Chickens bring so much happiness to our homestead. I could watch them scratch and pick in their yard all day. They clean up bugs and weeds and turn my kitchen scraps into beautiful eggs that nourish my family.
We have been keeping chickens for about 10 years now. While we are always working on improving our set-up and coming up with new ways to manage our flock we have a pretty good grasp on the basics. Here are a few tips for getting started with backyard chickens.
Room to spread their wings
Chickens are very easy to care for as long as their basic needs are met. The first thing to consider is how much room they require. Adequate space both in the coop (house) and run (yard) will keep them from pecking at each other and make it easier to keep things tidy.
When my husband built our coop he made sure there was enough space for us as well. It is our job to collect the eggs and keep the coop clean. I am thankful every time I go out to there that we can freely walk around and work in their coop and run. In southern climates, you can get around this a little easier with wire floors but not up here in the frozen north.
Giving your chickens 3-4 square feet per bird in the coop and 10 square feet per bird in the run will keep them happy and healthy. A flock of eight chickens would thrive in a 4’x6’ coop and an 8’x10’ run.
Choosing chicken breeds
Starting out with some of the standard, all-purpose breeds is an easy way to ensure you will have good layers that can handle most any climate. They will be good-natured birds that are easy to raise and easy to keep. Here are some great options.
- Barred Rock – Black and white, has a very sweet temperament, and lay brown eggs.
- Rhode Island Red – Dark red, easy to care for and lay brown eggs
- Buff Orpington – Buff (golden), often very lovable and lay brown eggs
- Ameraucana – These are like calico chickens. They come in a wide variety of colors and striping, sometimes a little flighty and lay blue eggs.
- Leghorns – White or brown, a bit aloof, high egg producers that lay white eggs. Leghorns have very large combs so they are not as well suited for cold climates where they can easily get frostbite.
When our first batch of chicks arrived in the mail we were enamored with the mix of colors and sizes. We ordered an egg layer assortment that would yield white, brown and blue eggs. Little did we know that the different breeds all have different temperaments. We got some of the standard breeds but we also got some flighty little hens that managed to jump out of every fence we put up. They also preferred to roost in the trees rather than in the coop.
That sounds so sweet to let them roam and roost in trees, especially to my rebellious heart that loves to see animals in their most natural habitat. But I could not keep them safe and every last one eventually got taken by a dog or a coyote. It was heartbreaking.
A roof over their heads
An effective chicken coop will protect your flock from the weather, give them a safe place to sleep and home their nest boxes. This can be accomplished in so many different ways. Some people go all out and build what looks like a fancy doll house, some are built from salvaged materials and some have even been made out of old vehicles.
No matter how you choose to house your chickens here are a couple things to consider.
Ventilation: This is the most important consideration when setting up housing for your flock. In the summer, chickens can overheat very quickly. Make sure that there is adequate airflow to keep them from getting too hot. In the winter you would think the house needs to be buttoned up tight. While you don’t want a draft it is very important to have good ventilation. If the bedding in the coop is damp then your chickens will be much more susceptible to catching a cold or getting frostbite.
Clean Bedding: We love the deep litter method where you lay down fresh bedding regularly without removing the old. If managed properly your coop won’t smell and your chickens will stay cozy and healthy. Another way to manage the coop is to take out the old and lay down fresh as needed. Both methods are very effective.
Chickens bring endless joy and add so much to a homestead. They can help you clear the ground in preparation for planting, keep pests at bay, and of course those delicious, and nutritious eggs. They ask for very little in return. A place to spread their wings, a clean house, food, and water. We will always have a flock of chickens whether we are in town or out in the country.
- How would your family benefit from backyard chickens?
- What chicken breeds suit you best?