- A Complete Beginner’s Guide To Keeping Chickens
- Download Your Ebook Now
- TABLE OF CONTENTS
- THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO KEEPING CHICKENS IN AUSTRALIA
- WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BUYING MY CHICKENS?
- HOW MANY CHICKENS CAN I KEEP?
- WHAT SHOULD I FEED MY HENS?
- HOW DO I CARE FOR MY HENS?
- WHAT DO CHICKENS DO ALL DAY?
- THEY LOVE TO HAVE A GOOD CHAT
- GREAT FOR THE BACKYARD
- CHICKENS ARE CHEAP TO KEEP
- COMPANIONSHIP AND HAPPINESS
- THEY ARE GREAT EDUCATIONAL VALUE
- CHICKENS BREEDS, SO MANY TO PICK FROM
- CHICKENS AS PETS
- KEEPING CHICKENS IN THE BACKYARD
- HOW MUCH SPACE DO CHICKENS NEED IN COOP AND RUN
- NESTING BOXES
- ROOSTING PERCHES
- HOW MUCH SPACE DO CHICKENS OUTSIDE THE RUN
- SETTING UP A CHICKEN COOP
- WING CLIPPING
- SO HOW DO YOU CLIP THEIR WINGS?
- COUNCILS, LAWS AND GUIDELINES
- HOW MANY CHICKENS CAN I KEEP?
- CHICKEN COOP REQUIREMENTS
- BUYING CHICKENS?
- KEEPING CHICKENS FOR EGGS?
- NUTRITIOUS & TASTY
- WHAT ARE THE BEST EGG LAYING CHICKENS?
- WHAT SPECIAL FOODS DO CHICKENS NEED FOR GOOD EGG PRODUCTION?
- DO I NEED A ROOSTER?
- KEEPING CHICKENS SAFE FROM PREDATORS?
- FOX PROOFING YOUR BACKYARD
- FOX PROOF CHICKEN COOP
- HOW DO I MAKE MY CHICKEN COOP SNAKE PROOF?
- CAN I BUY A SNAKE PROOF CHICKEN COOP?
- CHICKEN COOPS FOR YOUR BACKYARD
- BUILD YOUR OWN
- Backyard chickens: what you need to know
- Step 1: Check the laws and ordinances in your area.
- Step 2: Set up your brooder.
- Step 3: Pick your breed and get your chicks.
- Step 4: Bring your babies home and take care of them.
- Step 5: Set up permanent housing.
- Step 6: Decide on feeding and ranging.
- Step 7: Move your chickens into their coop and wait for eggs!
- And finally: enjoy chicken parenthood!
- How To Raise Chickens
- The Many Benefits of Backyard Chickens
- Fresh, healthy eggs for you & your family
- You won’t be supporting the horrible living conditions of factory egg farms
- Free Compost & Reduce Waste
- Pest Control
- Chickens are hilarious!
- Teach Responsibility
- 7 Best Chicken Tips for First Time Chicken Owners
- Most recent
Raising Backyard Chickens for Dummies
- Get Plans for a Coop and Build It – Or Just Buy One
- Get to Know Your Local Chicken Expert
- At Least One of Your Chickens Will Die a Horrible Death
- You May Get a Rooster in the Bunch
- Your Chickens Will Not Lay Eggs When You Think They Should
- You Will Research What’s Wrong With Your Chickens Like You Would for Your Own Children
- Chickens Can Be Dirty and Smelly
- Chickens Can Feed You
- Watching Backyard Chicken Television Is a Zen Experience
- Birds of a Feather…
- 5 Ways Chickens Can Help Your Garden Grow
- Chickens make gardening better, easier, more productive, and fun!
- Chickens Create Compost
- Chickens Turn the Compost Pile
- Chickens Are Great Pest Control
- Chickens Can Till the Garden
- Using Chickens in the Garden – 13 Things You Need to Know For Success
- When Free-Ranging the Chickens Doesn’t Work
- Best tips and overall strategy on how to keep chickens and crops safe.
- Will chickens eat my vegetable garden?
- Using Chickens in the Spring Garden
- Are there any crops that you need to make sure that you keep the chickens away from because it could be harmful to them if they eat it?
- Free Ranging Chickens for Bug Control
- How to train your dog with free ranging chickens
- Chickens & Your Garden: 7 Ways To Use Chickens In Your Permaculture Garden ‘What The Cluck?!’ Session 12 [Podcast]
- We use chickens in our garden every season to lower our workload and enhance our soil. Particularly, if you’re interested in permaculture, then this episode of What The Cluck?! is for you.
- You’ll learn:
- Links we discuss:
- I’d like to hear from you!
- Subscribe To Our Newsletter
A Complete Beginner’s Guide To Keeping Chickens
Senior Editor • Backyard Chicken Coops
18 April 2015
Keeping chickens can be a nerve racking experience, especially if you’ve never done it before – but it really is quite easy, so long as you have all the equipment, know what to expect and aren’t afraid to get up close and personal with these delightful feathered friends. This being said, it’s only natural to suddenly feel your brain being inundated with questions and concerns – “what do chickens eat?”, “where do I keep them”, “what do you mean there are different breeds of chickens?!” That’s why we have prepared this easy to read complete beginner’s guide to keeping chickens.
What are the benefits of keeping chickens?
For those who have been keeping chickens for a long time, it’s hard to express all of the joy and wonder chickens bring to their lives. With this in mind, some of the key pleasures of keeping chickens includes delicious eggs, creating a more sustainable environment, as well as being a source peace and serenity in your life.
Some people may not know that free-range chicken eggs are not only tastier, but they are actually better for you when compared to store-bought varieties. Keeping chickens is the perfect way to have a fresh supply of delicious and nutritious eggs at your fingertips – whether you prefer your eggs to be poached, fried or scrambled, you’ll never be short of these protein packed ingredients if you decide that keeping chickens is right for you.
Keeping chickens is one of the easiest ways to live more sustainably – they help eliminate scraps, produce an all natural fertiliser, assist with composting, and not to mention- all those eggs! Keeping chickens is one the easiest and most rewarding ways to start living green.
Peace and serenity
Many people find that keeping chickens is an easy way to make them feel more connected with nature, which brings them a sense of peace, serenity and harmony, each time they look out into their backyard and see their flock free-ranging.
What do I need to know about keeping chickens in my area?
All councils in Australia have formalised regulations about the restrictions and limitations of keeping chickens in residential and rural areas, which you can read about here. The good news is that all states and territories permit chickens to kept in residential areas, they just vary in terms of how many chooks as you can keep, as well as some other conditions in relation to how the coop is constructed. If you want to ensure your coop is of a superior quality that adheres to council regulation, be sure to check out the Taj Mahal, Penthouse and Mansion coops, which are sure to tick all your councils coop criteria!
Will keeping chickens cause problems with any of my other pets?
Some prospective chook owners can feel a little anxious about keeping chickens, as they are not sure if their other pets will get along with the flock. Chickens however are such peace loving creatures that whether you have dogs, cats, rabbits, Guinea fowl or an other pets, most of the time the animals will be able to resolve their issues, so long as you are there to help them negotiate.
Will keeping chickens cause any problems with my garden?
Many a green thumb has been concerned that keeping chickens will be to the detriment of their thriving garden, but this couldn’t be any further from the truth! Keeping chickens in the garden is the perfect way to boost the quality of your compost, as well as enriching the soil across your entire garden. Also, having a chicken tractor, like the Taj Mahal or Cluck House, is the perfect way to ensure that your flock is able to nourish all of the backyard, in a controlled and contained way.
What do chickens eat and drink?
Keeping chickens is easy when they’ve got plenty to eat and drink. They only tend to get up to more destructive behaviours like feather picking and pecking order disputes when they’re bored and food is the perfect way to keep your girls occupied. Full grown chickens need a constant supply of chicken feed, shell grit and water. However scraps like leafy greens, yoghurt and porridge will also be a perfect additional treat in their diet. Additionally, chickens need a constant supply of fresh water, as they drink between 500 ml to 1 L of water per day – depending on the weather conditions. One of the best ways to ensure that no feed or water goes to waste is to invest in a quality feeder and waterer that will not only prevent your flock from knocking it over, but also protect the food supply from pests like mice and rats.
Which chicken breed should I get?
Picking a breed of chicken can be a lot of fun as some first time chicken owners aren’t even aware that there are so many different types to choose from – ISA Browns, Silkies, Australorps – it’s like trying to pick your favourite candy in a lolly shop! The good news is, you don’t have to pick just one, mixed flocks are common practice in many backyard across Australia and the world for that matter. It’s a good idea to pick some birds in your flock that are great layers, like Rhode Island Reds, as well as other even cuter breeds, like the Polish, which are just fun to look at! The combinations are nearly endless!
How do I protect my chickens?
Keeping chickens is not a stressful job, however you do need to set up your environment to ensure that they are safe from the weather during extreme conditions, as well from predators, like foxes, which might be more active in your area at different times of year. First and foremost, the best security for your chickens is a quality coop, with a strong frame, fortified with galvanised wire mesh, like all the coops in our range. Additionally, accessories such as predator sensor lights, wire mesh flooring and the auto door are all excellent ways to help further protect your chickens from predators.
What will I need to do each day when keeping chickens?
As mentioned previously, keeping chickens is a relatively easy job, so long as you establish a strong routine. Here are some of the things you’ll need to do for your flock each day…
Ensure that they have plenty of food and water.
Spot check the coop to make sure it is clean and sanitary. If the coop looks too dirty for chickens, make sure you change the bedding, as well as cleaning out the feeder and waterer if need be.
Empty the nesting box of any eggs your flock has left for you – otherwise they might eat the eggs themselves.
If you are letting your girls free-range, be sure leave the door of the coop open so they can come and go as they please. If you are unsure if you want your flock to free-range, be sure to read this informative article here.
Count your chickens at the end of each night before they go back in the coop to ensure that everybody is safe and well.
From time to time other jobs will come up, like giving your coop a deep clean, bathing your chickens or maybe attending to any mite infestations, however for the most part, day to day life with chickens is pretty relaxed.
What is the cost of keeping chickens?
After the initial start-up costs keeping chickens is actually one of the most affordable pets available. On average, chickens might only range from approximately $25 per month, with the addition of animal bedding, such as hemp bedding, which will cost less than $10 per month. Of course these figures go up and down depending on how many birds are in your flock, however ultimately these great little pets are reasonably inexpensive to care for. This does not even include the money you’ll be saving on eggs and fertiliser – not to forget all the peace and joy they will bring to your life. For more about the cost of keeping chickens simply click here.
For any animal lover, keeping chickens is a tranquil and relaxing experience that you can savour for many years, maybe even your entire life. Though there are a few things you need to get on top of in the early stages, caring for these fine feathered friends can be a blissful and rewarding experience to be relished every day. One of the most important decisions you will have to make though when keeping chickens is to ensure they have a high-quality, safe and sturdy coop, like the Taj Mahal, Penthouse or Mansion. After all, if your chickens feel safe and peaceful, you’ll feel the same way.
Sources and further reading
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
- ADVANTAGES FOR KEEPING CHICKENS
- CHICKEN BREEDS
- CHICKENS AS PETS
- KEEPING CHICKENS IN THE BACKYARD
- CLIPPING YOUR CHICKENS WINGS
- HOW MUCH SPACE PER BIRD
- COUNCILS, LAWS AND GUIDELINES
- BUYING CHICKENS
- RAISING CHICKENS FOR EGGS
- SAFE FROM PREDATORS
- FOX PROOFING
- SNAKE PROOFING
- CHICKEN COOPS FOR THE BACKYARD
THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO KEEPING CHICKENS IN AUSTRALIA
You’ve obviously heard all the great reasons to have some chickens in your backyard and now you’ve decided to take the plunge.
So, you need some solid information on how to look after them – welcome to the Ultimate Guide for Keeping Chickens in Your Backyard.
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BUYING MY CHICKENS?
There are more than 400 breeds of chickens in Australia so you need to decide on what type of chicken you want.
Each variety of chicken comes with their own unique qualities and yes, chickens have real personalities.
- Do you want chickens solely for their eggs?
- Are your chickens to be friendly pets for your children?
- Do you want chickens with tasty flesh?
- Will they thrive in your local climate?
Bantams are smaller versions of the standard breeds of chickens and are often a great choice for first-time backyard hen owners.
Bantams take up less space, eat less, and tend to be friendlier than their larger versions and yet will often lay just as many eggs.
Poultry can be prone to some serious diseases so make sure you buy your chickens from reputable sources who can supply the required vaccination documentation.
If you buy one-day old chicks to raise they must be vaccinated against Mareks disease. Other recommended or required vaccinations include:
- Fowl pox
- Infectious laryngotracheitis
- Infectious bronchitis
- Newcastle disease
HOW MANY CHICKENS CAN I KEEP?
Chickens are social birds so you should have more than two birds: three or four is a good minimum number.
Council regulations and your available space will limit most residential chicken owners to a maximum of ten birds.
Avoid the all too natural tendency to fall in love with your girls and want lots and lots of them.
Chickens need their own space and overcrowding will cause problems so think carefully about how much available space you have.
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WHAT SORT OF CHICKEN COOPS DO THEY NEED?
Although they are reasonably hardy, chickens need to be protected from weather extremes and have a safe and dry place to sleep and nest.
Somerzby have a great range of chicken coops that will provide the perfect solution for your chicken housing.
Although no permit is required to build or erect a coop in most Australian residential areas chicken coops must comply with Council regulations and be escape proof.
Your hen house must be no taller than 3m or larger than 152 m.
How much coop space per chicken?
Chickens tend to roost close together to keep warm but overcrowding will lead to some very unhappy and unhealthy chooks.
According to Dr. Mikelle Roeder, nutritionist for Purina Animal Nutrition, “for the best results you should allow at least 4 square feet / .37 square metres of area per bird inside the coop “.
Nesting boxes need to be very attractive places for your girls to lay their eggs and you may find that each hen requires her own nesting box so don’t make them too big…
… chicken nesting boxes should probably measure around .37m3 , which will give them enough room to turn around, rearrange the bedding and get comfortable.
The bigger the better.
The more space your girls have to explore and scratch around the happier they’ll be and you’ll be less likely your backyard will end up looking like a wasteland.
Your chicken coop should not only prevent your girls escaping into the neighbour’s place but needs to protect them from predators such as foxes, dogs, snakes and rodents.
This means that wire netting on the walls and roof of the run should be at least 1mm thick and have aperture sizes no larger than 10mm.
Many predators can dig underneath coop walls and kill your chickens or steal their eggs.
To prevent this you can put netting on the floor, place the coop on a hard surface such as concrete, or add an extra netting apron over the ground stretching out from the wall or dug into the ground.
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WHAT SORT OF BEDDING DO THEY NEED?
The ideal bedding for your hens needs to absorb urine without becoming too damp and mouldy.
Good quality pine shavings (do not use sawdust) are a good choice.
Shredded cardboard also works well. Good quality straw is another good option but avoid hay, which can become mouldy very quickly.
Shredded paper is O.K. but you will need to change it frequently before it starts to smell and create unhealthy conditions for your girls.
WHAT SHOULD I FEED MY HENS?
Many experts recommend a good quality commercial feed pellet as the easiest way to ensure your hens are getting all their daily needs for proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins.
You can also make your own feed but you do need to get the right mix of ingredients.
Plenty of fresh clean water is also vital.
You should also add:
- Vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, and silver beet
- Fruit (but not citrus)
- Grains such as wheat and corn but not too much, as they have a low nutritional value for chickens
- Grit to aid digestion
As egg production requires a lot of minerals and vitamins some calcium and vitamin supplementation may be necessary if your hens are producing a plentiful supply of eggs.
Avoid certain foods such as uncooked rice, rhubarb, avocado, chocolate, onion, garlic, citrus fruits or lawn mower clippings as these can cause problems.
HOW DO I CARE FOR MY HENS?
Hens are relatively low maintenance birds.
On a daily basis you will need to give them fresh supplies of food and clean water.
Take a good long look at your flock every day observing their state of health.
Seek expert advice if you notice any hens that are listless, not eating or displaying other worrying signs.
Collecting your fresh delicious eggs each day will be a job you or your children will love doing both for the excitement of discovering new eggs (sometimes hidden in surprising places) and the interactions with your hens.
A well designed coop such as the Somerzby range of coops will provide easy access to the nesting boxes making this job really simple.
Every few weeks you will need to clean out the nesting boxes and coop and replace the bedding.
The Somerzby range of hen houses make this job so easy with cleverly designed slide out metal trays.
Keep an eye open during the changes of season to make sure that your girls remain warm, dry, and protected from cold winds during the colder months and don’t overheat in the hot months.
If you let your girls out to roam during the day make sure that they are all tucked up safe and sound in the hen house for the night and that the hen house door is securely latched to prevent predators gaining access.
WHAT DO CHICKENS DO ALL DAY?
Normal, healthy chickens like to feed, preen, forage, and take frequent dust baths.
They also like to roost where they can take a bird’s eye view of the world.
When you first get some chickens there might be an initial establishing of the pecking order in the first week or so but behaviours such as over-zealous pecking, eating eggs, and going off their food need some action.
The Somerzby range of hen coops are designed to provide safe and comfortable roosting and nesting spaces for your hens.
Congratulations on joining the chicken lover’s family. As you spend time with your girls you’ll come to love their many quirks and different personalities.
Follow the links to learn more about keeping your hens healthy and happy.
Ever wondered about getting some chickens for your backyard.
So What are you waiting for?
If you’re still not convinced, here’s just a few more reasons why you should consider getting a few chooks your backyard
THEY LOVE TO HAVE A GOOD CHAT
Chickens can be surprisingly chatty and conversation with your girls will cover a broad range of topics from a gentle cluck, cluck, clucking over the injustices of life to an in-depth exposé of the political life and pecking order in the chook house.
And although their singing abilities are not so great and your chickens will never be another Bee Gees or Crowded House they can make a surprising range of sounds.
You can also pour your own life story out to your girls and receive sympathising clucks in response.
GREAT FOR THE BACKYARD
One of the great advantages of keeping chickens in your backyard is that they can help control pests in your garden.
Let your chooks loose in an unused area of your veggie garden and they’ll happily eat their way through large numbers of those pest insects.
Your girls will even leave behind some fantastic manure at the same time.
Chickens will do wonders for your garden!
CHICKENS ARE CHEAP TO KEEP
If you want to know how much the chickens cost, then you’d expect to pay between 5 – 10 dollars for a baby chick.
It costs very little to keep chickens fed and healthy. Chickens are great food waste disposal experts and will happily forage for insects in your garden.
You may need to buy a few additional nutritional supplements but other than that chickens don’t need much.
As excellent egg producer’s chickens are very cheap to run and will save you a bundle over supermarket eggs.
COMPANIONSHIP AND HAPPINESS
Chickens are very friendly, sociable creatures and they enjoy a good cuddle.
Chickens make great pets.
Your children will love them and your feathered girls will respond with oodles of affection.
And chickens are a great way to teach children about the need to care for other creatures.
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THEY ARE GREAT EDUCATIONAL VALUE
Chickens are a great way to teach your children how to look after chickens, it also teaches them where their food comes from.
If you live in a city area, it’s likely your kids have never seen a chicken outside the supermarket shelves.
Having one living in your backyard will teach them about real food, and also instill a level of self-sufficiency into the family by providing you with fresh, organic eggs.
Using these eggs in the kitchen when cooking with your children is a particularly easy way to build an appreciation for where their food comes from.
This self-sufficiency means that you get to determine how the chicken is treated throughout the laying process and you can teach your children about nurturing animals.
CHICKENS BREEDS, SO MANY TO PICK FROM
There are more than 400 different breeds of chickens and the variety of colourings and plumage is quite extraordinary.
We’ll share with you the list of chicken breeds in Australia, and how you can pick the best egg laying chook for your backyard.
Many people turn to raising their favourite breed as a hobby or even as a professional breeder.
However, you look at chickens they are great little birds deserving of love and affection and a place in your heart and backyard.
Do yourself a favour and get some chickens.
And Somerzby have a great range of chook runs and chook houses to make keeping your home range chooks so easy and so much fun.
To view our full article (snippete featured below) on all the Chicken Breeds in Australia !
CHICKENS AS PETS
Chickens have long been an addition to many family homes, not only do they provide eggs for their families, reduce food waste and fertilize the garden, they are the perfect pet for educating your children on nature, responsibility and health.
If you’re looking for an inexpensive and relatively low maintenance first pet for your children, then chickens are a great choice.
Their coops require cleaning just once per week (a lot less than the twice per day required for a kitty litter tray) and love to socialize with other chicken friends.
Chickens have their own personalities and will interact with children, most don’t mind being picked up and stroked and can even be taught to come when called.
They can help reduce waste by being fed food scraps from the dinner table and are great soil fertilizers. They will even take care of any pest problems you have too!
KEEPING CHICKENS IN THE BACKYARD
The reality is simple, if you want to keep chickens in the backyard, then council regulations require you to have an escape proof chicken coop.
If you do let them out during the day to range in your garden you must be absolutely certain that they cannot escape to your neighbour’s veggie garden.
Keeping your chickens safely within your well-fenced backyard is imperative for three reasons:
• To stay within the law
• To avoid upsetting your neighbours
• Protecting your chickens from predators including neighbourhood dogs
Many chicken varieties, especially heavier breeds such as Orpingtons, do not fly well at all but some can and do, so, what are your options to avoid falling fowl of the law and your neighbours?
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HOW MUCH SPACE DO CHICKENS NEED IN COOP AND RUN
When it comes to coop and run sizings, Dr. Mikelle Roeder, nutritionist for Purina Animal Nutrition recommends the most importants pararmeters for your flock are:
Coop – In general the space requirements for the birds will vary depending on the size of the bird…
“… but generally for the best results you should allow at least 4 square feet / .37 square metres of area per bird inside the coop.”
That’s what they call the 4 – 10 square rule.
Allowing more space either indoors, outdoors or both significantly decreases problems with bullying, egg eating and appears to keept the flock healthier.
The general rule is one for every four to five hens.
Nesting Boxes shouldn’t be too roomy, and for sizing the nest box you should allow 1 foot / 30 cms high, by 1 foot / 30 cms wide, by 1 foot / 30 cms deep.
The nesting boxes can be made from either wood, metal or plastic, but try not to mount them on the north facing wall to help keep your hens warm in winter.
For roosting perches allow about 9 inches / 22 cms of space per bird and each perch should be seperated by about 1 foot / 30 cms.
Avoid using metal or plasic as these can become slippery and in winter the metal can become very cold which is no good for the birds feet.
HOW MUCH SPACE DO CHICKENS OUTSIDE THE RUN
… and for outside the coop, for the best results you should allow about 10 square feet / .92 square metre of outdoor space per bird.”
SETTING UP A CHICKEN COOP
A roof of chicken wire over the chicken run will prevent chickens escaping.
A chicken wire roof is included in all Somerzby chicken coops and some of the Somerzby range, e.g. the Homestead extra-large run, have enough space for your chickens to get in a real flap and stretch their wings.
Sometimes chickens fly simply to explore new territory and find new food supplies so keeping them well fed and entertained will help reduce your chickens’ tendency to fly the coop.
The Somerzby lodge has wheels allowing you to move it around the property to give your girls some new ground to explore.
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Wing clipping is an established practice and is less cruel than it sounds (if done correctly) but it may not always be successful.
The cut feathers will grow back and so will need re-cutting after every moult but in some cases once the chickens experience their clumsy unbalanced flight they may stop trying.
You should clip only one wing so that the chicken is unbalanced when attempting to fly. Some experts suggest that very skilful fliers may need to have both wings clipped but with one side shorter than the other.
SO HOW DO YOU CLIP THEIR WINGS?
Firstly you need some sharp scissors or wire cutters.
Next, identify the primary feathers.
These are the outer flying feathers found at the wingtip; there are usually ten of them.
It is important to avoid cutting feathers that are still growing and have a blood supply but the safe-to-cut non-growing primary quills are normally clear and white.
You’ll need to reduce the length of the primary feathers by as much as 50% on one wing only. As long as you avoid cutting the growing feathers this won’t hurt the bird.
If this doesn’t stop your charming chicks from escaping into the wild blue yonder you may need to cut the secondary feathers.
These are the flying feathers found closer to the chicken’s body.
Again, only cut back to around half of the feather’s original length.
Don’t cut more than you need but if you do make a mistake the feathers will grow back.
If you feel squeamish about cutting the feathers completely you can try simply cutting off the feathery material either side of the quill.
This is a considerably longer process but it won’t damage the feather structure itself.
Somerzby making life with your chickens a breeze thanks to helpful, expert advice.
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COUNCILS, LAWS AND GUIDELINES
Yes, the Australian government and your local councils all have something to say about your planned suburban backyard retirement village for happy and fulfilled chickens.
But these rules are there to protect the health of your chickens, Australia’s poultry industry and your neighbours and they should pose no real problem for you or your chickens.
The laws and guidelines may vary from State to State and Local Government Authorities may also add additional stipulations so it’s important to do your research before you buy your chickens, coops and other assorted chook paraphernalia.
The size of your section and zoning laws in your area will also affect your chicken ranch dreams so check out your local LGA website.
HOW MANY CHICKENS CAN I KEEP?
As a general rule in NSW you may keep up to 10 chickens in a residential area without a permit but it will only ever be a hen party because no roosters are allowed.
Roosters, by nature, set up an infernal racket in the early hours of the morning and your neighbours will not be happy.
Other States, such as Victoria, may limit you to as few as four chickens.
CHICKEN COOP REQUIREMENTS
Although no permit is required to build or erect a coop in a NSW residential area it must comply with the following:
• It must not be taller than 3m above the existing ground level or have a floor area of more than 15m2
• Must be located in the rear yard at least 3m from each lot boundary, and at least 4.5m from any dwelling, public hall, school or premises used for the manufacture, preparation, sale or storage of food
• Enclosed to prevent the escape of poultry
• Have adequate roof water drainage that doesn’t create a nuisance to adjoining owners
• Be constructed of non-combustible material if it is situated in a bush fire zone and is less than 5m from a dwelling
• Limited to one coop per property
Some councils may require your coop to have an impervious floor such as cement under the nesting area. If you live in a rural area the rules are more relaxed.
EXAMPLE COUNCIL ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING POLICIES
- New South Wales
- North Territory
- Western Australia
- South Australia
If you want to buy chickens, make sure it’s from a reputable breeder and ask for vaccinations records.
If you buy one-day old live chicks to raise they must be vaccinated against Mareks disease.
Other recommended or required vaccinations include:
• Fowl pox
• Infectious laryngotracheitis
• Infectious bronchitis
• Newcastle disease
It is considered best practice to buy all your chickens from the one breeder to avoid transferring any existing diseases from one group of hens to the other.
Keep new chickens in isolation for at least 14 days.
Some poultry diseases have the potential to devastate other key areas of Australia’s agricultural industries so you need to ensure that your chickens are in great health.
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KEEPING CHICKENS FOR EGGS?
Look after your chickens and they will produce generous quantities of fresh protein-rich eggs.
Fresh free-range eggs are richer in those healthy omega-3 acids and vitamins than cage chook eggs.
Say a resounding ‘no’ to battery raised chickens and raise your own free-range organic chooks and eggs.
You get to control what goes into your eggs and it’s better for you and it’s better for chickens.
The best chicken for laying eggs is the Austrolorp, see our in-depth guide for more info…
And if you are using the eggs for personal consumption or to give away to family and friends you do not need to be registered as a food business.
If you intend to provide eggs for retail or catering purposes there are strict requirements around registering your business and food labelling.
Don’t forget, the rules will vary from Council to Council so do check first.
NUTRITIOUS & TASTY
Chicken eggs have always been considered a very nutritious and tasty addition to the menu but unhealthy battery farming practices used in modern commercial egg production have encouraged a lot of people to return to the good old days of raising their own chickens and home grown eggs.
The advantages of producing your own eggs are obvious: you control the chicken’s diet and therefore what goes into your eggs.
The result: healthier, tastier eggs.
WHAT ARE THE BEST EGG LAYING CHICKENS?
With more than 400 chicken breeds to choose from deciding on the right breed for your needs can be a challenge.
Do you want chickens solely for their eggs or are they pets as well?
Do you want egg producing chickens with tasty flesh?
Will they thrive in your local climate?
These are just some of the questions you need to ask.
Most common Australian chicken breeds lay reasonable quantities of eggs but if a plentiful supply of eggs is your primary goal then you want to think about the breeds below.
Australorps (Australian Orpingtons) are a common choice. They are excellent egg producers averaging around 250 to 300 large eggs a year.
In fact, the Australorp breed gained real world-wide popularity in 1922 when six hens laid 1,857 eggs over a 365 day trial for a new world record. Australorps are quiet natured and good with children. They also cope well with cold weather.
Isa Browns are another very common choice. Isa Browns are excellent egg producers averaging 300 or more medium sized eggs each year. Isa Browns are a good choice for first-time chicken owners because they are hardy, coping easily with coldest Australian regions and they are very friendly.
Wyandottes are another great egg laying chicken producing around 200 eggs each year. Wyandottes are very calm and gentle chickens and they thrive in cold conditions.
Rhode Island Reds are a great choice if you live in an area that gets both temperature extremes. They are a friendly, hardy breed that will average more than 250 eggs each year.
Leghorns are very prolific layers producing around 300 eggs each year. The chickens will be quite happy in all weathers coping well with both heat and cold but they are not a great choice for a family pet, as they tend to be unfriendly.
WHAT SPECIAL FOODS DO CHICKENS NEED FOR GOOD EGG PRODUCTION?
A lot of calcium is used up for egg production and so you need to look out for any chickens showing signs of calcium deficiency. Thin, weak egg shells that break easily might be your first sign that they’re not getting enough calcium.
Make sure your chickens are getting good quality calcium in their grit.
Some people use crushed egg shells as a cheap source of calcium but if you do this make sure you crush the egg shells into a fine powder otherwise the chickens might develop a taste for their own egg shells and begin intentionally breaking their eggs.
Supplementation with vitamins A, D, and E might also be necessary to help maintain healthy calcium levels.
Chickens also drink a lot of water—as much as 500mls up to a litre a day for each bird in hot weather.
DO I NEED A ROOSTER?
If your goal is only to produce fresh tasty eggs then no you don’t. A rooster is only needed if you want fertilised eggs that will turn into little chickens.
In any case, having a rooster is illegal in most Australian urban areas.
The Somerzby range of chook runs, tractors, and chook houses are all designed with great nesting boxes that provide a calm, sheltered nesting area and easy access for collecting your daily fresh eggs.
Somerzby also have feeders designed to minimize wastage and mess.
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KEEPING CHICKENS SAFE FROM PREDATORS?
Keeping a guard dog can be effective but it’s no use letting the dog sleep inside the house at night.
And a determined fox may still have a go at your chickens despite the presence of your dog.
Some people have had success using various types of repellents including motion triggered lights.
Foxes have learned to associate lights with being hunted by humans and will often stay away.
Motion triggered sprinkler systems may also work.
Chemical repellents (both organic and synthetic) are used overseas with varying degrees of success but be aware that the use of some of these substances may be strictly controlled by Australian law.
Keeping your compost bins covered and removing any old pet food or food scraps around the property will also help to reduce the attractive smells that draw the foxes to your backyard.
It’s also a good idea to keep the backyard clear of any rubbish or objects that might give the foxes a place to hide or allow them to approach your chickens under cover.
Don’t forget that foxes are excellent climbers and they might be able to use overhanging trees to bypass your fence.
FOX PROOFING YOUR BACKYARD
Unfortunately, foxes love your chickens as much as you do…
…but probably for very different reasons.
Foxes were introduced to Australia in the mid 19th century and have done incalculable damage since then to Australia’s native wildlife and farm stock including poultry.
Foxes have become pests even in urban areas.
Their exceptional, climbing, digging and jumping skills combined with their innate intelligence make them an adversary that needs to be taken seriously by any chicken lover.
There are a number of ways to protect your chickens from fox attack including:
• Perimeter fencing
• Coop design
• Trapping, shooting, and poison
Foxes are not fussy eaters and love all breeds of Australian chickens from Astrolorps to Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds to Longhorns, and Silkies to Wyandottes so you need to be as wily as a fox to protect your flock.
FOX PROOF CHICKEN COOP
How do I make my chicken coop fox proof?
Your first line of defence in making your chicken run fox proof is fox proof fencing around the perimeter.
Fox proof fence heights need to be considerably higher than 900mm because foxes can easily jump a 900mm fence.
To be safe you probably need to make your fence 1800mm high. You should also add an outwardly curving top to the fence.
Choose your wire carefully.
Fox proof chicken wire netting needs to be 0.9mm in diameter or thicker, as foxes will chew through lightweight wire fences.
The mesh apertures sizes should be no larger than 80mm to prevent foxes climbing through the fence.
You may need to add reinforcing where wire netting panels are joined to prevent Mr (or Mrs) Fox pushing through any gaps.
Foxes are great climbers too so consider adding some protection to your fence posts to make it harder for them. Steel posts are more difficult for foxes to climb than timber.
Electric fencing can be a useful addition but electric fencing on its own will do nothing to deter a determined fox.
You can get reasonably-priced solar powered units that will easily power a few wires around the top of your fence.
See our complete guide on fox proof chicken coops and fences here.
HOW DO I MAKE MY CHICKEN COOP SNAKE PROOF?
Snakes can slither through quite small spaces so you need to make sure your coop is covered with wire mesh with holes no larger than 10mm.
Snakes do climb and of course can go under the coop wall as well so you should ensure the roof is covered as well as the floor with adequate sized mesh.
Alternatively, you can place a mesh apron out from the edge of the coop to discourage the snakes from going under the coop wall.
Placing the coop on a solid surface such as concrete also works.
You can also make the nesting box less accessible by placing it in an elevated position.
CAN I BUY A SNAKE PROOF CHICKEN COOP?
Yes, you can buy chicken coops that are already snake proof.
Some of the Somerzby range such as the Super Deluxe Mansion chicken coop are snake proof.
The Deluxe Mansion is a great snake-proof chicken coop available in an easy-to-build kitset form.
It also features galvanised wire chosen for its anti-corrosion longevity as well as a no snake, no nonsense toughness.
Somerzby providing a truly eggalitarian society for your chickens.
See our complete guide on how to keep your chickens safe from snakes here.
CHICKEN COOPS FOR YOUR BACKYARD
Large chook pens or chicken runs allow your chickens to be healthy happy carefree chickens.
Our Somerzby backyard chook pens are ideal for anybody who wants the pleasure of raising contented chickens while keeping them safe from harm.
Chickens can make great family pets and keeping some chickens is a great way to teach your kids the importance of caring for animals. Other benefits include:
• Lovable companionship—especially for children
• Daily supply of fresh eggs – a great source of healthy protein
• A marvellous supply of rich manure for the garden
• They will happily eat your food scraps and turn them into rich fertilizer or eggs
Chickens, like any pets need to be comfortable and safe so that they can feed in peace.
A very important part of maintaining healthy animals is allowing them to retain their natural behaviours as much as possible.
Our large chicken coops gives your chickens the space to be right proper chooks.
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BUILD YOUR OWN
Yes, you could but it will be more expensive and time-consuming than buying one of our specially designed pre-fab chook runs.
The pre-fab chook run comes as a flat-pack in two cartons with everything you need for fast straightforward assembly…
…it couldn’t be easier.
All the materials including hinges and screws are provided along with clear instructions for assembly.
Maintenance is minimal—perhaps the occasional drop of oil on the hinges is about it.
Backyard chickens: what you need to know
Looking for some pets that are low-maintenance, friendly – and add to your pantry at the same time? How about having a few chooks in your backyard?
In recent years more and more urban and semi-urban households are adding a coop of chickens to their backyard. These easy and fun birds make great family pets and come with the bonus of supplying you with fresh eggs most mornings. What’s not to love?
However, as with any animal, it’s important to educate yourself about chickens and their needs before acquiring your own flock. Here are a few important things to know before you start.
Most councils in Australia will permit chickens being kept, even in inner-city locations, but you should double check first about relevant regulations. Restrictions usually include the number of chickens kept, the size of the coop and the setback required from the nearest boundary. They are not usually permitted in high-density buildings and would not generally be suitable for a balcony – check with your body corporate if you are in a complex of townhouses or villas. Because of their frequent crowing, roosters are not permitted in most built-up suburban areas, so again check with local authorities before thinking about introducing a rooster.
How many chickens?
Chickens are social creatures and they don’t do well on their own. It’s best to house at least a couple of hens together. Most councils will allow at least five chickens in the average backyard. Egg production varies according to breeds, but generally, each chicken will provide an average of four to six eggs per bird, per week.
The ideal coop
After checking with council regulations, you can either build your own coop or purchase a pre-built one. Coops should be fox, cat and dog-proof, but still well ventilated. The coop should be fully enclosed, and the chickens locked away at night.
It is often ideal to locate the coop with its back facing towards the westerly sun, to ensure the coop doesn’t get too hot during the summer months. The floor of the coop should be covered with sawdust (at least 8cm deep) so that it mixes with the poultry droppings to form ‘deep litter’. The coop should be regularly cleaned, and the litter can be removed, composted and used in the garden.
The chicken house should contain a perch (no more than 60cm high) for roosting and have nesting boxes that can be accessed from the outside. Nesting boxes provide a safe comfortable area for hens to lay their eggs and allow ease of collection.
How to start
The best way to start your own chicken coop is to start small – perhaps with just a couple of hens. There are even some companies that allow you to rent chooks, so you can give them a trial before you commit to them long-term. This could be ideal if you want to see how the rest of the household (including any other pets) react to the chickens and to ensure you are up to the commitment of caring for the hens’ long term.
There are many chicken breeds available, with cross-breeds between various layer breeds often being well suited for first-time backyard chicken owners. They tend to be hardier, less temperamental and are good egg producers.
Before purchasing your chickens, investigate local commercial sources. It is best to purchase vaccinated chickens from a reliable commercial source. It is not recommended to get birds from a variety of sources as this can increase the risk of introducing pests and diseases into your flock.
A high-quality poultry pellet should be the mainstay of the chickens’ diet. If the poultry pellet is provided in a commercial dispenser this helps keep the pellets dry. Grain (such as wheat and corn) can also be scattered within their environment to provide variety to their diet. Kitchen scraps are great as a secondary food source. They will also need a constant supply of fresh water.
Healthy chickens should be alert, active, eat often, have clean eyes and nostrils and their breathing should be silent and unnoticeable.
Sick birds may have drooping wings and tail, discharge from the nostrils and eyes, weakness or paralysis of one or both legs or wings, be lethargic or experience a loss of appetite. If you see the unusual behaviour, ill birds or have unexpected deaths in your flock, isolate any unwell chickens and call your veterinarian immediately. Keep an eye on your flock and learn what is normal for your birds. This will help you to identify when something is wrong.
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I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite a while now. I get asked all the time how to start a backyard chicken flock. There is so much information out there about chickenkeeping that it can, honestly, feel really overwhelming. I know I felt so intimidated by everything for so long, that I put off starting our flock for years because I wasn’t sure I could do it. I was so wrong.
I personally don’t think keeping chickens needs to be hard, complicated, or life-altering (well, other than having life-alteringly good eggs to cook with). Once your flock is established, you can spend as little as five minutes a day caring for them. I think that anyone who has the space—and it doesn’t take much—can raise chickens if they want to. You can do this, I promise!
I decided to pull together a simple guide to get you started with your flock. Of course, this isn’t all the information you ever need in your chickenkeeping journey—but this is a really great start on the basics. For more comprehensive chickenkeeping info, I highly recommend Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens and/or The Backyard Homestead.
Alright, let’s dig in—and as always, feel free to ask any questions in the comments. I’d love to help other people get on the chickenkeeping train!
Step 1: Check the laws and ordinances in your area.
This is not a problem for us way out in the middle of nowhere, but if you want to do suburban or urban chickenkeeping, you need to check in with your city, state, local, and homeowner’s association ordinances. Many locations ban roosters because of the noise, and some places put a limit on the number of backyard chickens you can keep. Some still completely ban chickenkeeping (whomp. whomp.). Check the laws before you get too far down the chicken path.
Step 2: Set up your brooder.
Chances are, you’ll be raising your chickens from just-hatched chicks. Incubating and hatching egg is more of an advanced-chickenkeeper thing, and personally, I’d recommend waiting until you have a bit of chicken experience before trying it out.
Since these freshly-hatched chicks will be away from their mother hen, you need to set up a hen-like environment for those baby chicks to grow and thrive in—this is called a brooder.
A brooder needs to have five things: warmth, food, water, security, and cleanliness—these are all things that would be provided by the mother hen in the wild, but we have to jump in and create them when we become Mama Hen.
The traditional brooder set-up is a big cardboard box, pine shavings, feeder, waterer, and a heat lamp. This is a really affordable and simple way to get started—but I personally don’t use this set-up. The pine shavings can be hard on baby chick’s lungs and the heat lamp can be hard to control, and in the worst case scenarios, burn your house down.
Depending on the number of chicks, we either use a cardboard box or a plywood box, and fill it with corn cob bedding—this is typically used for horse stalls and can be found in almost any farm supply store. It’s cheap as all get out, super absorbent, and easy on the chick’s lungs.
Instead of the heat lamp, we use an electric radiant-heat brooder. At $80, it’s definitely more expensive than the heat lamp method, but I love that there are no worries about fire or inconsistent heat. The brooder lamp works just like a mother hen—the chicks run under it when they need to warm up, and come out when they don’t. It’s a really great investment if you plan on raising more than one batch of chicks—and the resell value is great on them, too.
You need to keep the brooder away from any predators (including your other pets—dogs, cats, etc.). And keep it in a protected area. A basement or garage works—but be warned, chicks can be really messy and dusty, so I wouldn’t put it in a super nice area of your home.
And then, of course, provide food and fresh water. We just use these cheap-o plastic waterers up on scrap blocks of 2″ x 4″ wood—raising them up helps keep the chickens from messing in their food and water.
You’ll want your brooder to be easy to clean—you’ll be amazed at how much poop little chicks can produce—and you’ll want to keep everything nice and tidy while they’re growing big and strong.
Step 3: Pick your breed and get your chicks.
Just like dogs or cats or any animals, different breeds of chickens have different qualities. Some chickens are flighty and anxious. Some are cuddly and loving. Some are great egg layers. Some lay crazy color eggs. Some thrive in hot climates. Some are made for freezing weather. You need to decide what qualities are important to you and your family.
If you’re looking for a few suggestions of friendly, good-laying, non-anxious breeds, I recommend Speckled Sussex, Light Brahmas, or Cuckoo Marans. We have all three and they are all amazing. And you can’t beat an Easter Egger for fun colored eggs.
You can get your chicks from one of three places: a farm/hardware store, an online hatchery, or a local hatchery. Most folks get their chicks from a farm store in the Spring. Your selection will be limited, but some bigger farm stores will sell a huge variety of breeds.
You’ll probably want to get sexed chicks—ones that have been determined to be hens from birth. Look for signs that say “sexed” or “pullet”. If you see something that says “straight run” that means you get what you get—meaning you have a 50% shot at getting a rooster. Many farm stores only sell straight-run chicks, so if you want to ensure you’re getting hens, a hatchery might be your best choice.
We ordered our first batch of chicks from an online hatchery, and just like everything in life, there are pros and cons. Pros: you get to pick your exact breeds, get only hens, and the chicks are normally in really good health. Cons: there is a lot of stress in the shipping process (for both the chicks and you). You might lose some chicks if the weather gets cold or there are shipping delays.
I think the best of both worlds is finding a local hatchery to you where you can pick up your chicks. They normally have better selection and better sexing than the farm stores, but you don’t have to deal with the hassle and worry of shipping. You’d be amazed at how many small and large hatcheries there are (especially in rural areas). Ask around at the farmer’s market or to folks in your area selling eggs. Or try googling “hatchery” with the name of your area/town.
Now you need to decide how many chicks to get! It can be really tempting to pick up “extra” chicks. They are so tiny! And so cute! And so cheap (most places will sell them for $3-$5 each). But try hard to remember that each fluffy baby chick will become a big, pooping, eating, adult chicken—and you need to have space for them.
I recommend starting with 2-3 chicks, and going from there (you can always add more chickens in years to come). With that few, you can really give your chicks the attention they need, they’ll have friends to interact with, and you will get 2-3 eggs per day once they are laying.
Step 4: Bring your babies home and take care of them.
Your brooder is set up and you have your chicks, so you’re basically all good to go! Taking care of chicks is actually pretty simple. You need to make sure they have clean water and a good quality chick starter food. I highly recommend using an organic chicken food—and Purina makes a great organic chick starter that you can get at most farm supply stores.
Other than that, just keep an eye on them and love on them! The more you hold and interact with them now, the more they’ll be tame around you later. Chances are, your chicks will be happy and healthy, but use your instincts – if something feels wrong, do an internet search to see what other chickenkeepers are saying. There is a great backyard chicken community online, and your question has probably already been answered!
One thing you’ll need to watch out at first for is a condition called pasty butt—yup, that’s really what it’s called. It’s usually caused by inconsistent heat in the brooder. If you use the radiant heat brooder I recommended, you don’t have to worry about pasty butt nearly as much. With a traditional heat lamp, you need to take a warm, damp paper towel and wipe your chick’s bum at least twice a day for first week.
If the weather is warm, you can bring them outside and let them roam around and get a taste of the great outdoors for a little bit every now and again—just make sure you have some way to keep them secure. They can be slippery little buggers! Other than that, just enjoy being a chicken parent. See how easy it is?
Step 5: Set up permanent housing.
Your chicks will be in the brooder for about six weeks before they move into their permanent home—the coop. Guess what? Six weeks is pretty much the perfect amount of time to research and build your own coop! Nothing like a deadline to get you crackin’, eh?
If you’re looking to do this on the cheap, I highly recommend building your own coop. The markup on premade chicken coops is unbelievably high! But, if you don’t have the space, time, or resources to make your own coop, I highly recommend asking for recommendations on coops at your local farm store. Also, check on Pinterest for some great ideas for upcycled coops made from everything from refrigerators to children’s playhouses!
We ended up making our own coop using The Garden Coop plans. We modified those plans to be twice as big—because it’s always a good idea to go as big as possible when you build a coop. You can always keep fewer chickens in a bigger space, but you can’t keep more in a smaller one. We LOVED working with The Garden Coop plans—and they have a bunch of different sizes for different flocks. Highly recommended!
Your coop will need some sort of bedding in probably three locations. In the nesting boxes, just use straw that the chickens will form into nests. In the hen house, we use cob just like we do in the brooder. And in the run, we use sand. Sand is easy to clean (like kitty litter), really affordable, and, most importantly to us, it helps keep the coop cool when it gets super hot here in the summer.
Step 6: Decide on feeding and ranging.
Depending on your location, this decision might already be made for you—many local ordinances don’t allow backyard chickens to range outside of an enclosed run in a coop. But if your ordinances don’t require you to keep your chickens cooped up, you’ll need to make some decisions about what you feed your chickens and if and when they range.
Letting chickens roam free is nice, in theory, but chickens are prey animals, and can be really difficult to keep safe from predators. If that’s a risk you are willing to take, then free ranging will give you the healthiest eggs, the happiest chickens, and a reduced food bill.
An option in between cooped and free range is penned ranging—where the chickens roam in a large run or pen throughout the day, and then are shut into a coop during the day. This is what we do, and it’s the best of both worlds. Our chickens get to be “free” in about a half acre pen during the day, but they are safe from the biggest predator we fight—stray dogs.
Regardless of if you choose to free range or coop your chickens, you’ll need to feed them a high quality poultry feed. If you free range or pen range your flock, you’ll need to just supplement their diet—they’ll get a lot of their nutrition from the bugs and plants they pick out of the ground. If they are cooped all the time, you’ll be giving them their entire nutrition via the feed. Either way, you want good stuff. Trust me, you can tell the difference between eggs from a chicken who is fed good quality feed and one who is not.
We choose to feed our chickens organically, and we really like the Purina line of organic poultry feeds. We love it because they are readily available at even our small town feed stores. It’s nice to not have to special order organic feed—and we still feel good about the health of our flock and quality of our eggs.
Regardless of what you decide to feed your flock, you’ll want to find a reliable source near-to-you. Trust me, when those chickens run out of feed, they are not happy campers. Chickens get hangry, too!
Step 7: Move your chickens into their coop and wait for eggs!
You’ll slowly want to introduce your not-so-baby-anymore baby chicks to the outdoors, until the big day when they move into their coop permanently. Right around the 5-6 week mark is a good time to do it—basically, when they have lost all of their fluff and have a full set of feathers to help keep them warm.
If you plan on ranging your flock, you’ll want to keep them “locked” in their coop for about a week to train them that the coop is their home. After that, you can let them free to range, and they’ll come home to roost each night around dusk. It’s magic! We’ve never had to herd our chickens into the coop at night. They know that’s their safe home, and they automatically go there when things start to go bump in the night.
And then, you wait! Keep the chickens fed, watered, and their coop clean, and within a few months, you should find your first egg. It’s pretty much the most exciting thing ever. On average, chickens start laying at about six months old—but this can vary widely based on breed, season, and other factors.
If your chickens are free ranging or ranging in a pen, they might not know to lay their eggs in a nesting box, so if your hens show other signs of laying (most visually—if their comb is bright, bright red), keep an eye out! We actually found our very first egg under a bush behind our house.
You can fix the nesting box problem by locking the chickens up in the coop for about week, and placing dummy eggs in the nesting boxes. Chickens like to do what other chickens do, so if they see another hen has laid there, they are more apt to, as well. Even since we did that, the girls have consistently laid in their nesting boxes.
And finally: enjoy chicken parenthood!
Now that your flock is established and laying, there really isn’t a whole lot to do. Keep their coop stocked with clean water and fresh food. Clean the coop every now and again. Collect your eggs. And just keep an eye on your flock to make sure there are no diseases or injuries.
Because chickens are prey animals, they tend to hide their diseases and injuries decently well, but if you know your flock, you’ll be able to tell when something is off. If their comb loses color, they start to lose feathers, or they just don’t seem like their usual chicken-y selves, it’s time to check up on them.
You also might want to call around in your area and see if you can find a local vet that sees chickens (ours does) and set up a chicken first aid kit.
Chickens will lay extremely well for the first two years of their life, then their egg production will dwindle as they age. You can then decide what to do with your hens after that—that’s one of the reasons we built such a big coop, we decided to let our chickens live out their happy little chicken lives here as long as they’d like.
Some chickenkeepers give older hens away and some butcher older hens for eating. We kinda feel like since the hens give us so much in eggs and enjoyment that it’s the least we can do to repay them is to let them live their lives out in peace, but I know not all chickenkeepers feel that way.
And there you have it! It doesn’t seem so hard now, does it? Like I said, there is a lot more information, but I hope this basic primer helped you get excited about chickenkeeping. You can do this! I promise!
My friends at Purina believe in you, too, and want to give you a free bag of their organic poultry feed to help you get started with your chickenkeeping journey! Just enter using the widget below. They’re also offering a $5 off coupon for Purina® Organic Poultry Feed to everyone!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Good luck! And happy chickenkeeping.
This post has been sponsored by Purina Animal Nutrition, as such I received free product from Purina to share my opinion with my readers. However, my opinions are based on my individual and unique experience. Based on my experience in 2016 I believe this line of feed has been amazing for my flock and I encourage you to try it too!
How To Raise Chickens
The Basics Of Raising Chickens
So, you are interested in raising chickens? Keeping a backyard flock can be a rewarding and enjoyable hobby, one that is rising in popularity as more people recognize the many benefits of having a backyard flock. In addition to owning “a pet that makes you breakfast” (by providing you with fresh eggs) you’ll quickly experience how fun it is to have chickens as pets. Before you know it, you’ll quickly find a bunch of additional benefits as you embark on the fun and exciting journey of raising BackYard Chickens.
BYC (BackYardChickens) has TONS of fantastic information on all aspects of chicken keeping, combined with a wealth of experiences and knowledge shared by our community members. If your question isn’t answered in our Learning Center Articles, we promise there is an answer on our chicken discussion forum.
The information below will help you begin your journey by covering the basics of raising chickens. We’ll link to other sections of the site where you can scratch up even more details!
Why Raise Chickens?
Many old and new chicken keepers are frequently asked this question. Most people know chickens provide delicious eggs, but don’t realize the many other benefits that come with having your own backyard flock. Here are some of the most common reasons to raise chickens:
- Chickens are easy and inexpensive to maintain (when compared to most other pets—see what our members say in this poll: Chicken Keeping—easier, same or harder than dogs/cats?)
- Their eggs are fresh, delicious and nutritious
- They provide chemical-free bug and weed control in your garden
- They are manufacturers of the world’s best fertilizer (and they’ll dig over the garden for free )
- They can be fun and friendly pets with personality (yes, you read that right!)
- They can be fantastic pets for children of all ages (and Kids with Disabilities Can Enjoy Chickens Too!)
- Also see our poll on Why Do You Raise Chickens
Are BackYard Chickens Legal in Your City?
Before you take the plunge and start your own flock, make sure chicken keeping is allowed in your town/city and make sure you understand the ordinances applied to your specific area.
- Here is an introduction to Chicken Laws and Ordinances (and how you can change them)
- Search our database of local chicken laws & ordinances
- Double check your local city/town ordinances and homeowner’s association
- Make sure you know if you require a “set-back” (distance from your coop to property lines, fences, buildings, etc.) before building your chicken coop.
- Raising chickens (and life) is generally easier if you have a good relationship with your neighbors (the promise of no roosters and free eggs helps!)
- Read comments and post your questions in our forum devoted to chicken laws & ordinances
Where To Get Baby Chicks & Chickens
There are a number of places you can buy chicks, older chickens and even fertile hatching eggs to get you started on your journey.
- Check out our BYC Breeders Directory for breeders listed by State
- Local feed stores often carry a variety of day-old chicks from February to June
- Learn how to hatch chicks from eggs, and learn how to make your own homemade egg incubator
- Search our Buy~Sell~Trade forum for members’ listings of hatching eggs or chickens for sale.
- More information can be found in our article regarding where to get chicks and chickens
How To Care For A Chick—the First 60 Days
Did you impulsively buy a box full of chicks? Or are you planning to get some soon? Here’s a quick rundown of what you’ll need:
- You’ll need a chick brooder—see our list of homemade brooders here.
- Or put together this brilliant Mama Heating Pad for the little ones.
- Flooring—pine shavings & corn cob bedding are best for brooders. (Stay clear of newspaper since it doesn’t absorb well and can be slippery underfoot for the little ones.)
- Temperature—90*F+ (in the warmest part of the brooder) for the first week, and then decrease it roughly 5*F per week. Be VERY careful of fire hazards!
- Food & water—you’ll need chick crumbles/starter and a chick waterer (see our list of homemade feeders & waterers)
- More information can be found here: Article: How To Raise Baby Chicks—Forum Section: Raising Chicks
Chicken Care After First 60 Days, General Chicken Care
Before you know it your little fluff-balls will be tiny, feathered dinosaurs and you’ll be inspecting the nest boxes daily, waiting for that first egg!
- Once the chicks have feathered out (roughly 6-7 weeks) you’ll want to move them out of your house and into a chicken coop! When buying or building a coop, make sure it’s big enough for them (and any future additions). A good rule of thumb for space requirements is approximately 3–4 square feet per chicken inside the coop and 10 sq/ft per chicken for the outside run. This article is a great guide to the topic of how much room do chickens need?
- Building your own coop? See this article with tips on building a chicken coop—do’s, don’ts and things to consider.
- Keep local chicken predators in mind and make a safe home for your flock!
- Flooring—pine shavings work well, using sand in your chicken coop is gaining popularity and you can try the deep litter method for even less maintenance.
- Food & water—most people use a formulated chicken layer feed/pellets. In depth discussions on the pros and cons of most feed brands can be found in our Feeding & Watering Your Flock forum section. Also see our article on Feeding Chickens here.
- You can make your own homemade chicken feeder/waterer for your flock!
- What about feeding treats? Vegetables, bread, bugs, chicken scratch (cracked corn, milo, wheat)…
Now that you’ve skimmed the basics, you might be ready to dive deeper into learning more about raising backyard chickens. We suggest the following:
- Visit our diverse Chicken Learning Center with a multitude of articles and information about raising your backyard chickens.
- Visit our chicken community discussion forum where you can search and post your questions to our outstanding community of thousands of chicken enthusiasts!
- Check out our Topic of the Week discussions where our members discuss crucial aspects of chicken keeping…sharing knowledge and experience.
- Check out our Chicken Breed Focus threads for discussions on the most popular chicken breeds to help you pick breeds to get started with.
- Join BYC and become a free member! (See the benefits here)
Learning Center Index:
- Getting Started Raising Chickens
- Hatching Eggs & Raising Chickens
- Housing & Feeding Your Flock
- Maintaining A Healthy Flock
- Other Fowl (Other Poultry Types)
Further recommended reading:
Advice from our members for chicken owners
Chicken FAQs – The Frequent Asked Questions Of Raising Chickens
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
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 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 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
What does it take to raise backyard chickens?
If you’re thinking of raising backyard chickens, there are a lot of factors to consider before buying your first baby chick. While they may be cute, feathery soft, and irresistible in the store – practically begging you through soft chirps to take them home – they also require some work, supplies and commitment to ensure they are well taken care of, happy, and productive.
We admit, raising chickens is a blast and something everyone can enjoy at any age – from kids to seniors and everyone in between. Whether you live in town or in the country, having your own backyard chickens brings benefits beyond solely having fresh eggs in your refrigerator. But chickens are animals and like many, they can be noisy, dirty, and even a bit ornery to each other. But we still love them and have compiled a comprehensive list of the benefits and challenges that can come when raising backyard chickens.
First, let’s discuss the many benefits of raising backyard chickens, which can be both fun and useful at your home or farm.
- Chickens lay eggs. These eggs are fresh, taste great, and are full of nutrition because you control what goes into egg production with the food you give your chickens. You can also try your hand at selling fresh eggs to make some extra money, which is a great idea for kids. Expect one egg per day from each hen you have. Some breeds do not lay eggs daily, but will lay 3 to 4 eggs weekly.
- Chickens create excellent fertilizer. Chicken manure contains a good deal of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – the primary ingredients in lawn and garden fertilizers. Chicken manure can be composted and added to the soil of your garden, flowers, trees, shrubs, and lawns. The all-natural homemade fertilizer will save you money and help produce great results. Speak to the experts at your local Grange Co-op to learn more about composting.
- Chickens make great pets. Believe it or not, chickens have their own individual personalities and are affectionate toward humans. Each is its own bird, as they say, with some being sweet, shy, grouchy, or playful. You will find yourself having a lot of fun with your unique flock of backyard chickens.
- Chickens help clean your yard. These hard-working birds will clear harvested garden beds of weeds, and eat fallen fruit from trees before they start rotting and attract bugs.
- Chickens are like a natural garbage disposal. Chickens can eat many of the food items we would normally throw away, including food scraps from salads, vegetable peelings, rice, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
- Chickens are fairly easy to take care of. A low-maintenance animal, chickens basically need to be fed, watered, and given a coop to nest in. You may find this less work in comparison to other livestock.
- Chickens help control bugs and weeds naturally. Without the use of chemicals and insecticides, you can control over-population of crickets, grasshoppers, snails, slugs and other pests in your garden as chickens eat them up.
- Fresh, home-grown meat. If raising your chickens for meat, home-grown chickens taste better and are healthier than factory farmed poultry. You’ll enjoy more flavor, less fat and calories.
If this sounds great, you’re absolutely correct: raising chickens is fun, rewarding, and chock full of benefits for you, your family, and your home. But nothing worthwhile is without its challenges, next we’ll discuss some precautions to raising backyard chickens.
- Get used to a little more noise. Chickens can be noisy with the familiar barnyard sound of “buck, buck, buck, bugawk.” But they can also provide quieter sounds of cooing and clucking that many find relaxing and even enjoyable. Also, some chickens are definitely noisier than others so research before you buy.
- Chicken fertilizer comes from chicken poop, which means that chickens will poop a lot. As stated in the above benefits, chicken poop is a wonderful fertilizer, but it will require some work to clean up and utilize. Products like Manna Pro Coop ‘N Compost may help in this process.
- Chickens will really dig living with you, which is to say that they will dig a lot in your yard. Chickens scratch when they dig for bugs and can really tear up their space.
- Chickens can carry Salmonella. Chickens have the potential of carrying Salmonella germs in their droppings and on their feathers, feet, and beaks. It’s important to wash your hands after handling chickens or touching places where they live to avoid the risk of illness.
- Is it legal? If you’re raising chickens in town, check your local ordinances and zoning code regulations to make sure you can keep chickens legally. For example, in Medford, Oregon, residents can raise chickens and roosters within city limits but “the environment they are kept in must be kept odor and debris free; and the chickens cannot cause a noise disturbance to neighboring properties.”
- Chickens require health care. Just like other pets or farm animals, chickens can get sick or injured, which may require professional pet care. The most common chicken illnesses include poultry bumblefoot, a prolapsed vent, mites, and respiratory problems.
- Chickens do grow old and die. As they grow older (the lifespan is generally 8 to 10 years), egg production decreases and you will need to continue caring for them responsibly, or decide whether or not to use the chicken for meat production. (Generally peak egg production will start when the chicken is 1 year old and last for 2 to 3 years)
- Chickens can be mean to each other. Unfortunately, you will have to deal with some chickens bullying each other. They will peck at each other and even draw blood, which can make them peck more until one dies.
- Chickens need cleanup. Chickens can be dirty and also create messes, so you will need to regularly clean chickens, coops, and bedding material. Pine bedding and straw are ideal, never use cedar shavings as the cedar oils and scent can be toxic to chickens.
- Dealing with predators. If your yard is accessible to predators such as foxes, raccoons, skunks, possums, coyotes, or other animals who pose a threat to the safety of your chickens, you may consider making it a mandatory part of your routine by bringing them in each night for their safety.
- Chickens require basic maintenance. You’ll need to make sure your chickens have enough chicken feed, water and grit (small rocks to help them digest their food). These tasks are not difficult and often a perfect set of simple chores for kids raising chickens.
- Chickens need shelter, called a chicken coop. You can order a coop on our website, or pick up in-store at your local Grange Co-op. Chickens don’t need a lot of space, but they need room to stretch their legs.
- You can’t have just one chicken. Chickens are social animals and need other chickens for companionship. One chicken by itself can die of loneliness so we always encourage a small flock for the happiest, healthiest backyard chickens.
Now you know what it takes to care for your own flock of backyard chickens. Still have questions? Browse our collection of GrangeKnows articles on raising chickens! You can also visit any Grange Co-op store to speak with one of our Grange Experts for all your questions.
Check out this video on How to Raise Baby Chicks.
Read about How to Raise Chickens & Bantams.
Order Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens.
The Many Benefits of Backyard Chickens
When Green America member Laura Gidney and her husband John were househunting in New York state, they knew their new home had to be in a neighborhood zoned for backyard chickens. The Gidney family now has ten adult chickens, with 20 newly hatched chicks this spring. They make their home in a comfortable coop with plenty of space to roam. Each morning, the Gidneys enjoy fresh eggs from their mini-flock.
As the Gidneys have learned, keeping a small flock of chickens in your backyard has many benefits, from supplying you with fresh, healthy eggs from well-cared-for animals, to giving you great fertilizer for gardening, to providing lively pets—as well as being part of the drive to local, sustainable food systems.
Most chicken-owners have the same reason for starting up their flocks: eggs. By getting eggs from your own chickens, you avoid supporting industrial farms that produce the majority of eggs sold in the US. Egg-producing hens on factory farms are often kept in such close, inhumane quarters that they cannot stretch their legs or wings, walk around, or participate in normal social behaviors.
Also, studies by Mother Earth News have demonstrated that pasture-raised eggs, from chickens given space to peck for food, are more nutritious than industry-sourced eggs, with pasture-raised eggs containing two to three times more omega-3 fatty acids and one-third the cholesterol of factory-farmed eggs. With certified organic chicken feed available, you can keep your chickens healthy while supporting sustainable farming.
Those healthier eggs may cost a little more than factory-farmed eggs at the grocery store, but they’re competitive with and often cheaper than the cost of local, free-range eggs. Taking into account only the cost of food but not coop materials or other one-time expenses, most backyard chicken-keepers estimate they pay about $3 per dozen for backyard eggs. Eggs at most farmers’ markets tend to run from $5+ per dozen.
Chickens also serve as great composters for your kitchen scraps. Andrew Malone, who runs Funky Chicken Farm in Melbourne, FL, says he can’t think of much you can’t feed a chicken.
“They’re omnivores and will eat just about anything that comes out of the kitchen, including meat,” he says. Just make sure to supplement kitchen scraps with a proper feed, Malone warns, to ensure your chickens are getting the nutrition they need to stay healthy and lay strong eggs.
You can then add the chicken’s waste to your compost pile and use it on your garden as a fertilizer. In addition, chickens will happily eat up insects and pests in your yard.
Provided that children are gentle with the chickens, Jim Dennis, owner of Phoenix-based chicken company Rent-a-Hen, has observed that chickens can make social and even affectionate pets.
“For my children, every morning it’s a race to see which one of them gets to collect the eggs,” says Laura Gidney. “Today most kids are in a race to play a video game, so we are happy to have our kids out in the fresh air, playing in the dirt with their chickens.”
Check Local Ordinances
Before you run out and buy a clutch of chicks, make sure you’re ready for the commitment. First, check with your local officials to ensure that chickens are allowed where you live. Some municipalities have bans on chickens, or limits on how many chickens you can keep on your property. Because of their infamous early-morning cockadoodle-doos, roosters are banned from many cities.
If your city isn’t yet chicken-friendly, CommunityChickens.com has articles on how to change local ordinances.
Building a Happy Chicken Home
If your local ordinances approve of chickens, you’ll want to provide your birds with a chicken coop, or a secure hen house that will offer the birds a place to lay eggs, as well as a “run” where they can roam and peck. Make sure your coop also protects them from predators.
“If you’ve never seen a raccoon on your property, I can almost guarantee you’ll see one within the first few nights that you bring those chickens home,” says Malone.
Each chicken needs three to four square feet of space in the coop, and another three to four square feet in the run. Because chickens are social animals, Malone suggests a minimum of six chickens—which would require an 18-sq foot coop and a run of equal size.
If you’re a do-it-yourself-er, the Internet is rife with ideas and instructions—from coops on wheels that can be moved from place-to-place in your yard to designs to build a coop for under $100.
Your local feed store and online companies like backyardchickens.com or The Front Yard Coop also carry ready-built chicken coops.
Experts also recommend having one nesting box inside the coop for every three to four chickens—you can use a pre-fabricated wooden box from a feed store, or utilize any number of things you may have at home, like old milk crates, plastic tubs, and even a five-gallon bucket placed on its side. Or your chickens may choose their own place to lay. Green America member Rob McLane of Tucson, AZ, says that one of his chickens wanders inside every day to lay an egg in the family laundry basket.
Daily Care Concerns
Taking proper care of your chickens will ensure that they stay healthy, and will help you get the most eggs out of your flock. Each chicken requires about ¼ cup of feed per day, as well as a supply of fresh, clean water. Chickens can survive both hot and cold weather, and will be fine outside with temperatures as low as 15 degrees, but their laying patterns will change with the seasons.
Be sure to be vigilant about cleaning your chicken coop every two weeks and cleaning your hands and shoes after handling chickens and their eggs. A report from the Center for Disease Control this summer traced a seven-year salmonella outbreak to a hatchery that shipped chicks to consumers around the country. The outbreak has since ended, but the report emphasizes the importance of good hygiene when handling your chickens.
From Rhode Island Reds to Plymouth Rocks, there are many breeds available for your flock. Different breeds come with different personalities and different rates of egg-laying—and you can combine breeds in one flock for variety. While Malone says choosing a favorite chicken breed would be “like picking a favorite child,” he notes that brown-egg- laying breeds tend to be more social and docile.
Mother Earth News has a “Pickin’ Chicken” app to help you choose, or use MyPetChicken.com’s Breed Selector Tool to find the breed of chicken right for you.
Depending on where you live, there are several ways to get your chickens. Some chicken keepers choose to raise their chickens from chicks. This requires providing the chicks with additional heat and special feed; chicks can be found at local feed stores and farms. You may also be able to find older chickens locally— old enough to be outside without extra heat, but not yet laying eggs.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, many chickens with years of egg-laying ahead of them are brought to shelters and farm sanctuaries, and while they may not produce eggs at the rate of younger hens, they may be a perfect match for families who want to raise humanely treated chickens and save an adult chicken from slaughter.
Most hens start laying eggs at about six months old and will lay with the greatest frequency for that first year—giving you about four to seven eggs each week, though it may vary with the seasons. The number of eggs she’ll produce will reduce by about ten percent each subsequent year, and most backyard hens can live from eight to ten years.
Different people will make different decisions about what to do with a chicken at the end of her productive egg-laying period. For many, backyard chickens are seen as pets, and their owners will choose to continue to care for them for the duration of their natural lives. Others will butcher their older hens, using them as an additional source of food. Because of the increased numbers of hens being given to shelters and sanctuaries, the US Humane Society asks that people not drop off their non-productive chickens.
If you think chickens might be right for your family, keep in mind Laura Gidney’s words: “I always encourage anyone who can to totally do it!” she says. “Besides the fact that the eggs taste better, you know the quality of the food you give your birds, you know the conditions they live in, and it’s a beautiful thing to see your kids are out there taking care of and loving these birds and getting nutritious food out the whole deal.
*This post may contain affiliate links, which means as an Amazon Associate I may receive a small percentage from qualifying purchases if you make a purchase using the links, at no additional cost to you*
There are so many reasons to start a backyard flock! Yes, the eggs are great, but chickens can bring so much more to your life!
Fresh, healthy eggs for you & your family
Most people decide to keep chickens for the obvious benefit of having fresh eggs. But did you know that fresh eggs from pasture grazed chickens are healthier than regular store bought eggs? Pasture grazed chickens produce eggs that have more of vitamins D, A & E, more beta carotene, less cholesterol, less saturated fat and more omega 3 fatty acid. It makes sense – you put better things into the chicken, you get better things out! There will be more nutrients packed in each egg, but there will also be things missing from your fresh eggs. Arsenic is often added to factory farm hen’s feed to promote growth, and can be passed on in the eggs. Factory hens are kept in such close quarters they need to be given high doses of antibiotics – and you guessed it, they are passed on in the eggs. Factory farm eggs also have nearly 8 times greater odds of harboring salmonella bacteria than eggs from non-caged hens. When you have your own chickens you know exactly what has been going into them – can you say that of any commercial eggs?
You won’t be supporting the horrible living conditions of factory egg farms
The majority of egg laying hens are kept in battery cages where up to a dozen hens could be crammed into a single cage. Each hen is only given space about the size of a piece of paper. They can’t stretch their wings, they can’t seek out privacy to lay their eggs, they don’t get to run through the grass, scratch in the dirt or take dust baths. That is no way for a chicken to live!
Free Compost & Reduce Waste
Did you know chickens can perform magic? You give them scraps from your kitchen (bread heels, cooked pasta, the ends of lettuce – and so many other things) and they turn it into not only tasty eggs but valuable compost! Ok, so it’s not magic, but it is pretty cool! Not only are you keeping all that waste out of landfills, you can use the compost to fertilize your garden or lawn organically. Chicken poop is rich in nitrogen and is an invaluable organic soil builder.
Your chicken flock will be more than happy to seek out all sorts of harmful pests in your yard. They love grubs, ticks, pill bugs, grasshoppers, crickets – anything they can catch they will happily eat up for you!
Chickens are hilarious!
I completely underestimated this point when I considered chickens, but they are so entertaining! I could sit outside and watch them for hours. They all have their own little personalities, and watching them peck and scratch around the yard is oddly relaxing and fascinating. They are really friendly and sociable creatures. We have a sunroom off the back of our house where you can easily see the chicken coop. If I stand by the window, they line up in the run to stare back and bawk at me. Yes, they are probably saying “Hi treat giver, come give us some treats!” but I like to pretend they are just saying “Hi! We love you!”.
Chickens are a great pet for children to help with! There are lots of little chores they can help with from collecting eggs or raking the run to filling the water & food dishes. Chickens are a much easier pet than a dog or cat so they can be a perfect family pet.
Sharing is caring!
Chickens are all the rage these days, and while I’m usually not big fan of “trends,” I happen to think this is a good one! There is a lot of chicken raising information out there and it can definitely be overwhelming at first. While I don’t claim to be the final authority of all things chicken, I’ve kept a flock for several years now and want to share my seven best chicken tips for simplifying your chicken keeping.
7 Best Chicken Tips for First Time Chicken Owners
1. Start with chicks or mature birds instead of eggs
I know it seems like it might be fun to incubate and hatch your first batch of chickens from eggs, but it’s much simpler to start with a healthy bunch of chicks and go from there. While hatching your own is definitely something you may wish to consider in the future, allow yourself to become accustomed to the inner workings of chicken health and behavior before taking on the sometimes frustrating world of egg incubation.
Most local feed stores receive chick orders in the spring, so watch store flyers carefully to determine when they’ll arrive in your area. If this isn’t an option where you live, you can also mail order chicks from places online like Murray McMurray Hatchery. (Check out Getting Started with Meat Chickens for detailed information on how to welcome your chicks home.)
Another option is to purchase mature hens who are already laying for your first flock. While this works some of the time, you often end up with the “culls” from other people’s flocks, so be careful of what you are buying.
2. Choose dual-purpose chicken breeds
Chickens are usually categorized into two varieties: meat breeds and laying breeds. If you aren’t quite sure which route you wish to go, choose a breed that is known to lay a decent number of eggs, but also has adequate meat production in case you end up with extra rooster or a hen that doesn’t lay. Personally, my favorite breeds are Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshire Reds, Barred Rocks, and Araucanas. Dual purpose chickens also seem to be hardier and more self-sufficient than other more “specialized” breeds. (Check out Best Chicken Breeds for the Homestead for a comparison of different breeds.)
3. You don’t have to go crazy with your coop
I’ve seen some wild chicken coops lately! Some of them are fancier than my actual house, and it’s hard to tell if they were intended for a human or a bird. If having a fancy coop is holding you back from getting a flock of your own- don’t let it. Chickens don’t require a 5-star resort to be happy.
Chickens must have:
- protection from predators
- a place to roost
- nesting boxes (for layers)
- room to move around
You can easily meet these needs by modifying an existing building (small barn, shed, or even a doghouse) or building a small chicken tractor. Check out the Backyard Poultry board on Pinterest for chicken coop and tractor inspiration.
4. Stay as natural as possible
As the interest in chicken keeping grows, so do the gimmicks. You can make your chicken adventure as simple or as complicated as you would like. A few ways I keep my chickens as natural as I can:
- Free range your chickens when at all possible, which cuts down on feed bills and provides them with a diet more like nature intended. (Plus, they LOVE it! Just be cautious of potential predators.)
- Avoid using chemicals or special “washes” to disinfect the coop. Instead I use a natural, homemade solution.
- Feed chickens crushed egg shells to help to supplement their calcium intake.
- Give chickens an assortment of kitchen scraps, which helps to provide them with extra nutrients. It also keeps that much more waste from hitting my garbage can.
- Don’t leave lights on them year around to force them into laying. Since chickens were designed to take a break from laying, I prefer to allow them to do so – which also helps to reduce the amount of electricity I use. (However, I DO provide heat lamps whenever our temperatures drop.)
- Go homemade whenever possible. I’ve avoided purchasing the expensive chicken equipment at the feed store by creating my own feeders and chick waterers out of repurposed items. We also made our nesting boxes and roosts from scrap lumber.
5. Establish a routine with your chickens
Some people seem to think of their chickens as dogs and spend countless hours doting on them. I personally don’t have that luxury, since I’m running an entire homestead, with many other animals. Since my chickens are actually one of the lower maintenance aspects of my homestead, it’s easy to “forget” about them sometimes… I’ve found that things run the smoothest when I establish a daily routine for filling feeders, waterers, freshening the bedding, and collecting eggs. That way, the poor girls don’t get pushed to the back burner. 🙂
6. Keep things clean
This goes along with the previous point of establishing a routine. Dirty nesting boxes equal dirty eggs which equals the dilemma of whether or not you should wash your eggs.
An ounce of prevention goes a long way – it only takes a minute or two to clean boxes and replace bedding if you do it each day. If you wait until the end of the week, you’ll have a much bigger task, plus lots of dirty eggs. The same goes for the floor of your coop – if you are using the deep litter method, take a minute or two to turn the bedding each time you are in the coop.
7. Get a heated water bowl (for cold climate flocks)
Generally I’m the type of person who prefers the non-electric method of dealing with problems. However, when it comes to dealing with chicken water, a heated dog bowl has been invaluable! If you live in a cold climate like me, shallow chicken buckets or pans freeze quickly, and you’ll be outside every couple hours breaking ice and refilling. Save yourself some time and headache by splurging for a plug-in dog bowl. It’s a great investment and my girls definitely appreciate it. (During warm weather, on demand waterers, which basically work like drip pet waterers on a larger scale, may be easier to keep clean than standard waterers, but they are prone to freezing.)
As you can see, chickens can be as easy or as complicated as you choose to make them. If you have the time and energy, then by all means, build a Victorian-style coop and mix them up gourmet treats. 🙂 However, if you are a full-time homesteader like me, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the benefits chickens will add your homestead, without a lot of extra work.
You may also find useful:
- What to Feed Chickens – Do’s and Don’ts for a Healthy Chicken Diet
- Chickenpalooza! An Awesome List of Homestead Chicken Resources
- How to Raise Chickens Cheaply – Tips for Raising Chickens on a Budget
This is a guest post from Jill Winger at The Prairie Homestead. Jill is a homesteader and prairie-dweller who loves to inspire others to return to their roots, learn new skills, and embark on their own homestead journey.
Originally posted in 2012, updated in 2017.
Raising backyard chickens is very trendy these days. With news of arsenic in our chicken and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s move to allow the sale in the U.S. of chickens processed in China, many people are choosing to raise their own chickens. Businesses around the country are catering to this growing demand among urbanites and suburbanites who want to have their own fresh daily eggs or raise their own chickens for meat by offering chicks, feed, coop design plans and even prebuilt coops.
Jason Price’s backyard chicken coop. Photo credit: The Hungry Dog Blog
But raising chickens definitely has its challenges that first-timers might not be aware of before they begin. Jason Price at The Hungry Dog Blog offers the following tips that he has learned through trial and error while raising his own backyard chickens in Seattle, Washington.
1. Go into it with a design plan or buy a pre-built coop: This may seem obvious, but Price wanted to use as much recycled material as possible and do it on the cheap, which you certainly can do. But you should have designs to go off of if you want your coop to be structurally sound. If you want to raise chickens but don’t think you can build your own chicken coop, Modern Farmer has found some very cool, modernist, pre-built chicken coops.
2. Seek out neighbors and chicken farmers in the area: Yes, the internet is full of useful sites for raising backyard chickens, but nothing beats the advice and knowledge of someone with whom you can talk in your area. Seeing other people’s setups will help you troubleshoot your own, and you can have people actually come see your operation and your chickens when you are having problems.
3. Be prepared to stumble upon some horrible chicken deaths: Harsh, but true. Price had a horror story of dog sitting for a demon dog that took out three of his baby chicks. Dogs, weasels, coyotes, raccoons and foxes are just some of the common predators of chickens. This is another reason that it’s best to follow a design plan for a chicken coop so that your hens are well protected.
4. It’s possible you will have a rooster in the brood: Determining the sex of chickens when they are young enough to sell is only about 90 percent accurate, so occasionally you will get a rooster or two in with your hens. It’s illegal (and annoying) to have a rooster in most urban and suburban areas, so you’ll either have to eat the little guy or find him a new home.
5. Don’t expect your chickens to lay eggs on a consistent schedule: The breed helps determines when your chickens should lay eggs, but chickens will often take longer than standard estimates and egg laying will vary with the seasons. Making sure they have good, whole grain food with at least 17 percent protein, a healthy amount of water and ample light will help, but Price warns your hens might lay every day for a month, take a break for a few days, and then lay every other day.
6. Plan to spend lot of time on “chicken blogs”: Much like how parents pore over blogs and books about what’s ailing their sick children, when backyard chicken farmers’ hens get sick, they spend lots of time perusing sites like The Chicken Chick, Backyard Poultry Magazine, Backyard Chickens.com, Oh Lardy’s Backyard Chicken Series and Pam’s Backyard Chickens. Sadly it’s inevitable that you may lose some chickens to disease.
7. Farm life is not all roses: Materials such as straw and Diatomaceous Earth help keep the odor down, but chickens still produce lots of waste, which attracts flies. Price says the best thing to do is to clean and replace your straw weekly and use fly traps.
8. You can’t beat the taste: Before you begin to think this is a list of 10 reasons why not to raise backyard chickens, let’s not forget that fresh, organic eggs and the meat from chickens that you raise yourself taste amazing. Taking ownership of your food by growing and raising it yourself is an empowering feeling.
9. The zen of watching chickens: Price said this surprised him, but he really enjoys watching the chickens express their innate behavior. They all have different personalities, and he gets a kick out of watching them play together.
10. Chickens come and go: Chickens have about two good years of laying before their production declines, and the feed costs more than you save in eggs. You can either eat them or keep them as pets and let them die of old age. And then you can buy more chicks to start the cycle anew. As mentioned previously, you should be prepared to lose a few chickens along the way. Price started with 11 and ended up with 6 due to predators (the evil dog he watched), disease and one being a rooster.
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But I was unwilling to lose this war of attrition. My plan was to convince the kids that it would be a good thing for us and that they could pick out the chicks. Last October I was able to get the family down to Portage Bay Grange in Seattle’s University District and home of all things backyard chicken and more. After showing my family the freshly hatched chicks, I knew I had won. I mean, who can resist a fluffy little chick?
So, we brought three home with all the required accoutrements and set up shop in the basement. After naming them, we cared for them like they were the young dragons in Game of Thrones.
Medieval chickens … tasty or tough?
About three weeks later, I convinced everyone that we should get a couple more – so we did. We were on the chicken bandwagon and there was no turning back. However, we have learned a few key things along this journey that must be shared with anyone that isn’t familiar with raising backyard chickens. Read this before you take the plunge and be warned – it’s all fun and games until a dog eats one of your chickens.
Get Plans for a Coop and Build It – Or Just Buy One
I should have known better than to attempt to build a chicken coop without a plan. I had dreams of creating an affordable coop using scrap wood and old wine cases for siding that could be wheeled around the yard as needed. $500 and about 60 hours of labor later – I have built a battleship. Yes, it’s pretty, but completely overbuilt and inefficient. The wheels sit on my porch, unable to bear the weight of the massive amounts of lumber and nails that went into this bad boy.
Lesson learned. Saltbox Designs in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle creates beautiful chicken coops (among other things) at an affordable price. Go there and save yourself the time and frustration of realizing you are likely not adept at carpentry or building anything.
Get to Know Your Local Chicken Expert
The aforementioned Portage Bay Grange has been a salvation for my backyard chicken endeavors. The owner, Kevin Scott-Vandenberge, and his crew have given helpful advice at all times and have invaluable knowledge. Before you burn countless hours diagnosing chicken problems by browsing fowl message boards, find a local poultry purveyor and be done with it.
At Least One of Your Chickens Will Die a Horrible Death
We have experienced this unfortunate occurrence not once, but three times. It happened in December when the chicks were about eight to ten weeks old. Our family was watching a horrible little dog named Ichigo while her parents were away in Japan. It was a Shiba Inu which is known for: ferreting out and killing small game, running away and being generally evil.
I came to snuff this rooster.
Unfortunately we experienced all of these traits during her stay. One fine day I left the area where the chicks were being kept and the little bugger got in there and killed three of them in a matter of minutes – proudly laying one at the feet of my three year old son. She also decided to escape and run away about five times over a three week span. Unfortunately, we found her each time – more out of guilt than desire as we didn’t want her to disappear on our watch.
This incident did beget the purchase of more, older pullets and the owner of the evil dog was gracious enough to compensate us for our financial loss but not our mental anguish. Yes, we anguished the loss of our dearly departed backyard chickens.
You May Get a Rooster in the Bunch
We knew that chicken sexing is only a 90 percent proposition when we got our flock. We were also over-confident (and hopeful) that we would not get a rooster in our bunch for it is both illegal to have them within the city limits in Seattle and annoying as hell. I’ve spent many a vacation around the world being awoken at absurdly early hours by the neighbor’s rooster. They are my nemesis.
For weeks we happily raised our flock until one day, my wife pointed out that she thought the Rhode Island Red named Scarlett was a rooster. I scoffed at the notion until a couple of days later when I heard the beginnings of a nascent cock-a-doodle-doo at about 5:30 a.m. Over the next few days he perfected this party trick and was aptly re-named Scarleto. I asked my wife and children if they’d like to join me in eating him but I was overruled and he was sent back to the farm — where he was likely eaten by the farmer.
Your Chickens Will Not Lay Eggs When You Think They Should
Getting fresh eggs from the flock takes patience.
I did my research on this. I even created a spreadsheet and highlighted the chicken breeds that should be laying early between 17 to 26 weeks. I bought those breeds. But I’ll be damned if three of our six backyard chickens didn’t lay until after 26 weeks had passed. One has yet to lay a single egg and is now at the ripe old age of 34.29 weeks old as of this posting. I have started to plant the seeds of her becoming dinner but once again have been rebuffed by the family. Perhaps if I send them all away on a trip and enjoy her all for myself? She’s a Cuckoo Maran and I definitely feel that a French chicken would make a divine coq au vin.
But I digress. There seems to be no rhyme or reason when backyard chickens will decide to lay eggs. They may lay every day for a month, then take a break for a few days, then lay every other day. Make sure they have a good, whole grain food with at least 17% protein, water them often, and keep the light on until you go to bed. Hopefully that’ll do the trick.
You Will Research What’s Wrong With Your Chickens Like You Would for Your Own Children
Has your kid ever had a nagging set of symptoms that you simply could not diagnose? Have you ever spent hours perusing the internet to try and figure out what’s wrong with them? Well, prepare to do the same with your chickens. I swear, there must be as many ‘chicken boards’ as there are child rearing advice boards. You will spend time on sites like The Chicken Chick, Backyard Poultry Magazine, Backyard Chickens.com, Oh Lardy’s Backyard Chicken Series and Pam’s Backyard Chickens. Problem is – your chickens can’t talk and every possible disease carries with it the real risk of death and/or epidemic for your entire flock.
Who can resist three cute little chicks?
You will spend hours reading, asking for and getting random advice from strangers on what to do with your chickens. It’s mayhem. If a chicken seems very sick or feeble and you can’t figure out what’s wrong then I’d suggest cutting your losses and breaking out the axe. You just might save the rest of your flock with this quick cure-all remedy.
Chickens Can Be Dirty and Smelly
And I don’t mean like your feet after wearing sweaty socks and old sneakers all day. I mean – they smell. They poop everywhere and it accumulates like all get out. Yes, you can throw down more straw and even some diatomaceous earth (D.E.) to keep the odor down but those are band-aids. Oh, and then there are the flies that come to the party.
My backyard now consists of two fly traps (that smell like dead fish), 100 square feet of straw about three or four inches deep, and twice a week sprinklings of D.E. This helps but the only true solution is cleaning and replacing your straw weekly. Buying expensive products like Dookashi which may or may not help to solve the problem. And don’t even get me started on the joys of cleaning the chicken coop…
Chickens Can Feed You
To me, this is the number one reason to get backyard chickens. The eggs are supremely good. The yolks are bright yellow and they stand up nicely. Having a basket of fresh eggs on the counter to draw from is a lovely experience. The colors of the shells are beautiful and picking them up, warm from the brooder, is the most positive sign of freshness one can imagine. Eating fresh eggs is a sublime culinary adventure. For this reason alone you should get your own chickens.
Watching Backyard Chicken Television Is a Zen Experience
I never thought I would say this but I like watching my chickens play together. They are funny and each of them have different ‘personalities’. They chase each other, push each other around, fly up in the air a few feet and drop down, roll in the dirt, scratch and peck, etc. Sitting on the porch and looking at them makes me happy for some reason. Maybe it reminds me of simpler times, or lets me daydream about living on a farm – I don’t know. Either way, I like it.
The backyard chicken gang hanging out.
I’ve alluded to this before in jest but now I’ll be serious. Hens have around two good years of laying before their production declines and they become freeloaders. When the cost of feed is greater than the money you save in eggs then you have a little mental cost-benefit analysis to complete. On a true farm, animals that are no longer useful are disposed of (eaten). Since you are a gentleman farmer you can make a far more subjective decision that includes things like love for your birds and the value you place on them as pets. That said, they are pretty tasty little morsels and stewed chicken and dumplings is pretty damned good. Plus, you can experienced the whole process all over again by buying new chicks to replace that old hen! Whatever you decide, no one will judge you for it.
Birds of a Feather…
Altogether, we’ve now amassed a half dozen chickens that live in our backyard and who happily cluck away all day while producing a variety of lovely colored eggs that taste delicious. In order to get to those six surviving chickens we’ve had to replace the three that were killed by the evil dog and the rooster we sent back to the farm. Oh, and there was another little chick who didn’t make it due to some undiagnosed problem. So all in all we’ve bought 11 chickens of various age/breed/size/color to get to our current half dozen. While the road was rocky along the way we have learned a lot in the process. Hopefully this will help you as you contemplate beginning your own backyard chicken adventure!
Jason Price lives in Seattle, WA with his wife and children. He’s currently pursuing opening an artisan meat company and writes about food, farming, chef life and eating locally. Check him out at TheHungryDogBlog.com, where this article was originally posted.
5 Ways Chickens Can Help Your Garden Grow
Chickens make gardening better, easier, more productive, and fun!
From providing compost to making it lots more fun to weed, your chickens benefit your garden and even make some of the heavy-duty gardening chores easier and a bit more exciting.
Chickens make gardening better in so many ways! Here’s how:
Chickens Create Compost
Cleaning out the chicken coop will provide nutrient-rich manure and bedding material that you can compost to supplement the soil in your garden. Chicken manure is a “hot” manure, so fresh manure should be composted before it is put on your garden.
We use a deep litter method in our coop. We also spread the coop bedding into the chicken run when we clean out the coop, and from there it goes into the gardens. Compost from chickens definitely makes our small garden more productive.
READ MORE: 8 Tips for a Healthy Flock of Chickens
Chickens Turn the Compost Pile
As a chicken keeper, you probably already know that chickens are great at composting. A free-range chicken will naturally scratch and turn over leaves and dirt so they’ll do the same with a compost pile filled with food scraps looking for edible plants and bugs. This natural turning saves you the work of having to turn a compost pile.
Chicken-powered turning or “aeration” of the compost pile speeds up how quickly compost is ready for use.
Our compost pile is right in our chicken run, so that our chickens have easy access to the pile even when they are not let out to free range.
A better arrangement might be to have a fenced compost area within the garden itself, in which you could have a small chicken coop of chickens working to compost. In fact, the Vermont Compost Company uses over a thousand chickens to create commercial compost.
Chickens Are Great Pest Control
Chickens eat squash and cucumber beetles, assorted bugs, little slugs, grubs, and many other pests in your vegetable garden plot. While there are beneficial bugs for your garden, even a small flock of healthy chickens will serve as pest control to reduce the levels of detrimental insect pests.
Fewer pests definitely makes gardening better! This variety in their diet also makes fresh eggs better: that deep yellow or orange yolk is the sign of a diet with plant matter and insects as well as a good chicken feed.
Image via Bill Craig
Obviously, you may want to keep chickens out of a newly planted garden to protect your plants. Instead of chickens running amok in newly planted gardens, where they might tear up new plants or seeds, fence them out of the garden at that time.
The best times to have your chickens patrolling in the garden are before planting season and then again after the season is done. Bonus: they’ll probably gobble down weed seeds too.
Another option is to create a chicken tunnel around the garden for your backyard flock using chicken wire, so they can patrol the perimeter for pests without making peck holes in your prize tomatoes and Swiss chard. Something to think about when you are creating new garden plans!
Chickens will also contribute to apple orchard insect control. Chickens reduce the amount of fruit left on the ground and thereby break some pest life cycles and risk of disease. The same can be said with berry orchards and other fruit farms.
READ MORE: How a Flock of Chickens Is the Best Tick Control
Chickens Can Till the Garden
Did you know chickens can be one of the best gardening tools?
Harvey Ussury, in his book “The Small-Scale Poultry Flock” (Chelsea Green 2011) writes about how he uses what he calls “tiller chickens” to till under-cover crops. His chickens break new garden ground and prepare garden beds for planting.
Using either fencing or a chicken tractor, Mr. Ussury puts his chickens to work right in the garden. Not only do garden chickens or tiller chickens turn cover crops and clear new garden ground of any sod, they add chicken manure fertilizer directly to the garden soil as they till. See some tiller chickens in action here.
READ MORE: Learn About the Moveable Chicken Tractor Coop
Planting cover crops and then having chickens till the plant matter gives chickens access to their very own chicken garden. You can plant cover crops in garden beds just the width of a chicken tractor. As they till under the cover crop, you move the chicken tractor to fresh areas to till and prepare new ground.
Chickens Make Weeding Fun
Once thing backyard chickens do not do is weed gardens (but oh, how I do wish they would). If you would like a flock to weed your garden, look into getting some weeder geese. Less weeding would be amazing!
However, pulling up weeds is a lot more fun when you can bring a wheelbarrow or two full of fresh green juicy garden weeds and grass clippings to your chickens. My garden is definitely the better for it.
In my pre-chicken days, weeds would take over the garden and I would want to burn it all down to the ground. Nowadays, I regularly pull weeds for the chickens and as a result the garden is well-maintained even in August. It’s no longer a chore, instead it’s a treat to give weeds to the chickens.
So there you go! These are five ways chickens make gardening better–we didn’t even include the benefit of the fresh eggs from raising chickens! Compost, insect control, tilling, and helping with the once-dreaded chore of weeding: Chickens are really beneficial in our garden.
Are you a chicken owner? Do your chickens make the garden better? Let us know in the comments below!
Photos by Daphne Cybele unless otherwise specified.
WATCH NOW: How to Have the Best Tasting Eggs from Your Backyard Chickens
oembed rumble video here
Using Chickens in the Garden – 13 Things You Need to Know For Success
Using chickens in the garden – 13 things you need to know first, to save you and your chickens a lot of heartache and frustration. Our goal is to use our crops and animals as a compliment to one another.
But if you’ve ever dealt with free ranging chickens and having your crops or plants destroyed, you know it’s not as easy as it seems. Today I’m interviewing Lisa Steel from Fresh Eggs Daily for tips to keep your chickens safe when they’re free ranging, but also how to get the maximum benefit from the chickens in your garden, while still getting to eat your vegetables yourself.
Listen below to Episode #139 of the Pioneering Today Podcast,where we teach families how to grow, preserve and cook their own food using old-fashioned skill sets and wisdom to create a natural self-sufficient home, with, or without, the homestead.
MKN: That we love with homestead and raising our animals is most people who are raising livestock or chickens for daily eggs, we’re also gardening and we’re wanting to make sure that we’re using organic and natural methods in all area of our homes and our gardens, and we’re raising our own food. So, using chickens, not just for their eggs and for the fun of having the flock, but also using them on your land and in your garden to making everything come full circle and to compliment one another. You have a book on this don’t you?
Lisa: I wrote Gardening With Chickens –> snag your copy here. It came out last year. Like you said, it was kind of the result of years of failures, and the chickens just roaming around, kind of willy-nilly, and eating everything.
And finally, I got annoyed because I wanted them to roam around, and eat bugs, and fertilize our lawn and everything, but I also wanted to grow a garden. And fencing is expensive.
I thought, “There has to be a way that we can all just kind of live in harmony.” So, I started trying different things, and through trial and error, I came up with a system that worked.
I decided that I needed to write a book about it, so everybody could incorporate it into their chicken keeping, and trying to also encourage more gardeners to start raising chickens, and more chicken keepers to start gardening, because they do go hand-in-hand, like you said.
When Free-Ranging the Chickens Doesn’t Work
MKN: When I did have my chickens free ranging, they loved to burrow in to my raspberries. And they exposed all of the roots and almost killed them.
They didn’t bother my blueberries or my other fruit trees. They really just liked the root system of the raspberries. And they didn’t eat the raspberries either, which was quite interesting.
Chickens don’t discern on what they’re allowed to get into and what they aren’t, they get into it all.
Coyote chasing homesteader
MKN: We decided that we were going to have the chickens just completely free range and then they just go in the coop at night, which worked okay for a short period of time. One, we’re very, very rural, so even during the day, we will have coyotes, and we have eagles, and hawks, and different predators.
I was putting clothes out on the line, with our chickens right across the fence. It was about 10:00 in the morning, I was putting clothes out on the line, and I look over, and there is coyote in between me and my chickens, who are free ranging.
I just start running at this coyote, yelling at it to get away. And this coyote just sits there, maybe in shock, that someone’s coming at it and yelling. But it just stood there and stared at me.
I was in full mama mode. And I got within about literally 10 feet of the coyote before it finally turned tail and ran. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I had gone all the way up to it and it wouldn’t have ran. I didn’t have anything in my hands.
The coyote did finally turn tail and run, but that’s when I realized that even with me home during the day, that the chickens needed a little bit more protection. So, we started using a chicken tractor and doing some chicken runs.
Best tips and overall strategy on how to keep chickens and crops safe.
Lisa: Good point about the predators.
- Don’t let chickens out of their run until the afternoon. It seems like in the morning the predators are more active. Everyone’s hungry, they’re looking for their food, you see a lot more hawks. And then by afternoon, it seems like everybody’s had their meal for the day and they move on. So, trying just in the afternoon to free range them I find works a lot better. Plus, then they put themselves to bed in the coop at dusk, so you don’t have to worry about rounding them up or anything. So, that’s one strategy that worked.
It also kind of minimizes the time that they’re out roaming around and finding your garden and your plants and stuff.
2. Put something around the base of plants you don’t want them to dig or scratch into and damage the roots. For the raspberries, what you want to do is put something around the root. Around the base of the plants. Chickens love to scratch up roots, chickens tilling garden is a great benefit when it’s where you want them to till. I think that’s where worms and stuff hang out, so they really go for the roots of your plants, and shrubs and bushes.
Use bricks, or pavers, or large stones, or just something around the root system, that’ll really protect any bushes that you really don’t want them to till, because they will, like you said. They’ll literally dig up shrubs on you and just kill them.
MKN: Basically, putting up some type of barrier is going to be the best bet for keeping them out of the roots of your perennial bushes and plants.
3. Use Netting. Bird netting can help, too, though, obviously, because that helps against the wild birds, too. And chickens will eat blueberries and raspberries. I guess they were too busy with the roots, but they will eat your berries too, usually.
Will chickens eat my vegetable garden?
Lisa: No, not in the summer garden. Well, first of all, our vegetable garden is fenced off. I planted it inside … It’s almost like a chain link dog kennel kind of thing. And that’s mostly to keep the wild birds, the raccoons …
We have a lot of things that like to eat our garden. So, that keeps everybody out. But I will use the chickens in the spring and the fall.
Benefits of using chickens in the garden during the fall
- They’ll clean up anything that’s leftover, they’ll eat a lot of the leaves, your sweet potatoes, or like you said, your strawberries, or anything that you haven’t picked, or you’ve left because it’s full of bugs or whatever.
- They’ll also start churning the soil over, so they’ll get some of that stocky leftover into the soil where it can decompose over the winter.
- Plus, as they walk around, they poop. So they’re fertilizing the soil as well
I like to use them in the fall cleanup, and then in the spring before you plant your crops … When you’re in there just kind of getting rid of any rocks that might’ve gotten pushed up to the surface or pulling weeds.
They are wonderful. They’ll eat any bugs that over winter … They’ll eat bug larva, they will help you with weed seeds. Again, they kind of till the soil. Like you talked about, getting away from using a rototiller. And some people don’t want to do that because it’s not really great for soil structure.
But the chickens are a lot easier on the soil. They just kind of turn over the top few inches for you, loosen the soil, and like I said, get rid of the weeds, seeds, and bugs, and things, which is pretty nice.
They’re good little off season garden helpers. And then I keep them out of the garden during the growing season.
Using Chickens in the Spring Garden
In the springtime when you put them in, do you have a time period where you do it so many days before you actually plant with bacteria or high levels of nitrogen?
Or is it because there’s a relatively small amount because the chickens aren’t in there. You’re not shoveling wheelbarrow fulls on the garden.
Do you have any issues at all with too much nitrogen?
Lisa: No, it’s been fine. That’s a really good point on using any animal manure. There’s also pathogens you have to worry about. E.Coli, salmonella, things like that. You should not use fresh manure on your garden.
When they’re in the garden in the spring, like you said, it’s such a minuscule amount to really be concerned. You could go afterwards and rake up after them, but I don’t really worry.
You’re planting your seeds at that point. You’re not letting them in an active garden. So, even by the time your plants start to come up, the nitrogen is going to have dissipated a little bit.
In the fall though, when I cleaned my coop out after the summer, all the straw, chicken feathers, chicken manure goes right over the garden as mulch, so it keeps the weeds down. And then that has the entire winter to let it just sit there, and by the spring, then, those levels … Because there’s a lot more manure in that than there would be in just a few random chickens roaming around the garden.
MKN: That’s the method that we use, too, is in the fall, that’s when I try to put all of the manure and mulch, whatever I’m using from the pens, and from the cattle, and cleaning up different areas of the yard and stuff, because it does work so wonderful. I feel like … When I do it, I’m like … It’s almost like I’m getting free labor because all I’m doing is dumping everything on there, and then nature just takes its course and breaks it down for me over the winter months. If I can find a lazy route, I’m taking it!
Lisa: And that’s what farmers and homesteaders have always done. It amazes me how many people ask me what to do with … A lot of people clean their runs, too, which … That’s a little much. I don’t do that. But a lot of people actually rake their runs out. And so, they have all this chicken manure, and they just throw it in the woods.
And I’m thinking, “Why not start a garden?” I mean, people pay good money for livestock manure and you’ve got it free and available. It really is wonderful.
We used to have horses, and we used the horse manure in the garden as well. If you worry about it, you could always compost it. You could go from the coop, or the pasture, whatever, to a compost pile, and then let that sit for six months to a year, and then start using it, if you are concerned about sanitary pathogens and all that, and the nitrogen.
Melissa: Yes, very true, because your compost pile, when done properly, is going to heat up hot enough. And you can put different thermometer probes and stuff in there if you’re really concerned about it that will kill the harmful pathogens. And then you can put it on your garden.
Also is knowing how the animal the manure comes from is fed and cared for. Of course it’s coming from our own livestock, and we only feed organic feed if we’re feeding it. Our cattle is all grass fed. The chickens get scraps from the garden, and then when I’m supplementing with regular feed.
I make sure that it’s all organic and certified non-GMO and that type of thing, because I also don’t want manure from livestock that’s been fed a lot of commercial feed that could have pesticides, and then putting that into my garden as well.
If using manure in an edible garden, apply 90 days before harvesting above ground crops and 120 days for root crops.
Lisa: And obviously you should always wash produce, even from your own garden. We wash things from the grocery store because you worry about maybe pesticide residue or other people at the store touching your stuff or whatever. You should really wash what you’re picking out of your own garden as well, just to be safe, if you are using the homegrown manure fertilizer on it.
Are there any crops that you need to make sure that you keep the chickens away from because it could be harmful to them if they eat it?
Lisa: There are things that can be problematic for them. In general, most animals do know what’s toxic and what’s not, but you have the random animal who just eats a plant they shouldn’t.
Your tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, white potatoes, those kind of things, they do contain toxins (the nightshade family) to chickens. I have tons of people tell me that their chickens have eaten an entire tomato plant and they’ve been fine, which is true. I mean, toxic does not mean immediately fatal, but if a chicken is sick, or weaker, or older, or younger, it could be that the toxins affect them differently.
Before I let the chickens in the garden in the fall, for example, I will pull out all the eggplant and tomato plants, and I just throw those in the woods. The chickens might eat them. They might. But there’s so much else for them to eat, I just like to be cautious. I don’t like to take chances on things like that.
I do feed them ripe tomatoes, which, still again, they do have a little toxin in them, but the chickens really love them. The ripened fruit has less toxin than the leaves and the stems. Just something to keep in mind. But that’s about … The nightshade family is really the thing that can be the problem.
Oh, and rhubarb. Rhubarb leaves are toxic to people as well. Never done well with rhubarb, so I can’t tell you if chickens will eat it or not. You might just want to keep the chickens out of the rhubarb patch.
Free Ranging Chickens for Bug Control
Melissa: YeHere in the spring time when it starts to get warm and you kind of have those first couple days where it’s really hot out, we get those flying carpenter ants. Those big, huge black ants that will fly, and they will bite, and they just tend to almost invade everything the first few warm days of spring.
When my chickens were free ranging, I did not have any. They went hog wild, crazy on those things. I noticed a reduction in bugs in a good way on our homestead.
Lisa: Right. And, I mean, bugs. They are huge as far as bug control goes. For the ticks, and the mosquito larva. It’s definitely beneficial to get them out in the lawn as much as you can.
How to train your dog with free ranging chickens
Melissa: We have a new puppy … Well, he’s almost 10 months old now, and he goes out to feed with me, but I don’t let him in the coop. He can see the chickens through the thing, but he doesn’t get up next to them or anything like that.
When I go the free ranging mode, I want to make sure that they are kept safe because we do have a newer dog now.
Do you have any tips on training him to make sure that he keeps the chickens safe? That he’s not a predator with the chickens himself? Do you have any tips for that?
Lisa: Yes, that’s what we did when we got Bella. She was a baby German Shepherd. And we had had an older Shepherd when we first got our chickens, who was wonderful with them. And baby Bella was kind of a mess. She was running the fence, and she wanted to get at the chickens.
- Let them see the chickens while they’re protected in a pen. We just let her spend a lot of time while they were penned up so she could see them and she could kind of get it out of her system.
- Put the dog on a leash near the free ranging chickens and practice obedience commands. And then when they were out free ranging, we would bring her out on the leash, and we would do a lot of, “Sit. Stay. No. Drop it. Leave it.” We made sure she knew the basic commands really, really well before we actually let her off the leash.
- Use a training collar after the dog responds to the leash obedience in the presence of the chickens. We got one of those zapper collars. And we actually put it on the pager so it would vibrate. When she was out, and the chickens were out, and she’d walk the leash, if she got fixated on them or she looked like she was going to do something, we would just zap her. And that was enough to break her concentration and get her back listening to us. Get her back into a “sit” or a “stay” or whatever.
Melissa: Okay. That is perfect because we do have one of those.
Lisa: Yeah. I get so nervous when people say, “Oh. Our dog would kill our chickens, so the dog is never out when the chickens are.” Well, that’s great until somebody leaves the door open, or somebody doesn’t realize the chickens are out, or the kids have friends over and they let the dog out.
Training them, it takes time. But like you said, then he could be out with them, guarding them. And dogs are smart. They learn really quickly. We have boundaries.
People think it’s funny when their dog will chase their duck, and then the duck will chase the dog. We don’t let our dogs chase them, ever. Touch them, ever. They’re not allowed in the coop or the run. You have to set boundaries so the dog knows the rules. Once they know, then they’re like, “Okay.”
Melissa: Okay. That’s good. And I feel good because I’ve not let him come in. He’s tried to come in the coop because he just wants to follow me everywhere, but I know I can’t let him in and then tell him no and that type of thing. I feel like I’m on the beginning of the right path with him, so we’ll just continue that training.
Psst– enjoy this interview. Make sure you’re on my email list because Lisa is going to be a part of a very special Homesteading Event I’m hosting and planning (and practically bursting at the seams to share with you) coming very very soon.
What’s been your experience using chickens in the garden?
Chickens & Your Garden: 7 Ways To Use Chickens In Your Permaculture Garden ‘What The Cluck?!’ Session 12 [Podcast]
Table of Contents (Quickly Jump To Information)
We use chickens in our garden every season to lower our workload and enhance our soil. Particularly, if you’re interested in permaculture, then this episode of What The Cluck?! is for you.
One of the easiest ways to get a third use out of your chickens is to use them in your garden.
MY LATEST VIDEOS
You’ll save time, money, and energy.
In this episode of What The Cluck?! we explore how to use chickens in your garden.
- How to save money on sustainable fertilizer
- Which nutrients your chickens add to your garden and how
- When NOT to use chickens in your garden
(LIKE THIS PODCAST? LISTEN TO THE REST HERE)
Links we discuss:
Feeding Your Hens Right
How to Build a Chicken Tractor With Reclaimed Wood
Hi there, and welcome to session 12 of What the Cluck?!, a podcast devoted to keeping chickens for fun and self-sufficiency. I’m Maat from FrugalChicken, and in this episode we’ll look at ways to use chickens in your permaculture garden, and while this seems like an odd time to talk about it, it is December after all, now is the time to implement these ideas.
Whether you currently own chickens or not, you’ll love this episode because you’ll learn about how chickens can contribute to your homestead beyond just the usual eggs and meat.
If you don’t own chickens, but need to convince a family member why chickens are advantageous, there’s a lot in the episode for you.
If you own chickens, but just use them for eggs and meat, you’ll learn a third way chickens can “earn their keep” so to speak, especially in the winter when they stop laying.
So stay with me!
Now before we get started, I just want to briefly mention a company that I love and that’s Thrive Market.
Why do I love them so much? Well, first off, if you don’t know what Thrive Market is, it’s an online organic supermarket, and it’s a little like Costco meets your favorite farmers market.
I personally buy a lot of the products I can’t make myself from Thrive Market, and I’m talking about products like coconut oil, chia seeds, and raw honey.
Products that we use every day at home to lead healthier lives. Thrive is membership site, and their products are anywhere from 15% to 20% cheaper than I’ve found elsewhere.
So when it comes to your chickens, having raw, organic items on hand, such as honey, becomes extremely important in traumatic injury cases if you use honey as a natural antibacterial to reduce the possibility of infection, and I personally source all of my raw organic honey from Thrive.
I value my Thrive Market membership, and love that it’s a company with a conscience. As a green company committed to sustainable practices, all their products are ethically sourced, and I feel confident buying from them that I’m doing the best I can for our environment.
Another thing I love about Thrive Market is that for every membership they sell to someone like you or me, they give a membership to a family in need. So, it really is shopping for products you will use anyway in a way that benefits other people too.
You can join Thrive at thefrugalchicken.com/thrive, and that is an affiliate link, so thank you if you decide to use it.
So, let’s get into why where here, which is to talk about 7 ways you can use chickens in your garden.
The first thing you’ll notice is that I’m talking about gardening when it’s December. While this might seem a bit peculiar, the truth is that a lot of what we’ll discuss today are things you should be doing now to prepare your garden for the spring.
On this list of ways to use chickens in your permaculture garden are things you can do in every season. And the best part is your chickens have another way to earn their keep.
If you have chickens that are older and don’t lay as much, but you don’t want to get rid of them, then giving them a new job is the way to go.
- Your Chickens Can Till Up Your Garden
So the first way you can use chickens in your permaculture garden is as tillers. Chickens have long claws which they obviously use to dig up goodies in the dirt. We can use these claws to our advantage by using them to till up the garden at the end of the season.
So, let’s say you planted lettuce as a fall crop. Why not let your flock feast on the leftovers as a treat, and while they’re digging in the garden, they will till the leftover vegetation into the ground, where it can compost.
On a cooler winter day, when there’s not much for them to forage for, this can be a really exciting treat for them while being a huge advantage to you.
Now, I can speak from experience that chickens left on a patch of grass will eat every last blade if given the opportunity. So whether you’re looking to have an existing garden tilled or want to use your chickens to establish a new garden, you’re in luck.
Whenever we’ve had to create a new garden bed, we’ve first sent our chickens into the area to let them eat whatever vegetation and weeds they can. It reduces our workload.
In the end, you’ll be left with a garden full of loose soil.
- Use Your Chickens Eggshells as a Calcium Boost
So the next way you can use chickens in your garden is a little indirect, but it’s still very important. Your chickens egg shells are so good for your permaculture garden because let’s face it, they’re 98% calcium.
One option is to put the shells into your garden and allow them to compost over the winter. You can use this idea in tandem with our first idea, and allow your chickens to incorporate the egg shells into your garden with their scratching.
Your chickens might eat the egg shells, but they’re unlikely to eat all of them and the remainder will enhance your garden.
Now, if it’s spring in your area, you can still use egg shells in your garden. Egg shells are naturally rough and deter slugs and snails, and are a great organic way to keep these pests away.
Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants thrive when you add calcium to your soil, so include them in your garden to give a boost to your crops. And this works regardless of the season.
The calcium in eggshells also raises the pH level of your soil, so if your soil needs its pH altered, this is a good option.
Now another idea for egg shells is you can grow seedlings in them. Then, when the plant is big enough to transplant outside, you place the shell in the dirt along with the plant, and the seedling gets extra calcium. This idea is better for your spring permaculture garden obviously.
- Compost Your Chickens Manure to Use in Your Permaculture Garden
Now the third idea to use chickens in your permaculture garden that we’ll talk about is manure.
So, as you probably know, chicken poop is one of the most sought after fertilizers out there, and I can attest to this because the farmers around us spray their feeds with the stuff to fertilize them, and yeah, it’s pretty rank.
But that tells you how good chicken poop is, and it’s particularly high in nitrogen. You can save a ton of money this way, since organic fertilizers are not exactly cheap, right? And it’s another nice, green way to help your garden and close the organic circle, so to speak.
So the thing about chicken poop is there is a small potential for pathogens that hide in their guts like E.coli, Salmonella, and others. So, that’s why we’re talking about all this now, when it’s winter.
You can put the chicken poop in your garden now, and over the winter, the cold temperatures and freezes will kill off those pathogens. The recommended length of time is 3 months.
As an aside this is another good reason to feed your chickens fermented feed. Studies show that fermented feed decreases the amount of harmful pathogens in a chicken’s digestive system, and helps increase the beneficial bacteria, like lactobacillus.
In my course Feeding Your Hens Right, we cover how to make fermented feed. The URL for that course is FeedingYourHensRight.com, and I’ll put that link in the show notes.
So, if you want to use chicken manure in your garden, but don’t want to go through the hassle of gathering it, then a chicken tractor is a great idea.
It will also keep predators away from your chickens, and as they peck and scratch through your garden, they will drop manure, which you can then let compost over the winter.
If you live in an area that doesn’t get freezing weather, composting the manure is another good idea. The Heat in a compost pile will kill off the pathogens as well as freezing weather. Bacteria don’t like extremes, like high heat or freezing weather.
If you want to use a chicken tractor in your permaculture garden to ensure the manure goes where it should, I have an article on the blog which shows you how to build a tractor out of reclaimed wood.
You can find that article at TheFrugalChicken.com/tractor, and I’ll put that link in the show notes.
Another option is to create a compost tea with your chickens manure that you can use in your permaculture garden. To do this, place some of the manure into water, and allow it to soak for a few hours before spreading on your plants.
It’s a great way to put some nutrients into your plants without placing the manure directly into your garden.
But the bottom line is if you want to use your chickens manure in your gardens, it’s a great way to give a nutrient boost and use your chickens in your garden.
- Clean Up Your Garden at the End of the Season
The fourth way you can use chickens in your garden is to let them clean up the plants and vegetation at the end of the season.
We talked about this a little bit, and it’s a great way to give your chickens some excitement and a treat while reducing the amount of work you have to do.
I have some friend who do this, and because of space limitations, they have smaller gardens and try to grow as much as they can in a small area, they have to be ruthless at the end of each season and pull plants at the end of summer so they can plant their fall garden.
To reduce the amount of work, they let their chickens into the garden, which is normally walled off with wire, and let their chickens and other poultry go to town on left over tomatoes, peppers, etc, before completely pulling everything.
For those few days, they save a bit on feed, provide a varied diet, and give their chickens some entertainment. The chickens drop their manure, and help spread dead vegetation which will then compost into the ground, adding nutrients to the soil.
The remaining plants in your permaculture garden can then be pulled and composted.
- Bug patrol
The fifth way you can use chickens in your permaculture garden is as bug patrol. And I can attest that chickens are excellent bug patrol, and they see things and scratch things up that we as humans would never find. It’s quite amazing really.
I’ve talked a bit about this before, but we actually have dedicated bug patrol chickens on our farm, and they’re chickens that no longer lay. We’ve found that they’re some of the best bug control I’ve ever seen on a farm, and that includes horse farms that use pesticides to kill insects.
Now, I don’t suggest using your chickens as bug patrol if you’ve planted seedlings because you’ll likely lose all your plants since they’ll eat the plants or scratch them all up.
But right before you plant, let your chickens in there for a few days to dig up ground grubs that can interfere with your plants health or whatever else they find in there.
Chickens are also good at getting rid of ticks, and if you’re outside for any length of time, I probably don’t need to explain why that’s advantageous.
When your plants are established, you can let them into your permaculture garden again, but I suggest watching them to make sure they don’t do too much damage to your plants. But chickens are a great way to keep the bug population low.
- Aid in composting
One way I use chickens on my homestead is to aid in composting. And this is in the permaculture garden but also in our regular compost pile.
So, maybe you know this, maybe you don’t, but we have horses on our homestead, and they make A LOT of manure. So much that we’ve had neighboring farms ask us about composting it for them to use on their farms.
So, the thing about horse manure is it’s huge and when it dries, it’s hard to break down.
But the chickens make easy work out of breaking it down so we can compost the manure more quickly, which makes it great for a permaculture garden.
We also like to spread it in the garden during the fall so it can breakdown over the winter, and the chickens help us reduce the clumps of manure into a thinned out layer.
We do something similar with our quail poop. So the quail live in a hutch, and the bottom of the hutch is hardware cloth. So, their poop just drops through to the ground, which makes a cleaner cage for them.
The chickens love sorting through this poop and at the same time, they help compost it for us, so we can put it on our garden later in the winter.
- Use Them To Spread Mulch
So the final way that you can use chickens in your permaculture garden is to use them to spread mulch.
This is an idea we got from watching our horses spread stall shavings around.
When we clean our horse stalls and rebed them, we don’t bother spreading the new shavings around because the horses will do it for us, whether they paw at the shavings to spread them, circle their stalls, or decide to roll in them.
Anyway they do it, they still do the work for us.
With chickens, it’s no different. So it struck us one day, as we were laying mulch around some blueberry bushes, why not let the chickens spread everything around, and then go back and fix the areas they missed and smooth everything out?
The chickens get some excitement being able to scratch to look for bugs and other goodies in the permaculture garden, and our workload is reduced.
Of course, if you have tender seedlings, I don’t recommend using them to spread mulch, but if it’s the start of the season, or the end of the season, or your overwintering root veggies or garlic, then letting your chickens spread the mulch for you might be useful.
If you’re using something like hay, then this is particularly useful. I’ve found when using hay as mulch in your permaculture garden, you can run into issues with weed seeds sprouting.
Letting your chickens make a run over it reduces the potential weeds that can sprout while giving your flock something exciting to do.
Personally, my chickens love sorting through hay and straw to find whatever it is they find in there.
I’d love to hear about how you use chickens in your garden, so there’s something I want you to do. I would love it if you dropped me a line at to tell me what rare breeds you raise and why.
Now, if using chickens in your permaculture garden interests you, but you’re still concerned about how to best feed them so they’re productive and lay nourishing eggs, as can sometimes be the case when you use them in your garden since you’re less able to control their diet, then you’ll want to check out my new course, Feeding Your Hens Right, which you can see at feedingyourhensright.com.
In this course, you’ll learn how to feed your chickens so they get an optimal diet and lay the most nourishing eggs possible.
As we grow increasingly sophisticated in understanding where our food comes from and the repercussions of eating poor quality food, it’s important to understand how your hens diet effects the quality of her eggs.
Anyone who has a wheat allergy and can’t eat store bought eggs will understand what I mean.
A friend recently told me that if she feeds her chickens a wheat based diet, her son, who is wheat intolerant, will get sick. So, that right there is proof that your hen’s diet does effect the quality of her eggs, and studies have shown the exact same thing.
I’m not making this up, researchers have proven it in several studies.
If feeding your family the most nutritious food possible is important to you, then you’ll want to check out my course. It’s 5 video workshops, that you can access at any time.
There’s specific recipes for homemade feed that can be tailored to your particular needs, and you’ll learn how to raise a happy, healthy flock of chickens.
The URL for that course is FeedingYourHensRight.Com, all one word.
Thanks for listening to this episode of what the cluck about using chickens in your permaculture garden, and I’ll see you next time!
I’d like to hear from you!
How do you use chickens in your permaculture garden? Email me at or comment below!
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.
Summary Article Name Chickens & Your Garden: 7 Ways To Use Chickens In Your Permaculture Garden ‘What The Cluck?!’ Session 12 Description Did you know chickens save you ton of time and money in your garden? Here’s 7 ways to correctly use chickens in your garden and reap the benefits. Author FrugalChicken
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