This is about the essential equipment, housing, tools, and know-how to find out what you need to raise chickens. I’m including everything that you can find to make your chickens comfortable, safe, and healthy, from the baby chick stage to adulthood.
I’m going to assume that you already know why you want to raise chickens, so I’m not going to get into that.
Okay, let’s go.
Raising Baby Chicks 101
Raising baby chicks is probably the trickiest part of the chicken-raising business. For the first week or two, the little ones are vulnerable to a host of problems. The cold or heat, disease, illness, crushing, and the unforeseen can all get your baby chicks very quickly.
It is essential to be prepared when the hatchlings arrive. Six weeks go by in an instant when you’re constantly adjusting to their needs. What I’m saying is that you don’t want to wait until you have your chicks to run out and buy a brooder, or fashion one yourself.
There are several types of brooders that you can make or purchase. Some ideas are:
- A large cardboard box. I mean, like stove or refrigerator size. Did I mention that chicks grow super-fast? They do.
- A fabric puppy playpen. These are typically enclosed with lots of windows and ventilation.
- A homemade wooden or plastic pen.
- A kiddie pool.
- Commercial brooders at Amazon, My Pet Chicken, TSC, or Strombergs to name a few.
Inside the brooder, you are going to need heat. You can go with a 250-watt infrared bulb – not so safe. Or you might want to consider a heating plate arrangement such as can be found at My Pet Chicken, TSC, Amazon, or Walmart.
I hope you are getting the idea that equipment is not hard to find. It isn’t. Incidentally, my favorite heater is the Sweeter Heater for Coop &Brooder. It will follow your chicks from the brooder to the coop, and keep them warm and cozy.
I like the plate heaters over the bare bulb because they are so much safer, and the radiant heat they generate really works well.
Of course, you will want a feeder and a waterer inside the brooder. Semi-closed feeders are cleaner than open versions. The natural tendency of chickens is to scratch, so they do make a mess. They also don’t mind pooping where they eat, so the more you can protect the food while still allowing them to have it, the better.
Keep the waterer at about back level to the chicks as they grow or your waterer will fill with bedding in no time. Here is a list of waterers you can consider for chickens of all ages:
- Gravity-Feed Waterers: These are the most common type of chicken waterers. They work by gravity pulling water from a reservoir into a drinking area as chickens drink the water.
- Nipple Waterers: These are small devices that release water when pecked by the chickens. They are typically attached to PVC pipe or the bottom of a bucket.
- Cup Waterers: Similar to nipple waterers, these are attached to a water reservoir. When chickens peck at the yellow tab in the cup, water is released.
- Automatic Waterers: These are connected to a water source, like a hose, and refill automatically when the water level gets low.
- Heated Waterers: Perfect for cold climates, these waterers are designed to prevent the water from freezing in low temperatures.
- Trough Waterers: These are large open containers that are filled manually. They can accommodate a large number of chickens, but they can also get dirty quickly and need regular cleaning.
- Bell Waterers: These are a type of automatic waterer used mostly in commercial settings. They work with a pressure regulator and maintain a constant water level.
- Drip Waterers: This type of waterer slowly releases water in a controlled manner, reducing water wastage and keeping the surrounding area drier.
Remember that all types of waterers need to be cleaned regularly to prevent the growth of algae and harmful bacteria that could harm your chickens.
It can be straw, hay, shredded newspaper – bad idea, or pine shavings – my favorite. I like pine shavings for 6 reasons. It is soft, lightweight, absorbent, smells pretty good, it’s easy to find, and makes nice compost.
The shredded newspaper has ink in it. I know that paper is made of wood, but the wood is mixed with other stuff, and I will not take chances with my chicks’ health.
Chicken Feed and Water
Chicken feed is important. It is specially formulated to help your chickens through the various stages of their lives. Chick feed is for chicks, and grower-layer is for pullets and laying hens. Cockerels and roosters will eat what the ladies eat.
Scratch grains are nice to have as a treat for your older birds, pullets on up. My chickens come running when I get home from work because I always toss them some scratch grains. I like to keep them happy. They always give back.
Semi-closed feeders are recommended for older chickens for the same reasons as for the chicks. An alternative to the open-style feeder is the PVC configuration you see here. I feed it from the top, and as you can see, the teenagers love it. Plus, I have caps for both ends to keep rodents out. This setup will help keep your coop rat free.
Water is the most important component/nutrient for your chickens. In order for your chickens to lay consistently, you must provide them with fresh water constantly. In order for your meat birds to grow quickly, you must give them fresh water constantly. It’s important.
There are many types of water delivery systems. There are open-container waterers, cup feeders, nipple feeders, and Plasson waterers. If you are wondering what a Plasson waterer is, the link will take you to my article about chicken waterers.
You can use a pan if you want to. It doesn’t matter how the chickens get their water as long as they get it.
Chicken coops are where your chickens will live out their days and nights in the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter.
The materials that go into your coop are a matter of personal preference. I prefer wood, but they can be metal or plastic as well. Just remember that metal has a very low R-value. Insulation is your friend no matter what you choose. Insulation not only keeps the cold out, but it keeps the heat out too.
Having said that, you will want to consider a heater for the winter and a fan for the summer.
You can build a chicken coop, or a chicken coop can be purchased. A sturdy, well-ventilated coop is essential for the safety and health of your chickens. It should be designed to protect the birds from predators and provide shelter from the elements.
Are you someone who enjoys DIY projects and has a knack for building? If so, you may want to take a look at the 47 Free Chicken Coop Plans available at Easycoops.com. These plans are specially designed to make the building process easier while ensuring your birds are comfortable and safe in their new home. Even if you have basic construction skills, you can build a suitable chicken coop without spending too much time or money. Best of all, these user-friendly plans won’t cost you a dime and are budget-conscious.
Chicken coops can come in many styles and sizes depending on the number of chickens, the climate, and your personal preferences. Here are several types of chicken coops:
- Traditional Chicken Coops: This is the classic style of chicken coop. It typically includes a henhouse for laying eggs and nighttime roosting, as well as an attached run for daytime roaming.
- Chicken Tractors: These are small, mobile coops that can be moved around your yard. They typically include a small henhouse and a covered run, and they allow your chickens to forage on fresh grass while being protected from predators.
- A-Frame Chicken Coops: These are triangular-shaped coops that are often quite portable. They typically include a henhouse on one end and a run on the other.
- Walk-In Chicken Coops: These coops are large enough for a human to walk into, making it easy to collect eggs and clean the coop. They typically include a larger henhouse and a large, enclosed run.
- Multilevel Chicken Coops: These have multiple levels for chickens to roost and explore. The bottom level often includes a run, while the upper level includes the henhouse.
- Condo Chicken Coops: These are larger, more elaborate coops that include multiple henhouses and runs. They’re suitable for larger flocks and often have additional features like nesting boxes, separate roosting areas, and even decorative elements.
- Urban Style Coops: These are designed for keeping chickens in smaller spaces, such as a city backyard. They are compact yet functional with space for laying, roosting, and a small run.
- Greenhouse Chicken Coops: Also known as “chicken greenhouses” or “chick-houses,” these coops integrate a chicken house into a greenhouse. Chickens help with pest control and provide manure for composting, while the greenhouse provides a warm environment.
- Custom or DIY Chicken Coops: Many people choose to design and build their coops to meet their specific needs and preferences.
When designing or choosing a coop, it’s important to consider the number of chickens you have, the available space, your climate, and how much time you can dedicate to maintaining the coop. Your coop should also be secure from predators and provide a comfortable environment for your chickens.
Nesting boxes are an important feature of a chicken coop, providing a clean and comfortable space for your hens to lay their eggs. Here are several types of nesting boxes:
- Wooden Nesting Boxes: These are traditional nesting boxes and can be bought pre-made or easily constructed at home. They offer good insulation but can be harder to clean than some other materials.
- Metal Nesting Boxes: Durable and easy to clean, metal nesting boxes are often used in larger or commercial operations. However, they may not provide as much insulation as wooden boxes.
- Plastic Nesting Boxes: These are easy to clean and don’t harbor mites like wooden boxes can. They’re also durable and relatively inexpensive.
- Bucket or Bin Nesting Boxes: This DIY option uses plastic buckets or bins to create individual nesting spaces. They are easy to clean and very cost-effective.
- Ceramic Nesting Boxes: Though less common, some choose ceramic for its easy cleaning and aesthetic appeal. These can be more fragile and expensive.
- Community Nesting Boxes: This is a larger box with multiple spaces for hens to lay their eggs. This type can save space but can also lead to broken eggs or squabbles between hens.
- Roll-Away Nesting Boxes: These boxes have a slight incline and a soft barrier which allows the eggs to gently roll away once laid, into a protected area for collection. This can help keep eggs cleaner and reduce the chances of eggs being eaten or damaged.
- Nesting Boxes with Curtains: Some chicken keepers add curtains to their nesting boxes to provide their hens with more privacy, which can help them feel safe and secure when laying their eggs.
- Repurposed Nesting Boxes: Many household items can be repurposed into nesting boxes, like milk crates, wine boxes, or old drawers.
Remember, nesting boxes must be placed in a quiet, darker area of the coop, are filled with comfortable nesting material like straw or wood shavings, and are kept clean and fresh to encourage hens to use them. The general guideline is to have one nesting box for every 4-5 hens.
Roosts – Roosts provide a comfortable place for the chickens to sleep.
Medications – A variety of drugs are available to treat and prevent common illnesses in chickens. These should be kept on hand in case of an emergency.
A Shovel – Shovels are used to scoop out and dispose of chicken waste, preferably to a composter or compost area. I prefer the wide-bodied aluminum grain shovel because of the light weight and the amount of litter per scoop you can get.
A broom – For sweeping out the coop after shoveling. (And for your porch if you let your birds free-range.)
A Scraper – Used to remove stuck-on debris from the walls and floors of the coop.
Treats – Chickens love treats like corn on the cob, peas, and almost anything.
Treats should make up no more than 10% of your chicken’s diet, and they should always have access to grit if they’re eating anything other than commercial chicken feed. You do not want your chickens’ crops to get plugged; it can be deadly! Here are some chicken-friendly treats:
- Fruits: Apples (without seeds), bananas, berries, melons, and peaches can all be enjoyed by chickens. Remember to chop them into appropriate sizes.
- Vegetables: Leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, pumpkin, squash, cucumbers, and peas can all be great treats.
- Grains: Cooked rice, pasta, or quinoa can be enjoyed by chickens. Oatmeal, especially during the colder months, can also be a tasty treat.
- Seeds and Nuts: Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, and unsalted almonds or peanuts can be a nice occasional treat. Always give seeds and nuts in moderation due to their high-fat content.
- Mealworms: These are a favorite of many chickens and are packed with protein. They can be bought live or dried.
- Cottage Cheese or Yogurt: Dairy products should only be given in moderation, but they can provide a good source of calcium.
- Cooked Meats: Chickens are omnivores and can eat cooked meats. Leftover roast chicken (ironically) or turkey can be chopped into small pieces and fed to them.
- Eggs: Yes, chickens can safely and nutritiously eat eggs. Cooked eggs, especially hard-boiled ones, are a good source of protein. Make sure to crush the eggshell and mix it in to avoid encouraging egg-eating behavior.
- Garden Clippings: Chickens love to forage and explore. Giving them garden clippings or letting them scratch around in compost (as long as it’s free from anything toxic) can be a great treat.
- Worms and Bugs: If your chickens free-range, they will likely seek out these treats themselves. You can also purchase them from pet stores.
Avoid giving your chickens anything salty, sugary, processed, or anything containing caffeine or alcohol. Also, some specific foods are toxic to chickens, including avocados, raw potatoes, dried or uncooked beans, chocolate, and anything moldy or spoiled.
Toys – Toys can keep chickens entertained and can help to reduce boredom. You can give them hard plastic balls, bales of hay, cardboard boxes, ladders, steps, use your imagination.
I hope I didn’t forget anything. The secondary point of this article is to convey the idea that chickens aren’t something that you get on a whim. They are not made of wood. They are living, breathing, thinking, and feeling creatures that deserve to be treated fairly.
If you’re going to keep them, then you are going to need a lot of stuff… Like the stuff above.
If you take good care of your chickens, they will give you wonderful gifts every day for quite a while.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I appreciate it. I would also appreciate a comment below if you are so inclined. Take care.