Preparing for Your Backyard Poultry Flock

By Jason Lilley, UMaine Extension Cumberland Sustainable Agriculture Professional

It’s the time of year when many families are heading to their local garden center or farm to pick up their backyard poultry flock. There are several things to consider and prepare before picking up those birds to ensure that the birds are healthy and productive.

The first step is to decide what type of birds you want.

  • Ask yourself, do you want the birds for eggs, meat, to show, or a combination of these. Check out this fact sheet on Matching your Need to the Right Breed for ideas on breeds that might fit your family’s needs.

Be prepared before picking up your chicks.

  • Clean your brooder house before picking up the chicks.
  • Apply 2 to 4 inches of clean, dry litter to the floor.
  • Set up safe heating lamps. During the first week after receiving your chicks, they should have access to an area that is 95 degrees F. If the chicks are all huddled near the lamp, or far away from it, adjust accordingly to make them more comfortable. More information about lighting can be found in Bulletin #2227, Lighting For Small-Scale Flocks.
  • Have clean accessible water available. Try to minimize the amount of shavings and manure that the chicks can throw in the water, and plan to clean the waterer regularly.
  • Have the appropriate “starter” feed on hand. This mix has a higher protein content and often contains medication against the coccidiosis

Next, make sure to get your chicks from a reputable source and ensure that they have been vaccinated.

  • Getting your chicks from hatcheries approved through the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) will reduce the risk of your chicks carrying diseases. The chicks should also be vaccinated to prevent future illnesses. Check with your supplier about vaccination and certifications that the hatchery may carry.
  • For more details about getting started with a backyard flock, check out this Fact Sheet; Giving Chicks a Good Start.

For more information on managing your flock throughout the season, see Bulletin #2220, Best Management Practices for Small Scale Poultry Producers in Maine, or contact your local Cooperative Extension office.