What You Need to Know about Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens
Are you thinking of raising chickens in your backyard?
Congratulations! Not only do chickens make great pets and provide delicious eggs, but they are also a fun and rewarding hobby.
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But let’s be real, they are also work and a long-term commitment. I am not trying to dissuade you but I do want you to be prepared.
First, make sure your local ordinances or HOA allows you to keep backyard chickens!
If you are new to chicken keeping this will help you get the full scoop on what to expect. Let’s get started!
Let me be clear here, I am not a chicken-keeping expert but I have had my own flock for 35+ years now and I am from a long line of chicken keepers.
Why Raising Chickens is Good
My main reason for getting backyard chickens was the eggs. Fresh eggs from your own hens are miles above store-bought in flavor.
Chickens also make great composters and can help with bugs and grubs in the garden. (more on chickens and gardening in another post)
When they scratch and peck at the soil they are not only eating unwanted garden pests but are incorporating debris and their own leavings into the soil.
Their leavings makes a great addition to the compost bin accelerating the breakdown of plant material.
They can also be just plain entertaining to watch.
Choosing the Right Chicken Breed
When it comes to raising chickens, not all breeds are created equal.
Some breeds do better in cold climates while others thrive in hot weather. Some breeds lay more eggs than others, so consider how many eggs you want from your flock when selecting your breed.
And don’t forget about temperament—some breeds are much calmer than others.
Some breeds may be easier to handle if you plan on keeping them as pets or have children.
There is a lot of information on different breeds online so do your research.
I choose my flock by egg color and have a wide variety of chickens.
Do you want hens that lay superabundantly? Then try ISA Brown Chickens.
Some people pick dual-purpose breeds, meaning they are kept for egg laying and then used as a meat chicken after 2 to 3 years.
All the best tips
Barred Rocks – A Good Dual Breed
This breed has been around for centuries and is a favorite for a very good reason. Let’s take a look at why Barred Rock Chickens are so popular.
Most chickens lay the best the first 2 years and continue to lay fairly well through the 3rd year.
Typically, at 3 years of age and on the egg laying is reduced considerably.
Chicken Coop – Creating a Cozy Home for Your Chickens
Once you’ve chosen the perfect breed for your backyard flock, it’s time to create a cozy home for them.
Chickens need plenty of space—at least three to four square feet per bird—with access to food, water, and the outdoors.
If you plan on keeping your chickens inside a coop or house, make sure it has plenty of ventilation and enough room for them to spread their wings without feeling crowded.
It should also be easy to clean and secure against predators like foxes or raccoons.
I also contend with skunks, rats, mountain lions, and bears.
Make sure there is good ventilation but are no drafts where the chickens roost and they keep dry.
My chicken house is on the smaller side but it is attached to a large enclosed run so they only sleep in the hen house. The window has since been covered with a greenhouse panel to stop the wind from blowing in.
Having it smaller makes it easier for my chickens to snuggle and stay warm during the cold winter months.
I have seen many make a run that does not provide shade from the direct sun yet they keep their chickens confined in them. Chickens need shade!
Even in the cooler months they will seed out shade so be sure to provide it unless you let them free range and they can find it themselves.
Your chicken coop or house will need nesting boxes. It is recommended that there be a box for every 3 chickens.
Usually, though they will try to lay in the same box. For medium size chickens a box with an interior of 12″ x 12″ is sufficient some of the larger breeds may need an inch or two more.
Line the bottom of the nesting boxes with something easy to clean out like rice hulls, pine shavings, or straw.
Laying boxes should have a front lip to prevent the chickens from kicking out the bedding in the box as much as possible.
This nesting box gives you an idea of the shape and size though chickens will lay in baskets, boxes, or whatever they feel safe and secluded in.
Daily Care & Maintenance
Chickens need daily care and maintenance in order to stay healthy and happy.
Make sure their feeders have plenty available for them to eat from and that they have access to fresh water every day (they drink quite a bit!).
To keep rodents to a minimum, either make sure the hens finish their food before they go to roost at night or get a feeder that is rodent resistant.
Right now I have this chicken feeder and it works well, though not said to be rodent resistant it does keep the feed from being spread around the pen thus not attracting vermin.
Also, you can remove the feeder every night if you need to.
Give them plenty of opportunity to free range in the yard or garden if this is safe.
I must limit free ranging as we have a lot of wild animals around (I live in the mountains) and when the hens are outside of their pen they are easy pickins’.
That is why I have such a large enclosed run, they are outside but within an enclosure with a roof for protection.
In the photo above of my hen house and run we were replacing two roof panels, that is not usually open like that.
Keep dry bedding in the hen house and clean frequently. How often you need to clean the chicken house will depend on how many chickens you have.
I like to use Rice Hulls for the bedding but I also use wood shavings or straw as well. All of these are great to toss into the compost bin after cleaning them out of the chicken pen.
Collect the eggs twice a day. This helps keep the chickens from breaking them.
Remember you will have to have someone come and care for your chickens daily when you travel or go on vacation.
If you have a neighbor or friend that loves fresh eggs they may be willing to take it on in exchange for keeping the eggs they collect but if not be prepared to fork out some dollars.
Raising chickens is an incredibly rewarding experience, they pay back more than you give.
With proper care and maintenance, plus lots of love, you can have an amazing flock of feathered friends right in your own backyard!