Raising Chickens: Getting Started With Just the Basics

Megan is here to share her tips and advice on getting started raising chickens.

I finally jumped into the world of raising chickens a few days ago, and I'm so excited. I had been considering it for months and doing a ton of research. At first, it seemed so overwhelming. I was so afraid to screw up and kill my little chicks or end up over my head financially. After all, the original idea was to raise chickens to save money on healthy, non-hormone-filled eggs.

After tons of research and 50 million questions for the lady at Tractor Supply, we decided on six Rhode Island White pullets. Here is what you need to know to get started raising chickens with the bare necessities without spending an arm and a leg.

Choosing a Chicken Breed

The first thing you need to think about is why you want to raise chickens. Do you want them for eggs, meat, both, or to breed? Some hens lay very few eggs, and others are very high producers. Some will not lay eggs at all but are great for cooking.

Are you planning to let them free-range (run around your yard) or have them confined? Depending on the breed, they may be happier roaming freely, and a happy bird gives more eggs. Do your research on each breed available to get the one(s) that match your needs.

Key Terms to Understand

Some key terms you will need to know is that "pullets" have been sexed at hatching and are all females. "Straight run" chickens are not determined to be female or male. This means, if you only want hens for eggs, you run the risk of getting a bunch of roosters and not knowing it until later. Even if you plan to breed them, you only really need one rooster to fertilize the eggs. In fact, it takes an average of seven hens to keep one rooster happy.

Basic Starting Supplies

Heat Lamp With Bulb

Those little chicks don't have real feathers yet. When they are first hatched, they just have a type of fur to keep them warm. A heat lamp is absolutely necessary to keep your chicks at around 95 degrees. Also, make sure you opt for a rad bulb to keep the temperature in the right range. I bought mine at Tractor Supply just because that's where we got the chicks from, but you can get the heat lamp and bulb on Amazon.

Baby Chick Food and Water

When deciding what to feed your baby chicks, go with anything labeled as "chick starter." The good ones to go with have around 18%–20% protein to help the chicks grow stronger bones faster. We got our 5-lb bag for around six bucks at Tractor Supply.

I'm sure you will notice that everyone with chickens seems to have those neat little feeders and self-watering containers. If you are just starting out, I wouldn't bother with them just yet. In fact, I plan on making my own for a fraction of the cost once we get the chicks moved into their coop outside. For now, we are using a small dinner plate for the food and one for the water. The drawback to this is they scratch at the food, and it goes everywhere. But, they still will pick it out of the pine flakes when they get hungry.

If you use a bowl or plate for water, make sure it is shallow. Baby chicks will drown themselves if you give them a big bowl of water. The downside to not using a water feeder is that they will walk through, poop on, and contaminate their water. It will need to be changed often. But it works for now.

A Container

Choosing a container for your chicks is pretty simple. It just needs to be deep enough so they can't get out and big enough for their food, water, and sleeping areas. You will also need it to be sturdy enough to clip your heat lamp onto. We actually used a big storage tote.

Pine Flakes

You will need pine flakes to serve as bedding for your chicks in their container. This will also soak up some pee and poop to keep it a little cleaner in there. Choose pine flakes over pine shavings; the shavings are too small and get stuck up in the chicks' nasal passages. You will want to get a big bag and add about an inch to the bottom of their container. Change it out every week to keep the little guys happy and healthy.

Raising Chickens Doesn't Have to Be Expensive

You don't have to spend a ton of money on your setup to start raising chickens. We got our six pullets, heat lamp, two bulbs, 5-lb starter feed, and pine flakes for around $50 at Tractor Supply. We plan to build our own coop and our feeder containers as soon as they are ready for the big bad world of the back yard. For now, the setup in the garage should last us until they are about a month old.

© 2019 Megan Garcia

Raising Backyard Chickens for Dummies

Blogger Jason Price recounts the ups and downs of his backyard chicken rearing adventure.

After several years of pestering my wife to get backyard chickens, she finally relented this past fall. I made all the traditional arguments: the kids will love them, we’ll have fresh eggs every day, I promise to clean the yard and the coop, no it won’t smell, trust me — and on and on. I would overtly send her photos of cool chicken coops hoping that one day she’d like one and magically say ‘yes’ to my request. Alas, this went on for about five years and the arguments were always the same. We have no room in the yard. They will indeed smell. Who’s going to clean up after them? You are too busy. Yadda yadda yadda.

But I was unwilling to lose this war of attrition. My plan was to convince the kids that it would be a good thing for us and that they could pick out the chicks. Last October I was able to get the family down to Portage Bay Grange in Seattle’s University District and home of all things backyard chicken and more. After showing my family the freshly hatched chicks, I knew I had won. I mean, who can resist a fluffy little chick?

So, we brought three home with all the required accoutrements and set up shop in the basement. After naming them, we cared for them like they were the young dragons in Game of Thrones.

Medieval chickens … tasty or tough?

About three weeks later, I convinced everyone that we should get a couple more – so we did. We were on the chicken bandwagon and there was no turning back. However, we have learned a few key things along this journey that must be shared with anyone that isn’t familiar with raising backyard chickens. Read this before you take the plunge and be warned – it’s all fun and games until a dog eats one of your chickens.

Get Plans for a Coop and Build It – Or Just Buy One

I should have known better than to attempt to build a chicken coop without a plan. I had dreams of creating an affordable coop using scrap wood and old wine cases for siding that could be wheeled around the yard as needed. $500 and about 60 hours of labor later – I have built a battleship. Yes, it’s pretty, but completely overbuilt and inefficient. The wheels sit on my porch, unable to bear the weight of the massive amounts of lumber and nails that went into this bad boy.

Lesson learned. Saltbox Designs in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle creates beautiful chicken coops (among other things) at an affordable price. Go there and save yourself the time and frustration of realizing you are likely not adept at carpentry or building anything.

Get to Know Your Local Chicken Expert

The aforementioned Portage Bay Grange has been a salvation for my backyard chicken endeavors. The owner, Kevin Scott-Vandenberge, and his crew have given helpful advice at all times and have invaluable knowledge. Before you burn countless hours diagnosing chicken problems by browsing fowl message boards, find a local poultry purveyor and be done with it.

At Least One of Your Chickens Will Die a Horrible Death

We have experienced this unfortunate occurrence not once, but three times. It happened in December when the chicks were about eight to ten weeks old. Our family was watching a horrible little dog named Ichigo while her parents were away in Japan. It was a Shiba Inu which is known for: ferreting out and killing small game, running away and being generally evil.

I came to snuff this rooster.

Unfortunately we experienced all of these traits during her stay. One fine day I left the area where the chicks were being kept and the little bugger got in there and killed three of them in a matter of minutes – proudly laying one at the feet of my three year old son. She also decided to escape and run away about five times over a three week span. Unfortunately, we found her each time – more out of guilt than desire as we didn’t want her to disappear on our watch.

This incident did beget the purchase of more, older pullets and the owner of the evil dog was gracious enough to compensate us for our financial loss but not our mental anguish. Yes, we anguished the loss of our dearly departed backyard chickens.

You May Get a Rooster in the Bunch

We knew that chicken sexing is only a 90 percent proposition when we got our flock. We were also over-confident (and hopeful) that we would not get a rooster in our bunch for it is both illegal to have them within the city limits in Seattle and annoying as hell. I’ve spent many a vacation around the world being awoken at absurdly early hours by the neighbor’s rooster. They are my nemesis.

For weeks we happily raised our flock until one day, my wife pointed out that she thought the Rhode Island Red named Scarlett was a rooster. I scoffed at the notion until a couple of days later when I heard the beginnings of a nascent cock-a-doodle-doo at about 5:30 a.m. Over the next few days he perfected this party trick and was aptly re-named Scarleto. I asked my wife and children if they’d like to join me in eating him but I was overruled and he was sent back to the farm — where he was likely eaten by the farmer.

Your Chickens Will Not Lay Eggs When You Think They Should

Getting fresh eggs from the flock takes patience.

I did my research on this. I even created a spreadsheet and highlighted the chicken breeds that should be laying early between 17 to 26 weeks. I bought those breeds. But I’ll be damned if three of our six backyard chickens didn’t lay until after 26 weeks had passed. One has yet to lay a single egg and is now at the ripe old age of 34.29 weeks old as of this posting. I have started to plant the seeds of her becoming dinner but once again have been rebuffed by the family. Perhaps if I send them all away on a trip and enjoy her all for myself? She’s a Cuckoo Maran and I definitely feel that a French chicken would make a divine coq au vin.

But I digress. There seems to be no rhyme or reason when backyard chickens will decide to lay eggs. They may lay every day for a month, then take a break for a few days, then lay every other day. Make sure they have a good, whole grain food with at least 17% protein, water them often, and keep the light on until you go to bed. Hopefully that’ll do the trick.

You Will Research What’s Wrong With Your Chickens Like You Would for Your Own Children

Has your kid ever had a nagging set of symptoms that you simply could not diagnose? Have you ever spent hours perusing the internet to try and figure out what’s wrong with them? Well, prepare to do the same with your chickens. I swear, there must be as many ‘chicken boards’ as there are child rearing advice boards. You will spend time on sites like The Chicken Chick, Backyard Poultry Magazine, Backyard Chickens.com, Oh Lardy’s Backyard Chicken Series and Pam’s Backyard Chickens. Problem is – your chickens can’t talk and every possible disease carries with it the real risk of death and/or epidemic for your entire flock.

Who can resist three cute little chicks?

You will spend hours reading, asking for and getting random advice from strangers on what to do with your chickens. It’s mayhem. If a chicken seems very sick or feeble and you can’t figure out what’s wrong then I’d suggest cutting your losses and breaking out the axe. You just might save the rest of your flock with this quick cure-all remedy.

Chickens Can Be Dirty and Smelly

And I don’t mean like your feet after wearing sweaty socks and old sneakers all day. I mean – they smell. They poop everywhere and it accumulates like all get out. Yes, you can throw down more straw and even some diatomaceous earth (D.E.) to keep the odor down but those are band-aids. Oh, and then there are the flies that come to the party.

My backyard now consists of two fly traps (that smell like dead fish), 100 square feet of straw about three or four inches deep, and twice a week sprinklings of D.E. This helps but the only true solution is cleaning and replacing your straw weekly. Buying expensive products like Dookashi which may or may not help to solve the problem. And don’t even get me started on the joys of cleaning the chicken coop…

Chickens Can Feed You

To me, this is the number one reason to get backyard chickens. The eggs are supremely good. The yolks are bright yellow and they stand up nicely. Having a basket of fresh eggs on the counter to draw from is a lovely experience. The colors of the shells are beautiful and picking them up, warm from the brooder, is the most positive sign of freshness one can imagine. Eating fresh eggs is a sublime culinary adventure. For this reason alone you should get your own chickens.

Watching Backyard Chicken Television Is a Zen Experience

I never thought I would say this but I like watching my chickens play together. They are funny and each of them have different ‘personalities’. They chase each other, push each other around, fly up in the air a few feet and drop down, roll in the dirt, scratch and peck, etc. Sitting on the porch and looking at them makes me happy for some reason. Maybe it reminds me of simpler times, or lets me daydream about living on a farm – I don’t know. Either way, I like it.

The backyard chicken gang hanging out.

I’ve alluded to this before in jest but now I’ll be serious. Hens have around two good years of laying before their production declines and they become freeloaders. When the cost of feed is greater than the money you save in eggs then you have a little mental cost-benefit analysis to complete. On a true farm, animals that are no longer useful are disposed of (eaten). Since you are a gentleman farmer you can make a far more subjective decision that includes things like love for your birds and the value you place on them as pets. That said, they are pretty tasty little morsels and stewed chicken and dumplings is pretty damned good. Plus, you can experienced the whole process all over again by buying new chicks to replace that old hen! Whatever you decide, no one will judge you for it.

Birds of a Feather…

Altogether, we’ve now amassed a half dozen chickens that live in our backyard and who happily cluck away all day while producing a variety of lovely colored eggs that taste delicious. In order to get to those six surviving chickens we’ve had to replace the three that were killed by the evil dog and the rooster we sent back to the farm. Oh, and there was another little chick who didn’t make it due to some undiagnosed problem. So all in all we’ve bought 11 chickens of various age/breed/size/color to get to our current half dozen. While the road was rocky along the way we have learned a lot in the process. Hopefully this will help you as you contemplate beginning your own backyard chicken adventure!

A Complete Beginner’s Guide To Keeping Chickens

Senior Editor • Backyard Chicken Coops

Last Updated: 18 April 2015

This post contains affiliate links. For more information click here.

Keeping chickens can be a nerve racking experience, especially if you’ve never done it before – but it really is quite easy, so long as you have all the equipment, know what to expect and aren’t afraid to get up close and personal with these delightful feathered friends. This being said, it’s only natural to suddenly feel your brain being inundated with questions and concerns – “what do chickens eat?”, “where do I keep them”, “what do you mean there are different breeds of chickens?!” That’s why we have prepared this easy to read complete beginner’s guide to keeping chickens.

What are the benefits of keeping chickens?

For those who have been keeping chickens for a long time, it’s hard to express all of the joy and wonder chickens bring to their lives. With this in mind, some of the key pleasures of keeping chickens includes delicious eggs, creating a more sustainable environment, as well as being a source peace and serenity in your life.

Some people may not know that free-range chicken eggs are not only tastier, but they are actually better for you when compared to store-bought varieties. Keeping chickens is the perfect way to have a fresh supply of delicious and nutritious eggs at your fingertips – whether you prefer your eggs to be poached, fried or scrambled, you’ll never be short of these protein packed ingredients if you decide that keeping chickens is right for you.

Keeping chickens is one of the easiest ways to live more sustainably – they help eliminate scraps, produce an all natural fertiliser, assist with composting, and not to mention- all those eggs! Keeping chickens is one the easiest and most rewarding ways to start living green.

Many people find that keeping chickens is an easy way to make them feel more connected with nature, which brings them a sense of peace, serenity and harmony, each time they look out into their backyard and see their flock free-ranging.

What do I need to know about keeping chickens in my area?

All councils in Australia have formalised regulations about the restrictions and limitations of keeping chickens in residential and rural areas, which you can read about here. The good news is that all states and territories permit chickens to kept in residential areas, they just vary in terms of how many chooks as you can keep, as well as some other conditions in relation to how the coop is constructed. If you want to ensure your coop is of a superior quality that adheres to council regulation, be sure to check out the Taj Mahal, Penthouse and Mansion coops, which are sure to tick all your councils coop criteria!

Will keeping chickens cause problems with any of my other pets?

Some prospective chook owners can feel a little anxious about keeping chickens, as they are not sure if their other pets will get along with the flock. Chickens however are such peace loving creatures that whether you have dogs, cats, rabbits, Guinea fowl or an other pets, most of the time the animals will be able to resolve their issues, so long as you are there to help them negotiate.

Will keeping chickens cause any problems with my garden?

Many a green thumb has been concerned that keeping chickens will be to the detriment of their thriving garden, but this couldn’t be any further from the truth! Keeping chickens in the garden is the perfect way to boost the quality of your compost, as well as enriching the soil across your entire garden. Also, having a chicken tractor, like the Taj Mahal or Cluck House, is the perfect way to ensure that your flock is able to nourish all of the backyard, in a controlled and contained way.

What do chickens eat and drink?

Keeping chickens is easy when they’ve got plenty to eat and drink. They only tend to get up to more destructive behaviours like feather picking and pecking order disputes when they’re bored and food is the perfect way to keep your girls occupied. Full grown chickens need a constant supply of chicken feed, shell grit and water. However scraps like leafy greens, yoghurt and porridge will also be a perfect additional treat in their diet. Additionally, chickens need a constant supply of fresh water, as they drink between 500 ml to 1 L of water per day - depending on the weather conditions. One of the best ways to ensure that no feed or water goes to waste is to invest in a quality feeder and waterer that will not only prevent your flock from knocking it over, but also protect the food supply from pests like mice and rats.

Which chicken breed should I get?

Picking a breed of chicken can be a lot of fun as some first time chicken owners aren’t even aware that there are so many different types to choose from – ISA Browns, Silkies, Australorps – it’s like trying to pick your favourite candy in a lolly shop! The good news is, you don’t have to pick just one, mixed flocks are common practice in many backyard across Australia and the world for that matter. It’s a good idea to pick some birds in your flock that are great layers, like Rhode Island Reds, as well as other even cuter breeds, like the Polish, which are just fun to look at! The combinations are nearly endless!

How do I protect my chickens?

Keeping chickens is not a stressful job, however you do need to set up your environment to ensure that they are safe from the weather during extreme conditions, as well from predators, like foxes, which might be more active in your area at different times of year. First and foremost, the best security for your chickens is a quality coop, with a strong frame, fortified with galvanised wire mesh, like all the coops in our range. Additionally, accessories such as predator sensor lights, wire mesh flooring and the auto door are all excellent ways to help further protect your chickens from predators.

What will I need to do each day when keeping chickens?

As mentioned previously, keeping chickens is a relatively easy job, so long as you establish a strong routine. Here are some of the things you’ll need to do for your flock each day…

Ensure that they have plenty of food and water.

Spot check the coop to make sure it is clean and sanitary. If the coop looks too dirty for chickens, make sure you change the bedding, as well as cleaning out the feeder and waterer if need be.

Empty the nesting box of any eggs your flock has left for you – otherwise they might eat the eggs themselves.

If you are letting your girls free-range, be sure leave the door of the coop open so they can come and go as they please. If you are unsure if you want your flock to free-range, be sure to read this informative article here.

Count your chickens at the end of each night before they go back in the coop to ensure that everybody is safe and well.

From time to time other jobs will come up, like giving your coop a deep clean, bathing your chickens or maybe attending to any mite infestations, however for the most part, day to day life with chickens is pretty relaxed.

What is the cost of keeping chickens?

After the initial start-up costs keeping chickens is actually one of the most affordable pets available. On average, chickens might only range from approximately $25 per month, with the addition of animal bedding, such as hemp bedding, which will cost less than $10 per month. Of course these figures go up and down depending on how many birds are in your flock, however ultimately these great little pets are reasonably inexpensive to care for. This does not even include the money you’ll be saving on eggs and fertiliser – not to forget all the peace and joy they will bring to your life. For more about the cost of keeping chickens simply click here.

For any animal lover, keeping chickens is a tranquil and relaxing experience that you can savour for many years, maybe even your entire life. Though there are a few things you need to get on top of in the early stages, caring for these fine feathered friends can be a blissful and rewarding experience to be relished every day, however d id you know 67% of chicken keepers surveyed experienced a chicken health or behaviour issue in the first 12 months that they didn’t know how to handle? But don’t worry! Our feathered friends over at Chickenpedia have created the Ultimate Guide to Chicken Health course. It is a comprehensive online course that covers everything you need, including what to look for in an unhealthy chicken and how to support your egg-laying hens to optimal health. All of their courses are really well structured and beginner-friendly, which is why I highly recommend them to all of my readers!

How To Raise Chickens

BYC (BackYardChickens) has TONS of fantastic information on all aspects of chicken keeping, combined with a wealth of experiences and knowledge shared by our community members. If your question isn't answered in our Learning Center Articles, we promise there is an answer on our chicken discussion forum.

The information below will help you begin your journey by covering the basics of raising chickens. We'll link to other areas of the site where you can scratch up even more details!

So, you are interested in raising chickens? Keeping a backyard flock can be a rewarding and enjoyable hobby, one that is gaining in popularity as more people recognize the many benefits of having a "a pet that makes you breakfast"! You'll quickly experience how fun it is to have chickens as pets. We're happy to help as you embark on the fun and exciting journey of raising BackYard Chickens!

If you have chickens, you'll often be asked the question: " Why raise backyard chickens? " Most people know chickens provide delicious and nutritious eggs, but don't realize the many other benefits that come with having your own backyard flock. Here are some of the most common reasons to raise chickens:

  • Chickens are easy and inexpensive to maintain (when compared to most other pets—see what our members say in this poll: Chicken Keeping—easier, same or harder than dogs/cats?)
  • Their eggs are fresh, delicious and nutritious
  • They provide chemical-free bug and weed control in your garden
  • They are manufacturers of the world's best fertilizer (and they'll dig over the garden for free )
  • They can be fun and friendly pets with personality ( y es, you read that right!)
  • They can be fantastic pets for children of all ages (and Kids with Disabilities Can Enjoy Chickens Too!)
  • See the awesome results of our poll on Why Do You Have Chickens?

Before you take the plunge and start your own flock, make sure chicken keeping is allowed in your town/city and make sure you understand the ordinances applied to your specific area.

  • Here is an introduction to Chicken Laws and Ordinances (and how you can change them)
  • Search our database of local chicken laws & ordinances
  • Double check your local city/town ordinances and homeowner's association
  • Make sure you know if you require a "set-back" (distance from your coop to property lines, fences, buildings, etc.) before building your chicken coop.
  • Raising chickens (and life) is generally easier if you have a good relationship with your neighbors (the promise of no roosters and free eggs helps!)
  • Read comments and post your questions in our forum devoted to chicken laws & ordinances
  • Oh, and after you find out you CAN have chickens in your backyard, you may want to learn how much does it cost to raise backyard chickens?

Trade forum for members' listings of hatching eggs or chickens for sale.

  • More information can be found in our article regarding where to get chicks and chickens

  • Watch the video: Small Chicken Coop

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