Chicken Keeping 101: A Guide To Raising Chicks For First Time Backyard Farmers

Every spring, large shipments of day-old chicks and ducklings are delivered to farm supply stores across the country – just in time for Easter. The cute little chirping balls of feathers are not difficult to take care of, but some simple steps must be followed routinely in order for the chickens and ducks to survive.

Whether the chickens and ducks are destined for the dinner table or to become farm pets who lay eggs and spend their days enjoying the backyard, the chicken keeping rules are all the same. Healthy chickens are happier chickens. When chickens and ducks are not plagued by boredom on a daily basis, hens typically produce more eggs, the members of the flock boast far less aggressive personalities, and they can be handled far more easily by their keepers.

how to raise ducks
Chicks and ducklings can be raised together in the same brooder, coop, and run.

Choosing the right breed of chickens for newbie keepers might seem a bit overwhelming when faced with so many choices at the farm and garden store or at a local breeder’s farm. While all the chicks and ducklings may look cute frolicking about in their stock tank, there are some very specific differences among the routinely available breeds. Chickens are sold in two distinct varieties: laying breeds and meat breeds, as Common Sense Home notes.

If unsure about the extended plans for the flock, it is best to choose a breed which boasts a decent laying history, but also will grow large enough to be viable for meat production if going that route becomes desirable. Signs stating the chicks and ducklings in a tank are “straight run” mean the enclosure contains an unknown percentage of both males and females. Some of the most popular dual purpose breeds of chickens are Rhode Island Reds, California whites, Barred Rocks, and New Hampshire Reds.

Dual purpose duck breeds include Pekins and Rouens. They are the largest domesticated duck breeds, making them good for meat. Both lay a decent amount of eggs, but neither a known to be great “sitters.” If the keepers want to hatch some of the duck eggs to increase the size of the flock, it is likely an incubator will need to be purchased. Both of the breeds can fly, but only for very short distances and not very high – they will not be flying south for the winter and will not likely venture too far from their coop or pond.

Chicken Keeping Tips

  1. Feed – It all starts with the feed. Our ancestors gave chicken scratch and cracked corn to chicks right from the start. That still works, but chick starter is easier to digest and does not require the introduction of grit into their diet so soon. Without grit, chickens cannot digest hard materials and can quickly acquire an infected crop – which can often become a deadly problem. Some chicken keepers wait until chicks are at least 18 weeks old to begin feeding scratch to the flock. Waiting until the chicks are at least six weeks old is highly advised. Free range chickens that run about during the day help cut down on feed bills and allow the flock to eat as naturally as possible while following their behavioral instincts. Ridding the property of unwanted bugs is a huge side benefit of free ranging chickens and ducks.
  2. Feeder – A proper feeder not only reduces feed waste and prevents added mess, it also allows the chicken keeper to closely monitor the food intake of the flock. A chicken’s appetite is impacted by the change in seasons, Rural Living Today notes. During the summer months, chickens eat less feed, especially if they free range during the day. During winter, chickens consume more feed and bulk up, so the added fat will help keep them warm. If the flock suddenly begins to eat less food, it could indicate a single chicken has become ill, or a disease could be affecting the entire flock and making them sick while causing a loss of appetite.
  3. Coop – If both the chicken coop and chicken run are not adequately predator-proof, there won’t be a flock to tend for very long. As previously reported by the Inquisitr, a whole host of nocturnal predators and hawks love dining on chickens and ducks. Following the chicken coop construction guide may help save keepers from the loss of valuable livestock and the heartache which occurs when going out to feed the flock in the morning and being met with only a vast array of scattered feathers.
  4. Waterer – Storing clean drinking water is essential to the health and well-being of the flock. A brooder filled with only 15 chicks or ducklings can easily consumer up to three gallons of water per day. Providing enough water is a simple chore, but keeping the waterer clean can be a challenging task. Plastic and galvanized waterers are readily available for a nominal price at most farm and garden stores and come in various gallon sizes. The water drip trays often become filled with bedding and mud from the feet of the chickens and ducks – especially the ducklings who have an irresistible urge to get into any small amount of water they happen across. Drip nipple waterer attachments for plastic barrels or waterers specifically made for the drip spouts are the easiest way to keep drinking water clean and safe. Disease can spread quickly from contaminated water and not only kill the flock, but possibly make eggs unsafe to eat.
  5. Routine – Chickens and ducks are very low maintenance livestock, but they thrive when placed on a specific daily routine. Feeding time and the evening roundup into the pen will go far more smoothly when these important aspects of chicken life happen at the same time each day. If you are 15 minutes late for feed time, the flock will start clucking and honking to remind you they are impatiently waiting to have their feeder refilled.
  6. Cleaning – Keeping the coup, feeder, and waterer clean is essential to the longevity of the flock. It is a messy and often stinky chore – especially if the flock lives in the coop and run full time. But, to prevent the spread of disease and to keep keenly aware of any changes in the amount or color of flock droppings, the keeper must spend time inside the coop and chicken run at least twice a week.
  7. Identification – Naming something you will one day be eating is not advisable. But, being able to identify one chick or duck from another is still a good idea. Inexpensive leg bands allow a keeper to record egg laying habits for each hen, track appetite and droppings changes in each flock member, and to closely monitor any health issues as they develop and during treatment.

[Featured Image by FiledIMAGE/Shutterstock]