Choosing the correct breed of chicken entails more than one might think. When choosing which breeds you would like it's important to know that some breeds may not be suited to your area. Certain breeds do well in hot climates while others may not. Certain breeds do well in cold climates while other may not. If you are interested in a particular breed be sure to research this aspect of chicken keeping before making your final choice.
Some breeds that do well in cold climates are:
Rhode Island Red
Some breeds that do well in hot climates are:
There are many, many different breeds of chickens & some do well in both hot & cold climates. I live in the North East & we have very hard, cold winters. I have Orpingtons, Brahmas, Australorps, Easter Eggers, Barred Rocks & Silkies. I have found that the Silkies do just fine in my climate but it is because I have so many of the other large heavy breeds with them in the cold months. The Silkies roost between the big birds at night so this helps them keep warm. They do however stay in the coop most of the day during the winter by choice.
Baby Chick Care
It's not as complicated as it seems. With my first batch of chicks years ago I was constantly checking the temperature in the brooder & moving the heat lamp to have the perfect temperature. Temperatures in the brooder do not have to be exact, but close is good..
Start the temperature at 98 degrees for the first day only, lowering it to 95 degrees on day two, then lower it 5 degrees each week until reaching 70 degrees. By then most chicks will also be feathered out & able to hold their own body heat.
You will need a large plastic bin, large box, or feeding troth for your chicks first home. I prefer to have the sides of the brooder at least 24" tall because by the time they are 2 to 3 weeks old many will be able to fly out. I find that pine flakes work best for a bedding. But don't use shavings because they are too small & the chicks will try to eat them. I put paper towels down over the bedding for the first two days and sprinkle chick feed on them. This works best until they all figure out the difference between the bedding and the food. You will need feeders for water & feed, and a heat lamp.
Housing & Coop Security
This is not my coop, but isn't it adorable? It also demonstrates the security a coop & run should have. Notice how it's lifted above the ground. This prevents rodents from taking up residence under your coop. It is a solid structure without any holes or loose boards. All windows are covered with hardware cloth fencing. This is important because mice, rats & even weasels can get into your coop through any space larger than 1/2 inch!
Chickens need lots of ventilation! This coop has several windows for good air flow on at least two sides. There are only two things I would add to this coop. First, a vent at the peak. The higher the vent, the more moisture will escape the coop. This is especially important in the winter to prevent frostbite. Also, I would add a lock on the hen box. Without a lock, predators could lift up the top & gain entry to the coop.
The outside run is covered top to bottom with hardware cloth fencing. The hardware cloth should be buried at least 10" along all sides to prevent predators like dogs or raccoons from digging an entry into the run.
Another thing I'd like to point out is the metal garbage can for feed. This a great way to keep from attracting rodents to your coop & run along with not leaving any feed or water out at night.
Runs & Free Ranging
Whether to free range, use a run, or do both is entirely a personal choice. I love to let my chickens free range, but we have a hawk problem & a couple of cute little doggies next door that run free.
I lost a precious hen to a hawk about two years ago, and I'm still not over it! It was absolutely devastating. The hawk swooped down out of the sky & just took her. Not even a feather left behind. Then he came back, again & again... with hawk friends, circling above our property.
I then built a run out of a large portable garage that we used to use to store firewood in. It's quite strong & we covered the ends with snow fencing. The hawks can't get through it & neither can the little doggies from next door.
I don't leave my coop open at night, in fact we call it Fort Knox because it's locked up so tight during the nighttime hours. But if I did leave it open, I would definitely need to cover it with hardware cloth. Most of the wild predators in my area are only out at night. Always make sure either that your coop is secure at night or make your run high security if you plan to leave the coop open.
If you have daytime predators in your area, you will need to have the run secure.
We still love to free range with supervision. I will take out eight chickens at a time at alternate times of the day to make sure everyone gets their free range time.
A run can also serve as a comfortable place for your friends during the winter months. Most chickens do not like to walk in snow & they will vocally let you know that they don't appreciate stepping in it. My Ruby especially. In late fall I cover our run with thick clear plastic to keep the winter wind chill at bay & to keep the snow out.
Inside our run is like a chicken circus. We have some beautiful drift wood, pine trees, several perches, tree stumps, lawn chairs, a dust bath area & a big straw pile to play on. Chickens will get bored during the winter months if they don't want to or can't free range. It also helps to switch things around every few weeks.
Always start your chicks out with Chick Starter with 20% protien. There are several different brands to choose from but my feed of choice is always Nutrena NatureWise. Some chick feed is medicated to prevent coccidiosis. When I first started having chicks I used the medicated feed thinking I was choosing what was best for them. But the truth is, it's medicine that they don't really need. They are better off building their immune system than they are eating medicine that they don't need. If they did have a problem with coccidiosis you can medicate their water instead. I haven't used medicated feed in years & I have noticed no difference at all.
When your chicks are nine weeks old they should be switched to a grower feed between 16-18% protein.
When to switch to a layer feed? Believe it or not, this is a controversial topic in the chicken keeping world. And I have my own opinion about it & yes, I have had to defend it a time or two...
I am big on not feeding things that are unnecessary. Layer feed contains calcium to help produce strong egg shells. If a chicken is eating layer feed and they are not laying yet, it can damage their kidneys. Even roosters. I only feed layer feed after a chicken has started to lay.
In the main flock, I offer a layer feed, a regular flock feed for roosters, and also provide crushed oyster shells. Oyster shell is a calcium supplement you can find at any feed store. The roosters prefer the flock feed naturally.
If you have a hen & chicks, provide the chick starter. It is fine for her until she starts laying again & will help her recuperate from her brooding time.
Treats & Snacks
If your chickens become overweight they wont be happy & healthy. I limit treats to veggies & grass cuttings only. Really everything they need is already included in their feed, so they really don't require extras especially if they are free ranging. In the summer months I freeze fresh grass cuttings & extra zucchini for a special treat during the winter months.
If you have chickens, they will attract rodents no matter where you live. It's up to you to make sure they don't stay. It's important to always put away all food and water at night. If rodents have a constant food supply they will find a place nearby to live & be visiting your run nightly. Keep all feed in a metal container with tight fitting lid or keep it in the house & bring it out daily. Rodents like rats & snakes will also steal eggs, so you'll want to collect them often.
Chicken Health Issues
When chickens don't feel well they are very good at hiding it. Some signs of an ill chicken include puffing up, with slightly ruffled feathers. They will stay to themselves & often stand or sit facing a corner as if they are being antisocial. What's wrong could be any number of things. First separate the ill chicken from the rest of the flock In case it is contagious. In doing this you can also evaluate whether she is eating & drinking.
Check the chicken over for any visible signs of injury or infection, check the vent for any abnormality, check feet, legs & toes for any problems or swelling.
If you don't have a vet that treats chickens you'll have to do the best you can to care for her yourself. My favorite place for advice on treatment for a sick chicken is Kathy Shea Mormino's website. I am a huge fan of her educated advice on chicken health issues. You can find her advice on treating a sick chicken HERE.