Happy, Healthy Birds from Day 1

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I see it quite frequently on Instagram when people ask they’re favorite chicken blogger about chicks and what to feed grown hens, and it’s actually quite simple. Chickens usually know what they can and can’t eat, but sometimes the chicks will have a brain fart and try to eat the pine shavings in their brooder. It’s important to have met the basic requirements for your bird’s coop and run, so continue reading below on my advice for starting a flock.

 For they’re Coop and Run

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Generally, you’ll want to have at least 2-3 square feet per standard-sized chicken in their coop, but more is better. Trust me on that one. Deciding on what to use for their coop is just as important, so keep in mind how many birds you have now, and how many you want to have in the future. Many chicken keepers make the mistake on building their first coop to small (I did!), and are then stuck investing into a bigger setup, which is never the easy way to go, that’s for sure! Do your research to make sure you have the correct amount of space for your goal flock, not the one you have now.

For their run, you want 8-10 square feet of space per chicken, more if they aren’t allowed to free range. This is an act to prevent feather picking and cannibalism, both bad habits that are very difficult to break! Read here for my advice on creating the best run for your girls. 

Choosing Breeds

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It could be possible Creme, one of my Cuckoo Marens, looks a little angry because she’s molting…

Now that you have the very basics on coops and runs, it’s time to think about breeds. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to have all the rare breeds, or breeds that lay colorful eggs. To me, chickens are all eye catching in their own way, but wanting a particular breed is perfectly fine. Mix-and-matching breeds is perfectly fine, since chickens don’t set their pecking order up based on comb size or breed type, but certain breeds such as Orpingtons tend to rank lower due to their gentle personalities. Another thing to keep in mind when ordering chickens is where you live. You need to find a hardy breed if you live in the South like me, so that way they can handle the heat and temp swings easier. Birds with larger combs are able to handle the heat better because it allows better blood flow, so the heat in their bodies can escape through their combs. If you live in the North, you need to look into cold hardy breeds, even though most chickens do better in the cold rather than the heat.

Some heat-hardy breeds:

  • Easter Egger
  • Silkie
  • Blue Andalusian
  • Any light colored breed

Some cold-hardy breeds:

  • Ameraucana
  • Marens
  • Plymouth Barred Rocks
  • Easter Egger

For their Feed

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Now that you’ve selected your breeds, it’s time to think about their feed. Baby chicks tend to eat more feed than hens, as it’s essential for their growth. For the first 8 weeks you’ll need to feed them starter feed, and after the 8 week mark you’ll need to give them grower feed. Most feed companies have a starter/grower option, where the starter and grower nutrients are combined, and that’s what I give my chicks until they’re 18 weeks, when I switch them over to laying feed. You also have the option of medicated and non-medicated feed. I choose to feed my chicks medicated feed, as it helps them fight coccidiosis, a deadly disease in chicks. I choose to not give my chicks the vaccination, for it’s to hard on them and can do more harm than good in the shipping process. I only vaccinate them against Mareks, which is optional, but I go the extra step to ensure their health.

It’s perfectly OK to feed your chicks herbs, grasses or weeds, but they have to be finely chopped so they can digest them. Here’s a list of the best herbs for your chickens and their benefits. I always wait until the chicks are about a week to give them their first taste of herbs, and they seem to love them! Starting your chicks off naturally will help them maintain a good health throughout their life. I also feed my chicks oatmeal, especially when you first get them. Oatmeal helps to prevent pasty butt, which can be fatal to chicks if not treated. Oatmeal is also full of vitamins and protein, so they get a little boost and a tasty treat. When they’re young, I mix raw oats into their feed, and when they’re about 2 weeks I’ll start to give them cooked oatmeal at room temp, and it’s a favorite treat! My recipe for oatmeal is a hit in my coop, here’s the recipe so you can make it yourself! It’s important to feed chick grit to your chicks whenever you offer them treats, so that way they can digest them, but I always put the grit in their feed, and once they’re hens I feed them grit free choice, but they usually just eat the dirt as grit instead.

Check out my Instagram TV for the recipe I use for my chicken feed!

Beddingpine shavings featured on my blog post on https://dancing-with-chickens.com/

I use pine shavings for my brooder and coop floor, as it’s nontoxic and easy to find. Pine straw is great to, especially if you can scoop some dried straw out of your yard. Regular straw is great as well, and sometimes I’ll add that to the coop floor instead of shavings for them to scratch around in. My chickens line up waiting for me to finish adding the bedding to their coop so they could scratch around and eat the seeds! I’ll also mainly use straw during the cold days of winter to keep them warmer, along with using it in the nesting boxes year-round. The reason straw is good to use during the winter is because it’s hollow, which means that heat can be trapped inside. Hay shouldn’t be used as it is to “green.” DON’T use cedar, as it’s toxic to chickens, so keep away from cedar shavings at the feed store.

Water

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Water is one of the most important things to give your chickens, chicks and hens. It’s essential for them to stay hydrated, especially in the summer, so offering water all day is vital. A dehydrated hen can cause no egg production, as well as possible death if not taken care of, so observe your flock to make sure they’re drinking water.

Adding supplements to their water help as an immune boost, and the chickens seem to like water with supplements in it better than plain water. Apple Cider Vinegar has amazing health benefits to people AND chickens, so what’s not more convincing than that? ACV is good for their immune and digestive system, increases calcium, and an antiseptic for killing germs. You should only give the chickens ACV with the “Mother” as it contains the real good stuff that wasn’t filtered out. I rotate ACV in my chicken’s water a few times a week for maximum benefits, but you could leave it as their sole water option as well. I also like to use Oregano Oil, which serves the same purpose as regular fresh oregano. I am a strong believer in the power of natural herbal supplements, so I had to try it. I purchase my Oregano Oil from My Pet Chicken. Electrolytes are also good to add in your chicken’s water, it serves as chicken Gatorade, keeping them hydrated during the warm summer months. Poultry Nutri-Drench is also amazing at keeping your birds healthy, as it’s full of vitamins. It’s perfect to give baby chicks for a boost, a sick hen, or adding it year round for good health. I recommend this to be in your chicken first aid kit as you never know when you might need it!

Still want to raise chickens? You should!

So, after learning the basics, do you still want to raise chickens? There’s more positives than negatives in my opinion, and raising backyard chickens has defiantly become more popular over the years. Chickens lay eggs, and depending on the breeds you choose, you could end up with an easter basket of eggs when your hens start laying! Chickens normally lay consistently lay eggs for two to three years, and depending on how well you took care of them, they can live to be 10 or older and still lay an egg here and there. Learn about my experience with chicken keeping here.

Aside from egg laying, chickens also make great pets, with their sweet personalities, they really know how to brighten my day! The only negatives I can really think of would be that it would be hard to take long vacations unless you had someone to take care of the chickens, but my neighbors have always been willing to help, plus they get free eggs! I highly suggest getting chickens, but remember, I only covered the basics in this blog, so you should do more specific research on things you still don’t understand. Comment down below any questions you might have, and I’ll be happy to answer! Until next time!

Dancing With Chickens

© Dancing with Chickens, 2018.

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