I pride myself in raising happy, healthy chickens. The quality of eggs from cage-free, free range chickens can’t be beat — nutritious and delicious! I equally enjoy their personalities and the conversations they have with me with a variety of clucks (e.g., they tell me they are happy to see me, but there are also sounds for when they are highly concerned about something).
It’s spring and baby chicks are arriving at the local feed stores. If you are thinking of raising chickens, I thought I’d share my 10 recommendations for raising chickens. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I’m basically a chicken expert, so listen up my fellow chicken lovers! Here are my 10 Tips for Raisin’ Chicks:
1. Chickens need a draft-free and safe coop. Take the time and energy to make an area that is safe from predators along with a cozy, secure coop.
2. Read and learn about raising chickens. There are tons of resources to help you raise healthy, happy chickens including the internet, books, magazines, feed stores, other chicken-raisers and University extension services.
3. Provide warmth on frigid winter nights. I have a heat lamp on a timer and a sensor, specifically the Farm Innovators Cold Weather Thermo Cube Outlet — the heat lamp is set to only turn on at night (when the chickens are in the coop) and only if the temperature drops below freezing. The heat lamp automatically turns off when the temperature rises above a certain temperature.
4. Provide both shade and sun. I built my chicken area in a place that gets shade in the summer yet also has areas exposed to the sun. They love to bask in the sun on cool winter and spring days!
5. Give your chickens room to roam. I have an inner chicken area that is essentially two outdoor dog runs put together, covered with shade cloth. This houses the coop, provides a barrier to predators, a shady place in the summer along with areas for sunbathing, and is protected enough to be a relatively snow-free place in winter. I close them into this inner area and their coop every night (doors shut). During the day, I turn them out into another, larger fenced area (about 30 X 30 ft.). In winter (November – April/May), when I don’t have to worry about them destroying my gardens, I let them roam our entire, huge, fenced backyard (about 1/3 ac.). Lots of places to explore and find insects!
6. Provide a place for dust baths! I learned this from an Idaho farmer who raised chickens his entire life. He told me to make sure they have a sandy, dry area that they can burrow into and do a dust bath. If I do this, he guaranteed my chickens won’t have lice problems. I think Chris was right…I haven’t had a problem. My chickens have a dust bath area under a large juniper tree. But he said you can provide a kitty litter box with dirt in it that will work if you keep it dry.
7. Always provide fresh, clean water and access to food. I have a large waterer outside on a base that has a heat sensor so it comes on when temperatures are freezing and keeps the water from freezing. I also provide a small waterer inside the coop so my chickens have available water when they are closed in for the night. Chicken feed is always available with a self-feeder that I keep clean and make sure the food is flowing through it.
8. Keep a clean coop. I clean the coop every morning and it’s worth the 1-2 minutes it takes.
9. Provide fresh food scraps. Take the time to learn proper foods to give chickens. My chickens especially love greens such as kale, swiss chard, lettuce, food scraps from making salads, leftover rice or quinoa, etc.
10. Treat your chickens with kindness. My new chickens were about 2 months old when I got them and were seriously terrified of people. It’s rewarding to see them calm down and get excited to see me. It’s just a good lesson in life…treat others, both people and animals, with kindness. If you have a dog, teach your dog to ignore the chickens. When I first got chickens, I spent an afternoon working with my dog, Jessie, teaching her to NOT chase the chickens. Lots of rewards, treats and gentle reminders. My next doggie, Mellie, learned from Jessie that the chickens are just part of the family. Result? Backyard harmony!