First time chicken owners: Read THIS first

I adore my beautiful flock of chicks. They are funny, adorable, sweet, snuggly, amusing, and outgoing. Before we picked them up from the farm store we had a lot of questions. What do you feed chickens? How do we keep them alive and safe? What happens if something goes wrong? What type of coop/run do they need? How much time and effort do chickens take? I can’t answer all of your questions since I, like you (I am guessing) am a first time chicken owner, but I wanted to impart some thoughts from my experience so far with my little chickens.

  1. Chickens, like other pets, are a long term commitment. Chickens live on average to be about 7-8 years, sometimes living to be as old as 10! That is a lot of time (and money) to invest in a pet. Unless you are raising your chickens for meat, you need to think long term and remember that they will be a full time commitment to you and your family. Think ahead to future travels or moves. It can be hard to find a chicken sitter!
  2. Do your research and pick the right breed. Every breed of chicken has different traits and personalities, just like different breeds of dogs or cats. Some are more friendly, some are better egg layers, some are more broody (like to sit on fertilized eggs), some are bigger and better for meat. Do a bit of research and figure out what breed is going to be best for your specific wants/needs.
  3. Be prepared to not be prepared. Problems are going to arise with your chickens that you are just not prepared for. A broken wing, an outbreak of mites, a lethargic chick that is barely moving. Sometimes you will be able to google or reach out on backyardchickens.com, but sometimes there is nothing you can do for them. Just be prepared to loose some chickens, no matter how attentive of an owner you are.
  4. Chicks don’t stay chicks for long. Everyone loves those cute pictures of chicks on Instagram, but they only stay fuzzy and tiny for about two weeks of their lives. Make sure you are in love with the ideas of chickens, not just the fuzzy chicks.
  5. Have a retirement plan. Chickens only lay eggs (if that is the purpose for your chickens) for about three years. So if they live to be eight years old, that is five years of retirement with your chicken where they are just freeloading and costing you money. If your chickens are pets and you are ok housing them until they die of old age, that is great! If you are raising meat chickens, then you already have a plan for them. But if you are not willing to house them or kill them yourself, figure out their retirement plan or rethink getting chickens in the first place.
  6. Socialize your chickens. Even if you pet and love your chickens every day they might not cuddle like the sweet chicken videos. However, it is good to hold and pet your chicks every day in order to help them trust you. Mine were very cuddly at the beginning and went through a scared “teenage” phase where they ran and freaked out every time I came near. I consulted some weathered chicken owners and they convinced me to keep holding them through their antisocial phase. I also fed them worms and egg yolks from my hands, so eventually they came around. Some are super sweet and love to be held, some tolerate me, and some still run and cheep.
  7. Join backyardchickens.com. Seriously. Those folks have been such a lifesaver. You can look up any problem or make your own post to get a specific answer to your question. It is also fun to talk with other chicken lovers about their passion.
  8. Don’t expect to hug your chickens. Like I said above, you might not get a super cuddly flock. I would not count on those Insta-perfect pictures of sweet chicken loves. Some breeds might be more hostile than others, but even the nicest of breeds are not reliable since every chicken has its own unique personality. We raise Silkies, one of the friendliest breeds, but not even they are consistent.
  9. Also don’t expect to have a perfectly manicured yard. At first I wanted to make a beautiful grassy run for our chickens. What a surprise it was when it was destroyed after only a few days! Our large, roomy run was completely decimated by the natural chicken urge to scratch and root. If you planned to have free range chickens, make sure you are prepared not to have a gorgeous lawn. Also make sure you are careful with little kids or other pets since chickens will poo wherever they walk.
  10. Be prepared for roosters. Most chicks can be sexed, meaning you will be able to tell if they are male or female from the start. However, you should be prepared for an accident chick or two, since it can be a little ambiguous if you buy them very young. With Silkies, you actually can’t sex them until they are about six months! If you live in a neighborhood that does not allow roosters, make a plan just in case a rooster or two slips through. 4H students will often take in a rooster for showing or breeding.
  11. Chickens (generally) don’t take a lot of work. We have a dog and two cats along with our flock. I would honestly say that keeping chickens is easier than taking care of our dog, but slightly more effort than taking care of our cats. I was so nervous before picking up our chickens, but as long as they have food, water, and some love, they will generally be happy.
  12. Chickens smell. This should be a no brainer, but chickens do have a smell. I honestly don’t mind it at all, but make sure to be courteous to your neighbors. A consistent cleaning schedule and the Deep Litter Method (I will try to do another blog post on how to maintain DLM) will keep the smell to a minimum.
  13. They might fight. Chicks will gladly pick on each other and even peck each other to death. You might need to separate an aggressive chick or figure out what is causing the chickens to fight. A red lamp helps hide wounds and helps with pecking since chicks will peck at any spot of blood. Different breeds might clash and need separation. Older chickens might pick or smother younger chicks. If chickens are too cold they can huddle together and smother one another. Injured chicks can also attract picking. It helps to sit and watch for a bit if you suspect a problem.
  14. You will need to wash and clean constantly. Chickens can spread all kinds of diseases. Wash your hands every time you touch your chickens and regularly disinfect doorknobs or areas that you touch while handling your chickens. As I mentioned above, you should also be cautious with kids in a yard or area where your chickens roam. (We just keep them separate.)
  15. Make sure you have the right set up. Different chickens have different coop requirements. For example, Silkies don’t walk up ramps and some prefer to roost together on the floor than on a roosting bar. Chicks will also need to start out in a heated brooder before they can move out into their coop. Do a bit of research on the type of coop and run will be best for your babies.
  16. Introduce them to your other pets carefully. Those cute videos of chickens and kitties cuddling might be adorable, but they are not necessarily realistic. Cats and dogs are natural predators, so be careful with them around your chickens and introduce them slowly. Always supervise when they are socializing.

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