Thinking of Keeping Chickens? Here’s What You Need to Know.

THIS is it, the time of year people start getting 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.

Spring, specifically Easter is the time everyone who has ever thought about getting chickens thinks about it … again.  It’s exactly when I got my chickens one decade ago.  They were an Easter present.  And I did not know a single thing about chickens other than the fact that I’d always wanted them.

I’ve had several different small flocks of chickens since my first bunch. I started off with what were the chicken equivalent of mutts with some Rhode Island Red, Ameraucana and possibly a bit of actual dog in them. Cuddles was known for coming when I called her and jumping up in my lap. In fact, if you aren’t familiar with Cuddles or keeping chickens, you should really read this post about her first.

I’m down to 2 chickens right now; my Black Copper Marans Josephine, and my Blue Copper Marans Mabel. Both are geriatric at the age of 7 and I’m going to let them live out their lives before I get a new flock and start from scratch again.  

If you want chickens or just GOT chickens, you probably have some of the same questions I did a decade ago.


Keeping Chickens: What You Need to Know

What do chickens eat?

Chickens eat chicken food.  You’ll be able to buy it at a local farm store.  Yes.  You probably really do have a local farm store.  The feed costs around $15 for a bag of regular feed or $22 for organic feed.  A 24kg bag will feed 4 chickens for around a month. 

You can stretch that feed by fermenting it. Fermenting chicken feed is no big deal, it’s just adding water to it and allowing it to sit a few days until it ferments. I have a whole post on doing it here. The result is full of good bacteria and nutrition that’s more easily absorbed due to all kinds of very sciency stuff. It’ll make sense if you read the post. 

Chickens will also eat good food scraps from salads, vegetable peelings, fruit, nuts, leftover mashed potatoes and on and on.  They’re carnivores so they’ll also dive right into meat.  It’s why they love to hunt bugs and mice.  Yes.  Chickens are excellent mousers.

Can I get just one chicken to see if I like it?

No. Chickens are very social creatures and one chicken would be painfully lonely.  Starting with 2 chickens is even a bad idea in case one of them dies.  Plan to start with 3 or 4 chickens for a happy, happy flock.

How soon before I get eggs from my chickens?

You’ll be waiting a long time to get one from your rooster, but young hens (pullets) will start to lay when they’re 4-6 months old depending on the breed. If you want eggs immediately then buy 4-6 month old pullets instead of cute little chicks. The disadvantage to this is you haven’t hand raised them so they might not be as friendly and cuddly as one you’ve raised from day one.

Will a chicken always lay eggs?

The older a chicken gets, the fewer eggs it will lay per year.

Chickens are born with a certain number of egg yolks in them ready to be turned into full fledged eggs.  For the first year they lay almost nonstop (depending on the breed because some breeds lay a lot more.)  By the third year of laying a chicken will lay less and less every year. 

By the time she was 8, Cheez Whiz only laid a couple of eggs a month at the most.  My current 7 year old chickens are each laying an egg every other day  but that’s unusual and will likely slow down to a few a month once spring is over.


Farm fresh eggs written on small chalkboard sitting beside a straw lined basket of eggs outside on a picnic table.

Do I need a rooster for my hens to lay eggs?

Nope. Hens are like ladies. They walk around with hundreds of eggs inside of them all the time regardless of whether there’s a man around. The rooster only fertilizes the egg so the hen can have chicks.  No rooster = no fertilized eggs = no chicks.

Where does one get chickens?

A lot of towns have farm animal auctions.  Also, if you live anywhere near a farm, chances are they have chicks, chickens or fertilized eggs  for sale. Google it.  Craigslist it. Kijiji it.

You can also mail order day old chicks from hatcheries. This is one of the easiest and most popular ways to get chicks but you won’t be getting show quality chickens.  You know the pretty pictures of chickens you see of certain breeds on Pinterest?  Hatcheries generally don’t provide that type of representation of the breed.

But if you just want eggs you might not care.  Keep in mind if you order from a hatchery there’s always going to be a minimum order of many chicks. They need to travel in groups to keep each other warm during shipping.

For show quality chickens that are perfect examples of their breeds, you should get your chicks from a chicken farmer who shows their chickens or whose hobby is breeding for perfection.

Two, 5 day old yellow chicks in a small wood crate. Pretty much the cutest thing in the world.

How can I tell if the chicks I got are boys or girls?

That’s a tricky one. Some chicks you can tell immediately because they’re what’s described as autosexing. That means they’re an obviously visible characteristic that lets you know immediately if it’s a boy or a girl. A boy chick might have a dot on its head and a girl chick a stripe on its back for example (as with the case with Cream Crested Legbars.) You can read this post here on how I sex my chicks.

Where do the chickens live in the winter?

Jamaica. Or Florida maybe depending on flight prices.

Mainly though they just live in the very same coop they live in the rest of the year. Chickens are covered in feathers just like other birds that live outside all year are.  They’re very good at keeping warm, not nearly as good at cooling down. 

So if you’re worried about the weather taking a toll on your chickens, you should be more worried about the heat than the cold. It’s also more important to keep a coop dry than it is to keep it warm. Dampness can kill a chicken and create respiratory illnesses. 

How do you keep a coop dry?  Make sure you clean out the poop and make sure your coop has a lot of open venting. Yes. Even in the middle of winter the coop should have open venting for moisture to escape.

Chickens also don’t like to get drafts so make sure the coop venting is well above where they roost at night. Bottom line, look into what breeds will do the best in whatever weather you have. Some breeds are better with the heat and some are better with the cold.

This post explains exactly how I winterize my chicken coop for my cold Canadian winters.

What if you’re not home to put them in the coop at night? Won’t predators eat them?  Yes. Yes they will. But there’s an easy (and frankly life changing) solution to that. Installing an automatic coop door the way I show you to in this post will save you ALL kinds of worry.

How often do you need to clean a chicken coop?

I clean the inside of their coop where they sleep twice a week and for the rest of my coop and chicken run I use the deep litter method.  This is where you leave all the poop, give it a rake once a week and add more bedding on top.  I clean out the entire thing 3 or 4 times a year, transferring everything to my compost bin and then starting over in the run with a new 5″ layer or straw or pine shavings.

What am I supposed to do with all that poop and bedding? 

Like I said earlier, the poop and bedding goes straight into a compost bin. Sometimes I just mound it up and lay a tarp over it.  The poop and straw is a perfect combination of materials for compost and making compost FAST.  I do hot composting which produces fully ready compost in one month.  You can read about how to hot compost here.

Backside, fluffy butt of an orange chicken as it scratches at the top of a compost pile.

Do chickens stink?

Sometimes.  But mainly no, especially if you just have a small backyard flock and not a ginormous chicken barn.  No worse than dogs or kids.  And if you do what I say regarding coop maintenance then neither  you nor your neighbours will ever smell your chicken coop.

Are chickens loud?

Sometimes. But not for long periods of time.  When they lay an egg they’ll sometimes squawk around for a while and it can get LOUD.  But it doesn’t last long.  Sometimes they’ll get upset at each other or something they perceive as danger and will get loud but other than that they’re quiet. Mainly chickens just make cooing sounds no louder than a cat purring.

Beauty shot of a black Ameraucana pullet.

Do chickens get sick? 

Oh boy. Yes, they do.  Chickens get a variety of ailments. Some I’ve experienced with my flocks and some I haven’t. Common problems with chickens are Bumblefoot, prolapsed vents, respiratory problems and mites.  Personally my flock has experienced Egg Yolk Peritonitis, Fly Strike, general bloody wounds, mites infestations and sour crop.  If you’re serious about getting chickens read this post about The Life and Death of Cuddles.  Yes.  This is chicken husbandry.

What else do I need to know?

Chickens aren’t an accessory. If you never even thought about having chickens before the great chicken rage of the past decade they might not be for you.  Or they might!  You have to give it careful consideration and know that they’re living creatures that you’re committing to taking care of. Take these next few things into consideration …

What You Need to Know About Owning Backyard Chickens

  • If you go on vacation you’ll need a chicken sitter.
  • You’ll need to feed, make sure their water is clean, and give them a quick health check every day.
  • You will touch chicken poop.
  • You will need to build or buy a coop to keep them save from predators and the elements.
  • Even with a coop much of your time will be spent worrying about predators.
  • You will become addicted to chickens.  You will want more and more chickens.
  • You’ll discover some chickens are cuddly and want to sit on your lap all day while you pet them.
  • You’ll discover some chickens want nothing to do with you and may even bite.
  • Eventually they will die and it will be very, very sad.

You now know a tiny bit about what it’s like to own backyard chickens. Give it the thought it deserves. Now if you’ll excuse me I have a couple of eggs to gather.


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Thinking of Keeping Chickens? Here\'s What You Need to Know.


  1. Terri says:

    Here are my four- Banana, Reba, Elvira and Cher! They came to live at my house after 3 years of living at my daughters (ex’s) – we picked them out as chicks and I’m thrilled to have them with me here! The day after arriving I found 3 eggs in the coop and they’ve been laying everyday since! I love these girls, and I thank them every time they lay eggs! Bok bok! 🐔

    • Lucee Rohr says:

      I have Slim, Chick Fil’ A, Zekrom, and Moltres. I get four eggs a day and they are such nice chickens! The girls love to hang out with little kids and are mostly fine with being picked up and carried.

  2. Fereshteh Hashemi says:

    I’m going to go with “Rent the Chicken” for one summer (May to October) as a test to see if we can handle caring for chickens in our Toronto backyard. It’s expensive but seems like a relatively easy way to “test the waters”. I’m mostly concerned about raccoons.

  3. Angela says:

    Do you have any thoughts about the Eglu Go Chicken Coop?

    • Agnes says:

      Had a quick look. I would be concerned that run would not keep out raccoons or weasels. Depending where you are and what predators are around, you may need something more robust and with smaller mesh.

  4. Tree says:

    Consider if you know enough people to give the excess eggs to! We’ve resorted to giving them to anyone who comes to the house. I spent all morning baking and still ended the day with more eggs than I started with.

  5. Mary W says:

    I go in the farm store at this time of year just to slowly stroll by the chicks. It makes me happy. We need to see another batch of pictures from your hens and some of their eggs, please! It brings back happy memories.

  6. Mim says:

    Great post and additional comments. I would only add that chickens can live to be 20 years old, so you will need to decide if you want to keep them for pets after their egg-laying days are over. Personally, I will need to do in my 30 3-year-old chickens in a couple months to prepare for a new batch. I am not looking forward to it, but it is a reality. Sadly, you can NOT integrate new chickens into an established flock. The pecking order is real and especially if they are younger and smaller, they will be attacked and probably killed. So don’t think you can get 3-4 and then add to them one by one. It will be traumatic to watch.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Mim. I’ve integrated new chickens into old flocks plenty of times. You can’t just throw them in there and wait for them to battle it out but doing it slowly over the course of a week or two is totally doable. ~ karen!

      • mim says:

        Karen, you’re right. It can be done, especially with small flocks. But I have also seen chickencide take place with friends’ small, established flocks. It needs to be done carefully. Thanks for clarifying my overly emphatic statement!

        Just saw Tree’s question below re. extra eggs. I take 8 – 10 dozen to the local food shelf every week. They are hugely welcomed and it is a great feeling to know they are being used.

        • Karen says:

          I have trouble giving away my eggs as well! Partly because 2 out of 4 hens lay with cell spots and it grosses everyone out. Can’t say I blame them. I’m just used to it now. ~ karen!

    • Agnes says:

      I agree with Karen – a small flock can accept newcomers. I have had success with chicks and adult hens. In case it’s useful… Chicks – keep separate until a certain age (research online for the best time) and introduce them at night. Adults – keep them in a separate enclosure for a week or so (partly for quarantine and nit control) so the others can see them but not reach them, then integrate gradually a few hours each day. A generous run or free range space helps.

    • Meredith says:

      My chickens only ever live to 6 or 7 years old, but then I only get large breeds, so maybe thats why? Do bantams live for 20 years? And I’ve been keeping chickens for about 15 years now and successfully integrated existing flocks with new chickens many times. It takes patience and repeated exposure of one to the other before making the final leap. Also, they must be nearly the same size. You have to keep the new ones separate until they are almost fully grown. The only way around this is to let a broody hatch chicks and those babies are accepted by the flock without much fuss. Also, my chickens die of natural causes. You don’t HAVE to kill your animals just because they slow down in laying. Even a 6 year old hen lays an egg every once in a while.

      • Karen says:

        I have a 6 year old hen that lays eggs! Not a lot of eggs, but still, lol. I would also agree that while perhaps there is a 20 year old chicken somewhere the majority of them would not live to even close that. I’d say count on maybe an average of 5 years before they die of natural causes even with extremely good care. ~ karen!

  7. meg says:

    man, our local farm stores have chickens right now (now that I live in the sticks, instead of the middle of los angeles)

    THEY ARE SO CUTE IT HURTS ME. It was *REALLY* cute to see the bantam chicks the other day, they’re like 1/2 the size of regular chicks which are already super cute.

    I can’t wait til we have the bandwidth (or stop moving, maybe) to have chickies! Thanks for the overview!

  8. Kipper says:

    Read as much as you can online about raising chickens and don’t buy them without researching pros and cons first. Karen has given me extremely helpful advice that I could not find in books or other online sources. Chickens are more work than you would think, especially as chicks. You will obsess on fear of a predator harming the chickens, every poultry owner does. Disposable latex gloves are of immense help in daily coop cleaning. I bought a child’s rake at a garden store and use that for weekly tidying of large part of coop. Hens can bond well. Mine run to me when I enter their playroom aka chicken run and then they cluck the latest gossip. Chickens can be very meditative to watch, similar to watching a fish tank of beautiful fish.

  9. Josette says:

    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?

    • Karen says:

      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!

      • Flor says:

        I am also an urban chicken owner and my ladies are LOUD in the mornings- especially in warmer months when everyone, of course, has windows open. Even if your city allows hens, id recommend letting neighbors know ahead of time. We’ve had no noise complaints, but I often feel bad that we’re waking the neighborhood at 5am! Also, our main “predators” are rats! They don’t hurt the chickens but will come in an eat the food. I’ve had to really rat-proof my coop. The upside of urban chickens is that we are the neighborhood attraction. So many people walking down the sidewalk do a double-take when they see the chickens in the yard. Many parents bring their young toddlers by visit the chickens. I’m down to just 2 now (recently lost my 7 year old to old age) and it’s certainly been a fun adventure.

        • Ann Visco says:

          Offer eggs to anyone who might complain about the noise. That seems to help, and get rid of the extra eggs. This year I’m going to try water glassing some.
          I’m also going through a “chicken math” issue. We need to replace a few and even though I want 6 I’m sure I’ll get more. They’re like potato chips, you want all the flavors.

  10. Kristin D. says:

    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.

    • Susan says:

      I’m sure you’ve figured this out by now, but in case it is useful to someone else, I will reply. Chickens sleep and poop at night. They eat, drink, and poop during the day (-: The food and water should be out in the run – not in the coop (especially the water, so you don’t create a damp coop, which can lead to respiratory issues in the chickens).

      p.s. Mine almost always sleep forward-backward-forward-backward, and so on down the line. I haven’t heard an explanation for this yet, but I’m sure there must be some reason they do it. I sure didn’t teach them this!

  11. Tisha says:

    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

  12. Maria says:

    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?

  13. Jacquie says:

    You are hilarious! Count me in as another fan & follower. Cheers but no chickens for me! :)

  14. Jill V. says:

    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!

  15. Barbie says:

    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. :)

  16. Marion says:

    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!!!)

  17. Sandy says:

    I love my chickens and you did a great job on this post. They are work but so worth it.

  18. Kristin says:

    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.

  19. Diane says:

    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.

    • Karen says:

      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!

      • Caroline says:

        What’s this about keeping eggs on counter? I figured frig/fresh. So what are the pros and cons?

        • Karen says:

          Hi Caroline. Regular store bought eggs can’t remain on the counter. They *have* to be refrigerated. Here’s all about eggs and which ones need refrigeration and which ones don’t. ~ karen!

        • Caroline says:

          Thanks for the info, Karen.
          Here’s a thing I learned for helping chickens to continue laying in the winter. 1. Make sure they have 12 – 14 hrs of light. 2. Feed them a probiotic diet (all yr, actually). 3. Give them organic whole corn. That ramps up their metabolism to digest. 4. This tip came from a friend who raised hundreds; add red pepper flakes daily ( about 1/4 tsp.) to their mash. I cook up some Jiffy Mix and give them half of it. Organic it ain’t, but I comfort myself in thinking that EVERYTHING else I feed them is.
          I won’t mind feedback and/or correction if anyone has info to the contrary cuz I love those little buggers.

  20. Leona says:

    Best article ever.

  21. Crybrug says:

    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.

  22. Chipmunk says:

    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…

  23. Corinna Mulligan says:

    Brampton only allows 2 chickens. I have to get only 2. :(

    • Karen says:

      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!

    • Darla Ragland says:

      I’d have to get one of a different breed. If anyone wants to know why you have three just say the odd one just showed up one day. “I’m waiting for someone to report it missing”! I can’t just kill someone else’s chicken…

  24. Cat says:

    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.

    • Karen says:

      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

      • Susan says:

        Feeding chickens conventionally is not expensive, but many backyard keepers have chickens in order to eat truly organic eggs. My experience has been that it is difficult to impossible to do this economically at the backyard scale. I started keeping chickens to see if I could turn it into a money-making venture someday (and because certified organic, pastured eggs run $7.50/doz here), so I’ve kept meticulous records of both materials/feed and labor from the beginning. I’m in the Pittsburgh, PA area, and conventional feed costs $18/50-lb bag. True organic feed (not conventional look-alikes that just haven’t been sprayed, but real grains that you can identify by sight) is $36/50-lb bag – twice as much as conventional! I’ve been able to bring the feed cost down somewhat by fermenting the feed (which makes the nutrients more bioavailable, so the chickens don’t eat as much) and by buying the grains individually and mixing them myself with appropriate supplements, but those both add a little to the labor costs. So far, my calculations indicate that I will need to have 100-300 hens at once to gain enough economy of scale to make this an economically worthwhile endeavor (at least in this area), which would require much more space and some additional infrastructure. This year I am going to experiment with feeding them solely from compost (per Karl Hammer of the Vermont Compost Company), to see if it can be cost-effective at a smaller scale. I am also going to experiment with increasing my $5/dozen price, but since my eggs are neither pastured nor certified organic, I don’t expect to be able to go much higher. Much to my dismay, I will have to rehome my birds, disappoint my customer base, and go back to buying my eggs from someone else if I can’t make this work this year. But for anyone using conventional feed, chickens aren’t expensive.

    • Meredith says:

      Maybe it depends on where you live? I have 16 hens and one rooster that are free range on my two acre property and maybe I go through a bag of organic feed in a month? They eat stuff outside all day long. And yes, they will destroy a garden but so will a host of other varmints, so you have to have a fence. Which also keeps out chickens. Even with spoiling my flock with mealworms and other store bought chicken treats, I would never consider it expensive. And I sell the eggs so end up making $60-70/month off them.

  25. Cookie says:

    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!!

    • Karen says:

      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!

  26. Stacey says:

    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!

  27. Leslie says:

    Thanks Karen! I’m sharing this with my facebook chicken coop group.

  28. Shauna says:

    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.

    • Karen says:

      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!

  29. Rory says:

    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!

    • Karen says:

      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!

  30. Laura Bee says:

    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.

  31. Natalie says:

    Great post!

  32. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    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..

  33. Brittanie says:

    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.

  34. Janet says:

    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.”

  35. Kat says:

    Good stuff Karen and thanks for sharing this one!

  36. 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.

  37. Katie King says:

    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!

    • Stephanie says:

      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.

  38. Angie S says:

    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!

  39. Amy says:

    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?!

    • Shauna says:

      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;)

      • Susan says:

        I have 15-25 hens at any given time in my city back yard and I highly, highly recommend Fly Predators!! I’ve used them for the last two years and the difference has been amazing – almost zero flies the entire year!! I followed the company’s recommended numbers and timing the first year, but since I didn’t order them until well into April, I did have flies for a while. Last year I modified my order (easy to do) to start getting them sooner, I had no flies at all! What a relief!!

        • Jen says:

          Holy shit! 15-25 hens in your CITY backyard? Where do you live because I want to move there.

  40. maude says:

    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:)

  41. jackie says:

    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.

  42. Mary Kay says:

    Thank you Karen – now to convince the family that chickens would be a wonderful to own.

  43. Trish says:

    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.

  44. Mary Werner says:

    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!

    • Kat says:

      OMG! I also would have carried that guilt to the grave!!!

    • Laura Brown says:

      Talk about guilt. We had chickens when I was a kid. Mom’s bf came home and thought our young dog had killed a bunch of them. He dug a hole, shot the dog and went to get the hens to put them in the hole too, only to find them walking around the barn. They had only fainted.

  45. Gigi says:

    You forgot one of the best parts—fresh, orange yolked eggs! Have you heard feeding them marigolds deepen their color?

  46. Feral Turtle says:

    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.

  47. Ann says:


    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!!

  48. Toronto Boy says:

    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?

    • Shauna says:

      Toronto Boy,

      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.

      • Toronto Boy says:

        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!

        • Karen says:

          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

      • John Marian says:

        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.

  49. Kipley Herr says:

    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.

    • Jen says:

      I too am a chicken criminal. It makes me mental that my city doesn’t allow them when they allow people to have all manner of dogs and children running rampant.

  50. Amanda says:

    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!

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