4-H Chickens: First time chicken owners
I blogged on Life as a Convert a while back about our 4-H Chickens. It was basically me saying I had no clue what I was doing raising baby chicks and that I hoped beyond all hoping that I could keep enough alive (3) to fulfill our obligation to 4-H. I’m happy to report that I was able to keep exactly enough pullets alive to participate in the Show and Sell required as part of getting the 4-H chickens. Kaia’s chickens got a blue ribbon and sold for right over $30.
After auctioning our remaining three pullets off, we were left with three roosters. They served no purpose except eating the bugs outside. Two of them have since died, but we are keeping the third and only surviving chicken as somewhat of a pet.
Kanga-Rooster AKA Roo is a friendly little chicken who enjoys popcorn and pecking at the window when it’s time to come inside at night. From the time we got him and his siblings (RIP little chickens), we have learned so much and want to share with you you what you should know before getting 4-H chickens (or any chickens!) for the first time.
They eat and drink a lot.
– Seriously, a LOT! I grossly underestimated how much they would eat/drink. Even as day old chicks, those suckers devoured food. Depending on how many chickens you have, I recommended getting double the amount of food you think you will need.
Not only do they eat a lot, they waste some by scratching in it, or even defecating in it. My advice? Go to your local farm store and stock up! Buy.All.The.Food!!
They need to be kept “high and dry” and have a place to roost at night.
– Maybe this one is obvious, but I had to learn it the hard way. We turned an old dog house into a chicken coop and thought it would be great for the chickens. Except it was super hard to clean out, and my attempts at cleaning it, only left bleach soaked poo on the ground.
After living in it for a little over a month my entire flock got sick and half of them died. This was due to them being on the ground (with their poop) at night. It’s best to have a coop that is safe from predators, easy to clean and access, and has a place for them to roost. (We are looking into getting a chicken tractor or remodeling the current coop in the meantime Roo (our single remaining chicken) spends the night in the house inside a dog cage that is much easier to keep clean)
They will peck you!
– They most definitely will. They will peck your toes and ankles and anything else within pecking reach. It won’t hurt, but it will scare you and make you jump. The anticipation of getting pecked will cause fear. Feeding time – when all the chickens come running towards you – will result in you (or Kaia) running around like a chicken trying to avoid getting pecked.
Chicken wire isn’t made for chicken coops.
– This was another hard lesson. I ended up using three different kinds of wire on our dog house coop before declaring it secure. I recommend getting the ¼ – ½ inch hardware cloth wire and using that. It will keep your chickens in and predators out. Keeping the chickens in is just as important as keeping the predators out. Our first death happened from a chicken getting stuck in the wire (pictured above) trying to get out. It could have been avoided with hardware cloth.
Be aware of what predators are in your area and safeguard against them.
– We had a few chickens die from predators. I take the blame for this. They did not get into the coop, but rather got the chickens when they were free-ranging.
They need space and entertainment.
– I had no clue that chickens would peck each other. Not only do they peck each other, they draw blood, de-feather each other, and still continue to peck! Overcrowding will cause them to peck each other.
I’ve since learned that you should have about 4 square foot of space per chicken. Also, chickens get bored and will peck each other when bored. I solved the boredom by giving them cabbage, corn on the cob, and other treats. My chickens’ boredom was a result of them being “cooped up” prior to them being big enough to be let out of the coop. They were confined to their coop until they were no longer able to squeeze through the fence separating my yard from the neighbors’ yards.
Overall, they aren’t too hard to take care of. There are just a lot of dos and don’ts that you should familiarize yourself with before signing up for 4-H chickens. I recommend websites like Backyard Chickens and Facebook poultry groups specific to your area. Additionally, individuals who have participated in the 4-H Chickens/Poultry programs before can be a great source of information.
Have you ever raised day old chickens?