Chickens Coop Care Eggs Health Issues Predators Seasonal Care

So You Want to Raise Backyard Chickens: 4 of a 5 Part Series

THE FIRST SIX WEEKS

I think that you will be utterly amazed at the pace in which these adorable little chickens grow! Don’t blink because you will miss it! Take the time to enjoy them.  They should start to develop a pecking order. Every flock has one.  By watching your flock, you will be able to determine things such as; Who eats first?  Who eats last?  Who seems like an outsider?  Who sleeps next to whom?  Who plays together?  Who is the smartest one?  Who is the fastest?  Your answers will help to determine their pecking order.  The idea of a pecking order is hardwired into every chicken from days when they had to survive in the wild.  Each chicken will have a role.  These roles are fought for or settled on depending on how the chickens jockey for position.  There is not much you can do to change it.  Once a true order is established, it should not change.   The only exception to this is if you add or subtract anyone from the flock.  Of note, roosters are not part of the pecking order.  Roosters are separate from the hens in this manner.  If you have more than one rooster, there will be an alpha rooster and the other will be submissive to him.  They may fight now and then and sometimes it is deadly.  The rooster’s role is to be a protector of the flock and to fertilize eggs.  If a predator attacks, it is the rooster that will sacrifice himself for the sake of the girls.

 If you have a warm sunny day and temperatures outside are not too far off from the brooder’s temperature, feel free to let the chicks go into a small enclosure outside.  We put our chicks in the run.  I suggest starting with small increments of 15 minutes.  As they get closer to six weeks of age, they can spend a couple of hours outside depending on the temperature.  When they do go outside, be sure to provide them with shade, food and water at all times.
It is also a great idea to introduce some toys for your chicks.  Growing larger in a tiny space like the brooder can create chicken boredom. My chicks enjoyed reading the newspaper. They loved to scratch away the pine shavings to reveal people’s faces.  Then they would peck at them for hours.  They also loved it when I put cardboard paper towel rolls in there too. They would peek through the tubes at each other and try to roost upon them.  Until they got the hang of it, it was like a log rolling contest.  At about 2 weeks, they will also begin to practice roosting.  Chickens should sleep on roosts.  It helps keep them clean and provides them with a feeling of safety.  Try placing some sort of skinny stick just wide enough for the chicks’ tiny feet in the brooder.  I found one outside in the woods.  Initially, I placed it about 2 inches off the brooder floor.  As they grow they will need it raised.  This provides exercise and roosting practice for these little chicks.
Here are the girls enjoying the outside at 3 weeks

SETTING UP YOUR PERMANENT COOP AND RUN

Now is the time to start preparing the area for your permanent coop and run.   The decision that you will first need to make is whether your chickens are going to be primarily confined or primarily free-ranging. It doesn’t mean that they can’t do both. It will just need to be figured into the plans.  It is estimated that standard sized chickens need 4 square feet of living space if they are free-ranging and they need 10 square feet of living space if they are confined.   I am defining living space as the square footage of both the coop and the run. Bantam breeds like the Silkies do not require as much space because they are smaller.  To determine square footage, take the length and multiply it by the width.  For example, if your coop is 3′ by 4′ then it
is 12 square feet.

 We decided that we would keep our chickens confined for most of the day.  They do get to free-range about an hour a day in the afternoon but we are always in the yard with them.  We came to this decision because of potential predators in the area.  We live near conservation land.  This land is home to many predators including hawks, coyotes, foxes, fisher cats, raccoon,and opossum to name a few.  If you choose to free-range your flock, you must accept that you are going to lose a member of your flock now and then.    We have had several friends who have lost chickens in both the night and broad daylight.  The chickens were stolen as they were free ranging and also through coop break-ins.  This was too real for us and we did not want one of our pets becoming dinner.  Onceyou come do a decision on your spacing requirements, you are ready to think about your coop.

You can build coops or you can purchase them pre-assembled or ready to assemble.  There are many great coops available.  Check out these two reputable sites; My Pet Chicken and Green Chicken Coop .  Here are the absolute essentials that you will need, keeping in mind the climate that you live in.  Coops should have easily accessible doors for cleaning and harvesting eggs.  Coops should have ventilation but no drafts.  Coops need roosts and they need to have predator proof hardware.  Coops should be water/snow proof.  Coops may require insulation for colder areas.  Coops should have a window of some sort to let in natural light and also assist with ventilation on warmer days.   Coops should be able to lock your chickens in at night.  Coops will also need one nesting box for four hens and an entry ramp.

The run should be constructed with 1/2 inch hardware cloth.  DO NOT USE CHICKEN WIRE.  Predators can rip right through it and raccoon do nasty things to chickens like pulling them through chicken wire.  Once you have set up the coop and the run,  you will also need to predator proof the perimeter.  This requires burying hardware cloth in a 12″ deep trench surrounding the run.  Fold the top edges into the run.  Once this is done, it might be enough to discourage predators.  There are a lot of other predator proofing paraphernalia out there.  It can all be found on the internet.  So far we have had no issues.  I will however, keep you posted.  If you would like to see my coop, please visit Home Sweet Home.

TRANSITIONING OUTDOORS

Once your chicks are fully feathered and day and evening temperatures are close to the brooder temperature of 65 degrees F after 6 weeks, they are ready to transition outside.  If you live in a cooler area, and the evening temperatures are still too cool, let the chickens go outside during the day and return them to the brooder at night.  This will help you acclimate them until warmer weather arrives.   Keep the chicks locked in the coop and run for 3 days before letting them free-range.  This allows them to become very familiar with their home.  As dusk approaches, the chicks should enter the coop on their own and go up onto the roosts.  At first, you may have to help them learn this.  I had to.  Now after the sun sets, the girls go in all by themselves.  I just close the door.  In the morning around 7:30, I let them out into the run.  I wait until all potential nocturnal predators have returned to their homes.  At this point, the girls are pretty self-sufficient.  I refill the feeders and change the water for the day and sometimes do not see them again until they get tucked into bed.

FEEDING THE FLOCK

Different manufacturers recommend transitioning chicken sat different times to the various feeds available.  Based upon your flock’s goals, I encourage you to research the feeds independently of this blog.  Please read the labels for clarification.  Chicken feed is created as follows:  chick starter, grower or developer, layer or broiler feed.  The goal for my flock is eggs.  I have all pullets.  They were on the chick starter until about 8 weeks.  Then they transitioned to the grower pellets until about 15 weeks and have been transitioned to the layer pellets.  They will remain on this for the rest of their lives.  Chicken feed also comes in a few forms.  These are mash, crumble or pellets.  I went with pellets because they create minimal waste when the chickens scratch in the feed with their beaks.  However, when I transitioned them, I had to mix the chick starter with pellets that I chopped up with a large kitchen knife.  At first, the girls had a difficult time eating the pellet form. This lasted about 1 week until they got used to the pellets.  Now, I just give it to them as is.

In addition to providing the flock with fresh water at all times, I choose to give the chickens additional nutrients. I mix about 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar into their water every day to promote healthy digestive tracts. I also mix about 2% of food grade diatomaceous earth into their food supply as well. For more information on diatomaceous earth, visit Fossils for Chickens.

Finally, I give my chickens organic scratch once a day.  Scratch consists of cracked corn, oats, and whole grains.  I usually feed them as much as it takes for them to eat in about 5 minutes.  I like to provide this in the late afternoon.  This helps to fill their crops prior to their bedtime.  As their bodies work on digestion, they produce heat to keep them warm, especially in the winter.

In the conclusion of this series, I will discuss eggs, winterization, health concerns and food sources other than free ranging and chicken feed.

Click here for part 5.

  • I was wondering; how long should I wait to feed my baby chicks "table scraps" like fruits and veggies?

    • Hi Sandy-Ra. As long as you are feeding your chicks "chick grit", not adult or pullet grit, it is safe to introduce your little ones to some treats. Just remember how little they are and how quickly their crops fill up. A little goes a long way. Plus, the majority of their nutrition at this time should come from their feed to ensure their proper growth and development. At first they might seem fearful of the treat intruder, until one little one is brave. Then, it is complete chaos. Enjoy!

  • Are chicken tractors safe against predators? Since you don't dig the trench and bury the hardware cloth for those, do they keep the predators out?

    • Yes, they can easily be predator proofed by adding some hardware cloth to the bottom of the run or by adding a hardware cloth apron -a piece of hardware cloth that lays flat on the ground around the perimeter of the tractor. This deters predators from digging too. Once the tractor is relocated to it's new spot, you can simply lay the apron out again.

  • WOW great information!! I am on round three of chicken keeping. Twice I lost the flock to my neighbors dog (Labrador Retriever). I will this time provide a completely enclosed area for them to free range with a nice little hot wire on the edge just in case… I found the information you provided to be VERY helpful and really enjoyed it. Thanks. Thanks!!

  • Bit

    What type of litter do you use in the coop? In the run?

    • I use pine shavings. In the run, I toss in the soiled shavings for the girls to compost over time that I empty from the coop each week. Once a season,I rake the run out and set the compost aside to finish curing. Then I apply it to the gardens.

  • PAPA Chicken

    Hi Tilly, great info. I purchased my chicks 7 Barred Rocks, 4 gold wyan dottes and 4 silver wyandottes from a feed and livestock supplier. They were a few days old, I put them outside in my coop that i built and had for years outside. I blocked off a 5 foot by 3 foot section for them and have been out there for a week now. I dont have any heatlamps on them since im in arizona and its hotter then heck right now. The flooring is just dirt and sand and I put some hay in one corner so they can sleep on it. They seem to be really happy in there runing around and chaising eachother especially when I give them raisins as a treat lol. The coop is 25 feet long by 15 feet wide and the fully enclosed run is around 90 – 100 square feet. ( we have evil coyotees, redtail haws, chicken hawks and turkey buzzards out here ) I am getting another 25 Barred Rock chicks females and one rare exotic chick from Mcmurrays and was wondering if the size of my coop and run would be good enough or should I expand it. Fyi im useing the Rocks for ffa and 4-H for the neighborhood kids and some for eggs and meat.

    • How wonderful and exciting. For 40 chickens they should have at least 2 square feet of room in the coop for sleeping and at least 10 square feet each outside given your location in sunny and warm Arizona. The coop should fit them giving you 375 square feet, might be a wee small but given you raising some for meat, I assume the flock size will go down. As for the outside, they will need about 400 square feet or so especially since they will not have access to free-ranging. Adequate space helps to keep boredom and bad chicken habits (such as bullying, feather picking and egg eating) from developing. You should also have at least 1 nesting box per 4 hens. I hope this helps. Enjoy your flock!

  • It's unseasonably cold here this fall! We are thinking about starting our first brooder box of four chicks, but are worries they will become too big for the box before they are fully feathered and ready to move out to the coop. Any advice? Your blog has been so helpful so far, we love it! Thank you!

    • Thanks Emmycheif! Yes, they could become too big for the box before they move outside. You might see if an appliance store has a larger box you could put them in when they are around 3 weeks old. Much more temporary room for them until they feather out.

  • Anonymous

    We've had our 6 Rhode Island Reds for about 2 weeks……I'm not sure how old they are, but think they were about a week old when we got them. They are in our basement in an old rabbit cage, but I know that in another week they will outgrow it. Can I separate them into two groups of 3, and keep them in separate areas? Our basement is small so will keep some there and the other 3 in my mom's basement. It is still very cold here in central PA (24F at night), so we are planning to keep them indoors for another 3 weeks until it gets warmer. Is separating the group bad for their pecking order? I don't want there to be problems when they are all introduced to the coop at the same time. Thanks for any help! Have enjoyed reading your blog the past 2 weeks and becoming better educated about our little, future flock!

    • Hi there! I would not recommend you splitting the group because it will make integration of two flocks a bit more difficult than keeping them all together the entire time. 6- six week chickens should not take up too much room. They are really not fully grown until they are months older. Thanks for stopping in. I'm so glad you are enjoying the blog.

  • Anonymous

    We decided to give 3 of our chicks a home elsewhere and the remaining 3 are STILL in the rabbit cage since we are still experienceing cold temps (32F tomorrow night!) here. I have a beautiful coop and run that my husband built and we have been putting them outside in the run for a few to several hours during the day depending on the temperatures. I'm guessing they will be six weeks this Friday. If we move the brooder heat lamp outside into the coop, what temperature are we trying to keep it inside? Will the 3 of them generate enough heat in our 4'x4' coop if we close it up without the lamp? I'm worried they will be too cold, but also worried about a heat lamp in a coop full of pine shavings! Once I get past this stage, I think I'll be more confident especially after reading all your tips and suggestions! Thanks again for any help/advice!

    • When the temperatures are in the 50s-60s I believe chicks can really go outside. My concern is that you still have freezing temps at night. I think it would be best to wait until things warm up a bit. Since there are only 3 it is more difficult to keep warm huddled together than if there were more babies. Give it a little bit more time and then introduce them to the coop. Heat lamps are dangerous in coops, so I would advise against it. Hope this helps!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks so much for confirming that it really IS too cold for them to be out yet. We are having crazy weather here, but the temps demand that we be patient and keep them in at night a bit longer. I know our "girls" wlll be happy to stop living like rabbits and more like chickens once in their new coop. I LOVE your site and have learned quite a bit!! Thanks again for the advice! 🙂

  • We have 2 chicks who are totally ready to get out of their cardboard box and we have a coop set up for them but we are not sure it is warm enough yet. The chicks are about 7 weeks and the temperature is in the 60s in the day and the mid40s at night. Is it safe to put them out?

    • Since there are only two I would wait until the evening temps are at least in the high 50s. I hope this helps.

  • Amy

    I could actually move mine outside and take them off the heat lamp at 5 weeks because I live in Australia. I transitioned them outside in the summer of course as it get’s really hot.

    • Oh yes! Great point. If you purchase chicks in the warmer weather of late spring/summer, you may not need the heat lamp much at all. Thank you for sharing.