Best Backyard Chickens for the Small Farmer
With so many choices it’s hard to know which are the best backyard chickens to raise. Much of your decision depends on whether you want meat or eggs.
While most chickens are bred to produce either eggs or meat, there are a couple of dual-purpose breeds that can provide both and we’ve had good luck with.
We have been raising chickens for egg and meat production here on our homestead for six years and have found that the best egg producers remain thin no matter how much we feed them while meat breeds become fat quick, but lay fewer eggs.
“You will never convince me that there is a better place to teach children about life than in a barn!”
To get started with your own backyard chickens you can buy chickens at any age, but we like to buy day-old chicks so we can watch their development. It’s so exciting to see that baby chick grows into an egg-producing hen. Purchase your chicks from a local hatchery, your local feed store, or online.
The last few batches we’ve ordered online from Meyer Hatchery. If you’re just starting out they allow for small orders, where many of the other online hatcheries have a 25 chick minimum. Most hatcheries will routinely vaccinate before shipping.
Be aware that day-old chicks are much cheaper than buying older pullets, but they do require some extra attention to get started. If you’re interested in egg production only, purchase all females since a rooster is not necessary unless you want fertilized eggs.
Here are 5 tips for raising baby chicks:
Environment – Make sure your brooder is big enough that all of your chicks can move around freely. You can make your brooder out of any materials as long as if provides about half of foot for each chicken. We have user livestock water troughs, clothes baskets, storage bins, and when I just had two chicks I used a bushel basket.
Heat – Suspend a red, 250-watt lamp about a foot above your brooder floor for warmth. Keep the temperature in the brooder between 90-95 degrees F for the first week, and start decreasing it by 5 degrees each week by raising the light higher above the brooder. I have learned to keep an extra bulb on hand in case of burn out.
Bedding – You wouldn’t think baby chicks are messy but they are and their bedding needs to be changed daily. Pinewood shavings are the best choice for bedding. Newspaper and straw become slippery for small chicks.
Water – Baby chick learn fast, but there is one mother hen duty you must teach as soon as you bring them home.
Dip their beaks into the fresh clean water from a baby chick waterer and let them drink 4-5 hours before introducing feed to them. Raise the waterer a couple of inches off the bottom of the brooder to keep the bedding from contaminating the water.
Feed – Baby chicks are little-eating machines and will eat about 10 pounds of chick starter per bird in the first 10 weeks of their life. Find a good quality chick starter feed and that is all they need to get started. If you buy your chickens from a reliable source and your bedding and brooder are kept clean, you should not need to medicate or add anything to their diet but the chick starter feed for their first 10 weeks. I have always used the flip top baby chick feeders for my new arrivals.
The number of chicks you order depends on the number of eggs you want; a good laying hen will lay an egg a day. Egg production will go down during colder and darker days and when the bird is molting, so always order a couple more than the number of eggs you want daily.
There are many different breeds to choose from, but we have found that Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks are our picks for a dual-purpose bird. They are good egg producers, have an easy temperament and double good as a meat chicken when needed. Do you raise chickens? Do you have any hard-learned lessons you can share with us?