Dreaming of a Backyard Flock?
Successful backyard chicken flocks begin with good stock combined with careful management, disease control, and following the proper feeding program, like the F-R-M Poultry Feeding Program in this brochure. F-R-M Chick Starters, Growers, Pullet Developer and Layer Feeds provide the nutrition needed by your flock at each stage of life.
What are you looking for in your flock?
Do you want egg layers, fast growing poultry for meat, dual-purpose birds for eggs and meat, show birds, or are you looking for pets and companionship? This will affect the breed or breeds you choose. Chickens come in an array of sizes, colors, and temperaments; and
they have varying degrees of ability for egg-laying and/or meat production. A website for comparing breeds is www.albc-usa.org
The Single Comb White Leghorn consumes less feed per egg and is a good choice for high egg production, egg quality, and large eggs. Breeds suitable for dual purpose egg and meat production are the Rhode Island Red, Plymouth Rock, New Hampshire, Wyandotte and Orpington. These breeds lay fewer eggs than Leghorns, but carry enough meat without becoming too heavy for egg production.
If you purchase straight-run chicks instead of sexed pullets (females) or cockerels (males), you’ll probably get about half males and half females. You should separate the males from the females. (If you have White Leghorns, the males are probably not worth keeping.) If you bought dual purpose chicks, feed the males FRM ABF diets until they’re old enough to sacrifice for meat (about 10 weeks). Feed Starter from 0-4 weeks, Grower from 4-8 weeks, and Developer at 8 weeks.
Once you decide what type of flock you want, you are ready to decide on a breed, how many you want, and order your chicks from a hatchery or buy them from your local feed store. We recommend you find out if the hatchery that produced your chicks participates in the NPIP (National Poultry Improvement Plan). Hatcheries that participate in the NPIP test their breeding stock and certify that they are free from several different avian diseases that pass from hen to chick. Some hatcheries test and monitor for other types of diseases as well, offer low-cost vaccinations against Marek’s disease and certain respiratory viruses before shipping. To avoid grief, be sure the chicks you bring home are healthy, disease-free and vaccinated. If your birds are well cared for, vaccinated, and have adequate feed, you can expect most of them to make it to the layer stage; however, we suggest getting a few extra, (20% more) – just in case, especially if you are purchasing 20 or fewer birds.
Getting Ready for Your Chicks
Prepare a Brooder
Chicks need a clean environment, protection from drafts, proper temperature, constant access to food and water, proper flooring material, and protection from predators. Most people acquire their chicks in late winter or early spring when temperatures are still cool, so a brooder is used to provide all these necessities. Preparing for your chicks before they arrive will help to ensure a healthy flock. A contained area that provides warmth and safety for your chicks, houses water and feed, and provides your chicks with enough space to freely move about, and away from the heat source is necessary. A diameter of about 3 feet should house about 25 chicks. One can be purchased or built. It can be as simple as a cardboard box, child’s sandbox or swimming pool… fitted with wire mesh as a cover to prevent chicks from escaping – and safe from pets. The sides must be high enough to prevent drafts and sudden temperature changes while low enough to allow plenty of ventilation. Chicks need light to develop properly, so provide either natural or electric, with some hours of darkness at night. If your brooder has been used before, it should be cleaned, disinfected and aired out. Have everything ready in time to be sure all equipment is working properly.
Bedding, Heat, Food and Water
Two to four inches of pine shavings are best for bedding. Hardwood and cedar shavings can be harmful to chicks. Newspaper and straw do not provide good footing for chicks and can lead to chicks with deformed legs if they can’t stand upright without their legs spreading. Chicks are prone to Coccidiosis which thrives in damp conditions, so it’s important to keep the brooder clean and to change bedding often.
Baby chicks need help regulating their body temperature. Place an infrared heat lamp 1 – 1½ feet above the brooder floor. Heat should be 90-95° F at chick level the first week; decrease by 5° each week until chicks are five weeks old, then maintain temperature at 70° F. Hang a thermometer in the brooder about chick-height to monitor, and raise the lamp a few inches each week to adjust the temperature.
A constant supply of fresh food and clean water is essential. Make sure you have a waterer and feeder large enough to accommodate each chick. They establish a pecking order, so it’s important that each chick has a place at the feeder and easy access to water. Elevating the drinker on tiles a little will help keep water clean and out of bedding. Birds consume about twice the water as feed during normal temperatures and can double, triple or quadruple when summer temperatures increase.
Feeder construction should allow for cleaning and disinfection. Adjust the feeder to height of chicks’ backs so they can eat comfortably.
The simplest way to feed a small flock is to feed F-R-M Complete Feeds. No additional supplements are needed and they can be purchased in crumbles or pellets. No mixing or blending – just fill up the feeder from one bag. You can be assured that your birds are receiving the best possible diet while you reap the benefits of a healthy productive flock.
F-R-M Complete Starter Feeds should be used until birds are 6 weeks old. Allow 50 pounds of feed per 25 birds for the first six weeks.
F-R-M Complete Grower and Starter/Grower Feeds can be fed for replacement pullets from 6-20 weeks or you can switch to FRM Complete Developer at 14 weeks and feed until 20 weeks. If FRM Complete Developer is introduced earlier at 8-10 weeks old, the onset of egg production tends to be delayed about one to two weeks, but eggs are usually larger and growth rate is reduced; however, final body weight is about the same when delayed egg production starts.
Replace F-R-M Grower Feeds with F-R-M Layer Feeds when egg production begins. Do not introduce F-R-M Layer Feeds more than two weeks before the onset of lay because early introduction of layer feeds may cause improper bone development.
F-R-M Layer Feeds contain all of the calcium required by the hen, but egg-laying hens also require large amounts of calcium for eggshell development, so oyster shell can be offered free choice to laying hens. Do NOT supply oyster shell free choice or F-R-M Layer Feeds to replacement pullets; their diets contain adequate levels to meet their limited dietary needs, and the high calcium level may cause growth problems, kidney damage or death to replacement pullets.
If supplemental lighting is not provided to maintain production during short daylight months, remove the layer feed during the molt and unproductive periods and replace it with developer feed. Once egg production is initiated, replace the developer feed with F-R-M Layer feed to prevent problems associated with lack of adequate calcium.
Range feeding cannot provide a complete diet for any bird and a complete feed should be provided free choice in an appropriate feeder. Scratch feeds can be provided in addition to the complete feed in a separate feeder or scattered on the ground, feeding no more Scratch Feed than the hens will clean up in 20 – 30 minutes.
F-R-M Poultry Diets
Along with proper management, F-R-M Feeds can be depended on to help your layer flock meet its productive potential. Different types of poultry require different nutrients, and it is important to match the right diet to the right bird. Unfortunately, this is where the most common mistake is made in feeding poultry. If an immature chicken is fed a layer diet, the calcium level is so high that the young bird will experience improper bone formation, kidney failure, and possibly death. Feeding a starter diet to a laying hen will result in poor eggshell quality and limited egg production. Always feed the recommended F-R-M feed for the type and age bird, and never substitute a feed at an inappropriate age assuming that your birds will still perform properly. It is better to dispose of left-over starter, grower or developer than feed it to your layers. Scratch Feed should never be fed as a complete feed.
Guidelines for feeding Layers at Different Life Stages
F-R-M Poultry Feeds
Chick Starter Crumbles Medicated
High energy complete feed for starting chickens. Medicated to help prevent Coccidiosis.
15% Grower Crumbles Medicated
High Energy complete feed, medicated for growing and finishing chickens.
Start ‘N Grow Crumbles Medicated
17% Protein complete feed for starting and growing chickens, medicated to prevent Coccidiosis in chicks and pullets.
15% Layer Crumbles
High energy complete and balanced ration providing high rate of lay plus good feed conversion in crumble form.
15% Layer Pellets
High energy complete and balanced ration providing high rate of lay plus good feed conversion in pellet form.
Poultry Mix Concentrate
38% Protein Concentrate to be mixed with your grain to make a laying feed or pullet growing feed.
3-Way Scratch Feed
Grain mixture for poultry. Not a complete feed.
Grain Mixture for poultry. Not a complete feed.
F-R-M Layer Feeds contain all of the calcium required by the hen, but egg-laying hens also require large amounts of calcium eggshell development; so, oyster shell can be offered free choice. Do NOT supply oyster shell to chicks or pullets as the F-R-M diets contain adequate levels to meet their limited dietary needs. Also, Do NOT allow chicks or growing poultry to consume layer feeds because the high calcium level may cause growth problems, kidney damage, or death.
Continuous feeding is not necessary, but hard insoluble granite grit should be offered free choice for 2 or 3 days a month, and should be offered to chicks at 6 weeks of age. It is available in hen and chick size. The gizzard has a high level of acid, so calcium grit dissolves quickly and has little time to work as a grinding material. Chickens will eat feathers and such, and when they do, the hard insoluble granite grit in the gizzard will help in grinding so that it can be eliminated from the body by digestion.
F-R-M’s Feeding Program is nutritionally adequate without additional feed supplements or grains, but some flock owners like to offer their birds scratch grains as a treat. “Scratch” is high in energy, but low in protein, vitamins and minerals, and can unbalance the nutrition program. That’s why it is important to carefully control the feeding of Scratch grain. It should only be fed to birds 8 weeks or older, once a day, preferably in the evening, and not more than can be cleaned up within 20 to 30 minutes.
FRM’s ABF Feeds have been formulated to contain nutrients that FRM research has shown to make the gut environment of the chick or growing pullet less hospitable to Coccidia and Clostridium bacteria; however, the only manner to be fairly certain that you don’t have an outbreak in your flock is to use a coccidiostat or antibiotic. To help insure resistance to coccidiosis, we recommend that you have your chicks vaccinated with CocciVac by the hatchery, or upon receipt of your chicks. If it is determined that a coccidiostat is absolutely necessary, FRM’s “NON-ABF” Starter feed is formulated with a coccidiostat. The mild strength of the medication in FRM’s NON-ABF Starter and Grower Feeds is mild, so birds develop a gradual immunity and have fewer problems as adults. The decision to break with the ABF Program is up to you, but it can be argued that as long as no antibiotic or coccidiostat is in the Developer or Layer feeds, there’s little, if any, chance of transfer of these drugs into the egg.
Feed handling is important to providing your birds with adequate nutrition. Nutrients are destroyed during extended holding times. Fat and oils may become rancid and render the fat-soluble vitamins inactive. Mold and bacteria can grow in the rich nutrient environment of feed, causing possible illness and lowering your flock’s performance. Every effort should be made to provide fresh feed and clean water.
Store feed in a clean, dry, rodent-proof area. Never store bags on a concrete floor because feed picks up moisture from the concrete. Store feed bags on wooden pallets so air can circulate under and around the bags. If you store feeds in a container, store them in watertight, non-metal containers. Metal increases the chance of feed becoming rancid and destroys vitamins. Poultry feeds should be as fresh as possible. Never store feed for longer than one month in summer and two months during winter. Never allow birds to eat moldy feed.
Allow birds to clean up their feed at least once a week. This prevents caking in feed troughs and accumulation of moldy feed. It also keeps the birds from picking out certain ingredients and assures they are eating a balanced diet. It will not hurt birds to be out of feed for an hour in the afternoon around 4 to 5 pm as a result of this practice.
Nutrition is important in maintaining growth, reproductive performance, and health of your small layer flock. Common sense and adherence to some fundamental rules will help to ensure that your flock will remain healthy, productive, and well-fed.
Housing & Confinement
The space required for your birds depends on the type of bird and breed you have selected. Needs can range from less than a square foot per bird to 4 square feet (turkeys). A good average is 3 to 3½ square feet per bird you are planning to keep for egg layers. If you have 25 birds, 75 square feet of floor space is what you would need for housing. That’s about an 8 x 10 foot building. If you have purchased straight-run chicks (a mixture of male and female chicks), you will need about half that amount of space since you will probably use the male half of your birds for meat production. If you think you may want to raise your own replacement chicks, keep the possibility of expanding your floor space in mind. Note: You do not need a rooster for your hens to lay eggs, but you do need a rooster if you plan to raise and hatch your own replacement chicks.
An elaborate heating and cooling system is not needed for a backyard poultry house, but the poultry house needs to stay at a temperature of 70° F or higher. Ventilation is important; a source of fresh air can be accomplished by opening curtains or a window. You can allow your birds outside, but it’s a good idea to have fencing to protect them from predators and traffic. It helps with good neighbor relations as well. Georgia ranks near the top of poultry-producing states, so it’s very likely that one of your neighbors raises poultry commercially. If that’s the case, even more is at stake; backyard flocks can transmit disease to commercial poultry operations. If your birds are allowed access to your neighbor’s property, you could be putting their livelihood at risk.
Nest Space for Layers
Have nesting boxes in place by the time your birds reach laying age (about 18 – 20 weeks old). You will need one nest box for every 4 or 5 hens. A 12 X 12 inch box with a 4 – 5 inch landing area for hens to perch on before entering the nest, and half full of straw is just right. An alternative is a community type nest; a 2 x 6 ft nest would accommodate about 50 birds. Again, ventilation is essential to sustain life. It helps to reduce extremes of temperature, humidity, and air contamination – leading to better litter condition. This a necessity in chick, pullet, and layer management.
Floor Space Required per Bird In Confinement
|10 Weeks||10-20 Weeks||20 Weeks & Older|
|Light Breed||3/4 Sq. Ft.||1½ Sq. Ft.||2 Sq. Ft.|
|Heavy Breed||1 Sq. Ft.||2 Sq. Ft.||2½ Sq. Ft.|
Feeder Space Required per 50 Birds
|0 – 10 Weeks||10 – 20 Weeks||20 Weeks and Older|
|90 Linear Inches
|12½ Linear Feet
trough type or
|15 Linear Ft.
Water Space Required per 50 Birds
|0 – 10 Weeks||10 – 20 Weeks||20 Weeks & Older|
|18 Linear Inches||4 Linear Feet||4 Linear Feet|
Roost Space Required per Bird (if used)May use 2 one-gallon fountains for the 1st two weeks.
A 5 ft hopper open to birds from both sides provides 120 linear inches of feeding space. The same principle applies to watering space.
|3 – 10 Weeks||10 – 20 Weeks||20 Weeks & Older|
|4 inches||6 – 7 inches||7 – 8 inches|
Do not provide roost space for growing pullets if none will be provided in the laying house.
Vaccinations & Parasites
Diseases that may be transmitted from infected breeder to their young are the responsibility of the breeder. Vaccinations can control several, including Newcastle, bronchitis, IBD and AE. Here’s a typical program.
Day one. Marek’s Disease, HVT, SB-1 (Usually done by breeder along with Newcastle-Bronchitis). Also, request that your birds receive CocciVac for control of Coccidiosis.
18-20 Days. IBD intermediate strain in water
25 days. Newcastle B-1 & bronchitis, mild Mass. in water
28-30 days. IBD intermediate strain in water
7-8 weeks. Newcastle B-1 & bronchitis, regular Mass in water
10 weeks. Pox wingweb & AE wingweb, water or spray
14 weeks. Newcastle LaSota & bronchitis, mild Holland spray or Newcastle-bronchitis killed virus injection
Lice and Mite Control and Treatment
If you have a small layer flock, you are sure to deal with these unwanted visitors at some point. Eggs and insects are easy to spot; and almost always found at the base of the feather shaft and vent area. Treatment includes treating the environment and affected birds with an insecticide like Sevin® dust. While wearing protective clothing and mask, dust the walls, floors, roosts, and next boxes as well as the birds. One simple way to treat the bird is to place the bird in a garbage bag containing Sevin® dust (keeping the bird’s head outside the bag, of course). Hold the bag around the birds neck while rotating and shaking the bag (not the bird!) to completely cover the bird. Life cycle of lice and mites is 4 days to two weeks, so you will need to repeat every two weeks as needed. It’s a good practice to select about 10 birds each week and check for mites. Some types of mites may need a different treatment.
Worm Control and Treatment
Laying flocks with access to the outside will normally be exposed to one or two of the six common worms that infect poultry. A worm problem can
be confirmed by “posting”, but it probably makes more sense to follow a worm control program with the assumption that birds will be infected.
Special attention should be given to the problems of external and internal parasites. Consult your F-R-M Dealer about dewormer and delousing products.
My Hens Have Stopped Laying
Day Length & Lighting
Egg production is a function of day length. Declining day length discourages egg production; so during late Summer and Fall, it is not uncommon for hens to stop laying. Commercial producers use artificial lighting to keep hens laying no matter the season. Backyard flock owners can add length to their hens’ days using a timer to control what time the lights come on in the morning and go off at night. Generally, it is agreed that a 16-hour day is needed for layers. The important thing to remember is that once your hens are in lay, their daylight hours should not be decreased to prevent a halt in egg production and to prevent your hens from going into molt (losing their feathers). For this reason, you may want to use a timer with battery backup in the event of a power outage.
Good lighting sources are normal incandescent bulbs, halogen lights producing a yellow colored light and warm-white fluorescent lights.
Note: This type of light stimulation should only be utilized for layers when body weight exceeds about three pounds. Depending on the current day length, a two-hour initial increase in light per day can be followed by 15 to 30 minute increases weekly or bi-weekly. Note that early light stimulation of birds will result in small size eggs, and delaying light stimulation will eliminate the pee-wee egg stage.
Hens need proper nutrition to maintain egg production. Be sure to follow the feeding recommendations for laying hens described earlier (see the feeding chart). A prepared layer ration balanced to meet the hens nutritional requirements is necessary for hen health and egg production.
This is more likely to happen during spring as natural daylight stimulates egg production. It is best to gather eggs at least once a day, so that hens
aren’t as likely to build a clutch in their nest and try to incubate. This practice will help to preserve the freshness and quality of the eggs for consumption as well.
Hens are more likely to molt after a few months of egg production; if artificial lighting has not been used, usually in the fall. This is a “rest” that allows the hen to restore plumage (by losing her feathers and growing new ones) and rejuvenating her reproductive tract. No eggs are laid during molt. Replace Layer feed with Developer feed during molt.
Disease certainly affects egg production. If you suspect disease, consult a poultry veterinarian promptly. A speedy diagnosis may allow effective treatment and prevent losses of flocks in entire regions, and prevent transmission of some deadly diseases (bird flu) to humans.
Starting with healthy chicks from a hatchery that is a participant in the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) will help you start with healthy chicks. Poultry diseases can cause mortality in chicks and adult birds, decrease egg production, and could also cause illness in humans. Making sure you start with healthy, disease-free, vaccinated chicks will save you a lot of grief.
Chickens need a different balance of nutrients based on the type bird, age, and productivity. Use commercially produced feeds like FRM to avoid nutrient deficiencies – a major cause of disease and poor production in the backyard flock.
Isolate new birds from your existing flock for 30 days to observe for any sign of disease. Many diseases will show up within this time period. Birds may appear healthy, but they can be disease carriers and spread illness to your existing flock. Any birds returning from a show or event where they were exposed to other birds should also be isolated before returning to your flock.
Diseases spread by contact between birds, and by contaminated equipment. During an isolation period, always start and finish chores with your existing flock, then move to your isolated or quarantined birds. Clean your shoes, change clothes, and wash your hands and equipment before re-entering your existing flock area.
March through May is prime time for chick purchases, and young children like to kiss, snuggle, and keep baby chicks in the house. Poultry-related salmonella outbreaks usually occur during this time. To avoid contamination, keep chicks out of the house and be sure everyone who handles the chicks washes their hands with soap and warm water immediately after handling.
Reproduction issues can be minimized if properly formulated feed and nutrition is provided, along with clean water, adequate protection from predators and weather, good ventilation and clean air, vaccinations and parasite treatment. With proper lighting, light intensity, and ensuring that birds are never exposed to decreasing day length, egg production should not cease abruptly in the middle of a laying cycle.
Backyard flocks can provide many seasons of enjoyment and nutritious food. Beginning with disease-free chicks and following good management practices will keep your chicks productive, and your flock and family healthy.
Avian Influenza Protection
To protect backyard chickens, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension offers small-flock owners these tips to keep themselves, and their chickens, safe from Avian Influenza. Early detection is critical.
Keep Your Distance
Restrict access to your property and your birds.
Consider placing birds inside a fence, and only allow those who care for them to come in contact with them.
If visitors have backyard chickens of their own, do not let them come in contact with your birds.
Game birds and migratory waterfowl should not have contact with your flock.
Keep chickens inside a pen or coop. Do not let them run free.
Wear clean clothes when coming in contact with your birds. Scrub your shoes with disinfectant.
Wash your hands thoroughly before entering the chicken pen.
Clean cages and change food daily.
Keep stored feed in enclosed containers and protected from wild birds and vermin.
Clean and disinfect equipment that comes in contact with your birds or their droppings, including cages and tools.
Remove manure before disinfecting.
Properly dispose of dead birds.
Use municipal water as a drinking source instead of giving chickens access to ponds or streams. (The avian influenza virus can live for long periods of time on surface waters.)
Don’t Bring Disease Home
If you have been near other birds or bird owners, at a feed store or bird hunting, for instance, clean and disinfect your vehicle’s tires and your equipment before going home. Shower and put on clean clothing before approaching your flock.
Keep any new birds or birds that have been off-site separate from your flock for at least 30 days.
Do not share tools, equipment or supplies with other bird owners. If you do – Clean and disinfect them before you bring them home.
Know the signs of a Sick Bird
A sudden increase in deaths can be a clear sign of the virus, as well as:
A drop in egg production, eggs that are soft, thin-shelled or misshapen.
Lack of energy or poor appetite.
Watery and green diarrhea.
Purple discoloration of the wattle, combs and legs.
Swelling around the eyes.