Raising chickens in backyards has grown in popularity year over year, combining a back-to-basics lifestyle and making productive use of the space you have. Who doesn’t love fresh eggs? Whether it’s a hobby, or even a little side business, the results of raising your own chickens are rewarding. Here is a guide to starting your own backyard chicken farm.
You can buy a premade coop or find plans and DIY it. Whichever direction you go, your coop needs some basics.
For every chicken you have, you need at least three square feet of space in the coop. So, if you have four chickens, you need at least 12 square feet. Because you’re working in a backyard setting, your available space will probably dictate how many chickens you can have.
Chickens don’t need a lot when it comes to shelter but they need to be protected from a few things. In addition to being the appropriate size, a chicken coop needs to be well ventilated, weather-proof and safe from predators. In the summer, proper ventilation will prevent the coop from becoming too hot. In general, if the heat in the coop is too much for you, it’s too much for your chickens.
Chickens stay warm by huddling together, so the coop doesn’t need to be heated in the winter, but they do need protection from the elements. Pay attention to where the ventilation is and ensure that it can properly ventilate without allowing in any snow or rain.
Even in the city, there are predators that will come after your chickens. To prevent this, keep a padlock on any entrance to the coop and lock it when your chickens are unattended – especially at night.
In addition, the coop needs a place for the chickens to roost (sleep) and a place for them to lay eggs (nesting box). Generally, a flock will congregate together at night on the same roost so one is okay. But you need one nesting box for every three chickens.
Not all chicken breeds are the same. It’s important to know what your goals are with your chickens and then select the breed that helps you achieve those goals.
If eggs are your main goal, the Leghorn breed falls into the egg-laying category of chicken. Meat breeds include chickens like the Cornish Cross and Jersey. If you can’t decide, there are dual-purpose breeds like Australorps that lay an above-average number of eggs and can be used for meat as well.
There are different ways to start raising your chickens. You can start them from hatching eggs, pick them out as chicks, or get them a few months into their life when they’ve reached adulthood and are about to start laying eggs.
Starting out with chicks is the most popular method. Chicks are typically a day old when they are sold. If you have a local farm close by, that’s a great place to find chicks. If not, there are reputable places online where you can buy them.
Chicks start off their life in a brooding box. You can buy a brooding box or make your own. Just make sure the sides are high enough so the chicks can’t get out. Chicks need to be kept warm so you will need a heat lamp. The temperature in the box should be set to 95 degrees for the first week and go down in five-degree intervals each week until the chicks leave the box around six weeks. Pine shavings will give your chicks a soft place to sleep.
Until they are ready to move to the coop, the chicks will need focused care. Depending on their age, they require different foods – crumbles of starter feed when they are first hatched, to regular feed when they’re grown. Find the right schedule for your breed. Change the chicks’ water frequently. Young birds are messy and will get bedding, feathers, and whatever else is in their box into their water. Change the bedding when it gets damp to prevent bacteria from growing. Your baby chicks will be happiest in a warm and dry spot, and it’ll require a lot of attention to keep their box that way.
Eventually, it’ll be time for your chicks – now chickens – to leave their brooding box and go into the coop. Get them acquainted with their new surroundings by dipping their beaks into the food and water containers in their new home. Now that they are older, they can settle into a more relaxed routine.
In the morning, let your chickens outside to run in a safe spot. Remember that threats to your chickens can come from above as well. If there is an area where the chickens can be covered, that is ideal. When you let them back into the coop, check their food and water and top up if necessary. Make sure to lock the coop.
In the evening, along with checking the food and water, gather the eggs. The coop should be cleaned out at least weekly. Fully grown chickens are still messy and a dirty coop can lead to infections and disease. Lock the coop again for the night.
Over time, maintaining your chickens will become a part of your daily routine like your visits become part of theirs. With some focused, careful work, the experience of raising chickens in your backyard can be very satisfying.