Best of luck! There is profound joy, and near constant entertainment with having chickens in your life.
Once you have gotten to the point of getting chickens, it would be wise to look for good breeders in your area that have some standing in the breeding community(not just someone hatching chicks to sell every spring) and start out with good, sustainable bloodlines/breeds. It's so much easier investing time in money into good birds than it is into bad ones. The hatcheries are so easy to source and they have such a wide array of choices that it's the obvious choice, but I advise starting strong for a better experience.
One very important thing you need to also consider....do you have the fortitude to kill an animal? Inevitably there will come a time when a bird needs killing, either out of mercy or to make room for replenishing the flock and that is the huge dilemma that all newbies seem to stumble upon. They didn't do research into it to see if their local vet will handle poultry(some do not) or if they have an outlet for unwanted roosters or retired hens, if they are not wanting to kill the birds for meat.
A good place to start for all sorts of information is Backyardchickens.com.
If you get a few good ones you can get one of those $35 brooders from TSC and hatch all the eggs you want for the larger flock. With only 3 hens laying so far this spring we've hatched out 20 chicks plus had plenty of fresh eggs to eat and feed the dogs and pigs.
Some go for purebred hens. I like the hybrid vigor of mixed breed hens. Some say if you mix them you'll wind up with ones that don't lay as well - eat those and you can control how well your flock lays. IMHO most lines now are bred for good laying ability so mixing them shouldn't make you lose much. We did wind up with two mean little roosters, tho, by mixing silkies and cochins. UGH! If you want large birds that won't try to fly out of the paddocks, I'd look at brahmas and orpingtons.
Shelly Graham wrote:Thank you for your responses! I am reading and re-reading info. Love this website to get info on all methods and the pros and cons. The paddock method will work well for our space and lifestyle- may start with 10 and add more as I see how we do. I did try to watch the video on how to kill and clean a bird. I know I can do it- it just belabored the cutting of the throat and I stopped the video- get r done and move on! I'm not a suirmy most of the time and I will probably be the one stuck with the chore as pregnant young ladies will not be required to do that in my house. My husband is a tender heart- and I thank God for that. I would have been a good prairie girl. backyardchickens here I come.... Thank you all!
I agree about that video. It was very frustrating seeing the bird having to go through all that handling and anticipation~along with the resulting elevated adrenaline coursing through the meat, no doubt~prior to the kill. I think this type of "humane" killing is more to benefit the human's feelings about the process than the bird's.
Animals do not respond to handling by humans the way that humans respond to it and are not becalmed by being restrained and tapped on, petted and tapped on, restrained even longer and tapped upon further... getting it done calmly and quickly is much more humane to the animal, IMO. I've killed hundreds of chickens without holding one in my lap and tapping on its neck...I consider each of my kills to be humane as they are done quickly, calmly and insure a quick death. No restraining for long periods and tapping required.
**Start with recycling all your kitchen scraps, garden rejects, weeds, etc. through the chickens. My guess is that in an average situation each person can generate 10-20% of a hen's diet this way.
**If you can free-range your hens, they should thus obtain another 1/4 to 1/3 of their needs. Perhaps more in a very abundant environment.
**Look for food and feed being thrown away in your area, especially if you are in or near a town. Dumpster diving. For years the staple of our poultry's diet in Georgia was huge bags of popcorn from the movie theater dumpster!! We added a little cottonseed or soybean meal as a protein supplement, and that, plus all the scraps and lots of weeds, was their whole diet.
**Check out black soldier flies. These critters are amazing and will thrive in your climate much of the year. They will turn lots of vile stuff otherwise unusable directly into poultry feed. Dead animals, humanure and pet manure, coffee grounds, even poisonous mushrooms...
**Other things being equal, I've found that the biggest difference between a happy hen and an unhappy one is plenty of fresh green stuff.
I'd say, start with maybe 6-8 hens. This time of year, TSC or any local Feed/Seed store probably has chicks for sale. They are probably not the best birds in the world, but will get you past the learning curve. They should be laying towards the end of summer. By next spring, you'll have a clearer picture of what it takes to care for them (and how ready your unwed mothers are to chip in and help).
As Jay mentioned, find a local, reputable breeder for building your permanent flock. I am actually familiar with a good breeder in your region (I was looking @ properties just across the TN border from you). He is smack dab in the middle of 'Bama - (Clanton, AL). He sells primarily to local broiler producers (but also has a 'table egg' variety). He has personally bred these birds himself, and they are all raised on his property, so they are bred for your hot/humid summers.
Link: S & G Poultry
Good luck to you, and your 'interns'.