Basic Equipment for Chickens
So you are thinking about getting those first few chickens. What do you need to get started? The basic needs of all animals are food, water, and shelter. In addition, chickens require fencing, lighting, and heat (in northern climates). Additional indoor equipment for chickens includes nest boxes and lighting (unless seasonality is not an issue and forced molting is not required).
Chickens are good at foraging. They will eat grass, roots, and bugs. Most owners supplement their chickens in one of two ways: complete feed (such as all mash) and scratch grains. We purchase GMO free, certified organic All Mash for our girls. We also purchase various organic grains. We currently use whole organic wheat berries. We sprinkle them on top of the manure pack/ straw every day. This encourages the chickens to scratch, which adds oxygen to what is basically a compost pile.
Feed is typically fed through a feeder. These typically have open tops to allow easy refilling. Many people will get enough feeders to allow them to fill the feeders every three or four days. Feeders will generally be round, to allow access from all sides. These typically hang from above.
Generally anything can be used for a chicken waterer. We utilize a three gallon, heated waterer. The most important thing is to keep fresh waterer. The waterer must be set up in such a way to minimize the amount of contamination. We use a heated waterer all year round, but do not plug it in during the warmer months. The 3 gallon resevior allows us to fill the waterer about every 3rd day. At that time, we clean the waterer whenever we refill the water resevior.
Most people keep their flock contained within a chicken coop. Designs of chicken coops are as unique as the people that own chickens. Some prefer a chicken tractor (a mobile chicken coop), a hoophouse, or a more permanent building. We keep our birds in an old outbuilding that we fixed up just for them. In general the floor space should be adequate for the number of birds that you plan to have (2 to 3 sq feet per hen is the ideal minimum). We converter an old outdoor shed into a two compartment chicken house. We then made a smaller third compartment that allows us to raise the peeps separate from the old chickens to prevent cannibalism and pecking.
We built our own nest boxes when we first purchased our original 6 hens. We recently purchase materials and built two more chicken nest boxes. The previous next box was located inside the coop, but the newer ones are now mounted on the outside. The birds can get into the nest boxes from inside the coop, but there is access for egg collection from the exterior of the building.
Chickens need to have some supplemental lighting, especially during days with fewer hours of natural daylight. Chickens will stop laying eggs if the daylight continues to decrease. The hens typically lay eggs when the day length is in excess of 14 hours. Therefore, supplemental lightening is needed. You may also need to include a brooder, or heat lamp. Young chicks require heat in order to stay healthy. The are not born with feathers, so they lack the ability to maintain their own body heat.
Roosts: You will want to add some perches/ roosts to the coop. Locate these where the fecal dropping will land in a convenient area. The hens will typically sleep on the roosts, the higher ones preferred most of all.
Bedding: Chickens adapt well. This allows for various types of bedding to be used. These include straw, sawdust, and materials such as cedar chips.
Leg Bands: These are used for identification purposes. Not all homesteading setups will use these leg bands, but they do come in handy to keep track of the ages of your flock.
Hopefully this helps as you continue to consider and research your chicken project. There is a lot of equipment for chickens available from a variety of sources.