Do you like the thought of farm fresh eggs from your own laying hens? They can be difficult to get depending on where you live. You can raise chickens for eggs in your own backyard and enjoy the same fresh egg experience. This is a guide about raising chickens for eggs.
Solutions: Raising Chickens for Eggs
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Every week, people usually spend $3 on eggs. Now that may not sound like much but it adds up! So, my family and I have decided that we are going to get chickens. Chicken feed costs $15 for a fifty pound bag. That lasts two months. Also we are getting four chickens, which will give us 20 eggs a week! And all we'll have to pay is $15 every two months. I don't know about you, but we are sticking with fresh, organic, CHEAP eggs.
Raising chicks is easier than you think and can be very rewarding. Besides being a fun family activity, your family will also benefit from healthier eggs than you will find at the grocery store.
brooder box - a large (at least 18 in. deep) plastic tub, carboard or wooden box
reflector heat lamp with guard
250 watt infrared bulb (red reflector)
chick starter food (organic, medicated, or non-medicated)
chick feeder base w/ bottle (some can use a mason jar)
chick water base w/ bottle (some can use a mason jar)
GEM white pine shavings (DO NOT use cedar shavings)
chicken wire (you will eventually need to cover the box)
Chicks require food, water, warmth, and protection. It is best to get everything set up before you bring home your chicks.
Setting Up the Brooder Box:
When selecting a box consider that average size chicks needs 6 sq. in. each. Also, keep in mind how easy it will be to clean the container that you select. I chose a plastic tub so it would be easy to clean.
Place 1-2 inches of bedding into the bottom of the box. Pine shavings will help absorb moisture, dry out droppings, and help keep odors under control. Never use paper (including newspaper), cardboard, plastic, or any other slippery surface. Being on a slippery surface can harm the development of the chicks' legs. Also do not use cat litter, leaves, straw, cedar shavings, or hay.
If you set your brooder box on the floor, you should place something (cardboard, throw rug, etc.) under it to insulate it from the cold floor. This is especially good if you have the brooder box in the garage on a cement floor.
By two weeks of age, the chicks can potentially escape the brooder box. Trimming down a piece of chicken wire to cover the box will help keep them inside and safe. I recommend putting the cover on early to avoid any mishaps.
Lighting and a Heat Lamp:
It is important for the chicks to be able to move away from or towards the heat source as needed to keep them comfortable. Watching their behavior with the heat source is a good way to know whether the lamp it too low or too high. If the chicks are huddled under the lamp they are likely too cold. If they remaining along the perimeter a lot they are probably too hot. When they are comfortable, they will move around the brooder freely, in and out of the heat. Ideally, hang the heat lamp in the center so they have space on either end to move to.
It is very important to secure the heat lamp from above with a chain to prevent it from falling into the brooder box and causing a fire. The clamp that it comes with is not enough to ensure safety. The chain will also make it easier to move the light up and down as needed.
It might be easiest to start with the heat lamp suspended about 1 ft. from the bottom of the brooder box. If the chicks are content leave it there and move it up as needed. It may take a little trial and error to get it just right, so check on the chicks often.
A good rule of thumb is:
95 degrees F - week 1 90 degrees F - week 2 85 degrees F - week 3 80 degrees F - week 4 75 degrees F - week 5 70 degrees F - week 6
After the 6th week, a heat lamp is generally not required. If needed, use the heat lamp to keep them at about 60 degrees F, through 3 months of age, if the weather is colder.
Feeding and Watering:
When you purchase feed you will need to decide if you want to use medicated or non-medicated feed. Additionally, now is the time to consider if you want to use organic feed.
Medicated feed contains antibiotics and medications that will help prevent disease and can help control parasites. While a good option for some, other people may choose to avoid the use of this feed so that they do not consume any remnants of these antibiotics in eggs or meat. One step further is to feed them organic feed, which is also non-medicated.
It is important to keep food available to them at all times and to make sure it remains dry and free of fecal matter. Change the feed often and keep the container clean. If you find that the chicks are frequently pooping in it or kicking shavings into it, you can place something under the feeder to keep it up off the bottom a little bit. A small piece of wood or a brick are good options for this.
The chicks also need continued access to clean, cool water. It is best to not place the waterer underneath the heat lamp, this will help prevent algae and bacteria from developing. Again, if the water is getting really dirty, you can raise it up a bit to help keep it clean. For chicks, it is important to use a proper water base (that is shallow), as chicks can drown in just a few inches of water.
Once all of these items has been taken care of it is time to get your chicks. Once you purchase them it is essential to get them into the brooder box as soon as possible. They will quickly get cold without a heat source.
Following these simple instructions will help you enjoy your chicks while keeping them and yourself safe and healthy.
Handling the Chicks:
Chicks are delicate and need to be handled with care. With children, it is important to help them handle the chicks. They can easily suffocate if held too tightly. They can also be injured if they are accidentally dropped or handled too roughly.
Getting to know the chicks is important, especially for chickens that you intend to keep as pets. They don't need to be picked up every time you see them (as this can be stressful), but gently petting them and just being nearby watching them are great ways for them to become familiar with you. As adults, they will be less likely to see you as a predator. Chickens can be as friendly as dogs if raised closely with their human family. :)
For Your Health:
While avian flu is a risk with birds, Salmonella is a much more likely hazard. It is very important to wash your hands with hot water and soap after handling the chicks. This is also true after handling the waterer, feeder, brooder box, soiled bedding, or anything else that may have become contaminated. Be sure to strictly enforce this with children as they are more likely to put their hands in their mouths or eat without washing their hands.
Additionally, do not allow children to hold the chicks to their face or put their mouths on the edges of the brooder box. These are other easy ways for children to get very sick.
Starting around week 5 we noticed that our girls were trying to roost on anything and everything that was available. We wanted to give them the opportunity to practice their roosting skills prior to moving them into their coop, so here is what we came up with using scrap lumber.
1 x 2 piece of pine lumber
4 x 4 piece of pine lumber
2 x 4 piece of pine lumber, optional for feeder stand
Measure the space you have for a perch. Keep in mind that if the perch is too close to the food and water, it will just give them more opportunities to poop in it.
Cut two piece of the 4 x 4, approximately 4 in. cubes. Then cut a length of the 1 x 2 long enough for the perch space. Now screw the perch onto the 4 x 4 blocks. Test fit the perch in your brooder box.
Feeder Stand: Cut two pieces of 4 x 4, approximately 8 in. long. Then cut two lengths of 2 x 4, long enough for the space in your brooder box. Set the 2 x 4 pieces onto the 4 x 4 pieces. We did not screw our stand together, however you can if you want. NOTE: As they get bigger it is really helpful to get the food and water up off the bottom to reduce contamination.
Fill your brooder box up with clean bedding and put your perch (and feeder stand) inside.
At night, if the chicks are not on the perch you can begin to teach them to sleep on the perch by moving them onto it while they are asleep. Just steady them until they grab hold with their feet.
After our chicken's last broody episode we thought that she had quit laying eggs. When my husband was moving things around in their coop, he made a funny discovery. She had been laying her eggs in a hidden place behind their hen house. :)
The summer heat seems to affect everything, even our eggs! A while back it got over 103 degrees F and I had one chicken go into heat stroke because she had decided to start going broody that day. I got an emergency crash course in reviving and stabilizing a chicken in severe heat stroke. What I hadn't expected is two days later another one suffered heat stroke too. I caught her signs much earlier as I happened to be home when the second one started to collapse!
What I hadn't thought possible was the effects the heat has on the chickens' eggs. My Phoenix hen, the second one to heat stroke, stopped laying for almost a month, or so I thought. The heat had caused her to stop laying her usual blue green eggs and she was laying white ones! We have another hen that lays white eggs and I had thought that she was laying more often, but nope. The hen had only the tiniest hue of blue on white.
I doubled the amount of electrolytes and probiotics in their water along with my old standby unfiltered apple cider vinegar. She went from laying a white egg to laying blue green eggs. Don't believe it? The photo below shows an egg she laid last week compared to her egg today! She is not the only one showing changes however. Our top hen, the boss, usually lays dark mocha colored eggs with reddish spots. Her eggs have been light brown with white spots since the summer heat started (see photo at top)! Keep an eye on those eggs. The slightest color changes can tell you that your hens are lacking in electrolytes or are feeling ill even before they physically show it!
Just read the newsletter on chickens. Very interesting I might add but my question is: did these ladies let their chickens roam the yard or did they have them penned up? I live in the country and thought I may get a few for eggs. Plus you could eat the chickens too. Thanks in advance.
I have chickens that have a covered pen that they go into at nite. Skunks are our problem. Daytime our older chickens get to roam another part of the enclosed fenced in yard but not covered. Then another section is for our garden that is enclosed also separately. If you keep their wings clipped they can't fly into the garden. I grow more then what we eat so the chickens can have it. Plus when we're finished with the garden then they can have at it. They love it, and so do we. No more weeds to pull, besides that they fertilizer it also for next summer.
My hen hasn't laid any egg for a few days now. She is so lethargic that she often spends most of the day squatting either in the laying box or in a shady spot in the garden. It seems she suffers from diarrhea; her stomach is soiled. I've already bathed her with warm water.
Maybe she has an egg she can't pass but if she has diarraha you need to take action quickly or you'll lose her. Do you give them antibiotics? Fowl catch everything coming around the block. Maintenance is very important. You should pull her from flock because the rest will definately know she's not up to par and will pick on her.
Mother Earth News has done testing on free range chicken eggs vs. the normal store bought eggs and the differences are remarkable. Their new chicken and egg page has test results and information on raising chickens. Basically free range chickens are chickens that are allowed to walk around, peck, eat grass, weeds and insects plus chicken feed as opposed to those that spend their lives in a tiny pen. How many of you out there have your own chickens?
*** We raise our chickens and are getting 8 eggs a day now. It is nothing short of wonderful to know there are plenty of eggs on hand and we are raising some new chicks. Here is one of them, so cute. We have to keep a heat lamp on them now but before we know it, we will have additional layers.
Can I raise two Black Bottom hens together in a cage rather than letting them free-range roam? Or should I modify a large wooden refrigerator shipping crate with wire and screening, etc. with wheels to move the crate/coop around, in the crowded, grassy, filtered sun yard.
I don't want to make too much of a fuss over them, but they are so beautiful, young hens, and lay great eggs, according to owner. Does the cost to raise them for your own family's organic egg needs justify the time and expense of food and maintenance and/or protection, etc.?
My grandson is excited and I have already "ordered" two from a local farm, being ready to pickup on Tuesday. Do hens make as much noise as roosters that crow? I don't remember a thing about the two white "Easter" chickens I raised as a teen, and need to know what I'm getting into. Do they get diseases, illnesses easily? Are they really hard to clean up after? Any shortcuts?
I have a newsletter coming about them started, but it says less than I hoped about them as "pets" and for beginners. Any basic help ASAP is appreciated.
Hens are quiet, only roosters crow. A portable chicken house/run is preferable so they can get fresh grass, bugs, etc. Yes, it is worth the effort. We started raising chickens two years ago and now that I've enjoyed fresh farm eggs daily, even through the Indiana winter, I wouldn't go back to store eggs ever. Once the coop/run is made, the maintenance is very low. Just give them lots of sunshine, feed, fresh greens, water, room to run, and love. They'll be happy. (05/15/2009)
We have about 25+ chickens.They are "free range" up to a point as they share their "yard" with our goats. The only time they are "noisy" is when they cackle laying an egg. It would be much better for them to have a roving cage with nest boxes. Chickens need the greens from grass (or leftover greens from the house) and will keep your bug population down. We feed ours grain (laying mash) mixed with leftovers from the house. The only ones we keep in cages are those "setting" (hatching out chicks) and those destined for the freezer. I don't know if it's a proven fact, but uncaged chicken eggs are "supposed" to be lower in cholesterol. I do know we prefer our eggs to store bought. (05/19/2009)
Your comments are so encouraging and helpful, as well as the websites you suggested. Thank you so very much. These are not the breed I was told, but are "Barred Plymouth Rock" hens and I have found a photo I hope gets forwarded for you to see. They are so sweet that they are now "cooing" occasionally when I come near, as if a "dove" or something, so I just did my best interpretation response and they stopped cold, turned their heads like a Jack Russell terrier does when trying to understand something. Then as I "trilled" a sound they immediately sat down and got very still. What in the world have I discovered accidentally? It's unbelievable that I lucked into two with such sweet personalities. What a blessing.
Today, a week after getting them, I began to run low on regular starter food, with maybe 10 microscopic tiny pieces of corn in the whole 4 lbs. of food I bought last week, I went on line to several "chicken feed recipes for DIY" and discovered that I had an unopened Pringles size can of corn flake powder, so I put my thinking cap on, used ideas I'd found/heard, and made the following recipe for my young pullets, not yet adults or ready to lay.
To one cup of crushed raisin bran (minus large raisins), I sprayed butter all over the crushed Raisin Bran then sprinkled with the following foods I have here:
1/2 cup corn flake powder
1 tsp. left over crushed cat food cereal/ dried tuna
1/4 C. cutup clover leaves/stems, tiny dandelion leaves
two freshly killed chinch-bugs
the finely crushed shell of one small store bought egg
1 tsp. groats.
I figured that they are getting some vitamins and minerals from the Raisin Bran cereal as well as the remains of what starter feed I had. As I finished a bowl of sweetened rice for breakfast, I realized the cooked rice might work as well, so I added 1 tsp of it.
I'll get them some regular starter food and keep using my kitchen scraps, etc., as long as there are no outwards signs of difficulties or refusal to eat. It certainly looked healthy, was all approved by online folks, and now I move closer to their getting tiny combs to go with their full feathers and great big feet.
Tomorrow I hope to begin working on that coop I've thought so much about and gathered advice/ideas about. I may have an old patio screen door, spare screen wire roll, and I know I have plenty of scrap wood to make something that should work, as long as it's safe for them and humans. Yet, thoughts of winter protection are in the back of my mind as I begin to plan. I know God will help me design from there since no one can see it or offer further instructions. He has always provided for our needs and a few of our desires. How lucky that we have each others' minds as well as, Him to rely upon, right? (05/19/2009)
I think a few chickens for fresh eggs is a great idea. They eat bugs and vegetable peels and are no real trouble. But, I recently learned they only lay eggs for a few years and live much longer than that. Then what do you do? I wouldn't be able to kill and clean them to eat. (05/20/2009)
Chickens need space and plenty of grit to digest their food. Egg shells are brilliant to get them to lay better. My grandmother raised bantams and she swore by egg shells. Crumble them and throw them out for the chickens to eat. You might let them roam. They love bugs and if confined too long, will begin to eat each other. (07/12/2009)