PLAN AHEAD Thinking about attending a local swap meet or poultry show?? Go by all means for the education of seeing what it is all about, and to see some of the different breeds around. This will also give you the chance to meet many different breeders and to gain some insight to their breed. But leave your check book at home. You can also go to your local feed store and see all the baby chicks that they have. Don't bring any home. DO NOT GET ANY POULTRY BEFORE YOU ARE READY FOR THEM. This also goes for those cute little Easter chicks and ducks. You must have shelter for them, know the reason why you want them, and know how to raise and keep them healthy before you start.
HOUSING First they must have some form of HOUSING. (See housing link) Does any one has a mate that is understanding enough to let you keep a flock of birds in the living room? Not only will the birds be gone, but so would you. However you may be able to talk them into keeping the car in the driveway, so that the birds can have the garage. But why strain a good relationship? Have housing ready for your poultry before they arrive.
FREE RANGE VERSES CONFINEMENT. When mentioning the family flock most people have visions of their birds ranging freely over their lawn, keeping the bug population down, and finding most of their food. We all have had these visions. Not only will they keep the bug population down, they will also keep the flowers and veggies in the garden down,as well. They love to eat young plants, and dust in patches of loose dirt, scratching up plants. Can you and your family handle this?
Remember that cute little pup that the kid have. He loves poultry too. Same for the cute raccoon that you see in the yard at dust. Not to mention skunks, foxes, cats and then there are the birds of prey. All of these will love a poultry diner. Those cute little wild birds that you feed each day, they can bring illness to your chickens and you will be spending all your time medicating your flock instead of enjoying them. If the main purpose of the flock is eggs, the hens may be laying every where except in the nest boxes that you provided. You can have an Easter egg hunt everyday before breakfast. It's a matter of choices. Are you prepared to accept losses from predators and illness. If not confined them. It is a matter of choices.
PURPOSE The reason for keeping poultry must be known. Is it for pets, eggs, meat, or show? The purpose of keeping them will dictate on how you go about it. For pets the breed and number is unimportant as long as you like them. Where you get them is also unimportant. For production (eggs and or meat) your best source is from a commercial hatchery. You will need to order enough to make a shipment, generally 25. Keep enough hens to get the number of eggs that you need for each day. Most hatchery stock is noted for their production, but are not for showing. Read what each hatchery has and what the traits are for their production strains, and make your decision. For show stock you must find a breeder of your chosen breed. Make you decision on being informed. Not by a last minute impulse.
BREEDS. There are hundreds af breeds of poultry. There are purebreds. Some breeds can have 10 or over different varieties (colors). Some are large (standard) some are small (bantams). Then there are the crossed whose background include a mixture of several different breeds. These also may come in different sizes. Visit Barry's FEATHERSITE page for information and pictures of many different breeds. And lets not forget the mutts. These generally have unknown ancestry, but are generally problem free, making a good family flock.
CHICKS. Most people buy chicks in the spring from a hatchery. For list of different hatchery's see TIM JONES HATCHERY LINKS or BARRY'S FEATHERSITE HATCHERY LINKS. For brooding and care see VIRGINIA COOPERATIVE EXTENTION brooding information.
HATCHING EGGS. Most show poultry are obtain either as hatching eggs or adults as pairs or trios. For information on incubating the eggs see VIRGINIA COOPERATIVE EXTENTION incubating information.
ROOSTERS. Roosters are not needed unless you are going to breed. If just eggs is the goal, then a rooster is not needed. Hens will lay very well without a boyfriend in with them. Also how will your neighbors react to early wake up call from your rooster? Half the fun of keeping chickens however is watching him interact with the hens, and listening to their crow. If a rooster is really needed, his crow can be muffled by the use of plantings and fences, much like street noises are blocked. Some roosters can become mean. They will fly into you and your children, picking and scratching at the legs, body and face. So only keep a male if he is needed. There is only 1 way to deal with a mean rooster. Eat him!!!
FEED. Most farm stores carry a selection of food for your poultry. Chicks require chick starter from birth for about 4-6 weeks. Then they should be feed grower until they are about 4-5 months. Then they get lay, either as a mash or bits. If you are going to breed and raise chicks from them then they will require a breed ration during the breeding season. And then there are the scratches. These are whole grains either single or in a mixture. Feed these as a treat, and not their main food. Limit whole corn. If fed in large amounts, the poultry will become too fat to do anything. It's like you eating a diet of jelly donuts.
For other information look at our other page on, HOUSING , BREEDING and OUT CROSSING