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I started raising chickens two years ago, and it’s quickly become an obsession. Today, I have around 20 birds, as well as four sweet ducks, and we have plans to add even more chicks to the flock come spring.
If you’re getting chickens for the first time, I’m so excited for you! They’re extremely fun and rewarding to raise, but it’s important to have a few key supplies on hand to take care of your flock. The following are 10 essentials for first-time chicken owners, the majority of which we personally use on our homestead.
You’re going to need containers to hold your chickens’ food and water, and while there are lots of different styles out there, I like to keep things simple with hanging feeders. We currently use the Harris Farms Hanging Poultry Feeder—I love that it’s made fully from metal, making it extremely durable. It can hold up to 15 pounds of food at a time, and while it doesn’t have a cover, I’ve found that you don’t really need one if you hang it in an enclosed area, such as a run.
I’ve used a few different watering options in the time I’ve had chickens, including the OverEZ Automatic Chicken Waterer (loved it, but it doesn’t work for ducks) and the RentACoop Chicken Water Cups attached to a 5-gallon bucket. However, to date, my favorite option is the Harris Farms Poultry Drinker. It’s simple, easy to fill, and holds more than 6 gallons of water, which lasts my flock several days. Plus, I can put it on a heated base in the winter to prevent freezing.
2. A Few Electrolyte Packs
There will inevitably come a time when one (or more) of your chickens isn’t doing so hot, and one of the easiest ways to help get them back on their feet is with electrolytes—specifically the Sav-A-Chick Electrolyte Supplement. Each of these packets is designed to be mixed into 1 gallon of water, and the electrolytes support hydration and bird health during hot weather and other stress. I used this product over the summer when one of my young birds was struggling during a heat wave, and she was back to her usual self within 12 hours or so.
3. An Egg Basket
Assuming you have more than a couple chickens, you’re going to need an egg basket or other container to collect all the eggs your chickens lay. I regularly pick up eight to 10 eggs from my ladies each day, and I learned the hard way that it’s not a good idea to simply shove the eggs into your pockets. One wrong move and you have a raw egg squishing around in your pants! I have this inexpensive Little Giant Egg Basket, and it’s ideal for daily egg collection.
4. A Bottle of Vetericyn
Even if you take perfect care of your birds, one of them is bound to get hurt at some point, whether they’re attacked by a predator or even just pecked by another bird. For this reason, I highly recommend keeping some Vetericyn in your chicken first-aid kit. It cleanses wounds without any stinging, and the antimicrobial formula helps stave off infection. I used it on one of my ducks who was bitten by a fox, and she made a full recovery without needing to see a vet.
5. An Automatic Coop Door
Chickens are quite vocal when they’re displeased about something, and if you don’t get up at first light to let them out of their coop, you’ll likely be met with a symphony of angry squawking. Personally, I got tired of being verbally assaulted each morning, so we invested in the ChickenGuard Premium Automatic Chicken Coop Door for our birds. It lets them out of the coop at dawn and shuts them in again at night, and I like that the door has a locking mechanism that protects against predators.
When we built a secondary coop, we went with the RUN-CHICKEN Door, another popular brand. This model is easier to install and very simple to operate, but it doesn’t offer as many programming options. However, I don’t think you go wrong with either one.
6. Odor Control Supplies
Chickens smell. There’s no way around it—they’re stinky birds. Luckily, there are a few products that help eliminate odors inside the coop. First is the Chicken Coop Odor Eliminator, which comes in spray form. It’s non-toxic and biodegradable, and it contains microbes that break down the ammonia given off by chicken urine and poop. It’s super easy to use—no diluting or rinsing required—and I swear it works wonders!
Another popular option is the Sweet PDZ Coop Refresher, which comes in granules that you mix into coop bedding. It’s made from a mineral that neutralizes ammonia odors and helps keep bedding dry, and personally, I love that you can still safely compost bedding after using this product.
7. Fake Eggs for Nesting Boxes
There are two reasons I recommend keeping a few fake eggs on hand when you have chickens. First, it can help you control where your chickens lay—handy if they decide they want to lay their eggs in a bush instead of your nesting boxes. Second, if your chickens ever start eating their own eggs (yes, it happens!), putting a few fake eggs in the coop will help break the habit. There are lots of options out there to choose from, but the Azatemgo Wooden Eggs are inexpensive and durable.
8. A Brooder Plate for Chicks
There’s nothing cuter than baby chicks, and to raise them, you’ll need some kind of heating device, like the Rural365 Chick Brooder Plate, to keep them warm for the first several weeks. You can use a heat lamp, but this style of brooder plate uses less energy and carries less of a fire risk. Your little birds are able to huddle beneath it to get warm, and you can raise the plate as they get bigger.
One of the major downsides of keeping chickens is that their feed attracts mice, rats, and other rodents. Our barn cats help to keep the mice under control around the coop, but if you want to keep rodents away, a lot of people swear by the Grandpa’s Feeders Automatic Chicken Feeder. It only opens when your birds step on the plate in front, and mice aren’t heavy enough to trigger it, preventing them from getting free snacks. The downside, however, is that it’s very expensive, which is why I haven’t bought it myself.
10. A Heated Water Bowl
If you live somewhere that experiences below-freezing temperatures in the winter, you’re going to need a strategy for keeping your birds’ water from freezing. People will offer lots of DIY solutions for this—such as placing a few ping pong balls in the bowl—but I’ve found the simplest and most reliable option is to simply use a heated water bowl. The K&H Pet Products Thermal-Bowl comes in several different sizes, and once you plug it in, it heats up just enough to keep the water from melting. Simple, yet effective.