I remember the first time I went to my hubby and told him I wanted to raise chickens. We were living in the city, with neighbors right on top of us and a postage stamp for a backyard. To say the least, he laughed!
Being raised in the country where a yard full of chickens was the normal, but raising chickens in the city, was I crazy? I brushed off his apprehension and went about my day, but I had already started to wheels turning in his head.
Fast forward five years and we found ourselves in the midst of the homesteading movement, living on 20 acres, and it was now the right time to raise chickens. Even though, I had been raised on a farm with chickens, pigs, goats, cows and geese I had never raised them myself and didn’t know the first place to start.
We made a few mistakes and learned a good bit along the way, but I can say we are pretty good chicken raisers now. We have both egg and meat chickens on our farm. The meat chickens come in the spring and the fall and have a completely separate house then our egg chickens who reside with us all year long. I try real hard not to get attached to the meat chickens, but the egg chickens are part of the family and when one of them dies like our King Henry we were heart broken.
I hope I can give you a few tips to help start you on your hen house adventures.
Here are a few simple lessons about raising chickens we had to learn:
- Never buy your chicks from an over populated chicken farm unless you know what a sick chicken looks like.
The first time we bought chicks we found a farmer on Craig’s List. We had no idea what a healthy chicken should look like and brought home ten hens and one rooster. Within two months’ time, they had all died. We had no idea why and when we finally figured it out they had died, and our pen had to be disinfected before we could buy more.
- Research breeds.
The first birds we bought were Rhode Island Reds and the hens were great but the rooster was mean and had an issue with chasing our grandson. That rooster ended up in a stockpot, and my grandson took pleasure in eating that bowl of soup! The Barred Plymouth Rocks we have now are friendly and even eat out of hands.
- Learn how to tame a mean rooster.
As I mentioned earlier, we had to stockpot the first mean rooster we had, but now we know how to tame an aggressive rooster. You have to show him who is boss as soon as he starts showing his true colors. We do this by catching them and holding them for a few minutes every time they act up. You have to be sure to hold his legs with one hand and tuck his wings, so he does not flap around and hurt himself.
- Always separate broody hens from the regular flock.
The first time we had a broody hen that actually sat and hatched eggs the other hens killed all the chicks.
- Predators are worse in the spring.
The first couple flocks we had we let them free range year round. We have now found on our farm that flying predators are worse in the spring, and we now keep our flock in the hen house when we are not outside in the spring. Our best hen protection is our lab, when she is in the yard the flying predators seem to stay away.
- Fast growing meat chickens are not always the healthiest.
The first batch of meat chicken we bought grew so fast they couldn’t support their weight on their legs. It was so sad watching them hobble around the chicken house that we now only but Red Rocket meat chickens. We know it takes longer to raise some breeds out to a good butchering size but they are so much healthier and happier. The longer growth time allows them to free raise for about four weeks before butchering…that makes me feel good about their stay on our farm.
I hope you can learn by some of our mistakes, and if you are thinking about raising chickens of your own I would suggest you hop over to the Farmer’s Almanac, they have some great resources for raising chickens.
Do you raise chicken? Do you have any hard learned lessons you can share with us?