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Guide to Raising Backyard Chickens 101

Raising chickens is having a moment right now. Celebrities like Amanda Seyfried, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Garner and Chris Pratt have all waxed rhapsodic about the glories of growing their own laying hens. Each day, more and more urbanites are setting up coops in their backyards as well.

Now that you've moved out into the country, you might be thinking about raising your own farm-fresh eggs. Why not? You have the land and there aren't likely to be ordinances prohibiting it in your rural area (hey, if they can do it in Beverly Hills ...), and the benefits are many.

The eggs are a given — if you've never had a fresh egg, you're in for a treat. You'll never go back to store-bought eggs once you taste one that's fresh from the coop. Also, chickens are highly social creatures and love interacting with each other, and you. Chicken-files love watching their flock peck and scratch the ground, take dust baths, ramble about in their chicken run and generally entertain everyone in sight.

They're also helpful garden buddies, especially at the end of the season. Turn them loose in your harvested garden and they'll eat up all the scraps, weeds, stalks, insects, worms and anything else in the garden and turn over the soil in the process!

Here are some considerations to help get you started:

Costs

What will it cost you to start raising chickens from the ground up?1 A good general number to anticipate is between $500 and $1,000, which will vary depending on how many chickens you have and the size and grandiosity of their enclosure and outdoor space. If you're building the chicken Taj Mahal, expect to pay more than you would for a simple wooden coop. Ongoing, you'll need chicken feed, which will run you about $20 per bag.

The size of your flock

Are you interested in a handful of chickens that you can watch peck and scratch around in your yard, or do you want more of a full-blown experience with a dozen or more hens? Will you sell the eggs or just keep them for your family? It's really about your time commitment and your end goals. Chickens love their social life, so plan to start with at least three.

Coop vs. Henhouse

You'll need a small henhouse or a full-sized coop to keep your chickens cozy and protected from the elements and predators at night. To outfit your enclosure, plan on a feeder, water containers and a place for your hens to roost. A good rule of thumb here is to get one nesting box for every three hens.2

If you're getting a full-sized coop, it needs to be large enough for you as well as the hens. You'll need to shovel manure (it's not all fun and games!), feed your flock and gather eggs, so you'll want to be able to stand comfortably in the coop. If you've only got a few chickens, a small henhouse will do just fine. You can build your own coop, or find kits online that come partially assembled. Chickens like their space, so make sure your enclosure isn't too crowded.
If you have a barn, you might be tempted to let your chickens roost right there. A word to the wise: It's about air quality and mess. If you're roosting chickens in your barn, build a dedicated area for them, and make sure it's well-ventilated and allows your birds to come and go as they please.

Chicken run

Your birds need outdoor space to travel around, peck and scratch, take dust baths, get some exercise and soak up the sun. The more space they have, both indoors and out, the healthier your chickens will be. Remember to fence in your chicken run or yard to keep those birds from free-ranging right out of your life and to keep them safe from predators.

Eggs

Ah, the eggs! Hens need 14 to 16 hours of sunlight to lay eggs, and they'll do so in the spring, summer and fall.You'll need to collect those delicious hen eggs every day, sometimes twice each day. And here's a newbie fact: You don't need a rooster for your hens to lay eggs. They'll do that all on their own, but their eggs will not be fertilized; that is, they won't develop into chicks.

Like what you're seeing? Subscribe to our Rural Living eNewsletter for monthly tips and guides on making the most of your rural lifestyle.

1. The Old Farmer's Almanac https://www.almanac.com/news/home-health/chickens/raising-chickens-101-how-get-started
2. The Old Farmer's Almanac https://www.almanac.com/news/home-health/chickens/raising-chickens-101-how-get-started
3. Michigan State University https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/decreasing-daylight-and-its-effect-on-laying-hens

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