Green Living

Getting Started with Backyard Chickens

Free, delicious, healthy organic eggs whenever you need them? A pet that can help teach your kids about nature, reproduction, and responsibility? There are so many benefits to having backyard chickens, but getting started can be a little intimidating. Here are some guidelines to get you going!

Research your local city ordinances regarding keeping poultry. In some places it’s simply not allowed at all, in other places there are important restrictions you should know about. In my town, for instance, backyard hens are allowed but a homeowner can’t have more than one rooster. We opted to not have a rooster at all so our neighbors wouldn’t hate us for the early morning crowing.

Consider how many chickens you want to keep and what kind. If you’re keeping chickens to harvest the eggs, you’ll want to get some laying hens (as opposed to meat birds). So look for breeds that are good layers. And you don’t have to choose all the same breed! It’s very fun to go out and harvest eggs of all different colors and sizes. It’s also helpful to choose a variety of breeds so that they won’t all molt at the same time (a molting bird’s egg production drops.) Most laying hens will produce an egg slightly less than once a day. So, if you have 4 hens you might harvest 3-4 eggs a day (about 2 dozen eggs a week). Once you’ve decided how many birds you want to keep, I recommend adding 2 to that number because inevitably some of the chicks won’t survive or a hen will get carried off by thieving raccoons or other predators. It’s a dangerous world for a chicken!

Decide on what kind of coop you want to build/buy. Really, you can make your chicken coop as simple and easy or as big and fancy as you want. The point is to keep out predators. Ours is a very simple structure that we move around the yard every couple of days so our hens will have access to fresh bugs to munch on and can aerate the soil for our garden.

When you’re ready for your chicks you can order them online and pick them up at your post office or buy slightly older chicks from a feed or hardware store (which is what I recommend for first-timers). The upside to ordering them is that you can get your flock going at any time of year (your local source will probably only have chicks available to pick up during the spring). However, the older chicks from the feed or hardware store are more likely to survive because they have a few more days under their belt than the teensy ones that would arrive at the post office. Another downside to ordering chicks online is that you have to order a lot of chicks. Of course, if it’s more than you wanted, you can try to split an order with a friend or just wait til spring when they’ll be available locally!

Since beginning to raise a new, larger flock this year on our little urban homestead we have learned so much about caring for chicks, keeping them healthy, and avoiding disease and pesky predators like racoons. I can’t wait to share more with you about maintaining a healthy flock in my next post about backyard chickens, so stay tuned!

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  • Jenny
    January 4, 2013 at 3:06 PM

    What about weather? I’m in KS and this morning it was 19 degrees. Would it be ok to build a coop that stay’s put so I could add a heating element of some kind? Or is that even necessary in winter? Or how long do they live? Do you start over with new chicks every year? Sorry for so many questions, I just don’t know how it works.

    • Haley
      January 4, 2013 at 5:55 PM

      Great questions, Jenny! We’re in N. Florida so it’s a different ball game as far as weather. There are many, many options for coops. You don’t have to have a coop that moves. I was surprised to discover that chickens will stay very close to their coop (that’s where they get their food) so you can let them out to roam around and they will want to come back to the coop to roost. In the winter, we put a heat lamp in the coop on cold nights when we have young chicks. And baby chicks that are only a few days old definitely need a heat lamp for their first couple of weeks at least, regardless of the outside temperature. So yes, heating element is a great idea. In Florida, we don’t have to use the heat lamp once they are full grown, but it might be different in regions with very cold weather. Chickens can live for years and years if you want to keep them as “pets” past their egg production years. We’ve discovered that after two years, egg production drops and only 1 of our 3 older chicken was still producing eggs. Our new flock of 15 is half “meat birds” and half “layers.” The meat birds are almost ready to be harvested, but it’ll be a few more weeks before we get any eggs from the layers. I think we’ll continue getting new birds every two years (maybe more often for meat birds).

      • Jenny
        January 4, 2013 at 7:37 PM

        Ok great, thanks for replying. We’re huge egg eaters in my family and I’d love to have fresh eggs! We also live in a subdivision and I’m wondering if there is a clause of some kind in the covenant saying we can’t have chickens in our back yards. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks again, I loved seeing all the info!