There are many reasons why you would want to keep a flock of chickens in your backyard. They are relatively manageable. They aren’t picky about their feed since they can eat most human food, so you can feed them leftovers.
That said, there are a lot of things to do when keeping a chicken, let alone a flock of chickens. But once you know what to do, the process gets easier a lot. Here is the Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Chickens.
Things To Consider Before Getting Chickens
There are many places, especially residential areas that don’t allow keeping chickens due to potential noise disturbance.
So, you should check out your local laws or ordinances to see whether chickens are allowed, or there is a limit on how many chickens one can keep.
To create the most ideal environment for the chickens, you should get a full-sized chicken coop or a henhouse. It will also need a feeder area, a water container, a nest box, and roosting areas.
The coop should be large enough so that you can comfortably get in and clean up the manure or collect eggs. It also needs to be built sturdily to prevent any predator from invading the chickens’ space.
Get ready to spend some money on daily food and water. The price can range from $20 to $50 depending on where you are, how good the feed is. You will also need to account for how often you need to supply food and water.
Some repeated task
- Hens can lay from spring to summer when they are exposed to light 12 to 14 hours a day, so you will need to collect the egg daily.
- You’ll also need to clean up chickens’ manure.
- Take care of the chickens every day, so you will need someone to do it for you when you go away for a while.
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So, you want to keep chickens in the back garden?
Before thinking about keeping chickens in your backyard, think about how to create the most ideal space for your chickens. That includes a coop, space, etc. But first, pick the chickens that fit your needs.
Which Type Of Chicken Best Suits You And Your Space? (Hybrids are generally better for beginners)
When getting started, you should get hybrids or pure chicken breeds. Hybrid chickens are usually vaccinated, more friendly. They are also not into flying too much and can lay better than pure breeds.
Now think about why you would want some certain chickens. If you want eggs from the hens, then the roosters aren’t needed since hens can lay eggs just fine without roosters
Moreover, the rooster can crow really loudly and multiple times a day, especially in the morning. So try to start up with a few hens. You should pick a chicken breed with the appropriate size for the chicken coop.
And whether the chickens are large or small, try not to mix different breeds without preparation to avoid pecking problems.
If possible, buy all of the chickens from one source since those chickens are kept together before, so they will be more friendly to each other.
Some chicken breeds that fit beginners include Rhode Island Red, Golden Comet, Buff Orpington, Plymouth Rock, etc.
How to Choose a Chicken Coop
The chicken coop will possibly be the most expensive thing you buy in the process of chicken keeping.
There are a lot of chicken coops available in different sizes and designs. The general case is better and is more expensive. But a decent coop can last a very long time if you know how to take care of it, like applying a protective coating and carrying out regular maintenance.
For the coop size, it will depend on the number and size of your chickens. The average figure is 1m2 per chicken, so 6 chickens will need a 6m2 coop. Some small or calm chicken breeds will only need smaller space. Large or adventurous breeds will need more space.
Check out the quality and the thickness of the wood used to build the coop and find a sweet spot of great quality and decent pricing.
Alternatively, you can build the coop yourself with pallet wood. The coop doesn’t have to be complicated; the result should be a dry, draft-free, and well-ventilated coop for your chickens.
When building the coop, pick the pressure-treated wood so that it won’t rot after a year. Any metal objects on the coop like nails, screws, or fittings should be galvanized to prevent rusting.
A coop should have nest boxes, (adjustable) ventilation system, perches, etc.
How Much Space Do Chickens Need? To keep healthy, chickens need to get outside.
Chickens can spend a lot of time outside running around, looking for food, or taking some dust baths. So it is better to give them enough space to do so. This space is often referred to as a chicken run.
Your chicken runs should be as big as possible so your chickens can go around as free as possible. The free-ranging space will help your chickens be healthier, happier, and produce more eggs.
Similar to the chicken coop, your chicken runs should be secure to prevent predators from invading like foxes. Also, try to secure under the fence to prevent digging attempts from many rodents.
If a fox or bigger predator is a serious concern in your area, you could opt for electric tapes on the fence.
How do you protect your chickens?
Try to keep an eye on your chickens. While your chickens, especially roosters, can warn others about the danger or even fight back the predators, you still need to quickly take actions to prevent injuries or death.
As mentioned above, getting or building a secure coop can keep out predators and protect the chickens. Pay attention to the latches or hinges of the doors since some predators can actually attack the latches or hinges.
However, having to wake up at the right time in the morning to open the coop for the chickens to roam around can be a chore.
So there are a lot of automatic door openers available that you can get and install on your coop’s door. They will come with timers or possibly even with a light sensor.
What do chickens eat and drink?
Just like humans or any other animal, chickens need to have and maintain a balanced diet. And the good news is that chickens can eat most human foods, and it would make a good treat for the chickens.
Chickens can eat pretty much anything that humans can eat to some extent. But there are a lot of commercial feeds that are formulated to contain a balanced amount of essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
Some feeds are formulated to fit a certain age of chickens. For example, layer pellets are suitable for hens laying eggs to provide the needed nutrients for the eggs – calcium for eggshell, or grower pellet for young growers or baby chicks.
Also, make sure to get the food to all of the chickens. The pecking order within the flock will make it difficult for chickens that sit at the bottom to get the food they need since others can prevent them from doing so.
The water container should be able to keep the water clean and prevent dropping. They should be secure and not easy to be tipped over but easy to clean daily or once a few days. It also should store more than enough water in case of hot days
Just like food, the bottom-of-the-pecking-order chickens should be able to get the water they need.
What will you need to do each day when keeping chickens?
Here are some of the daily tasks to do when keeping chickens:
- Provide enough food and water, remember to leave some spare water for hot days.
- Keep the coop clean: take a look at the coop to make sure it is clean and hygienic. If it is too dirty, try to change the beddings, clean the feeders and the water containers.
- Collect the eggs, and you should be quick since chickens can eat the eggs themselves.
- Leave the door open for free-ranging chickens so that they can return to the coop when it is getting dark.
- Count your chickens; this is to make sure every chicken is safe and look for the dead bodies if there are ones
Some other tasks can be performed at a less frequent rate or only when there is a problem needing solving; such as deep cleaning, bathing the chickens, clearing up mite infestation, and more.
Choosing Equipment for your First Chickens
To perform the above daily task, you will need to get some equipment. Get all of them ready so that you can give your chickens the best care they deserve.
1. Chicken feeder
The food can get a messy while and after the chickens are eating since they don’t have many options other than using the beaks and sometimes the legs.
A well-designed feeder will keep the food in place for the chickens to consume more efficiently; and one with a partitioned trough. Scattered food on the ground will turn sour and attract vermins.
Also, keep the feeder above the ground to prevent debris using a feeder stand or buy the feeder with legs; and some kinds of “hat” to prevent the rain from ruining the food inside.
Metal feeders vs. plastic feeders
Compared to plastic, metal is more sturdy but more expensive. For people who are just getting started, a good-quality plastic feeder hit the sweet spot between quality and price.
The Harris Farms Free Range Plastic Hanging Poultry Feeder strikes a good balance between price, size, and material. It is made out of durable plastic and sits at just about $20.
Make sure to get the feeder that can contain more food than the average amount your flock can eat so that those at the bottom of the pecking order can get the food as well.
If you have a large flock, you can opt for 2 feeders over 1 big one to prevent squabble food. And getting enough food ready every day is better than preparing enough food for a week in one go.
Side note: don’t leave any food in the chicken coop overnight since chickens don’t usually eat and drink at night, unless there are broody hens with unstable routines of eating and drinking.
Choose a drinker that can be filled easily. This will prove to be useful even more if you have a lot of chickens. Avoid those with a push-on base found on many cheap plastic models. They are not only hard to fill, but also easily blocked.
Similar to the feeder, the drinker should be higher above the ground to keep debris away and keep it out of direct sunlight to not let the poisonous algae build up over time. This also helps the water stay cool for better hydration.
Metal drinkers vs. plastic drinkers
If you are planning to use apple cider vinegar in the water, get the plastic drinkers since the vinegar can corrode the metal slowly over time.
If you want a robust and long last-ing drinker, go for metal. A metal drinker is also more resistant to crack in extreme temperatures. As a bonus, you can get ones with a glass top to check the water level easily.
The Harris Farms Double Wall Poultry Drinker is made out of stainless steel which will last for a long time outside against weather.
The water should be readily available during the day for the chickens, so pick drinkers that can store at least half a liter of water per chicken. And check the water more frequently or provide more water in extreme weather conditions.
But, too much water in a drinker would be heavy. Just like feeders, you should prepare many medium-sized drinkers for easier management.
3. Feed storage bins
A good feed storage bin should keep the food clean, dry, and keep away unwanted visitors like predators.
A metal dustbin will work out well, but you can do better by getting a galvanized bin for better weather resistance. A plastic dustbin will be cheaper but would be susceptible to damage done by rodents like rats, unless you get high-quality plastic ones, like the Gamma2 Vittles Vault.
When storing food, try to have 1 spare feed storage bin to store leftover food overnight.
4. Chicken feed
Chicken feeds are feeds that are specially formulated to provide the chickens a complete and balanced diet. Those chicken feeds come in many forms, each is best served for a specific group of chickens, like laying hens, baby chicks, growers, and more.
Chicken feeds come from many forms like pellets, mash, or crumbs, which are ideal for baby chicks or ex-battery hens. The Manna Pro Organic Layer Pellets is a great choice for all ages of chicken, especially laying hens.
While pellets are clean and easy to feed the chickens, the mash can be served dampened or dried, and it should be fed in a trough if dampened. Dampened mash needs to be cleaned fast to prevent it from being sour.
The mash can keep confined chickens amusing and have something to do since it needs a longer time to eat. However, it may cause a mess and isn’t ideal for chickens with feathers on their crests or faces.
Chickens love grain, and you can get it in the feed store in the form of mixed corn or whole wheat. But it should only be fed in moderation; it would make a great treat for the chickens during the winter months.
You should also keep in mind the expired date of the feed, and try to hit a sweet spot of buying enough feed and letting the chickens eat them before the expiry date.
Side note: when changing your chickens’ diet, try to slowly add the new food into the existing diet little by little, day by day so that your chickens’ digestive systems can get used to the change.
Chickens naturally consume grits and use them to crush food into smaller pieces in their gizzards. In simpler terms, grits are necessary for better food digestion.
While free-range chickens can go around, find the food on the ground, and consume the grits along with the food with ease, that isn’t the case for partially or completely confined chickens.
If you have chickens that don’t go outside or do activities a lot, you can get them some dedicated grits products like the Manna Pro Poultry Grit with insoluble crushed granite, or, you can just use the leftover eggshells (try to crush them into smaller pieces first).
6. The dust-bath
Chickens need dust baths to clean up the substance they used to clean and straighten their feathers.
And like before, free-range chickens can do as they please, but confined ones may lack the material to do so. If your place lacks fine dust for the chickens, you can get the Absorbent Dust Bath Jug with calcium bentonite-less particles.
To get the chickens ready for a dust bath, prepare a plastic box, sandpit tray, or a washing-up bowl to hold the dry soft sand or soil. Try to avoid cardboard boxes, since they break down fast and chickens may peck and eat them.
7. Bedding material
Although some chickens prefer to perch on high branch-like things, the coop’s floor should still be covered with a material that can absorb moisture and have no dust, like the Petmate Precision Pet Excelsior Nesting Pads Chicken Bedding with unique moisture-absorbing excelsior. Extra insulation will make the cleaning process easier.
There are lots of materials to choose to be the chicken coop’s bedding. For example, the popular dust-extracted wood shaving, hemp with better absorption, or cut cardboard. And if you have big space, go for the big bales.
On the other hand, try to avoid these materials for bedding: dust-extracted chopped straw, hay, or sawdust.
8. Cleaning-out kit
Here is a list of some of the cleaning-out tools for your ultimate adventure of keeping chickens:
Small shovels, stiff brushes, scrapers for removing dried droppings, washing-up brushes for providing clean food and drink, rubber gloves for mucky jobs, or dealing with a broody chicken.
Some other tools you may need include:
- Powder disinfectant for drying up wet spots and preventing infection as well, like the Comet Deodorizing Powder Cleanser.
- An effective cleaning agent to assist in fighting red mites.
- Diatom naturally fights off parasites and can be used around the chicken coop, on the chickens, or in the chicken feed.
- Ground sanitized to keep diseases out of running chickens.
9. Health and First Aid
Just like many animals, chickens are vulnerable to some health problems, so you will need to know what to use to make the disease go away and perform some preventive measures.
Chickens are susceptible to being infected by many internal parasites, and you will need a worming program to keep the parasites under control.
Available advice is usually targeted at worms that are active strongly from spring to fall. But your chickens need all-day or all-week protection, and you may need to pay more attention to it just in case.
One of the wormers you can add to the feed is the Flubenvet, which has been tested and approved. Even more reliable, it is only sold by the SQP (Suitably Qualified Person).
You can get online after you finish their entry form, from the vet, or the feed stores.
If artificial substances are not your thing, you can use herbal products. They are absorbed naturally but slowly and need to access the body gradually to prevent the worm from building up.
You can check your chickens for warmth hugs by going to the nearest vet or fill out an aim womb online form and getting the worm-egg count kit, then get a sample of the droppings.
External parasites are just as dangerous as internal ones. They may cause disability or even death if the situation gets out of control. So using the substances in the cleaning-out kit section should be enough to tame the parasite, but a mite treatment is more sensible.
Accidents are inevitable, so it is good to have a clean and clearly labeled box for emergencies.
Here are some of the products you should include in the box: antiseptic spray like the Vetericyn Plus Antimicrobial for disinfecting wounds, bandages, cotton wool, duct tapes, disposable gloves, eye-droppers, gauze pads, poultry disinfectant (or Virkon), scissors, small towels or flannels, tweezers, vaseline (petroleum jelly),…
There are also Poultry Spice supplements, which can help your chickens when they have experienced sickness or stress. One of the most useful ones is Apple cider vinegar, just make sure the vinegar is unpasteurized or organic (optional).
Chickens are social animals with unique personalities; and just like many animals and humans, they need some activities to do.
While free-range tasks can keep the chickens busy naturally. If the hens can only eat, preen, and lay eggs in their entire life, they may get bored or even start showing aggressive behaviors to other weaker hens, pecking order-wise.
Therefore, you should give the chickens some branches to perch or logs to hide behind them. You can also put the vegetable high above the ground to make the chickens have to try to get it.
On the idea of making the eating process fun, the Challenge Plastic Cricket Cage would make a great toy for your chickens, they will watch as the crickets inside try to escape and pick the treat.
Some Awesome Chicken Toys to Help Entertain Your Flock
- Ware Manufacturing Chick-N-Veggie Treat Ball
- Lixit Chicken Feeder Toy
- The Chicken Swing, Chicken Toy
- BWOGUE Wooden Chicken Flexible Ladder,Parrot Chicken Swing
Common Chicken Health Problems
Egg Laying Issues
Egg-laying health problems are very common in chickens, yet really difficult to identify unless you take a close look at the chickens’ behaviors.
There are many reasons for chicken’s egg-laying health issues, such as the lack of nutrients, infections, parasites, stress, etc.
Some of the symptoms of egg-laying issues include appetite, abnormal droppings, lethargy, respiratory issues, weakness, etc.
And there are lots of issues related to egg-laying in chickens, such as soft-shelled eggs (one of the easiest to notice), egg binding, egg yolk peritonitis, etc.
As such, the treatments for those issues vary as well. The most effective treatment and prevention at the same time are to provide additional calcium and protein – 2 crucial nutrients for egg formation, and vitamin and oyster shell supplements for strong eggs.
For egg binding, you will need to take the hen to an avian vet. They will prescribe antibiotics to treat it as well as other serious egg-laying issues.
Cuts Or Peck Marks
Chickens will likely get cuts and peck marks from other members in the flock, especially if they are at the bottom of the pecking order.
There are many reasons for chickens pecking at each other, like cramped space, heat, light, sudden change in environment or flock members, the chicken breed,…
Luckily, cuts and peck marks aren’t too hard to spot. They could be bald spots with no feathers, scabs, and cuts in their backs, etc.
Some methods to treat this issue are to expand the chicken coop for more space, separating the aggressive and injured chickens from the flock.
Furthermore, you should detect and perform the treatment quickly. If left unchecked, the bullied chickens will get abused even more and may lead to cannibalism, which ends up with dead chickens.
Foot injuries are less serious issues, yet might be hard to treat. However, there are some situations where you can treat the issue rather quickly.
Some of the foot injuries include simple small cuts and entanglement which leads to further infection, bumblefoot caused by a staph infection, etc.
The most common and easiest to notice symptom of foot injuries is a chicken having trouble resting its weight on its injured foot. They may sit or perch more as a result. Some pus-filled abscesses on the chicken’s bottom are symptoms of bumblefoot.
Those above common symptoms can be treated rather easily with antiseptic wound wash, antibiotic cream, and gauze; then lightly bandage the wounds. If the case is serious, you should go to an avian vet.
Some causes of parasitic diseases in chickens include lice, mites, worms, and ticks. The cause can also be an uncleaned coop or soil bedding, or second-handed coop having the parasites already.
Some of the symptoms include appetite loss, feather loss, lethargy, and skin irritation. And you can prevent them with insecticides and treat the chickens with antiparasitic medications.
Some of the viral diseases include avian flu, fowl pox, infectious bronchitis, Marek’s disease, Newcastle disease, etc. They can get bad quickly if undetected and can spread to the entire flock, so you need to identify them quickly.
Some of the symptoms of the viral diseases include coughing, the decline in egg production, eye and nasal discharge, paralysis, skin sore, and sneezing.
Fortunately, vaccination can treat most of those common viral diseases. The vaccines are usually given to the chicks before they are put on sale for the backyard chicken owners.
Bacterial diseases are not common in chickens, but they can infect and spread quickly to the entire flock, which makes it a problem when dealing with the bacteria, especially in an unsanitary coop.
Some of the diseases include colibacillosis by E.Coli, chronic respiratory, salmonellosis by the salmonella germs, etc.
The symptoms can be as follows: halted egg production, breathing, and respiratory issues, sinuses, and swollen face for chronic respiratory disease and colibacillosis. Salmonellosis only shows symptoms in young chicks.
You don’t have to worry too much about fungal diseases since they are rare and easy to treat. Some of the common fungal diseases include ringworm, brooder pneumonia, etc.
Brooder pneumonia’s symptoms are breathing and respiratory issues and only show up on young chicks, while ringworm’s symptom is a thick and white layer on the comb. It is usually mild and may clear up on its own.
Prevention for fungal diseases is simple, just wipe down the coop wall using chicken-safe cleaner, clean feeders and drinkers regularly, and empty the litter often.
Pasty vent is an easy-to-treat condition and usually only appears on baby chicks. But it is a stress-induced condition and the consequence could be lethal if not detected quickly.
Pasty vent is the result of droppings accumulated around the baby chicks’ vent under their tails. If not detected quickly, the droppings can completely block the vents, and the chicks’ droppings will no longer be able to escape.
Detecting and treating pasty vent is rather easy, just check the baby chick’s vent and look for the droppings on the chick’s vent; then wet the dried droppings using wet paper towels.
What are the benefits of keeping chickens?
Some of the benefits include:
- Eggs: free-range chicken’s eggs are better than store-bought ones, and you have a good amount of them in your backyard.
- Sustainability: you can eliminate scraps, chickens can produce better fertilizers
- Peace and serenity: keeping chickens can bring joy or optimism to a person. He or she can feel more connected to nature.
What are the best dual-purpose chicken breeds?
Some of the best dual-purpose chicken breeds include Light Sussex, Wyandottes, Orpingtons, Plymouth Rocks, Brahma, Delaware, Ixworth, Marsh Daisy, Cochins, Transylvanian Naked Necks, and more.
When will my Chickens start Laying?
Depending on the chicken breeds, environments, and individual chicken condition, chickens can start laying after about 18 weeks, then about 1 egg in 1 or 2 days
How Long Do Chickens Live?
The average chicken lifespan is 5 to 10 years. Heritage hens can live as long as 8 years, while hybrid ones may live for a shorter amount of years.
What To Do When Your Chicken Stops Laying Eggs?
You can start by caring for older chickens, and they can lay larger eggs than their younger counterparts, although the egg amount isn’t as many.
Keeping chickens may have some challenges going along, but the benefits are worth exchanging. With the “Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Chickens”, you should now get a grasp on almost every aspect of keeping chicken.
Now go ahead and choose your own chickens and start taking care of them, and thanks for reading.