A lot of folks are interested in growing their own food these days. Gardening sites abound but there is also a growing interest in urban chickens. These little flocks are tiny - only three to four birds, usually and NO roosters but it's totally something anyone can do. It takes maybe 10 minutes a day to care for them and they'll reward you with eggs nearly every day. I'll walk through the steps with you.
First off, read everything you can about chickens and chicken care. They aren't tough but there are a few things to look out for - parasites and illnesses that your poultry might suffer from at some point. I'm not a vet so I'll leave illnesses to them. After your chicks mature, you can dust your coop with diatomaceous earth, it'll help with mites. Adding a tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar to their waterer will help their systems get a chick-kick-start!
Supplies you'll need: Chick feeders and waterers: These are smaller for the babies and specially made for their tender needs. It's pretty cheap, they're only $3.50 each or so. Get the plastic ones, they are easy to clean and easy to fill.
Chick Starter: this is a smaller milled chicken feed that dissolves easily. This counts because chicks haven't gotten any gravel in their gizzards yet. After they've been allowed to peck around outside, they'll eat tiny stones and gravel and that will start their digestive system.
Brooder Cage. This sounds a lot fancier than it should. Some people use large dog kennels lined with cardboard and some people just skip that step altogether and just use a large refrigerator box. It doesn't matter to the chicks, it matters that it is free from drafts, and holds bedding and heat. Here at Windy Thistle, we built a maternity ward out of pallet wood, chicken wire, 1/4" hardware cloth around the bottom. We cover it with a piece of plastic fencing. It's 4' x 2' and has sheltered bunnies, brooding chickens, chicks and injured animals.
Heat Lamp. This is probably the most expensive part of starting to raise your own chickens. There are several different kinds but I use the plain old clamp light with a heat bulb - also available at the same place you get the feeders/waterers and chick starter. For me, that's Buchheits. Tractor Supply, Farm & Home Supply, Menards and any place that sells chickens will have these things.
CHICKS! - I get them from Meyer's Hatchery - locally sells to the Midwest, these birds are used to this climate. Seek out a hatchery near you. Shipping is hard on the chicks and they ship the day they are born. If you go that route, be sure you are available early in the morning to go pick them up at the post office. They can live three days without food and water right after they are born but best not to stress them if you can avoid it. You can also get chicks at Buchheits and other farm stores and many breeds are available.
Never get less than three chicks. Chickens, and all birds, are social and need their flocks. They need to have friends and will not thrive without them. Happy poultry is a small flock. If this is intimidating - raising chicks - you can also buy pullets - young hens about ready to start laying eggs. If you do that, you will need to have your coop and pen built and ready to go.
Now, you have all those goodies and a box full of peeping young birds, all hungry, all thirsty. Take your little birdies, one by one, and dip their tiny beaks into the water and then into the feed and let it go. It'll wobble for a little bit but will toddle off shortly. Go to the next and repeat until you've introduced all the birds to the food and water. By now, they should all be up and wandering around their digs.
If they are huddled under the heat lamp, it is too high, lower it until it's just about a foot above them. Make sure there is room for them to get out from under it, if it becomes too hot. Your brooder needs to be 4' x 3' or 4' x 2' with a cover. Birds can and do fly, hop and jump.
Your babies will stay in the brooder until they have all their feathers - about 4 weeks old. You can take them out during the day right away as long as it is warm and sunny. After they are feathered out, you can move them to their permanent home in your backyard. Keep an eye on them, everything loves a chicken dinner. Your babies will start laying eggs when they are between 5 & 6 months old. Your pullets, if you go that route, will be laying considerably sooner.
You'll want to have a coop and pen ready but it doesn't need to be something fancy. As fancy as you want, I guess. When we had an urban garden in the City of St. Louis, we made an A-Frame style and then grew melons all over it, so it was nearly hidden. We've built all our coops out of pallet wood. You want to find HT heat treated pallets for this, so there are no chemicals. This 4" x 3" coop held our four birds comfortably and we made sure it went to another urban chicken wrangler when we made our move to Windy Thistle.
In our current coop and pen, we've made adjustments. We have boards that we cover the windows and bottom during the winter and it helps the birds shelter from the cold. They will not stay in their coop, no matter how cold it gets. We provide logs and branches for them to climb on and plenty of room to scratch and plenty of straw to scratch in.
This is a subject that has a learning curve, so if there is something you want to know, please do not hesitate to ask me anything chicken related. I've been actively keeping chickens since 2008 and have kept them in suburban, urban and of course, out here at the farm! Doesn't seem to matter, for all I know, there is always more to learn. it's the journey that makes a life.
Any questions? Stay Safe! Stay Strong!