The Classroom

Classroom @ The Coop

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.

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.

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 Health

Chickens are prone to many diseases and disorders. As a chicken keeper, it’s important to understand 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.

Symptoms

Always observe your flock, so you notice unusual behavior. Familiarize with common clinical symptoms and what you should do when you notice them:

Diseases

Learn about some common chicken diseases. Many diseases affect the respiratory system of a chicken, the digestive system of a chicken, and the reproductive system of a chicken. Unfortunately, some very serious diseases are out in the wild and 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
  • Infectious Bronchitis – A contagious viral disease caused by a coronavirus
  • Canker in chickens – A widespread parasitic disease known for its cheesy yellowish patches in the back of a chicken’s mouth

Always practice good biosecurity to protect your flock. When in doubt, contact a vet for a correct diagnosis.

Chicken Food

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.

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.

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.

You have a couple of bedding options, all with pros and cons. Whatever bedding you choose, you will need to regularly clean the coop. Also, ensure your chickens have a dust bath, or they will find a place to create one themselves.

Raising Chicks

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 chicks is an essential part for breeding.

Chicken Safety

Unfortunately, there are a lot of predators and pests out there that like some chicken for dinner.

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.

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:

There is also a lot to learn about chicken eggs:

If you want to co-house your chickens with other animals:

Chicken Breeds

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
  • The Marans, a French breed of chickens that lay beautiful dark brown eggs

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.

Once you understand the breeding principles, use any of the available different breeding strategies like linebreeding, inbreeding and crossbreeding to put things into practice.

Books

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.