Chicken Basics for Beginners
If you are just starting out with chickens or looking to keep a flock, you first need to compose your flock. There are a lot of breeds, so make sure you choose some that fit your personal situation and context.
- Compose your flock: chicken breeds beginners guide
If you have an idea of the size of your flock, you can prepare your chicken coop and run. Make sure they have appropriate housing, too many chickens are kept in shady confinement conditions.
- Prepare your Chicken Coop: complete chicken coop guide
- Calculate the size of your chicken coop and run: chicken coop size calculator
- Learn the basics on how to raise chickens: raise chickens, complete guide for beginners
Once you get through the basics, you can go to the next guides. Make sure you understand molting behavior if you don’t want to be in for a surprise. Also, protect your flock from predators in your neighborhood.
- Chicken Molting: molting care guide
- Chickens need space: how much space do chickens need
- Protect your chickens: most common chicken predators
- Learn how to hold a chicken: how to hold a chicken
- How to dose your food: can you overfeed chickens?
- How to wash your eggs: learn how to wash fresh eggs
Chickens are prone to many diseases and disorders. As a chicken keeper, it’s important to have a good understanding of what can go wrong with your chickens. When they get sick, the only one they can rely on is you. It’s to the advantage of every chicken keeper to understand what symptoms to look for.
Start out with some common chicken health problems and their corresponding solution
Always observe your flock so you notice unusual behavior. Familiarize with common clinical symptoms and what you should do when you notice them:
- What to do when you see blood in a chicken’s poop
- What to do when your chicken is making gurgling sounds
- What do black or white spots on a chicken comb mean
- What to do when you notice yellow diarrhea
- What it means when chickens have cloudy eyes
- What to do if they have foamy bubbles in their eyes
- What to do when your chicken is drinking excessively
- What to do when a chicken is shaking her head
- Why it can seem like chickens yawn
Learn about some common chicken diseases. Many of the diseases affect the respiratory tract of a chicken. Unfortunately, there are some very serious diseases out in the wild and they can be contagious.
- Coccidiosis – a fatal parasitic infection of the intestines by coccidian protozoa
- Marek’s Disease – a viral disease that paralyzes chickens and grows cancer tumors
- Fowl Cholera – a fatal bacterial disease that results in green diarrhea and purple combs
- Newcastle Disease – a viral disease in the top 5 causes of death worldwide
- Sour Crop – a common yeast infection of a chicken’s crop
- Infectious Laryngotracheitis – a viral respiratory infection caused by a herpes virus
- Infectious Coryza – a bacterial upper respiratory disease
- Chronic Respiratory Disease or mycoplasmosis – a bacterial disease that targets the upper respiratory system
Always practice good biosecurity to protect your flock. When in doubt, contact a vet for a correct diagnosis.
Make sure you understand a chicken’s basic needs. There is a difference between basic poultry feed, layer feed, scratch, grit, traits, oyster shells, etc.
- Learn about Feeding Your Chickens in our raising chickens guide
- Be aware of how long chickens can go without food or water
About kitchen leftovers and scraps. Be aware that chickens can not eat everything. Some things are toxic and dangerous for our birds. Your safe bet is to only give them poultry food.
- All chocolate is toxic: can chickens eat chocolate?
- Watch out for rhubarb: can chickens eat rhubarb?
- Watch out with onions: can chickens eat onions?
- Learn about grapes: can chickens eat grapes?
- Learn why chickens can’t drink beer or alcohol
- Learn why chickens can eat spicy food
- Learn why chickens can eat shrimp and why it’s an excellent protein alternative for soybeans
Chicken Coop and Run
Chickens are the most abused animals on the planet. In poultry farms all over the world layer hens and broilers are surviving in extreme forms of confinement with windowless sheds and artificial lightning. Make sure to give your backyard chickens a beautiful place to live in.
- Learn the basics with the complete chicken coop guide
- Chickens roost at night, get the dimensions of the roosting perches and roosts right
You have a couple of options for bedding, all with their pros and cons. Whatever bedding you choose, you will need to regularly clean the coop. Also, make sure your chickens have a dust bath or they will find a place to create one themselves.
- Choose the best bedding for your chicken coop that suits you
- Create a dust bath and don’t use chinchilla dust
- Regularly clean the chicken coop
- Don’t wash your chickens in water, they don’t like water baths
- Make sure you use low-VOC paints or oil to paint your chicken coop
- Consider using nesting box pads and nesting box curtains in the nesting boxes
- Learn how to cool down your chickens in a hot summer
You can buy pullets on the market, but there is nothing more beautiful than watching your chicks hatch.
If you want to hatch your own chicks and start raising baby chicks, make sure to be prepared when hatching roosters.
- Hatching chicken eggs: day-by-day guide
- Raising Baby Chicks: a complete guide to raising baby chicks from the first day in the brooder
- Understand the dangers of Pasty Butt in chicks and how to solve it
Hatching chicks is an essential part for breeding.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of predators and pests out there that like some chicken for dinner.
- Make sure to protect your flock from most common chicken predators
- Get rid of pests and protect your flock from red mites
Sometimes you need to protect your chickens from each other. After all, they are animals and although they look fluffy, they can be pretty hard on each other. Some roosters are pretty aggressive and hard to cope with. They can also be quite bold when grabbing a chicken for mating, causing them to have terrible blank featherless spots on their backs.
- Some roosters can be pretty aggressive and hard to cope with: how to tame an aggressive rooster
- You can use and make your own chicken saddles with our free patterns
- You can reduce pecking and bullying with pinless peepers
Chicken Behavior and Eggs
Chickens have a personality and a temperament. In fact, they are very intelligent and have social interactions. Make sure to understand what’s going on in your flock:
- Learn what time chickens go to bed
- Learn how chickens find their way home
- Understand that chickens can not live alone
- Chickens mourn after a flock member has passed
- Some birds are Houdini’s: how high can chickens fly?
- Learn how chickens have knees and can walk backward
There is also a lot to learn about chicken eggs:
- Learn about egg colors
- Learn why chickens sometimes lay soft shell eggs or thin-shelled eggs
- Learn how a chicken can lay two eggs a day and why
- Learn if double yolk eggs can hatch
- Learn the ins and outs of fairy eggs
If you want to co-house your chickens with other animals:
- Learn if cats can live together with chickens and whether feral cats will kill chickens
- Why chickens can not live with guinea pigs
- How to combine peacocks and chickens
Learn the basics of chicken breeds with our chicken breeds ultimate beginner guide
Or learn about specific breeds:
- The Rhode Island Red chickens, a popular egg-laying breed in the US
- The big Brahma chickens imported from the Far East and responsible for the Hen Fever
- The Plymouth Rock chicken, a dual-purpose breed well-known for its barred variant
- The Orpington, a large, heavy dual-purpose chicken breed that’s gentle and kind
- The Wyandotte, a dual-purpose breed with beautiful colors
- The Brown Leghorn as an alternative to the White Leghorn, an excellent egg layer
- The Dutch Bantam chickens are favorites of many show breeders
- The 55 Flowery Breeds by Silverudd, rare auto-sexing chicken breeds from Sweden
- The Vorwerk chickens, a German breed with a beautiful black on gold pattern
If you have Silkies, you can make some DIY diapers for your Silkies
Chicken Genetics and Selective Breeding
Whether you want to preserve characteristics of a certain breed in your flock or you want to create birds with specific traits, selective breeding is what you need. Breeding is fun but can be quite challenging.
- Start with understanding the chicken genome and how genes are passed from parents to chicks
- Learn about sex genes and how to create sex-linked crosses for autosexing
- Learn about chicken colors and how genes orchestrate pigments to create plumage color, patterns and diluted colors
- Learn about egg colors and how eggs are pigmented
Once you understand the breeding principles, use any of the available different breeding strategies like linebreeding, inbreeding and crossbreeding to put things into practice.
If you prefer reading, you can also get some books. Although books can get outdated and won’t always bring you the latest insights, they can offer a good overall view on some topics.
These books are considered by many experts good overall classics for beginners that start raising chickens:
- Gail Damerow – Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens
- Eric Lofgren – The Backyard Chicken Bible
- Raising Chickens For Dummies
- Joseph Barber – The Chicken: A Natural History
- Harvey Ussery – The Small-Scale Poultry Flock (more advanced)
- Melissa Caughey – A Kid’s Guide to Keeping Chickens (kids)
If you want to get an overview of chicken health:
- The Chicken Health Handbook: A Complete Guide to Maximizing Flock Health and Dealing with Disease
If you want to hatch your own eggs:
- Gail Damerow – Hatching & Brooding Your Own Chicks
- Jenna Woginrich – Chick Days: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chickens from Hatching to Laying
For chicken genetics and breeding, the most referenced work is
- F B Hutt – Genetics of the Fowl: The Classic Guide to Chicken Genetics and Poultry Breeding
For a historical overview:
- Andrew Lawler – Why Did the Chicken Cross the World?
And if you are looking for fiction, you can try out:
- Kelly Jones – Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer
About The Classroom
The Classroom gives an overview of all the information you need to keep and raise chickens. Whether you are a beginner or a professional, there is always something new to learn. The Classroom is uplifted by the information of the original The Classroom @ The Coop, a forum with a lot of useful information from a lot of very knowledgeable and skilled poultry breeders.