Monday, December 16, 2013

Raising Chickens... the First Year

So I have wanted to raise chickens for many years and last year finally took the plunge.   I started small with 6 chicks but they were so cute I ran back to store the next day for a couple more.

I started a lot of my research on   learning what breeds to look for and how to set up for the chicks.   I started with a big box on my kitchen table and eventually had to move to an even larger box.  Pine bedding was used on the floor of the box but it has to be changed often as they grow because they can get stinky.  An outdoor thermometer was attached to the box close to where I kept the heat lamp.  The biggest pain in the rear is the heat lamp.  It is important that they don't get too chilled in the beginning and I finally settled on a 60 watt bulb but I still had to raise and lower the heat lamp all the time.  If the box is big enough the chicks will just move around where they are comfortable.

chicken breeds.......  if you google chicken breed chart you will find a lot of links and images with great charts.

Starter feed is important for the first 12 weeks I think, as well as nice clean water.  Baby chicks are messy and water has to be changed a couple times a day.  A bit of apple cider vinegar in their water helps keep them healthy.

Eventually they grow big enough they start trying to jump out of their box and I had to cover with some plastic fencing material I had.  I am a cheapskate and always trying to use what I had around instead of buying new.   By the time they were big enough to move to the coop we were all ready for that. They get a bit noisy and stinky.

I am not sure if they moved up to grower feed before or after we moved them outside.  When I first moved them outside the coop was just barely big enough. It was just the small short section of the coop I have now.  I thought I would be able to stoop over in there but that just didn't work out.  They did okay there for a couple months though. 

My original plan for the chickens was for them to be free range and just come to their coop at night but then I started worrying that they were going to bother neighbors.  I ended up moving the small coop from a side yard up to front yard where I have garden so had to add on a much bigger section to the coop.  Moving that coop was a tough process.  Lesson learned, build bigger than you think :) 

The girls were content in their home though they would love to get out and have a party in the garden.  I do let them out once in a while but have to watch them closely. 

At about 16 weeks they change to layer feed.    My first rhode island reds started laying at almost exactly 16 weeks.   Black sex links not long after, and Ameraucanas who lay green eggs took forever.    Rhode Island Reds and Black sex links earn their keep.  Ameraucanas not so much.

Link on feeding chickens

My coop is really more of a chicken run than an actual coop.  The run is covered by tarp over the top and the back section have the walls covered.  I figured in the summertime an actual coop with walls of wood would get very hot and I am not air conditioning a coop.

HMM if somebody had access to an old playhouse.....

In the hottest part of the summer I did work hard at keeping them cool.  I froze large blocks of ice and put the smaller ice in their  water containers and the huge ice cream bucket ice would sit on an overturned metal basket.  They would huddle around the water containers and the huge ice to keep cool.   When you see them panting it is not good.  they can overheat.  I thought about a mister but just never got around to the investment last year, maybe will do so this year.

Initially I was able to just take an old pool net and use the long metal pole and slip it thru the chicken wire and that was their roost. but they eventually broke it and I broke down and built a roost.

When they first started laying I used big rubbermaid boxes laid on their sides filled with pine bedding.  That worked until they decided they wanted to climb on top at night and all sleep huddled together on top and they collapsed the boxes. So I built the new nesting boxes attached to the side of the coop  ( I BUILT THEM, no help) LMAO   I made a few changes but this was roughly the plan I used

Biggest pain in the butt has been keeping up with water. Chickens are heavier and stronger than they look and constantly were knocking over the waterers.  Below is the contraption I am still working on perfecting.