Here are some tips we've pulled together - it seems you can find tons of info about how raise chickens, but a lot of it is just wrong or just not adapted or adjusted to make sense in small-scale situations using heritage breeds.
1) Place your order for your chicks way in advance. Because we're dealing with live animals that should be about 1 day old when they are shipped, there is a very small window for chicks of any particular breed to be "in stock." Ordering in advance makes total sense. It also gives you plenty of time to get properly set up and prepared for your chicks. Chickens are becoming more and more popular each year, so ordering in advance will also help assure that you get the breeds you want.
2) Don't get your chicks too soon! Time it so you get them 4-6 weeks before it is warm enough to put them outside. You may find people advising you that if you get your chicks early in the year, you'll get eggs in the summer. But that is only true in the case of super-production layers. The heritage breeds like Buff Orpingtons and Rhode Island Reds won't start laying in earnest until January or February of the following year whether you get your chicks in January or June....
Around here I order my chicks in February to be shipped in early May. That way, they will be about 4-5 weeks old at the beginning of June. They'll be nicely feathered and the mild June temperatures will be perfect and comfortable for them. And I'll have only 2-3 weeks of real, dusty chick mess to clean up!
3) Even though many mail order companies ship chicks all year round, doesn't mean it is appropriate or even logical for you to purchase chicks all year round. Depending on where you live and the time of year, it may be too cold or too hot. A good rule of thumb – if it is too hot or too cold to ship chocolate, it is also too hot or too cold to ship chicks!
4) Make your coop a fortress! We recommend a plywood floor and half-inch hardware cloth over all openings.
5) Add a 'paddock.' We design our chicken safety plan in 3 parts: the coop itself, an outside securely fenced in 'paddock' attached to the coop, and a perimeter fence around the whole property. That paddock area will come in handy over and over, and if built securely, will allow you to let your chickens outside even during hawk and fox season.
6) Start your chicks outside early. On nice, warm days, bring your chicks outside for pasture/grass access. Keep them safely covered and out of direct sun. I use a puppy play pen with a wire top, and I put a beach towel over the top for shade. You will have to keep an eye on them, but it makes a big difference in their general health and well-being and development. Chicks are good at letting you know what they need. If they start to peep loudly, they are uncomfortable; bring them back inside to the brooder.
7) Integrate chicks with adult birds as early as possible and gradually. If you can put the puppy play pen amongst the older birds so they can see each other but not actually interact, that would be perfect. Find a relatively clean spot. You are introducing the chicks to the social structure and to the possible diseases. Regulated and gradual exposure usually builds their immune systems and promotes vitality and health.
8) Stick to organic or at least non-GMO feed. It is a lot of work to raise chicks into laying hens, why feed them crappy GMO corn and soy based feed? Non-GMO is expensive. But that's what it takes to raise quality food. When you raise your own laying chickens, you have the potential to eat the very best eggs in the world – don't mess it up by buying cheapo GMO food.
9) Provide your hens with as much diversity as possible. Letting them range about and forage your property is best. But sometimes that simply isn't possible, so make sure to provide them with table scraps and garden waste. Chickens love these things. All our compostables pass through our hens before making it to the compost pile. Chicken manure from diversely-fed hens makes wonderful garden compost!
10) Take our Chicken Workshop! We've been successfully raising chickens and other poultry for almost 20 years - we love sharing what we've learned and what mistakes we made. Much of what is out there as far as chicken directions is not correct or not appropriate for small scale situations, so get the real scoop first!.