Ever wanted to raise chickens in your backyard but aren’t sure of how to go about it? Well, don’t worry. We were in the same boat as you once. We were scared by the prospect of raising this rather unique bird. We did not know how much does it cost to raise chickens in our backyard. We thought it would be expensive. We thought it would be complicated. It was neither of those things. It was just…fun.
Thankfully, you don’t have to worry about many of the things that we had to worry about when we were raising chickens. For us, it was a learning process (and sometimes we got it wrong). You? Well, you have this guide and our website which will teach you everything that you need to know about raising and breeding backyard chickens.
Why Raising Backyard Chickens?
Well, for starters, it is ridiculous amounts of fun. Raising chickens is unlike raising a typical animal e.g. a dog or a cat. It takes a completely different set of skills, and having backyard chickens is always going to keep you on your toes. Don’t worry, though. Raising chickens isn’t necessarily all that difficult.
It isn’t expensive either (if you know what you are doing). It is just different. So, if you want a bit of a challenge, then have a look at raising chickens.
Of course, there are other reasons why people keep chickens. Most of these reasons boil down to the fact that thickens are productive animals. If you want a steady source of fresh eggs, then chickens will provide that for you. In some cases, they will also provide you with a good bit of meat.
Although, the latter is (obviously) not going to be for everybody. Most people who raise backyard chickens will be doing so because they want the eggs.
Chickens are also great for keeping your garden ‘in check’. They do a fantastic job at pulling up weeds and getting rid of various pests in the garden. Some people use them specifically for this. If you have a small garden, then having a couple of chickens laying eggs and doing a spot of gardening for you is going to be fantastic.
So, want to find out more about how to raise chickens? Well, that is what the rest of this page is about. We are going to go through all of the basics. This isn’t a ‘complete’ guide (we have other pages on our website dedicated to that). Instead, we want to give you a broad overview. This way you can know whether raising backyard chickens is right for you or not.
It is worth noting that this guide is only for keeping a small number of chickens, mostly in urban locations. We are not going to teach you how to raise a massive flock of chickens. That takes a completely different set of skills, and it is probably more suited to somebody who is experienced with rearing chickens.
Raising Backyard Chickens – Getting Started
Before you do anything else, you need to think about two things:
- Whether it is legal to raise chickens in your local area
- How much space you have available for keeping backyard chickens
Obviously, the first thing is going to be key. You probably can raise chickens where you live, but there are some urban locations that have restrictions in place. Turns out that many people can’t deal with the noise of clucking chickens. So, you need to make sure that none of this applies to you.
It is worth noting that many of these laws only prohibit the owning of a rooster, which does make breeding a bit more difficult. In many cases, you will probably be allowed to own hens without any issue.
The more space you have available, the better. If you are breeding, then you will need to plan for the future. You don’t want to be filling up all of that space with chickens. You simply won’t be able to add more to the mix.
In terms of breed, you don’t really need to think about much here. You just need to consider what you are ultimately using the chickens for. If you want eggs from your chickens, for instance, then you will want to look into an egg-laying breed of chicken. These will pump out eggs regularly, which means you always have a steady source of eggs rolling in. Leghorns are fantastic for this.
If you are breeding chickens (i.e. you want to fertilize the eggs on your property), then you should purchase 1 rooster to every 10 hens. However, if you are not planning to actually breed and instead just want to raise chickens, then you don’t need a rooster. Hens are fine. Roosters would be useless. They are not productive on their own, and they are incredibly noisy.
The Importance of Space for Your Chickens
You need a lot of space for your chickens. If you don’t give them the space that they need then you are just asking for trouble. Chickens can be cannibalistic. Of course, that is a worst-case scenario. If they are not given space, then they will become depressed and be unproductive. If you have an egg-laying breed, they may not lay any eggs at all.
In the coop, the chickens should have about 2-square-feet of space each. Outside of the coop (i.e. in their run) they should have around 7-8-square-feet. Of course, the more space they have, the better. As we said; if you are breeding chickens, then you need to plan for the expansion of the flock.
Read more in depth: How Much Room Do Chickens Need.
The Coop and Run
The requirements for your chicken coop are not that high. You could even build your own wooden box if you want to save a bit of money. Ideally, your chickens won’t be spending much time in their coop anyway. Instead, they will be roaming around outside in the chicken run.
Of course, the coop is vital if they want a little bit of privacy and somewhere to keep them warm. As we said; the main consideration will be the amount of space they have in the coop.
There are just two things that we suggest you consider when it comes to your coop:
- Nesting boxes. This is so your hens can lay their eggs. These are vital when you are collecting eggs.
- That the coop is secure. You don’t want predators breaking into it, do you?
You will also need a run attached to the coop. The chickens should have access to this throughout the day. You will only be locking them up in the coop late at night.
You can take a look at our review of the best chicken coops with nesting box and run, perfect for beginners, hobbyists or backyard chickens enthusiasts.
Beside the nesting box, you will need to have a quality chicken waterer and feeder in the coop. It is not that you cannot use your own plates and bowls, but chickens will make a mess while using them. This is what we are using for our small backyard flock. You can check it on Amazon:
Royal Rooster Chicken Feeder and Waterer
- Feeder capacity: 6.5 gal.
- Waterer capacity: 1 gal.
Having a chicken waterer on the ground you would probably have to clean it several times a day from poop. But, this one stays out of poop’s way, providing clean and fresh water to your chickens.
Bedding for Your Backyard Chickens
You do not need to go too ‘crazy’ when it comes to bedding for your chickens. These animals are not particularly fussy, and you have plenty of options available to you. In our opinion, you should choose one of the following, however:
The first will be ridiculously cheap to purchase, and chickens love it. It can be easy to clean too. You just scoop out all of the old straw and put the new straw in its place. You can always get straw from your local pet store (it is mostly used as bedding and food for rodents and rabbits)
Sand is probably going to be better in the longterm, however. You will need to ensure that you purchase sand that has been rated for chicken usage. Sand is easy to clean. In fact, you barely need to replace it. You just scoop small amounts of sand out that has managed to get dirty, and then just refill a small amount each time. Most people will only be replacing the sand completely once or twice per year.
Both of these types of bedding should provide enough ‘warmth’ for adult chickens. You may want to look into heat lamps for some colder locations, though. If you are raising chicks, then you may need a slightly warmer option. In that case, having heat lamps indoors is going to be vital.
Feeding Your Backyard Chickens
It is vital that you give your chickens the right type of food. They are very, very fussy eaters. Although, part of the reason as to why they are so fussy is due to the way they digest their food. Basically, if you don’t feed them properly, your chickens are going to go hungry. This is going to cause major problems in the long run (obviously!)
You should always have chicken grain as a staple of the chicken’s diet. If you are new to raising chickens, then you should buy this ‘ready mixed’. You may not be able to get it from your local pet store (raising chickens in urban locations isn’t that common), but it isn’t that hard to get hold of. This should form the bulk of the chicken’s diet.
In addition to this, you should be giving them a mix of fresh fruits and vegetables. It doesn’t particularly matter what you give them here. This will all be based on your individual chickens, so keep an eye on what they seem to like what they don’t like.
It is worth noting that you will need to keep constant tabs on your chickens. This will give you an idea as to whether you are feeding them the right quantities of food or not. For example; if they are not laying eggs, or they are laying eggs and the shells are quite thin, then you will probably need to be getting more calcium into their diets.
The most important thing for your chickens will be some sort of grit or ground-up shells that they have access to.
Read more in depth about what is chicken grit and why do chickens need it.
Make sure that whatever you buy has been rated for chickens. This isn’t for the chickens to ‘eat’ as such. It is to help them process their food. As you may know; chickens do not have teeth.
This means that they need to keep the grit in a small pouch in their neck which will grind up their food as they eat it. Basically, they need it to be able to eat.
It is likely that the chicken feed that you purchase will have grit mixed up into it, but you should always have a small supply available that your chickens can tap into if they need more.
Water for Your Chickens
You need to think about nothing more than ensuring that your chickens have constant access to freshwater here. Chickens can drink a lot of water. One chicken will probably consume about a liter per day.
You will need to probably have a few buckets of water available for a few chickens. Make sure that you change this water daily!
As we said earlier, if possible, try to invest in a good chicken waterer, this will save you a lot of time and energy.
Keeping Your Chickens Clean
Raising and breeding chickens is very messy. Chickens are not clean creatures at all. You can clean their coop one day, and it will be filthy again the next. So, be prepared to clean your chickens….a lot!
Every day, you will want to go through the chicken coop and clean out any poop. It is unlikely that you will need to change their bedding every single day, but if it is wet, then you will need to remove it (this is much, much easier if you use sand!).
At least once per week, you should be doing a full clean of that coop. If you are using straw for bedding, then that means removing absolutely every last bit of straw. You may want to hose down the floors too. This ensures that it is really clean in there. If you are using sand as bedding, then just moving the sand around to make sure there is no hidden filth is enough.
Although, make sure that you remove any wet areas and filthy bits of sand as needed. You will need to replace the sand completely a couple of times per year.
As you can see; there is a lot that you do need to think about if you are raising backyard chickens. There will be a bit more to consider if you are breeding chicks and raising them from scratch. It is a lot of hard work. It is a daily job. However, we promise you that it is just hard. It isn’t necessarily complicated. The pros of raising chickens really outweigh the cons too.
Just imagine how great all those fresh eggs will taste!