Tips on Raising Chickens
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Room to Explore
When Chloe Engelbrecht, 12, gave a 4-H presentation about raising chickens, a key point was giving the birds a good environment.
“Chickens need plenty of room to explore,” Chloe told an audience at the Iowa State Fair before earning an Excellence Award for her talk.
The same lesson applies to kids, say Chloe’s parents, Corey and Erin Engelbrecht. They live on a small farm outside Davenport, Iowa, and seize the many hands-on learning opportunities their rural lifestyle offers. They teach Chloe and her three siblings the importance of hard work, self-sufficiency, and seeing a project through to the finish.
“Our kids are learning responsibility from their experiences raising animals,” says Erin. “Living here, they can’t just run next door or to the ball diamond to be with their friends. They entertain themselves outside playing with their animals.”Date Published: June 23, 2015Date Updated: June 23, 2015
6 Tips on Raising Chickens
Chloe Engelbrecht included this advice in her award-winning 4-H presentation:
1. Select the right breed. Do you want a breed for meat or egg production or primarily just for fun? Jumbo Cornish Rocks make good broilers, and White Leghorns and Red Stars are good egg layers. Buff, White, or Lavender Orpingtons will dot your barnyard with color. For lots of fun feathers, choose Mottled Houdan.
2. Find a hatchery. Although baby chicks can be shipped overnight via express delivery from hatcheries, buying local avoids shipping stress, and it’s a fun family outing to pick up the chicks.
3. Prepare for the chicks’ arrival. Have shelter, water, and feed ready before chicks arrive. A heat lamp, set at 90°F, will help keep chicks warm. The lamp can then be set 5 degrees lower each week until the temperature reaches 70° (about 4 weeks) and then removed unless it is super cold outside.
4. Adult chickens do well in a shed, barn, or coop. Chickens need 3 square feet per bird indoors. House the hens in a shed, barn, or coop that protects them from harsh weather and predators. Hens should have access to their own roosting box for laying eggs with plenty of bedding available. Be sure the shelter is well ventilated, has plenty of natural light, and allows easy access for collecting eggs and feeding. You can modify old barns and sheds to house them. Add outdoor runs for exercise.
5. Feed and water. A high-protein diet is needed for starting chicks. Add electrolytes or sugar to water to help prevent dehydration. As chicks reach maturity, feed them a combination of purchased feed, greens, scratch grains, plus ground oyster shell to promote hard eggshells. The chickens will eat bugs and worms when they are outside. Provide water in automatic drinkers or via plastic or steel self-drinkers that are filled every day. In the winter, electric buckets can keep water from freezing.
6. Give chickens outdoor space. When the weather is warm, move chickens outdoors to explore, roam, and take a dust bath. You can contain the birds in portable pens made of plastic chicken fencing, moved periodically to allow for fresh pasture areas. A dust bath helps keep feathers clean and knocks off parasites from the chicken’s body. Chickens find or make an earthen hole for the dust bathing spot and then wriggle or flick dust onto their feathers.Date Published: June 23, 2015Date Updated: June 23, 2015
The family now has 180 hens. Erin and the kids, including the boys, Cole, 6, and Colin, 5, feed the chickens and gather eggs before school. They also help keep the pens clean, pick up feed and supplies, and deliver dozens of eggs each week to family and friends.
A small hoop barn is used as a chicken shed, and a repurposed corncrib is an outdoor run. Recently, Corey converted an old garage for chickens and expanded the fenced area. There is also a small coop for the girls’ show chickens. An adjacent smaller pen serves as a dust bath.
Additional portable chicken fencing is moved around the farmstead so the birds have access to fresh grass.
“Eating greenery – grass and weeds – promotes a more golden yolk,” says Erin. The family eats about six dozen eggs per week, and the kids are thrilled when Erin cracks open a double yolker.Date Published: June 23, 2015Date Updated: June 23, 2015
Life in the Country
When Corey and Erin married in 2001, they never considered living anywhere but in the country. Corey grew up on a farm near the couple’s home. Erin was raised in a small town a few miles away, but she enjoyed visiting her grandfather’s dairy farm.
“We just always knew we wanted to raise our kids in the country,” Erin says.
Corey works long hours in his family’s farm tiling and excavating business, but he carves out time for a small beef herd. Daughter Caelan, 11, has taken a shine to helping her dad.
“I can do more with her helping me sort cows than if I have four or five guys,” says Corey. “She has a sense for when to move in or when to back off.”Date Published: June 23, 2015Date Updated: June 23, 2015
Corey and Erin were both active 4-H members, so it was natural to get their kids involved, starting with the Clover Kids program in kindergarten. Participating in 4-H helps children learn communications, leadership, and citizenship skills, says Erin.
“4-H helps you figure out where your strengths are.”
Chloe and Caelan have multiple 4-H projects, including raising poultry and bucket calves, photography, home improvement, food and nutrition, communications, and clothing. Chloe also raises market hogs.
“The goal is to try every category to see which ones they really like,” says Erin.
Teaching the kids about the economics of a livestock project is as important as how to provide proper care, says the couple. “We want the kids to understand the entrepreneurship of taking ownership of an animal and seeing it through to the end,” says Erin.Date Published: June 23, 2015Date Updated: June 23, 2015
Although raising livestock is rewarding, it also comes with tough lessons. The Engelbrechts have learned that chickens require careful management to avoid behavior problems such as aggressiveness, egg eating, feather-pecking, and even cannibalism. They had an episode when several birds picked feathers from each other.
“They looked awful. I think we scared a few neighbors,” Erin laughs.
The family has learned how to manage diets and pen groups, introducing new birds so they can see one another but physically be separated so they can’t act on aggression. Adding more outside space and the dust bath helps keep the flock content.
“Now our chickens are thriving,” Erin says.
So are the Engelbrecht kids – thriving in the wide-open spaces and endless activities in the country.Date Published: June 23, 2015Date Updated: June 23, 2015
Last year, the entire family worked to build a dog house for their dog, Lily. They created a scrapbook to describe the work, and it won a purple ribbon at the Mississippi Valley Fair in a special category for family projects.Date Published: June 23, 2015Date Updated: June 23, 2015
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