I finally jumped into the world of raising chickens a few days ago, and I’m so excited. I had been considering it for months and doing a ton of research. At first, it seemed so overwhelming. I was so afraid to screw up and kill my little chicks or end up over my head financially. After all, the original idea was to raise chickens to save money on healthy, non-hormone-filled eggs.
After tons of research and 50 million questions for the lady at Tractor Supply, we decided on six Rhode Island White pullets. Here is what you need to know to get started raising chickens with the bare necessities without spending an arm and a leg.
Choosing a Chicken Breed
The first thing you need to think about is why you want to raise chickens. Do you want them for eggs, meat, both, or to breed? Some hens lay very few eggs, and others are very high producers. Some will not lay eggs at all but are great for cooking.
Are you planning to let them free-range (run around your yard) or have them confined? Depending on the breed, they may be happier roaming freely, and a happy bird gives more eggs. Do your research on each breed available to get the one(s) that match your needs.
Key Terms to Understand
Some key terms you will need to know is that “pullets” have been sexed at hatching and are all females. “Straight run” chickens are not determined to be female or male. This means, if you only want hens for eggs, you run the risk of getting a bunch of roosters and not knowing it until later. Even if you plan to breed them, you only really need one rooster to fertilize the eggs. In fact, it takes an average of seven hens to keep one rooster happy.
Basic Starting Supplies
Heat Lamp With Bulb
Those little chicks don’t have real feathers yet. When they are first hatched, they just have a type of fur to keep them warm. A heat lamp is absolutely necessary to keep your chicks at around 95 degrees. Also, make sure you opt for a rad bulb to keep the temperature in the right range. I bought mine at Tractor Supply just because that’s where we got the chicks from, but you can get the heat lamp and bulb on Amazon.
Baby Chick Food and Water
When deciding what to feed your baby chicks, go with anything labeled as “chick starter.” The good ones to go with have around 18%–20% protein to help the chicks grow stronger bones faster. We got our 5-lb bag for around six bucks at Tractor Supply.
I’m sure you will notice that everyone with chickens seems to have those neat little feeders and self-watering containers. If you are just starting out, I wouldn’t bother with them just yet. In fact, I plan on making my own for a fraction of the cost once we get the chicks moved into their coop outside. For now, we are using a small dinner plate for the food and one for the water. The drawback to this is they scratch at the food, and it goes everywhere. But, they still will pick it out of the pine flakes when they get hungry.
If you use a bowl or plate for water, make sure it is shallow. Baby chicks will drown themselves if you give them a big bowl of water. The downside to not using a water feeder is that they will walk through, poop on, and contaminate their water. It will need to be changed often. But it works for now.
Choosing a container for your chicks is pretty simple. It just needs to be deep enough so they can’t get out and big enough for their food, water, and sleeping areas. You will also need it to be sturdy enough to clip your heat lamp onto. We actually used a big storage tote.
You will need pine flakes to serve as bedding for your chicks in their container. This will also soak up some pee and poop to keep it a little cleaner in there. Choose pine flakes over pine shavings; the shavings are too small and get stuck up in the chicks’ nasal passages. You will want to get a big bag and add about an inch to the bottom of their container. Change it out every week to keep the little guys happy and healthy.
Raising Chickens Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive
You don’t have to spend a ton of money on your setup to start raising chickens. We got our six pullets, heat lamp, two bulbs, 5-lb starter feed, and pine flakes for around $50 at Tractor Supply. We plan to build our own coop and our feeder containers as soon as they are ready for the big bad world of the back yard. For now, the setup in the garage should last us until they are about a month old.