How to Start Raising Chicken in the USA


Many people are wondering how to start raising chicken in the USA probably because of the fulfillment it brings to their lives. Besides being able to harvest fresh eggs from one’s own yard, chicken farming also comes with several benefits. Habitually, they live off the day pecking at grass, worms, insects, including insect pests. Also, their manure and eggshells can be tossed into the compost pile, making up for fertilizer. Hence, raising chickens also means getting help in the garden, aside from getting a promising source of food and income.

To start raising chickens, one needs to learn a few basic things. First, determine the purpose of raising chickens – whether it is for eggs or meat. Second, know the age of the chicken that will be purchased. Ideally, days old chicks are perfect for novice chicken farmers. These are relatively cheaper than the other options. Moreover, setting up a chicken farm is also a deciding factor on how many chicks to purchase. As social animals, a minimum of three to six is ideal. 

Furthermore, chickens need a clean, draft-free, sufficiently spaced, ventilated, and secured housing. Lastly, proper management of the flock’s food, water, and health is needed for their well-being. The feed may be medicated or not, depending on whether the chickens have already been vaccinated, for instance, for coccidia. Additionally, fresh and clean water should be regularly supplied and changed.

Chicken-keeping does not necessarily have to be too hard and complicated. This article is to relieve prospecting chicken farmers of the intimidating feeling of thinking about how to start raising chicken in the USA. Establishing a flock might take a while for beginner chicken farmers. However, once it is done, taking care of them will then be as easy as a few minutes a day.

 

Determining the Purpose of Raising Chicken in the USA

Determining the purpose of raising chickens comes hand in hand with determining which chicken breed to select. This step is most important so that one will know what to expect with their purchased chickens.

Should one want to pursue egg production, white-egg-laying White Leghorn hybrids and Blue Andalusians are most efficient. Brown-egg-laying Plymouth Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds, and blue-egg-laying Ameraucanas or Easter Eggers could perform as well.

Conversely, should one want to pursue meat production, Cornish Cross chickens tend to grow quickly. However, other breeds that could do well in meat production could, at the same time, produce eggs as well. These dual-purpose breeds include Plymouth Barred Rock, Sussex, or Buff Orpingtons.

Chickens that are raised as pets or for the show are the more exotic breeds.

Determining the Growth Stage of Chickens to Obtain

There are a number of options to choose from when one is purchasing chickens. These options differentiate the growth stages of the chickens from hatching eggs to adult chickens.

Hatching Eggs

Hatching eggs are not the best option for novice chicken farmers. They are fertilized eggs that need incubation. Unless one considers himself as an expert, the other options are wiser choices.

Newly-Hatched Chicks

In terms of cost, chicks are the most inexpensive. Also, they are the best choice for non-expert chicken-keepers. One could typically obtain one-day-old chicks.

Four to Six Months Old Pullets

These chicks or pullets are those that have been reared for adulthood. Often, they are sold at point of lay. This means that they are to lay their first egg any moment soon. However, they tend to require more care, feed, and time for raising them.

Adult Chickens

In terms of cost, adult hens in their prime are at the peak. However, those that are rescue or ex-battery can be cheaper than pullets. They still will be more expensive than chicks, though.

Nonetheless, adult hens do not come by easily. This is due to the fact that breeders usually move them out before they age much as they eat a lot. Animal shelters and/or rescue sanctuaries are more common adult hen sources.

Determining the Number of Chickens to Obtain

When thinking about how to start raising chicken in the USA, people often wonder about the right number. Chickens are generally sociable animals so purchasing one or two to raise is not the best idea, even if one is just starting out it is best to buy three to six at least. 

Generally, one may average out the chicks that will be needed. For instance, if one’s purpose is home egg supply, then the household’s egg consumption answers how many chicks to purchase. Averagely, a hen lays four to five eggs every week. Hence, if the household needs 21 eggs per week, about five hens shall be needed.

To add, the egg production of chickens is best within their first two years. However, after that period, their production will slow down. Thus, replacing the flock with young chicks may be necessary. Otherwise, one can hatch eggs from their produce.

Checking with the Location

If the intention is to raise chickens in one’s own yard, checking the neighborhood should be considered. This is especially helpful for those that live in urban or suburban areas. To proceed, one should check the laws of raising chicken in the USA by city, state, and homeowners’ association. 

Often, roosters are banned in many areas due to their noise. Also, some areas might have a limit on the number of backyard chickens. Others might even have a total ban for chicken-keeping.

Otherwise, should one want to place the chickens someplace else, searching one close to the city’s limits could be helpful. This is particularly helpful when it comes to transportation. However, should an area close to the city limits be not found, aiming for the countryside could do as well. This option is specifically advantageous for the size of space available to farm.

Building Chicken Housing

Chickens need a place to shelter them from the scorching sun or extreme wind, rain, and snow. Chicken houses do not need to be too elaborate. A basic wooden, water-resistant shelter tailored to fit the chickens could do enough for their well-being. However, there are a few things to consider, such as the following.


Space

A chicken house or coop is one where chickens should live together peacefully. It should not be crowded, as it will cause aggressive behavior. Overcrowding will cause the chickens to start picking or pecking each other. Also, these behaviors especially occur during the winter as they get bored staying in; thus, they create mischief among themselves.

Temperature and Ventilation 

The coop should ideally adjust depending on the season. For instance, it should be warm during the winter and cool during the summer. To regulate the temperature, installing the right ventilation will definitely help. A good air circulation should keep the optimum temperature in the coop. Thus, if it seems too hot, adding more holes for ventilation should help cool it down.

Security 

Chickens, with their size, are good prey. Hence, they will need a secure and sturdy coop to keep them safe from predators. 

To achieve optimum security, one may secure the perimeter with chicken wire, buried a few inches to feet underground. This will keep outside predators from digging the fence and breaking in. Moreover, flying predators that young chicks are most vulnerable should be prevented by covering the coop with similar wire. Also, big trees and overgrown bushes around the coop could hide approaching predators. Hence, one should secure cutting these plants so that approaching predators will be visible.

Furthermore, house pets such as cats and dogs are not exempted as predators. Therefore, pet owners should secure keeping their pets away from the coop. Also, rats get attracted to littered leftover food, and later on, may get attracted to the eggs and small chicks. Checking biosecurity will secure the coop of rat attacks.

Sanitation

Chicken-keepers should focus on sanitation as an unsanitized environment could risk bringing diseases to the chickens. This should be considered most especially for the young chicks as they are the most susceptible to early health problems. Also, all the farm equipment should be sanitized as well every before use and weekly.

To sanitize the equipment, a household disinfectant can be used if it does not leave a residual film. Moreover, a 10 by 90 bleach and water mixture can work as well. However, it is important to rinse it thoroughly after cleaning.

Specific Housing Requirements

Chickens have different needs that require specific spaces in or around the coop. For instance, adult hens will need nesting boxes and perches. Chicks could also use well-built brooders. Securing these specificities will also secure the chickens’ well-being.

Nesting Spots

Hens will need nesting boxes, approximately one for every three hens. However, it is better to provide extra nesting boxes.

Perches

Perches or roosts are the places where the chickens gather to sleep at night. Generally, they will sleep on one same perch. However, some will prefer to sleep by themselves if they feel secure enough.

Roaming Spaces

Chickens also need some outside spaces. Other farmers raise their chickens’ free-range, so there will be no need for this. However, those that are contained will need outside roaming or pens. Also, allowing chickens to roam outside will enable them to peck at grass, worms, and insects. Thus, they get to add it to their food while helping out in the garden at the same time. Their manure are also good soil fertilizers.

Chick Brooders

Baby chicks need a warm and draft-free housing as cold drafts may kill them. This should imitate how hens house their newborn babies. Thus, it should be totally enclosed with its bottom covered in bedding, such as pine shavings. Also, the brooder should also contain a heating lamp for more warmth.

A brooder can simply be made with plywood or cardboard box. It should be in a height that will keep the chicks from escaping by jumping out. For every chick, a 2 to 3 square feet space shall be needed for the chick’s first six weeks. Also, square corners should be avoided to prevent trapping chicks in the corner as they huddle in an area. 

The temperature, on the other hand, shall be set to 90 degrees Fahrenheit for the first week. Gradually, the temperature shall be reduced by 5 degrees every week until at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Most importantly, brooders should also contain food and water dishes that will contain fresh and clean food and water.

Managing Chicken Feeding

Food 

Food is another important factor to consider when thinking about how to start raising chicken in the USA. There are a lot of choices for chicken food. However, below is a summary of the recommended feed for the several growth stages of chicks to chickens.

  • Day 1 to Week 8

Chicks need to start strong, requiring several nutrients from day one to week eight. This period will require 18 to 20 percent starter feed crumbles.

  • Week 8 to 14

This period then will require 16 to 18 percent starter or grower feed. Chicks at this stage will need a lot of protein for egg and meat.

  • Week 15 to 18

By this time, the chicks will then require a 16 percent finisher feed. Their eighteenth week is when they start laying eggs.

  • Week 18 onwards

As the hens start laying around at their eighteenth week, they will need one complete layer feed. Then, they may be transitioned to higher-calcium complete feed from layer feed.

Water

Of course, chickens will need a fresh and clean supply of water every day. The water should be changed every day and is at just the right temperature – not too hot or too cold. For chicks, several changes per day may be necessary as they may get their poop or bedding in it.

To train the chicks to locate the water dish, their beaks should be dipped into the water. The same method should be used for the food dish as well.

Moreover, days-old chicks will require one to add clean pebbles or marbles to their water dish. This is to prevent them from falling in and drowning. After about a week or more, the pebbles or marbles may then be removed. However, one should make sure, upon pebble removal, that the chicks are big enough to prevent themselves from drowning.

Managing Chicken Health

In relation to feeding, chickens, especially the chicks, tend to be messy and one of the harder aspects of raising chicken in the USA. As mentioned, one should focus on sanitation as young chicks are vulnerable to health risks. The chicks will scratch their food around or get their poop or bedding in it. Thus, a feeder that can eliminate some of the mess might be necessary.

Moreover, as the chicks start grass as they roam around, they should be fed with a small dish of chick grit. This will help their digestion and ensures that they do not get an impacted crop.

Furthermore, the chicken feed could either be medicated or not. Medicated feed may contain a coccidiostat that provides protection from coccidiosis. Otherwise, the un-medicated feed may be used if the chicks have already been vaccinated for coccidia.

*Coccidiosis is a disease that affects the digestive system.

RELATED QUESTIONS

What should one lookout for when purchasing chickens to raise from source?

Normally, chickens have bright and clear eyes. They naturally stare around with it in the curiosity of the environment and people, perhaps. Also, their feathers or fluff should appear clean and with good coloring. Therefore, anything that contradicts these descriptions should warn one to avoid purchasing the chicken.

Moreover, a chicken can be noticeable as unhealthy if it exhibits sleepiness, lethargy, and nasal or eye discharge. Other than those, one should avoid buying that which hunches itself into a bull, sits by itself, reluctant to move, and perhaps has blocked vent.

What does it take to start raising chicken in the USA?

Raising chicken in the USA sure should cost a good amount of money. The costs include building and furnishing a coop. Also, a chicken runs, ideally, 20 by 5 feet, should require wood, fencing, and hardware. This chicken run may cost roughly at least $300 if one does this by himself. Otherwise, availing skilled labor may cost one more money.

Generally, one can expect to spend an amount of at least $500 to $700 when they start raising chicken in the USA. However, expenses may vary greatly on a case by case basis. The flock size, coop, and chicken run are factors that shall affect the exact amount it costs to raise or keep chickens.

Is it good or not to free-range chickens?

Free-range means that chickens are given free access to an outside space. When free-ranging, the chickens are able to forage for themselves. They get nutrients out of foraged grass, bugs, and grit. This will help cut down a bit on the cost for feed and will help control insect pests — also, the free-range benefits a chicken-keeper by preventing the chickens from exhibiting aggressive or antisocial behaviors. Thus, free-ranging them will keep them from pecking and bullying each other, plus they get to exercise.

However, the free-range has its disadvantages, such as risking the chickens’ health and safety with dangerous plants and predators. One should, therefore, get rid of dangerous plants and secure the perimeter with chicken wire. Also, the free-range will not permit a clean and perfectly manicured garden with manure all over the place. However, chicken manure could be thrown into compost and be made fertilizer.

Eni Gordove

is a freelance writer that covers several niches like digital marketing, book publishing and marketing, travel, home improvements, and backyard gardening and farming. Also, she's a strong advocate of eco-farming and home gardening.

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