Tips for Raising Backyard Hens
Not too long ago, my boyfriend and I sat in our living room talking about how cool it would be to raise hens for eggs. We had talked about it a lot over the course of several months, but it was always something we planned on doing later down the road... like, years from now.
The next thing I knew, we were walking out of the hardware store with four little baby chicks in our possession. Oops! It was time to do some serious research!
Boy, did I research! I spent several days reading blogs and talking with other people who raise their own chickens. Along with my research, we definitely learned some pretty hard lessons through trial and error.
After about a year, our girls are thriving and popping out eggs on the daily! I've found that it's actually super easy to raise chickens! There are, however, a few things I wish I had known before I brought those chicas home that day. I'd like to share what I've learned with you!
You Probably Don't Need More Than Four
We have four. My chickens each lay one egg per day. That's 4 eggs each day. That's 28 eggs per week. That's 112 eggs per month. Do you really eat that many eggs? I know we don't! We eat what we can, and share the rest with family and neighbors.
When we bought our chickens, we almost got six. We were told that "six is a good amount of chickens." In hindsight, I'm so glad we didn't! Six chickens would have produced 42 eggs per week. There's just no way we could keep up with that. Also, we would have needed two chicken coops, as four of them are already pushing the limits of a standard-sized coop.
Don't Get Less Than Three
Chickens do best in groups. They are birds, after all! The more, the merrier, really. But for the sake of your backyard chickens, keep your headcount at three or more. Anything less than that, and their natural "flock" hierarchies and behaviors are disrupted. They can get lonely, and end up with some pretty unfavorable behavioral problems (like not laying eggs!).
Your City Probably Has Laws Against Backyard Chickens
Did you know that chickens are technically farm animals? I sure didn't. This means that when city ordinances are concerned, they are not treated like any of your other pets.
Before you bring chickens onto your property, check your city ordinances to make sure you're following the rules. If you live outside of city limits, you should be fine. But if you live within the city (like me) you will be subject to certain rules and regulations.
For example: my city allows chickens in backyards. However, only hens are allowed, no roosters (roosters are males, and they tend to be loud!). No more than three hens are allowed, and the structure that they are housed in must be at least 40 feet from all surrounding houses. This means that they cannot be close to my house, or my neighbors's houses.
Now, unfortunately for me, I had no idea that there were city regulations until long after I had already purchased my hens. Obviously, I am in violation of the "three hens only" rule. I am also in violation of the forty-feet rule, as I keep their coop right against my house on the back patio.
Luckily, I live in a fairly small farm-town. I have heard that the city only enforces the rules if they get complaints from neighbors. I make a point to give my neighbors free eggs in hopes that they don't complain about my chickens.
Please, learn from my mistakes! Check with your city before you get your chickens. That way you can make sure you are in compliance, and will not end up facing any fines.
Chickens Need More Space Than You Think They Do
I'm not exactly sure what breed my chickens are (can you say: "newbie?"), but I do know they are much smaller than many full-grown chickens I've seen at feed stores. Please, trust me when I say: they need more space than you think!
I purchased their coop online (from Wayfare) when my chickens were still really tiny. The coop is supposed to house up to six chickens. Now that my hens are full-grown, I can't imagine fitting six chickens in there! Just the four of them are almost too close for comfort.
Also, please keep in mind that a chicken coop is only meant to house them at night! It's their shelter at night, and they can't possibly stay cooped up in there all day long. In addition to their coop, they will need an enclosed area to roam in.
I let my chickens roam free in my backyard. Some people like to build a "run," or an enclosed area for their chickens to hang out in during the day. Some chicken coops even come with a built-in "run," most of which are way too small. If free range is not an option, you might want to consider building a large fenced-in area for them. Generally, chickens need a minimum of four square feet to live in. That's minimum, per chicken! Keep that in mind when you're deciding where you'll keep them, and how much space you'll give them.
Predators Will Be an Issue
Let me just repeat that for good measure. Predators WILL be an issue!
I didn't think we would have a problem. After all, we live in the middle of a busy neighborhood where there's virtually no wildlife. However, it seemed that as soon as we got our chickens, all the predators flocked to our yard!
The big ones we've dealt with are stray cats and raccoons.
Stray cats are generally only an issue if they're hungry, and if your chickens are smaller than the cat. You'll need to guard them closely while they're little. Cats have a long history of killing birds. Those birds can fly, and are high up in trees. Imagine how appealing your chickens look to them. They are prey that's on the ground and can't fly away. If your chickens are full grown, it's unlikely that a cat will bother going through the trouble to kill your chicken. But even though it's unlikely, it's still a possibility!
Raccoons are vicious little buggers! They are incredibly intelligent. They will go after your chickens if they get the chance. Raccoons were a huge problem for us. We ended up having to reinforce the chicken coop, putting pad locks on the doors, and nailing down anything that can be taken apart. They can easily figure out how to open a latch. Be ready to battle these guys!
Hens Can Be Loud
I have heard the myth going around that chickens are only loud if you have a rooster among the flock. That's not entirely true.
While the rooster is much louder, hens can still make a significant amount of noise. They have this squawk that's called the "egg song." I had no idea it existed until my hens started doing it right before and after they lay an egg. The first time I heard it, I thought one of them was being attacked by something. When I saw that she had just laid an egg, I thought something might be wrong with her. After some research, I learned that wasn't the case. It's totally normal for hens to start yelling just before or after they lay an egg. Apparently, they want to lead potential predators away from the egg. Regardless, it can be annoying.
If you have neighbors who might complain about occasional squawking, you might want to think twice about getting hens.
Chickens Are Messy, And Destructive
Chickens poop a lot. It amazes me how much they poop. Every morning when they leave their coop, there is a huge pile of poo right under the perches they sleep on. If you take a look at the video above, you can kind of see what I'm talking about. I clean that out daily. In addition to that, they poop all over the yard. If you let them free range, say goodbye to being able to walk barefoot in your grass.
There will be poop everywhere, all the time. You'll have to learn to get used to it.
They will also destroy your yard. My chickens love to dig, so expect to eventually see holes everywhere. They dig for two reasons:
1. They're looking for food. The bugs they like to eat are in the dirt, so they will scrape the ground with their feet to move the dirt around, hopefully exposing bugs that were lurking just below the surface.
2. They want to make a hole to lay in. My chickens love to bathe themselves in dirt. They dig up holes and roll around in them like it's the most fun they've ever had.
If They Peck You, It Can Hurt!
If you end up with an aggressive or particularly "mouthy" chicken, you might get a little banged up from time to time. One of my chickens recently went through a phase where she wanted to eat people's fingers. She didn't care that your fingers were in your pocket, or currently next to your face. She didn't care that you were holding food. She wanted your finger. It was weird!
That was when I learned that they can do a lot of damage if they peck you. They might look harmless, but those beaks are quite sharp. She got me a few times and left some significant wounds. Please keep this in mind if you have small children or other pets. The chickens can easily hurt them if they feel so inclined.
Chickens Will Eat Anything
I feed my chickens anything from bread, to fruit, to beans. I haven't yet discovered anything they won't eat. This makes it super easy to feed them. They get scraps from the kitchen, and they eat the bugs in the garden.
Of course, that's not all they need. You still have to make sure they're getting a proper diet, especially if you're keeping them for their eggs! A standard poultry feed from the feed store does just fine for my chickens. I add oyster shells to their food as well, just to make sure they're getting plenty of calcium. It's not complicated or expensive to feed them.
Research Is Crucial!
There is an answer out there for every single question you might have about raising hens. I must have spent hours and hours reading blogs, watching YouTube videos, and browsing forums for information on keeping backyard hens! There's a lot of good information out there, so I definitely recommend doing your research before you add chickens to your household! It's much better to be prepared beforehand than to wing it and learn as you go!
If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below or contact me! I started as a complete amateur, and I've learned so much over the last year! We are successfully raising egg-laying hens, and we are so glad we made the decision to do so!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2017 Kristen Haynie