The My Pet Chicken Guide to Chicken Care

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Table of Contents >> Chapter 6

Chapter 6: Getting geared up

In this section we'll fill you in on the supplies you'll need and what to do just before your chickens arrive home or, if you have baby chicks, before they make their transition to "outside".

Items You'll Need to Purchase

Feeder and Waterer
The best feeders and waterers (water containers) hang or are suspended off the ground, prevent chickens from jumping on top of them and contaminating the contents with feces. They also automatically refill so you can go away for a few days and not have to worry. These run in the range of $10-40 each and you can see our selection of feeders and waterers at very competitive prices.

It's easiest to purchase "complete" feeds that have exactly the right mix of vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and fat. Feeds come in both organic and conventional varieties, can be purchased at a garden supply store or online, and should run you $8.00 - $80.00 per 50 lb bag depending on your location and the variety chosen.

If your chickens have started laying eggs or are 20 weeks or older, purchase a complete "layer" feed. If they're younger than that, you'll need a complete "starter" or "developer" feed, depending on their age and the variety of feed you've chosen. (The feed manufacturer will have instructions on the bag. Some chick starters are good for the first 8 weeks, whereas others are only good for the first 3-4 weeks and require a switch to developer feed...) We sell a high-quality line of "complete" organic feeds.

Many people also purchase "scratch" for their birds. If you want to see a chicken go bonkers, give it some scratch! It's a mix of grains including corn, wheat, oats and rye, among others. Unlike your complete feed which should be kept in a feeder for around the clock access, scratch is usually thrown on the ground for the chickens to peck at. It should be a special treat - not a staple of their diet - because it doesn't include all the nutrients they need. Your girls will let you know if you're giving them too much. Their eggshells will become weak and susceptible to breakage.

Ever heard of the saying "rarer than a hen's teeth"? That's right: chickens don't have teeth! Grit takes their place. It consists of small rocks that chickens store in their "crop", which is where they break down food before it enters their stomach. Keep a small container of grit accessible to your chickens or mix a small amount in with their food. See our grit.

Calcium/Oyster Shells
If your hens have a good, "complete" layer feed, they may not ever need oyster shells or any supplemental calcium! However, it never hurts to offer it free choice (and it is inexpensive and lasts a long time). The reason is that some flocks that spend most of the day foraging, or are given too many treats, in which case they don't get all the calcium they need from their feed. This can cause weak or irregularly shaped eggs, slow laying and can even cause behavior problems like egg-eating, because they're so desperate for the calcium they need! (We recommend you cut down on the treats, too!) See our oyster shells.

Bedding is an important part of keeping your chickens happy and healthy. On the coop floor the bedding will provide a soft surface for your chickens to walk on and will absorb droppings and odor. You want your coop sanitary and sweet-smelling, don't you? In the nest, bedding will give freshly-laid eggs a soft landing so they don't crack. (A cracked egg is a spoiled egg.) Pine shavings cost $6.00-$9.00 per 50 pound bag. These can be purchased at a pet store or garden supply store.

There are many bedding materials to choose from, and we think the best is pine wood shavings (not to be confused with pine chips). Other materials are either less absorbent or more likely to become infested. Bedding should be at least 2" thick.

Dust Baths
Chickens love to take dust baths! They dig a shallow hole, loosen up all the dirt, and proceed to get themselves absolutely as dirty as they possibly can. (Don't worry, the shake the dirt off later...) Dust baths are absolutely necessary: they prevent parasites such as mites and lice from finding a home in your chickens' feathers and legs.

If your chickens aren't free-range or their run area doesn't have a dry patch of ground where they can dig a hole, you'll need to provide them with an artificial dust bath. Place a box on the floor of their coop and fill it with 6" of a dusting powder. Ingredients: 1 part fireplace ashes, 1 part road dust, 1 part sand and 1 part diatomaceous earth.

Just Before you Move them
If you're buying adult chickens or transitioning your adolescent chicks to their outdoor coop, make these preparations in advance to ensure a smooth transition:

Set up your coop, complete with roosting pole(s), a nesting area and bedding 2" to 3" thick. Fill the feeder and waterer and make sure they're 6" to 8" off the ground. Their run area, if applicable, should be attached and secured. We also recommend you have your vet's phone number handy just in case any problems arise.

On the big day, teach your girls where "home" is by confining them to their coop for three to four full days. After that, if let out to forage they will always return home. The saying "chickens come home to roost" is really true! You'll never need to worry about them getting lost.

Chapter 5: Chicken coop requirementsChapter 7: Caring for Grown Chickens