So, you’re thinking about getting a small flock of backyard chickens, ha? Well, I couldn’t be happier to hear that! However, there are some details to think about before diving in head first like we did!
What I will offer you here is the opportunity to think, really think, about what it means to delve into the world of laying hens. Not because I don’t want you to or because keeping backyard chickens is necessarily complicated, but because the act of going into caring for any animal should be (I believe) an act based on intention and some serious reflection.
Laws, Codes and Neighborhood Associations
First things first! Check your City Codes to make sure you can even have chickens in your city or town. I have heard many a horror story about people who have purchased their chickens and gotten everything all set up only to find out later that they’re in violation of blah, blah, blah and must pay a fine of (ridiculousness) or who have actually had their chickens taken from them.
There are those of you out there that are happy to rage against the machine, but if you are more like me and like to play nice, be sure to do your homework. Know what’s allowed and not allowed, how many feet you need to be between your coop and your neighbors house, are you allowed to keep roosters, etc. You’ll avoid potential harassment and heartbreak later.
Next, think about your relationship with your neighbors and how open they might be to the noises and smells that come with having chickens for neighbors. Most people are totally fine with having a few hens in the neighborhood (although roosters? not-so-much) and love the benefit of fresh eggs at their doorstep, but their reactions are definitely something to consider. Chat ‘em up, see where they’re at, then go from there.
Backyard Chickens has a great resource for things law and ordinance related
Chickens themselves aren’t very expensive, it’s everything else that adds up (as we learned very quickly when we did our Urban Farm Economics a few years ago). Think about the materials and supplies that will go into your coop and run, into feeders and waterers, into actual feed. Make a budget and then add an extra 5-20% on top of what you think it’ll cost you upfront and into the future.
Once you’ve built your coop and run and have established your chicken care routine, the keeping and care of your backyard chickens really doesn’t take that much time. But, it does take time and you have to be committed to spending some time outside with your feathered friends every single day. Here’s a brief run down of the time we spend with our feathered friends:
- Daily – ~10 minutes for food and water refreshment, egg collecting and a brief scan of their behaviors (are they acting normal or scared, is anyone hurt, who’s at the bottom of the pecking order now, etc.)
- Weekly – ~ 10-30 minutes for coop and run maintenance (checking for any breaches, etc.)
- Monthly – ~ 30-60 minutes for coop clean up, inside and out, depending on your method of choice and climate
Now, the average life span of a chicken ranges from 3 to 10 years so think about what these time frames mean for you in the long run. Additionally, vacations become a bit more cumbersome because keeping chickens means finding a house sitter who can actually help care for your chickens while you’re gone. Payment in eggs and cash usually helps.
Before getting your first batch of chickens, consider a few things:
- Disposition – Do you want to cuddle with your chickens or simply watch them from afar? (I recommend cuddling)
- Heat & Cold tolerance – What is your climate like? Do you experience extreme flucuations in temperature and/or weather? This information will help you decide on a breed.
- Hens vs. Roosters – When purchasing chicks, there is a chance you could have a rooster in your batch, what will you do with him when/if that happens?
- Retirement home or stew – What will you do with your chickens as they age? Will you allow them to “retire” in the coop when their production goes down. This is a nice thought, but gets expensive very fast. Will you try to find another home for them? Research your options ASAP as this can prove challenging. Will you cull them and eat them? Who can you ask for help with the process? Where will this process be completed? Can you get someone else to do it for you? Can you handle it?
Keeping & Care
- Food – What kind of food do you want to feed your chickens? What kind of food can you actually afford? There are tons of options out there, so think about it now…Traditional? Organic/non-GMO? Soy free? Sprouted? Fermented chicken feed?
- Water – What kind of waterer will you get and will it work well no matter the season? (Those galvanized ones are great, but they prove troublesome in the winter.)
- Brooders & Chick Care- Will you be keeping your chicks indoors until they feather out? Where will they be kept? Garage? Living Room? Guest Bedroom? Think about it. Your brooder can be as simple as a box or large tupper ware with a heat lamp or as complicated as ours but it must be thought about before purchasing your chicks. Will you hand raise them? Are you OK with wiping a chicks fluffy butt?
- Coop, nesting boxes and run – Where will your chickens live? Will they have access to sun and fresh air? Have you researched your options and designs for coops, nesting boxes and runs? Will you go with a simple chicken run or do want something fancy? How about your coop? How big or small do you think it should be in relation to how many chickens you are planning to get this year and into the future? Do you want a chicken mansion or a secure shanty? How much space does a chicken need, anyway? How will you keep t your coop and run clean? Do you have a compost pile to put all of their waste into? Will you use the deep litter method? Do you have space for them to give themselves a dust bath?
- Protection – What predators do you have in your area? Do you have neighborhood cats who might be amused or hungered by your chickens? What about coyotes, hawks, bears or bobcats? How will you secure your coop and run so as to best protect your flock? This can be be an easy task, or it can get quite complicated, but it must be thought about.
- Free Ranging – Will you allow your chickens to free range in your yard? How will that affect your current landscaping? Chickens are brutal and don’t care about any of the work you’ve done, so be ready for Operation Tear Apart to begin. Can you keep them secure? Will you clip their wings or is your fence high enough that they won’t get out and onto the busy street?
Alright, let’s be honest now…
How are you feeling about this whole backyard chicken keeping thing? My hope is that these questions have either solidified your decision to keep some backyard chickens, or they have given you the opportunity to re-access.
Please don’t get me wrong, I would love to see backyard chickens in every neighborhood in every town! I’d love to see pictures of kids holding hens on every mantle and fresh eggs cooked for breakfast every day! I just want to see it done intentionally.
Have I forgotten anything?
Do you keep a backyard flock? What questions did you ask yourself before jumping in? Or, did you simply jump in like we did and wish you would have asked yourself a few questions beforehand? Please feel free to comment below with any tips, tricks, questions or insights you have about backyard chicken keeping!