styles, and egg production. It evens tells you which breeds are endangered (the CPL Status)!
So you have the birds. Now what?! If you’ve found yourself wondering, “How many times a day should I feed my chickens?,” or need the scoop on the difference between raising chickens for eggs and meat, we’ve got you covered!
When raising baby chickens who will eventually lay eggs (or pullets, as they’re called before they begin laying), it’s important to make sure your feed is in crumble form (pellets are difficult for chicks to handle at a young age) and has a higher protein content than the feed you’ll switch to after they begin laying eggs. Nature’s Best Organic Chick Starter/Grower Crumbles are a perfect option and should be provided free-choice (meaning the food is always available to the birds)! With 18% protein, the crumbles are specially formulated for egg-laying chicks, and are carefully balanced to provide high energy with a good balance of protein, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals! As with all Nature’s Best Organic Feeds®, they’re USDA Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified! No medications, animal by-products, pesticides, or growth hormones. It’s a complete feed, so there’s no need to add anything to complete the chicks’ diets, but it’s fine to supplement oyster shell or calcium chips free-choice from 15 weeks until first eggs. When you see those first eggs, switch your flock to Nature’s Best Organic Egg Layer Pellets or Crumbles (both should also be provided free-choice). All products mentioned can easily be purchased online HERE (or in your closest Tractor Supply retail location)!
When raising chickens for meat, we recommend the same diet mentioned above of Nature’s Best Organic Chick Starter/Grower Crumbles, but suggest switching your broiler flock to Nature’s Best Organic Broiler/Grower Pellets (free-choice) three weeks after they hatched. Always provide fresh, clean water. As with all Nature’s Best Organic Feeds®, they’re USDA Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified! These high protein (21%!) pellets are also free of medications, animal byproducts, pesticides, and growth hormones. All products mentioned can easily be purchased online HERE (or in your closest Tractor Supply retail location)!
There are many ways to feed your chickens, and poultryguide.com has some really great DIY ideas. Always make sure your waterers (also known as a “drinker”) and feeders (also known as a “hopper”) are away from any coop perches to prevent soiling. Many feeders are suspended from the coop ceiling, with the feed landing right around the birds’ shoulder in height.
Because pecking at each other can result from boredom (or in some cases, a lack of protein in the diet!), providing some kind of activity for the birds to occupy their time with is encouraged. We recommend Nature’s Best Organic Poultry Scratch Grains be provided in the run during the day! They’re a nutritious treat for the birds, to be given in addition to their complete feed. The grains encourage healthy eating patterns and give the birds something to do. Another way to entertain them is with pecking stones, which are made of relatively the same ingredients as our scratch grains, but formed into a tough block that the birds can peck at when bored (also called flock blocks, scratch blocks, and/or poultry blocks).
Chickens need a mixture of sun and shade and shouldn’t be exposed to excess rain or snow. Just like us!
We suggest your coop be built near the base of a tree on your property where there will be both sun and shade (see Mud Feet Farm’s example below!). UV rays help get rid of mold, ammonia and bacteria. Chickens need light to lay eggs, so when the fall rolls around, many farmers will hook up an artificial source of warm light to extend the laying season and increase egg production. These lamps should be far away from feathers and bedding, never over 40 watts, and should only be introduced to birds that are 20 weeks or older. You can gradually increase the times the lights are on by 30-60 minutes per week with a goal of 14-16 hours of light per day. It’s optimal to add these artificial light hours to the early morning, so the light doesn’t automatically shut off when it’s black outside!
You wouldn’t let a new puppy have full access to your house when you bring it home, right?
The same goes for baby chicks. The “brooding period” (lasting in the ballpark of 3-6 weeks after hatch) is a vital time in the chick’s lives, as they are the most fragile and in need of warmth and nourishment during this time. It’s important to keep the chicks in a draft-free, warm, confined area so they are closer together than they will be later. Always keep food and clean water nearby. Many backyard farmers will use an entirely different space with heating lamps (such as one section of a garage) during the brooding period to ensure the birds survive their younger weeks. When the chicks begin to grow feathers, it’s typically time to give them the space of their coop and run.
Your coop should essentially be made up of two areas – the enclosed shelter and the run (see Mud Feet Farm’s example to the left!). The general rule of thumb size-wise is one bird per four square feet of space, with a ten-foot run per bird (or more; 10 chickens = 100 sq. ft for the run!). A large run with too-few chickens can result in death by freezing in the winter and a small run with too many birds can result in suffocation in the summer. Make sure your coop is the right size and has proper ventilation for the number of chickens you wish to raise!
The run needs to have some kind of ceiling and be protected from all sides from predators such as raccoons, foxes, and rats. If you have your run fenced in, make sure you use something like a net or mesh to enclose the top.
A small, dusty area is also essential – chickens like to bathe in dust (doesn’t seem so clean, right?!), which not only keeps them happy, but helps prevents mites. We recommend sprinkling Diatomaceous Earth in your dust bath, because bathing in it significantly reduces the chances of the birds getting lice (the most common issue in chicken coops)!
Another vital area is a nesting box per every 4-5 hens. These boxes – meant for laying eggs – are enclosed on three sides, with the entrance accessible from the coop. A lot of backyard farmers will attach these boxes somewhere higher up and on the outside of the coop’s wall to make it easy to collect eggs (eliminating the need to crawl into the coop)! Thick layers of wood shavings work well for the nest boxes and should be kept clean for clean eggs.
Many coops will have something that allows the birds to perch. Make sure their nesting boxes, food, and water supplies are no where near/below the perch (yes, we’re talking about avoiding raining chicken poop!).
We recommend using feed bags or newspaper under wood shavings on the floor of your coop! Using hay or straw might result in mold, which can lead to disease. Shavings are also ideal because they’re easier to scoop up and replace. Replace, replace, replace! Weekly cleanings of this kind are recommended, but a monthly deep clean is needed, too (think disinfectants – wash the floors and perches of any soil!). We recommend (during this monthly cleaning) sprinkling Diatomaceous Earth on their shavings – especially in the nesting boxes – to reduce the risk of lice. Nature’s Best Organic Chick Starter/Grower Crumbles and Egg Layer Pellets both have Diatomaceous Earth in the products’ ingredients, which helps with parasites internally as well!
If you have any concerns regarding the health of your feathered friends, please do not hesitate to reach out to your closest poultry veterinarian. The largest veterinarian directory of chicken, duck, and other poultry is found HERE.
We hope this guide has helped shed light on some key necessities in the world of backyard chicken farming. We hope your coop brings you healthy birds, rich eggs, and happy family memories! If you are interested in organic, non-medicated, and Non-GMO chicken feed to treat your backyard chickens, contact us today or feel free to buy our feed at your local Tractor Supply Company!