Raising Chickens for Beginners

Raising Chickens for Beginners

When it comes to chickens there’s no in between – people are either really enthusiastic about chickens, or indifferent to them. If you’ve ever dreamed about having your own chickens and don’t know where to start, this article is for you! We talked to the folks at Miramichi Feeds and asked them some common questions about raising chickens.

What are the requirements for a chicken coop?
A chicken coop should provide a place for hens to lay their eggs, to roost at night, and protection from predators. For laying hens you need a minimum of 2 to 3 square feet per chicken. If you are not letting your chickens run loose through the day, you should have a fenced in area for them to run around on the ground.

What kind of wire do I use for their enclosure?
There is a variety of wire available and the size you need depends on the type of predators you are keeping out. If you have a backyard coop in the city you may not need as much protection as someone living in the country surrounded by woods.

Do I need a heat lamp on the chickens?
Only chicks require a heat lamp until they develop their feathers. Grown chickens do not need a heat lamp, even in the winter. Make sure your coop is free of cold drafts and they will be fine.

What do I feed them? Can I feed them table scraps?
Yes you can feed them table scraps. Chickens will eat anything and everything. If you let them free range (run loose in the yard) they will forage for food and eat bugs, grass, weeds, etc and get the nutrients they need naturally. Also provide them with store bought feed to supplement their diet. They will not overeat. They only eat what they need to match their nutritional requirements.

A full grown laying hen that is only given feed and is not foraging will require 125g of feed per day. Chickens also require fresh water. You can simply give them water in a dog bowl or purchase an automatic waterer. In the winter the water will freeze, so monitor it and provide them with fresh water frequently or heated water bowls are also available.

I heard feeding them crushed eggs is good to give them calcium, is that true?
That is true but it isn’t a good practice because it gives them a taste for egg shells and they might start eating the eggs they are laying. Instead you can give them ground oyster shells, and you can buy a bag of shell mix. Chickens will balance their own diet and will only eat the amount of shells they need to get the right amount of calcium for egg production. The older ones will eat more because they need more calcium.

How long after I get chickens will they start laying?
Chickens will start laying eggs at 20 weeks old. If you buy them at this age there might be a slight adjustment period before they start laying, especially if they were traumatized in the move.

What is the benefit of free ranging chickens?
When you first get your chickens, wait a week or 10 days before you start letting them out to run, this gives them time to regard their new coop as home. Then gradually start letting them out a bit longer each day. They will quickly get into a routine and return on their own at dusk each night to the coop.
Chickens are happier when they can run around and forage for food. It gives them exercise and allows them to get the nutrients they need naturally. Keep in mind that they will most likely get into your garden and flowers and eat your plants unless you protect them with fencing or chicken wire. You also need to make sure the chickens are safe and not exposed to predators.

Do I need a rooster?
If you only want chickens for egg production then no, you do not need a rooster. If you want to set your own eggs and hatch chicks, then you need a rooster.

Will I get eggs everyday?
You will get an egg every day from each hen. In the winter months as daylight hours decrease so does egg production, providing a natural cycle of rest for the chickens.

If you are interested in raising chickens and require more information, you can contact Miramichi Feeds. They have everything you need to raise chickens, from feed and watering devices to chicken wire and egg cartons – and of course the chickens!

Their staff is very knowledgeable and can put you on the right track to raising healthy chickens, whether they’re laying hens or meat kings. Miramichi Feeds is in the Chatham Industrial Park at 145 Dan Cripps St. Tel: 506-773-3070.  www.miramichifeeds.ca

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