We’re here to help! Wild Yards is a completely free website that is 100% dedicated to helping you create a wildlife-friendly, sustainable yard. Read more
Raising chickens is an easy and rewarding way to produce fresh, sustainable eggs. They provide a steady supply of healthy protein and omega-3 fatty acids as well as the opportunity for children to participate in caring for their food source. But raising backyard chickens can also be more complicated than it might seem at first glance, which is why we’ve put together these 10 tips on how to raise backyard chickens successfully. We hope you find them useful!
What You Need To Get Started
Before you can start raising backyard chickens, there are a few things you’ll need to get set up. You’ll need a coop for the chickens to live in, as well as an area where they can roam freely during the day. You’ll also need some feeders and waterers, as well as bedding for the coop. And don’t forget about the chickens themselves! You’ll need at least one chicken to get started. If you plan to breed and raise chicks, you’ll also need an incubator.
Choosing The Right Chickens
To raise chickens successfully, you will need to choose the right type of chicken for your needs. There are a few things that you should consider before making this decision.
For example, if you live in an area with predators such as coyotes or hawks then larger breeds may be better since they have more natural defenses against these animals. If you don’t have any predators where you live, then a smaller breed may be a good choice because they lay eggs just as well as larger breeds but require less food.
Additionally, there are different types of chickens available so it is worth considering what breed appeals most to you! Here are the 9 most popular breeds of chicken specifically among backyard breeders.
- Araucana (These are the ones that lay the blue eggs!)
- Buff Orpington
- Plymouth Rock
- Rhode Island Red
- White Leghorn
You can purchase your chicks online from a hatchery that is certified by the National Poultry Improvement Plan. You can also find chicks during certain seasons at many local farm-supply stores, although the selection will often be more limited. Chickens don’t start laying eggs until they are about 20 to 24 weeks old, but you can get a hen that’s 15 to 22 weeks old, which is known as a “started pullet”. Once they’ve had some time to get settled into their new home, they’ll start laying eggs within a few weeks.
Housing and Coop Design
When you think about raising chickens, you probably picture a farm or a nice bed and breakfast with plenty of land to work with. In reality, you probably have plenty of space to raise chickens in your backyard.
They can produce eggs, they’re easy to care for, and they require only a little space. But there’s one thing you need before you can get started: housing! The coop is where your chickens will sleep at night and lay their eggs during the day. It should be large enough so that all of your chickens have room to move around comfortably but small enough that it doesn’t take up too much space in your yard.
A good rule of thumb is to provide 4 square feet of space per chicken inside your chicken coop and 10 square feet of space per chicken in their outside run or enclosure. This allows them plenty of living space and room outside to move around and exercise.
Here are a few other essentials that you’ll need for your hens to be safe and happy:
- Nesting Box – You’ll want at least one nesting box for every 4 to 5 hens in your flock. This allows them to have a dark, private spot when it comes time to lay their eggs. Even the largest breed will have plenty of space in a box that is 14 inches in all directions (width, depth, and height).
- Box Bedding – Pine shavings or hay will provide a soft comfortable surface for your hens and make their coop much easier to clean.
- Roosting Bar – Chickens prefer to roost on a bar suspended off the ground while they sleep rather than sitting directly on the floor. You’ll want to choose a roosting bar that is made of wood rather than metal or plastic so that they can properly grip it.
- Dropping Board – This is a pan or box that you place under the roosting bar to catch any droppings that fall while your chickens are resting. This is a spot that will accumulate waste quicker than others, so a dropping board makes for easier cleanup.
- Hanging Feeder & Waterer – When selecting your food and water dispensers, you should choose something that can be kept off the ground. This keeps the food and water clean for longer and helps to keep it fresh. You should place the food and water on the inside of the coop to avoid attracting wild animals into their outside run.
Feeding and Watering Your Chickens
Chickens require a balanced diet to lay healthy eggs. It may be tempting to provide them with primarily natural food sources like seeds and insects, but the best solution here is to give them store-bought chicken feed. This feed has been carefully designed by experts to make sure your chickens have a balanced diet and get all of the nutrients they need.
Chickens do love mealworms, watermelon, and other tasty treats, and there’s no reason you can’t supply these in small amounts. Just make sure that 90% of your chickens’ diet comes from a formulated feed.
Chickens also need access to clean water at all times. You can provide this by installing a waterer in the coop and filling it daily, or by providing them with a free-range area where they can drink from a natural water source. Chicken eggs are primarily made up of water, so the availability of fresh, clean water is a direct contributor to getting lots of good eggs.
Managing Chicken Poop
Chickens produce a lot of poop. A single chicken can produce up to 1.5 pounds of waste per week. This can be a problem if you don’t manage it properly, as the manure can quickly build up and create an unhealthy environment for both the chickens and humans living in the area. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to keep the chicken poop under control.
One thing you can do is provide your chickens with a clean place to roost. This will help reduce the amount of droppings they produce and make it easier to clean up when needed. You should also rake or shovel any fresh droppings from around the coop regularly so that they don’t have time to accumulate.
Breeding Backyard Chickens
Breeding backyard chickens can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it’s important to remember that it’s also a lot of work. Chickens can be bred either for meat or eggs, and the process is relatively simple. However, there are a few things you need to keep in mind to ensure a successful breeding season.
First, you’ll need to provide your chickens with a place to lay their eggs. This will start with a simple nesting box and then, once collected, you will move them to a special incubator.
Second, you’ll need to choose the right breed of chicken. Not all breeds are good for both meat and eggs. Some breeds excel at laying eggs but produce very little meat, and vice versa.
Incubating Eggs and Hatching Chicks
A backyard chicken enthusiast can incubate eggs and hatch chicks to increase their flock. Incubating eggs is a fun way for kids to get involved in the process, but it’s also important work that will ensure you have plenty of chickens. The most common method for incubating an egg is using a Styrofoam box with holes cut in the sides and top. You’ll need to use some type of heat source inside – either an incandescent bulb or a heating pad – then place your eggs on top of that so they’re close enough to be warmed by its light or emitted warmth. Cover the container with a lid and wait approximately 21 days before checking for signs of life!
When your hens start laying their eggs, you can expect them to deliver one every day or two. Once they’ve hatched, the baby chicks will need constant access to food and water until they’ve matured enough to live on their own. This usually happens around 6 weeks of age.
Raising Baby Chicks
Raising baby chicks is a fun and rewarding experience, but it’s also important to know what you’re doing to ensure their safety and well-being. To raise healthy chicks, you’ll need to provide them with a warm, safe place to live, plenty of food and water, and regular veterinary care. You’ll also need to clean their coop regularly and give them fresh bedding.
Chickens need daily care – if you can’t commit to caring for them daily, don’t get them! You’ll need to feed and water your chickens regularly (at least once per day), clean their coop regularly (it will smell!), provide fresh bedding for them (straw is a popular option), and make sure their living area is kept safe and secure (from predators, people, and other animals). Once the baby chicks reach 6 weeks old, they’ll usually have grown up enough to join the rest of the flock.
Protecting Your Flock From Predators
One of the biggest threats to backyard chickens is predation from other animals. This can be a problem if you live in an area with predators such as coyotes or hawks. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to protect your flock from these animals.
One thing you can do is provide your chickens with a safe place to roost and lock them inside their coop at night. This will help keep them out of reach of predators. You can also install a fence around the coop and run to keep predators out and make sure that all doors and windows are securely closed at night.
Additionally, it is important to keep an eye on your chickens during the day and watch for signs that they may be being stalked by a predator. If you see more than one predator around your flock, then you should take action immediately. A predator is likely to return, so you must be able to protect your chickens at all times.
Do My Pets Count As Predators?
This depends a lot on your dog or cat, but there are a few things you can do to help acclimate them to this new change in their environment. Start with short supervised visits and keep your dog or cat on a leash when they are around the chickens. You can use this time to gauge their reaction and determine whether or not your chicken will be safe around them. It’s important to note that if your pet is aggressive and tries to attack the chickens on your first visit, it’s likely they will always consider them prey.
Troubleshooting Common Problems
Raising backyard chickens can present some common problems that you’ll need to be prepared to troubleshoot. One of the most common issues is a lack of food or water, so make sure you have a plentiful supply of both on hand at all times.
Another common problem is eggs that don’t hatch – there could be several reasons for this, so consult with your veterinarian or a fellow chicken breeder if it’s something you’re struggling with. Chickens can also get sick, so it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of common chicken illnesses and how to treat them. If you’re having trouble with any aspect of raising backyard chickens, don’t hesitate to reach out for help! There are plenty of resources available online and your veterinarian can help you recognize the signs and symptoms of common problems to look out for.
A Typical Day With Your Chickens
The act of caring for chickens requires a daily commitment to managing their routine. Many owners consider these daily activities to be a form of self-care that helps them be present during each little break from the other parts of their daily life. Here’s an example of what a typical day caring for chicken might look like.
Every morning you’ll start by letting your chickens out of their coop and into their outside enclosure or run. Give each chicken a quick once over to ensure they are healthy. Look for shiny feathers, red combs, bright eyes, and a steady gait as sure signs that your chickens are thriving.
Once you’ve checked everyone over, change out their food and water and check through their fluff bedding and nest boxes for eggs.
Check on your chickens again in the afternoon to make sure all is well, and take a moment to check for eggs again. If you give your chickens any sort of supplements or treats, now is a good time to do that.
Herd your chickens back into the coop and lock it shut to protect them from predators. If it’s going to be a cold night, you can give them some scratch grains to eat at bedtime. As they digest these, it will raise their body heat and help keep them warm through the night.
Once a week, you should thoroughly clean out your chicken coop. Rake out all of the bedding and waste and replace it with fresh bedding. This is also a good time to scrub their food and water dishes so they can be kept sanitary.
How Much Does Raising Backyard Chickens Cost?
Raising chickens is a fairly inexpensive endeavor once you get going. The majority of the costs happen at the beginning when you are preparing your yard to house them.
A chicken coop large enough for 6 chickens can cost as little as $100 and becomes progressively more expensive depending on how much extra space you want to have for a larger flock and how nice you want it to look. Some designer chicken coops can cost as much as $10,000.
Once you’ve set up your coop, fenced in the enclosure, and purchased supplies like food and water dispensers, the chickens themselves and their day-to-day care are pretty affordable.
Each hen is likely to cost you around $4 to $7, and you’ll usually purchase them when they are still chicks. You can sometimes get lower prices if you are buying many chickens at once or if you are willing to take an assortment rather than one specific breed.
The primary cost at this point will just be your chicken feed. You can get quality chicken feed in 50-pound bags for around $25, which is about a month’s worth of food for 6 chickens.
You’ll also want to have a little money set aside for occasional vet visits so your chickens can remain happy and healthy. Make sure you choose a vet who is experienced with chickens.
How Long Will My Backyard Chicken Eggs Stay Fresh?
Chicken eggs have a natural biofilm on the outside of the shell that helps them to stay fresh for several weeks. It’s best practice to collect your eggs daily, but you can then store them on your countertop safely as long as this biofilm isn’t disturbed.
Washing eggs removes this biofilm and significantly lowers the amount of protection they have from bacteria and other elements. Once an egg has been washed, it needs to be refrigerated to keep it from spoiling.
Do I Need A Rooster To Raise Backyard Chickens?
Your hens will produce eggs regardless of whether or not you have a rooster. If it’s only eggs you want, you’ll do fine with a flock of only hens. Many people believe that a rooster is needed to induce the hens to lay eggs, but this is a common misconception.
If you would like to breed and raise baby chicks, that’s when you’ll need a rooster to fertilize the eggs. Be cautious though, as roosters are typically not advised for backyard flocks. Their morning wakeup call is not often appreciated by neighbors, and they can sometimes become aggressive towards humans or towards the very hens they are protecting.
Sexing baby chicks is a fairly difficult process and cases of mistaken sex are not uncommon. If you do find yourself with an unwanted rooster in your flock, you can contact the location you purchased him from to help you find someone who may want to take him off your hands. Many local colleges also have poultry science departments that will be happy to take donated chickens.
The Bottom Line
Raising backyard chickens can be a fun, inexpensive, and rewarding experience for the entire family. Chickens are easy to care for and will provide you with fresh eggs daily. Be sure to clean your chicken coop and replace bedding weekly, and have a vet on standby in case of any health concerns. Purchase your chicks from a reputable source, use formulated feed so they have a balanced diet, and remember to take your time each day to be present and enjoy caring for your backyard flock.