Try Chickens

First-time poultry raisers will find chickens an amiable match. Use these tips to get your coop started.

by Dani Yokhna
Chickens are a great starter animal for newcomers
New chicken owners need to consider the chickens’ coops and nutrition needs in order to keep them healthy.

If you’ve never tried your hand at poultry before, start with chickens. Chickens, even newly hatched peeps, aren’t excessively fussy and there are scores of breeds and varieties of chickens to choose from.

Chickens come in all sizes—from 12-pound Jersey Giants to 2-pound Silkies—in breeds selected for laying eggs, producing meat or both. Chickens don’t require fancy housing, they’re relatively gentle and, except for roosters, they’re quiet birds. With all these ideal traits, it’s hard to go wrong.

Home Sweet Coop
When you get chickens, set up a predator-proof coop, preferably with an exercise yard attached. Alternately, where hawks and other predators aren’t problematic, chickens can free-range by day and return to their coop at night to sleep. Chicken coops must be ventilated to provide summer comfort and fresh air year-round and insulated in colder climates. Bed your coops with 4 to 6 inches of chopped straw, wood shavings or a reasonably dust-free litter.

An average-sized adult layer needs 3 square feet of floor space in the coop and adequate room to exercise outdoors. Meat chickens require 1 square foot of floor space up to 10 weeks of age and at least 2 to 3 square feet after. Skimping on space leads to aggression and cannibalism, so don’t take on more chickens than you can comfortably house.

Chicken Resources

Dig into this information-packed reading to find out if chickens are right for you.

Provide nest boxes in the coop for hens to lay their eggs. One nest per four hens will do. While roosts are optional, chickens will appreciate the extra space. Allow 6 to 8 inches of roost space per average-sized bird. 

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Meal Time
You’ll also need to include feeders and watering devices. Allow 1 linear inch of feeder space for chicks up to 2 weeks of age, 2 inches for the next four weeks, and then 3 to 4 inches for older chicks and adult chickens. A 1-gallon watering fountain is sufficient for 10 adult chickens. Provide at least two watering receptacles and feeders. no matter how many chickens you keep. Otherwise, aggressive chickens may hoard food and water, and their meeker flock mates will not be able to eat or drink.  

Because protein levels and nutrition levels in chicken feed remain the same from batch to batch, commercial chicken feeds are a good bet. If you’re unsure which type of feed chickens require at any given age, carefully read the labels or—better yet—consult your veterinarian or county extension agent. Commercial organic chicken feeds are available in some areas.

Lightweight layers, such as Leghorns, eat about 90 pounds of chicken feed per year. Heavier breeds eat about 110 pounds or more. Industrial-breed (commercial) broilers and fryers consume about 13 or 14 pounds of feed per chicken if slaughtered at 8 weeks of age.

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