Raising chickens can be exciting and interesting, when armed with the required knowledge. This is a extensive view of the steps to raise chickens.
There are two choices when raising chickens; buying full grown birds or buying chicks.
Full Grown: They are easy to raise, but the vaccination records should be checked and the birds should be free from disease. Their egg laying capacity should be confirmed, if they are being bought for layers.
Chicks: Baby chicks are the most economical and a safe choice but care is needed for the first eight weeks of their life. These chicks should originate from eggs laid by a clean stock with no diseases. Chicks are usually sexed or straight run; males or females. Stock for egg production can also be purchased as pullets. The price will vary depending on the breed, age, strain and their life as egg layers.
Choosing The Right Breed of Chicken
The kind of stock to select depends on the objectives of raising chicken. Chicken are raised for eggs, for meat, and for exhibition at shows and fairs.
Raising chickens for Egg Production:
Choose breeds that have high egg production, long productive life and bigger egg size. Layers are smaller in size and will lay between 250-300 eggs per year. Choose between white egg layers and brown. The White Leghorns (pronounced leggerns) are prolific layers of white eggs. For brown eggs, the heavier strain crosses, such as the Production Red, Red Sex Links and Golden Comets are the best. Other breeds, such as Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshire Reds are also good for eggs, but not as good as crosses and require more feed.
Layers usually start laying eggs at five months of age and will continue for around ten years. The first season is usually the best in terms of production and the capacity will reduce thereafter.
Raising chickens for Meat Production:
Stock that can make optimum use of its feed is best suited for meat production. If chickens are raised for their meat as broilers, then fast growth to make it economical and high livability should be looked at. The best are the Cornish cross of White Plymouth Rock and White Cornish, as they gain around 4-5 pounds in six weeks, and are excellent and meaty as roasters and fryers.
Dual Purpose: They are good for both eggs and meat. Several English and American breeds such as Sussex and Plymouth Rocks lay reasonably well and are large enough for meat production. They eat better than the layers and are therefore slightly more expensive to maintain.
Raising chickens for Show:
They are judged by their breed, weight and color. Bantams are good as exhibition birds, and they are easy to raise, take up less space and eat less. Popular bantam breeds for exhibition are Cochins, Old English Game and Plymouth Rocks. The most popular large fowl breeds are Rhode Island Red, Leghorns and Black Australorps. There are several other breeds available.
Housing And Confinement
Before bringing the chickens home, good housing should be ready, with floor plans for accommodating the growth of birds and for possible future expansion with more birds.
Birds need adequate space to move around and exercise, as well as area to nest and roost. A good rule of the thumb is to provide 3 to 3 ½ feet for egg laying chickens. For example, if 50 chicks are being bought, leave space for 25 for egg production and 25 for meat production.
Housing should provide optimum conditions for growth and egg production. The bird pens should be protected from extreme temperatures, wind and rain. Planting trees as a protective barrier is helpful.
Caging, Nests and Pens:
When raising chickens of different ages they should be housed separately, because the floor sizing depends on the size of the birds. Community nests that are properly designed with clean litter can be provided for laying eggs. To keep the nests dark, a cloth flap can be used to cover most of the opening. Chickens may be housed in wire cages as well as huge pens with many birds.
Temperature And Environment
Housing should be at least 70 degrees F and for new chicks, 90 degrees F for the first week is recommended, dropping the temperature by 5 degrees each week until they are five weeks old. Keep track of the temperature by hanging a thermometer.
A source of fresh air can be provided by having open sides that are covered with reinforced plastic curtains on rollers, to be able to raise or lower them. A circulating ceiling fan helps enhance air movement in large houses.
The birds can also be allowed to go outside, within the fencing, which is small enough to keep the chicks in and should be extended all the way to the ground.
When raising chickens they should be kept clean so that the poultry does not catch any diseases due to poor hygiene.
Detachable partitions are great to keep the area clean, especially in case of brooders. There should be a good distance between the breeding, growing and laying areas to ensure disease prevention. The manure under the housing should be cleaned frequently.
Feeding And Watering
Feeders and waterers should be placed conveniently throughout the pen at an easily accessible height. They should be easy to clean and avoid spillage. To avoid feed wastage, troughs can be built. Enough feeder space should be considered so that many birds can feed at the same time. An automatic water fountain is good to provide fresh water at all times, and they are not very expensive.
The feed depends on the intended use and the age of the bird. The main cost of raising chicken is the cost of their feed and there are several commercial preparations available depending on the age of the birds. Remember, inadequate nutrition can result in losing the birds themselves.
Birds can also be allowed to feed on greens and fresh grass cuttings within the fence, as long as there are no chemicals used. Fresh table scraps such as stale bread and leafy vegetables can be given which will provide a variety to their feeds as well as keep the costs down. Make sure not to overfeed them on these scraps or feed anything that is spoiled.
Water is most important and a constant supply of fresh clean water is essential for healthy poultry and water consumption will increase a lot in hot weather.
Diseases & Vaccinations
Factors that impair the birds ability to fight disease are injury, poor nutrition, overcrowding, lack of fresh air, dirty environment and poisons. This happens due to lack of immunity, which can be gained through good nutrition and vaccination.
Diseases can be prevented, by providing them with a clean environment, clean feeders, nutrition-rich feed and fresh water.
This information can help set you up when raising chickens on a farm or small holding that you will be proud to own and enjoy the fruits of for many years to come.