How to Raise Backyard Chickens

by A Manly Guest Contributor on March 26, 2013 · 91 comments

in Manly Skills, Self-Reliance

Creek and two of his lovely lady lumps.

Creek and two of his lovely lady lumps.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Creek Stewart of Willow Haven Outdoor.

I’m a smart man. I have surrounded myself with a very beautiful group of girls who tirelessly landscape my yard, provide rich compost for my garden, dispose of my kitchen scraps, handle insect control around the house, keep me company, and even make me a fresh breakfast each morning. These highly productive females in my life are not actually human. They are chickens, though I affectionately refer to them as my lovely lady lumps.

I consider my small flock of backyard chickens to be one of the best investments I’ve ever made – even though they cost very little time, energy, or money. If you are interested in having a harem of hens in your life like mine, below is some insight about how to get started.

The Perks of Raising Backyard Chickens

Some of you might be wondering – why chickens? Let’s get this question out of the way first. Several years ago, raising chickens was something that only people in the country did. Chickens were associated with farms and wide open spaces. Not anymore! I would actually consider backyard chickens to be a modern cultural phenomenon. Thousands of families are adding a small flock (2-5) to their backyard, right next to the doghouse. When I bought my first house it only had a 20’x20’ backyard. The first thing I did was put in a small chicken coop with three hens, which is the perfect number for starting out. The biggest misconception with raising chickens is that you need to live in the country. This is simply not true. Yes, local regulations or neighborhood ordinances may impact your decision, but many communities are very chicken friendly or easily convinced otherwise.

In my experience, there are many benefits to raising a small backyard flock. Let’s explore some of my favorites.

  • Fresh Eggs: Fresh eggs are the most obvious reason, or as I like to call them, “Hen Berries.” Hens will start laying eggs at about 6 months old. They will consistently lay an egg every 1-2 days for several years. These eggs, especially when the chickens are given kitchen scraps and/or allowed to free range, are more flavorful than anything you’ll ever find in the store.
My morning selection of fresh eggs.

My morning selection of fresh eggs.

  • Composting: Chickens are amazing compost factories. They will turn almost any kitchen scrap into a nutrient rich garden additive – poop. They love vegetable scraps, bread, grains, and even meat scraps. We’ll get more into food later.
landscaped-tree

Chicken-landscaped tree.

  • Landscaping and Insect Control: If you allow your chickens to free range (roam out of the coop), they will meticulously landscape around your trees and shrubs. They will also hunt down insects like trained ninja assassins. I often call them my little T-Rexes. I’ve seen them eat every kind of insect you can imagine, as well as snakes, mice, minnows from the shallow edge of our pond, and even a fallen baby bird. They are vicious killers and their distant connected ancestry to majestic birds of prey can be seen when you look into their eye. However, they love fresh grass and plant shoots as well and will happily weed your garden (or planters) once it is established.
Look into the eye of a merciless killer.

Look into the eye of a merciless killer.

  • Pets: Yes, that’s right, chickens make great pets. When you raise and handle chickens from small chicks they will gladly eat from your hand, sit in your lap, and follow you around the yard. They will also happily poop in your lap as well.  They’ll come to you when you call and wait for you at the door. They have great personalities. They are incredibly curious and forage for food tirelessly. They rise early and like to go to bed just before dusk. They are absolutely the most low maintenance pet (except for maybe a goldfish) that you can own. As long as they have fresh food, water, and a clean coop, they will be happy as can be. They aren’t needy like many animals and are just as happy when you’re not home. I leave my hens for days at a time with no problems.
Creek hand-feeding his flock.

Creek hand-feeding his flock.

  • Self-reliance: As a survival instructor at Willow Haven Outdoor, chickens represent a long-term survival strategy. If a time ever comes when food is not so readily available, one can easily scale up a small backyard flock of chickens to help supplement food shortages. As you know, chickens produce eggs, but they also produce chicken. There is something magical about knowing exactly where your food comes from. I know what my chickens eat and therefore know what I’m eating – it’s a simple formula that I quite like.
  • Beauty: It’s easy to take a simple backyard chicken for granted, but many of them have plumage that will rival even the most radiant tropical bird. I’ve owned chickens that were absolutely stunning to look at. The number of chicken breeds to choose from is astounding; from metallic blues and greens to lace-tipped gold feathers, many are truly a natural marvel to behold. I’m often amazed that a bird this beautiful is just walking around in my backyard. Some people raise chickens just for this reason. In fact, there are avid fishermen who raise certain breeds of chickens just to use the feathers for tying high-priced fishing flies.

Raising backyard chickens is simple. As long as you’ve got the basic survival necessities covered you’ll be just fine. Chickens have the same survival needs as we do – shelter, water, and food.

What You Need to Raise Backyard Chickens

Shelter

Some of you may want to raise chickens from small chicks or even hatch your own eggs in an incubator at home. Others may want to skip all of that and buy adult hens already laying eggs. Shelter for baby chickens (chicks) is different from teenagers and adults. I’ll break shelter down into two main categories based upon chicken age.

Shelter for Chickens Less Than Two Months Old

Spring is the best time to get started in raising small chicks. I keep all of my baby chicks inside my home or garage for the first two months. Many farm supply stores carry live baby chicks around Easter, so now is a perfect time to pick up a couple. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to tell girls from boys at this age so you just have to take your chances. Girls (hens) are the only ones that lay eggs, and it takes 4-5 months for baby female chicks to start laying them. Craigslist is also a great place to find chicks (and even laying hens) locally. But, if you want to see something really amazing, order an incubator and fertilized eggs on-line and hatch them yourself. The newborn chicks will make an imprint on you and form a much stronger bond. Backyardchickens.com is a great resource to find both incubators and fertilized eggs.

Baby chick cardboard box coop.

Baby chick cardboard box coop.

I’ve found the best shelter for the first 2 months of raising baby chicks is a good old cardboard box. Regulating temperature is critical for small chicks. This is best done with a heat lamp. Or, you can just use a cheap shop light and standard light bulb. A thermometer in the box will help you adjust the lamp accordingly to regulate temperature. Below are the general temperature ranges for the first several weeks:

Week 1: 95 Degrees Fahrenheit
Week 2: 90 Degrees Fahrenheit
Week 3: 85 Degrees Fahrenheit
Week 4: 80 Degrees Fahrenheit
Week 5: 75 Degrees Fahrenheit
Week 6: 70 Degrees Fahrenheit or room temperature
Week 7: 65 Degrees Fahrenheit or room temperature
Week 8: Room temperature

I’ve found that pine shavings from a local pet store work really well as flooring for your baby chick coop. Chickens are little poop factories so the wood shavings really help with that. I’ve also used newspaper as well. The last two pieces are food and water bowls. Any shallow bowl (no higher than 2 inches) will work just fine. The little chicks need to be able to reach over the rims. You can cut down old butter or whipped cream bowls or buy bowls that suit your needs. You can buy special formulated chick food at farm supply stores called baby chick crumbles or starter ration, but I grew up raising baby chicks on Quaker oats and chopped up vegetable scraps. Chickens grind up the food in their gizzard with little rocks and pieces of sand so it’s important to mix in a little sand with the oats if you go this route. Most of the store-bought feed has this mixed in. The two most important concerns are regulating temperature and keeping a full water bowl. Like humans, these are top survival priorities.

Shelter for Chickens Two Months and Older

Once the chickens reach two months old I move them into my outdoor coop, assuming it’s not the dead of winter. There are literally thousands of different outdoor coop designs. Just do a quick Google search for “chicken coop” and you’ll see what I mean. I normally keep 3-5 chickens in a coop that has a footprint of 4×8 feet. You can buy coop kits on-line or download plans for free. I bought the one in these photos from a guy who makes them and sells them locally on Craigslist. I built my first chicken coop, however, from scrap supplies. I also prefer coops that are mobile, commonly referred to as chicken tractors. These normally have wheels on one side and allow you to move it around the yard so that your hens can free range a bit. When it comes to outdoor chicken coops there are several important details.

My 4x8 enclosed chicken coop.

My mobile, 4×8 enclosed chicken coop.

  • Security: Security is the #1 purpose of a coop. Chickens, even though merciless birds of prey for anything smaller than a deck of cards, are at the bottom of the food chain and are considered a delicacy by pretty much every predator. In the past, my chickens have been killed by weasels, minks, cats, raccoons, dogs, and even hawks. The term ‘chicken hawk’ takes on a whole new meaning when you’re admiring your hens in the yard from the window and a big hawk comes down and flies off with one dangling from its talons. I’ve concluded that a chicken coop should be wrapped 360 degrees in wire cage. The wire holes should be no larger than 1 inch. There should be no cracks or loose boards where something could slip inside. Where there is a will, there is a way. I’ve seen predators slip through the smallest cracks. All doors should be locking; raccoons are a huge threat and I’ve seen them open simple latches.
Raccoon trying to slip through crack in coop.

Raccoon trying to slip through crack in coop.

Raccoon trying to figure out a way into the coop.

Raccoon trying to figure out a way into the coop.

  • Run Space: All coops should have a space for chickens to forage and get some fresh air. I’ve found that my 4×8 coop is perfect for three hens.
Wire mesh enclosure to protect from predators.

Wire mesh enclosure to protect from predators.

  • Elevated Roost: Though I’ve seen open-air roosting coops, I prefer my chickens to have an elevated and enclosed roosting area. Like most birds, chickens have a natural roosting instinct and will roost in high areas (even trees if you let them). This space should be sheltered but also ventilated, especially during hot summer months. The roosting area typically includes a roosting perch bar where the chickens will sleep. Remember, they are driven by thousands of years of genetically wired instincts, so to them, it’s just a tree branch.
Covered and enclosed roosting perch.

Covered and enclosed roosting perch.

  • Roof: Coops should have a roof to protect from sun, snow, and rain.
  • Nesting Boxes: All coops should have nesting boxes. These are just little 12”x12”x12” spaces for hens to lay their eggs. I put straw or wood shavings in my nesting boxes. Typically, these are integrated into the roosting area.
nesting-boxes

Nesting boxes with easy-access lid.

  • Mobile Coops: I like mobile coops for many reasons.  With stationary coops, chickens will strip the ground down to bare earth in a matter of days.  Then to keep it from getting muddy and nasty you’ll need to cover the ground with hay, pea gravel, sand, or wood chips.  I’ve seen three hens completely strip a 4×8 space in about 2 days.  Mobile coops allow you to move the coop around your yard and still let the chickens free range on fresh grass and insects without letting them out of the coop.  Mobile coops also allow you to situate the coop in ideal spots out of the sun or under a tree.  You can let your hens out to free range with stationary coops, but you need to keep an eye out for predators.  They love to free range around flower pots, gardens, trees, and landscaping.  I always let my hens out of the coop when I’m doing work in the yard or when I’m close by where I can keep an eye on them.
  • Heat: I do not heat my coop in the winter. Chickens are covered in thick downy feathers and if other birds can weather the temperatures so can they.

Chicken Food

Remember, you are ultimately eating what you feed your chickens. I like to let my hens free range as much as possible and they absolutely LOVE leftover dinner and kitchen scraps. And, chickens love chicken, eggs, and egg shells. I know, it sounds a little gross, but they do. Don’t hesitate to give them your scrap egg shells or cold chicken sandwich. They will make quick work of about any kitchen scrap you throw their way including, but not limited to, watermelon rinds, apple cores, potato peels, grapes, egg shells, meat scraps, stale bread, crackers, bacon, and the list goes on and on.

Delectable chicken buffet.

Delectable chicken buffet.

I also purchase Purina Brand Crumbles from a local farm supply store to supplement their diet, especially in winter. My mom grew up feeding their chickens strictly whole corn kernels. Bottom line, chickens have a very versatile diet. Invest in a durable chicken feeder and keep it clean. Check it at least every other day and make sure your crumbles or grain isn’t moldy or wet.

Food and water containers with Purina Crumbles.

Food and water containers with Purina Crumbles.

I also keep some sand handy for the hens to pick through. They use what’s called grit (pieces of sand and gravel) to grind up the food in their gizzard. A bowl full of sand is perfect. Crushed oyster shells (also found at your local farm supply store) are great for extra calcium. This also makes their egg shells nice and strong.

Water

Like all living things, chickens need fresh water. There are many different chicken watering buckets on the market. I use a 5-gallon version because I have to fill it less often. I use a heated watering bowl in the winter.

Conclusion

Whether you’ve got empty-nest syndrome or you just don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket, chickens have a lot to offer people from all walks of life. They are inexpensive to farm and won’t break the bank even if you’re just scratching out a living or trying to save up a nest egg. But don’t take my word for it. Birds of a feather flock together so I’d recommend checking if there are any local poultry clubs in your area. They will let you know if raising backyard chickens isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. Don’t be afraid to stick your neck out and hatch a coop idea of your own. I’ve seen coops made from Volkswagen Beetle frames and ones that resemble Hobbit homes from Lord of the Rings. There’s nothing that ruffles my feathers more than when people say there’s only one way to cook an egg. There are all kinds of creative ways to care for and raise chickens. If you want to start a backyard flock quit running around like a chicken with its head cut off and get on with it. If you want to and don’t, then well…you’re just plain chicken.

Proud chicken owner.

Proud chicken owner.

FAQs

Below is a short list of questions I’m commonly asked about my chickens from guests who attend our survival courses:

Q: Why don’t you have a rooster?

A: Roosters are beautiful birds but unless you want to fertilize your eggs and hatch more chickens, roosters are pretty much worthless. They do not lay eggs, but without one, your hens’ eggs cannot be hatched into more chickens if you wish to do so. When I hatch eggs, I typically eat the roosters when they are 5-6 months old.

Q: What breed of chickens do you like best?

A: There are tons of different breeds. Some are fluffy, some are solid white and smooth, some lay green eggs, and some lay brown eggs. I like them all but my favorites are Easter Eggers, Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, and Americana/Araucanas. I personally like a variety of egg colors; they make great gifts.

Q: Why do you raise chickens?

A: I like the idea of producing some of my own food. I also like that I could scale up production and really supplement my food needs with chickens if necessary.

Q: How often do your chickens lay eggs?

A: Almost every day in spring, summer, and fall and less frequently in winter.

Q: Do chickens have any health problems?

A: Like all animals, chickens can get sick. It’s often difficult to diagnose. Your best bet is to check the forums on popular chicken sites such as Backyardchickens.com for other owners who have had similar problems. In general, though, chickens are very healthy and easy to care for. I’ve only had one die from being sick.
____________________

Creek Stewart is a Senior Instructor at the Willow Haven Outdoor School for Survival, Preparedness & Bushcraft. Creek’s passion is teaching, sharing, and preserving outdoor living and survival skills. Creek is also the author of the books Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Disaster Survival Kit and the upcoming Unofficial Hunger Games Wilderness Survival Guide — due out in May. For more information, visit Willow Haven Outdoor.

{ 91 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Narin C March 26, 2013 at 8:02 pm

Really great article, but my main question is well…what’s the process from coop to fresh meat? What do you do to prepare a hen or rooster to be consumed?

2 Nate March 26, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Now that’s a great post! Raising chickens is super simple. More and more cities/towns are allowing it all the time, and when you’re able to get roughly an egg per chicken per day, it can be a phenomenal way to get some of those great nutrients that free ranging chickens can provide. Thanks Creek!

3 Marc M. March 26, 2013 at 8:11 pm

My wife and i have been raising chickens for almost a year now. I couldn’t be happier. They are very low maintenance and serve many purposes. I love eating fresh eggs every morning! We also use the shavings and hay from their coop in the compost, and allow the chickens out in the compost pile to scratch the compost allowing it to break down faster. We started with a few hens, and now have 20. We have to get rid of the roosters anytime we get them because we live in a subdivision and they crow way too loud. We buy the neighbors off by giving them fresh free eggs:) I also sell eggs to my co-works for $3 a dozen. We have had so much success with the chickens we decided to take the next step and purchased two Nigerian Dwarf goats to milk. You can find out more about our mini farm on my wife’s blog. http://www.blessedlittlethistle.com

4 Tim March 26, 2013 at 8:34 pm

I can’t wait until I can do this. I love the write-up! Very informative and will be referenced again…

5 Phil March 26, 2013 at 8:41 pm

The eggs are wonderful, there’s nothing to compare. BUT, chickens are the stupidest birds. They do get sick, the smell can hit you in the stomach, and the roosters, as noted, serve only one purpose – they can also wake you (and a lot of your neighbors) up at ungodly hours. Also, to eat one, you need to slaughter, pluck and clean it – also not for the weak of stomach.

6 Ted March 26, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Nice article! I remember when I was a kid, we were never allowed to give whole eggshells to the hens. We had to crush them first, or else they would start eating their own eggs.

7 Eric Granata March 26, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Great post! In OKC you can have up to 6 hens in city limits as long as you are on a lot of at least 1 acre. Alas, I am not. Plus I have an HOA to deal with which is a bummer.

@Narin C: There are some pretty fantastic videos on YouTube that cover getting your chicken from yard to the table. This one is my favorite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsOxC31xqzY

I like the part where the guy says the first one of the day is always the hardest.

8 Michael Phoenix March 26, 2013 at 10:11 pm

Now THAT is what I’m talking about…

9 Sam Wood March 26, 2013 at 11:20 pm

Great article! I would love to see an article about how to humanly kill and properly clean a bird for eating.

10 Anna March 27, 2013 at 12:28 am

My parents just took up this hobby and even from a distance I heartily agree with Creek’s reasons for raising chickens! The little guys were like grandkids to my dad before he had his own. One time I visited home, I ended up sleeping on the couch next to a huge box of little birds and the glare of a red warming light. A couple weeks ago, stray dogs attacked the coop and my mom took them into the pound and reported them as “pet killers” (leaving out the little fact that the pets were chickens)! Lol. None of the chickens died–they were just shocked–but my little siblings are now doctoring a chicken missing a rather large patch of skin. They love the friendly personalities of the chickens and ditched the roosters long ago!

11 Daniel Best March 27, 2013 at 5:54 am

Hen Berries, not bad. My fathers family call them ‘bum nuts’ or sometimes tackleberries.

12 Martin Verna March 27, 2013 at 7:52 am

What do you do with them during the winter months? I mean, where I live it can get to be -30.

The sun is in repose and may be for the next decade…. just saying.

13 Robyn March 27, 2013 at 7:56 am

I love my chickens. They are so entertaining. Sometimes I just sit and watch them – better than tv and more educational. However, I disagree with your statement that “I would actually consider backyard chickens to be a modern cultural phenomenon.” They most certainly are not. Before the turn of the 20th century suburban backyard chickens were quite common. Go into any small town USA and observe the old sheds in the backyards if they are still there. Most of them were chicken coops that were repurposed after modern hygienic ideas enforced by local health ordinances forced backyard chickens to rural farms only.

14 Robyn March 27, 2013 at 8:03 am

Raccoons are merciless chicken killers. I have had more than one flock devastated by coons who usually just eat part of the chicken and leave the carcass to go kill another until it wipes out an entire flock. They have also been known to reach through cracks, holes and fencing to rip chickens apart bit by bit. Don’t leave your chickens unprotected. Anything you might think too small for any predator is not. Also the only protection your chickens have against predators besides what you provide for them in shelter is their beaks, spurs and their wings to fly from danger. Don’t deprive them of these things by clipping their wings, spurs or beaks.

15 Will March 27, 2013 at 8:09 am

We kept hens in our backyard for about ten years or so. I liked Dominiques for their reliable egg production, but also had a couple of Araucanas (aka Easter-egg chickens)–they lay beautiful blue and turquoise eggs.

Two problems I encountered:

1. The hens could get over our 4-foot fence and into the neighbors’ yards. Most didn’t care, but one woman complained to the point where I had to keep them penned up most of the day.

2. The dogs I had for years never bothered with the girls. But when I adopted my latest dog, I realized immediately that he has a very strong prey instinct. So my flock of five was quickly reduced to three. I gave the remaining hens to the man down the street who keeps chickens.

But I’d recommend it to anyone; you cannot believe the flavor of true free-range eggs, and the hens are fascinating to watch!

Great post.

16 bobster March 27, 2013 at 8:27 am

Truly, the hardest part is keeping predators away. Creek’s design is a good one, even if a bit stylish :-).

a few additional pointers:
>Keep the chicken tractor on flat ground. predators will seek to get under any corner that has a dip in the earth
>keep your feed in a good sealed container. coons are safe crackers.
>When you want to move the thing, do it when they are roosting in the evening.
>Grind your shells and put them on your compost pile or in BREAD DOUGH that you bake :-) (keeps up your calcium intake.)
>Chickens benefit if you can supply them with ground seashells of any kind.
>Easiest way to kill chickens: lay chicken on ground, put broom handle over their neck and step on it, then jerk hard on their feet (breaks the neck). Remember- everyone (including you) will be someone else’s lunch some day :-). It’s a fitting way to end a full and meaningful life.

The biggest hurdle for many people is not going outdoors in the first place. I feel the greatest benefit of the chickens is that they get you outside. Bringing out the compost bucket/moving the chicken tractor will get you out under God’s good sky on a regular basis.

17 Eric March 27, 2013 at 8:55 am

Great article, however, a caution about feeding the egg shells to chickens. If they recognize their own product as a snack, they may start breaking their own eggs before they can be gathered.

18 BenL March 27, 2013 at 8:59 am

Great article. Highly recommend giving this a try for anybody who can.

@Narin and @SamWood:
http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/how-to-process-a-chicken-at-home gives a good pictorial on how to clean and process a chicken to eat at home. This website is a great resource to check out if you’re interested in anything chicken.

@Will:
I have a very similar situation. We had 2 Australorps, 1 Barred Rock, and 1 Buff Orpington in our coop, and we allowed them to free range a lot of the time during the days. We have a Rat Terrier and a Jack Russell, so we fenced off the hens in a separate area. However, a fence won’t necessarily keep them in, and the Barred Rock (our favorite) flew the coop into the dogs area. Clean kill, no blood, instant death, with a simple instinctive neck wringing from the dog. Hated to see Ruby go, but couldn’t be mad at Watson for acting on instinct.

However, we decided to give on the chicken raising as we knew the same fate would eventually meet the others. If we had more laid back dogs (protective, instead of predatory), we would still be doing it.

19 Aidan March 27, 2013 at 9:12 am

Brilliant article! Very thorough and well written.

We’ve just got 6 chickens of our own and will scale up soon- they’ll take only about 1.5 years to pay for themselves, then the eggs will start saving us money.

Thanks for taking the time to write the article.

20 Jon March 27, 2013 at 10:58 am

A couple things to add. We’ve had trouble with 1″ mesh and ended up doing a second wrap (off-center) effectively giving us a .5″ mesh. It’s still a little too easy for critters you don’t want to get through 1″ holes. Also, our coop is stationary… We have our mesh run down the ground and then fan our about 24″ on all sides. Then we bury it with about 3″ of soil. A raccoon knows how to dig under a coop to get inside, but if they dig and find mesh underground too, they will give up.

Secondly, I would recommend against giving them any kind meat, especially chicken and/or eggs. Consistently giving your chicken’s meat can make them mean/more aggressive. Also, if they get use to the taste of eggs, and they figure out that they lay eggs, they can start to eggs their eggs before you can get them. (That happened to us and we had to cull our whole flock).

Finally, raising chickens is only cost effective if you’re raising them completely organic. If you aren’t giving them only organic food (and table scraps) then you’re really just paying a lot of money for conventional eggs. You may as well go buy a dozen from the store for $0.99 and be done with it.

21 Donna Wasman March 27, 2013 at 11:34 am

I like the article and we have had chickens. As we are “old” now I don’t think we would build the coop the same again…we had too much bending over..ouch! What we now have are ducks. They are truly wonderful. They are great weeders and get the bugs as well. We’ve had a lot of rain this spring and they have made some mud spots…boy can they make mud. We have a creek so they go for a dip several times per day and wonder around bugging the rest. We get a beautiful JUMBO egg from each female every morning and they are wonderful. Scrambled eggs, cakes, pancakes all fluffier and delicious. We have lost a couple to predators, but plan to try and expand our flock…maybe get a Chinese goose. Have read that they are good protectors. Not downing a good chicken any day. We just tried something different.

22 DJ March 27, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Lots of great info on raising and processing chickens (and many other topics) at:
http://thedeliberateagrarian.blogspot.com

We’ve had up to 25 chickens over the past few years for eggs and as pets, and we are raising some “meat birds” for the first time this year. I’ll be studying up on the Deliberate Agrarian for sure.

23 Ken March 27, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Awesome, was thinking this is my next project. And some quails too.

24 Denise March 27, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Well done. PLEASE DO NOT FEED YOUR CHICKENS FRESH EGGS SHELLS. They will quickly figure out that eggs are delicious and high protein. They will soon learn to eat their own eggs and there is no reliable cure for that as far as this old hen knows. Boiled shells do not seem to be problematic and hard boiled eggs mashed with the shells for new chicks and ill birds are a great way to support health.
Bravo for your thoughtful, clear instruction. Facebook has local chicken groups and poultry swaps in many places. As well as Craigslist to find and sell poultry.
Best wishes to all!

25 Ian March 27, 2013 at 1:59 pm

You should never feed chickens uncooked potato peels, they’re poisonous – make sure you boil them first

26 Tony March 27, 2013 at 2:22 pm

A few years back, wife and I decided to give up a grass back yard that was essentially unused and useless [and expensive to water and mow/weed/feed] to create an urban farm. We have been raising 5 chickens for a few years now. Use the droppings to fertilize our 15 raised 4×8 veggie and produce beds, zero chemical pesticides. We get 10-15 eggs per week and really don’t buy veggies anymore as we just grow our own. Another benefit not mentioned by the author is the time that we tend the gardens and coop together is another great way to spend time with a spouse. By the way, we live in a suburb of Los Angeles.

27 Ryan Dunphy March 27, 2013 at 2:26 pm

My friend grows chickens for eggs. Oh my god are they good. You have never had an egg til you have had one that is this fresh. I still buy them from him every so often. I have also heard that eggs this fresh and fed grass clippings and grains have less fat and cholesterol, not sure if true, but they are tastier and far better than anything you will find in the mega-market grocers.

28 William March 27, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Forget chickens. My wife and I went with ducks. They’re quieter, tastier, lay more, and have a natural escape from ground predators.

29 John D March 27, 2013 at 3:56 pm

How long do freshly laid eggs keep before they go bad? Is it a matter of making sure you pick them up the same day they are laid or can you go a day or two without picking them up?

30 Donald March 27, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Great article. I’ve always wanted to do this but space and city living make it difficult. One problem though, grains (corn, wheat, oats) are not a proper diet food for most birds and produce subpar eggs and meat. Chickens should eat mostly insects, grasses, seeds, vegetables and fruits. Primal/paleo diet for me and the animals I eat.

31 jsallison March 27, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Our experience has been that lacking a rooster one of the hens will take over the duties of official alarm clock. Thankfully our neighbors were all old codgers who said it reminded them of their childhood.

We only kept one rooster who bullied everyone in the yard, including my wife. He tried me once only to be met point blank with a size 12 brogan.

Later, when our golden retriever pup figured out he was a good 70 lbs bigger than the backyard dictator he had a tasty snack and we figured out hens can crow, too…

32 Tyler M March 27, 2013 at 10:12 pm

It looks like a few other people have already mentioned it, but how about an article about butchering your own chicken? That would be cool and pretty helpful if we start raising the chickens and get roosters.

33 LCpl X March 28, 2013 at 1:04 am

That’s a really cool looking coop, any schematics or how-to make it youtube video available?

34 Cindy March 28, 2013 at 4:31 am

Loved reading your article-I live in the city of Scranton, PA but my home is situated wherein it seems like country living….we have deer, rabbits, woodchucks, heard of a bobcat, but didn’t see it….plus I really don’t know if I would be able to have one in my yard…we have about 103 acre. Thank you for the new things I did learn.

35 Mark G March 28, 2013 at 8:10 am

Good article. A couple of points from someone in the UK:

1) Most chickens for laying in the UK are sold “POL” which stands for “Point of Lay”. These are young birds that will start laying in the next few weeks.

2) AFAIK there is no rule against keeping chickens in an urban garden, and they don’t need lots of space.

3) I feed my chickens meat, but don’t feed them eggs or chicken. It just feels wrong..

4) Main predator in the UK is foxes, I had a coop similar to the one in the article but also laid some (loose) paving slabs round the perimeter to prevent burrowing.

5) In terms of how much aggravation a chicken is to look after, I always tell people it’s on a par with a pet rabbit in terms of difficulty, plus you get eggs.

36 Brian March 28, 2013 at 10:09 am

As a 7 year backyard chicken farmer I say don’t stress out over any of the details. Chickens are easy, resilient,and forgiving. The advice about heat lamp temperatures while chicks can be disregarded in favor of this:

If the chicks are cheeping loudly and/or huddled together they are cold. Drop the heat lamp down a few inches.

If the chicks are spread as far from the heat lamp as possible or trying to scramble up the sides of their crate they are too hot. Raise the heat lamp a few inches.

If the chicks are quiet they are either content, asleep, or dead. Poke one to get a reaction.

37 Brian March 28, 2013 at 10:12 am

Oh, and never put fresh chicken droppings directly on your prize roses. The fresh droppings are so chemically hot (20-0-0) that your roses will suffer greatly. Compost the poo for a year before using it. At least 6 months if you can’t wait. But mingle it with some grass clippings as well. to get a good Carbon – Nitrogen mix.

38 Claude March 28, 2013 at 11:11 am

My wife has been talking about doing this for awhile. Ive been resistant. But this article has me considering it again at least.

39 Brandon March 28, 2013 at 11:37 am

Great write-up. I was thinking about how great it would be to have a farm of chickens if the zombie apocalypse occured. Free eggs, good source of meat, easy to keep.

40 Daniel March 28, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Any thoughts on spent grain (the barley parts left over from brewing) as chicken feed? Commercial brewers often send it off to farmers as it is just fiber and protein, but I’ve heard of it being used for cows mostly.

41 Robyn March 29, 2013 at 7:20 am

John D – As far as how often to pick up eggs – every day. More if you live in a cold climate. You don’t want the eggs to freeze and they’ll crack. Every day is good because a hen will go back to sit on an egg to lay another or may become broody. You don’t want the egg under the hen for more than 24 hours. If it is fertilized it begins to develop and cracking open a developing egg even after 24 hours is not something I like. Even if the eggs are not fertilized I don’t like them underneath the warmth of a hen for any longer than necessary. Yolks weaken in warmth and after a while they just are a runny mess when you open them. Fresh eggs will keep in the refrigerator for weeks. On the countertop depends solely on the ambient temperature. The cooler the room the longer the eggs, but don’t wash them if you intend to keep them out. I know it can be a temptation to do so when they are filthy, but eggs have a protective coating on them to prevent intrusion of bacteria. Best to dry wipe off the filth as much as possible.

42 Bill March 29, 2013 at 7:24 am

We had a few chickens around our farm for years and the eggs from free range chickens are so much better than store bought ones, bright orange yokes and better flavor. They love grass, chickweed and any grain plant esp. wheat in the soft dough stage. I pulled wheat up by the roots and threw it in their pen for them. They will eat most anything that doesn’t eat them first.

43 Rex March 29, 2013 at 9:33 am

If you want your chickens to lay in winter like they do the rest of the year, give them light. They require a certain number of hours of light per day to lay at optimal levels. For years, we have put a couple of heat lamps in our coop (it’s large) from about November through March and we leave them on overnight. They take the chill off of the air and give the hens the light stimulus that they need for egg production. During this last winter, which was unusually cold, our 30 hens, some of which are nearing the end of their laying lives, gave us about 2 dozen eggs a day, which is about the same production as the rest of the year. With just me and my wife at home, we sell the surplus eggs to help defray the cost of feed, which is higher during the winter, especially when snow covers the ground for extended periods and the chickens can’t forage. Good luck with your efforts.

44 Terry March 29, 2013 at 10:22 am

Save the old egg shells for a bit. Most growers cook them a bit before giving to the hens. Old timer used to put a white door knob in the nests, entice more eggs. Hens lay more eggs w/ 16 hrs of light. Sometimes too long of light will make them bored and peck on each other. Put pine tar on bloody spots.

45 Terry March 29, 2013 at 10:27 am

Put eggs in water if unsure of age. Bad ones float. good ones usually sink right away. We used to do that when we found a nest full and did not know if fresh. Of course the floaters are good for egg fights with cousins

46 sharon March 29, 2013 at 11:12 am

How do you find store bought feed that isn’t GMO?

47 clarence March 29, 2013 at 9:38 pm

to daniel and others about brewer’s grains; chickens absolutely adore it. a friend of mine raised chickens for several years and fed them the leftovers from a microbrewery. also, go to any food bank and ask for the stale bread that they don’t pass out to people.

clarence

48 Robyn March 30, 2013 at 8:16 am

Sharon, it is really hard to find any commercial feed these days that does not contain GMOs and from personal experience I can usually tell which whole grain feeds contain GMOs because my chickens refuse to eat the GMOs. I stopped buying many commercial feeds because the chickens would scratch it all over the floor looking for the “real food”. If you live anywhere near Amish country you might be able to find a grainery that carries non-GMO feed. I have a couple near me where I go for non-GMO feed. Otherwise you might be stuck with mail ordering over the internet or growing feed yourself. But keep in mind that chickens will usually eat just about anything – that includes any kitchen scraps or garden scraps. You might be able to pick up spoiled produce from local grocery stores. I’ve even heard of people feeding their chickens road kill.

49 Eric March 30, 2013 at 8:01 pm

@ sharon

If you purchase USDA organic certified feed, it will not contain GMO products. A good supplement to a store bought feed is garden and kitchen scraps. Check with a farm supply store for a better selection of feeds if you can’t find it at your store.

50 Rick March 30, 2013 at 9:18 pm

My wife and I were keeping urban chickens before everyone else was, so we got to learn a lot on our own. Our best resource (especially since “you are eating what they are eating” really does apply) that we stumbled onto was a co-op that had organic and GMO free feed that was LESS than the store bought conventional feed. We really had to search for it, though. Good article and I’m glad to see so many people have had such a positive experience raising hens! LOL @ Brandon…

51 Shane March 31, 2013 at 8:00 pm

We’ve slaughtered our own chickens since I was ten years old. The worst part about it is the smell. Wow. Chicken guts are the most foul thing you`ll ever……hey, a pun!
But seriously, the first time you do it, you may not want to eat chicken for a few weeks until the memory of it fades.

52 Bill April 1, 2013 at 4:30 pm

First, I must say, this is an excellent article. I thought it was very comprehensive.

My son has been raising, breeding, and showing chickens since he was five. When he asked for chickens for his 5th birthday, my wife and I thought it was cool, and being of an agrarian background – we obliged. Now, our almost thirteen year old has grown his 12 chickens to nearly 60 breeding birds; he has shipped chicks and showed all over the U.S. Chickens have helped him develop a spirit of entrepreneurship, a sense of responsibility, and respect for people. Thanks to many gentlemen who have mentored him, he competes at the top level of his breeds. His website is Frozenacrefarm.com.

So, we thought chickens were only good for food, but we have learned otherwise!

53 jessica April 1, 2013 at 5:19 pm

I am fascinated by raising chickens in our backyard. However, I have read (and been told) that having chickens in the city can attract rats. How big of an issues is this and do you have any advice on deterring rodents?

54 Bill April 2, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Jessica – Chickens do not attract rodents – they may attract predators! Although, I have seen coops that have rodent problems. The most notably are rats, but you can get mice, rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, and many more. The reason some folks end up with these issues is their lack of cleanliness. Chickens will spill food and water; it is a fact of life. Failing to clean the coop and the surrounding area will attract rodents. My suggestion to anyone looking to raise chickens in an urban environment is to keep the coop clean and store feedstuff in metal cans with a tight-fitting lid. Also, you may want to consider a bantam breed. Bantams are generally regarded as ornamental, but there are some breeds that lay well and would require less square footage to raise. The impact on a dense space will be significantly less with the smaller breeds. I recommend Rhode Island Red Bantams in the north, and Sumatra Bantams in warmer more humid climates. The Reds will lay a medium to large egg, the Sumatras will lay a small-medium egg.

This is a good document to look at http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/FreePubs/pdfs/um194.pdf

55 Robyn April 2, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Jessica, Bill is right. Chickens do not attract rats. They may attract predators. The feed can attract rats. Keep the feed in closed metal containers like a trash can.

56 TJ April 19, 2013 at 6:33 pm

I don’t raise chickens, I raise ducks. Certain breeds are louder than chickens, and most breeds are larger than chickens, but I prefer them. Ducks eggs tend to be twice as big as chicken eggs.
My ducks do quite well with relatively little maintenance. All they need is a bit more water and food than chickens. They kept healthy through the Rocky Mountain winter, where temps get down to -25f, with a bit of straw in a makeshift shelter and a heat lamp.
Ducks are also smarter than chickens. I prefer ducks to chickens.

57 Linda Olson May 1, 2013 at 8:54 am

My chickens are going on 5 weeks. Can I put them in the coop with a heat lamp now? They are getting to big for the tub I have them in.

58 Steve May 6, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Hi Linda. I don’t know where you live, but at 5 weeks, with reasonable spring temps, your chicks should be ok in a coop with a heat lamp. I moved mine out at 6 weeks with no heat lamp, and that was two weeks ago. They have been prefectly fine, and really loved the upgraded living quarters! I live in WI, and during those first two weeks we had a couple nights down to around 30. We’ve also had some cool rainy days. Again, with heat lamp, yours should be fine. They will appreciate the upgrade from the crowded tub!

59 Jon May 8, 2013 at 9:49 pm

Hi,

I’ve been wanting to raise chicks for a while now. I’m just not sure if I have appropriate space in my back yard. It’s rather small, but I have a structure that could be a great coop, with modifications. Is there anyway that someone could give me some advice if I sent a picture of what I’ve got??

60 Matt May 11, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Actually Roosters do serve more of a purpose! They will protect the hens when they are outside of the coop. They will protect them to the death from hawks and other predators so that the hens can retreat.

61 Eric May 14, 2013 at 9:21 pm

The greatest aspect of having chickens for us was the landscaping. I fought huge weeds for two years. They destroyed my weed eater line and came right back for more. A couple of months having chickens and all the weeds were gone!

62 george naschke May 15, 2013 at 5:55 pm

I raised chickens in my old carriage house for 18 months. Rhode Island Reds on laying feed with lights on a timer, sometimes I got more than 18 “hen grenades” a day from 16 hens. The “cackle berries” are super but there is mucho work in processing meat from birds. I recommend buying chicken meat until things get REAL bad. The rooster I kept for security (we never lost a hen to a predator) loved fighting more than I loved him. This is doable, feed is cheap, fresh eggs keep a long time and make great gifts.

63 Lnda Olson June 5, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Do my 8 week old chickens need a light on all night? They are in a coop and also out in their run during the day.

64 Collins Ryder June 14, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Chickens must have lighting at night, this will help keep them warm.

65 kitty June 17, 2013 at 12:52 am

me and my friend have some chicken eggs and we have no idea how old they are. we want to raise them as pets, so right now we have them in a bin with a heat lamp over them. we don’t know if they’re going to make it or not. we know that they need to be in a incubator but we can’t afford one. we also don’t have a thermometer. we have a flash light that we use to see inside the eggs but we don’t know what we’re really looking for. do any of you have an idea on what we need to do? we really need some help. please and thank you.

66 maria almenara June 24, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Hi,
We have a chicken siting on the nest for a few days. Obviously she wants to hatch little chicks but our eggs are not fertile because we don’t have a rooster and also we don’t want to raise new chickens – we have 4 and that’s enough for us. What should we do? Thanks, Maria

67 Pamela Kearns July 12, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Thank you so much for all the information. I am trying to talk my husband into a chicken coop for next Spring. I figure that gives me enough time to convince him. :) Thanks again for the help.

68 Alan marsden July 18, 2013 at 6:09 am

Really enjoyed reading your topic on raising chickens the only thing I would disagree with is your comment on Roosters being worthless!
I have three roosters who look after my hens they are great watchdogs and alert the girls (who are always to engrossed in foraging) to any danger they keep their eye on the sky for predators an call out to the hens if they spot anything that don’t like.
they ensure that the hens are tucked up in the coop at night . On one occasion when a hen stayed out all night the rooster stayed out as well,remaining close to her, i would not be without a rooster and neither would my hens.

69 Teresa Bartrug July 24, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Great Article, we also have a batch of back yard chickens. 5 as a matter of fact, 4 hens and a rooster. My husband and I and our 5 year old son have had our birds for over a year and a half. when we moved here in Carroll County, GA we were told by our realtor that we would be living in the country, heck in driving to our new home we passed horses and cows the very next street over. So we were sure {yes} we were in the country, even though it was a slightly new subdivision and only a little over a half acre, long story short, someone new to the neighborhood complained about the chickens, see not only did we have chickens several other neighbors did as well. we were all sited with unlawfully having chickens in a residential area. OMG, really. My birds are not hurting anyone. Anyway can anyone give me some advice about how to rezone my area? on the map of Carroll County, my little subdivision is the only non- agricultural area on it… Please if anyone can help us keep our whole family together, because our chickens are a part of our family we would be so very great full…. Thank you, and God Bless

70 Alison August 6, 2013 at 6:18 pm

We’ve been housesitting for a friend with a large coop of chickens. Some of the birds are getting quite old and don’t lay regularly any more but the seven younger hens are all laying an egg a day. It will be difficult to go home and have to buy eggs again!

71 Oliver August 15, 2013 at 11:16 am

My city sounds like they are close to approving urban coops. Question: how big a back yard is reasonable for being able to rotate the coop around the yard sufficiently? The lots in our newer developments have small back yards and I am not sure ours is large enough to accommodate a coop like the one depicted.

72 Adam August 27, 2013 at 3:51 pm

Thanks for really great info…raise backyard chickens is not easy…

73 Kirsten August 29, 2013 at 3:22 am

This article is well written, I appreciate the detailed infos you’ve given the readers in this post. I myself is in favor of a mobile coop, because like you’ve mentioned maintenance wise- it is easier to clean. Chicken poop can be so messy, but once you have a mobile coop you can move the chickens on different parts of the garden and presto you can use the poop as organic fertilizer. I’d like to share a tip regarding care of the chickens which a friend thought us ( he also raises chickens by the way). He uses oregano oil extract, as anti biotics and is he says that his chickens seldom gets sick. I still have to try this though but he rarely brings his chickens to the vets with this formula.

I agree that chickens make good pets, my kids enjoy taking care of them and even gave names to the chickens depending on their personalities. Again thankyou for this wonderful post.
_Kirsten-

74 Thomas September 16, 2013 at 7:55 am

Great page! I love how simply you have broken down raising and maintaining chickens! Can’t wait to get my coop started!

75 Marc October 1, 2013 at 5:52 pm

Great article. I have been raising chickens for quite a few years now, although on a greater scale. I still believe that having a backyard flock is a great passtime that gives back either in eggs or eventually in meat. If you can raise your flock from baby chicks, it makes it a lot more interesting and fun. If you have a male in there, you can produce fertile chicks and look into hatching your replacement flocks, besides it is sooper neat to watch your chicks hatch.
If you have any questions, I would gladly answer them.
http://www.raising-chickens-yourself.com

76 Julia October 10, 2013 at 10:05 am

I Love how everyone is getting into backyard chickens:) I let mine free range on several acres (they love the woods and creek) I have 34 and I do not give them any feed when they are free ranging during warm weather. I have several barn cats and dogs that were raised with the chickens and they run with them…keeps critters away…and I keep a compost pile going in the barn (dirt floor) which they love because of the bugs but it also keeps the barn warm in the winter:)

77 Sandra October 10, 2013 at 2:37 pm

about the raw potato peelings- This is not something we ever experienced in a great many years of keeping chickens and turkeys with raw potato hitting the pile (compost). never a problem.

78 Cristina October 21, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Great article! Found it so helpful! Thanks so much!

79 Romel Spielberg October 22, 2013 at 4:49 am

I also love raising chickens, not just for fun but to earn and have income. It is not easy to start this kind of hubby/business but it’s full of fun. I searched online for tips and techniques on how to raise chickens and it took me awhile to find this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VhF7juMrl0&list=UUbeZnh4slm6RfOIE5TQSPfg&index=1 which really helps me move forward to the next phase of my business. And I also came across with this website which I know could also help you :) http://foodcyclist.com/stress-free-chicken-tractor-plans/

80 su October 24, 2013 at 8:21 am

Thanks for sharing such a wonderful article! I am just curious, do you every experience a problem with rats? I have recently had an outbreak on rats feeding on my chicken feed. Am I giving them too much food? Thank you!

81 Brandi Crosby November 3, 2013 at 10:10 am

I have 2 game roosters that got into a fight approximately two weeks ago there was no visible damage after the fight just tired and wore out two weeks later now my chickens have eyes watering knows watering no activity look like they’re going to die is there anything besides I have give them antibiotic water I have gave them wormer water I have tried different food I cannot seem to get the energy back in my roosters any suggestions?

82 a.karim November 23, 2013 at 12:49 am

hello sir,
well I want to say that should we need nesting box or hens lay the eggs any where?

83 M.Hamza Ajaz December 26, 2013 at 12:55 am

Hello sir how are you?I wanted to know that i have 2 hens and 1 cock,my 1st hen has layed some eggs and i want to hatch them.In the country where i live its the winter season and i have been collecting eggs.How can i hatch eggs without inclubates and bulbs,i want to hatch them naturally.Please Reply!!!!!!

84 Laurie January 20, 2014 at 6:46 pm

Loved your article. My hens have jst started laying and I wondered if you built your mobile coop or have plans. Its exactly the right size and what I have been looking for.
Thank you for a wonderful article!

85 m Taylor February 5, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Do chickens get on cars?
that would be my only problem with them, and whenever you let them out of the coop ,will they stay close,an go back in the coop at night?

86 Stephanie February 16, 2014 at 3:48 pm

I, too, would like to know if you used/have plans for the chicken coop you built. It’s perfect!

87 Wes March 26, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Does anyone have information regarding how dogs and chickens might interact?

88 Jerry March 27, 2014 at 8:24 am

A Rooster does have a place in your backyard flock – if you let them run free.
He keeps the girls from roaming off on their own and and is fearless when anything threatens his flock. He IS a little rough on them when it comes time to fertilize the eggs.

89 Jay April 16, 2014 at 9:28 am

I see you let your chickens free roam…how hard is it get them back in the coop? Do they willingly go back in or do you have to corral them? Just curious because I would want my future chickens to have the opportunity to explore the entire yard. Thanks!

90 Daniel April 21, 2014 at 11:16 pm

Many dogs will kill chickens. But they can also be trained to protect the chickens. The two dogs we have guard our flock of outdoor chickens, enabling the chickens to roam freely over acreage.
The great thing about chickens, is that they like to spend the night in the same place. So once they have an established roost in a coop, they will come back to it in the late afternoon to early evening on their own. There is no need to round them up. amanandhishoe.com

91 Eric James April 22, 2014 at 10:24 pm

Awesome article – taking the back yard chicken plunge but wanted to know if you have plans to that cool mobile coop

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