Raising your own chickens can be a fun and simple way to cultivate your family’s connection with agriculture. Backyard chickens are easy to care for, personable creatures that come with the added bonus of producing eggs for breakfast. Check out our tips for raising chicks, and be sure to attend our Chicks on the Loose events on April 6th at both our Davidsonville and Severna Park locations to get started with a flock of your own.
Here’s what you need to know if you want to raise chicks.
Check Your Local Laws
Keeping a small family flock was once common in the United States, even in cities. Today is different. Some cities, towns, and HOAs have banned chicken keeping. Others may have restrictions on the number of birds you can keep. Review your area’s regulations before investing in chickens.
Prepare Housing Before You Bring Chicks Home
You will need a brooder, which is a cage that is well protected from predators and outdoor temperatures. Chickens will need to stay in a brooder until they’re about 6 weeks old and have developed their juvenile feathers. Brooders can be made from a variety of materials, including cardboard boxes, storage containers, and rabbit hutches.
Chicks grow rapidly, so you’ll want to plan on providing one square foot per chick within the brooder. The brooder walls should be at least 2 feet tall, and, as the chicks mature, you may need to add a lid to prevent them from hopping out.
You’ll also need some bedding material, such as pine shavings (avoid cedar shavings), which should be changed often to keep the brooder clean.
Complete the brooder setup by adding a feeder and a waterer. We carry affordable, chick-safe products, but if you’re going to make your own, avoid waterers that are deep enough for chicks to drown in.
You will also need to purchase or build a coop and fencing. In terms of the actual coop (the structure they stay in at night) you only need about three square feet per chicken. Larger coops aren’t necessarily better, and an appropriately sized coop will help your chickens stay warm on chilly nights. Their run is a different story; provide a minimum of 10-15 square feet per bird. The larger the area you can offer, the better.
Some people choose to free range their chickens at least part of the time if their yard is fenced. Unlike many other animals, once they’re accustomed to their home, chickens will go back to it to roost at night. Free ranging is enjoyable for chickens and can help cut down on the cost of feed by allowing them to forage more for plants and insects. However, if you choose to free range, remember that your chickens will poop anywhere they have access to, like your patio. They’re also more susceptible to danger from predators like coyotes, foxes, and hawks.
Provide Supplemental Heat
Young chicks will huddle under their mother for warmth and safety. Without a hen to sit under, chicks require supplemental heat. The easiest way to do this is to set up a heat lamp at one end of your brooder. It should hang anywhere from 12-36 inches away from the floor of the brooder. Watch your chicks to see if they’re warm enough and if your lamp needs to be adjusted. Are they all huddled together under the lamp or spread out around it? It’s a good idea to hang the lamp from a chain so it’s easy to move as needed. Always make sure the chicks are in a large enough space that they can move away from the heat lamp if they become too hot.
Watch for Signs of Illness
Generally, chickens are pretty hardy animals. However, like any living being, they can get sick. Coccidiosis is a common disease in chicks and can be prevented by providing medicated chick feed. Symptoms to watch for include lethargy, orange feces, and disinterest in eating or drinking.
Handle the Chicks Often
Chickens are much smarter than we often give them credit for. Studies have shown that chickens can remember and distinguish over 100 different faces. Teaching your chickens to associate your face with good things at a young age can save you a lot of work later on. By interacting with them as chicks, they’ll be easier to handle as adults. This can be extremely helpful if one becomes ill or injured, and it gives you the extra incentive to spend time with them.
If you have questions or would like to learn more about getting and keeping chickens, sign up for one of our Chicks on the Loose events April 6th. You can find the details on the Davidsonville event here and the Severna Park event here.