If you’re going to start with chicks, you’ll need a young chick brooder, which can be as simple as a sturdy cardboard box or a small (rabbit-size) animal cage. Place it inside your house or garage – somewhere protected from the weather.
Wood shavings work best on the floor as traction for little legs. Keep the temperature at 90 to 100 degrees F. for the first week, then decrease it five degrees each week. A 100-watt bulb pointing in one corner (not over the whole brooder) works well.
Your chicks will also need:
- Food and water, such as chick crumbles/starter and a chick waterer
- Time to get used to being around people, pets, noises, etc.
- Outside time, so section off part of your yard where chicks can explore, scratch, etc. (Make sure you can catch them when it’s time for them to come in! Throwing some feed inside should help encourage them in.)
A Home for Your Hens
Once your chicks have feathered out (in about 60 days), you’ll want to move them from the brooder into a chicken coop. A coop usually includes nest boxes for laying eggs, and perches for sleeping and resting. You can buy a ready-made coop, or build your own, and make it permanent or portable. Plans and designs abound in books and on the Internet. You can be thrifty, spending $100 or less, or go all out and spend $1,000 or more.
Space is an important consideration for you and your chickens. The rule of thumb is you will need about two to three square feet per chicken inside your hen house. Build it tall enough for you to walk in or hing the roof or sides so you can reach all the way in. This will make it easier for you to clean, gather eggs, and check the health of your flock. When deciding on the perfect spot for your chicken coop, be sure to put it on high ground, away from drainage areas and wet patches. Whatever design you choose, add gutters and downspouts so that rain runoff is directed away from your coop and chicken run.
While this might sound silly for a smaller coop, it helps keep things dry. For instance, if your coop is five feet by five feet, or 25 square feet, and the annual rainfall for your area is 35 inches, the total amount of rain flowing off your coop roof is 547 gallons of water a year – and that means lots of mud!
In your coop’s attached, fenced pen (or run), the space rule of thumb is four to five square feet per chicken. Putting a roof on the run is critical – it helps keep everything dry (as do the gutters and downspouts), which helps your chickens stay free of disease.