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Backyard Chickens – How to Get Started

Backyard chickens are becoming increasingly popular for good reason. As a chicken owner, you can raise backyard chickens for a fresh egg or meat supply, put them to work in your garden or orchard, or simply raise them as pets to enter your best chicken in the county fair.

Chickens leaving a chicken tractor.

Read on to learn everything you need to get started, including a daily routine to follow in four easy steps.

Why You Should Raise Backyard Chickens

When raising chickens with the permaculture approach, chickens provide so many benefits that work in a circular fashion.

Chickens can be used to go to work keeping the pest population down in gardens and orchards. Additionally, they weed and fertilize as they go. 

As the health of the garden and orchard improves, food production goes up, providing food for your family and offsetting the rising cost of the grocery store. 

This increase in food production also provides an increase in scraps to feed the chickens, and the cycle continues.

Getting Started with Backyard Chickens

Before you decide to raise chickens, it is helpful to consider why you are raising them.

  • Do you enjoy having animals and are most interested in having a pet?
  • Are you interested in producing your own egg supply?
  • Do you want to raise chickens to fill your freezer with their meat?
  • Would you want to enjoy them as a pet, collect their eggs, raise your own meat, and put them to work in your garden and/or orchard? 

Answering these questions will help you decide the type of chickens you need. 

Once you have decided on the commitment to put chickens in your backyard (or, in my case, the front yard), there are some things you need to know.

City Ordinances and HOA Regulations

Before buying chickens, you must know your local regulations and ordinances regarding chickens on your property. Some cities, small towns, and HOAs do not allow chickens. Or they may limit how many chickens you can have, so be sure to check.

Additionally, if you do not own the property, checking with your landlord to confirm that chickens are allowed in your rental agreement is always important. 

Even if regulations and ordinances allow for chickens on your rental property, you will still need authorization from your landlord before purchasing chickens and bringing them home.

Space Requirements

Chickens generally do not need much space. All you need is three square feet per chicken. So if you have a 4×8 space in your yard, you could have up to 5 chickens. 

Quantity

You should also consider how many chickens you want. When raising chickens for eggs, each chicken could lay one egg every other day. 

So, you could easily get a dozen eggs per week with four chickens. Most egg-laying chickens do not lay every day, especially in fall and winter. 

A chicken in a field.

Choosing the Right Breed of Chicken

Now that you have decided to get chickens for your backyard, what kind should you get? 

There are four typical breeds of chickens (heritage, egg-laying, meat, and dual-purpose breeds). Knowing the difference is important. 

For example, you don’t want to buy a meat chicken for the purpose of egg laying because it will not produce many eggs. 

Heritage Breeds

These chickens are slow growing and will live a long time. For a chicken to be an official heritage breed, it must comply with the American Poultry Association

These birds can be either egg-layers or meat providers. Wherever you source your heritage breeds, I recommend you look into the breeder to ensure that best practices are met.

A young girl collecting eggs from nesting boxes.

Egg Laying Breeds

Egg layers are smaller in size and have been bred to lay many eggs. Egg-laying breeds are the most popular backyard chicken farmers purchase. 

Most of these egg layers will lay around 300 eggs a year and start laying eggs at 4 to 6 months old. 

We love the Australorp breed. They are known to be the best egg-laying breed, and they produce beautiful brown eggs. Their temperament is calmer than other breeds, making it good for concerned neighbors. 

Other breeds that we recommend include the Plymouth Rock and the Rhode Island Red. 

A chicken tractor with meat chickens.

Meat Breeds

Meat breeds grow quickly and become larger than the other breeds. They are grown for the purpose of meat and can be slaughtered about nine weeks after hatching.

My top recommendation is the Cornish Cross breed. We have successfully produced hundreds of pounds of meat in just eight weeks!

Dual Purpose Breeds

Dual-purpose breeds will grow to moderate size and will also lay eggs. The trade-off for these birds is that they take longer to grow than meat breeds and won’t lay as many eggs as egg-laying breeds. 

A man with a bucket of chicken feed dumping it out for chickens.

Buying Your Chickens

You can purchase chickens from local farmers, hatcheries, farm supply stores, and even online. 

Once you pick the type of chicken you want, you will also have to pick the stage of life that the chicken is in. Some will take more time and effort than others.

Hatching Eggs

This is the hardest stage when raising a chicken. You will have to start with a fertilized egg that will need to be incubated until it hatches. The best thing about hatching eggs is that you can know the source of the egg when purchased from local farmers.

Chicks

Buying baby chicks is the most common way of starting your own backyard farm. Buying chicks is less expensive than pullets or adults. The downside of buying chicks is that you may get fewer hens and too many roosters.

Pullets

These hens (young roosters are called cockerels) are 4-6 months old and ready to start their egg production. Pullets may seem more expensive than chicks, but the costs could even out after buying the extra items needed to raise baby chicks.

Adults

Purchasing adult hens is the most expensive option because they have been fed for a long time by the seller. Pro-Tip: Adult chickens are often sourced through a local farmer but can sometimes be found at local animal shelters.

A portable chicken coop.

Gathering Supplies

Before you get your chicks, you must have the right supplies. We buy and start with chicks from a hatchery and put them in a brooder box while they are small. After 6-7 weeks, we move them outside to the chicken shelter.

Supplies for Baby Chicks

For a complete list of supplies needed and a step-by-step guide to starting your flock from chicks, refer to my guide to raising chicks.

Young meat birds under a portable chickshaw.

Supplies for the Pullets and Adult Chickens

Having the right supplies for your chickens is important and will make raising chickens much easier. Having your supplies all set up before you buy your chickens is best.

  • Shelter – There are two types of chicken homes – movable and permanent. Other names for chicken homes include chicken shelters, chicken coops, chickshaws, chicken tractors, and hen houses. They all have the following things in common: 
    • Protection from Weather – It is very important that chickens have a place to stay warm in the winter. They also need a place to stay out of the summer sun and keep dry when it is raining.
    • Nesting Boxes – You will want to provide a place for your hens to lay eggs so you can easily gather them. There should be one nesting box for every 3 to 5 hens. You will also want to fill the nesting box with wood shavings to make the hens warm and comfortable.
    • Roost – Chickens perch on a roost to sleep and keep a watchful eye out for predators. Pro-Tip: Put something under their roost like a pan to collect manure for your gardens or flower beds.
    • Fence (Security) – Chickens need a safe place to live away from predators. We keep a goose in our enclosed run, but we also use electric mobile netting. A fence with a charger makes the fence “hot.” We purchased this mobile fencing from Premier 1. A good fence is important if you have dogs or wild predators in your area. Another form of protection is covering the top of the fenced area with netting to keep out birds and cats. 
    • Adequate Space – Each chicken needs 2 square feet of living space inside a chicken coop and 3 to 4 square feet to live outside. It is always better to go a little bigger in case you want more chickens in the future. 
  • Waterers – Chickens thrive on fresh, clean water. This needs to be checked and refreshed regularly. 
  • Feed – Chickens need quality food, and it is a good idea to feed them with organic, non-GMO grains.
    • With 8 to 14 weeks old chickens, you will want a feed containing 16%-18% protein.
    • At 15 to 18 weeks, put them on 16% protein finish feed.
    • After 18 weeks, put them on 16% laying feed. Laying feed helps create harder eggshells. You can always add your kitchen scraps to their diet as well. 
  • Grit – I affectionately call this “rooster teeth.” Chickens do not have teeth and need grit to help break down their food for proper digestion.
  • Dust Bath – Chickens use dust to take baths. Dust helps keep feathers clean by absorbing oils in their feathers, as well as deterring pests such as mites and lice. Put a dust box out so they can keep clean and happy. (This post has my free instructions for making dust boxes.)
  • Outside Area – Your chickens need a little outdoor space to scratch, peck, and play. You can fence in space for your chickens or free-range them, allowing them to wander through your backyard freely. 
A father and his kids feeding chickens.

Daily Routine for Backyard Chickens

  1. Most people will let the chickens out of the coop first thing in the morning. Chickens want fresh air as much as we do. As you let them out, look them over to ensure they are all healthy. 
  2. Supply chickens with fresh water, feed, and check to make sure they have a good supply of grit. 
  3. After you finish feeding and watering, you can start collecting the eggs.
  4. The evening routine is even easier. As the sun sets, chickens naturally seek shelter to roost and go into their coop all on their own. Check for eggs and lock the chickens up for the night in their cozy coop.
  5. Once a week, you will need to clean the coop and put fresh wood shavings in it. Clean chickens are happy chickens!

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Hi, I'm Justin

I share from a love of teaching and the sustainable movement. Here, you’ll find exhaustive permaculture articles, plentiful photos, cinematic educational films and business tips and tricks.

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