Guide to Owning Chickens

There are several things you need to keep in mind if you’re wanting to learn how to raise chickens. How big of a flock are you wanting? What breed of chicken would suit your needs best? Will you be eating eggs and meat or just eggs? Should you get a rooster? What about a chicken coop? What do you feed chickens? The list goes on.. In this guide to owning chickens you’ll learn the answers to all of those questions and more! Having chickens is a fun and rewarding project. But, just like with anything else in life, you need to be prepared.

Silkie chickens at Merry Meadows Farm
Silkie chickens at Merry Meadows Farm

Sizing Your Flock

Are you wanting enough chickens to get eggs for you and your family? Or maybe you want to start a small chicken farm and get both eggs and meat. Sizing your flock is the first step you need to take before you go buy some chickens or even build the coop. It also depends on what your budget is for feed. As this can add up very fast if you have a large flock.

Having 5-10 chickens is plenty to feed a family with eggs and they won’t take up a lot of space. If you’re wanting something more productive then have a plan on what to do with your eggs! Depending on the breed you have, you could be getting eggs from each chicken every day. So, if you have 20 chickens are you prepared to eat 20 eggs every day? Now, you could sell the extra eggs you get and that could fund your chicken’s feed and upkeep costs. Farm fresh eggs can sell for over $5 dozen in some communities.

Should I Get a Rooster

Depending on where you live, having a rooster could actually be against your city or county laws. Not everyone wants to deal with hearing a rooster crow every morning. And if you’re in a community where your neighbors are close to you, they will hear it. So, make sure to check with your local laws and with your neighbors before getting one of these beautiful birds.

Rooster at Merry Meadows Farm
One of our roosters at Merry Meadows Farm.

But if you want to breed chickens, having one is vital. And fertilized eggs are really good for you and taste great! However, if you aren’t going to be breeding, then roosters aren’t necessary.

Picking the Right Breed(s)

There are so many breeds of chickens that it can be difficult picking which breed is right for you. Luckily there are many different breeds of chickens that get along. So your flock can have some diversity. Maybe you want chickens that look cool or different like a Silkie. Maybe you want chickens that will lay you different colored eggs, like ameraucana chickens.

Baby Chickens at Merry Meadows Farm
Our baby ameraucana chicks at Merry Meadows Farm.

When learning how to raise chickens you need to also learn what the right chicken breed is right for you. Think about why you want chickens. If you are raising chickens mainly for eggs, then you’ll want a breed that will be a productive layer. Or you could be wanting to raise the chicken for meat and eggs. Then you’ll want to make sure you get a chicken breed that is “dual-purpose”. Meaning the chicken will be a good layer and at the same time it will be good to eat.

Some good beginner chicken breeds are Road Island Reds, Silkies, Buff Orpingtons, Brahmas, Barred Rocks and the Speckled Sussex. All of these breeds of chicken are easier to raise and are great producers. Helping you have a successful flock the first time.

The Chicken Coop

The most important part of having chickens is having a well made chicken coop. The chicken coop is where your chickens will sleep, eat, drink and lay eggs. So making this area as safe as possible for the chickens is the goal. Predators will come for the chickens and their eggs. And if your coop isn’t built with this in mind you could lose your whole flock in one night.

example of a well built chicken coop.
Example of a good chicken coop.

To help make a coop predator proof you need to make sure nothing can get in or out of the coop. Make sure the entry door is secure and doesn’t have any gaps around it. It’s also a good idea to have your chicken wire walls be buried under ground at least 1 foot deep. This helps discourage predators like foxes and coyotes from digging under the fence of your coop and eating all you chickens!

There are two main areas of a chicken coop. There’s the laying baskets, this is where your hens will lay eggs and brood. Then there is the chicken run. The run is the main part of their housing. It’s basically like their living room. It’s where the chickens can scratch, eat, drink and play. Usually you’ll have roosts in this area too. Giving a place for the chickens to climb up on and roost.

Should I Let My Chickens Free Range?

Not everyone can do this, but it is nice to have your chickens be free range. You can let your chickens go out of the coop during the day and be free on your property. Having your chickens be free range is not only good for them, it’s great for the land! This will give your chickens the opportunity to eat bugs and pests like snails, slugs, beetles and more. As the chickens scratch the ground for bugs they will be naturally tilling your land. And the chicken’s poop is an amazing fertilizer.

However, you will have to watch out for the chickens eating your veggies.. If your chickens are free range it’s a good idea to keep a small fence around your garden area. Also, it can prove difficult sometimes to get your chickens back into their coop at night. Some of your chickens might try and sleep in the lower branches of trees nearby. If you bring your chickens in and notice that some are missing, just check up in the trees. You can then take them into the coop from the trees. If you leave them in the trees over night they are extremely vulnerable to predators, and they might not make it until morning.

What About Chicken Tractors?

Chicken tractors are small portable chicken coops with an enclosed run. This allows you to move your chickens around on your property while still keeping them contained. It’s the perfect way to have your chickens eat the bugs and grass without letting them around your crops. Every few days you move the chicken tractor a small amount. After a while your chickens will have mowed and tilled your whole property!

Chicken tractor.
A chicken tractor with chickens in it.

You can build your own chicken tractor for fairly cheap and even from recycled materials. But of course, there are plenty of pre-built options. You can find these at your local farm supply store or even on Amazon!

Choosing the Right Chicken Feed

When you go to the feed or pet store, you can be overwhelmed by the choices of chicken feed. What goes into your chickens will affect what comes out. Since you’ll be eating either the chickens themselves or their eggs, this is an important factor to keep in mind. Remember, the chicken meat and eggs are only organic if you feed your chickens organic feed.

There’s your basic feed, layers feed and chick starter feed. Your basic feed gives your chickens the basic nutrients that they need to live a healthy life. The layers feed has extra calcium and protein to help egg production. And the chick starter feed has the right nutrients and antibiotics to help keep baby chicks healthy and happy. And its individual food pieces are smaller, almost the consistency of dust. This makes it easier for the tiny chicks to digest the feed.

What About Chicken Scratch?

Chicken scratch is a blend of corn and seed and sometimes grains. Scratch doesn’t provide enough nutrients on its own for the chicken to survive on. You should spread the feed out on the ground in your chicken coop, or wherever your chicken’s spend most of their time. All of your chickens will run over as quickly as they can and start scratching at it. Hence the name “scratch”. Chicken scratch is fed to chickens periodically, not daily like the feed. Although you can feed them very day, scratch is more of a treat for them and not a daily necessity.

Can You Give Chickens Treats?

Treats are something that the chickens don’t get often and something they enjoy. There are plenty of treats you can feed you chickens. Corn on the cob is a great treat for chickens. My chickens will eat it all the way down to the cob in no time! I love hanging pumpkins and squash by a string in their coop. All my chickens will jump up and hit the gourds like a piñata!

Chickens are omnivores, and therefore love meat as much as they love plants. Mealworms are a great source of protein and the chicken absolutely love them! Mealworms are available at most feed stores, you can purchase them online or even farm them yourself! Some people even feed there chickens mice. All chicken have their own personal taste pallet. For example, some of my chickens will fight each other over a snail. Where the other chickens couldn’t care less about them. So, try different treats until you find something that all your chickens love.

Chicken Feeding Systems

Feeding systems are very important when it comes to raising chickens. Your feeding system needs to be easy and efficient while still being able to keep out pests like mice. You could just have a food dish that you replenish every day. Or there are feeding buckets that you can fill. As the chickens eat from the bucket the food trickles out keeping them fed for up to several days.

There are also plenty of DIY options for chicken feeders. You can build a feeder out of old materials you might have laying around your property; like old gutters. There are endless possibilities when it comes to building one of the feeders. Some people that like to engineer things will even put an automatic timer on their feeders!

A free range chicken at Merry Meadows Farm
A free range hen at Merry Meadows Farm.

Chicken Watering Systems

There are many options for different watering systems. You could have a hose that connects to you watering system and you just turn on the hose every few days or as needed. Chickens will want to get into their water bowl, so try not to have something that is “open” on the top. Otherwise, the chickens will poop in their own water. That can lead to diseases that could take out your whole flock.

The watering system I always go for is these little red “dishes” that have a small yellow tab inside. When the chickens peck at the yellow tab it releases water into the dish. You can install these watering dishes either onto a PVC pipe or into the bottom sides of a 5 gallon bucket. There are extremely easy to install. Just drill a hole and wrap the screw end of the watering dish with Teflon tape. Then you just screw the dish into the hole, that’s it! I have multiple 5 gallon watering buckets with 5 dishes each, in my coop for 25 chickens.

Time To Start Owning Chickens!

Now that you’ve decided on what size flock you need. And all the other things that come with learning how to raise chickens. It’s time to get your chicken project started! Once the coop is built, head on down to your local feed store, Tractor Supply (or Craigslist) and get some chicks.

If you start out with babies then it will take a while for them to mature and start laying eggs. You could get “pullets” or teenage chickens and this will make the time-frame a little shorter. And if you don’t want any roosters, the best best is getting DNA sexed chicks from a breeder. Or you can get a sex-link chicken breed. With these breeds, the hens and roosters are born different colors, so they are easily sexed from birth.

That’s all you’ll need to know from our guide to owning chickens. We hope you plan your perfect home for your new feathered friends. And remember, it’s a learning experience. The longer you are around chickens the more you’ll understand them and their behaviors. Best of luck with your chicken adventures!

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