Chicken Keeping for Beginners

Chicken Keeping for Beginners

Chicken Keeping for Beginners

Chicken Keeping for Beginners

Keeping backyard chickens is a wonderful experience. Chickens are sweet and low maintenance, with a few caveats which I’ll share below.

I absolutely adore our chickens. They are my sweet girls. They are beautiful, and of the four that we have had since May, three of them are great egg-layers. And while most of the food that our family eats is plant-based, we are definitely a house of flexitarians and organic, free-range eggs are a regular part of our diet. And there is nothing more organic and free-range than keeping your own chickens and making sure that they are the happiest girls around. Happy chickens make happy eggs.


Here is a list of 10 things you’ll want to keep in mind if you’re considering chicken keeping.

1. Check the laws. Every town has its own laws about who is allowed to keep chickens and how. Some towns don’t allow it at all, in which case I recommend finding a local farm to volunteer at. Even if it’s just once a month, you can learn for yourself how the chickens are cared for and take part in the process which is the next best thing to keeping your own.

2. Chickens are social. You’ll want to have a minimum of 2-3 chickens because a lone chicken is a sad chicken. Also, making sure that you have got females if you’re not wanting a rooster (see #9 below) is tricky business. Get your chicks from a farm who properly sexes chickens so you know what you’re getting, or get older chickens so it’s obvious whether it’s a hen or a rooster.

3. Get the right size chicken coop. As a general rule, allow for 3-5 square feet of floor space in the coop for each chicken. You will also need 8” of roosting bar per chicken and one nesting box for every 3-4 hens to lay their eggs in.

4. Chickens are vulnerable to predators. It is a sad fact of life, but chickens are extremely vulnerable to predators. Our neighbors have lost several chickens to hawks, foxes and raccoons. It’s a regular occurrence. The best thing is to have a tall, fenced-in yard if possible and a very secure coop that locks closed at night. But even at that, things still happen. You need to be emotionally prepared for this.

5. Hens only lay for a few years. Hens lay eggs regularly for about 2-3 years. After that, productions drops by about 20% a year until she stops altogether, but with proper care and protection from predators, a chicken can live to be ten+ years old. So it’s important to be aware of the commitment.

6. Hens don’t lay year round. During prime spring and summer laying months, good layers will lay an egg every day. When the days get shorter in the fall, they will start “molting,” which means dropping their feathers and growing in new ones for winter. Most hens stop laying during the molt. Shorter days also mean hens don’t get the 14 hours of daylight needed to stimulate the ovaries, so you might not see eggs from late fall until spring. You can add light to your coop to keep your chickens laying through winter, but that doesn’t give their bodies the natural break that they deserve.

7. Eggs don’t need to be washed or refrigerated. Eggs from your backyard chickens shouldn’t be washed until just before you use them. Chicken eggs are laid with an invisible protective coating called the “bloom” that prevents air and bacteria from entering the egg through the pores in the shell. Washing removes that coating, so don’t wash your eggs until just before you use them. When you do wash them, a gentle rinse under warm running water to remove poop and feathers is sufficient.

As long as you don’t wash your eggs, they don’t need to be refrigerated. The bloom keeps the egg fresh even after several weeks out at room temperature. An egg will keep longer in the refrigerator though, so if you aren’t planning on eating your eggs fairly soon, refrigerating is fine.

8. Chickens will destroy your yard & garden. Yes, another sad truth. If you have free-range chickens they will tear things up. They will kick the mulch out of mulch beds, destroy fruit and vegetables off the vine, tear up grass, and destroy a lot of plant-life. There are things you can do to curb this, for example installing a chicken run and using mesh to cover your gardens, but you should be prepared for some destruction when your chickens are free. I just ordered this book all about creating gardens to co-exist with chickens. But at the end of the day, I would rather see happy chickens than to have a perfect yard.

9. You don’t need a rooster. Hens will lay eggs with or without a rooster, without a rooster the eggs just won’t be fertilized so there won’t be babies. Some towns won’t allow roosters at all because they are quite noisy. They can also be very aggressive, as compared with hens which are very laid back.

10. Chicken personalities vary. As I just mentioned, chickens are laid back, but it’s important to know that they all have unique personalities. In our flock of 4 girls, we have one really sweet, loving girl who behaves like a dog in that she loves to be held and pet. And then our other 3 girls are pretty shy. Two will let you pet them occasionally and one is completely skittish and won’t let anyone near her. They were all raised together, so it’s really just their breeds/temperaments that make them so different. We also noticed that they each got a lot friendlier once they reached sexual maturity.

Chicken Keeping for Beginners

Chicken Keeping for Beginners

Chicken Keeping for Beginners

Chicken Keeping for Beginners

Chicken Keeping for Beginners

Chicken Keeping for Beginners

Chicken Keeping for Beginners

Chicken Keeping for Beginners

Chicken Keeping for Beginners

Chicken Keeping for Beginners

That’s it for this post on chicken keeping. If you have any specific questions or any of your own tips, be sure to put them in the comments.

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