Are you into chickens? Those cute little birds have more to them than you could think. Raising chicken can be fun, rewarding, as well as therapeutic, but for beginners, it may be somewhat nerve-wracking too.
There is a whole other level of information available about raising chicks and raising chickens that it’s almost hard to organize all of them and meet at a single point, indicating one good solution to all your queries of raising backyard chickens.
In this post, you’ll learn about the basics of raising backyard chickens, how to care for these birds and the pile of responsibilities you need to be aware of before signing up for it.
Rearing chickens in your backyard opens the gates to non-stop learning and smiling with them in your journey. So, get ready to get into the roller-coaster ride of raising backyard chickens. Before that, let’s dive into an in-depth understanding of why people who take up chicken rearing do what they do and learn if that’s the same what you’re looking for as well.
Why Should You Raise Chickens?
There’s a lot of reasons as to why one should take up raising chickens. For starters, the eggs contribute to the real temptation. The eggs from your own farm are far better than store-bought eggs, both for individual consumptions and for baking. Raising chickens yourself assures you of their quality and the eggs they produce.
Other benefits include composting. You can use the eggshells and the chicken poop for compost. The birds don’t need 24/7 supervision as they entertain themselves almost all day, picking at grass, insects, and all other stuff that contribute to producing those quality farm eggs.
Moreover, with the chickens’ keen eye for worms, insect pests, they make a great companion for gardening. But, you do know the saying that goes, Nothing good comes easy!
Things You Should Consider Before Getting Chickens
Before you get into purchasing chicken for raising them in your backyard, there are certain considerations to make. Read on below to acquaint yourself with the things you should consider before getting chickens.
1. Checking with the Locality:
First thing’s first, make sure to check with the local ordinances that keeping chickens is allowed in your neighborhood. Also, it is allowed, is there any limitation to the number of chickens you can raise together. This step is crucial because you don’t want to be investing money and time prepping for chickens, and you end up not being able to get them for localities.
2. Chicken Coop Area:
You should be sure about a confined space for your chicken to raise in your backyard. The henhouse or chicken coop, along with a feeder and water containers, would need ample space. On top of that, a nest box for every three hens along with a roosting area is necessary.
The coop should be large enough for you to stand in there while you gather the eggs at times and also be able to comfortably shovel the manure there. Also, ensure that the chicken coop is sturdy enough to protect the chickens from predators.
3. Feeding the Chickens:
Chickens need their daily quota of food and water. To feed them is paying around $20 for each 50-pound bag. However, you must remember that these prices may vary pertaining to your locality and the quality of feed you provide. Also, the lasting of one bag of feed depends on the number of chickens you have.
4. The Routine:
You must know that hens lay eggs every day, throughout the summer and into the fall. All they need is 12-14 hours of daylight regularly, and you can expect to collect their produced eggs every day, sometimes even twice a day.
Also, it is critical to shovel the manure daily. If ever you go on vacations, make sure to entitle the chickens in safe hands. The hens need some extra care, and that cannot be jeopardized.
Selecting The Chicken Breeds To Raise
There are a variety of chicken breeds available out there. You have to be certain about the below-mentioned few factors before choosing the chicken breed you want to rear in your backyard.
Eggs may be the real temptation to raise chickens. However, before choosing the chicken breed, the primary factor of concern should be the climate they’re about to live in. While some chickens survive well in the cold, some breeds struggle to sustain the heat. For instance, the Phoenix and Minorca chickens like heat, while Brahma and Chanteclar chickens love cold weather conditions.
If the area you live in is mostly warm and humid,choosing heat-tolerant chicken breeds would be best. For suggestions, you can go for the Mediterranean breeds like Andalusians, Leghorns, and Penedesencas. These are small chickens with sleek bodies, and big combs allow them to keep themselves cool in the heat.
On the contrary, if you live in cold weather conditions, raising large chickens with a small comb would be wise. For instance, Australorps, Barred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, Cochins, and Wyandottes are some good recommendations for cold weather chickens.
2. Egg Production
Although all breeds produce eggs, the eggs differ in size and production. Hens with medium-production layers are more than enough for a family. For instance, the Bantam chicken eggs are small in size. To complement their egg yolks, you’ll require extra whites.
If egg production is why you’ve taken up raising chicken in the first place, then you should go for an Australorp, barred ROck, Delaware, Leghorn, Rhode Island Red, or Sussex. These are the breeds popular for their egg-laying prowess.
A good layer always supplies your family about 5-6 eggs every week throughout the spring and the summer.
The temperament of chickens is a consideration to make when you have children at home, and you’re looking for a flock that can be friendly with them. Chicken breeds that love to eat out of your hands are Australorps, Brahmas, or Buff Orpingtons.
Cochins, Faverolles, and Silkies are breeds that are extremely friendly in nature. You may even raise bantams which are standard breed chickens and are pretty fine around children. Bantams come in different breeds too.
4. Egg Color
Well, egg colors aren’t a primary consideration to make. However, colorful eggs do add to the beauty of your egg basket. A few breeds produce multi-color eggs, and it’s so fun to collect them every day. It’s like a treasure hunt! Most commonly, different breeds lay brown eggs while the Mediterranean breeds lay white eggs.
There are the Marans that lay chocolate brown eggs. Other breeds include Ameraucana, Araucana, and Cream Legbar laying blue eggs, and Olive Eggers laying olive green eggs. Amazingly, the Easter Eggers lay multi-colored eggs, varying among blue, pink, green, or cream color. You’ll always be surprised with the color of eggs they produce!
5. Fancy Breeds
If you’re looking for pretty little chickens, you should go for the feathered fleet, such as Cochins, Faverolles, or Marans. There are also the Ameraucanasthat have cheek muffs and beards, Polish Chickens with funny hairdos, or Frizzles that have directionless feathers.
These breeds make great visually pleasing flocks for your backyard. Although not the best layers, these fancy breeds are certainly entertaining with their unique appearance.
Chicken Planning and Buying
When you’re all set with the chicken breed you want to raise in your backyard, but you aren’t quite sure how to go about it, then keep reading to learn the same. For beginners, raising chickens introduces a variety of options.
Testing the good and bad side of every option, acquaint yourself with the responsibilities of hatching eggs, chicks, started pullets, or the adult version of the birds.
Every choice you make has the pluses and the minuses to it. You should make only the best choice for you that weighs greater on the plus side. The cheapest of all the options is chicks.
Pullets need extra investment in care, feed, and the duration of raising these birds. While rescue and ex-battery hens are considerably cheaper but costlier than chicks, adult hens would cost you the most.
Below are the details explained.
1. Hatching Eggs
These eggs are fertilized, and you need to incubate them. Beginners making a wise choice would be not to go for hatching eggs unless you have proper knowledge about them. Incubation can be fairly straightforward, but they have a kick still.
Raising chicks is probably the wisest choice for novices. You can select your desired breed or breeds and can have them when you are ready. Chicks can be brought even when they are only a day old.
Four to six months old birds called pullets are the adult form of chicks that have been reared. It is during this time that pullets are usually sold at a point of lay, which is the time when the pullets are supposed to lay their very first egg.
Adults are a little tight to find since breeders prefer letting the birds out before they mature since adult hens are expensive to take care of and need a lot to feed. You can hit animal shelters or rescue sanctuaries if you plan to raise adult birds.
Determining The Flock Size, Space, and Cost
Raising chickens requires planning as it can be quite an investment when you initially start up with the notion of raising backyard chickens. Let’s get to know more about the associated topics of concern.
1. How Many Chickens Should I Keep?
Chickens love to stay in a flock. You may want to consider rearing at least 3-6 birds together. Adult hens, on average , lay two eggs every three days. This way, you’ll be getting a steady amount of eggs.
Chickens are considerably productive in their first two years, following which the egg production slows down. You may want to replace your flock of chickens with younger birds as they can be easily bought from a supplier. You may even consider hatching your own chicks if you own a rooster, which will be really hard.
2. How Much Space Do Chickens Need?
The space you need to raise your chickens depends on the breed you’ve chosen to raise. More space creates better living conditions for the chickens, and overcrowding may be the cause of disease and feather picking.
The chickens need ample space to spread their wings and run about in the backyard. You should consider chicken-wire fencing to protect your chickens as well as preventing them from going away.
3. How Much Does Keeping Chickens Cost?
Of course, it will cost enough money when you are planning to invest in chickens. Starting from the preparation to their raising, everything costs good money. For instance, furnishing a chicken coop and a 20×5-foot chicken run will require wood , fencing, hardware, costing a minimum of about $300. If you hire any labor to set up all of this, that’d cost you extra.
In a nutshell, you can expect to spend about $500 to $700, relying on factors like the flock size, coop, and run.
4. Where Do I Get My Chicks?
You can get your chicks from the local farmer or opt to get from a hatchery or farm supply store. It is upon you to purchase your chickens from a local store or somewhere far away.
5. What Should I Look Out For?
Make sure to get chickens that have clear and bright eyes. These birds tend to be curious by nature about everything around them and you. Their feathers should look clean and have good hues to them.
Refrain buying one of these birds if you see signs of sleepiness or lethargy, being hunched, sitting isolated, being reluctant to move. Avoid them totally if there’s any kind of nasal or eye discharge or blocked vent.
Raising chickens can also prove beneficial for your garden. That’s a trick! Let’s get to know more about it.
When the chickens are done with their yearly nurturing, leaving them in your garden will help uproot the stems and the weed stalks. Chickens eat up any damaged or overripe vegetables. If they come across any weed seeds in the soil, they’ll dig in and steer clear of them.
These birds will even peck apart vegetable remnants like broccoli stems,chard, carrot tops, and kale. They’ll even peck out worms from the ground, mixing the soil in the process, in full enthusiasm. While your garden is going through the benefits, the chickens are having their little party, you see!
Chicken poo can be composted and used as manure. It can be dried and eventually can be added to your garden in six months’ time. You can expect to collect 1 cubic foot of manure per chicken in that period of time.
You must use bedding materials to pile up the chicken poop while cleaning the chicken coop. Here, a pro tip is to mix a pile of poop with bedding materials in a proportion that is 2 parts poop and 1 part bedding. You can also use lawn clippings, leaves, twigs, and shredded paper to the mix.
Soak the pile until the next year or more, keeping it wet and stirring it daily to add air to the mix. Expose it to a temperature between 130 degrees to 150 degrees of Fahrenheit to cut away the bacteria in it.
Chickens do not have any specific choices of living. They have no preferences for running water, electricity, or carpets. They’ll well survive in a finely crafted wooden box. However, you should entitle them with certain exceptions to ensure that the flock of chickens in your backyard are being raised happily and healthily.
1. Basic Shelter
A place with ample sunlight, drizzles of wind, or maybe even snow fits well for a good chicken coop. Make sure to make the coop resilient enough to resist water since you do not want to have wet chickens in your coop.
2. Ample Space
You must provide the birds with ample space to coexist peacefully. Overcrowding may cause picking and pecking of feathers. Winters are the most susceptible to such kind of behaviors. Hens get bored over time and tend to turn mischievous.
3. Temperature Control
Choose the correct ventilation for your chicken coops. Temperature regulation inside the coop is vital to raising chickens. Good allowance of air through the coop will ensure optimal temperature for your hens, keeping it cool in summers and warm during the winter.
4. Nesting Boxes
One nesting box for every three hense would be ideal. However, you’ll soon find that you never need more of that, and the chickens tend to squabble over their single favorite nest box. Keeping more of such boxes would be the best choice for a proper environment for their growth.
Roosts are the areas where these birds sleep during the nights. Chickens generally prefer sleeping on the same perch while some sleep alone, feeling completely safe.
6. Outside Roaming
Chickens like to run about freely. Hence they require some free space. It doesn’t matter if it’s a confined area or a free-range; they like it anyway.
If you do not prefer a free-range, you can go for a chicken tractor as well.
There’s always the fear of predators snooping in and taking away one or more of your backyard chickens. It is, thus, most important to build a strong and resilient coop to avoid catastrophic results.
How to Care For Chickens
Taking care of your adult chickens may sound like a difficult task to do. However, if you know certain things mentioned below, you’ll find it fairly simple to execute. The hen is the key to all the work; all you need to do is provide all their needs.
Water is the essential medium of survival for all living creatures, chickens being one of them. Hens drink a cup of water each for every day. They take frequent small sips the entire day. Less water consumption will affect their egg production adversely. Therefore, they should be provided with sufficient water.
One US gallon of water consists of 15 cups of water. Get a drinker and let your chickens drink their levels of sufficient water to remain healthy and active.
Food is another key need of chickens. Providing your backyard chickens with the appropriate food will nurture their egg production and keep them happy and healthy. Not feeding them with the right type and amounts of food may lead to problems like bullying, weight loss, and more. Consider getting a feeder to store their food.
3. Hen Morning and Evening Routines
Everyone is busy today in some way or the other. However, tending to your chickens need some time to do the job well.
Mornings begin with letting out your chickens out of their coop, checking on their feeder and water drinker, and taking a look around to ensure everyone is safe and sound. Next, when the sun is about to set, you need to lock them secure inside the coop and then collect their eggs if you left that part before.
Besides this daily routine, there’ll be weekly tasks of cleaning the coop, serving the nesting boxes,and so on.
Common Chicken Problems
Quite unfortunate as it can get, your chickens may go through problems like broodiness, bullying, and, not to forget, predators. These are quite common among chickens. It would be best to set up your mind prepared for such occurrences, or you may feel overwhelmed. Here are some of the common problems discussed in detail.
The process where you replace the old feathers with new plumage is molting. All birds undergo such changes, even the roosters. Exceptional cases say that some birds may take two years for molting while the humble chickens are done molting in three months. However, losing feathers is not the same as molting.
2. Stopped Egg Laying
Eggs are the tempting reason why people typically take up raising chickens. If your chickens show signs of poor egg-laying or have stopped laying eggs, it is a matter of your concern.
You’ll realize when your chickens undergo broodiness. It’s visible on your chickens. The hens grumble in their broodiness when anyone or anything approaches them. They may even squawk or puff themselves or even peck other creatures as well.
Among chickens, they have a fixed position for each one of them. The chickens on top get to feed first while the bottom ones at last. It is a straightforward pecking system to ensure proper feeding structure among them so as to each one of the flock knows their position.
Bullying occurs due to the same reason. Any chicken violating the system gets an instant peck on the head to remind them of their status in the flock.
Chicken predators are everywhere, no matter what your location might be. Be it your dog or your neighbor’s dog, foxes in the nearby forest, coyotes, or raccoons; all will be delighted to have some chicken for dinner.
Besides these ground predators, there are more to add to the list. Coop security is therefore crucial for awareness of predatory animals.
Tips To Raising Backyard Chickens
Here are some tips, for a quick gist, covering all the points you need to follow to raise and care for chickens.
1. Ensure The Law
Before starting out to raise chickens in your backyard, it is vital to make sure that the law allows you to start a chicken farm in your yard. It may sound strange, but doing this will save you from all the extra work of facing the state officials later in a problem.
Searching across the city or over the web will help you well to find the local regulations or the municipal code of your locality. Make sure to go through them as states vary with their regulations too. The State also ensures that you take good care of and don’t neglect the flock.
There are no fixed federal regulations imposed on the breeding or rearing of animals. Thus, provided you take good care of your flock of chickens, you can expect to raise them in your backyard.
2. Take Suggestions From The Local Poultry Association
Take your local poultry association’s suggestion as to which breed would serve your needs best. Make sure the choice of breed you make is cost-effective. Once you do, you can get the hens and start with your farm.
When you start out brooding hens and incubating their eggs, you’ll see the hens’ broody behavior. As hens approach the time of laying their eggs, they sit at one place for a long time and get irritated when moved. This is the time when they should be placed in their nest box.
You can collect the eggs while the hens are sleeping at night. Now, the next step is to incubate them. For this, you need to store the eggs in a cool and humid place for 7 days. Eventually, you’ll have to increase the temperature and then place them in an electric incubator.
Make sure to turn them at least thrice a day. And very soon, the eggs will hatch to produce their chicks.
3. Ensure The Chicken Coops Are On Point
Even chickens prefer to live in an order under a safe roof to lay their eggs comfortably. A backyard chicken generally lives for 8 years, giving you the perfect reason to make them a suitable home.
You must consider three key points before constructing your chicken coop.
Keeping your flock’s size in mind, the chickens will need houses that are spacious for them to spread their wings without pecking onto one another. A good chicken house should provide the chickens with great ventilation, hygiene, and warmth.
If you have different breeds in your flock, you can even go for a combined house, providing about 6 square yards per bird. Like this, you can accommodate 12 birds of your flock. Before you realize it, you’ll have enough space for a large flock of chickens.
A secluded place for the hens to lay their eggs is crucial. During such conditions, you need to spot the brooding hens and place them in the nest box. One nest box should be the size to hold 3-5 hens comfortably together.
Make sure to incorporate doors with locks on the nest boxes. This way, you can easily search for the eggs.
Backyard chickens should also have all the fun other chickens may have on an open farm. A perch is like a branch of a tree attached to the nest box so that during the brooding period, the hens have a place to go to when they don’t feel like staying on the floor.
Also, ensure not to place the perch too close to the feeding area as brooding hens don’t like the dirt around them and may stop eating. According to experts, each bird is entitled to a 12-inch of perching space.
4. Feed Your Chickens Appropriately
Feeding your chickens while raising them in your backyard is not a difficult task. All you need to do is prepare some high-quality food for your flock. Ensuring that the food you feed the birds with is high-quality is important as such food has the essential vitamins for your chickens’ growth.
Quality food also nourishes the nutrients of the eggs they lay. The type of feed that you buy depends on the flock’s age as well.
5. Keep The Environment Clean
Raising backyard chickens seems difficult around this part, which is to keep your backyard clean. Chickens are typically messy. However, bear in your mind that the dirt attracts insects, which may cause infections within the flock. Keeping the environment clean encourages the growth of a healthy flock. Here’s how you could clean the environment of the flock:
Seal The Cracks and Holes of The Coop
Ensure every week for holes and crack in the coop so that rodents or mice do not make their way to the chickens. Secure a heavy wire-mesh gauge on the doors and windows of the chicken house to prevent vermins.
Ensure Sufficient Lighting Inside The Coop
Hens need a minimum of 14-hours of light each day to ensure quality egg production, especially during the summers. Note that winter and falls sometimes bring in scarce light. This is the time when you need to install some artificial lights in the nesting area for the hens for quality egg production.
Lock The Chicken Coop
CHickens like to run about in the yard. They may create a mess in the neighborhood, and you don’t want that to happen. Keep the chickens locked in their coop when you’re away to prevent running chickens. A good way to ensure such safety is to put up a wire gauge mesh so that they cannot escape but have a great time inside as well.
Raising chickens is simple yet hard for beginners. However, it contributes to fun and therapy as well. It is a big responsibility too, with all the cleaning and feeding to be done. That is why make sure to cover all your research before starting to raise backyard chickens.
All the best for your poultry journey!
James Fields is the founder of Gardener to Farmer. His passion for gardening goes back to his childhood days when he would visit his grandfather during the holidays and help him with the plants in the backyard. This has now translated to creating a dependable resource for gardening.