Raising backyard chickens for a few fresh eggs has become increasingly popular around the world. People are more interested in becoming self-sufficient and raising chickens than they’ve been in recent generations.
Backyard chicken coops are now sold at home improvement stores. You can also find information about raising chickens on blogs and online communities.
Raising chickens and starting a garden were our first two logical steps when my husband and I decided to start down the path of producing our own food. And let me say, that first year with chickens was far more successful than my first year of vegetable gardening in Florida.
Just ignore the fact that our first six chicks were all roosters.
We love having eggs available daily and knowing exactly what is going into our chickens’ food. Our chickens are healthy and happy with the freedom to roam around our yard.
Does keeping chickens and having access to your own farm fresh eggs sound appealing to you? Let’s take a look at some more reasons why you may want to keep backyard chickens.
- Know the pros of chicken raising
- Choose the right chicken breed for your purpose
- Buying your first chickens
- 12 raising chicken tips to help you get started:
- Chickens need plenty of space.
- Chickens need protection from predators.
- Chickens need constant access to fresh water.
- Chickens like to scratch around in the dirt.
- Chickens get hot.
- Chickens can be noisy.
- Chickens can be smelly.
- Chickens can dig up young plants.
- Chickens can get sick or injured.
- Chickens need a place to lay eggs.
- Chickens can go broody.
- Chickens do not lay eggs every day of the year.
Know the pros of chicken raising
The benefits of raising your own chickens are endless! Not only will you be able to save money on buying eggs (which can cost over $6 per dozen), but you’ll also have fresh organic eggs that taste better than anything you could buy at the store.
Raising chickens is inexpensive
While there are some initial expenses involved for the new chicken owner, feeding and maintaining a backyard flock of chickens is relatively inexpensive. Most commercial chicken feed is available for an average of $10-20 per bag (more if you’re feeding organic), and chickens eat far less food than larger livestock.
The average large fowl chicken breed will eat 1/2 cups (or approximately half a pound) of feed per bird per day.
Chicken owners have also found that letting their chickens roam the yard is a good way to reduce feed costs. Free-range chickens can supplement their grain by eating insects and weed seeds on the ground.
Chickens are easy to take care of
Chickens are a great starter animal for new homesteaders because they are a lot easier to take care of than most livestock. They only need to be fed once a day, which makes them convenient for owners with busy schedules.
You will need to gather eggs at least once a day, but most other maintenance tasks such as cleaning the chicken house, mowing the chicken run, and checking chickens for mites can be performed once a week.
Access to Healthier Eggs
By raising hens, you’ll be feeding your family healthier eggs with fewer chemicals or hormones than what’s found in most grocery stores. If you’ve had trouble eating eggs in the past and also have food sensitivities to things like soy and wheat, you can adjust the diet you feed your hens and possibly improve your tolerance to your own eggs.
If you continue to struggle with an intolerance to chicken eggs, you could also consider raising ducks for eggs.
Backyard chicken eggs tend to be higher in fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K because of the diverse diet and sunlight your laying hens enjoy. Plus, you’ll notice darker yolks, higher moisture content, and improved flavor from your chicken eggs.
Chicken keeping is good for the environment
And if that’s not enough, raising chickens is also great for the environment!
Composted chicken poop is high in nitrogen and makes an excellent natural fertilizer for your lawn or garden. Add soiled hay and shavings to your compost bin when you clean out your chicken coops every week.
You can use the compost on your yard and garden when it has broken down after a few months. The compost will improve the soil and plant growth.
Choose the right chicken breed for your purpose
Keep in mind that chickens are like any other livestock, and they can vary drastically in personality, egg-laying ability, meat quality, heat tolerance, broodiness (when hens act motherly towards their flock), and much more.
These factors should be considered before choosing a breed to ensure you get the most out of your flock.
Chickens for egg production
Some chicken breeds are known for being better layers than others. You’ll want to focus on these breeds if your main goal is to produce as many eggs as cost-effectively as possible.
Here are a few of the most popular egg-laying breeds:
Leghorn – Leghorns are well-known for their feed efficiency related to egg production, which has made them a favorite of the egg industry in the United States. Leghorns tend to lay a large, white egg. Mine have been my most reliable layers, laying the furthest into the summer and also starting to lay the soonest in the winter. They do tend to be flighty birds, so they may not be ideal if you want a chicken who will also be your pet.
Rhode Island Red – Rhode Island Red chickens are a prolific layer of large brown eggs. The red chickens are very popular in backyard flocks, but they also have a reputation for being aggressive. You can find friendly birds if you purchase from a heritage breeder who selects for temperament instead of ordering from a hatchery or buying from the feed store.
Plymouth Rock – Plymouth Rock chickens are one of the most popular dual-purpose birds in the United States. They produce a large number of large brown eggs but are also large-bodied birds who are good for the table. White Plymouth Rocks are commonly crossed with White Cornish chickens to produce the popular Cornish crosses used as commercial meat birds. Barred Plymouth Rocks are commonly used as family backyard pets because they are good-natured and attractive.
Australorp – Australorps were originally developed by crossing the large-bodied Orpington with more productive egg layers such as Langshans. The result is a large dual-purpose bird that can be raised for meat or eggs. The roosters mature to around 10 lbs, also they can be a bit slow to fill out. The hens lay large brown shelled eggs and make excellent mothers. Australorps hold the world record for the most eggs laid in one year. The breed is also known for being friendly.
Where do you live?
The climate of the area where you live will be a big factor in deciding which chicken breeds will be best suited for you.
Chickens with rose or pea combs tend to be popular in areas with cold winters because of the reduced risk of frostbite damage to the comb.
Chicken keepers in very hot climates will want to choose chicken breeds that are more heat tolerant. These include smaller and lighter breeds as well as breeds that tend to have less dense feathering.
If you live in a neighborhood, you will probably want to consider a chicken breed that is known for being less vocal. Roosters aren’t the only ones who make noise. Some hens can become a nuisance when they sing their egg song, which may be a concern if your backyard hens are less than legal.
Buying your first chickens
There are several ways of getting your first flock, from starting with a few chicks to buying adult hens and roosters. There are pros and cons when it comes to choosing between chicks and adults.
Choose chicks or adults for raising backyard chickens
Many people will start with chicks when they decide to start their own flock of backyard chickens. Hatchery catalogs make this a very tempting choice because of the large variety of breeds they have available. Most commercial hatcheries will also offer sexed chicks, so you can select pullet chicks if you live in a neighborhood or only want hens for eggs.
Chicks are less expensive to purchase and ship than adult chickens. There are different restrictions placed on shipping adult chickens compared to day-old chicks. Chicken fanciers looking to acquire rare breeds usually have to work with breeders hundreds of miles away, so it is much less expensive to start their flocks by shipping chicks compared to shipping a single hen or rooster.
Chicks are also less likely to bring diseases into an existing flock because they have only been exposed to the incubator and the brooder. They have not been exposed to the breeder’s adult flock.
Granted, this does not account for diseases that can pass through the egg, but this is also why you should purchase from a hatchery or breeder whom you trust.
Then why would anyone want to even start with adult chickens?
For starters, egg production does not start in most pullets until they are approximately 5 months old. That means you have to feed them for 5 months before you get your first egg.
Chicks need a brooder, heat source, and continuous supervision. It’s not uncommon for chicks to die suddenly. They will also need extra protection from predators until they are close to full grown.
You will often want to start with adult birds if you want to show or breed so you can start with the best quality possible. Even chicks that are hatched from show quality parents may not be show quality themselves, so starting with chicks is a risk.
You may be feeding those chicks for 6-12 months before you will know if they are nice enough to keep for your breeding program or show pens.
And even if you order sexed chicks from a hatchery, the professionals make mistakes sometimes and you still end up with roosters when you wanted pullets. In those cases, you may find yourself in the market for additional adult hens.
What to do when the chicks arrive
If you decide to start with day-old chicks, be sure to order them at least 5 months before you expect them to begin laying eggs. Chicks can be ordered online from hatcheries that ship directly to you. You can also buy chicks at local farm supply stores.
Be aware that most hatcheries ship day-old chicks, which means they will need extra care until they are mature enough to go outside in the chicken coop. Make sure you have everything set up ahead of time before they arrive.
Baby chicks also go through a lot of stress during shipment, so you will likely lose a few within the first few days of their arrival. You can increase their chances of survival by choosing a hatchery near your home so they don’t need to spend as much time in transit. You should also ensure chicks have extra nutrients in their water when they arrive.
You will also need to be prepared with the right equipment for their arrival. That means you should have a brooder set up and a heat source ready. The chicks must always have access to a warm, draft-free area where they can feel safe until they are mature enough to go outside in your chicken coop.
Need more guidance before your chicks arrive? Listen to our podcast episode about Getting Started with Chicks and Ducklings.
Are you considering getting some backyard chickens? If so, there are a few things you need to know.
12 raising chicken tips to help you get started:
Chickens need plenty of space.
Most problems regarding chicken health and behavior start with overcrowding in the coop. Chickens living in a limited space are more prone to upper respiratory infections, mites, and lice. They may also develop bad habits such as egg eating and feather picking.
Outside of the coop, overgrazed chicken runs lead to an increase in smell, mud, and internal parasites.
A good rule of thumb is that chickens should have at least 3-4 square feet of space inside of the coops and at least 10 square feet of space in an outdoor run.
Space limitations may restrict how many birds you can safely keep in your backyard. The good news is most families find that 2-4 egg-laying hens produce more than enough eggs for their needs.
Chickens need protection from predators.
Wild animals, such as raccoons, coyotes, and hawks are a frequent threat to backyard chicken flocks. You also need to protect your chickens from pets, larger livestock, other animals, and even small children.
The risk of predation is highest at night, although chickens are not immune to predator attacks during the day either.
You need to research your area to determine the types of predators and the best ways to protect your flock.
Your chicken coop and run should be built with sturdy materials that cannot be easily broken or destroyed by predators. Chicken wire is a good example of a material that has failed many chicken owners over the years because the thin wire can be easily broken by predators.
Woven wire fence and hardware cloth are better options for building materials.
Here are three other things to consider when planning out and building your chicken coop and run:
- The chicken coop should be inaccessible for any predators who may try to break in while chickens are most vulnerable at night.
- The outdoor run should be covered if there is a threat of hawks or eagles during the day.
- Fencing should be buried around the perimeter of fences and coops to prevent predators from digging under.
Chickens need constant access to fresh water.
One of the key factors in keeping your chickens healthy is by providing them with an unlimited supply of fresh, clean water.
Hens drink about 1 pint of water per day, so make sure the container is big enough to handle their needs. The bigger the container, the less often it will need to be refilled.
Clean out dirty water containers daily and refill them with fresh, clean water.
You can also set up an automatic waterer that is connected directly to a water supply so you never have to worry about your hens going without.
Chickens like to scratch around in the dirt.
Make sure you have a place for them to do this, or they will end up scratching up your yard instead.
Rolling in the dirt and dust is a vital part of daily hygiene for your chicken friends. It absorbs excess oils from their feathers, prevents mites, and helps to keep them cool.
You can try to imitate the natural conditions of dirt by creating a dust bath for your chickens. Combine soil, sand, and wood ash in a large container with short sides. Kiddie pools, concrete mixing pans, and large rubber feed tubs work well as dust bath containers.
Chickens get hot.
While many backyard chicken owners worry about the cold, the heat is far more dangerous for a chicken. Provide your birds with shade, good airflow, and cool dirt to roll in.
Chickens will also lay fewer eggs during heatwaves. It’s typically an indication of heat stress, although it may also be a symptom of another disease. When the temperature drops, egg-laying should return to its normal frequency and quantity. Or at least until they start molting in the fall.
Need more ideas to keep your hens comfortable? Check out these tips for keeping chickens cool this summer from The Rustic Elk.
Chickens can be noisy.
If you don’t want to wake up to the sound of chickens clucking every morning, make sure you provide them with a place to roost that is far from your bedroom. You may also want to make sure it’s not too close to your neighbors’ bedrooms, but that depends on how much you like your neighbors.
Closing your chickens up in their coop at night doesn’t guarantee they’ll be quiet either. Chicken coops still need to have airflow, which means spaces where light can leak in from outdoor lighting or a full moon. Any light in the coop may give your chickens a reason to sound the alarm.
Chickens can be smelly.
Make sure you have a plan for dealing with the smell – either composting it or burying it deep in the ground. Chicken manure is an excellent source of nitrogen, but it is hot manure, so it needs to be composted and turned before being spread in the garden.
While chicken manure will smell when it is fresh and when turned while composting, the fully composted manure will no longer smell, so you can feel more comfortable spreading it in high-traffic areas.
You should also clean your chicken coop frequently to reduce the amount of smell (as well as flies) around their living area. Soiled bedding in the coop means poor air quality, which increases the risks for eye and respiratory problems.
Chickens can dig up young plants.
Many chicken keepers dream of sitting in their garden, sipping tea, and watching their hens scratch in the dirt. The reality is chickens can be savage when they are foraging.
While mature plants can usually withstand some abuse, it’s best to keep your chickens out of the garden until the tender seedlings have had some time to establish themselves. They’ll be less likely to be pulled or scratched out of the ground once they have established a deep root system.
Chickens can get sick or injured.
I have often said that chickens will get sick if you look at them funny. This statement isn’t far from the truth.
It can be difficult to find veterinarians who will treat chickens, and even then a veterinary visit may be too costly for most chicken keepers.
You must become familiar with common chicken illnesses and injuries, as well as ways to treat them.
But like most things, prevention is the best medicine. Keep your flock healthy by performing preventive care and feeding them a healthy diet. You can also prevent injuries by making the chicken coop a safe place that predators and other pets cannot access.
Chickens need a place to lay eggs.
If you want eggs, make sure you provide your chickens with a place to lay them – otherwise, they will just lay them on the ground. If you are planning to free-range your hens, you will think they have stopped laying only to find a nest of 100 eggs in the bushes behind the garage.
Nesting boxes do not need to be fancy or elaborate. Several hens will share one nest box, so you will only need a few boxes.
Keep nest boxes lower than the roost bar to prevent hens from wanting to roost on and poop in the nest boxes. Teaching your hens that the boxes are only for laying will help to keep your eggs clean.
Chickens can go broody.
What is a broody hen? A broody hen is a hen that wants to hatch some eggs. She will stop laying and remain on the nest all day. She will typically leave the nest once a day to eat, drink, and use the bathroom, but otherwise, she will become very territorial over the nest and her eggs.
She will make a low rumbling sound like a growl and try to peck you if you try to collect the eggs under her. She will also try to steal and gather under her any eggs that other hens lay in the chicken coop.
A hen may become broody for a variety of reasons. In general, the hen must be genetically pre-disposed to being broody. Some hens will go broody at every opportunity while others will never go broody.
Keeping eggs collected at least once per day will generally reduce the chance of hens becoming broody, but it’s not a guarantee.
If you are interested in hatching chicks, this can be a great opportunity to slide some fertile eggs under her. Otherwise, you may find it to be an inconvenience because she will not start laying again until either you break her broodiness or she hatches her eggs.
Chickens do not lay eggs every day of the year.
Chickens lay eggs seasonally – usually more eggs in the spring and summer than in the fall and winter. This can come as a surprise to new chicken keepers.
Pullets who are less than 18 months old will lay more in their first year because they will not go through a full molt in the fall like adult birds. So you can increase your chances for fall eggs by adding a few pullet chicks to your flock each year.
Raising backyard chickens can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it’s important to be aware of the basics before you get started. In this post, we have outlined 12 big tips for raising backyard chickens that will help make your experience a successful one. From keeping predators out of the coop to providing a place for them to lay eggs, these tips will help you create a happy and healthy flock of chickens.