You did it! You made the excellent choice to raise your own flock! Your chicks are growing up strong and healthy, and are showing more and more of their individual personalities every day. They’re growing fast, though, and you might be wondering: What’s next? Here’s a quick-run-down of the needs of your flock once they’re ready to move outdoors. Just remember, this guide is not meant to be comprehensive, and you might have other questions. We recommend learning from the resources at the end of this article, as well as contacting your local extension office and poultry veterinarian for more resources and answers.
Growing chickens will need housing with bedding, food, grit, clean water, pasture rotation if you’re able, and plenty of enrichment.
- Housing: This will be where the chickens live when they’re adults, as well as while they’re growing. What kind of housing you purchase of build depends on a lot of factors: How big is the breed you’re getting? Will they grow up to lay eggs? What predators are nearby? Will they be safe in the whole yard, or do they need a fenced-in area? Can you keep them away from your delicious tomatoes and squash? How hot does it get in the summer, and how cold in the winter? Your local extension office will have the best information for your area on what considerations to take when considering your flock’s housing, and there are many free blueprints online for coops and runs.
- Bedding: Regardless of whether you need heating, cooling, a large space, or a small one, your chickens will need bedding inside their house to help keep things tidy and comfortable on their feet. The same considerations that should be made with starter chicks apply to growers/broilers as well, with the added note that newspaper pulp will be better than flat newspaper for this stage as the chickens are much more active. Our starter favorite, AubiChick, works for all life stages but many people transition to Aubiose hemp bedding at this stage as it’s a little larger. Bedding Buddy bedding extender will work with any kind of bedding to absorb smelly fumes and help keep waste from building up as quickly for both growing chickens and adults, which can be a real time and money saver.
- Food and grit: New Country Organics has you covered with our super-premium, soy-free grower/broiler feed, now with soy- and corn-free and Pastured Perfect options for anyone looking to specialize their flock’s nutrition. These feeds will help your chickens grow up with strong, healthy bones, beaks, and feathers, and are formulated to have all the protein and essential vitamins and minerals a growing chicken needs. These feeds are also formulated with kelp and probiotics to aid development and healthy digestion.
- Food and grit: New Country Organics has you covered with our super-premium, soy-free grower/broiler feed, now with corn-free and Pastured Perfect options for anyone looking to specialize their flock’s nutrition. These feeds will help your chickens grow up with strong, healthy bones, beaks, and feathers, and are formulated to have all the protein and essential vitamins and minerals a growing chicken needs. These feeds are also formulated with kelp and probiotics to aid development and healthy digestion.
- Grit: Many chickens, once transitioned to the great outdoors, are able to find the right sized pebbles while running around doing their chicken things. If you have a relatively small area, however, New Country Organics also offers Flock Perfect Layer/Developer Grit. As your birds grow larger, they’ll need to transition to larger grit for their growing bellies. This grit is designed to be their next step into adulthood.
- Clean water: Growing chickens have more options for waterers than baby chicks do. While many of the same principles apply, a growing chicken isn’t as likely to get sick if it falls into a puddle and is less likely to fall in to begin with. This means auto-waterers, which refill from a hose or spigot as water is depleted by your chickens, become an available option, as well as other deeper dishes for maintaining water. Just keep in mind that the same rules for hygiene apply – if you don’t think it’s clean enough to drink from, yourself, it’s probably not clean enough for your chickens’ best health. This is why we recommend sticking with a nipple based waterer, as these are the easiest to keep clean. However, the needs of your flock might vary, and you should always make what you feel is the best decision for your flock’s health.
- Pasture rotation: Pasture rotation has been shown in studies to steeply reduce instances of major poultry diseases while still affording chickens all the benefits of outdoor access, and cannot be recommended enough. This is because it keeps them from interacting too much with waste from themselves and wildlife, as well as giving them fresh vegetation to pick through for new snacks and play opportunities. The general rule of thumb is to give ten square feet per bird and rotate their pasture as often as once per day, or as long as when the vegetation gets below two inches high. Then, give the pasture at least three weeks to recover. This way, all the healthy forage doesn’t end up replaced by weeds from over-feeding, and the waste gets washed into the soil and has time to be eaten by the plants.
- Just keep in mind that your chickens are likely to come into contact with wildlife when they’re out to pasture, and not all of it is friendly. A good practice before moving your chickens outdoors is to contact your local extension office to discuss best practices for keeping predators and disease away from your flock.
- Enrichment: Chickens, like most animals, love to play. Chickens are also very visual creatures. Consider giving them novel objects to clamber over and look at, like colorful buckets or sturdy balls. They also love many of your kitchen scraps, such as lettuce, celery, and carrot ends, apple cores, and citrus pulp. While no more than 10% of their daily calories should be treats, it’s fun to watch them go wild for a tasty tidbit. New Country Organics’ Chicken Dance Grubs are a crowd favorite for giving chickens a nutritious treat they can’t resist. Chickens also have a few unique behaviors that will need to be accommodated: They love to roost, so give them somewhere they can hop up to and perch where they’ll feel safe enough to take their naps. Roosts are generally built into housing, but if your coop doesn’t have any good spots you’ll need to add some to their environment. They also love to dust bathe, so if you see them burying themselves in dirt, don’t worry – they’re actually taking the chicken equivalent of a shower. They’ll shake it out, preen a bit, and come out cleaner and more parasite free than when they started.
Next, these growing chickens will become adults. For many, this means the tastiest part of raising a chicken: eggs! Layer hens and roosters have different needs from growers/broilers, but not by much. They need the same housing with bedding, clean water, and enrichment, but there are a few other considerations to make:
- Food and grit: Layers, because they’re consistently producing eggs, use up a lot more calcium than a growing chicken. As a result, they need a lot more calcium in their feed. New Country Organics’ soy-free layer feed, soy- and corn-free layer feed, and Pastured Perfect layer feed will meet that need for added calcium beautifully for consistent, firm-shelled eggs. The kelp in our feeds also help enrich those eggs with healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics will encourage healthy digestion for easier molting and more consistent laying. While roosters don’t lay eggs and as a result don’t need so much calcium, they can still safely eat layer feed as adults, though it might not lead to peak performance. If you’d like to feed your roosters separately, however, you can always keep feeding them grower/broiler feed.
- Nesting boxes: These are usually built into a chicken’s house. These encourage chickens to lay their eggs in a central location instead of scattered around the yard in hard-to-reach nooks and crannies. They should be just a bit bigger than the hens, cozy, quiet, and relatively private. Up to four hens will use one nesting box, though it’s always nice to give them a couple options. It’s especially nice to have nesting boxes that can be accessed from outside the coop for easy egg collection and coop cleaning.
- Collecting the eggs: Ah, the most satisfying part – a freshly laid, warm egg in your hand. You should check for eggs every day, and be careful to keep cracked or raw eggs away from your chickens. They think their own eggs are absolutely delicious, and if they figure out how to break them open it can be a difficult and messy habit to try to break. It is, however, fine to give them cooked eggs as a treat.
- Continuing health: It’s always good to know a veterinarian in your area that is able to treat your flock if they do happen to fall ill, but ultimately an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Keeping your flock in clean conditions with fresh water and complete nutrition is the easiest way to maintain their good health.
At New Country Organics, we do our best to provide the highest quality feeds to your flock, whatever their life stage, to help keep them as happy and healthy as possible. We want you and your flock to thrive, and to feel empowered to make the best possible choices for your family, your community, and our shared planet. Below, you’ll find that list of lovely resources for a more in-depth dive into raising chickens, other than your extension office and local poultry veterinarian. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did!
City Chicks: Keeping Micro-flocks of Chickens as Garden Helpers, Compost Makers, Bio-recyclers, and Local Food Producer, by Pat Foreman
This book takes a no-fuss, to-the-point approach in teaching you about chickens and how to care for a flock in an urban setting. It’s shockingly comprehensive and a fantastic place to start your journey, with the added bonus of tips on convincing your community to allow chickens.
The Small Scale Poultry Flock, by Harvey Ussery
This is a super-comprehensive guide to raising poultry, from incubating your own eggs to processing your chickens, this is for both the homesteader looking to increase production in the garden and the flock and small scale farmers looking to increase efficiency while making a tidy profit.
Chicken Tractor: The Permaculture Guide to Happy Hens and Healthy Soil by Andrew W. Lee and Patricia Foreman
Learn how to use mobile chicken pens to feed your chickens and utilize their potential as natural pest control, fertilizer, and food source.
Feeding Pasture Raised Poultry, by Jeff Mattocks
This is a perfect beginner guide to understanding what should go into a pastured feed and why, with special consideration to keeping birds healthy.
There’s a book for every kind of flock by this author, whether you’re raising a small flock in your backyard, or building a poultry enterprise. We recommend browsing through his catalogue and seeing what seems to best apply to your own flock.
Pastured Poultry Talk, by Mike Badger
Not only does this podcast have a multi-part guide to raising and processing your own pastured poultry that you can listen to on your morning commute, it also delves in to all sorts of other current events and issues in the poultry community and best management practices to help.