Welcome to your chicken beginners guide. The first year of a chickens life is one of dramatic change in appearance and behaviour. Cute and fluffy chicks moving about on wobbly little legs require around the clock monitoring and care, but they’re so fluffy and cuddly you’ll hardly notice the time going by.
However, it’s not long before they are upright and moving around. In about five short weeks they will be ready to stretch their strong new legs beyond the confines of their tiny indoor brooder, and into the large outdoor coop that is to become their permanent home. Before that happens though, they’ll need to spend the first few weeks getting their ‘outside’ legs in a comfortable brooder.
Chicken – Beginners Guide
You should have your brooder ready and set up before the chicks are even hatched. Eggs turn into little balls of fluff in 21 days, so getting the brooder ready before they hatch means you won’t be caught unprepared when they finally do arrive.
A few days before the eggs are due to hatch set your brooder up, ready to shelter the new little lives as they arrive. You’ll be able to know everything is in working order and that your chicks will be warm and safe. Brooders aren’t complicated and can be anything; from a cardboard box, plastic tub, to a high-end commercial version.
Chicks to Adult Chickens – What to Expect
Baby chicks are wobbly and extremely tired after fighting their way through the shell and are also susceptible to illness at this early stage. A quality feed will contain at least 17.5% to 24% protein for growth, amino acids for development, and probiotics and prebiotics to strengthen their immune system. Added vitamins and minerals will also support their bone health.
Chicks at 3 – 6 weeks old are a scruffy looking lot, and you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re full of disease and aren’t long for this world, but it’s all a perfectly normal part of their development. The soft fluffy covering we all adore so much begins to fall off, and as it does so, it is replaced by mature feathers.
At this age, you will also notice the wattles (fleshy growths beneath the chin) and combs (fleshy growth at the top of their head) starting to peak through, and you’ll also be able to enjoy the young cockerels making humorous attempts at crowing.
At weeks five and six you will see your chicks continue to grow new primary feathers and a pecking order will start to develop in your little chicken society. Chicks also get a new name as well; pullet for the female, and cockerel for the male. It’s a little hard to tell them apart still but once they reach weeks 7 – 12 the physical changes in the genders will become more evident.
From 12 to 20 weeks you can change to a specific pullet grower feed. Pullet Grower feed will contain the essential nutrients needed for strong and healthy soon to be adult chooks.
It’s at the 20 – 25 weeks stage where you can start to feel the excitement as a breeder again, as you find yourself regularly scanning the nesting boxes for that highly anticipated first egg. From here and for the rest of your chickens days you will be using laying feed which will again contain the essential nutrient’s to help develop healthy and tasty eggs.
These first attempts at laying will produce eggs that are smaller than you’re used to, and will also have a weak shell, but it won’t be long before you see good firm eggs with harder shells laying under your hens, and a lot more regularly. Some chicken enthusiast’s like to help this part of the process by supplementing their pullet’s diet with a calcium product. This will help to strengthen the shells.
The first 6-months will fly by and you’ll notice your chickens have settled down into their pecking order and have decided who gets to be picked on and who is the boss. The wattles and combs will also be fully developed.
As time moves on your mature chickens will start to settle down. You will notice fewer and fewer eggs, but on the plus side, they do get larger for at least the next couple of years.
Once a year your chickens will moult, which is also a time when they have a bit of break from the whole egg laying business. If you notice your chickens looking a bit scruffy, then this is probably why, especially if it happens in the warm summer months.
Chicken Beginners Guide to Broodiness
Now and then your hen will go into full mother mode and will refuse to budge from her eggs as she attempts to get them to hatch, and she doesn’t care a hoot about whether they are even fertilized or not. They’re not too clever about it either as many owners successfully replace the eggs with wooden eggs or golf balls.
If you have a rooster and want a new generation of chicks, then broody hens can be a good thing. However, sometimes you may want to snap them out of it as they can get rather cranky about having the eggs removed. Don’t be surprised if you get your fingers pecked from a few brooding hens while doing the rounds.
The other problem with broody chickens is that eggs which aren’t fertilized will start to decompose faster due to the extra heat, which means they won’t go too well in the omelette.
Forever the doting mother, a brooding hen will also pluck out her own feathers as lining for the nest and will tend to ignore her own needs of sustenance and water. This behaviour all builds up to a weak, malnourished hen that is susceptible to disease.
Fortunately, it’s very easy to deter a hen from ever going broody; you just need to collect the eggs every day as they are less likely to go clucky over an empty nest.
Chicken Beginners Guide to the Pecking Order
If you notice your chickens running around with random bare patches and you know they are not moulting, then they may be picking at each other.
Picking is a sign of unhappy chickens, and some people recommend de-beaking (cutting off the pointy end) so they can’t injure each other. However, this won’t remove the reason they are unhappy.
Make sure your chickens have plenty of room, always have access to fresh water and fresh feed, and have lots of available nesting boxes. If those are all okay, then you will need to check for parasites such as worms and lice. If this still doesn’t solve the problem, then a visit from your vet might be in order.
Chickens can live to the ripe-old-age of ten or more, and some have even made it to the relatively ancient age of 20. Now, that must be one wise old chicken! As they age, they slow down at laying eggs, but they can still provide a valuable contribution as mosquito and tick control, to name just a couple of the pests who consider chickens their mortal enemy.
Raising chickens is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences you will ever have in your life. As you raise your sweet little chicks into productive hens, you will no doubt start to think of them as valuable members of your extended family – with the added of lovely fresh eggs, and while providing the most natural pest control in the world.
Hopefully, this Chicken beginners guide has given you some insight and also some confidence to head OutBack and start your own flock of backyard chickens. You will be thanking yourself for starting your own flock of Australias new favourite pet.