I finally got my act together and turned my computer on to finish editing and updating this post. It’s a big one because there is so much that goes into raising chickens. There are entire websites dedicated to raising chickens and I’ve tried to get a small amount of each thing you’d want to consider if you were to try raising your own.
I have experience with this one. Almost. We had some chickens growing up which I helped out with so I’ve done some of the basic things like feeding them and culling them. My dad usually keeps them through one winter. He buys in the spring, and then culls in the fall a year and a half later. He says they start to slow down with laying after 2 years and it isn’t worth the price of feed.
My dad has moved a few times and still has the original coop from when I was a kid. He built it on 6” x 6” skids to transport it when needed. He has the skids just the right distance apart so they fit between the wheel wells of his trailer.
Zoning is very strange where I live. Each house on our street has a different zoning and it’s not clear when the last time the zones were updated. We have a place that would be perfect for chickens. It’s in clear view of the house but far enough away that any potential smell or noise would not bother anyone. But I’m sure though that if we managed to figure out the correct ordinances that allowed us to have them, the person who owns the property next to us would do something to try to stop us.
Planning The Coop
As a general rule of thumb, one chicken needs 3 to 4 square feet of space in the coop. Unless you plan to coop them all the time, then you would need at least 10 feet each. Depending on how big the coop is you’ll want at least one door for yourself to get into the coop. You’ll also want a small door for the chickens to use. Their door should be about 8 inches with and 12 inches tall. If you make it wider, they can pass each other if one decides it wants to sit in the doorway.
Your chickens will get sick easily if there’s no light and they need proper ventilation, not only so they can breathe easily and to reduce smells, but to help with temperature management. Make sure you have some windows and vents that you can open and close easily.
For every 2 hens you have, you should have at least 1 nesting box. This is where they will lay their eggs and it should be about a 1 foot cube. Though I have seen them in rectangular shapes, the only dimensions I’ve seen have been 1 foot cubes. These should be about 1 or 2 feet off the ground. I saw someone who had used AstroTurf for the bottoms so it was easy to collect the eggs and clean the boxes. It’s something I’ll consider if I am ever able to get chickens.
Obviously you’ll need a feeder and waterer. I’ll go over these later on.
If you don’t plan on letting your chickens free range, or if you don’t want them to always be free ranging, you’ll want to build them a run. It’s just an outdoor fenced area where your chickens can stretch their legs and scavenge for food. This is usually where my dad’s chickens get food scraps thrown to them. I haven’t really seen any standard recommended sizes for this but I would guess that as long as the total indoor and outdoor space for each chicken is at least 10 square feet it will probably be good.
Although not required, you may want to put some lighting inside the coop. It will help if you need to check on a sound in the coop at night and in the winter warm lights can help boost egg production.
Feeding And Watering
If you use a bowl to water your chicken, they’re going to flip it over. You’ll want to get a chicken waterer instead. Make sure you get one that is big enough, but not too big, for the amount of chickens you have. For every 4 chickens you have, you should have 1 quart of water available. And you should be changing the water out every day to ensure it is clean. You may also want to look into some of the methods of preventing freezing if you live in a colder climate.
The chicken feeder you select needs to be large to hold a day’s worth of feed. Each chicken should have about 1/3 pound of feed each day. If they are free ranged they can have less. They’ll let you know if there is too much by not eating it all.
In addition to a commercial pre-mix chicken feed, there are many other things you can use to save money feeding them. You can grow your own vegetables specifically for them. Or you can grow vegetables for yourself and give them the scraps from preparing food. In fact, most food scraps (from natural, not manufactured foods) can be eaten by chickens.
You can also grow sunflowers for them. The entire flower can be thrown right in to them. While weeding your garden or lawn, you can throw all the weeds into a bucket and dump it into the chicken run. And if you’ve got some more buckets, you can grow sprouts in them. Just get some grains and soak it in water for a day. A couple days later they’ll have sprouted and can be thrown into the run.
Another thing that I will most likely try if I get chickens would be growing meal worms. They’re very high in protein and as long as you are consistent they are relatively easy to farm. There are lots of tutorials online for building a mealworm farm, including a couple who have put theirs right in their living rooms.
In order for your chickens to have healthy, strong shells on their eggs you need to make sure they are getting calcium. You can save the shells from their eggs and crush them up to mix in with their feed. A good estimate for how much to mix in is about 1 pound of crushed shells for every 100 pounds of feed. You can also give them calcium by mixing in crushed oyster shells, which should be available wherever you buy your feed.
Since chickens don’t have teeth they can’t chew their food. You’ll want to provide them with grit to help them break down and digest easily.
Deep Litter Method
I’ve been hearing a lot about this over the past few months. It seems like every time someone builds a coop they do so with the intent of using the deep litter method. It makes it so that, although you do need to tend to the coop every day, you only need to take old litter out once or twice a year. If you want to use this method, you will want to make sure any doors are a foot up from the floor so litter doesn’t fall out.
Start by putting 3 to 4 inches of clean litter on the floor of the coop. Each week you will add a thin layer of litter on top of the old litter. You can then mix it up with a rake, or throw some food scraps down and let the chickens stir it for you. Regardless of whether you plan on having the chickens stir it for you or not, make sure you check regularly for any clumps of feces and break them up with a rake if you need to. You don’t want the moisture to accumulate and cause problems.
After about a year there will be 8 to 12 inches of litter. This is when you want to clean it all out and put down a new 3 to 4 inch layer of clean littler. I’ve seen some people suggest that you leave a small amount of the old litter so the beneficial microbes can give the new litter a jump start. The old litter can then be used for compost.
Where I am, almost everything is a predator for chickens. We have coyotes, raccoon, foxes, stray cats, weasels, hawks, eagles, opossums, skunks, and snakes. In fact, there was a big fat opossum loafing around the back yard last summer right where I would want the coop, as well as all the cats that live in the woods. These are some things you can do to help protect your chickens.
The first thing you’ll want to do is bury wire mesh 2 to 4 feet deep around the perimeter of your coop and run. Then you’ll want to try to get the coop off the ground by 1 or 2 feet to deter snakes and skunks from making a home beneath it. You’ll also want to fully enclose the run, including the top. Hawks are pretty fast when they come down for food and you’ve got plenty of it in a small place for them. You may also want to put a couple strands of electric fencing around the run to keep the animals on the ground away.
Cover any opening in the coop greater than 1/4 inch with a fine wire mesh. Chicken wire will keep chickens in, but hardware mesh will keep predators out. And install locks requiring multiple steps to unlatch. Raccoons are very intelligent animals and they will figure out your latches. Keep grass and brush cut short near the coop so there are less places for things to hide and live nearby.
Check regularly for access holes caused by broken or rotting wood. Also check for any food scraps that may not be eaten. Rats can move in if they start finding food scraps and then it’s only a matter of time before they start eating eggs. A motion sensor light can also help scare predators at night.
Chores, Chores, And More Chores
Each morning, you’ll want to feed and water the chickens. Wash the waterer so they have clean water every day. Let them out so they can walk around and scavenge, whether it’s in their run or in your yard. Just keep an eye on them at all times when they are out. Check the weather to see if they’ll need to go back in early so you can plan ahead. Check the litter to see if anything needs to be stirred. Also check each chicken for any scratches or other health concerns.
In the afternoon you’ll want to collect any eggs from the nesting boxes. Make sure there are no broken eggs anywhere in the coop. If your chickens start to eat broken eggs they may start breaking their own eggs to have more. If you have anything like straw or wood shavings that you put in the nesting boxes, make sure there is enough. If there are any food scraps from the day make sure they go into the run with enough time for the girls to eat them.
Finally, every evening make sure all the chickens are back in the coop and locked up before it gets dark. All the things that can see better in the dark than you will start looking for a meal so don’t let it be your chickens.
Each week make sure you clean the coop and replace any straw or wood shavings being used. If you are using the deep litter method make sure you add another layer of litter. Check any supplements you give your chickens such as oyster shells or grits so they always have enough. Then clean the run. The chickens won’t be picky about where they poop so there will be some outside to rake up.
Make sure you are also regularly stocking up on supplies. The worst time to find out you need feed for your chickens is when you need to feed them and the store is closed or an hour away. Inspect and repair any damage to the coop and run regularly so little issues don’t become big problems. If you need to do anything to get it ready for winter or summer make sure you give yourself enough time to do so.
I had already mentioned checking your chickens every day for health issues. I wanted to address what I’ve found to be the two worst ones. We’ve never had to deal with these with my dad’s chickens but is they happen they can be very dangerous.
The first is Bumblefoot, which is a foot infection that can lead to death. It starts out as just a scratch on the foot but if gone untreated will spread through the body. Scratches can be caused by splinters or sharp objects so make sure you regularly check for things they can hurt their feet on. Their feet can also get damaged if they fall from too high up so try to keep most things low for them.
One sign of infection is limping. Bumblefoot is very painful for the chicken to walk on. The first noticeable signs on the foot are sores or swollen feet. If it gets to this point you need to act fast to save the chicken.
There are tutorials online and it is definitely possible to treat at home if needed but it’s best to have a good vet you can bring it to. Signs that it may be too late to save and if the chicken is constantly fatigued and has little or no appetite.
The second major health concern is Flystrike. This isn’t something that only happens with chickens. Many farm animals can suffer from this. It is caused by a buildup of feces on the animal’s rear. This attracts flies, which lay their eggs. After hatching, the maggots begin eating the flesh of the animal. Make sure your chickens are clean. A damp cloth should be enough to clean them off to prevent flystrike. If it does occur, consult a veterinarian immediately.
A Couple Of Personal Preferences
There are many different types of chickens to choose from. If I were to get some I would want Golden Comets. They are very hardy in cold weather, which is good with the winters in my area getting colder every year. They lay about 250 to 300 eggs per year which is almost an egg a day so I would only need a few of them. They are also gentle and quiet so there would not be much need for concern in my current neighborhood. They tend to weigh about 5 to 8 pound and start laying eggs at 15 weeks of age.
I love spreadsheets so I like to keep track of things. I would want to make sure I’m getting my money’s worth and not spending a ridiculous amount for a few eggs, so I would keep track of some things each in a big spreadsheet.
I would keep track of how much food I buy, how often, and how much it costs. Then I would track how much food is being used each day compared to the number of hens being fed. I’d want to track how much each hen weighs to compare how much food each is eating and how many eggs I’d be getting each day.
Although I would plan on having the chickens for personal production, not to sell, if I ever did decide to sell eggs I would want to track how many I sell each week and the price. The same goes for if I sold their meat. I would want to know how much meat I was able to sell and for how much.
Disclaimer: Although I have done a significant amount of research before preparing this post, I am not an expert on this subject. My intent is to help people who may be interested find some more information. If you decide you would like to try this yourself, please do some additional research and use common sense.