10 Things Every Newbie Chicken Owner Needs to Know

In this past week, our family grew by 8, no actually by 11. No wait, by 5. No, no, by 6 cute, fluffy, CHICKS that go cheep cheep all day long!!. Yup, 6 is the final number.

I swore this day would never come but it’s here and I am so excited. I FINALLY got myself some chickens! It was a tough decision to pick chicks instead of pullets (chickens who are already laying) because that would mean I’d have to wait at least 5-6 months to see my first egg but I thought it would be fun for Andrew to watch them grow.

I’m not really good at that thing you call patience so this will be a good learning experience for me too. I say that now but in 3 weeks I’ll be hopelessly wishing for a nutrient-dense egg that came from my chickens out of my backyard. Eeek! So exciting.

So, you must be curious as to why I went from 8 to 11 to 5 to 6 chicks, right? Well, you see, the day I went to the feed store to scout out some chickies I was blind sided by cute fluffy butts and the only thing I could hear was the sweet music of cheep, cheep, peeping. I completely drew a mind blank and all I wanted to do was bring them home with me.

Note to self: Bring ear plugs so you still have some sense in you when making the decision to bring chicks home.

No, but really, I forgot to ask important questions like if these chicks were going to actually grow up to say bawk bawk instead of cockadoodledoo!

We ended up with 8 chicks with a chance that 60% of them could possibly be roosters. I found another feed store and bought 3 more chicks that were sexed just in case I couldn’t find homes for the original 8. That same day, a woman called me from my CraigsList ad and wanted to buy the chicks. The following day, she bought 6 of the 8 (I decided to keep 2) and then I went to a different feed store to buy the last little lady to make our flock an even 6.

Phew, did you catch all that? I’m glad all that drama is over! Now, we are happily enjoying our little ladies and will be building a coop for them this weekend (photos to come).

If you are a future first time chicken owner, I wanted to let you in on 10 things every newbie chicken owner needs to know.

(This is where you learn from my mistakes so you don’t have to go through the rigamaroll that I went through).

10 Things Every Newbie Chicken Owner Needs to Know

1. Have everything ready BEFORE you get your chicks

I know, you’re excited and this is a give in. But chances are, you are probably freaking excited which means you may jump the gun and forget about the obvious things. It’s a good idea to have all your eggs in a basket (ahem, no pun intended) before you bring your little cheeping fluff balls home. This means, make sure you have your space cleared out where you’ll keep them and your brooder set up and ready to rock and roll.

I waited an eternity (really it was about an hour and a half) for my father-in-law to show up with the extra large dog crate we’d be using as the brooder. And when he did finally show up, the crate wasn’t assembled. So, we assembled it outside my house. Then when we brought it to the front door, we realized it wouldn’t fit through it. So then we went through the garage door with success only to find out we couldn’t fit the crate through the hallway into our office.

 

Sigh.

We had to partially take the crate apart and bend/shove it through to get it into the office. All the while, the chicks have been stuck in their little box for 2 hours now. Mama was having a borderline panic attack to get those chicks in their new brooder.

2. You’ll probably learn what “pasty butt” is

Yes, within the first 2 hours of having the girls in the brooder, I realized one had dried poop stuck on their bottom. I scoured the web and found out that it could be life threatening if pasty butt wasn’t rectified. So, I got a warm dish of water, q-tips and a cloth and very lightly put the chicken butt in the water. I didn’t soak her bottom just put water around the poop. With much care and patience, I eradicated the pasty butt.

3. Chicks are cute but super messy

In the first 6 hours of being in their brooder, I changed their water six times. No one at the feed store told me to elevate the water dish so it wouldn’t get dirty the second you put clean water back in there. I bought nipples but right now, the water container is sitting on a sturdy glass bowl and now I only have to clean the water once a day. Hallelujah!

4. DO NOT fall for the “Buy 3 chicks, get one free!”

This tends to happen at your “commercial” feed stores. Yeah, I fell for that and got 8 chicks to start out with. Little did I know, that over 60% of those chicks would be, are you ready for it, roosters.

Can you imagine the state of panic that set in when I realized possibly half my flock would be roosters!??! I called the feed store in a panic and they could give two, ahem, rats tails about it. No empathy whatsoever. They told me “more than likely they are hens.” Right. So basically I had to make a choice: either raise them for 5-6 months and find out whether or not they are roosters or try to get rid of them now. If I chose to raise them, what would I do if they were roosters? Kill them and make stew meat out of them? Or try to sell them? This is the reality of urban homesteading.

I put the chicks on craigslist and hoped for the best. Later that day, I received a call from a lady who was very interested. She showed up and bought 6 of the 8 (I decided to keep one of each). She told me if the ones I kept were roosters, to call her and she would trade me.

5. DO NOT support those kind of feed stores

I had a terrible experience, went through A LOT of stress and they were not helpful, at all. They took advantage of the fact that I was a newbie and did not mention that most would be roosters. To me, that is super bad business and I will never support them again.

6. Ask the right questions

Before you go into a store and get blindsided by small fluffy chicken butts and cheep cheep music to your ears, have a list of questions to ask.

  • Are these chicks sexed? If there is no labeling of “sexed” on the names of the birds, heed caution. You may end up with roosters.
  • Do these hens lay well? Some hens are made for laying. If you really want chickens for eggs, make sure you know which breeds are good layers.

7. Chicken raising is a lot like parenting

EVERYONE has their own opinions about how chickens should be raised, what they should be fed, how they should be handled. You’ll definitely get the occasional mean chicken owner that talks down upon you because you are a newbie and made a mistake.

8. No matter how much you read, you don’t know anything

As a blogger, I do a lot of reading (duh, right?). Well, as you can imagine I did much reading on caring for chicks and raising chickens but none of that meant squat when my new chicks arrived in my home. You seriously have no idea about anything until you get them in your possession. Then, you learn as you go.

That being said, it is still good to read up so you are a little more prepared than if you were just winging it. For chicken newbie peeps, you’ll want to check out this e-guide for raising backyard chickens (it’s on sale until April 2015… Just use code: springchicken for savings!)

9. Buy sexed chicks

Make sure you buy sexed chicks so you don’t go through the horror and stress I went through. Make sure you call EVERY feed store in your area and ask specifically for sexed chicks. I learned that once you establish your flock, it’s hard to add more to it because of the pecking order. If you want to add more, you need to find chicks that are around the same age/size or there will be some serious pecking going on. No need to add more stress. Get all your chicks lined up in a row before you go and buy haphazardly.

10. Research the types of breeds you want before you buy

After I got everything set up and the fluffy butt blindness was wearing off I realized that now I only had 2 breeds of chickens; not much for a variety. I was a little upset that I allowed myself to not think about that before I went and bought 4 more than the original quota my husband and I talked about. But, luckily, everything worked out in the end and now I have 5 different breeds in my little flock of 6.

I have:

  • 1 Black Australorp
  • 2 Black Sex Links
  • 1 Golden Wyandotte
  • 1 Easter Egger
  • 1 New Hampshire Red

The Black Sex Links are the sweethearts of the bunch and the Ameraucana is the, ahem, ugly chickling of the group. She’s already a bit annoying, loud and is always up to something. I find it humorous how they already have their little personalities starting to form.

I’m sure there are a lot more things I will learn along the way but I learned all of this within the first 72 hours of having my brand new chicks. It’s been interesting already to say the least! But, I’m ready! Let the chicken adventures begin!

Oh, p.s. I read Oh Lardy’s Guide to Raising Backyard Chickens in 2 days and I felt it gave me a lot of good information regarding the prepping of the coop, feeding them (I think I may try fermenting the feed), and general care for them. It’s a great resource and I’ll surely keep it handy for those basic chicken questions I need answered. She has it on sale right now, so if you’ve been thinking about getting chickens or have them and need a resource with all the info in one place, now is the time to buy it.

Here’s the link so you can purchase your own copy.  (It’s 30% off until the end of April 2015! Use coupon code: springchicken to receive your 30% off.)

What other things you do think every newbie chicken owner needs to know?

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About

Aside from being a wannabe backyard homesteader who wrangles chickens and free-range kids, Loriel is the owner/creator of the professional natural lifestyle blog Naturally Loriel, owner of the organic spice blend business Naturally Free, and freelance professional food photographer.


'10 Things Every Newbie Chicken Owner Needs to Know' has 12 comments

  1. May 27, 2014 @ 2:46 am Jessikah

    These are all important. Sometimes sexing chicks is impossible with certain breeds and you end up with a rooster. Knowing what you will do before you buy is a good idea. Remember when it’s time to get rid of a rooster, that everyone else is too and selling them can be difficult. Another thing when choosing a breed is temperament. We have Sexlink, Cochin, and Brahmas.The Sexlink became very aggressive the older they got, especially around food. The Brahmas and Cochin are very docile and wait patiently for the Sexlink to finish. If you plan to breed then looking at genetic problems is important too. Heritage breeds tend to have less problems than the new hybrids. Which breeds tend to go broody more often? How big will they actually get? Our original nesting boxes were sadly way too small for our Cochin birds, and had to be substantially rebuilt. My biggest advice is really look into the deep litter method. It is wonderful for smells and makes the best compost around. For flies hang a plastic baggie of water with 4 pennies in it. It’s strange but really works. We keep three in the run and one hanging in the coop. Within 30 minutes there were no flies. Was amazing!

    Reply

  2. July 23, 2014 @ 3:49 pm Denise

    I wish I’d known to leave an egg so my hen would keep returning to the nest.

    Reply

    • July 23, 2014 @ 9:47 pm Loriel

      Hmm, yeah that is a good thing to know. I’m sure it would eliminate a good amount of frustration from having to search for eggs.

      Reply

  3. July 31, 2014 @ 11:45 am Mary

    Oh dear! #8 on your list struck a cord here. I have been googling, pinning, and reading everything I can get my hands on about coops, pens, feeding, health care, etc. I thought I knew all about pasty butt and bumble feet, being broody or egg bound, lice and mites, roosts and bedding, and all the special treats that would make a chicken happy and healthy. Or at least as much as a newbie can know without actually owning a chicken yet. I have been petitioning our township to allow chickens and if the ordinance ever changes I plan to be ready. Then I read #8 and worry I don’t REALLY know anything, LOL. one source I have to be invaluable is author Terry Golson and her hen blog. She also has live cams in her coop and pen so while I wait I can live vicariously through her birds. Wishing you and your girls a long and happy laying life together. 🙂

    Reply

    • July 31, 2014 @ 6:34 pm Loriel

      Where are you located Mary? Our rules are really weird; the county can’t have chickens but the city can. What the heck is up with that!? I need to start petitioning for the county to allow chickens because I think everyone should have the ability to have access to their own fresh food. I hope things work your way soon so you can start enjoying the amazing-ness of having chickens and then reaping the benefits of fresh eggs (we’re not there yet and I can’t hardly wait!). Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and share your thoughts! I’ll definitely be checking out Terry Golson, thanks!

      Reply

  4. July 31, 2014 @ 2:06 pm Ashley Carson

    For me, I wish I had known how MEAN chickens can be sometimes 🙂 Especially when there is a injury!

    Reply

    • July 31, 2014 @ 6:28 pm Loriel

      Like mean to other chickens? Or to people?

      Reply

  5. October 3, 2014 @ 2:41 am Lisa

    Keep golf balls in a nesting box to fool the hens into laying there. Marbles in a water dish will keep chicks from drowning while still allowing them to drink water. If u want to add chickens to an existing flock, create big changes/distractions , move everyone to a chicken tractor for a few days then into a coup. Gives them other things to think about besides pecking order.

    Reply

    • October 3, 2014 @ 10:34 am Loriel

      Thank you for all these tips Lisa!

      Reply

  6. December 22, 2014 @ 6:59 am Tammy

    Just to let you know, if you bought from a feed store, 10-1 you didn’t get an Ameraucana. Many feed stores sell them as such, but they’re actually a mixed breed known as an Easter Egger (many feed stores and hatcheries will spell it Americana…there are a couple of hatcheries that I know of that have pure bred Ameraucanas though). Ameraucana’s lay blue or blue-green eggs only. Many Easter Eggers do too (typically they lay blue-green or green), but they can also lay pink eggs and brown eggs (or really any colored egg depending on what they’re mixed with). Easter Eggers are mixed with either Ameraucana or Araucana somewhere in their lineage. They can be any color or combination of colors, and their legs can be any color. They can have beards and muffs just like the Ameraucana, have clean faces, or tufts like the Araucana.

    Ameraucanas though, are a pure breed that fall within certain colors and have slate colored legs (though black Ameraucanas can have black legs) according to the Standard of Perfection (SOP). Believe or not, any color that falls out of the SOP’s acceptable colors, even if it’s still a purebred, is also considered an Easter Egger.

    Like I said, I know a couple of hatcheries that sell Ameraucanas, but unless your feed store got those birds from those hatcheries (and the hatcheries charge quite a bit for these chicks…much more than the average chick), they’re usually Easter Eggers. Typically you’d have to buy from a breeder to get pure bred Ameraucanas.

    Here, this will explain it much better than I can (if you’re up for some reading)… http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/713475/diffences-between-ees-ameraucanas-and-araucanas

    You picked out some great breeds though. I’ve always wanted an Australorp, but I have bantams and they’re VERY hard to find in bantam. I’ve also considered some bantam New Hampshires….thank goodness those I can find. 🙂

    Reply

  7. April 13, 2015 @ 2:38 pm Kathy Shea Mormino (The Chicken Chick)

    #11: The purchase of sexed chicks does not guarantee that you will not bring a cockerel home. Vent sexing is only 90% accurate and someone has to get the 10%.

    Happy chicken-keeping!
    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick®

    Reply

    • April 13, 2015 @ 2:41 pm Loriel

      Thank you for clarifying Kathy!

      Reply


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