Getting started with chickens on the Homestead or Hobby Farm
Getting started with chickens on the homestead was what we were most excited about when we decided to buy a property with land. We were so excited to start raising chickens for eggs. We had dreams of baskets of farm fresh eggs and a rooster crowing to wake us up in the morning (newsflash they crow allllll day long). Of course we had a lot of questions such as: How to raise chickens? How to care for chickens? And What to feed chickens? Getting chickens for the first time for your homestead or backyard can be overwhelming but it is so rewarding. It is a great start to a self-sustaining lifestyle.
There are many exciting in milestones to look forward to when you start your flock. The time your first hen lays it’s first egg, when you realize that you have enough eggs to fill a whole carton, and the moment you realize that your time of having to buy eggs at the grocery store has come to an end because your flock is providing all your family needs.
This guide to getting started with Chickens on the homestead or Hobby Farm will help you get the knowledge you need to start your own flock and bring your dreams of self-sufficiency with farm fresh eggs to fruition.
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Our chicken story
We had no clue about how or where to get chickens. So for us it started with me posting on a local facebook page in our new town, “where do y’all go to get chickens?” I have found that the homesteading and hobby farm community is very generous and really love to support and help others who are getting started. I was answered quickly with a private message that someone had a few chickens that we were welcome to – so just like that we started our flock with four bantam hens. Bantams lay smaller but delicious eggs and they are just stinkin’ cute! I got another message shortly thereafter and next we acquired 9 additional hens and our Rooster Elvis from a sweet man that was moving therefore downsizing his chicken flock.
Chicken Math is real!
Here is where the “chicken math kicked in…) After getting super eggcited about our first few eggs from our small flock – we then decided that we that we wanted pretty colored eggs( green and Blue Egg layers) and wouldn’t it be fun to get some baby chicks? So, we ordered some more chickens from a hatchery and then when we got those. We wanted more colored layers so we some got some more. Now we have 41 chickens. I have comprised a haiku to express my feelings.
Why do you want chickens on your homestead?
Many people want chickens because the eggs are delicious, the meat is delicious. They desire to live a more self-sustaining, lifestyle or they want to how know exactly where their food comes from and how it was raised. The why is going to help you determine the kinds of chickens you want as well as the number of chickens you need.
Where do you get chickens?
You’ve got options! What kind of chicks do you want? Do you want high production layers or are you going for a colorful egg basket? Do you want dual purpose birds that can be both egg layers and a source of meat for your family? You can start from the very beginning and incubate hatching eggs. You can buy chicks from a local breeder or at a feed store or you can get some full grown laying hens.
Getting Started with Baby Chicks on your homestead
Incubating your own chicks
You can order hatching eggs and incubate them yourself.
You can order chicks online from a hatchery or get them from your local Tractor Supply or feed store but for that you will need to wait for “chick season” which is in mid February.
Terms to know when buying chicks
Pullets – pullets are sexed female chicks
Straight run – chicks that have not been sexed and could be male or female
barnyard mix – just what is sounds like, a mix, you never know what you are gonna get
Ordering baby chicks from a hatchery
Post Office – when you order chicks online, you will get a crack of dawn call from your local post office to pick up your box of peepers.
What you will need to have ready for your baby chicks
I would recommend that you acquire baby chicks when the temperatures outside are warmer. We once ordered chicks in the winter and as a result had to keep them in our house to keep them warm. They cannot be outside in colder temps until they feather out.
Checklist of things you will want to have before your chicks arrive:
A Brooder – we use a large animal waterer and it works perfectly
Heating plate – baby chicks must have a heat source and heating plates are much safer then heating lamps.
Chick Feeder – we love the long red chick feeders
Chick waterer – I highly recommend that you place small pebbles in the base of the waterer – leaving enough space for the chicks to get their beaks in to drink but not big enough for them to fit their heads in and drown 🙁
A predator proof space – you need to consider your pets as well as any wildlife in your area and protect your chicks accordingly.
Getting a colorful egg basket
We really wanted a beautiful egg basket so we choose breeds accordingly. These are the breeds that make up our flock and the color eggs that they lay.
Light Brown eggs – Rhode Island Reds and Astrolorpes
White Eggs – Leghorn
Green Eggs – Starlight Green Eggers
Blue Eggs – Prairie Bluebell Eggers
Dark Brown, Chocolate eggs – Black Copper Maran
Bringing your chicks home
After you carefully place each chick in the brooder, the first thing you will want to do is to gently place each chick’s beak into the water so that they know where it is.
Getting laying Hens
If you want to skip the baby chicks and get right to egg production, you can find full grown hens that are already laying. This is a great option if you want eggs right away. Check out local farms and local farm swap pages.
Do you want a rooster on your homestead?
If you want to hatch eggs and get baby chicks, you will need a rooster to fertilize the hens eggs. If you only want eggs, no rooster is needed.
What will you feed your chickens?
Another thing you need to think about when getting started with chickens is what you will feed them. There are a lot of different options for feed. You can get feed from a local feed source. Buy it at a store like Tractor Supply. Purchase it online, or you can even make your own. On our homestead, we eat as organic as possible, so that is the way that we feed our animals as well.
Are your chickens going to have access to free range? If so you will not need as much feed as you would if they do not free range.
Our chickens free range all day and then go in the coops at night.
Chick grower food – this is what we use
Scratch – chickens love scratch, we give our chickens scratch via a deer feeder.
Non GMO Organic – we feed our chickens this GMO free feed
Fruit and vegetable treats – chickens LOVE treats, they will come running at full speed when they see you coming. There are a few things that your chickens cannot eat so be sure to do your research.
We love our chickens, and sometimes we make them chick-cuterie boards full of their favorite treats.
Wild Foraging – we also forage a lot of wild greens such as chickweed, Sorrel and grass for our chickens, they love it!
Feeder – you want a hanging feeder so that crawling insects are less likely to get into it
Water – chickens need a lot of fresh water – you also want to have a hanging waterer
Where on your homestead will your chickens live?
Of course getting started with chickens brings up the question of where they will live.
Will your chickens live in a coop with or without a run?
Do you have a fenced pasture?
Will you raise them in a chicken tractor?
The chicken coop
Building your own chicken coop
We have a lot of chickens so we have a chicken village – with three different coops. One was here when we bought our hobby farm and the other two – we built.
Things you will need for your chicken coop
- nesting boxes ( you will need one nesting box for each set of 4-5 chickens, they like to share them)
- roosting bars
- pine shavings ( we use the deep litter method)
- predator proof wire- You need to be sure that your chickens have a safe place to sleep at night. Hardware cloth is better than chicken wire to keep predators out.
- doors – you are going to need a door for the chickens to get out, and for you to get in. I also highly recommend that you create a way for you to get out of your coop from the inside – or you will get a view like this when you lock yourself inside the chicken coop – yes this happened to me.
Our chickens free range during the day and then go in the coops at night. We do not have a run because they are in a fenced pasture
Being super extra like us and building a whole village
Buying a ready-made chicken coop
You can buy a pre-made chicken coop at your local Tractor Supply keep in mind, these are small and hold a limited number of chickens. They are great for a small about of birds and we have started birds in these and then moved them to our bigger coops.
A chicken tractor
If you are raising meat birds, a chicken tractor is ideal.
Things no one told you that you would need
This Guide to getting started with chickens on the homestead would not be complete without mentioning some extra stuff we have found useful.
A snake pole – yeah you read that right. We all love delicious eggs right – well so do snakes. In the very first week of owning chickens, we were startled to find a HUGE black snake in the nesting box. I almost peed my pants. Luckily my reptile loving son had no problem gently removing it and encouraging it to go back to the woods. Ten minutes later, we were on Amazon ordering this snake pole.
Nesting Pads – I love using nesting pads because some chickens favorite activity is to kick straw out of the nesting box. Nesting pads provide extra padding so the delicate eggs are less likely to break.
Automatic chicken doors – Ok you do not “NEED” these but oh my word are they nice to have. It is awesome not to have to let the chickens out in the morning and put them away at night. It is also much easier for someone to watch your farm when you are away.
Boots – you are going to want to get yourself a good pair of boots/ and or rain boots
Now that you have read all about getting started with chickens on the homestead or Hobby Farm, I hope that you are excited to make this wonderful step toward self-sufficiency on your homestead or hobby farm.
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