Rewarding as raising chickens may be, it's also quite a bit of work. For healthy friendly chickens, it's recommended to purchase day-old chicks or hatch them out yourself. Your new, soon-to-be spring chickens will amaze you with their sweet chirps and adorable tiny features.
Hatched chicks can live three days on their yolk. By day three of hatching, they need water and "chick start." For best results, place water in a shallow dish with shiny marbles or stones. This way, your little ones will peck at the marbles and drink, but will not drown in their water dish. You can choose medicated or non-medicated chick start, depending on how you want to raise your chickens.
Brooder boxes to keep your chicks in can be homemade or purchased. First, heat is the most important things to consider. If indoors, a light bulb will be sufficient. Many choose to use 250-watt "red" heat lamps instead; this prevents chicks from pecking each other. Second, your brooder should be tall enough so that little chicks cannot fly out easily. By week three, they will have enough feathers to fly a remarkable distance. Many brooders have wire lids that prevent chicks from flying away. Last, make sure there is no draft to chill your new fuzzy friends. Heat should be set at 90 degrees the first week, and then lowered by 5 degrees each week for four weeks. This will help acclimate your chickens to the great outdoors.
A comfortable, well-rested chicken is a happy chicken, so take heed when choosing chicken bedding. A word of caution is to not use cedar or redwood shavings, as these are toxic to chickens and will damage their respiratory systems. When raising chickens use straw, pine shavings, walnut shell, shredded newsprint, and other chicken bedding materials.
Once your chicks are fully feathered, they can be moved to outside chicken coops; keep a heat lamp in one corner of the small chicken coop for warmth during cooler weather. Continue using chick feed until your chicks are 4 months old. Then you can change their feed to layer mash or pellets. It is also wise to include oyster shell in their diet, as well as some hen scratch. The oyster shell will help improve your chickens' egg shell quality and is also good for strong bones. Hen scratch gives your chickens something to do if in a confined run rather than out free ranging. If circumstances require your chickens to be in enclosed chicken runs, be sure to add some hen grit. This is necessary for their gizzard in their digestion process.
Chickens love treats. Sundries from your garden and your table scraps will be thoroughly appreciated. Chickens are omnivores, so they love to find bugs, ants, and worms. Many small children enjoy tossing a worm in the chicken house to see the chickens scramble for the prize.
Most breeds lay by 6 months of age. Your backyard chicken coop should be enclosed with a door, and chicken nesting boxes should be large enough for a couple of hens. No matter how many chicken nesting boxes are available, those choosy hens always seem to want the same one. Ventilation is important; make sure the airflow is good through the coop. Again, the bedding in the backyard chicken coop will be your personal choice. Fresh water and food are necessary daily.
By the time you get to this stage in owning and caring for chickens, you will surely have pet names for your brood, and will await the opportunity to have fresh, delicious eggs.