One of the things I love most about my little farm is getting farm-fresh eggs. In fact, I can hardly even eat store-bought eggs anymore. But I also love raising chickens for their personalities.
They are easy keepers and they pretty much take care of themselves. So no matter where you live, take the next step to be self-sufficient and start raising chickens.
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I have always had chickens around and I don’t ever see myself not having them. When I said they are easy keepers I really mean it. I have a chicken feeder that holds 3 weeks’ worth of food and an automatic chicken waterer.
So even when I’m not around they are taken care of, which makes keeping them easier than any of my other animals.
And best of all, they provide my family with fresh eggs, and meat, if need be.
The peace of mind knowing that we have our own food supply right outside our back door is a pretty amazing feeling.
How to Start Raising Chickens
No matter what you’ve heard prior, keeping chickens is super easy if you allow it to be. They don’t take up tons of extra time and if you set their food and water up to be automatic, they’ll pretty much be self-sufficient.
So if you’ve been worried you don’t have time or are worried that you have no idea how to care for them, you can stop worrying.
This article will go over all the information you need to get started and if you feel that you need more information Check out my Ebook about Raising Chickens!
Choosing the Best Breeds
Don’t let this step overwhelm you. Sometimes trying to figure out exactly what breed or chickens to get can feel overwhelming. The thing that is important to know is that there are certain breeds that are better suited for specific traits and climates.
Such as meat birds, laying hens, cold-hardy breeds, heat-tolerant breeds, etc.
Breeds for Eggs, Meat, or Both
Best Egg Layers
There are many breeds that are great for egg laying that I’ll talk about, like those in my article The Best Chicken Breeds for Eggs but here are a few of the top breeds:
- White Leghorn
- Red Star
- Rhode Island Red
If you’re looking for breeds specifically to butcher for meat try out:
- Cornish Roosters
- Cornish Game Hens
- Jumbo Cornish X Rocks
Dual Purpose Breeds
These are the breeds that are good egg layers and can also be good for meat. This way you can get eggs from them and then butcher for meat if needed.
A few good dual-purpose breeds include:
- White Wyandottes
- New Hampshire’s
- White Giants
Best Beginner Breeds
Even if you aren’t a beginner these breeds are some of my absolute favorites:
- Speckled Sussex
- Buff Orpington
- Light Brahma
You can check out more about these breeds in my article The 5 Best Chicken Breeds for Beginners.
Cold Hardy Breeds
Almost all chicken breeds are hardy to the cold, so you rarely need to worry about it being too cold for them. The heat is what can be the real issue.
But if you live in an area with extreme winters, here are a few of the most cold-hardy breeds:
For more information check out 11 Best Chicken Breeds for Cold Weather.
Heat Tolerant Breeds
If your summers get really hot, the heat will be something you need to consider. Thankfully there are things you can do to help keep your chickens cool.
But if you know you live where it gets really hot, these are great heat-tolerant breeds to choose from:
How to Raise Chicks
After you’ve considered what breeds would be best for your needs, you can choose to either get chicks, pullets, or older hens.
I’ll go over buying pullets and older hens below.
Raising chicks is really much easier than you’d think, but just like any baby, they do require more care and attention than older animals.
Before getting chicks you’ll want to make sure you have your chick brooder set up.
1.) The important components of a chick brooder are that it be something that keeps them safe, such as a rabbit hutch, pre-built chick brooder, a water trough with a breathable lid such as chicken wire.
2.) Has bedding to help keep it clean. I line my brooder with newspaper and then put pine shavings on top.
The temperature in the bottom or the brooder should be about 95-100 degrees for the first couple weeks.
4.) Then be sure to provide your chicks with fresh water and food at all times.
To learn exactly how to care for chicks check out this article here.
Buying Pullets or Older Hens
If taking care of baby chicks seems like too much work for you I completely get it. The great thing is that you can still get pullets or older hens and skip the chicks altogether.
Pullets are young hens 15-22 weeks of age who are just beginning to lay or approaching to. Hens usually start laying around 22-24 weeks of age, so you won’t have to wait long for eggs if you get pullets.
You can buy pullets online from hatcheries such as Murray McMurray Hatchery, or check with local companies.
Buying older laying hens is also an option, but it’s not my first choice. Hens are the most productive in their first 2 years of laying, so depending on how old they are they may not give you many eggs.
Which means keeping them around may be more expensive. But it’s still a good option to get you started if you want chickens as soon as possible.
Chicken Coop and Chicken Run Requirements
A chicken coop doesn’t need to be anything fancy. Just a safe place where your chickens can roost in the coop at night and lay eggs during the day.
As a rule of thumb, you should plan on having 2-3 square feet of space per chicken in your coop. Of course, more room is always better, but if you’re only keeping a few chickens your coop doesn’t need to be huge.
Inside the chicken coop, you should have a minimum of 2 laying boxes that are at least 12 x 12 inches. As a guideline, have one laying box per 4-6 hens.
But even if you just have a couple of hens, have at least 2 boxes.
Then fill your nesting boxes with nesting material.
I really like these nesting box liners, but you can also use material such as straw or shavings.
The next thing is having a place for your hens to roost. It’s best to have something at least 2 inches wide, preferably made out of wood.
Metal can get too hot and cold, and plastic is slippery.
Coop setup tips:
- Put your laying boxes lower than your roosting area. This will help prevent the chickens from roosting in or on top of the boxes at night.
- If you build your laying boxes from scratch, make the tops slanted to prevent the chickens from roosting. This will keep your boxes cleaner.
When it comes to setting up the chicken run, it’s nice to provide them with as much space as possible unless you’re letting them out to free-range as well.
They say to plan on at least 8 square feet of space per chicken in the run. This will provide your chickens with enough space to spread out and stay healthier.
What to Feed Chickens
Chicks should be fed a chick starter.
Then as your chickens get older the most important thing to feed them is a layer chicken feed that is 16-17% protein.
You can feed chicken scratch as a treat, but it doesn’t provide your chickens with the nutritional value needed for egg production.
As your chickens start molting you should feed a higher protein layer feed such as Feather Fixer. It’ll help your chickens grow in their feathers quicker and to resume laying on a regular schedule again.
For a more comprehensive guide on feeding chickens, check out my post What to Feed Chickens.
Another additional thing chickens need is oyster shell. It helps provide them with extra calcium for producing eggs.
You can learn all about feeding chickens oyster shell in this post.
Feeders and Waterers
If you plan on feeding your chickens daily, each chicken requires about 1/4 pound of feed per day.
Although, I recommend free feeding. I’ve been free feeding for years and I’ve kept track of exactly how much feed I go through and it’s always the same.
I’ve heard others say that chickens overeat but I have never found this to be the case. I also think free feeding is the best option because it creates less stress for your chickens.
Certain times of year chickens may need more or less feed, and they will instinctively know it. So having the food always available allows them to eat as needed.
A couple of great feeder options include:
As far as waterers go, I really like to have an automatic waterer.
This way I never have to worry about my chickens running out. Of course, you still need to check it to make sure it doesn’t break or quit working, but it’s nice not having to refill water all the time.
I like this automatic water best.
Or you can also use waterers like this Harris Farms Poultry Drinker.
Other Tasks Involved With Raising Chickens
Checking on overall health:
On a daily basis, it’s good to check on your chickens just to make sure everybody appears to be healthy.
But as long as they have food and water, skipping a day here and is not crucial.
The next daily task should be collecting eggs.
If you don’t have a rooster you won’t have to worry about your eggs being fertile, which means your eggs will never be able to form a chick.
So in that case, collecting every other day or so is no problem.
But if you do have a rooster it’s a good practice to collect eggs daily.
Providing chickens with a dust bath:
Chickens need a dust bath to fluff around in. It’s their natural way of cleaning themselves and getting rid of pests.
Check out this post to learn how to make your chickens dust bath.
Cleaning Chicken Coop
This is likely going to be your least favorite task, but it won’t take you long if you do it every week or two.
Cleaning your chicken coop is a good practice because it helps keep pests out of your coop and will add to the overall health of your flock.
To learn exactly when each task should be done be sure to get your coop cleaning cheat sheet below!
So whether you are a first-time chicken keeper or have been raising chickens for a while, I hope this post has helped.
If you need help or have questions about anything related to raising backyard chickens, comment below or send me an email!
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