Every few weeks someone emails me to ask what’s involved with keeping chickens. So for everyone out there who has been thinking about maybe getting chickens but isn’t really sure of what’s involved … this post is for YOU.
My chickens and my children make me laugh everyday. And we can hardly eat enough eggs to keep up! It’s a good thing toddlers don’t care if they eat scrambled eggs everyday … And prefer it!
I’ve had chickens for about 4 years now, they are hilarious yard ornaments. first batch were 3 Barred Rock… – done in by a dog. Second batch – 3Americaunas… or Easter Eggers. My county doesn’t allow chickens, but will probably turn the corner soon. Inside the city limits a few feet away they have just today passed the ordinance to allow up to 4 hens. 1.5 year battle. the thing is, not much will change. No one knows that we have chickens unless we tell them… Also, they are fairly low maintenance.
Interesting! Very interesting! I still have a few questions!
How big do you estimate one’s backyard should be to house a flock of chickens?
How many eggs does each hen lay on average?
Do chickens preen themselves to keep clean or do they bathe in a shallow tub of water?
If I ever do decide to own a few hens, I know that my ultimate foe, a neighbourhood racoon who crosses paths with me every night, will be licking his chops day one! Have you encountered such an issue since obtaining your hens? And if so, how did you handle it?
1) You’ll read a lot of different stuff about how much square feet each chicken needs. Go by that for general coop & run build. If you have even a small backyard and are willing to let your chickens free range, that will be plenty;
2) one per 24 hour period when they’re in laying season. during molt, they won’t lay at all. that happens usually once per year.
3)they bathe in dirt actually. you’ll want to give them a nice patch or bucket of dirt to bathe in. the dirt is sharp and get the mites, etc. off. they will preen a bit too. add food grade diotamaceous earth to the dirt and it will help keep all the mites and critters off of them as well.
4)the raccoon is the scariest chicken predator in my opinion. they are smart and wily. you will want to make sure your coop is super duper secure – latches that a racoon can’t figure out how to open; build the coop with small hardware wire, not chicken wire (the raccoon can reach in); build a barrier into the bottom edge of the coop with hardware wire and then lay bricks and stone on top so critters and raccoons can’t dig their way into the coop. Your chickens will go to their coop/roost every night at sundown (they are practically blind in the dark), so you’ll need to make sure they’re locked up tight before it gets dark when most raccoons come out. If you think your raccoon comes out in the day, you may just want to build a big enough coop for them to live in all day and not have them free range.
Thanks for taking the time to reply to my questions Shauna! Your thorough answers have given me something to think about. I believe I have enough space in my backyard to house a number of hens. I jsut have to wrap my head around the idea that the hens will be able to handle the Canadian winters (with a heat lamp of course)! I know I’ve read and been told countless times that the birds will be fine but I know that I would initially feel bad about keeping them out in the frigid temperatures while I sat at home with my thermostat set at a comfortable 21 degrees! Thanks for providing a detailed response especially with respect to handling the banded scoundrels! Cheers!
Toronto Boy – My chickens are honestly much, much happier in the cold. The heat nearly kills them. The cold they like. I know what you mean. I felt guilty too. But after a year or two I realized the chickens weren’t bothered by the cold … only I was. 🙂 ~ karen
Raccoons are a pain for sure, but are nothing compared to a weasel, should you be so unfortunate as to have one of these relatively rare critters home in on your birds, as I was. It takes one-inch mesh to stop them, along with the other measures you mention.
In my rather long experience two chickens show no sign of social or psychological deprivation, decline or of pecking disorders. The latter arise with three or more, though they usually get that quickly straightened out. They seem to relate to humans a little better too when not having to deal with flock dynamics. Hmm…..what species does that remind you of.
Determine your daily average egg requirements and size your ‘flock’ accordingly.
Adding a drake (if you don’t want more eggs) helps keep slugs at bay.
Very very well written. After having chickens for 3 years now, I think you touched on every single important issue that someone would need to know.
I love my chickens. And am quite addicted to trying out different breeds. I got Wyandottes the first year. Welsummers and Easter Eggers the 2nd. Now I am adding Copper Marans, Brown Leghorns, White Jersey Giants and another Easter Egger. If all works out I am also going to add a few Basque hens.
But in a few weeks my first ducklings arrive. Now that is going to be a an all new kinda fun!!
Great post Karen! One other thing that I feel the need to mention is with new chicks, you should round the corners of their enclosure. They will go into a corner and huddle and the inside ones will get smothered. Probably not a concern with 4 chicks but I used to buy 25 at a time, and lost four. Was a sad day. 🙁 I remedied this with 1/8 inch plywood (scrap paneling.) It would mold nicely into the corners to create a curve. You can also use cardboard.
You forgot one of the best parts—fresh, orange yolked eggs! Have you heard feeding them marigolds deepen their color?
The most important thing I learned (the hard way) from raising chickens – they moult and won’t lay periodically. Remember this so you don’t decide it is time for the freezer and whack them then find TONS of unshelled eggs inside almost ready to begin laying again. I was an axe murderer and never got over it – 25 years later, I still won’t have more chickens even though they are the most relaxing and wonderful animal on the farm. Rodney the rooster – not so sad. He chased us every time we came near the coop and would really cut into us with his sharp tallons! When I finally whacked him, found a 4″ splinter embedded in his thigh so I forgave him for his meaness, but was glad we were safe to go outside again! Rhode Island Reds do great in Florida also – love that breed!
OMG! I also would have carried that guilt to the grave!!!
Thanks Karen! That’s excellent advice. We’ve been sitting on the fence for a while now, and after reading your post, well, we are still sitting on the fence, but with way more information.
Thank you Karen – now to convince the family that chickens would be a wonderful to own.
How long do they live Karen? It’s illegal in Calgary too, but there’s known chicken keepers in my liberal ‘hood. The trick is getting enough buy-in to have them sit when needed, but not enough that someone rats you out, cuz then the chickens get put down and that’s sad.
I wish I had the space to keep chickens as I’ve always thought they were so cute. Plus the idea of having fresh eggs is nice too:) Maude
What kind of feeder do you use?
We made one out of a plastic bucket and put a plastic saucer (like what you would put under a plant) for them to feed from. It sits about beak height for them.
The problem is so much of the food gets knocked onto the ground and it stinks terribly when it gets wet. We live in Houston, Texas where it is very warm and humid. The flies also love it. ick!!! Do you have any suggestions?!
We use the same feeder for our chickens. Put the feeder on bricks to get it a little higher. we put the water bucket on the opposite side of the coop so they don’t get water in the food. we also put food grade diatomaceous earth in the food which helps to keep away the flies. Finally, especially in a hot place like Texas, you might want to check out Fly Predators (it’s online ordering and you get 6 months worth mailed every month), they really keep away the flies in the backyard and they are alive – so totally organic, no pesticide, etc. You’ll just want them up high or the chickens might eat them;)
Thank you for this Karen! Our community is working out chicken laws right now, and we hope it’s in favor of having them in city limits. We are already owned by an African Grey parrot(Timneh), and think birds are fascinating!
You don’t need a whole lot of space–we have a regular city lot and very happy chickens. They used to be even happier: we used to let them out of their coop and roam the backyard…until I realized that not only do they poo copiously EVERYWHERE, but what they weren’t eating of my plants they were digging up with their scratching. My poor garden! So…they stay in their 8×10 coop half the time and can run around in a fenced off part of the yard otherwise (they’re happiest when they can roam a bit). They’re great grass-clearers/mowers!
I had the same problem. They were so fun to watch, but I couldn’t go barefoot in the backyard and all my lovely groundcover plants in the garden were destroyed. I actually watched one of my girls go along the line of newly planted lobelias and yank each one up and toss it over her shoulder. So this summer they will be confined to a run. I miss seeing them come running around the side of the house when I get home.
Thank you for all the info! I admit, my main reason for wanting chickens is that I feel guilty wasting all the nutritious slugs and snails and grubs and bug-egg-encrusted greens that I pull out of the garden but I’m unwilling to eat them myself.
Good stuff Karen and thanks for sharing this one!
Frey’s Hatchery in St. Jacob’s is also a great place to get chickens, especially if you like a variety. There are many colours and kinds to choose from. We especially like the speckled and dark coloured ones. You’ll have to ask Karen the names of them. I call them “the brown ones, the white ones, the speckled ones, and the dark ones.”
This was very straight forward and useful, thanks! I hope to eventually get some chickens once we have enough money to get our own house with some land… I’m sure there’s a ton of things I’ll need to learn but this is a good start.
You have come a long way in 2 years Karen..From “I have baby chicks..What do I do?” to giving great advice to people on raising chickens..”Chickens aren’t an accessory” is so true..neither are cats, dogs or any other living creature..Their lives depend on how you treat them and take care of them..THEY HAVE REAL FEELINGS..And if anyone thinks that chickens don’t have feelings..they need to watch the video of Cuddles running to greet you and jumping up on your lap to be hugged and petted..All animals should be treated with respect equally..Not just the human ones who tend to think they are more important than the rest..OK..Dr Dolittle is done now..
Great info Karen. We had chickens when I was a kid. But we had a few dozen – more poop! But the eggs are what I miss.
I would recommend using sand in the coop. It acts like kitty litter. You just scoop up the poop (no need for a paint scraper). Also, with a nipple watering system, you don’t need to change the water very often. This frees up your time to go on vacation without a sitter. Great post!
Rory – I’ve tried that sort of watering system but my chickens just try to bite the nipple off. They do get some water from it, but they didn’t really seem to get the hang of it. ~ karen!
One of my Easter Eggers laid her first egg yesterday. She’s growing into a woman – I’m so proud:) It was a pretty, very little, robin’s egg blue (aka Tiffany Blue – so fancy) egg.
My son and I were very excited, jumping up and down. My husband’s first response was, “ew”! WTH? boys are so weird.
LOL. Congratulations on your egg! Isn’t it exciting to get a colour? Imagine my surprise when Cheez Whiz laid a blue egg and I had NO idea that was even a possibility. She’s supposed to be a Rhode Island Red, LOL. I thought someone was playing a joke on me. ~ karen!
Thanks Karen! I’m sharing this with my facebook chicken coop group.
Can’t wait. Coop is built, ready and waiting. There is a bird sale at the end of the month that I am hoping will allow me to bring some home!
Karen, You answered the only question left to me after searching the internet and subscribing to hen blogs for over a year now. I am so grateful to know how you can avoid a draft yet still provide plenty of ventilation, expecially in winter. That was always confusing to me! To me, ventilation was a draft!!
Cookie – Good! Glad to be of help. Also, I lower the hen’s roost in the winter so it’s well below the vent. In the summer, when they actually like to catch a little breeze, and stare out the vent, I raise their roost up again. ~ karen!
You kind of touched on it, but keeping chickens is expensive. More expensive than the most expensive chicken eggs I can buy ($7.00 a dozen for extra-large blue organic free-range small-farm farmer’s market eggs). This may eventually balance out (more likely if you keep more than a small backyard can sustain), but anyone who says “cheap eggs” are the reason they keep chickens is either lying to you or to themselves. Also, they will eat your garden if you give them half a chance in the spring and they will get drunk on rotten fruit if you’re not careful in the fall. Oh and “pecking order” is a thing. Chickens are bullies and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it, there will always be one chicken that all the others will be “mean” to. If you can’t handle having a chicken that always looks ragged and pecked at, you can’t handle having chickens.
Cat – Having 4 chickens I’ve never really found them to be expensive. Other than their housing of course. Aside from that there’s just a very small bit of money for feed and straw. Maybe $30 a month. What is it you’re spending so much money on? Just curious. ~ karen
Brampton only allows 2 chickens. I have to get only 2. 🙁
Corinna – That’s a really stupid number! If one dies, you’re in trouble, and 2 chickens versus 4 chickens is nothing. Oh well. I guess you’re lucky they allow them at all. ~ karen!
I REALLY want to have chickens but I’m afraid the HOA Nazis would find me out and make me get rid of them. All it would take would be a little bit of ruckus when an egg got laid. These, after all, are the people that made me scrape the “moss” on my mailbox post, which was really some interesting lichens. I’m waiting for them to complain about the lichens growing on the trees in my yard. I suspect non dog/cat pets would really disturb them…
Thank you for sharing this. You answered a few of my questions. I think for now I will just keep to the wild chickens roaming the streets in my little podunk town. Maybe I can convince then to keep roaming free and lay a few eggs for me. I mean I do give then “free” seeds in my yard.
Man can they get loud! Must be the rooster chasing the hens.
Best article ever.
One thing I always wonder, once laid and sitting outside in the heat especially, how long are the eggs still good? It icks me out if I think the egg has been sitting out for 24 hours or more.
Diane – If you have chickens you make a habit of checking the nesting box at least twice a day if not more so it’s never an issue. You have to check on your chickens at least that many times a day anyway. Not to worry anyway, the eggs are best kept on the counter and not in the fridge anyway. ~ karen!
I have had my chooks for two years now. I lost two: one to fatty liver (too many carbohydrates, i.e. scratch, in the diet), one to a possum (I forgot to close the coop one night. I caught the critter the next night with my bare hands and relocated him. He was huge.)
I love them. They are actually remarkably beautiful. I have five: An Exchequer Leghorn, a Rhode Island Red, an Andalusian Blue, an Ameraucana, and a Black French Copper Marans. I let them free range all day, every day, in my fairly spacious back yard, then lock them up at night. They love earwigs and clover. And they steal the cat food. They love yogurt mixed with ground flax seed.
They poop everywhere, but most of my yard is grass or mowed weeds, so it benefits from the poop. I kind of wish they didn’t poop on my newly created brick patio (made by me!) but they can’t help it. And it rinses off pretty easily, depending on the quality of the poop. Sometimes it seems they have been eating tar.
For the person worried about day-old eggs: According to the egg producers industry, an egg can remain at room temperature for SEVEN MONTHS without going bad, if it is not washed. the coating a hen deposits on her egg as she lays it seals it from bacteria in some way. I wouldn’t try this out or anything, but it makes me feel perfectly OK about eating an egg that was in the coop all day.
For sure protect your hens from raccoons. Them’s some real bastards. They will reach right through chicken wire and remove a hen–shudder–piece by grisly piece, while the dismembered hen screams. Spring latches, a bottom barrier to the coop, and hardware cloth seem to foil them.
I actually think getting chickens was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Seriously. Entertainment, beauty and breakfast rolled into one somewhat poopy package.
I love my chickens and you did a great job on this post. They are work but so worth it.
I have been using these chicken posts as leverage as to why my husband should buy me chickens!!!! I’ve wanted them for years (I grew up with chickens) and cannot wait until the day we stop renting and buy a house. I honestly think the first thing I’m going to do after moving in will be to build a chicken coop. Great post on what it takes to raise and keep them! (and a huge thank you!!!)
My family had chickens growing up…I had to collect the eggs everyday and the rooster was a bully! We have thought about having chickens again. However we have a predator somewhere in our neighborhood…not sure if it’s a big coyote or big dog….but have watched the neighbors heartbreak to many times to even consider it now!! But I love reading your chicken posts and watching the video’s you do of them. 🙂
Oh Karen, thank you SO much for this.
I will be forwarding it on to all my fiends who think parenting chickens is child’s play!
You are brilliant!
PS – I will be getting my own one day soon!
You are hilarious! Count me in as another fan & follower. Cheers but no chickens for me! 🙂
Welcome aboard Jacquie! ~ karen!
I came back today to read this again because one of my chicks which arrived yesterday is dying right now. I cannot express the sadness I feel for some thing I’ve only had for 36 hours. I cannot express the wonder I felt to realize that yesterday they had zero feathers and today they have their wing feathers. It was amazing. And I am very sad. How contradictory is that?
We got into a discussion at my last book club meeting about chickens and whether or not you need a rooster to help produce eggs. I was able to say, well I know where I can find that very answer! I had just seen this post a few days before but didn’t really read it, just sort of skimmed and marked it for reading later, ya know, when I convince the hubby that we need chickens. Anyway, thanks Karen! This will come in handy if(when) that day comes
Hi, Karen: I need more details on the poop board! Our ladies are making a giant mess of things in the coop. I don’t think they all face the same direction on the roost at night. We have 3 of them, in a little-ish coop, with a bumped-out nesting box. They are getting poop in their water and food–gross! Do they need to have the water and food available to them inside the coop at night, or can it be out in the run for daytime consumption? We let them out into the run first thing, and they get to free-range for a couple of hours each afternoon.
I am LOVING your blog! I am hoping to start my own small flock in the city (I’m allowed up to 15). My husband isn’t quite on board with it, though I am 1000% gung-ho to get started! Any words of wisdom to encourage him getting chickens would be a good choice?
Hi Josette! Thanks so much. Well my first word of advice would be to start with 4 chickens or so. 😉 That will give your husband an idea of how easy they are to keep (although it is livestock so there is work involved) and how cute they are. Also starting with 4 or so will give you a better idea of what kinds of things to look for in your next chickens. For instance my first 4 were basically mutts and they were great. My next 2 were Black Copper Marans which lay beautiful dark, DARK eggs but they have a tendency to go broody which means they want to sit on eggs and hatch them. Look up my post on broody hens and you’ll see why this is a pain. Others are more skittish (Ameraucanas) and some chickens are super docile and friendly (Buff Orpingtons). Also, nothing makes a better hostess gift than a basket of farm fresh, laid that day, eggs. 🙂 ~karen!
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