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Thought of raising chickens? This will help you get started.

In the Garden

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Lance Ellis,

Raising chickens in your backyard might sound outlandish, but it’s seen increased popularity over the last decade.

It started with the recession, which ignited a large interest in producing your own food for self-sustainability, and poultry ownership was at the forefront of this movement. People have also wanted to start producing their own food because they know what is going into their animals, and therefore what will be in their eggs.

Plus, many people are realizing that chickens aren’t a high maintenance animal, (if managed correctly), and have benefits such as composted poultry litter for the garden.

As more people decide to raise chickens in their backyards and have flocks for either egg or meat production there are some basic rules of thumb and useful information that all poultry owners should know. There are important things to know in caring for your birds from brooding to full egg production for optimum health and efficiency.

Lance Ellis,

These guidelines include:

  • Feed a balanced diet that is suited for the age of the bird.
  • During the first three weeks of life all classes of chickens should be fed chick starter. After the three week time period, meat-type chickens and dual-purpose birds should be placed on a grower ration. The meat-type chickens can eat the grower ration until they are butchered at around 7 to 9 weeks of age. The dual-purpose birds should remain on the grower until they are 18 weeks of age or the beginning of lay. At the beginning of lay they should be switched to a layer ration.
  • Do not feed hens solely a diet of wheat, corn, or other grain (scratch grains) and expect them to consistently lay eggs. Also do not expect hens to thrive on a diet of grass, lettuce, or other low nutrient feeds. Lastly, do not give your birds inappropriate medication. Always seek veterinarians advice on proper medication.
  • Feed your birds a balanced diet. (A commercially prepared feed normally provides this.) Commercially prepared feeds are formulated to give your birds balanced nutrition for the stage of life they are in. Layer feeds, for example, have higher amounts of calcium than do other feeds so hens can produce eggs with strong eggs shells. Not all commercial layer feeds are created equally. Some laying mixes are of poor quality, or their processing system does not make for a quality product, and the birds tend to waste the feed more than normal. Having your feeder at the right height so they don’t waste feed is helpful as well.
  • A little scratch or greens is alright, but do not over supplement as it will decrease the benefits of the commercially prepared feed.
  • You do not need a rooster to have your hens lay eggs. And furthermore roosters can cause stress to the hens by their behavior, and therefore decrease egg production. Unless you want eggs for hatching, or a 5 a.m. crowing wake-up call, a rooster is not wanted.
  • To have continued egg production through the winter time do the following: do not allow the chickens out of the chicken coop when it gets cold, keep dry bedding under them at all times, easy access to feed, provide an artificial light source so that they have around 16 hours of light each day, and always provide fresh unfrozen water.
  • Ventilation in a chicken coop is essential as you must remove excess moisture and manure fumes to prevent the buildup of ammonia gasses. Too much ventilation during the wintertime though can be hard on your hens as they can get chilled and cold.
  • Free-ranging your chickens is a great way to improve egg flavor, yolk color, and richness, but remember that your birds are vulnerable to predators and if they travel in the wrong places, can make messes and cause problems.
  • If your birds start losing feathers, it is probably a molt. The way to get birds through a molt is to take them off of layer feed for about two months and feed a scratch diet to stop their laying completely and allow them to regenerate their feathers and bodies. After those two months put them back on a layer diet, and they should return to a full lay.

For further poultry question please contact Lance at (208) 624-3102.

Lance Ellis,