Are you ready to live the homesteader life and become the proud owner of backyard chickens? Backyard chickens offer a wide variety of benefits for any homesteader, from fresh eggs, to natural pest control and fertilizer, to the companionship and relaxation of caring for animals. In this post I'll share the benefits of keeping chickens in your backyard, the basics of setting up a safe and healthy environment for them, and some tips on how to best care for chickens and get the most out of owning them. So get ready, because in no time you'll be enjoying the many rewards of having your own backyard flock. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I'd own chickens. Now, I can easily say, I would not want to be without them. For us, egg laying hens have more pros than cons. Follow us along on Getting Backyard Chickens and our beginner's adventure. Maybe you'll decide they're a good fit for your needs as well.
First Time Owners
We started our backyard chicken adventure with 13 chicks in 2018. Our initial flock consisted of 2 sweet Easter Eggers given to us by a family friend. They had apparently gotten a couple too many chickens due to local ordinances for the area they lived in, so we took them off their hands happily. We then placed an order a couple weeks later for 10 day-old chicks from a local hatchery. Since a hatchery sends live poultry via mail order, they shipped them for our local post-office for pick up the next day. They threw in an extra baby chick so then we had 13 young chickens all of the sudden. That is how our not so small flock of egg-laying hens started. We purposefully did not want a rooster due to noise and also since we had small kids at the time. They can be a burden if you don't have the right space for them, so we did not go that route and to this day we do not regret it.
What you Need to Start Raising Chicks
We raised these baby chicks in a makeshift brooder in our basement till they were old enough to move to the outside coop. We designated just a few square feet of floor space to these female chicks. Our brooder was basically a large plastic tub with wood shavings in the bottom, a thermostatically controlled heat lamp and a small feeder and waterer. At this point you don't need much space, but be aware, they will grow fast, poop a lot, eat a lot and make a bit of noise, so pick your space wisely.
This is the temp sensor we used for our brooder. We used this to control a hanging heat lamp and it worked great.
This is a great feeder and waterer for your young chicks.
Here's a video from their "chickhood;" showing their "chick wing;" chicks swinging and all. If you have chicks or chickens, you have to make them a swing! It's so fun to watch them on it and they seem to really have fun using it.
Moving the Chicks
At around 16 weeks of age we moved the chicks to the outside chicken coop. You should wait until the birds are fully feathered feathers and are big enough to not be picked on. In our case, all we had was two young Easter Eggers, that were a bit bigger, but this flock was . The transition was flawless and actually gave our Easter Eggers more courage to venture out of the coop because they got skittish for a while with our puppy harassing them at times. They quickly became a flock and gained strength in numbers.
Backyard Chicken Flock
Our flock reduced to a dozen chickens after we lost one of the chicks to illness early on. A few months later unfortunately they became 11 as we lost 1 chicken to a fox or hawk. In 2020, as if the year could not get worse, we lost 5 more chickens; 1 to a random illness, and 4 others to random mid-day predator attacks. It was a hard year for us as we were still fairly new chicken keepers.
We've recently added five young chicks back to our flock with the help of my coworker who raised some golden comet chicks from birth for a few months. She needed to rehome them, so we took them on as well. They have been a great addition to our flock and they came at a great time!
Our flock currently consists of the following chickens:
- Black Australorp - These laid really large light beige eggs but they definitely aren't the hardiest chickens. They are also very large chickens.
- Golden Comet - These are by far our favorites so far. They are fairly small and compact and lay lots of amazing extra large brown eggs.
- Easter Egger (Americana) - Ours lay blue eggs but some can lay greenish and other slightly different colors.
We added a movable electric fence to contain the chickens a little. They had been free ranging our entire yard and liked to leave little treats all over our patios, chairs and anything else they could find. This fence is electric and helps to reduce predator attacks. Here is the fence and energizer we use for our chickens.
Chicken Coop Story
In early 2020, we decided a backyard chicken coop upgrade was in order. The coop that came with our property was starting to rot and let predators in at night. We watched on our coop cam as a racoon pushed through the rotten coop floor, walking around the coop in the middle of the night, terrorizing our "girls" and we knew we had to make a change asap!
Coop Break In
Backyard Chicken Coop
My husband built them a brand new coop from scratch, thanks to a great chicken coop plan we found on Etsy. It's a great solid, straight forward, tough and well insulated little coop. Here's our post, BACKYARD CHICKEN COOP (OUR EASY STRONG DIY BUILD) showing how the construction of our new chicken coop went.
The "girls" were fans of the new coop going up from the start. The finished product gave them a fresh, new home we didn't have to worry much about summer through winter. It's kept them cozy and safe at night.
Backyard Chicken Care
Maybe some of you reading this post are thinking that chickens are really high maintenance animals to care for. On the contrary, they are not super high maintenance. You need to feed them, keep their coop clean, make sure they always have fresh water and food and keep them safe from predators by always locking them in at night. We always lock them in their coop at night. It's a must to keep them safe from nocturnal predators. In order to make this easier for us, without a big hassle, we got them an automatic coop door and it's been a game changer for us. No more worrying about weather they're safe at night. I always peek at the coop cam at night just to make sure the door has closed and do a head count, but 99% of the time, they're all there and the door is closed to keep them safe at night.
We love this coop door and highly recommend it if you're wanting the same security.
Are Chickens High Maintenance?
My personal opinion is no, chickens are not high maintenance. They do require care and dedication but are fairly self sufficient once you get them established. You can reduce your maintenance load with a few simple steps when setting up your chicken coop.
- Coop Door- Use an automatic coop door opener. This keeps you from having to go to your chickens every morning and night to open their door for them.
- Cameras- Use cameras to keep an eye on them. We have an outdoor wireless camera in our chicken run and one inside the coop so we can count and monitor them anytime. This also helps you identify any predators that may have come by to check things out.
- Food & Water- Get poultry feeders and waterers that hold quite a bit. You will need to closely monitor these still but it will reduce your daily maintenance. Make sure they always have clean water. We keep one large waterer inside the coop at all times and in the spring and summer months we have a smaller waterer in they chicken run.
- Cold Weather- In the winter, depending on where you live, you might just need to make a couple changes to the backyard chicken operations. Nothing major though. We add a heated base underneath their inside water to keep the water from freezing. Ours works like a charm. Also, since our coop have electricity and Wi-Fi, we have a smart light bulb in the coop and give the chickens just an extra half hour or so of light in the mornings and evenings to help with their laying needs. If you have winter hearty chickens you should NOT need to warm them. They are made to withstand the cold to a point. If we have an extra freezing cold few days to a week, we might just give them a little boost with a heat lamp, but again, that's only if it's quite cold. Otherwise, the coop and them being close to one another keeps them warm enough. Just make sure the coop doesn't have drafts.
I've heard chicken keepers say, once you have chickens, you'll never not want to have chickens. I thought that sounded a bit ridiculous, but I get it now! I'm a chicken Mama & a chicken fan now too. There's something calming about their little cackles when they see you walking towards them. Some squat down at your feet, almost as if they're asking for a petting. They're stress and anxiety relievers, they make people smile and give comfort to lonely seniors. Animals have shown us time and time again how fulfilling they can be in our lives. Believe it or not, chickens are in that category as well; they are animals that can soothe us humans' restless souls.
There's nothing better than farm fresh eggs! You will reap the benefits with just a few key living conditions for your birds. Your egg production will depend on the size of your flock, the type of hens you have (a variety of chicken breeds can help) and honestly...How happy your chickens are. If your chickens are free ranging and have lots of space to do what they do they will be happy and better egg producers. Chickens are also social animals, so they if they have "friends" in the flock to hang with they will also be happier. Yes, you will see friendships within your flock. Some of our "girls" have quite the sisterhood going on. Lastly, Stress will affect the number of eggs you get. In the winter months you might see a little decrease in eggs. They love and need sunlight so that will affect them. Also, stress from predators. If your girls feel safe, they will produce more. If there's been a predator attack and some chickens have been lost you will also see a decline in eggs. Stay strong, pay attention to their needs and you will have happy hens that are happy to lay eggs!
Updated Chicken Flock (2020)
The year 2020 was hard for us in more ways than just the pandemic. For some reason, it was also a very tough year for our flock and we lost many birds to predators that stuck in the middle of the day! From hawk attacks to fox attacks. Unfortunately, this is the risk you take when you allow your wild birds to free range during the day. Besides Snowball's close call with a coon, we haven't had another over-night incident.
We hope this post helped you with your motivation or questions you might have had about considering owning chickens! We love our flock and hope to keep Hens as long as it is feasible!
If you have any questions you'd like to ask us, please feel free to ask us below in the comments.
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