Chickens are great starter livestock for any homestead – you can start rearing them on a small backyard in town or your 20 acres of land. Chickens will provide meat, fertilizer, and eggs. They are easy to manage. You can get a chart of the best chicken breeds on the internet and in some books.
However, online information is usually very old data. Thus, to help you choose the right breeds, best chicken feeds, and chicken coops, Elliotthomestead.com presents this comprehensive guide.
Choosing Chicken Breeds:
When choosing the best starter chicken breeds, you must premise your selection on meat production, egg production, and temperament.
If you try a breed for one year but it fails to yield results, it is always advisable to try another one. The other option would be to try 3-4 breeds at once and get rid of those without the qualities you need.
After you have identified the best breeds, you will have to use a Hatchery Finder to locate the mail-order sources within your location. You can use the poultry breeders and hatchery directories to identify breeders within a shorter time.
Before placing an order, you should ask several questions. Most breeders and hatcheries are known for specific traits.
A quick example, some may specifically deal with Orpingtons due to the high egg production. Others deal with other breeds due to quality meat production.
Look for the local farm stores that carry both meat chickens and layers. Such stores will also have staff knowledgeable on various breeds and they will educate you on egg production or keeping your chicken healthy. Here are some of the breeds to try. 
- Leghorns: they are flighty but among the best egg layers.
- Sex-Link Chickens: they are bred to the best egg producers. They are available in black, red and many other colors. They can lay around 275 eggs in one year.
- Rhode Island Reds: a great layer, which lays around 250 brown eggs each year.
- Barred Rocks: the large beautiful chickens, which lay speckled, green or blue eggs. They can lay more than 250 eggs in one year.
- Buff Orpington: if you need yellow-colored hens with a sweet docile personality, these are the ones to go for. They can lay around 225-250 brown eggs each year.
- Cornish cross: this is the commonest type of meat chicken due to great taste. The chickens will take only 2-3 months to mature. However, you should remember that they do not forage and they will eat a lot during the three months. The chicken is heavy framed and due to their faster growth, they are more prone to some skeletal systems and heart problems.
- Red rangers: the Red Rangers are similar to the Cornish Cross but they do not grow fast. Most people choose them due to their foraging ability. Their finish weight is less compared to that of the Cornish Cross.
You can buy hatched chickens – a few days or hours old from the local farm store. Call them in advance to be sure they have them in the store before you arrive. However, for the chicks to grow, you will need a quality brooder.
The market offers a large variety of brooders and you therefore likely to spend much of your time searching for the best. But if you can provide your chicks with water, food, and heat, anything will work.
You will have to set up the brooder at least one day before chicks arrive to avoid rushing in the last minute. Line the bottom of the container you choose with paper towel or newspapers to make the cleaning part easy. After that, top up with some pine shavings – avoid cedar shavings. 
Here Are The Top Two Brooders To Try:
Farm Innovators Model 3700 Baby Chick Starter Home Kit
This is among the brooders that will work perfectly and grow with your chicks. Its size is adjustable because the manufacturer uses interlocking plastic to make it. You can rearrange them to match your needs. Due to the height of the plastics, your chicks or ducklings will not be able to jump out until they are ready for the coop.
The Farm Innovators Model 3700 Baby Chick Starter Home kit comes as plastic panels that measure 18 inches by 12 inches. To start using it, you just need to unpack the panels and hook them together to make a corral of 3 feet in diameter. The resulting brooder will be large enough for 15 chicks.
The adjustable height lamp adjusts from 20 inches to 34 inches. You can, therefore, lower or raise it to change the temperature. Rising of the lamp will reduce the temperature while lowering will increase it.
That means your chicks will not crowd in one place. And after the chicks have grown, you will just need to unhook the plastic panels for easier storage of the brooder.
- The brooder is easier to set up
- The design is durable
- It is washable and reusable
- Can hold up to 15 chicks
- It limits you on the number of chicks you can rear
Brinsea Eco Glow Brooder for Chicks or Ducklings
Brinsea EcoGlow Brooder measures 12 inches by 8 inches by 9 inches, which is the size you need for 20 chicks. You can adjust the size to accommodate the number of baby chickens you need in your yard.
The manufacturer uses strong antimicrobial polyurethane plastic to make the brooder. The material is nonconductive and resists bacterial contaminations effectively.
It comes with a 12V transformer that powers the heater. It will only use 18 watts of power, which is more economical compared to the standard heat lamps that use more than 250 watts. Radiant-heated underside provides constant warmth and the light indicator will tell you when it is on and off.
And because it is hard to register the radiant heat air temperatures with a thermometer, you will have to use the backside of your hand for the testing. The behavior of your chicks will tell you when the heat is more than what they can handle.
For good results, you will need a cardboard box – around twice the size of the brooder size you choose and place the brooder against its side. That way, you will be able to control the movement of your chicks using a single entry and contain more heat while conserving energy.
- The lamp will consume less energy
- It is safe to use
- The adjustable legs allow it to hold many chicks
- The setup part is not easy
Choosing The Right Chicken Feed?
The type of feed you buy will highly depend on the chicken breeds you choose and the life stage of the chickens. Every chick or baby chicken will need Chick Starter feed, formulated purposely for newly hatched chicks.
You will have to provide them with the feed until they are several weeks old – before they mature. The feed producers formulate the feeds specifically for meat or egg chickens, which mean that you will have to choose them carefully.
The producers specify on the bag whether the feed is ideal for meat or egg chickens and the store staff will help and educate you on the selection part.
For the health of your egg birds, go for feeds containing around 14-18 percent protein so that the eggshells cannot break easily. The content list on the bag will specify that. Distributors sell feed in the form of crumbles, mash, and pellets.
The feed displays one form in various forms, but you have to choose a different type of feed-in different phases of the chickens. Here are the available types.
Mash feed is usually finely crushed and it is usually formulated for chicks. Unfortunately, due to the soft texture, it might choke the chicks if you fail to provide enough water.
Most chick growers will use the feed without any problems, but you will need to switch to crumbles or pellets if they become problematic.
Crumble feeds boast the appearance of Grape Nuts cereal and they have around 1/16 inch diameter. Chicks can easily swallow this feed and it will create a lesser mess compared to the mash feed. You can use it for the adult chickens too, but grown-up hens will spill it on the floor.
To reduce waste, you will have to buy pellets. Remember that chicken feed is expensive and you have to avoid any wastage.
Pelletized feeds showcase the shape of pellets – they are around ¼ inches long. Immediately your chicks are above the adolescent age, you will have to start buying pelletized feeds for them. That way, you will reduce wastage and save more money.
Even though it is expensive, organic feed is a great choice. Most local stores offer it but if you cannot find it within your area, you can order from the online stores.
Organic feeds contain natural grains, seeds, peas and similar ingredients that provide every nutrient that your chickens need. 
Here Are The Best Feeds To Try:
Picky NEB 100 Percent Non-GMO Dried Meal Worms
GMOs have been ruining our food supplies not only for individuals but also for the birds and animals. Therefore, the Non-GMOs phrase on the Picky NEB 100 Percent Non-GMO Dried Meal Worms’ package should make you happy.
The dried mealworms offer many benefits due to their high protein content. They will help all your chicks grow back feathers faster and develop a stronger immune system during the cold seasons.
In addition to the protein, the mealworms contain other forms of nutrients, which the baby chickens and the other birds need during winter. Some people use them as feed for their aquarium and pond fish, turtles, hedgehogs and the hard to attract wild birds.
If you have eaten the eggs, then one of the things you liked is the great taste. The eggs are well-formed and thick. The feed allows you to raise healthier animals that provide healthier foods.
Birds love mealworms due to their great taste. So, you have to place them out of reach and provide the chickens with a small amount each time. The Dried Meal Worms are mealworm beetles in the larval stage – the darkling beetle.
This beetle has four life stages – egg, larvae, pupa, and the adult stage. The Picky Mealworms are fed on fresh non-GMO oats, grains or wheat ban with sliced carrots, potato and apple pieces. People have been using them to feed their fish, reptiles, and birds. In some places, people eat fried mealworms as a snack food.
- They are non-GMO and they do not contain any additives or preservatives.
- They will boost the immune system of your baby chickens
- They contain high protein levels
- They do not need any refrigeration
- No cons
Naturally Free Organic Layer Feed for Chickens and Ducks
When looking for the best organic layer feed, the Naturally Free Organic Layer Feed for Chickens and Ducks should not miss in your list. The product is corn-free and soya free. Moreover, it is Non-GMO.
The producer uses organic whole grains to make it and it contains around 16 percent protein. And because it is purposely formulated to provide your flock with a nutritious and perfectly balanced feed, you will not have to worry about the health of your hens after buying it.
The chicken feed contains enough calcium. Calcium is a recipe for strong eggshells. That means the feed is only suitable for the egg-laying hens and those that are about to start producing eggs.
It is among the healthiest products you can get from online stores and the producer grows it through sustainable farming. They only buy products from farmers in Pacific NW to support the local agriculture.
It is an ideal choice for any bird above the age of 20 weeks. You can feed it to geese, ducks, and geese. Most importantly, it has an extensive shelf life and the small packaging reduces carbon footprint.
- It is available at a low price
- It is ideal for ducks, chickens, geese, and most waterfowls
- The producer uses unprocessed whole grains to provide optimal nutrition
- It is soy-free and corn-free
- No cons
Choosing The Best Chicken Coops
For the safety of your chicken, you will need a good place-where they safe from unfavorable weather conditions and predators. The market offers hundreds if not thousands of coop designs. Thus, you should base your selection on a design that will match your needs.
Here are some of the things you need to consider when buying a coop.
Number Of Chickens You Are Planning To Keep
When buying a chicken coop, remember that each chicken will need around 2-3 square feet. So, if you are planning to raise 4 chickens you will need a coop design that offers 8-12 square feet. If there is a need for a larger space, you can always customize one.
Whether You Need A Run Or Free-Range
Runs are enclosed outdoor areas that allow chickens to remain outside but safe from the predators. Most people go for this option because chickens remain in an enclosed area but where hey cannot walk around pooping in every space.
Moreover, they will not stray into the neighborhood gardens and destroy flowerbeds and crops. Thus, the run will limit them to a small space. Some farmers opt to keep their poultry as free as possible but closer to the coop.
If you live in an area where predators are not common and you do not mind your chicken roaming and scratching around, then you must let them free.
By allowing that, the chickens will eat bugs, seeds, grass and enter the coop for roosting at night. Every farmer will tell you that your chicken will do well regardless of the method you choose. You only need to provide them with adequate water and food.
People who choose to free-range their chicken do that because of the less maintenance. However, if you choose a free-range method, you will have to keep watch of aerial predators like owls and hawks, not to mention ground predators like skunks, raccoons, fox, and coyotes.
When deciding on the chicken coop to buy, do so while considering whether you live in an urban or rural area. In an urban setting, you must keep your hens in a run so that they cannot fly into the neighbor’s yard. A good alternative is to clip their wings and ensure that your perimeter wall has no holes.
Stationary Or Mobile
Stationery chicken coops remain in one place within the yard or pasture. On the other hand, mobile coops are those that have wheels and are movable to any place within the yard or pasture. A movable chicken coop will allow your chicken to feed on the yummy bugs and new grass.
If the mobile chicken coop features an attached run, it will allow the chicken to cover a larger area and keep the predators away as the droppings fertilize the whole yard.
Stationery chicken coops, on the other hand, are suitable for people who want to place their chicken in a central place. However, It allows for easy access to the chickens and eggs collection.
A stationery design allows birds to free-range and back to the coop at night. They should have a spacious pathway to the coop.
Remember that an enclosed run can get muddy because chickens will wear down all the grass and scratch the dirt in search of worms. So, if you choose this route, you will have to add wood chippings in the run for the chickens to scratch in them and to reduce the amount of mud. Adding mealworms and leftover veggies in the run will help keep the chickens happy.
Here Are The Best Chicken Coops To Try:
Best Choice Products Outdoor Wooden Chicken Coop Wire Fence Hen House Poultry Cage
When searching for a perfect starter chicken coop, the Best Choice Products Outdoor Wooden Chicken Coop will provide you with all the necessary features. It provides many helpful features and it is both customizable and expandable.
The manufacturer uses fir wood to make it and includes an enclosed pen and a hen house. It measures around 6 feet by 4 feet, which is the space you need to rear 3-4 hens.
The nesting box that comes with a half-wall divider will offer adequate laying space while the hinged room allows an easier collection of the eggs. Under the capacious hen house, you will find a removable tray that you can use to change the bedding and clean the droppings faster.
The chicken coop is a good choice for people with small flocks of around three to four hens. So, if you want to keep more hens, you will have to pay two or three coops.
The manufacturer designs it in a unique way to allow customization. You can seal the wood for weather resistance and add a lock to prevent thieves from accessing your eggs or raiding the henhouse.
- Durable for outdoor use
- Removable tray for easier cleaning
- Shipping is limited to some countries
SnapLock Formex Large Chicken Coop Backyard Hen House
The SnapLock Formex Large Chicken Coop Backyard Hen House is weather-resistant, easier to assemble and a perfect choice for egg layers. The manufacturer uses sturdy double-walled plastic to make it and it can accommodate roughly 6 birds at a time – that highly depends on the breed.
The coop features three elevated bars for roosting with many height placements for every bar. You will also get two nesting boxes that come with removable dividers to offer four egg-laying locations.
Some of the important features you will identify include a removable tray that facilitates easier cleaning of the droppings and changing of the bedding. Adjustable side vents facilitate better circulation and keep hinged doors above the nesting box for easter egg collection. The hinged roof makes the cleaning part easier.
Most farmers find the SnapLock Formex Large Chicken Coop easier to assemble. There are no needed tools for the assembly because the provided pieces snap together. One reviewer claims that a bear searching for food tossed the coop around but could not reach the birds due to the sturdy construction and effective locks.
On the downside, this coop does not come with a run or window. So, you have to ensure that all your chickens have adequate space to forage and roam during the day. Unlike most chicken coops available in online stores, it is easier to assemble and will keep your chicken safe.
- It is the right size for six chickens
- Well designed
- Easier to open
- Does not come with a run
When raising chickens, you should expect three main challenges. Diseases, predators and pests. You should also note that some of your chickens might not survive. However, you must keep watch over your poultry birds to ensure their safety.
Also, behavioral challenges such as fighting amongst birds, pecking order, and complaints are things they will encounter every other day. Most importantly, ensure that the coop is clean at all times so that your birds are healthy and safe from pest invasion.
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