Are you thinking about raising chickens? If so, don’t head to the feed store to pick up your baby chicks until you’ve checked off all the boxes on your ultimate shopping list for raising chickens.
“They’re just chickens,” you might be thinking, “why do I need to go shopping first?”
Believe it or not, despite being relatively easy to raise, chickens are not the most low-maintenance creatures you can keep as pets or as livestock.
There are several things you need to stock up on before you bring home your new feathered friends. Keep reading to learn more about what to buy!
Why Should You Get Chickens?
The first thing you need to decide before heading to the store to do your shopping is why you want to keep chickens in the first place. This will influence a lot of factors, the most important of which is what sort of chickens you decide to raise.
If you want to raise chickens for meat, you should buy broiler chickens such as Cornish Crosses. These birds have been bred to grow quickly and to large sizes, making it easy for you to get meat for your dinner table as soon as possible without having to spend tons of money on feed.
However, if you’d rather raise chickens for eggs, you can worry less about getting birds that grow rapidly and more about purchasing backyard hens who will lay lots of eggs for you.
After all, there’s nothing better than fresh-laid eggs!
Of course, there are many other reasons to consider raising chickens, too. They offer a great source of fertilizer for the compost pile and garden and they can also help with pest control, nibbling on all the ticks, grubs, and other critters that scuttle by them in the chicken yard.
Not only that, but most breeds of chickens can make wonderful pets, too – especially if you have small children.
Ultimate Shopping List for Raising Chickens: What You Need to Buy or Build
Now that you’ve decided to make the commitment to raising chickens, your next step should be to head to the store and start stocking up on all the gear you need to be successful.
Don’t bring a single baby chick home until you’re sure you have everything you need – there’s nothing worse than making a panicked drive to the feed store in the middle of the night only to realize that they aren’t open and you have a group of baby chicks without any food or heat!
1. Most Important Item on Your Shopping List for Raising Chickens in the Coop
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Before you decide on a type of chicken coop, it’s a good idea to check the local ordinances in your town. Some neighborhoods don’t allow chickens at all, full stop, while others have a limit on how many you can keep at once.
You also need to make sure that your HOA, if you have one, doesn’t have any restrictions on chicken coops (such as their size, design, positioning, or general existence).
Make sure your yard itself has the space for a full-size chicken coop, too, and remember that it won’t just be housing the chickens but also the feed and water containers, a roosting area, and at least one nesting box for every four hens.
The chicken coop also needs to be well-built enough to withstand both the elements as well as predator pressure. You can certainly build your own chicken coop, but you may find it easier to purchase a prefabricated model from the store.
2. Second on Your List is Bedding
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There are several different materials you can use for bedding. Pine shavings are good options for baby chicks as well as adults. You can also use a straw, hemp bedding, or other materials. While the flat or shredded newspaper is fine for adult birds, avoid using it for chicks in the brooder, as it can lead to leg issues.
You should also avoid things like sand and cat litter for young chicks as it produces too much dust and can be harmful to the health of your birds.
3. Nesting Boxes
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You will need to either buy or build nesting boxes for your chicken coop. Aim for at least one nesting box for every four chickens. These should be dark and filled with lots of clean, fresh beddings.
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Your chickens will also need a space in which they can run, roam, and play. Consider buying or building a covered run. This will allow them all the fresh air and benefits of free-ranging but offers protection from aerial predators like hawks.
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Although some people choose to fully free-range their chickens, this might be possible for everyone. Whether you’re concerned about predators or about your chickens wandering to the neighbor’s yard, installing some kind of fencing might be a good idea.
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The chicken coop is the place where your adult chickens will spend most of their time. However, this is not where you will be housing your baby chicks – that’s a recipe for disaster!
Instead, when you first bring the baby chicks home, they will be housed in a brooder. A brooder is a place where chickens can live until they are at least four weeks old and are large and feathered enough to be moved to the chicken coop. It will keep them warm, safe, and contained while they’re small.
You can buy a store-bought brooder or you can make your own at home from scrap or repurposed materials. For example, you can build a brooder out of scrap lumber or use something like a large plastic bin, cardboard box, old playpen, unused bathtub, or large feed trough to brood your chicks.
Inside the brooder, you will lay down fresh bedding and also install a heat source, waterer, and feeder.
7. Heat Source
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Heat is one of the most important variables when it comes to keeping chickens healthy (and alive) in the first few years of their lives. In nature, chicks gather beneath their mother for warmth. When you raise chicks in the brooder, it’s up to you to provide that heat.
Most people use heat lamps for their chicks. They are inexpensive and easy to adjust. However, they do pose the risk of fire. If you use one, make sure you have secured the cord and lamp in several spots so you don’t run the risk of it falling into the brooder.
You can also use a heat plate, like the EcoGlow. These are pricier but can be reused many, many times. They are safe and reliable, allowing your chickens to huddle beneath them just as they would their mothers in the wild.
8. Chick Waterer
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Your baby chicks will likely need different watering troughs than your adults. That is because it is very easy for them to drown in full-sized water. Chick water fountains are inexpensive and well worth the money. They dispense just a small amount of water at a time, making drowning unlikely.
9. Adult Bird Waterer
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Once your chicks grow into full-sized, fully-feathered adult birds, you can make the transition to adult waterers. These have higher capacities, meaning you won’t have to fill them as often, and the best options make it easy for your birds to help themselves to a drink without sullying the water with dirt or manure.
10. Add Feeders to the Shopping List for Raising
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You can use adult feeders with baby chicks as long as the edges aren’t too tall for the young birds to crawl over. However, you may want to invest in specialized chick feeders simply because chicks have a tendency to crawl into larger feeders and waste the feed.
Specialized chick feeders have tiny holes for the chicks to eat out of. That way, they can’t kick the feed out or cover it with manure.
When your birds are older, consider investing in hanging feeders. These are meant to be suspended from the ceiling of the coop and again, prevent your chickens from making a mess of the feed. Depending on how many chickens you have, you might want to invest in a high-capacity feeder so you don’t have to refill it quite as often.
11. Chicken Feed and Chick Feed
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There are just about as many types of chicken feed to choose from as there are different types of chicken breeds!
Let’s start with the chick feed.
First, you will be able to choose between medicated or unmedicated chick starters. Always use chick starters with baby chicks, since this has around 18% protein. Your chicks need this much protein to support healthy growth until they are around 18 weeks of age.
Once they are of laying age you can switch them to a lower-protein feed (around 16%) that also has calcium. This will help them lay strong-shelled eggs. If you’re raising meat birds, you’ll switch to a broiler feed instead.
Chick starters can be purchased in a mash or crumble. The medicated feed contains medication to fight coccidiosis (a good idea if you’re raising an unvaccinated flock) while unmedicated does not.
When your chickens get older, you will be able to choose from pellets, crumbles, or mash. Most of the time, it is unmedicated.
12. First Aid Supplies
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There are several first aid supplies you might want to get for your chickens, too.
These include things like wound-stopping spray (also known as BluKote or RedKote) and Sav-a-Chick electrolyte supplements. Gauze, bandages, iodine, and other first-aid supplies are also good things to have on hand, too. You never know when you’ll have an emergency to deal with!
13. Add Calcium Supplements to Your Shopping List for Raising Chickens
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If you are raising a flock of laying hens, be sure to have a calcium supplement on hand for your birds. Most people use oyster shells but there are other formulations you can purchase, too.
14. Additional Items For Your Shopping List for Raising Chickens
In addition to all of the gear listed above, there are a few additional items you might want to consider bringing home for your chickens.
One example? An automatic chicken coop door opener. These make your life a lot easier when it comes to getting your chickens inside and staying protected at night! They work by a light sensor (or on a timer) that makes the door open and close when it’s time. No more going out to the coop late at night to make sure your chicken has gone in to roost!
You might also consider picking up a few chicken toys. Chicken toys can be lifesavers, especially in the winter when your girls are feeling, as they say, a little cooped up!
Things to Consider Before Bringing Chickens Home
How many chickens are you going to keep? Chickens are social animals, so it’s a good idea to keep no fewer than three birds. Most people keep a flock of about six for a dozen eggs per week.
Remember that chickens are most productive in the first two years of their lives – after that, egg production will drop off. Each chicken needs at least three square feet of floor space in the coop and ten square feet outside.
The more space you can give them, the happier and healthier they will be. You don’t necessarily have to allow them to free-range, but do give them plenty of room to roam.
Chickens aren’t the cheapest animals you can raise, but they aren’t the most expensive, either.
While it’s a good idea to make sure you have the money necessary in your budget before bringing chickens home, know that it should only cost you around $500 to $700 to get started (and very little to keep your small flock going, especially if you can supplement the diet of your hens with some fresh goodies from the garden or kitchen every now and then!).
All in all, raising chickens is a rewarding endeavor that serves as a great introduction to homesteading and backyard farming.
Consider starting your own flock today – but first, make sure you’ve checked off all the boxes on your ultimate shopping list for raising chickens!