So, you're looking into bringing home a new member of the family. You want something a little more unorthodox than your typical dog or cat, but nothing as crazy as a pet snake. Why not consider backyard chickens? Don't brush the idea off so fast; backyard chickens help kids understand pet care, they can provide eggs, and they're overall pretty great additions to your home. Not everyone knows how to raise chickens, though, and that's where we come in.

How To Raise Chickens

Before Getting Started

chickens together in a coop

Hold your horses on bringing a new little chick home. Sure, they're cute, but there are lots of things you need to know first.

Are Chickens Legal In Your Area?

Remember that you're not purchasing your typical animal. Law enforcement has rules in place for the safety of your home, your neighbors, and the animals. Check your local legislation to make sure you're not breaking any laws. Some states will only let you keep certain kinds of fowl, so be sure you do your research.

More crowded areas, like cities, typically won't allow you to keep fowl like roosters. Cityfolk probably won't appreciate your little guy waking everyone up at the crack of dawn (think that episode of Friends). If you're in the middle of the country, though, then things could change.

Do You Have The Space And Necessities For Chickens?

People have this issue with any pet. Depending on where you live, the quality of life for your animals could suffer. Do you have ample room in your backyard for your chickens to run around (they are called backyard chickens, after all)? Is there enough space in your backyard for a proper coop? Does your property have an appropriate fence?

multiple chickens in a coop together

Ensure You Have Adequate Space And Lodgings For Your Chickens

Backyard chickens, especially if you're planning to get more than one, need a good size coop to stay in. You don't want them to become overcrowded, so figure out how many you're getting and what size you'll need for them. You'll also need to consider how you're going to get their coop. You can purchase one or hire someone to build it for you based on the number and breed of your chickens. Chickens are vulnerable at night, and if you let them just hang around outside, they'll be susceptible to attacks from predators.

Getting a pen for your backyard chickens is also a good idea because the chickens shouldn't run around without supervision. Even if you have a fence at home, chickens often dig up yards in pursuit of food.

Things To Consider When Purchasing

Now that you've read up on your state laws and readied the backyard for your chicken, you can look into which kind to get.

a collection of chickens in the grass together

Which Breed Should I Get?

One of the first things you should figure out beforehand is what kind of chicken you'd like. Are you buying a chicken because you thought it would be cool to have one at home, or do you want your chicken to produce eggs for you? Remember that some breeds are also more anxious than others. First-timers should look into getting the easier breeds like Speckled Sussex, Cuckoo Marans, and Light Brahmas. They're not as skittish as the others and each lays eggs.

Should I Get Chicks Or Chickens?

Sure, little chicks are adorable, but it's recommended that you get an adult chicken when you're first raising chickens. Chicks will need specific feed and tender care. Adult backyard chickens will also give you eggs without waiting.

How Many Chickens Should I Get?

Well, this really relies on what you're using your chickens for. If you're totally inexperienced but thought they would make a cute pet or useful for eggs, then two or three is a good place to start. It's also worth considering how many eggs you consume in a week. Hens typically give you about 4-6 eggs in a week. Backyard chickens also need a few of their kind to combat loneliness.

young chickens walking in the dirt

Where Should I Get My Backyard Chickens?

You should be able to find your chicks or chickens from farm supply stores or your local farmer. It's also important to know your local farmer since they'll be able to help you get the best poultry and help you with any questions you may have.

How Do I Know That The Chickens Are Healthy?

Upon purchasing, look at the eyes of your chickens. Healthy ones will have bright eyes and clean feathers. They also shouldn't be closed off from the others or look particularly tired or uninterested in what's happening around them.

Taking Care Of Your Backyard Chickens

So, we have everything we need and know the basics. Now you need to educate yourself on raising chickens properly so they'll live long and happy lives in your care.

What Should I Feed Chickens?

As we said, chickens are known for scouring for food. So, more often than not they'll probably get a good deal of their diet from your backyard. But you'll still need to give them proper chicken feed. Check in with your local store or farmer and find out if your breed needs anything specific.

a chicken eating chicken feed

How Much Water Do Chickens Need?

Just like with humans, chickens will need a good amount of water to keep them happy. Don't just plop a bowl of water down in the coop, either. You'll need to go hunting for special waterers that ensure your chickens always have some at the ready.

How Do I Protect My Chickens From Extreme Weather?

Since they'll be spending most of their time outside, it's crucial to protect them from the elements. This is especially important if you live in an area that's prone to harsher weather or climates.

  • If your hometown gets lots of rain, try to keep the coop above ground. Doing this will ensure that the coop doesn't flood and your chickens are kept nice and dry.
  • Keep your coop properly ventilated. Make sure that your chickens also have plenty of water and shade in hot summers.
  • Having multiple chickens will also help them in the winter. They huddle together to keep warm and don't need a heater in their coop. You can also scatter some hay in the coop because some breeds won't walk out in the snow.
a woman holding a chicken

What Do I Do When My Chickens Get Sick?

A good thing you can do for yourself when raising chickens is to check them regularly. Are their feathers still clean and their eyes still bright and clear? You'll know there's an issue if:

  • Your chicken is picking at their feathers constantly
  • Your chicken is slow-moving in warmer temperatures or keeps to themselves
  • Your chicken's eyes are a bit cloudy
  • Your chicken is sneezing
  • Your chicken has blood in their feces
  • Your chicken has dark scabs on the bottom of their feet

If you notice any of these symptoms then you'll need to take them to the vet for help. Remember to bring them to the vet as soon as you see anything weird because you don't want them to die or infect the others in the coop.

What Can I Do To Increase Egg Production?

There are a few things you can do to improve their production. Make sure they:

  • Have clean water
  • Have a good, clean home. You'll want to mainly focus on their nest boxes.
  • Have a coop that protects them from any predators
  • Have a lot of fresh water
  • Have lots of natural light in their coop

Something to keep in mind is that you can't force them into laying eggs. There also isn't a specific time when they'll do it. Just leave them to it.

hens close together outside

What Do I Do If My Chickens Fight Each Other?

First off, this is totally normal. It's called the "pecking order" and your chickens will basically use this to set their place in the hierarchy. Avoid any issues by providing enough space for them to roam around. It also won't hurt you to have more feed and plenty of waterers around the coop so there aren't any ruffled feathers.

Additionally, if you get a new chicken, introduce them slowly because flocks tend to be territorial and might cause problems for the new member otherwise. It disrupts the pecking order and at times, the dominant backyard chickens can kill the new guys.

How Do I Get My Chickens To Use Nesting Boxes?

Typically, a nesting box can house 3-4 hens. Use straw to line them and ensure they're not overcrowded or you might wind up with broken eggs. You can encourage them to use the nesting boxes more often by:

  • Collecting eggs on a regular basis
  • Keeping things clean and sanitary
  • Giving hens enough room to lay their eggs
  • Move your hens to the box if you see them about to lay eggs in another place
  • Use fake eggs in the nesting box so they know that's what they're there for
hen laying egg in nesting box

How Should I Set Up My Coop?

Coops are the home your backyard chickens will spend a good deal of their time. So, make sure you give them all they need with:

  • Good ventilation
  • Weather-proof protection
  • Enough space for the chickens to move around without overcrowding or arguing
  • Protection from predators
  • Nesting boxes
  • A place for them to leave and roam around outside

How can I make the coop predator-proof? Guarantee that your chickens are safe by making sure the coops have roofs on them, have good locks on them that can't be gnawed through, and repairing any problems that might pop up from normal wear and tear. Another important step is to use hardware cloth. Replace chicken wire with it or line the coop with it a few feet underground. This prevents predators from ripping through the wire or digging under the coop.

The Issues With Backyard Chickens

If you're not used to having these guys at home, there are a few things you ought to know. Just like with any new pet, backyard chickens come with their fair share of struggles.

chickens eating from feeder

Dealing With Death And Illness

Cityfolk also aren't exactly used to caring for farm animals. Remember that when farmers see sick chickens, they sometimes know it's best to kill them before their diseases infect the rest of your animals. Not everyone has the stomach to do this, especially if it's your first time taking care of backyard chickens.

Something else to keep in mind is that you can't always protect your chickens from the predators lurking about. Coyotes, neighborhood dogs, and other predators can attack your beloved backyard chickens and leave you with an animal who's injured or worse.

Chickens Can Be Unsanitary

Okay, yes it's gross to pick up your dog's poop or scoop it out of the litter box, but it doesn't happen all the time. Chickens, on the other hand, will take poops all the time and they'll soon start to fill the coop. Laying down more straw doesn't really fix the issue because the odor can get worse. You can also shovel it out of there, but when they keep doing it you'll soon grow tired. Not to mention, fecal matter attracts flies. You can also inadvertently bring poop into your home by stepping in it during the cleaning process.

chickens in a coop

*They're Adventurous *

Chickens need space to be themselves. They're built for being on farms and having plenty of room to run around. When they're in a coop in a backyard or stuck in a suburban area, they can fly the coop. This means you'll be left to try and find them or hoping that another animal didn't get to them.

Some Chickens Are Nervous.

Based on the breed you get, sometimes chickens can be skittish. Be sure you do your homework on which breeds are best for you and what you can offer them. The last thing you want is for your animal to be unhappy or constantly hiding from everyone.

The Bottom Line

Backyard chickens are something you really need to sit down and consider. Don't act on a whim; remember that these little guys will need just as much love and caring as any other animal. Make sure you do your homework, know your property, and ensure that they'll have a good time.

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