Raising your own backyard chickens is a great way to increase your sustainability and improve the health of your family by providing organic eggs with no added hormones.
Plus, chickens are a natural source of pest control for your garden and can provide endless hours of entertainment.
Here’s what you need to know before you consider raising chickens in your own backyard.
Check the laws in your town
Many cities, towns, and neighborhood associations have widely varying laws and regulations when it comes to raising chickens.
Follow the guidelines explicitly regarding square footage, the number of chickens, type of fencing, and if you are allowed to have roosters or not. Breaking the law can lead to massive logistical headaches and you may even have to get rid of your flock.
If you plan to sell extra eggs in your community, check with your local extension service or state university poultry department for a list of requirements.
The smell isn’t exactly pleasant
Chickens aren’t the cleanest creatures so it is important to be aware of the smell factor before you embark on your journey of cultivating a backyard flock. Keeping the coop clean, and odor free (or at least odor reduced) will take a lot of work.
Be sure you are willing to put in the effort and deal with the stench, and the maintenance before jumping in. Otherwise, you will be left with a pungent coop, a fly infestation and unhealthy chickens.
You won’t necessarily save money at first
Though financial saving is often the rallying cry for joining the backyard chicken bandwagon, it’s not exactly true.
Sure, you won’t have to buy eggs in the store anymore…but think about how much were you really spending on eggs before.
The cost of the coop, chicks, fencing, and feed can all add up when you are just starting out. It is important to understand that you won’t necessarily cut down on costs in the first few years while you are getting your setup established.
Chickens will eventually pay for themselves, however, and the rewards go far beyond eggs. You’ll be able to use their natural fertilizer for your garden and enjoy the companionship of your feathered friends.
You don’t need a rooster
Your hens will lay plenty of unfertilized eggs without a rooster around so if you only want eggs for eating (and not for making more chickens) you don’t need to have a rooster.
Roosters, if left unchecked could become aggressive and possessive of their flock making it difficult to get to eggs, however, this can also be a good thing as they will do everything they can to protect their hens from natural predators.
You need to set your coop up before buying chickens
You don’t want to have a box of chirping chicks without a safe place to put them.
Get your coop in order before you bring your chickens home. It is a good rule of thumb to provide 3-5 square feet of floor space in the coop for each chicken, 8” of roosting bar for each one, and one nesting box for every 3-4 hens to lay their eggs.
It is always a good idea to build a bigger coop than you think you’ll need so that you have room for expansion later. This will help you avoid costly additions and coop remodels to fit your growing flock.
Hens don’t lay all year
Unfortunately, the wealth of fresh eggs that you enjoy from spring to early fall will not last throughout the winter.
Hens may lay a few eggs here and there but their production will significantly decrease. Be prepared for this eventuality by researching wholesome, organic store-bought eggs to fulfill your needs until your chickens start producing again.
They will lose feathers
Don’t panic when you go into the coop and see an explosion of feathers like something from a horror movie.
Count your chickens, and if they’re all there, it is likely that one or more are molting.
Molting is a natural process that usually occurs in the fall when chickens shed their feathers and grow new ones in preparation for the chilly season. Feather loss can be caused by many other things as well, including stress, fear, and picking at bugs.
Predators will try to harm your flock
As you are planning out the design of your coop and working on the construction, it is important to keep in mind that chickens are incredibly appealing to many predators. Foxes, skunks, hawks, coyotes, dogs, rats (with chicks), and owls will all try to find any weakness in your fortifications to get to your hens.
Build a solid coop that will keep out as many as possible.
Handle your chicks as much as possible
Handling your chicks as soon as you bring them home can make a huge difference to their sociability.
It is inevitable that you’ll need to catch your chickens at some point to give them medical attention or move them to a new area. Whatever the case, the more time you spend picking them up and playing with them now, the less headache you’ll have later. Be sure to wash your hands before and after handling chickens.
You will lose some
Even if you do your very best to protect your chickens from predators, you will still lose some.
They are incredibly hardy, yet fragile at the same time and you may not even know that a chicken is sick until it dies. Understand the reality of loss before you get your chickens and it will be easier to deal with when it happens.
Not all eggs are perfect
Believe it or not, those perfectly white, round eggs that you buy from the grocery store aren’t natural.
Chickens in industrial farming are exposed to a whole host of chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics that make them efficient egg laying, meat-producing machines. This also strips away most nutritional value, however, and can expose you to the same harmful hormones that were pumped into the hens.
True, organic eggs from backyard chickens will be all sorts of different colors, sizes, and shapes. You may even find a shell-less egg once in a while. Nature isn’t perfect and that’s just one more thing that makes having your own flock so appealing.
Have a retirement plan for your hens
A hen’s most lucrative egg-laying years are the first two years of her life. However, chickens can live to be much, much older. In fact, the oldest living chicken on record was a whopping 20 years.
It is important to have a retirement plan in place for your “old” hens that are no longer laying. Some people choose to cull (kill and eat) their hens, but if this isn’t appealing to you, you can fence off a grassy area for them to “go out to pasture” and live out the rest of their days.
It is important that you know how you are going to handle this inevitability before you purchase chickens so that you don’t have stress when the time comes.
Formulate a compost pile
If you don’t have a compost pile already, now is the time to start one. You’ll want to collect all of that valuable chicken scratch to help make nutrient-rich soil that will deliver much-needed minerals to your garden.
Have someone to take care of your chickens if you travel a lot
Just like any other animals, chickens require daily care and attention. Locate someone who will be willing to look after your chickens, before you purchase them.
This is especially important if you are away a lot and will need a reliable chicken sitter to collect eggs and maintain the health of your flock.
It is important to keep them cool
Many people are overly concerned about keeping their chickens warm in the winter. The real threat, however, is the brutal summer heat.
If you live in a place with high temperatures, consider installing a fan in the coop, and be sure to provide plenty of areas for your hens to take a dust bath which can help cool them down.
Always make sure that your chickens have access to fresh water and the coop is properly ventilated.
Before you raise backyard chickens, do research on which breeds are best for you.
Some do well in colder climates while others are more sensitive to the chill. There are also many interesting heritage breeds that you can help preserve by giving them a place in your coop.
If your space is limited, you may consider raising bantam chickens – a collective term for a number of breeds of miniature chickens – often half the size of regular birds.
You’ll fall in love
Most importantly, be prepared to fall in love with your chickens. They have more personality then you’d expect and there’s nothing quite like a group of hens trotting at your heels as they follow you around the yard on a free-range day.
Soon, your flock will be just as beloved by your family as the dogs and cats. They are incredibly friendly, affectionate, and make wonderful pets.
Raising backyard chickens is a huge commitment, but it is also incredibly rewarding. Once you decide to take the leap, you’ll never look back!