Have you ever tried truly fresh food? Like vegetables picked from the garden, or fish cooked minutes after it’s caught?
If so, you know how much tastier – and nourishing – fresh food is than grocery store products that have been sitting there for weeks. And eggs are no exception to this! There is a world of difference between farm fresh eggs and factory farm eggs.
There is something romantic and tactile about cooking food that you produced in your own backyard. If you’ve dreamt of collecting eggs from your hens in the morning and feeling more connected to your food, we have good news for you. While you need to do your research to keep them safe and healthy, they are easier to take care of than you may think.
In the last couple of years, many people took advantage of more time spent at home due to the pandemic and got backyard chickens. It’s easy to see why- chickens don’t actually require a tremendous amount of space, so you can raise chickens even with a modest outdoor area.
And while backyard chickens are great for providing healthy eggs, fighting pests, and garden fertilizer, they also make great pets. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy their unique personalities and how they become part of the family.
So should you get backyard chickens? Heck yes! Here’s why:
7 Reasons to Get Your Own Chickens
Sustainable and Delicious Fresh Eggs
Of course, the most obvious reason to get backyard chickens is to enjoy the farm fresh eggs. If you aim to eat local, it’s hard to get more local than your own backyard!
The difference in taste and nutrition between organic, high-quality free-range eggs and industrially farmed eggs is significant. Farm-fresh eggs have less saturated fat and cholesterol than factory farm eggs. And with 25% more vitamin E, 75% more beta carotene, and 20 times more omega-three fats, you get more nutritional value. You will be amazed at the difference and once you eat pasture-raised eggs, you’ll never go back.
Plus, with your own backyard chickens, you know how the animals were raised and treated. You know you’re avoiding antibiotics and other unwanted treatments factory-farmed chickens go under.
Fun and Educational Hobby
Caring for your own hens is a highly rewarding and enjoyable hobby. And if you have kids, caring for your own brood is a wonderful learning opportunity for them. Being responsible for animals and producing their own food is a great experience that many kids miss out on. Plus, kids love working with their hands and chasing chickens around the yard!
Many people think chickens are stupid, but in fact, they are intelligent animals with unique and funny personalities. Did you know that hens sing in celebration after they lay an egg? It doesn’t get much cuter than that. Hens will keep you entertained with their vibrant colors and quirky behavior.
Chickens make excellent and safe family pets, and caring for your hens and collecting eggs is a great family activity that everyone can be involved in. Don’t be surprised when you find yourself loving your hens like you would any other pet!
Connection To Your Food
Raising chickens is an incredible way to feel connected to your food. The morning ritual of collecting eggs and checking on your hens is grounding and calming. The more connected to your food you feel, the more likely you are to make nourishing choices that are good for you and the planet.
Raising free-range backyard chickens may connect you to your community, too. You can trade your eggs for a neighbor’s garden-grown vegetables, or start your own neighborhood food sharing program. Forming these real-world connections centered on nutritious food is a wonderful way to integrate into your community.
And, let’s face it- food just seems to taste better when you participated in its creation.
Did you know that chickens are great for keeping pests away? Chickens love insects like flies and mosquitos and help control pest invasions.
Plus, insects are an excellent food source for chickens, so they’ll also improve the nutrition content of the eggs they produce. It’s a win-win!
High-Quality Garden Fertilizer
If you’re a gardener, you know how expensive fertilizer can get. Luckily chicken manure is actually one of the best natural fertilizers out there, especially if you add some of your hen house bedding to it.
You can keep your fertilizer for your own garden, give it away to local farmers, trade it for other local foods, or even sell it.
Reduce Food Waste
Another perk of chickens? Cut down on your compost pile! Hens love food scraps, and feeding scraps not only reduces your food waste, but it also offers them more diversity in their diet.
Certain vegetables, fruit and vegetable peels, small amounts of pasta, and rice can all be given to hens in the form of a boiled mash (just make sure it cools down before you give it to them).
But hens can’t eat everything! These foods are off-limits:
- Raw potato, including their sprouts and peel
- Raw egg
- Unripe tomatoes
- Fruit pits
- Apple seeds
- Butter and other high-fat foods like oil
- Coffee grounds
Any gardener understands the value of free weeding services, and chickens are excellent garden clearers. If you have a weedy area of your yard or garden, let the chickens loose and watch at how they scrape and uproot these areas.
Having a portable fenced outdoor area for your chickens can be a great way to move them to different areas of your yard needing weeding; rotating their position helps keep both your yard and chickens healthy.
Getting Started With Backyard Hens
Ready to dive into hen ownership? Here are the things you need to keep in mind.
Check Your Bylaws
The first thing you’ll want to do is check your local bylaws. Ensure that your municipality allows backyard birds and if they have any restrictions. Some areas do not allow roosters or unvaccinated birds; others require licenses to sell eggs and permits to build a chicken coop.
What Breed Should I Get?
There are dozens of types of chicken breeds and egg production, sizes, and upkeep varies between each one. When choosing the right breed for your needs, consider:
- Climate: Some breeds do not cope well with humid, hot, or cold temperatures. Choose a breed that is suitable for your climate.
- Size: What size is best suited to your space?
- Lifespan and Egg Production: Lifespan varies between the breeds, and some produce more eggs than others and for a longer period throughout their life.
- Seasonal Laying: Chickens lay eggs depending on how much light they’re exposed to, so most chickens lay fewer eggs in winter. But some chickens lay eggs year-round while others take breaks while they molt (shed their feathers and grow new ones) in the winters. By choosing a breed known to lay year-round, you’re more likely to be collecting even through the darker months.
- Disposition: Some chickens are friendly and enjoy interacting with their owners while others prefer to keep their distance. If you want to handle your chickens and develop a closer relationship with them, consider choosing a friendlier bird.
- Noise: Some breeds are very talkative, so if you have neighbors in close proximity, it’s better to choose a quieter breed.
- Meat producers versus egg producers: Some breeds are known for producing meat instead of eggs. These breeds have shorter lives, so choose a breed meant for egg-laying.
Common Egg-producing Breeds Pros and Cons
Rhode Island Red
Rhode Island Reds are a large breed with a lovely reddish-brown color.
- High producers, with the average hen laying 5-6 eggs a week, even through the winter
- Excellent beginner birds
- Independent, requiring little maintenance
- Friendly to humans, including children
- Good lifespan, 5-8 years
- Can be more expensive in some areas
- Can be pushy and aggressive with other smaller chicken breeds
Leghorns are bright white chickens that are fairly low maintenance and suitable for first-time chicken owners.
- High producers, with the average hen laying 5-6 eggs a week, even through the winter
- Good beginner birds
- Calm and easygoing
- Prefer distance from humans; do not enjoy being handled
- Shorter life span, 4-6 years
Australorps are best known for their high egg production and quirky personalities.
- High producers, with the average hen laying 4-6 eggs a week, even through the winter
- Beautiful green and black coloring
- Friendly personality
- Good beginner birds
- Lay eggs throughout the winter with the right housing
- Good lifespan, 6-10 years
- Are louder than other chicken breeds
With its beautiful black and white pattern and friendly disposition, this breed is an attractive choice for first-time chicken owners.
- Decent production, with the average hen laying 3-5 eggs a week
- Good beginner birds
- Longer lifespan, 10-12 years
- Friendly and easygoing
- Lays smaller eggs
- Prefer a larger area
- May not lay eggs in winter
Bantams are a smaller breed known for their independence and consistent egg production.
- Hardy breed
- Smaller size that can thrive in smaller spaces
- Good egg production
- Less destructive to garden crops than some other breeds
- Laidback personalities
- Do not enjoy human contact
- Small to medium egg size
Need Guidance on Choosing the Right Breed?
Unsure of where to start? Call your local hatchery or farm supply store and they should be able to point you in the right direction. By speaking with local chicken owners you can learn about breeds that are well suited to your local climate.
How Many Chickens Should I Get?
Chickens are social animals who should not be left on their own. You should have at least two birds, and ideally five or more. In terms of egg production, the rule of thumb is two to three chickens per family member, or more if you eat a lot of eggs or wish to give eggs away.
You’ll also want to consider the size of your yard; 3-4 square feet per chicken is a great starting point. If your chickens have free range access to an outdoor area at least ten feet long, you can have a smaller hen house with just 2 square feet per bird.
Of course, these numbers also depend on the breed of chicken you choose- if you choose a larger breed like a Rhode Island Red, you will need more room than for a small breed like a Bantam.
Chicks or Adults?
One thing to keep in mind is that it’s not usually possible to know the gender of chickens until they are older than a few weeks old at the minimum. For that reason, it’s better to choose adult birds than baby chicks.
Adult birds are more expensive, but for a first-time chicken owner, it can be worth it to avoid rehoming birds later. While adults may not be quite as cute as the fluffy little chicks, you avoid the heartache and hassle of having to rehome roosters later!
How Long Do Chickens Live and Produce Eggs?
The lifespan of chickens can vary quite a bit depending on their breed. Generally, chickens live between 5 and 10 years, and their prime egg-laying years are between 6 months old to 3 years old. They will still lay eggs after that, but likely at reduced capacity.
Can You Eat Your Chickens?
Most people with backyard chickens keep them for their eggs, not their meat. But once your chickens are old and no longer producing eggs, can you slaughter them for their meat?
You certainly can, although beyond 8 months old, chicken meat is often considered to taste unpleasant. It may taste “gamey” and tough. For that reason, meat chickens are typically slaughtered between 4-7 weeks old and do not produce eggs.
Once you’ve decided on the number and type of birds you want, the next step is building a safe shelter for your chickens.
Choosing the Right Chicken Coop
Having the right hen house is essential to the survival and happiness of your brood. Here’s what you need to consider when choosing the right one for you.
Chicken Coop Size
Avoid the temptation to save cash and build a tiny coop. A too-small coop can cause problems in your brood, such as:
- Aggressive behavior: chickens confined to too-small areas will resort to excessive pecking and other aggressive behaviors. Having a large enough coup means they do not need to compete for resources and will get along better. If aggressive behavior starts, it can spread to the rest of the brood and cause hostile conditions.
- High ammonia levels: In a too-small coop, manure and urine will build up much faster. This causes excessive ammonia levels that threaten the air quality and the health of your chickens. Keep the floor of your coop clean and dry to prevent ammonia buildup and improve the health of your chickens.
- Reduced egg production: When hens lack enough resources, they will become stressed and fail to produce eggs at their maximum capacity.
On the other hand, a too-large coop can cause problems too:
- Takes longer to clean
- In winter, they will either be too cold or you will spend more on heating
Chicken Coop Features
Your chicken coop should have:
- Nesting boxes, at least 1 for every 3 hens
- Food and water area
- Perch/roost (where the hens sleep at night)
- Pop door
- Attached run
An attached storage area is also great to have, and it should be easy to access so you can clean it regularly.
Chicken Coops: To Buy or to Build?
You can either buy a pre-built chicken coop or build one yourself. Buying one is, of course, convenient and can be a good option, although transporting the chicken coop to your yard can be tricky if you don’t have a truck.
We recommend buying a chicken coop plan and building it yourself. It is highly rewarding to participate in the process and work with your hands, and it has the added bonus of being able to make any modifications to the plan you need to suit your space.
→ Check out our downloadable chicken coop plans here, and don’t forget to check out our gallery with different ways people have customized our design!
We want you to find the right fit for your lifestyle, so if you’re unsatisfied with the design, we’ll refund your money- no questions asked.
How Do I Care For Backyard Chickens?
Plan a Quality Diet
Talk to your farm supply store about choosing a high-quality feed for your birds. Omega-three fats, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and digestive enzymes are common additives that increase the nutritional density of the food.
If your chicks are vaccinated from coccidia, you can give non-medicated feed; if they are unvaccinated you should give feed medicated with a coccidiostat to prevent illness.
But if their feed gets contaminated with manure, it’s unusable anyway, so ensure you use a well-designed feeder that doesn’t fill with manure and bedding too quickly.
Give Them Grit
Chickens evolved to eat small pebbles or other hard substances, or ‘grit’, as a way to break up other foods in their stomach. Without chewing a hard substance, they cannot digest most foods properly.
Keeping some form of grit, like crushed oyster shells, ensures your chickens stay healthy. You can find grit at any farm supply store.
Protect Them From Predators
The right chicken coop will help protect your hens from predators like hawks and foxes. If you let your chickens run free-range in your yard, ensure you keep them in their coop at night and have sturdy fencing.
Offer A Dust Bath Station
Hens like to roll around in the dust and coat themselves from head to toe. It looks a bit funny, but these dust baths help hens get rid of excess oil on their feathers, preen their feathers, and prevent parasites from latching. Providing them with a patch of dust or mulch will keep them happy and healthy!
Make Molting Comfortable
Chickens replace their feathers in the winters, otherwise known as molting. During this period they need a warm place and a little extra protein in their diets to thrive.
Chickens drink about a cup of water a day each. It can be tough to keep their feeder clean because they spend their days scratching the earth all day, kicking up shavings, feathers, droppings, and old food that get caught in waterers. To prevent this, raise the water founts and change the water often.
Pick up some chicken bedding from your local farm supply store suitable for your climate. You want to keep the floor dry and clean, changing the bedding once it gets wet.
Keep It Clean
Chickens are messy animals and keeping their coop dry and clean is a daily task. Sanitize your feeder and waterer a couple of times a week. Keeping cleanliness top of mind prevents unwanted health problems and keeps your birds- and their eggs- healthier.
Chickens will sometimes eat their own eggs, called ‘egg-pecking’. Once the habit starts, it is difficult to break and can spread amongst the brood fast cutting into your egg yield. Ensure your hens’ diets include calcium and grit so they are not seeking calcium in their eggshells.
You can also put a ‘dummy’ egg into the nesting box like a golf ball which will deter the chicken from egg pecking and break the habit.
Establish a Routine
Every morning, let the chickens out of the coop, check their food and water, change their bedding if necessary, and check that they look healthy. You can collect the eggs now or in the evening. At night, put the hens in the coop and collect any eggs.
Plan For Holidays
Who will care for your hens when you’re on holiday? Line up a trusted friend or farm sitter to check on your chickens daily when you’re unable to do it now, so you’re not scrambling (no pun intended!) to find someone down the road.
Imagine serving up fresh omelets at your next brunch cooked with eggs laid fresh that morning. Nothing beats the feeling of eating your own backyard eggs from hens that you love, and with the right setup, getting your own backyard chickens is a wonderful way to feel more connected to your food.
Chickens are awesome pets that will brighten your day and give you a fun new hobby. Ready to get started? Download our customizable chicken coop plans here!