Chickens in the pastures

Now is the time to think poultry.  I have 27 various poultry running around in 3 pastures.  Last year at this time I had none.

I have been amazed at how easy it was to raise these birds.  Here are some things to think about before jumping into the poultry arena.

1.  Read, read, read. I recommend this  book to start with,”Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens.”  http://www.amazon.com/Storeys-Guide-Raising-Chickens-Facilities/dp/158017325X

Know what you are  getting into.  They depend on you for food and water each and every day.  They cannot be without water no matter what.

2.  Research the kind of chickens you want.  Their temperaments and reliability as layers or meat birds. 

3.  Check a forum or two.  This one I have enjoyed and it has lots of areas to get info from  http://webmail.aol.com/41421/aol/en-us/mail/DisplayMessage.aspx

4.  A local online hatchery can help you also.  I ordered from Ideal because they are located in Texas and I knew my birds would not have to be shipped far.  http://www.ideal-poultry.com/  Read their care tips and also their is a links page.

5.  Be sure you have all the items you need BEFORE your birds are scheduled to arrive.  With IDEAL I could actually request the week I wanted my birds here and they were right on time the first week of June last year.  You MUST have a safe place for the little chicks to live for a few weeks. 

a.  I used a narrow old water trough that didn’t hold water any longer. 

the first trough; long and narrow

the first trough; long and narrow

 I moved it into my garage while one car had to stay outside for those first weeks.  We put pine shavings in the bottom a few inches deep, and on top it is most important that you spread out paper towels or some non-slick surface that you can discard when soiled.  Paper towels allow easy removal; just unroll in one continuous length; you might need to overlap and have 2 or 3 lengths. Replace as needed.  This will also keep the little ones from trying to eat the shavings; they will learn what to eat the next few weeks.  We started out with a smaller size trough and moved them all into a big round one when they got bigger and needed more room; again covered with chicken wire.  You can use what you have for a “house”; but you need good access to it to keep it clean and dry.

all the pretty chicks

all the pretty chicks

b.  Buy or make waterers that won’t easily tip or spill (you can find online instructions for homemade). 

c.  Have feed dishes that are not too big or too deep.  I bought the long red chick feeder from Tractor Supply that has individual holes in it; easy to fill and clean and keeps them out of it. 

chicks feathered out; now in the larger trough

chicks feathered out; now in the larger trough

d.  Buy a red bulb heat lamp/ warmer.  We were able to set up a ladder over the trough.  This allowed an easy way to hang the light from the ladder centered over the trough and then raise it as needed.  Be sure to read the heat requirements for the chicks; as they get older and feather out you want them rely less on the heat lamp so you will raise it to reduce heat and eventually get rid of it. Buy a monster sized thermometer at Dollar Tree for one dollar and monitor the trough floor temp.  Read the book on how to determine correct temp.  You don’t want your chicks chilled.

e.  Be sure to track down your best source of chick feed.  Tractor Supply and my local farmers co-op had good supplies.  Check out the co-op and become a member; you can get discounted prices on supplies and feed.

f.  make sure the chick house is varmint proof.  We sometimes get snakes in the garage so we covered the trough with chicken wire stapled to 2×4’s to weigh down the cover and keep them from flying out accidentally; it worked like a charm.

6.  Lastly, you MUST be with the chicks round the clock to make sure they do not run out of water and keep them clean, correct temperature, and dry.  Everything I have read says DRY is key so don’t let any soiled or wet shavings hang around long.  Get it cleaned up and replaced daily.  You can just clean up the soiled/wet  spots; you don’t have to clean the whole trough.

7.  Be aware you might have a few casualties.  You can’t always know why.  As long as the others are healthy you should be okay.  Just be observant of the others.  I had 2 birds die at different times in the troughs just before I was ready to move them outside at 8 weeks.  I have no clue why; it could have been their own stamina was lacking for some reason.  They others all survived to this day.

8.  Be sure you have your facilities ready for housing the birds; they will be ready to move outside at about 8 weeks of age.  Have all the coops, runs, fencing in place BEFORE the 8 weeks is up.

If you are unsure about chickens, just jump in.  I decided “what do I have to lose except maybe a few chickens?”  I maybe would not recommend so many to start with but I couldn’t resist all the choices.  I have 5 types of rare breed pullet pairs, 7 guineas assorted colors (they keep away mice and snakes and a good stranger alarm), and 10 straight run Partridge Silkie bantams (I lucked out and got only one rooster in this straight run; they are precious). 

If I was just starting out, I would recommend the Silkie’s because they are so cute and so docile.  I have one who comes to my feet wanting to be picked up and held.  They do lay small eggs and very much the “setters”.    I may have them hatch a few eggs this year and see how that goes.

No matter what, if you want chickens, get some and give it a try. Here are some of my cuties now….img_0029_edited

one of my partridge Silkie bantams

one of my partridge Silkie bantams

Buff cornish

Buff cornishBuff Wyandotte

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