Posts Tagged Chickens

Guide to Raising Chicks and How to Set Up a Brooder

You can’t stop looking at pictures of chickens, the sound of their cluck melts your heart, and you catch yourself daydreaming about cooking breakfast with freshly-gathered, blue and brown eggs. It is time for you to get some chickens! How do you get started? Do they sell chickens at the pet store?

I suggest starting with chicks. They grow up quickly and are such a joy to raise. You need to start by setting up a chick nursery called a brooder. My favorite brooder set up is a big, clear-plastic storage bin. The sides are nice and tall and it is easy to clean out.

chick brooder set-up

Setting up a Brooder

  • Storage Bin: Start with a clear plastic storage bin. Make sure the sides are tall. If you are getting several chicks then get the biggest one you can find. You will be surprised by how fast they grow.
  • Bedding: It is very important that chicks are kept dry and warm. I like to lay down several layers of newspaper with a good thick layer of wood chips on top of that. You can use shredded paper or sand as well. Just make sure that whatever you lay down stays dry.
  • Heat source: Chicks are very easily raised on their own, but without a mother hen to keep them warm they need a heat source. You can hang a heat lamp above the bin or buy an electric chick warmer to place down in the brooder.
  • Feed: Chicks grow very fast so they need a good, high-protein chick starter feed. Adding in some dry sand is also important. Chickens don’t chew their food. They need some grit or sand in their gizzard to help “chew” their food.
  • Water: Chicks love to scratch and peck right from day one but can be so messy. Placing a few small bricks (not taller than a couple inches) under the water will help keep their water clean. Make sure to watch them all get up and get water before you walk away. If they can’t get up on the bricks then place on the floor of your brooder until they are a few days old.

chick waterer raised

Now you need chicks

Chicks can be purchased locally at the feed store or ordered from a hatchery and come to you by mail. I prefer to buy locally because the feed store will only have breeds that do well in your climate. If you have a specific breed in mind then ordering from a hatchery is a great way to go.

Keep them warm

When chicks are comfortable they have a sweet little peep that is soft and pleasant. If they are noisy then something is not right. Usually they are cold or their bedding is wet. Keeping a thermometer in the brooder is an easy way to help regulate the temperature. You are aiming for 85-90 degrees under the lamp.

Another way to “read” the temperature is to watch their behavior. If they are all huddled under the lamp and not scratching and pecking then it is too cold. Lowering the heat lamp usually is all it takes to solve that problem. If they are all on the opposite side of the brooder and no one is under the heat lamp then the temperature is too warm. Raise the heat lamp a little. What you are looking to accomplish is the chicks milling around happily, some under the light and some not.

chick brooder set-up

Keep them clean

Aside from keeping chicks warm and dry with plenty of good food and clean water there is not much else a chick needs. In the first couple days you do need to watch out for pasty butt. That is where their poop is runny and sticks to their feathers instead of well formed droppings. If left uncared for it can build up and block their vent which can make them ill.

The good news is that it is super easy to take care of. Just make sure they are kept clean. Use a nice, soft cloth to clean the poop from their feathers. Be very careful to not pull the poop off. Pasty butt is only a problem in the first couple days and can be almost completely eliminated by making sure that they have grit available.

chicks outside

Move them to their coop

As the chicks grow you can slowly raise the lamp. Just watch their behavior and don’t let them get cold. When the chicks can handle 70 degree temps without being cold or crying then they are ready to be moved to their coop. Use common sense at this point. If it is February and 30 degrees outside then it is too cold outside for the chicks.

Eggs!farm fresh eggs

Now just love on those chicks and in five months you will be gifted beautiful, fresh, home grown eggs. When your hens are five months old that is when you will switch their feed from starter/grower feed to layer feed. Starter/grower feed has high protein to support growth and the layer feed has the calcium they need when they have started to lay eggs.

Chickens are one of the easiest farm animals to raise. Keep them warm, fed and watered and they will reward you with constant entertainment and fresh eggs. If I was allowed only one animal I would pick chickens every day of the week.

Your Turn!

  • What most excites you about backyard chickens?
  • Which baby animals have you raised?

Backyard Chickens: Which Breed is Best? What Else do I Need to Know?

Chickens bring so much happiness to our homestead. I could watch them scratch and pick in their yard all day. They clean up bugs and weeds and turn my kitchen scraps into beautiful eggs that nourish my family.

We have been keeping chickens for about 10 years now. While we are always working on improving our set-up and coming up with new ways to manage our flock we have a pretty good grasp on the basics. Here are a few tips for getting started with backyard chickens.

buff orpington

Room to spread their wings

Chickens are very easy to care for as long as their basic needs are met. The first thing to consider is how much room they require. Adequate space both in the coop (house) and run (yard) will keep them from pecking at each other and make it easier to keep things tidy.

When my husband built our coop he made sure there was enough space for us as well. It is our job to collect the eggs and keep the coop clean. I am thankful every time I go out to there that we can freely walk around and work in their coop and run. In southern climates, you can get around this a little easier with wire floors but not up here in the frozen north.

Giving your chickens 3-4 square feet per bird in the coop and 10 square feet per bird in the run will keep them happy and healthy. A flock of eight chickens would thrive in a 4’x6’ coop and an 8’x10’ run.

garden chickens

Choosing chicken breeds

Starting out with some of the standard, all-purpose breeds is an easy way to ensure you will have good layers that can handle most any climate. They will be good-natured birds that are easy to raise and easy to keep. Here are some great options.

  • Barred Rock – Black and white, has a very sweet temperament, and lay brown eggs.
  • Rhode Island Red – Dark red, easy to care for and lay brown eggs
  • Buff Orpington – Buff (golden), often very lovable and lay brown eggs
  • Ameraucana – These are like calico chickens. They come in a wide variety of colors and striping, sometimes a little flighty and lay blue eggs.
  • Leghorns – White or brown, a bit aloof, high egg producers that lay white eggs. Leghorns have very large combs so they are not as well suited for cold climates where they can easily get frostbite.


When our first batch of chicks arrived in the mail we were enamored with the mix of colors and sizes. We ordered an egg layer assortment that would yield white, brown and blue eggs. Little did we know that the different breeds all have different temperaments. We got some of the standard breeds but we also got some flighty little hens that managed to jump out of every fence we put up. They also preferred to roost in the trees rather than in the coop.

That sounds so sweet to let them roam and roost in trees, especially to my rebellious heart that loves to see animals in their most natural habitat. But I could not keep them safe and every last one eventually got taken by a dog or a coyote. It was heartbreaking.

A roof over their heads

An effective chicken coop will protect your flock from the weather, give them a safe place to sleep and home their nest boxes. This can be accomplished in so many different ways. Some people go all out and build what looks like a fancy doll house, some are built from salvaged materials and some have even been made out of old vehicles.

No matter how you choose to house your chickens here are a couple things to consider.

Ventilation: This is the most important consideration when setting up housing for your flock. In the summer, chickens can overheat very quickly. Make sure that there is adequate airflow to keep them from getting too hot. In the winter you would think the house needs to be buttoned up tight. While you don’t want a draft it is very important to have good ventilation. If the bedding in the coop is damp then your chickens will be much more susceptible to catching a cold or getting frostbite.


Clean Bedding: We love the deep litter method where you lay down fresh bedding regularly without removing the old. If managed properly your coop won’t smell and your chickens will stay cozy and healthy. Another way to manage the coop is to take out the old and lay down fresh as needed. Both methods are very effective.

Chickens bring endless joy and add so much to a homestead. They can help you clear the ground in preparation for planting, keep pests at bay, and of course those delicious, and nutritious eggs. They ask for very little in return. A place to spread their wings, a clean house, food, and water. We will always have a flock of chickens whether we are in town or out in the country.

Your Turn!

  • How would your family benefit from backyard chickens?
  • What chicken breeds suit you best?