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.
|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.
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.
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
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.