New to chickens – where to start?

How many chickens should we get?

Chickens are a flock animal, and are happier living with a few friends. We advise it is good to start with three girls as it means that if something happens to one (and they go to live in the big chicken coop in the sky) then the remaining two still have each other for company. Chickens can get very sad, stop laying or even die of loneliness…

Is a standard or bantam chicken better for me?

The main difference between the two sizes are egg size (with the bantams often having a better food to egg conversion rate than the standard) and price (as a larger breed costs more). Other than that, it is purely personal preference…

What type/breed of chicken is the best for me?

This all depends on what you wanted chickens for. Some breeds are high production egg producers and therefore won’t live for more than 2-3 years – not ideal if you don’t want your children to learn about pet deaths. Others are ornamental and make great pets but don’t produce high numbers of eggs. Doing a bit of research and asking others about what they keep is always a good place to start.

How old should my chickens be when I buy them?

If you wanted to hand raise your girls so they will (hopefully) be quite tame, you are best to get them as young as possible. Around 8 weeks of age is a typical age to get young pullets, as this is the age that most sellers can accurately determine the boys from the girls… If you wanted chickens that will give you eggs within 2-4 weeks of bringing them home, then a girl at ‘point of lay’ is better for you. Point of lay chickens are often 22-24 weeks old. Please be aware that if you wait until January – February to get your point of lay girls, you might find that your preferred breeds have been sold long before you contacted the seller…

Do I want to buy a vaccinated or unvaccinated chicken?

There are multiple types of vaccines available for poultry keepers, with the three most well known being for ILT, Mareks disease and Fowl Pox. If you are concerned about buying a vaccinated or unvaccinated bird, Suburban Chooks recommends that you research the issue, discuss the pros and cons with your avian vet and make the decision that best suits your beliefs.  The debate amongst breeders for and against vaccinations is ongoing and very *very* complex!

A majority of the vaccinations can only be done when the chicks are 1-3 days old, and need to be kept separate from adult birds until their full immunity develops – adult birds cannot be vaccinated. Most small scale (non-commercial) breeders don’t vaccinate because it’s difficult to get hold of the vaccines in small enough doses  (they are only available in doses for 1000 chickens) or instead believe in breeding for disease resistance.

There are, however people who choose to purchase vaccinated chickens – for those chicken keepers their options are to get their avian vet to vaccinate their young chicks (usually only able to be done within the first three days after hatching and very expensive), or purchase smaller doses of vaccine from their avian vet and do it themselves, or buy in very large doses (usually for 1000 chickens) and vaccinate their small numbers of hatched chicks.

Suburban Chooks has chosen to begin vaccinating our chicks that we hatch from fertile eggs against CRD, Mareks disease, Fowl Pox and Coccidiosis – this will start in September 2013. Our perspective is that not only are you preventing the disease in your chickens you are also preventing a lot of possible heartache for you and your family in dealing with having your pet chicken get sick.

What should I bring my new chickens home in?
The two most common types of transportation for chickens are either a pet carrier or a plain cardboard box with air holes cut out (which can be thrown out or recycled once you are home). Chickens should never be put in the boot of a car, or have their legs tied or put into a bag. This is cruel and illegal. Our general thoughts on transporting chickens are ‘If you wouldn’t do it to a dog, why do it to a chicken?”