Here’s a brief run-down, for your reference, on how to care for chickens. Of course, we could go into much greater detail, but this should help with the basics.
WHAT TO EXPECT OF YOUR CHICKEN
The average hen will live 10 to 15 years. She’ll start laying at 20 weeks old, and keep it up steadily for 2 to 3 years, at which point her egg production will gradually begin to slack off. One rule of thumb is that for a normal flock, on any given day, you can expect 2/3 of your birds to lay. Or, put differently, you can expect each bird to lay 2 out of every 3 days.
HOW TO CARE FOR CHICKS
A quick checklist:
- Keep them warm.
Their home should be 95 degrees through the first week, decreasing by 5 degrees with each week following.
- Provide clean water.
To build your chicks’ immune systems, add 1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar to each gallon of water.
- Provide clean bedding.
Fir or pine shavings are good. Don’t use cedar, though. While cedar wood is okay for coop construction, the shavings give off oils that can harm a chick.
- Provide age-appropriate feed.
Start with a good chick feed (22% protein), which they’ll eat for the first two months. At 6 to 20 weeks, you can switch them to a pullet feed. After that, choose a layer feed: this will have less protein and more calcium, which chickens need for producing strong egg shells. (You can also start giving them oyster shells at this point, for the same reason.)
- Offer chick grit.
Sprinkle it on newspaper or add it to their feed; this helps them digest their food.
- Offer treats.
Just for fun, shovel a clump of dirt and grass into your chick box. They love their greens, and will peck and scratch away.
- Watch for pasting off.
When poop collects around the chick’s vent and hardens, it’s called “pasting off.” Untreated, your chick could die. But the cure is simple: just wash her bottom in warm water, then start mixing corn meal paste (ground corn meal mixed with water) into her regular food.
- Watch for mites.
The minute they begin living outside, chicks are susceptible to mites. To help, dust them with diatomaceous earth. This is a natural powder so fine, it gets into the exoskeleton of a bug and suffocates it: a natural pest-killer. Either dust your chickens by hand, or add the earth to their dust bath and let them have at it.
If you have questions or run into any problems, call our Farm & Garden Center at (503) 646-6409 (or email firstname.lastname@example.org) and we’ll get it sorted out.
Still got questions? Tap into an online community for your chickens. Here are two Yahoo groups we recommend from our blogroll:
- Portland Backyard Chickens – click here
A friendly, informal group, sharing information specific to Portland, supporting each other and telling stories only other chicken fanciers would understand.
- Organic Chickens – click here
An information-focused group geared toward backyard hen keepers and small farmers, covering egg sale, breeding stock, laying, meat production and humane practices.