Newbie homesteader- need advice on chickens

okieladybugMarch 11, 2009

Last year we bought a home in the country...17 acres, all for us! Living in the country is very new to me, so I'm taking baby steps. I am interested in getting some chickens for egg production. A friend who has chickens advised getting 6-10 hens. He raises Production Reds and California Grays; his chickens roost in a nearby tree by their own choice.

I am interested in hearing about what breeds you have selected for your flocks and which you would recommend for us. My plan thus far is to provide a coop (for night protection) with nesting boxes and perches, but allow them to free-range during the day.

Any suggestions, advice or resources you can recommend would be much appreciated...especially if you think I need to rethink some of the things I've already mentioned. I need recommendations on what type of coop to build, as well. I want to make sure I have all the info beforehand, as I want to be a good flock manager and take the best care of the girls as I can. :)



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poultry raising is like anything, you get out of it what you are willing to put into it.
Research the breeds and decide what type poultry you are most interested in then try and locate the best you can. most large hatcheries get their eggs from smaller breeders with varying degrees of quality.

Housing is important to good management of the fowl. They should have at least 6 sq. ft. of floor space per large fowl and about 1/2 that for bantams. Air exchange is critical to good health but drafts are bad news. Keep the floor dry with a good litter such as pine shavings.

If egg production is of most importance then a light breed such as leghorns or Hamburgs may be your best choice, the sex linked cross breeds such as red comets or black sex links may be a good choice too but if you want to raise their young they do not reproduce in like kind, they are hybrids. A medium or dual purpose such as a Rhode Island Red, a Australorp or one of the Rocks can make a decent number of eggs and supply some table birds too.
It would depend on how many eggs you are able to utilize as to how many you would need. Most people keep more than they need I expect, me included.

My emphasis is on breeding show type as well as satisfactory egg production and disease resistance. I sold all my extra eggs for hatching and ate lots of eggs!

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 5:47PM
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I live in zone 7 so I chose to have heavy breeds. I have an all screen coop with a large nesting box on the inside for them to sleep in. I did not provide any additional heat for them and they did very well this winter.

I am here to tell you chickens are a lot more work than I anticipated. When I get off of work I wash the chickens waterer out, give them fresh water, clean out all the poop in their box and put it in the compost bin. There is a lot of poop accumulated on a DAILY basis. On the weekends, I clean out the larger pen. I do not strip it down to the ground but I do go in and sccop out as much poop as I can find. Inside their nesting boxes I have shaved pine bedding and in the larger pen pine mulch (I use the nugget type). I find the pne bedding very easy to clean. not so much the nuggets but the bedding makes a mess in a large open pen like I have.

Once a week I clean out their feeder and there are other things I do every day as well. They are not as easy to take care of as the goats are. I only let the chickens out when I get home while I am doing my slave maintenance to them. When I finish everything about 1.5 hours have passed. I then sit in my chair and let them run around outside for a while. then I get the rake and shoo them back in the pen for the night. Sometimes I come in the house and let them stay out a little longer and they go back in by themselves.

if you go to google images and do a search on chicken coops you will get all sorts of ideas. I think coops are very personal to the person using it so you have to see what is out there, what you like, and what you think will work best for you.

Only 2 of the 6 chickens I have are laying right now. Actually they produce more than enough eggs for 2 people. I got 4 pulletts so I can also sell eggs. If I do not sell any I will be over run with eggs!

There is a lot of information on this forum as well. keep reading back and you will find lots of info.

Good luck. Do your homework and learn all you can before getting any chickens.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 7:12PM
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Thank you so much for your quick responses! You are right msjay, there is a LOT of info on this site and I've been reading as much as I can. I found the local library has a book I'm interested in (How to Raise Chickens by Christine Heinrichs) and I'll pick it up on my next trip to town.

Would you all recommend the Rhode Island Red, Plymouth Rock and Deleware breeds? I'm specifically interested in Deleware because it's a heritage breed. From what I've read, all three are good foraging breeds, good layers and have friendly or calm personalities. What are your opinions?

Having chicks will be our first step towards having the farm we dream of and I can hardly sleep for excitement!

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 7:57PM
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get an automatic waterer. I use the float out of a dog bowl set up.
dont mess up and build the coupe so you have to stoop the hole time your inside cleaning or fixing or gathering eggs.
I live in floriada with about 5000 acres of woods behind me and untill i got smart and put my coupe in the center of the yard i keep my min. donkeys i fought the coons,cyotes,snakes and other predators daily. you would be suprised what they can get through! the rest is probably more fun tol earn yourself and do it your own way.. it aint rocket science!

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 8:24PM
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There are several varieties of the Rock breed such as White, black, barred, partridge,buff and others. All are heritage but I would choose the delaware of the 3. I like Dominiques, a rose combed breed with barred feathers or the Ameraucana which has a peacomb, comes in several color patterns and makes a blue egg shell, big enuff for the table too. The lighter breeds are the best foragers with the Hamburg being known as the very best rustler of his dinner and evading enemies.

Labor depends on how you set up. I have 12 pens and it takes about 30 minutes to do the chores. i use deep litter and only clean pens every other year, self feeders and waterers in the warmer months. I do spend more time during mating and grooming prepping for shows but thats not daily.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 10:17PM
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You are going to have so much enjoyment from your hens! You are smart to start off with a limited number. You can learn and then add to the flock later, if you want.
I'd like to put in a good word for Australorps. We have seven hens, calm, friendly, and cute as the dickens! They are also very good layers, and are hardy.
In zone 7 you probably won't have to worry about extreme heat. We have a fan in the coop for the really hot Texas days. We also have a heat lamp for the few cold nights we get.
Also, as soon as you get your chicks, start to handle them. Picking them up, cooing at them and getting them used to being handled. When they are adult you need to check them occasionally for mites, clear vent, etc. and holding a calm chicken is a lot easier than holding a struggling one!
Our girls free-range, but I am here to keep an eye out for danger. Being a mother hen ain't easy!
Congratulations on your new country home. It is fun, isn't it!

    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 8:24AM
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Thanks so much for the encouragement and advice! I will check on those specific breeds.

I am a full-time student so there will be days when I'm not home. Do you think it wise to let them free-range or should I go ahead and build a run? I wanted to free-range because I read it's better for the chickens, they eat a lot of bugs that way and produce nutritionally better eggs, but I also don't want to lose all my chickens to predators. If I build a run, do you have some suggestions for what the best kind is? I did a google image search for chicken coop and chicken run and got such a wide variety of images to look at. It can be overwhelming, but I really want to do the best job I can.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 2:50PM
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Welcome okieladybug! You will have fun as you live and learn about your chickens. I have had mine about 2 years now and I'm constantly re-assessing what I thought I knew. Like you, I did a lot of research before acquiring the chicks, and try hard to do right by them.

My advice would be to go ahead and build a chicken run to start with. Otherwise, if you later find that you have a predator (or other) problem it will be a mad scramble to build one. I don't feel comfortable leaving the birds loose when I'm not home for a variety of reasons - predators, their own behavior (they can get into things like you wouldn't believe!), neighbor problems, etc. Also, when you consider predators, be sure and include roaming dogs your neighbors might have.

When you build your run be sure and consider shade. I didn't, and then we had to build the Chicken Pavillion after tearing up a number of tarps in the wind! Our whole set-up has become so elaborate a neighbor dubbed it The Hen Hilton. lol

I have 10 Rhode Island Red hens. I only figured I wanted about 7 or 8, but friends assured me that not all the chicks would make it to adulthood, so I should get extras. I didn't lose a single chick! We also got a surprise bonus chick who turned out to be a Silver Spangled Hamburg rooster, which I really didn't think I wanted. But he is most handsome, takes good care of his ladies, and sounds pretty cool in the mornings! Now if I could just get him to quit attacking me . . . At least the girls are all friendly. Actually, I think the rooster's problem is that he's jealous 'cause his wives like ME best!

The first year they started laying, I was getting 10 eggs a day like clockwork. Then it tapered off to 7-10 a day, and now there are some days I only get 3 or 4. But we've had a hard year, weather-wise, and I think that's part of the problem. I have no trouble selling my extra eggs to help pay for their feed.

Personally, I don't find them too difficult to care for. The daily quick clean of the house, check on water and food only takes a few minutes. Then I just hang out watching the amusing little darlings for a bit while putting off other chores! I only do a deep cleaning on the house 4 times a year. I was told it's good to let the litter accumulate with the droppings in it to stave off disease. And it never smells bad. I just add more shavings about once a week, usually by scraping out the nest boxes onto the floor and adding fresh shavings to the boxes.

Have fun!

    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 5:04PM
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Silver Spangled Hams can be very pretty for sure. I have bred all varieties, except gold spangled and gold pencilled in large fowl and bantam Hamburgs. They are a high strung breed in general and individuals can be real buggers..

    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 7:44PM
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velvet_sparrow(Zone 5b, Gardnerville, NV)

You'll enjoy chickens, to be sure. :) Good advice here, especially about building your coop and run right, making them predator-proof, the FIRST time out. Don't skimp or cut corners, as a predator can be VERY determined about getting a chicken dinner. Also the tip about handling them and keeping them tame is so important--it really helps to have birds that you can approach and pick up readily, especially if they get sick or injured and you need to grab them without undue stress to the bird. And making a point to frequently pick them and pet them briefly not only cements your place as flock leader, it can REALLY help you spot an ill, weak or too-light bird more quickly than you might otherwise.

I'd add to take a few minutes every day to just WATCH your birds. Spending a few minutes with them does several things: it can help you spot instantly a bird that isn't well/is injured, makes you an accepted part of the flock, and is a great stress reliever. :)

Besides the coop, is your place fenced or is it open land? Building the run at the outset is a great idea--ours gives our chickens space on days when it's rainy or when we worry that we may not get home until after dark--we can just leave them in and know that they'll be safe but still have room to roam around a bit. Read all you can on chickens, especially baby chicks, prior to getting them and you'll be way ahead of the curve. You're right, this forum especially has tons of old threads on chickens, with lots of great info. I also have a chicken info site, filled with 'Chicken 101' info, lots of pictures and links to other chicken sites, that may help:

You'll see pics of our new run my husband built, because we, like so many others, started out with 'just a few' (3!) hens years ago and now we have a lot more--39, including two roosters! If you are like most chicken people, you'll start with just a few hens...but then, gee, the girls look SO lonely, and isn't this rooster at the feed store a sweetheart...aww, look how tender he is with the girls...oh look, Goldie has gone broody again, I just HATE to have to take away her eggs, maybe we'll just let her hatch a few chicks...

And so it goes, you're hooked. :)

Velvet ~:>

    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 10:47PM
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Years ago,I had free range chickens and the neighbors dog got loose and killed most of them.I keep mine in a coop in the winter with an attached run that has a top and roof.A neighbor lost all their chickens to dogs that climbed over the fence.In the summer,they go in two chicken tractors.I started out with a chicken tractor but it is cold here and it is really hard to take care of the chickens when their water freezes up almost immediately.I use deep litter in my coop(shredded leaves) and even began using leaves in their yard when it got so muddy earlier this spring.I only clean out my house 2-3 times a year depending on how bad I want their fertility on my garden.I have Ameracaunas(Easter Eggers)from a local hatchery and some I raised and some banties who love to raise chicks.I had some Rhode Island Red mixes I think ,who were nice too.I decided years ago that leghorns were way too flighty for me.I looked at a zillion pictures of chicken tractors before we built them.The first one is heavy to move but the chickens are safe from predators in it.Everything likes to eat or kill chickens(dogs,possums,skunks,racoons,foxes.etc.)Posy_Pet

    Bookmark   March 13, 2009 at 4:32PM
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Please dont mis-read my intention on correcting some things when i see them, such as:

Ameraucanas are the same as easter eggers. truth is: Ameraucana is a standard breed with a written standard of perfection, easter eggers are mixed breed mongrels of no particular description other than they might lay a blue, green, pink or any other colored egg shell.

Quality Leghorns are no more flightly than many other breeds but most people never see a good Leghorn unless the attend a poultry show. They are not all white either, they are bred in many varieties to include red, black, barred, dark brown, light brown,exchequere and more. Those cage layers are a might poor example of a standard leghorn.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2009 at 8:28PM
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I bought "Ameracaunas" at our local farm store.When I raised chicks last year I got all colors of chickens and all breeds.When I asked the hatchery about them,he said we are not raising show chickens and we just mix them up to have more.This year at the feed store they don't even slightly resemble ameracaunas(no muffs or beards) and they are calling them rainbow chickens.What I have are really easter eggers.I now have a few that lay green eggs.I raised my rooster from a green egg.They do lay good.If you want Ameracaunas,you will have to order your chicks from a more reputable hatchery .Posy Pet

    Bookmark   March 13, 2009 at 9:00PM
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I admit I do spend a lot of time cleaning out my animal pens but if you have seen the amount of poop that is generated in a 6 mos time period you would have to decide in advance how much poop you are willing to clean up at one time. I rather do it daily rather than semi-anually. That is a purely personal opinion obviously.

I forgot to mention what kind of chicks I have. The older ones are a Weyondette and Cochin. Both can handle zone winters 7 very easily and both are very sweet (except when the weyondette killed a pullet and ate some of it...ugggh).

I just got a silky/polish tophat mix and we will see how it survives the winter. They say they need an insulated coop which I mentioned I do not have.

Also I do not have an automatic waterer, I prefer to change the water daily because I can make sure it is not frozen and make sure they always have fresh water. I do have a feeder that only has to be filled up once a month though. I suppose if I had a better watering system I could leave the chickens on their own for a few days.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2009 at 9:02PM
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Henhilton mentioned shade and it is so important even in the winter.We finally put a roof over most of the yard.I plant Cannas on the west side of my yard and they help a lot in the summer but the chicken tractor had to be partially enclosed just to provide shade.I put a plastic storage bin with no lid under my roosts in the chickenhouse to catch the droppings and empty it every 3 months or so.I have been very satisfied with it.It is an idea that I found on a poultry site.I use the rubber 2-3 gallon stock pans.They are easy to break ice out of in the winter.My feeder is the one that screws on a jar but I found some old gallon jars so I don't have to fill them so often.(I broke a jar!What a mess!)A separate area for your chickens to roost from their nests helps a lot!We have the roosts on one end of the tractor and the nest on the other.Posy Pet

    Bookmark   March 13, 2009 at 10:35PM
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msjay, your silkie wont need anything your others dont need. We did silkies for years and it gets below zero here, they are tuff as nails. never had the polish but they are just chickens witha toppy and need no special care other than the toppy may need trimmed.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2009 at 10:42PM
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oh okay.
I do also have an Ameracauna and one thing that was puzzling me that someone answered above is the freaking mess these new chicks are making with the food. I put the food in the bin and an hour later it is all over the place. I NEVER had this problem before and now I am thinking the Ameracauna is the culprit. Geez, and she is in the battery cage right now but will be in the pen later with shavings. I guess I can expect a mess with that too. so much for my well organized coop!! hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

    Bookmark   March 13, 2009 at 10:57PM
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My Easter Eggers did make a terrible mess with their feed when I changed to a cheaper variety when they were eating a LOT and were not laying.They stopped when I went back to the original laying pellets.I found they did the same thing with the cheap chick starter.It just wasn't what they wanted.Smart little critters!Posy_Pet

    Bookmark   March 14, 2009 at 2:06PM
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islandmanmitch(z 8/9 FL)

I have had numerous breeds of chickens over the years. Last year I got my first Leghorns pullets. I always heard they were flighty. These three girls have proven what I had heard as being false. They are friendly and will follow me around when they are free ranging. When I am bush hogging I have to be careful because they are not afraid of the tractor and will follow right behind it bugging.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2009 at 6:29PM
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Wow! What a wealth of information you all are! I really appreciate each of you taking time to post a reply. I will carefully read through all your responses and glean your wisdom. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   March 15, 2009 at 1:10PM
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