Time flies when you get caught up in researching poultry breeds, admiring ombre egg collections and perusing chicken coop blueprints. But if you’ve ever found yourself lost in a rabbit trail of chicken articles, take heart knowing you aren’t alone. Backyard chickens make delightful additions and are growing in popularity across the country.
Whether you want to bring home a couple of chirping chicks to live in the garden or you’re interested in ordering a larger quantity to produce fresh eggs for the whole family, you’ve come to the right place. This how-to guide on raising backyard chickens is a great starting point for you to begin planning your poultry dreams.
Determine How Much Space You Have
Chickens are naturally social animals, which means you need to plan for a bare minimum of two to three birds. But before you start making your wish list, determine how much available space you have.
It may sound exciting to have a bird of every color, but chickens need room to spread their wings. The University of Missouri Extension recommends having at least 3 square feet of coop space and 8 to 10 square feet of outdoor space per one medium-sized bird.
See more: Backyard Chickens: Try Before You Buy
Choose the Right Breed
From the speckled Sussex to the Rhode Island Red, there are dozens of chicken breeds to consider when it’s time to order your birds. Some of the most popular breeds for beginners include Orpingtons, Easter Eggers, Plymouth Rocks and Wyandottes.
Research each breed before making any decisions. Some are better for meat while others are best for egg production. You can also learn a lot about the temperament and noise level of each breed, which is good to know if you live in a suburban area.
Prepare a Brooder Box
Most people order chicks online or from the local farm store. Unless you purchased full-grown birds, you’ll need a brooder box, bedding, food, water and a heat lamp to keep your new pets warm and happy for the first few weeks of their life. Be sure to clean the brooder box, feeder and waterer regularly to avoid any health issues among your flock.
Place your brooder in a place that is free from predators. Many people keep theirs in the house until the chicks are big enough to go outside. If you go this route, avoid placing them in a bedroom, kitchen or dining room. Even though chicks are small, they can make a mess with shavings.
Build or Buy a Chicken Coop
Chicken coops come in all shapes, sizes and prices. They don’t need to be complicated, but they do need to provide your birds with a warm, comfortable shelter from the weather and natural predators. Snakes, foxes and raccoons are some of the many wild animals that are known for attacking backyard chickens.
Having a sturdy and secure coop is essential for keeping your birds safe. Do your research on how to best protect the animals in your care prior to bringing them home.
Transition the Birds Outside
Once the chicks are old enough to make the leap to the outdoor coop, you can begin the transition process. It’s best to make the transition slowly, starting with an hour or two in their new home and slowly increasing the time until they are fully acclimated.
Some people like to utilize a small, confined chicken run during this time, while others prefer to give their birds time to adjust to life in the coop before opening the door and allowing them to access the yard.
See more: 10 Incredible Farm Facts About Eggs
Prepare for Eggs
Your morning chores are about to get a lot more exciting once your chickens are around 6 months old. That is about the time you can expect to start finding eggs in the nesting boxes. Chickens can lay every single day, so be sure to check the coop (and maybe even around the garden) on a daily basis to make sure you collect them all.