Follow along with Jeff and Kendra, hosts of “The Coop With Meyer Hatchery” podcast, as they share each month what you need to know for keeping chickens. They discuss things to consider for housing, predators, feeding, and much more.
Before You Begin
Make sure your housing is adequate for the number of chickens you plan to keep. But chicken math is real, so make sure you allow some “expansion room” when considering the size of your coop or barn where your chickens will live. Chickens are social creatures and prefer to be kept in a flock of at least 3 birds.
Research local ordinances if you live within city limits. You may need a permit or be restricted on the number of chickens you can keep. You may or may not be allowed to keep roosters if you live within a city.
The costs involved with keeping chickens can vary greatly depending on how elaborate you build a coop if you can source used equipment or construction materials, and what type of feed you intend to use.
If you plan to incubate eggs instead of buying chicks, the incubator doesn’t need to be the top of the line to get started. There are a wide variety of incubators on the market for every budget. Even building a homemade incubator using an inexpensive cooler can be a great learning experience for families looking to begin their flock inexpensively. You can read more about incubating and hatching chicks on our blog.
Consider the time of year that you want to brood chicks. In the northern states, April and May are the most common months for brooding chicks. The weather is usually milder by the time the chicks are 6 to 8 weeks old and ready to move outside. You can learn more about the specifics of brooding chicks here.
Coop and Run Considerations
A coop and run are important for keeping your chickens contained and protected from predators. Even though you may plan to free-range your chickens, there may be times when you need to keep them behind a fence for their safety or to keep them from digging up your newly planted garden. The location of your coop and run is also important. Consider access to electricity for lighting and water heaters in the winter. Keep in mind that you will be doing chores in all types of weather, so think about the coop’s proximity to your house.
Ventilation in your coop is important, even in winter. What is the difference between a draft and ventilation? Ventilation tends to move vertically throughout the coop, taking away ammonia buildup and allowing fresh air to enter. A draft is usually horizontally moving air that is localized to a specific area and not moving throughout the entire coop.
Integrating Flocks Of Different Ages
Chicken math gets the best of us, so knowing how to successfully integrate chickens of different ages is important. It is possible to integrate very young chickens that have finished their time in the brooder instead of waiting until they are older. The key is watching very closely during the integration period. About 3 days of “together but separate” time is usually sufficient. Keep the new birds in a pen inside the coop to allow the two groups to get accustomed to each other.
If bringing in new adult birds, a two-week quarantine period is important to maintain the health of your flock.
Wry neck is perhaps one of the most common abnormalities seen. Diets that are deficient in vitamins and minerals are one of the most common causes of wry neck and other neurological issues seen in poultry.
Some of the fancier breeds with elaborate head feathering such as Silkies and Polish chickens can be more susceptible to head injuries caused by pecking from others in the flock. Watch these breeds closely for any signs of aggression injury.
Splay leg is another common chick abnormality that is usually caused by a slick brooder floor during the first few weeks of life.
Crooked toes can be caused by an incorrect incubating process, a difficult hatch for the chick, nutritional deficiencies, a slick brooder floor, or jumping down off of objects. Toes that are bent or crooked can be taped to allow healing to happen.
By the time your chicks are 20 weeks of age, it’s time to switch them from starter or grower feed to a layer ration. A pullet’s comb and wattles will turn red when she is getting near laying age. Read more about how to tell when your pullets are getting ready to lay on our blog.
Before you allow your new chickens to free-range, keep them confined to their coop for at least 3 days before giving them access to the “wide open”. At first, they will usually stay fairly close to the coop, but they soon learn there are no boundaries and can learn to venture far from their coop once they become accustomed to free-ranging.
When free-ranging, your chickens will be vulnerable to predators, including your own cats and dogs. Also, free-ranging chickens may roam over to the neighbors’ houses. So if you have neighbors that are within a few hundred yards, you may need to watch your flock closely and be prepared to keep them confined to their run if they get into trouble.
Clipping the chickens’ wings can help keep them behind a fence if they learn how to fly over a fence. Make sure you do not have any objects, such as tree limbs, near the fence that they can use to hop over the fence.
The predators you’ll face are dependent on your area. Asking some other local chicken-keepers may help you find out what types of predators you’ll face. Dogs and cats can be a problem for chickens. Dogs that decide to chase chickens will need training, but cats are rarely a problem for adult chickens because of the chicken’s size. Read more about common predators and how to identify them based on evidence on our blog.
Cold Weather Care
In general, smaller-combed breeds do well in cold winters than large-combed breeds. All of the breeds that Meyer Hatchery sells can be sorted as you shop online to select those breeds that do well in your climate.
Ventilation helps prevent frostbite by allowing excess moisture from the coop. Ventilation also allows harmful ammonia to escape. If your coop is drafty, installing wind blocks such as pine trees, extra siding or tarps can help reduce drafts.
The deep litter method can also help keep your coop warmer in winter. But the deep litter method does need to be monitored closely and maintained to help prevent the buildup of ammonia.
Heat sources inside the coop in winter can be a controversial topic. Using a heat source inside a building that has wood shavings or straw can also be a fire hazard. Once fully feathered, adult chickens do not need a winter heat source. They do need a space that is out of the wind and wet. If they can get out of the wind and can stay dry, chickens are perfectly capable of regulating their own body temperature.
We hope this “A Year WIth Chickens” series on the podcast has been helpful for you. Don’t forget to subscribe to “The Coop With Meyer Hatchery” wherever you listen to your podcasts.