How to House Chickens in Your Backyard



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LTM's small farm is completely off the grid. Her family uses solar and alternative power sources for lighting, cooking, animal fencing, etc.

Backyard Chickens

Have you always wanted to have chickens in your backyard and fresh eggs for breakfast? An increasing number of city and town backyards are now home to hens. Keeping chickens in your backyard is not always as easy as you'd like to think.

Many people advise clipping the wings of backyard chickens to stop them from wandering. Wing clipping is certainly an option, but in my experience, it is too difficult for most new chicken owners to catch their birds and clip their wings effectively. It is not pleasant for the chickens and no fun for their owners. Even if your chickens can't fly, they can still cause mayhem and chaos in a suburban backyard. So, how will you protect your garden? A chicken run in the backyard attached to the hen's house could be your best option.

Different Runs for Chickens in the Backyard

Choosing the best option from many different runs for chickens kept in backyards requires you to think carefully about your home, your yard, your family, and exactly what role your chickens will have in your life.

If you want to keep your chickens at a distance from your house, tucked away in the bottom of your backyard, you'll need a different size and type of run than one chosen by a family intending to keep chickens as pets.

Do you have cats in your own home or nearby houses and fear they may attack your chickens even during daylight? Will your family dog adopt the chickens and keep them safe from predators? These are kinds of issues you need to think through when assessing different runs for chickens in your backyard.

How Safe Is Your Backyard for Chickens?

What kind of chickens do you intend to keep, and how many? Do you expect your breed of hens to be adventurous and fly over fences into other backyards where they are not welcome? If so, you'll need wire covering your chicken run. Or, perhaps you have your eye on ground-dwelling Silkies less likely to jump your boundary fences.

Free-ranging hens can happily wander unattended through a backyard and return to a small hen house to roost if that's what suits your lifestyle. Lock them up at night to keep them safe from predators, and let them run free again each morning.

Backyard Chickens for Pest Control

Aside from the obvious advantage of fresh eggs for breakfast, keeping a couple of chickens in your backyard can help with pest control.

The variety of hens you choose will influence their effectiveness in your garden, but in theory, chickens can help control the following pests:

  • Flies
  • Fruitfly
  • Mosquitoes
  • Grasshoppers
  • Millipedes
  • Earwigs
  • Scorpions
  • Spiders
  • Ticks
  • Worms/caterpillars that attack apple trees, cherry trees, etc
  • White cabbage moths and their larvae.

Free-ranging chickens can be very effective pest controllers. To control pests, however, chickens do two things; they peck and they scratch. Big hens with big feet on strong legs can make a mess of garden beds as they scratch looking for worms and other food. Hungry chickens will peck and eat your lettuce and tomatoes and other foods growing in your garden as well as the caterpillars and flying bugs they may find on the leaves.

If you don't want your chickens to have access to your entire backyard, you will need to build them a run. Your other option is to effectively fence your vegetable garden.

Building a Backyard Chicken House

The new hen house began with a raised platform at a convenient height for us to reach in and replace straw, and easily catch the chickens when necessary. No need to bend down to ground level. We painted the floor to seal it.

Fine-Tuning Your Hen House

It is difficult to anticipate precisely how your hens, roosters, and baby chicks will cope with changing seasons and their new living quarters, but there are a few obvious factors you'll need to take into account.

For instance, sometimes you'll have heavy rain. The space beneath the hen house in our most recent design has proven extremely useful for the fowl to take shelter. Similarly, in the summer heat, there needs to be shelter from the sun. In addition to the space beneath their house, at the first sign of spring, we added blue shade cloth to provide additional cover over the fenced area near the entry.

The stairs have been fun for the larger birds, but once winter passed, we replaced the steps with a ramp, one that was better suited to accommodate baby chicks. In order to protect the seedlings in our vegetable gardens, we covered the entire chicken run in nets. (I am not a fan of clipping their wings.) Our poultry will be confined to their house and outdoor run until the gardens are safe for free-ranging again. Meanwhile, we bring clumps of fresh grass and other greens to them and treat them to grain and seeds.

Despite the general success of the original house and run design, we have definitely found a need for fine-tuning. Our free-ranging hens and roosters can fly over even the highest fences.

Springtime Changes to the Chicken House

Shade cloth for summer protects the entry ramp from excessive heat and also keeps their water tank shaded.

Best Backyard Chickens

My best recommendation for anyone keeping chickens in the backyard for the first time is to choose Silkies. Begin with this small, friendly, well-behaved breed of chicken (compared other breeds), and then expand your flock with other varieties once you become more experienced and confident.

Silkies offer many advantages if you want backyard chickens.

  • Silkies rarely fly
  • They are not likely to be aggressive
  • They are lovely and soft to touch and hold
  • Their eggs are small but tasty

Equally important:

  • Silkies have feathers on their feet, so they are less likely to scratch your garden
  • Their size means they eat less if you are buying layer's mash or pellets instead of letting them free-range
  • Silkies are good mothers and will even sit on a larger hen's eggs. When the time comes to expand your flock, you can purchase fertile eggs for a Silkie to hatch.
  • Silkie roosters are just as cute and lovely as the hens, unlike larger varieties whose roosters can be far more intimidating to inexperienced chicken owners

And . .

You don't need a big backyard.

Backyard Silkies

Two of my Silkies. One white hen with a rooster. They won't be kept in the new chicken run because they cause no damage to our gardens and we simply lock them up in their own little house at night.

How Many Backyard Chickens Do You Need?

How many chickens do you plan to keep in your backyard?

Before you rush out and buy six, eight, ten cute little chicks to bring home and raise with the dream of supplying your family and friends with fresh eggs, I suggest you give thought to exactly what you will do with an excess of eggs during the peak laying season. Those of us who keep many hens know that there comes a time every year when you're suddenly overwhelmed with more eggs than you can possibly use.

In my home, when our chickens are busy laying one egg each per day, I write the date each egg is collected on the eggshell in pencil before putting it in the fridge. Instead of eating 'the oldest eggs first' as people tend to do when trained to look at use-by dates on supermarket products, we always eat the freshest first.

Any old eggs are fed to our pigs. But if you don't have backyard pigs as well as backyard chickens, you may well find that during spring and summer you have too many eggs to give away and no real hope of eating them within the three months they'll keep in your refrigerator. Scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, poached eggs, quiches . there are lots of ways you can eat them, but sooner or later everyone grows tired of too many eggs.

If you are keeping backyard chickens for the first time, I strongly suggest you start with just two hens. You might have to buy extra eggs during the colder months, but you can always add more chickens to your backyard flock in future years. Most backyards can accommodate two chickens, and most families can cope with two eggs a day.

How Big Is Your Backyard?

Check for Danger Before Locking Your Chickens Up at Night

  • I locked a Brown Goshawk in with my chickens - How m...
    I accidentally locked my poultry in their house with a hawk for a night, yet my chickens survived. Photos of the Brown Goshawk in the chicken run.

© 2013 LongTimeMother

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on May 26, 2015:

Hello Kelsey. My girls are all happy with their hen house and run. It is winter now so they spend most days out in the gardens cleaning up for next spring. :)

Best wishes to your mother.

Kelsey Elise Farrell from Orange County, CA on May 26, 2015:

Awesome hub, I'll be passing along to my mom who just moved onto a farm with a chicken coop. She has yet to make the spring for the chickens, but she'll find this useful for sure.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on April 13, 2014:

Thanks, everyone. I missed the fun of discovering I had Hub of the Day on the day itself. I was in hospital with a leg injury.

I appreciate the comments and encouragement. Thanks again!

Faith Reaper from southern USA on April 10, 2014:

Great hub! Love those Silkies ... I want some too. Congrats on the HOTD ...well done.

Better Yourself from North Carolina on April 10, 2014:

Love your hub and congrats on HOTD! I would love to have Chickens some day but right now we have 4 dogs to keep us busy. This is really helpful for people considering getting Chickens and whether they will be able to manage the responsibility.

Nancy McLendon Scott from Georgia on April 10, 2014:

Wonderful! Excellent, informative information. Your hub also brings back some beautiful childhood memories. My grandmother, who lived with us until she died at 95, raised chickens for years (along with a lovely vegetable garden). Somewhere are pictures of me as a two or three-year-old feeding the chickens.....when the chickens wandered into my grandmother's garden, her dog Bubbles would obediently chase them back to their chicken yard area. I didn't like the times when they had to be killed (Ugh) although I surely liked the fresh fried chicken. Ah.....no worries about hormones or other additives in the chicken....I've thought about trying to raise a few myself, but haven't figured out how to get past the slaughtering part....oh, well, maybe I could just raise the chickens for eggs!

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 10, 2014:

I'm back to say congratulations on HOTD! Well done!

theBAT on April 10, 2014:

Hi I enjoyed reading your hub. Having backyard chickens and hen houses is a very practical idea. Hope to read more of your hubs. Thanks.

moonlake from America on April 10, 2014:

Congrats on HOTD. Love your chickens and enjoyed your hub. We had chickens at one time. We buy fresh eggs now.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on April 10, 2014:

So pleased to see your hub was chosen for HOTD, LTM. You deserve it for this very informational article. One of my first memories of going barefoot was stepping in some fresh chicken manure. You don't forget something like that very quickly. LOL!

I'm considering getting a few hens and maybe some goats in the near future. This hub will help me a lot.

Deborah Neyens from Iowa on April 10, 2014:

Congrats on HOTD. I have three backyard hens that live in a 6'x20' old dog run that I converted into a chicken pen, with a 3'x4' chicken coop inside the pen that I lock them into every night. After one hen kept flying out of the pen - despite a 6-foot high fence - and laying eggs in the garden, we put a top over the pen. Problem solved. Love the fresh eggs, and the chickens make such entertaining pets.

RTalloni on April 10, 2014:

Congrats on your Hub of the Day award for this useful post on raising chickens in the backyard! I would do it just for the pest control you mention, but you can't beat fresh eggs, excuse the pun. :)

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on January 03, 2014:

Hello Alise-Evon. It is summer here and I have more baby chickens than I thought possible. The new hen house has proven a great success. I will take some photos and post an update. lol.

Alise- Evon on January 02, 2014:

Really interesting, as usual, LongTimeMother! I love your photos- those Silkies sure are cute!

Voted interesting and useful.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on December 01, 2013:

Thanks, DDE. I'm pleased you enjoy reading them. I enjoy writing them. lol. :)

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on December 01, 2013:

Backyard Chickens and Hen Houses great hub here and so interesting. You have such lovely photos and a created an informative hub in detail.I enjoy reading your hubs.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on November 15, 2013:

Hello aviannovice. As long as you're getting fresh healthy eggs, that's the main thing. :)

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on November 15, 2013:

I wish I could do this, especially here in OK where the winters are pretty mild. I've been buying eggs from a friend for a couple of years now, and that was one of the smartest choices that I ever made.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on November 08, 2013:

Hi teaches12345. Few pets are as helpful as a cute little silkie. Maybe one day you'll have the chance to get one. :)

Dianna Mendez on November 07, 2013:

I only wish I could have chickens in my back yard. I used to get fresh eggs from a neighbor back home - they are so tasty. Love the silkies, but I would only keep it as a pet.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on November 05, 2013:

Thank you, My Cook Book. We moved the chickens into their new house tonight. :)

Dil Vil from India on November 04, 2013:

Nice hub. It is interesting and useful Thank you for sharing.

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on November 04, 2013:

It costs nothing to dream, Ginger. You can always be a country girl at heart!!

ExpectGreatThings from Illinois on November 03, 2013:

Another hub of yours that makes me wish I lived in the country! Those silkies are adorable :) Great hub! - Ginger

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on November 03, 2013:

Hi Jackie. You can't beat the taste of a truly fresh egg. I hope they start laying soon. :)

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on November 03, 2013:

Jodah, you are very kind. I agree with you about Pekins. They are also a good choice for children. Thanks for your feedback!

LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on November 03, 2013:

Hi FlourishAnyway. I've never heard a small farm being called a farmette before. How creative!! Pigs love eggs. It's fun to watch them crunch them and then move really quickly trying to catch all the drips. :)

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on November 02, 2013:

Very interesting, I got 3 chicks this fall and they are about ready lay I think. Sure look forward to it.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on November 02, 2013:

It's always great to read a hub of someone who's really speaking from experience. Very clear and easy to read, and very good advice for anyone new to poultry raising. Nothing beats fresh home laid eggs. Another beautiful and very friendly breed are Pekins. We have had both silkies and Pekins, and both are quiet small breeds ideal for children.

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 02, 2013:

This is a beautifully written and detailed hub with excellent photos of your building process. I like your idea about writing the date on the eggs and giving extras to pigs. I will share that with my brother who has chickens, pigs, a cow, a donkey, and more critters in a "farmette." I sure wish I could have chickens, but I like in the suburbs and there are rules against it. I do dream, however. Voted up and more, plus pinned.


Planning Your Backyard Chicken Community

Now that you know the basic requirements for raising chickens, here’s the basic lowdown on coops and birds.

DIY vs. Store-Bought Chicken Coops

Do you want to build your own chicken coop, or buy one? A DIY chicken coop is a fun project for those with some building know-how and a free weekend. You can find chicken coop blueprints on the internet in more shapes and sizes than you can shake a stick at. A major advantage to building your own chicken coop is that it’s generally about half the cost of buying one, and you can get creative with it. If DIY-ing a chicken coop isn’t for you, you can find just what you’re looking for online or at your local farm supplies retailer.

Different Types of Chickens

Chickens come in numerous breeds. Some lay more eggs than others, some are friendlier than others, and some eat more than others. Once you become experienced with raising chickens, you can branch out and consider a wide variety of breeds with unique traits. But in the beginning, it’s a good idea to start with one of the easier, more standard breeds. Try one of these popular chickens:

Golden Comet: The Golden Comet is a common hybrid that’s been bred to eat a small amount of food while laying around 280 eggs a year.

Rhode Island Red: These rust-colored chickens can be raised for eggs or meat. They’re a strong breed and lay around 250 brown eggs each year.

Sussex: Sussex is a calm, friendly breed that won’t destroy your garden and will lay around 250 eggs a year, ranging in color from brown to cream.

Plymouth Rock: These large chickens are easily tamed and lay eggs every couple of days—about 200 a year, mostly small-to-medium in size and light brown in color.

Easter Eggers: This hybrid breed lays around 250 gorgeous blue eggs each year. They’re a little more nervous than the above breeds and may not be as easy to cuddle.

How Many Chickens Should You Start With?

Chickens are social creatures and can literally die of loneliness, so plan on buying at least two birds. Some cities allow 25 chickens per flock, while other cities cap it at five. Check with your city’s ordinances to see how many birds you can buy. Then, decide how many you actually want—a good laying hen will produce around six eggs a week, so if you only need enough fresh eggs for your family, start with two or three hens.

If you’re planning to sell eggs to your community, you’ll need a bigger flock. But unless you farm chickens on a somewhat large scale, it’s a possibility that you won’t break even every month—so unless you find raising them enjoyable and rewarding, it’s probably not the best way to try to make a profit.

Larger broods will require more space, a larger coop, more time and money than a smaller flock. If you’re not sure where your chicken-raising will lead you, it’s a good idea to start with just a pair of hens and work your way up.

Raising your own chickens promotes sustainability and healthy living , and it provides you with healthy food, delightful feathered friendships, and a lot of personal satisfaction. So go forth and get yourself some chickens, and create the backyard farm of your dreams.


10 Tips for Raising Backyard Chickens for Beginners

Raising backyard chickens for beginners is exciting and very rewarding. Chickens can be seen as pets and/or a source of food. Either way, chickens can give you joy, a sense of fulfillment, and eggs.

If you have kids, the fun is exponentially multiplied as chickens are very social. It’s also a great way for children to help with chores as well as involve them in 4-H.

While it may be overwhelming in the beginning, there are many tips to make things go easier. Soon you will see how simply entertaining they are with their different personalities.

If you live in an area which permit chickens, they are a great choice.


How to Raise Happy Chickens

Look no further! Here are the answers to all your questions about raising healthy backyard chickens.

Backyards have gone to the birds! Everyone from A-list celebs (we're looking at you, Jennifer Garner and Lady Gaga) to city slickers has taken to raising hens in the name of having farm-fresh eggs at the ready. If you’ve been thinking about joining the chicken-keeping contingency, there’s no need to wing it. Before you get started, check out some DIY chicken coop ideas or you can consider chicken coops you can buy right now. Then outfit your coop with all the necessary accessories from our chicken coop buying guide. You should also do some homework about the different types of chicken breeds. Once you've studied up on all that, check out these helpful tips from a panel of grade-A poultry experts. Here, they answer some of your most pressing questions about raising chickens, from time commitment and costs to safety and, yes, even how to get those pretty blue eggs.

I hear “chicken” and think “farm.”Do I really have enough room to raise chickens in my backyard?

The short answer: probably so! Chickens are relatively small birds, in turn requiring relatively little space. “You should plan to provide four square feet per chicken in the nesting coop (also called a henhouse), plus 10 square feet per chicken in their enclosed run,” says Country Living veterinarian Dr. Tricia Earley. For a flock of, say, six chickens, that translates to a 6'-by-4' nesting coop plus a 6'-by-10' run. (See below for more scoop on chicken coops.) In reality, the amount of room is rarely the deal breaker for backyard chickens. The bigger question is if they are permitted in your neighborhood. Before you get started, our experts advise you to check with your homeowners’ association or municipality to confirm it’s allowed. Surprisingly, many suburban and urban areas only have restrictions on the number of hens allowed or on the possession of roosters.

Raising chickens is not hard, but chicken expert and author Lisa Steele (@fresheggsdaily) says, “As with any pet or livestock, chickens are a serious time commitment and require daily attention.” But, again and again, owners say there’s also a “hen zen” that comes with keeping chickens. Part routine, part respite, starting and ending the day with some fresh air and labor can confer a kind of self-care. In other words, the health benefits go way beyond fresh eggs.

Follow Lisa Steele’s round-the-cluck plan for tending your flock:
Morning:
Let chickens out of their coop, giving access to the enclosed run. Give each a quick once-over, looking for bright eyes, red comb and wattles, steady gait, and shiny feathers—all signs of a healthy hen. Then supply fresh food and water, turn over and fluff coop bedding, and check for eggs.
Afternoon:
Check for eggs again and give chickens their daily treat. (Optional.)
Sundown:
Lock hens back inside their nesting coop to protect from predators. During the winter months, they’ll also appreciate scratch grains before bed because digesting them has a warming effect.
Once a week:
Cleaning time! Take a moment to rake the bedding out of the coop and replace with fresh. Also scrub their feed and water dishes.

While your eggs may soon be homegrown, your chickens’ diet shouldn’t be. “A commercially prepared layer mash has been formulated by a poultry science nutritionist and will have the appropriate amount of calcium, calories, and protein to keep a hen healthy and ensure a good thick eggshell,” says veterinarian Dr. Victoria Drouet. While occasional treats are fine (mealworms or watermelon will get them clucking!), 90 percent of a chicken’s diet should come from store-bought goods. Plenty of fresh water is also vital and, because eggs are mostly composed of H20, directly tied to egg production. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar a few times a week to prevent bacteria.

So…how much does it cost to raise chickens?

Chickens’ needs are simple and somewhat inexpensive, especially when you factor in the return you see on those eggs! But they do require a small investment up front. Female chicks typically cost between $4 to $7 each. (You can get them for even less if you order an “assorted” flock instead of a specific breed.) A 50-pound bag of quality chicken feed costs approximately $25, which a flock of six will go through in about a month. Your biggest cost will be that coveted chicken coop, which can ring in for as little as $100 for a simple mail-order kit to upwards of $10,000 for a designer look. And just like any other beloved pet, don’t forget the occasional trip to the vet (find a listing of avian vets at tillysnest.com).

Leghorns, Silkies, Rhode Island Reds. What's the difference between all those chicken breeds?

From egg production (spoiler alert: No chicken lays eggs every day) to regal plumage, these nine breeds are among the most prized varieties of back yard hens.

  • Araucana
  • Australorp
  • Buff Orpington
  • White Leghorn
  • Marans
  • Plymouth Rock
  • Rhode Island Red
  • Silkie
  • Sussex

Check out our guide to the best chicken breeds for backyard coops for breakdown of these top breeds by appearance, temperament, and egg production and color (hint: if you want those pretty blue eggs, the Araucana is the chicken breed for you!). Can't make up your mind? Mixing different breeds in a single coop is no problem at all and will make your flock all the more alluring.

Where should I purchase my chickens?

“Buying chicks online is a safe way to bring hens home,” says chicken expert and author Kathy Shea Mormino (@thechickenchick). But she advises to only purchase from a hatchery certified by the National Poultry Improvement Plan, such as mcmurrayhatchery.com. Local farm-supply stores, such as Tractor Supply Co., also often have chicks available seasonally, although usually with fewer breed varieties. Psst: Hens don’t start producing eggs until they are approximately 20 to 24 weeks old. If you don’t want to wait that long, consider a “started pullet,” which is a hen that’s 15 to 22 weeks old. Once accustomed to her new surroundings, she’ll begin laying eggs very soon.

Wait, don't I need a rooster?

No! “It’s a common misconception that you need a rooster in order for a hen to lay eggs,” says chicken expert and author Melissa Caughey (@tillysnest). The truth is that a male is needed only if you want eggs fertilized to then hatch as baby chicks. In fact, while the thought of waking up to a country call may sound charming, having a rooster in a backyard flock is generally not recommended because they can become aggressive to hens and people. Be aware that determining the sex of a baby chick is difficult and mistakes can be made. Want to get rid of an accidental fella? Contact a poultry science department at your local college.

I've pinned approximately 225 cute chicken coops! But, what exactly does mine need to function properly? (Besides a copper cupola, obviously.)

Whether you flock toward a rustic red barn or a French château, these are the six key elements needed for a safe and happy henhouse.

  1. Nesting Box
    Hens crave privacy and darkness when laying eggs, so plan for at least one nesting box for every four or five hens. A box that measures 14"W-by-14"H x 12"D will give even a big gal plenty of room. Add a door along the exterior wall of each box for easier egg collection.
  2. Box Bedding
    An inexpensive, soft material such as hay or pin shavings offers a comfortable spot and easier cleaning. To keep things extra fresh, mix in a bedding blend such as The Chicken Chick’s “Spruce the Coop Herbal Fusion” or Fresh Egg Daily’s “Coop Confetti” .
  3. Roosting Bar
    Chickens prefer to sleep high off the ground. Give them a perch to catch those ZZZs with a wooden roosting bar. (Wood is preferable to plastic or metal as they are usually too slippery for the birds to properly grip.)
  4. Dropping Board
    This catchall term refers to a board, pan, or box placed below the roosting bar to collect and contain manure, making daily cleanups easier.
  5. Hanging Feeder & Waterer
    Keep both off the ground to preserve freshness, and place inside the coop to keep out other unwanted animals.
  6. Enclosed Run
    Give your girls a spot to stretch their legs while staying protected from predators. Use hardware cloth or metal screening with at least a 1.2 mm gauge to ensure strength and durability.

Ready to build your own? These stylish mail-order chicken coops bring both country-style charm and true chicken-keeping clout to your backyard.


Watch the video: Raising chickens 101, getting started u0026 what they dont tell you


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