How to Care for Pet Chickens & Incubating Eggs

Hi everyone! This post is going to be a bit different because I’m going to be talking about raising chickens and incubating eggs! If you’re looking for my normal bookish content you can read my most recent reviews of To Carve a Fae Heart and When I Found You!

I’ve had my chickens for a little over a year, so in no way am I an expert of chicken care, but I have a good understanding on basic care.

Top Left: Female Black Laced Wyandottes
Top Right: Male Dark Brahma
Bottom Left and Right: Female Buff Orpington
Bottom Middle: Female Dark Brahma

How did I get into raising chickens?

I’ll be honest getting my first set of chickens was a bit of a surprise to me because I got up on Sunday morning of March of last year and my parents asked me how I felt about getting some chickens (obviously they had talked about it before asking me). I was all for it even though I had never really been around chickens before but apparently, I am always up for trying something new.

So, we went to Tractor Supply (which is a farm store that sells baby chicks and chicken coops and other farm stuff). We ended up buying the food that the babies needed along with a coop, bedding, and the containers for their food and water. That Sunday, we bought four female buff orpingtons and later ordered three more females and a male dark brahmas baby chicks online (I’ll explain how I raised them in a moment). Then in September of 2019 on of my orpingtons died, and I was able to talk my parents into buying me a couple of more baby chicks, and we settled on buying some black lace wyandottes.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be the person to fall in love with having pet chickens but somehow I did because I go outside and sit with them. I get a few chickens out whenever I go to work on the garden and hold one when I get on the hammock. My family even went as far as buying a harness for me to take a chick on a walk and getting me all sorts of chicken related stuff for Christmas (like chicken bookends, shirts, and a children’s book)!

How to pick out the right chicken

There’s a certain amount of thought you need to put in before you start buying chickens. Each breed of chickens have different characteristics that are common within that breed (like dogs) there are chickens that are calm, aggressive, timid, docile, shy, watchful, etc. You also need to decide what the purpose of the chicken is going to be… do you want a chicken that is a good egg layer or one that you can raised to be eaten or both. All of my chickens are a dual breed chicken which means that they are good egg layers and can be eaten (not that I could eat my babies – they have to have a proper burial when they pass away).

You also need to take into consideration of family (like if you have small children) other pets, living conditions for the chickens, the amount of time you can give to taking care of them, cost, and what your local area rules are about animals like this.

I’ll be honest having chickens are the most expensive pets to have, but these little animals eat A LOT of food, so keep this in mind before you buy any.

It’s also important to know if you want a rooster (male chicken) to be with your hens (female chicken). A rooster IS NOT NEEDED FOR A HEN TO LAY EGGS. There’s a myth out there that you need a male chicken in order for your female to have eggs. A rooster is good to have around to protect the flock of chickens, to establish order, and to fertilize the eggs. Some areas have guidelines about rooster, so be sure in looking into that. A good number to have is one rooster for 8-10 hens; you can have more hens, but once you add more than one rooster into the mix you want to have that number of hens per rooster to decrease fights over the hens (which can cause stress to the hens and impair egg laying).

Then there are things like appearances of the chickens. Some people like certain chickens because of particular features they have! Some chickens are know for having feathers on the feet and legs, cheeks (a group of bushy feathers on their cheeks), certain feather patterns, tuffs of feathers on their head, etc.

And, it’s also good to know how broody (the term used for when a female chicken goes into ‘mother mood’ and want to sit on the nest) the chickens are going to be!

Living conditions

Chickens need a good bit of area to be able to walk around, scratch the ground and explore, and have their own space to chill. If you don’t have enough space, the chickens will be crowded that could lead to fights for space.

You need to have a coop or a place that the chickens know where to sleep. I have two chicken coops for my eleven chickens. They’ve decided that the first chicken coop I got for them is going to be where the lay their eggs and the other is their sleeping quarters.

I have the two coops inside of an area that is enclosed by thick fence post and chicken wire around it and on top to ensure that nothing can get in while they sleep. Then recently, we expanded they pin by adding 75 ft of space with fence and wire, so now you have to get through the new area to reach the original pin. When the chickens start to go to bed, I go in, coral the chickens in the old pin, and they put themselves to bed (no, I don’t shut the door to the actual chicken coop they sleep in but others do).

The place that they sleep in needs to be something that has very little to no drafts to keep the cold air out during the winter and ensure that nothing can get in and kill them while they sleep. If your chickens sleep in the laying boxes make sure that you have some sort of bedding whether it’s wood shavings, hay, or something of that nature. My chickens sleep on rooster (which is basically a bar), so I don’t really have to worry about that, but all chickens are different and like different things.

Chickens also needs shade because they get over heated when it’s hot. Make sure that you have things that provide a cool area to escape to whenever the sun is high to prevent overheating of your bird.

Food and water

Like I mentioned earlier, chickens eat a lot of food.

I feed my grown chickens a mix scratch grain which consists of corn and grains, layer pellets, and oyster shells.

The scratch grain is the main part of their diet. While the layer pellets are high in protein that helps the hens with egg production and the growth of all of the chickens feathers, and oyster shells for the calcium to help the shells be strong. You can also add grit (small rocks/gravel that you buy from the store) to their diet to help with digestion of food since the chickens don’t chew their food.

The major of my mixed food consists of the grain with about a forth of the layer pellets and a small bit of shells/grit that’s something like a 7:2:1 ish ratio. You can kind of play around with the ration to meet your own flock’s need, but this works best for me.

I have two feeders for my chickens that hold a gallon of food that I add to each day and spread some of the food on the ground for them to scratch at.

  • You can also give them crushed up eggshells since the shells have calcium in it to save money on buying oyster shells often.

What not to feed you chickens:

Now, I do not know every single thing that chickens can’t eat because my diet isn’t that wild but the common things that most couple possibly give to their chickens.

  • Chocolate/sweets
  • Onions
  • Fruit seeds
  • Avocado skin or pits
  • Dry or undercooked beans
  • Citrus
  • Uncooked rice
  • Raw potatoes and peelings
  • Moldy foods

Things you CAN feed your chickens:

I love my chickens because they get the scraps of my fruits and vegetables when I’m cooking (excluding the stuff from above), bread, dairy products, and other things.

  • Greens from lettuce, cabbage, sprouts
  • Chunky milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese
  • Rice, noodles, grains, bread
  • Fruits and vegetable
  • Herbs
  • Bugs, weeds, wildflowers, grass clippings

Things MY chickens love:

  • Milk/yogurt with bread
  • Rice and noodles (I think its because it looks like bugs and worms)
  • Blueberries – my chickens go absolutely crazy whenever I have blueberries to give them
  • Mealworm (I give mine dried mealworm but they would also love them live as well)
  • Apples and lettuce and grass
  • Watermelon

You want to make sure that you have plenty of cool water for your chickens to be able to drink during the day! During the summer, to encourage them to drink, you can get a bucket or something shallow, fill it with water and some ice, and add seeds or something for them to try to catch.

I also have a couple of gallon water containers that I change everyday.

Both the food and water containers are inside of the original pin on top of a brick to decrease the amount of dirt from when they scratch the ground.

For the baby chicks, you want to feed them some type of started because it’s small pieces of food that has the nutrients they need to have until they can eat regular food. I normally give them the start for the first three or four weeks old then I start to add a small amount of the scratch into the starter to introduce them to the adult food.

Where to buy chickens

This is from when I bought my last set of chickens from Cackle!

You can honestly buy chickens from eggs that you incubate, newly hatched chicks, adolescent chicken, and even full grown chickens from just about anywhere depending on your location! You can buy young chickens from a store like tractor supply, online from someone local and pick them up, or you can even get them shipped to you through the mail! Like I said earlier I bought baby chicks from the store and online. I bought mine from Cackle Hatchery out of Missouri and 8 out of the 9 chickens survived.

Eggs

Like I said earlier, a rooster is not need for egg production.

The color and size depend on the chicken breeds. Colors of eggs include:

  • Light blue – produced by Ameraucanas, Araucanas, Legbar
  • Olive green – produced by Olive Eggers
  • Light brown – produced by Silkies, Sussex
  • Tan (darker than the light brown) – produced by Orpingtons, Brahmas, Rhode Island, Australorp, Wyandotte
  • Dark brown – produced by Welsummers, Marans, Barnevelders
  • White
  • Cream – produced by Faverolles, Dorkings, and Belgian d’Uccle
  • Most retail places will tell you what color eggs the chickens are expected to produce.

Things that affect egg laying:

  • Weather – for most egg laying decreases during the colder months because of the lack of sun (at least that is what I had read a while back because there’s something about the sun that is needed for yolk production)
  • Food – hens need a good bit of protein and calcium during the laying months to be able to lay eggs
  • Broodiness – whenever a chick is sitting on a nest in hopes of hatching eggs, their egg production will stop until it passes
  • Stress – stress can cause the hen to not produce eggs or to make defective eggs
  • Breed of chicken – some chickens breeds in general are known for their high egg laying, although most hens only lay eggs for a couple of years regularly before the production decreases and eggs are coming out less.

It’s best if you have some type of bedding similar to what you would put in the coop for them to lay on, so the hen will be as comfortable as possible while waiting of the egg to be pushed out or while sitting on the eggs. The bedding will also help protect the egg when it falls from the chicken and keep it from cracking.

Incubating/Raising Chicks

It takes roughly 21 days for an egg to hatch into a chick, and if you’re doing it yourself (without a hen sitting on the eggs), you have to maintain a certain humidity and temperature to allow the chicks to develop.

  • First you need to decide what type of incubator you want. You can spend as little or as much money you want. The one I use is a Harris Farms incubator that has an auto turner, count down, displays the temperature and humidity, and has a built in candler.
  • The temperature needs to be at 99-100 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the whole time and humidity needs to be around 50% with a range of 45-53% during days 1-18 of incubation and 70% the last 3 days at a range of 65-73%.
  • Eggs need to be turned once a day to ensure proper development of the chick.
  • Draw an X and O (or something to that effect) on the egg with a PENCIL to be able to identify which side you just turn.
  • Candling eggs are important to make sure the eggs are development throughout the process. Around day 4 of incubation, you can start to see the blood vessels (which is a sign of a fertile egg). If the egg is unfertile, the light will simply pass through the egg, and you’ll only see the you and air sac in the egg.
  • Some people say that you should limit candling because you take the egg out of it’s warm environment while others say it’s find to do it every day as ling as the eggs are out for to long.
  • Also at day 18, you’re supposed to go into ‘lockdown’ which means that you shouldn’t open the incubator lid (so no more candling the eggs) and increase the humidity to make sure the membrane of the egg doesn’t shrink to the chicken.
I know the quality of these photos aren’t the best but the lighting wasn’t good and there was a glare because of the plastic lid.
  • Hatching normally happen on day 20 or 21 and can last up to day 23. You’ll be able to hear the chick peep (aka chirp) as it starts to get ready to hatch. The whole process of the first crack of the shell to the chicken coming out of the shell fully can take hours to an entire day.
    • For my eggs it took about 12 hours for this to happen and all of the chickens hatched on day 21-22.
  • Once the chicken is free, you want to leave it in the incubator is dry then you want to move it to the brooder.
  • Once in the brooder, you want to sick its beak in the water container.

Setting up the brooder:

Example of my last brooder. These chickens are probably about a week and a half old based on their wing feathers.

A brooder is the place where the chicks go to grow up until the can be moved outside to the coop (if you don’t have a broody hen that can raise them, but even if you do you’d have to separate the hen and place her somewhere with the chicks… either way you’d need to set something up)

If you’re setting on up to raise the chicks yourself, you’ll need

  • A cardboard box/container
    • I use my dog’s cage and place a barrier up on the inside so they can’t get through the holes
  • A heating lamp
    • The temperature needs to be around 95 degrees and drop in increments of 5s as each week pass
  • Lining for the floor such as newspaper or shavings like for the coop
    • It’s recommended that with newly hatched chicks you use paper towels since they could try to eat the other stuff.
    • Even as they grow, I like to line the floor with newspaper or paper towel and add the shavings on top to help with cleaning
  • Containers for the starter food and water
    • Some people like to add marbles or rocks to the water dish to prevent the chicks from drowning, but I’ve never had a chicken to drown *knock on wood*.

I clean my chicken brooder about every other day depending on how messy it.

Chickens need to stay inside for about 3-4 weeks until they reach that awkward phase of when they have adult and baby feathers and are able to protect themselves from other chickens.

When I introduce my new chicks to the ones outside, I put the new chicks in the chicken coop that the chickens like to lay their eggs in and shut all of the door, so the old chickens can see them but can’t peak them. I leave them in the coop for about 4 or 5 days or until I feel it’s safe to let them interact. OR, you can bring the chicks out on warm days and sit with them while they interact with the other chicks and bring them back in after some time to go back into the brooder.

I hope this helps y’all who have chickens or are thinking about getting some! If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments, and I’ll try to help!

I’m going to be incubating some more eggs soon, so I’ll be able to write a more in depth post in about a month!

Happy reading until next time,

13 thoughts on “How to Care for Pet Chickens & Incubating Eggs

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