The Basics of Raising Backyard Chickens

AJ & Rebecca    How To, Permaculture

When it comes to raising backyard chickens, nearly anyone can do it. This is unless your city prohibits chickens. Most commonly, there are ordinances on roosters, but some larger cities and suburbs are beginning to crack down on backyard chickens too. If you’re in one of these cities, keep fighting the good fight to get chickens back in your neighborhood.

For everyone else looking to raise their own chickens, it is actually relatively simple to do and you don’t need too much to start. Of course, you can go over the top and spend a bunch of money, but you can also keep it simple, cheap and your chickens happy.

What do you need to start raising chickens?

To begin with, you will want an area set up for them. Depending on your yard, you may be able to let them roam the entire property or you may need to section off a yard to keep them safe from predators. And, of course, a chicken coop.

The location we chose for the area was based on observations of the land, as well as placed near where we intend to have greenhouses. By doing this, we are actively setting up our permaculture environment, as the coop will easily be able to provide warmth to the greenhouses in cooler months.

Free Roaming

If you are able to just let the chickens roam the entire yard, then you really don’t need to do much of anything. Just beware that they will eat away at just about everything in the yard. Therefore, if you don’t have your garden in raised beds with fencing around it, you may be in trouble come harvest time. The hens will have eaten everything!

My advice to you is fence off whatever plants you don’t want the chickens to have access to. If you don’t, you won’t be happy. While they are great weed eaters, they will eat just about anything.

Sectioning Off a Section for Your Chickens

When it comes to sectioning off a portion of your yard, you may find this is a better option.

Personally, we have two dogs, one of which enjoys hunting birds – all day long. For this reason, we ended up sectioning off a portion of the yard to protect them from our other furry friends. The fenced area is roughly thirty by fifty feet with the coop inside of that area.

Once the fencing is all set up and done, we run a barbed wire along the outer perimeter. This is to prevent foxes or other predators from digging under the fencing. After all of this is in place, depending on the land, you may need to either buy sod or plant cover crop.

Additionally, you can plant herbs and bushes on the outside of the fenceline. This will allow the chickens to nibble at it, but not devour the entire plant, essentially killing it.

Even with the chickens in a fenced area, you will be able to setup runs to other areas of the yard or use a chicken tractor. Either way, they don’t always have to remain in that one area. After all, chickens are super useful weeders and provide great fertilizer with their poop!

Setting Up A Chicken Coop

Alright, so you’ve got the location for your new flock all picked out and possibly setup. Now, it’s time to figure out your chicken coop. You can either make your own chicken coop or purchase a premade one.

Making Your Own Chicken Coop

There are quite a few ways to make your own chicken coop depending on how fancy you want to get. Typically, you will be building some type of rectangular frame, and within it, there will be nesting boxes.

Just remember, the number of chickens you plan to have will determine the size of your coop.raising chickens

Here are quite a few great resources to get you started on building your very own chicken coop today.

Purchasing a Chicken Coop

Whether it’s because you’re just not that handy or don’t have enough time in the day, either way purchasing ap remade coop is okay. We actually purchased ours simply because it was cheaper than buying all of the lumber and building it ourselves.

Anyways, if you do plan on purchasing, keep in mind how many chickens you plan on getting, so your coop can fit them all. Secondly, you really want to be able to put a set of eyes on it. Be sure it is made of quality material, sturdy and can withstand the weather conditions at your home.

We don’t have recommendations for where to purchase premade chicken coops, as we purchased ours locally and recommend you do the same.

Preparing the Coop

Once the coop is in place, you will want to add hay to the nesting boxes as well as in the coop. Additionally, you will need food and water containers for them to use. Again, you can be as simple or creative as you want with these. The Backyard Chickens website is a great resource for DIY feeders and waterers.

After you have all of this in place, you’re ready to go get your baby chicks!

raising backyard chickensBut, where can I purchase baby chicks?

There are actually a number of places to purchase baby chicks. Depending on where you live, you may see the local farm and feed stores have chicks for sale in the early Spring months. If this is not the case or you’re looking to purchase them out of season, there are many online places to purchase baby chicks.

When purchasing online, you will want to be sure you are purchasing from a reputable breeder. Otherwise, you may not be happy with the sick chicks you receive in the mail. Additionally, when purchasing you will be able to choose the breed of chickens you want. Most places allow you to mix and match, so you get a fun variety.

After ordering, you will get a phone call to confirm a good day for delivery. Then, just be sure to call the post office, so they know live animals are being delivered to them and to provide a phone number to call you at. Once they arrive, the post office will give you a ring and you can go pick them up!

Taking Your Chicks Home

Now with your baby chicks in tow, head on home and get them all cozy in their new home!

Well, not exactly their new home, but pretty close. When you bring them home, it’s advised to keep them indoors for a week or two, so they can develop their feathers and grow a little more. Typically, you receive chicks that are just a few days old, so take care of them! Plus, predators can and will sniff out the defenseless prey.

Our first time around, we came home with six chicks. After two weeks inside, we moved them outdoors. Within just a week, something sniffed them out and devoured four of our sweet baby chicks!

Alright, after they grow some more and you’re sure the coop is secured, go ahead and move them outdoors. When doing so, be sure to show them where their food and water is within the new environment.

Once they are outside, you will want to check on them every day to be sure everyone is doing all right. Also, that their water and food bowls are full, as well as an occasional treat!

Wondering what to feed them? Check out our article on how to feed chickens organically without breaking the bank.

Over time, the chicks will continue to grow and eventually provide you with eggs. Although, this can take up to a year to happen. We started getting eggs within about six months. But, we also discovered at that time that one of our chickens was indeed a rooster.

Discovering a Rooster in the Flock

Yup, after four got killed, we ended up with one hen and a rooster to care for. And, it may happen to you too! Eventually, we got more baby chicks (all hens – woohoo!), so the rooster had more girlfriends to hang out with. When it comes to roosters, they prefer to have between ten to twelve hens to themselves (what a life!). Because of this, we did what he wished. Well, that and he was getting nasty without enough hens in the coop.

Many decide they can’t keep the rooster or aren’t able to. If that’s the case, there are a number of rooster sanctuaries that will happily take him off your hands and provide him with a long happy life.

We decided to keep him around. His doodling is adorable and he’s quite hilarious most days when it comes to feeding time. Plus, now if we ever want new chicks, we can hatch our own eggs!

Additional Resources:

So, I know we barely scratched the surface when it comes to caring for chickens, but don’t worry there are loads of resources available to you that go into much greater detail.

Here are some awesome chicken guides for you to rummage through and find your way to being an awesome chicken farmer:

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