Monday, March 2, 2009

Chicken Basics

We love our chickens and are by no means experts at raising them, but we're having fun anyway.
So here are the answers to some frequently asked questions:
Where we got our pullets:
  • You can order online (I suggest McMurray Hatchery), but if you do this, you have to have a minimum order of 20 or more.
  • We went to our local feed store--Town and Country Feed in Canyon, TX--and inquired. Rusty is so nice there that he lets you specify what breed and how many you want. When he gets enough to place an order he does. He calls when they come in and takes excellent care of them when they arrive. Take a large box or bushel basket when you go to pick them up.
  • You do not need to order roosters unless you are planning to hatch your own eggs. Research the breed you are purchasing. Leghorns will usually not sit to hatch eggs. If you are just into egg production, I suggest ordering a straight run of pullets. It is a little more expensive, but worth it in my opinion.

What to do when you get the "day-old" chicks home:

  • We start out with them in a large box with a heat lamp in the kitchen. As they grow, you can tell when it is time to move them outside.
  • You have to dip each chick's beak in the water so they'll know what it is and take a drink. We start out with a jar lid for the water so it is not too deep. Some people put marbles in a bowl of water so they won't drown in it. (I found that this led to standing on the marbles and poop in the water.)

Once they are outside:

  • We locked them in their house each night so they'd learn they are supposed to go in at night. Probably not necessary, but we had one chick that didn't understand this concept and got caught out in the rain.
  • We kept the heat lamp on for several more weeks so they'd have the option in the house of heat or no heat.
  • Our pens aren't very big, so we let them out daily to roam. We don't start this until they are pretty big.

Feed and Water:

  • We went to Tractor Supply and bought feeders and waterers. You can just use shallow pans for this, but I think they waste a lot.
  • We feed pig feed from our local elevator--Attebury Grain. We do this because it is cheaper, but any starter feed or layer feed will work.
  • Since the feed is pig feed, we do add grit to the feed. When the hens start laying we add oyster shells to it to make the egg shells harder. You can also crunch up egg shells as you use them and feed back to the hens. (We get our grit and oysters at Tractor Supply)
  • Our hens love lettuce and stale bread. In the summer they are a big fan of squash and corn on the cob. They especially love the worms on the corn.
  • One of our hen houses has boxes (nests). We line those with shredded paper or with wood shavings.
  • The other hen house doesn't have boxes yet. We put shavings or shredded paper in it.

Please let me know if you have more chicken questions. I'm not an expert, but love learning more about them and will be happy to help you find an answer. The McMurray Hatchery site is a good place to start looking for information.