Raising chickens is a fun and affordable hobby. Its called backyard chickens for a reason, this implies that one wants to raise a mini flock of chickens rather than a large operation. Now, don’t get me wrong, chicken math is a force of nature not to be taken lightly. But for the average backyard chicken enthusiast, keeping your flock at a manageable number is relatively easy. Its just takes the persistent enforcement of chicken birth control (aka. collecting eggs) and obtaining only a few number of chicks from reliable hatcheries. You can also ask one of your backyard chicken friends to hatch you off a small starter flock. Other than that, keeping a small flock of backyard chickens is not inherently difficult.
Chickens are very simple creatures, they do not demand a lot from their owners. Since chickens are very social animals they have plenty of company among their flock members. The needs of a chicken are simple. They need clean, fresh water daily. It does not need to be filtered or bottled but it does need to be fresh and clean daily. Simply filling up a clean water container every morning when letting the flock out of the coop is all this entails. They also need fresh and dry feed daily. It is always best to keep your feed in galvanized trash cans if you plan on keeping it outside. Not only will this keep your feed uncontaminated (from rats, coons and other wildlife) it will ensure that the feed will remain dry and thus not spoil. Chicken feed comes in large 25 to 50 pound bags, you will have enough feed to last a while depending on the size of your flock. As you can see in the image below, I keep two galvanized trash cans outside of the pen, this is were I store the feed for the girls. Be warned, your chickens will very quickly learn to associate the sound of the lids being removed from the cans as a makeshift dinner bell. My girls get very excited when they hear the all too familiar”clank” of the trash cans lids. I am suddenly surrounded by a group of girls eagerly anticipating its contents.
Next, you will need a habitat. This is where a lot of chicken owners can be creative and inventive. You can do whatever you want to make your backyard chickens home personable to you, just make sure that is has a few very important qualities.
- Your chickens home needs to be large enough to accommodate the size of your birds as well as your flock. A lot of coop descriptions will say that “this coop will fit 2-4 standard size birds”. What does that mean? Well chickens come in two sizes, standard or large fowl and bantam or miniature chickens. If you have 6 standard size birds you need to make sure that you choose a coop that can fit 6-8 standard size birds. Choosing a coop that fits less than that will cause stress in the flock. If the birds do not have ample room and feel over crowded many problems can result. Over mating of the hens by the rooster, cannabolism caused by pecking of flock mates, and of course illness due to the birds being under stress. So when choosing a coop, first know the size of your birds and based on the dimensions of the coop how many can fit comfortably.
- Your chickens home needs to be secure. This means not only does it need latches on the door to keep predators out, the coop also needs to have a pen if you choose to keep your girls in a pen vs free ranging. Most if not all coops bought in the stores usually come with an attached pen in its design. Make sure that the pen is enclosed with wire mesh that is galvanized with holes small enough to keep even the peskiest mouse out of your girls home.
- Your coop must be easy to clean. Most coops are designed with a drawer that can be pulled out from under the roosts to clean the dropping off from the previous night. Many chicken owner put pine shaving on this drawer to absorb moisture from the dropping and simply with gloves or a small hand shovel remove the dropping like you would clean a litter box. Either method is fine, just make sure the you clean the dropping out daily to keep flies and illness at bay.
- your coop must be draft free. When looking for or constructing a coop make sure that the coop has both ample ventilation while at the same time being draft free. It sounds like a double edged sword, I know. What this basically means is leave room at the top for air to escape while also protecting the birds from fridgid winter wind, rains, and other elements. Your coop does not need to be warm or heated. In fact, heat lamps are the number one cause of coop fires. Not only will a heat lamp fire kill your birds, coop fires can also damage other structures on your property including your home. Never use Heat lamps in coops, they are just too dangerous. Instead focus on keeping your chicken coop clean and dry. Chickens do not need heat, they come with down jackets factory installed and are well able to regulate their own body temperature given the right conditions, that being a coop that is clean, dry, and draft free. As long as your birds remain dry and protected from the wind and rain they will do just fine when it comes to surviving winter.
- The design of the coop. The design of chicken coops are endless. I have seen everything from little cottages to barn style chicken coops. Quite honestly, I think that picking out the perfect chicken coop is almost as fun as picking out what breed or breeds you want to raise. You don’t have to buy your coop prefab you can get plans off the internet and make your own from raw materials. Either way its up to you. We have done both. We made our first coop and pen from scratch. It was fun and we really enjoyed the process. The additional coops I bought as prefab kits that I put together.Both have advantages and disadvantages. The advantage of making your own coop is that you can make it as big as you want, the disadvantage is that it takes a while to construct and can be expensive. The advantage of prefab kit coops is that they come already made all you have to do is screw them together and you have a coop in about 45 minutes. The disadvantage is that you are limited by the designs that are available. Personally I like the prefab coops better. They are made with quality materials and are easy to maintain and clean. I cannot keep large numbers of birds in them so I usually have to get several but I don’t mind having to take care of more than one coop. Coop chores are so simple, more than one coop really does not make that much more work.
Here are a few pics of my coops. I currently have three and have plans to purchase one more. The first one is The Kuntry Klucker, this is the coop that hubby and I made from scratch. It took about 4 months and roughly $1000 from start to finish. This will house up to 20 standard size birds. The most I have ever had in this coop is 17. Even then they still had plenty of room.
Next is Roy’s Roost, it is a prefab coop. It will house two standard size birds or 3 bantom size birds. I bough it for Roy as his hospital coop when he was sick. Since his passing its purpose still remains as my hospital coop. When I have a girl that needs separated from the flock due to injury or illness I place her in this coop. I can better monitor her eating and drinking habits as well as administer medication if needed. The patient will remain here till she can be returned to the flock.
This last coop is Betsy’s Bliss. I bought this coop to serve as a broody coop. This is where I will house a broody momma as she sits on her nest. This allows the mamma hen some privacy while still allowing her to eat, drink, and dust bathe normally. When the chicks hatch both mamma and chicks are protected from predators and curious flock mates. It will house one standard size bird and a few chicks or two bantam size chickens.
I have placed these two smaller kit coops in my spice garden. When not in use they serve a decorative accents in my garden. I purchased these two coops about two years ago. They have survived the elements and mother nature very well. In the fall I put a coat of wood protectant on them to protect them from the harsh elements of winter. If we have heavy snow or ice in the forecast I will put 6×8 tarps over the top of them just to give them a bit of extra protection. Other than their size, I really do not experience any different in their function or durability. I am very pleased with these kit coops and will plan on purchasing more as my needs arise.
Other than the basic needs of food, water, and housing chickens are very simple to raise. The only other thing I can suggest is to have a chicken first aid kit on hand. I have built up my first aid kit slowly over the years. Basically you will need items to treat a chicken that may have injuries or illness. When taken care of properly chickens do not encounter much illness. The most complicated condition I have ever had to deal with was when several of my girls coming down with Bumble foot. I have a blog post on Bumble foot for those who wish to learn how to affectively and simply treat this condition.
Your first aid kit should include basic items such as: epsom salts, rubbing alcohol, peroxide, cotton balls, triple antibiotic cream, salve, and vet wrap. Vet wrap is very handy because unlike a band-aid it will stick to itself making it ideal for animal use. I cannot tell you how many feet of vet wrap I have used throughout my years as a backyard chicken keeper.
My girls have never needed any antibiotic treatment. I am usually able to treat minor ailment with natural methods such as apple cider vinegar in the water, electrolytes, and chicken rx herbal drops. Should my girls ever develop an infection that needs antibiotic I would consult a vet to assist me. In my experience, given proper care my girls have never developed any conditions that I could not treat at home.
As for the cost of keeping backyard chickens, once you have their habitat purchased or constructed they are very affordable to maintain. My 10 girls will go through a 50 pound of feed in about a month. I find compared to a medium size dog chickens are much cheaper to keep. Additionally, for all your work and dedication they will give you something in return, a beautiful farm fresh egg. In my book a pet that makes me breakfast is worth its weight in gold.
Thanks for stopping by and spending time with the girls and I. As always if you have any questions please feel free to post in the comments. I will do my best to get back to you as soon as I can.
Thanks for visiting, the girls and I will see you soon.
~ The Kuntry Klucker Crew~