Raising chickens can be educational, productive and fun.
It has certainly been one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life!
Somehow walking to my coop each morning to collect fresh eggs never gets old.
This article is designed to get you started on your chicken journey.
We will explain everything you need to know, from how to choose the perfect breed, to bringing chicks home, to egg laying and health problems.
After reading you will know exactly how to raise chickens…
Contents and Quick Navigation
What To Know Before Starting Your Chicken Journey
Many towns and cities have livestock ordinances of some description. These were put into place as a way to limit what sort of animals can be kept in an urban environment. It is refreshing to see that many places are now relaxing their laws against keeping a few chickens.
Make sure to check your local laws to find out how many chickens you can keep in your particular area.
Chickens do not require a vast amount of space but they do have specific needs that have to be met to ensure their well-being. Each bird should have at least 4 square feet of floor space in the coop.
And if you plan to keep them in a contained area they should have 8 square feet each in the pen.
You should also consider chicken math. This is a very common problem for folks who buy chicks – they are so cute you just have to have more!
Finally you should know that when buying chicks there is a small chance that you may end up with a rooster (even if you buy sexed chicks). Think about backup plans before this happens.
How Many Chickens Do You Need?
Slide To See
- How Much Does It Cost To Keep Chickens?
- Can Chickens Fly? Everything You Want To Know
- Just How Often Do Chickens Lay Eggs?
- The Complete History Of Chickens
How To Pick The Perfect Chicken Breed
Deciding what breeds you want can be a challenge but if you can look at it in a practical way it becomes much easier. Your first decision is whether you want your chickens for eggs, meat, both or as a pet or show bird.
The next choice is production birds or heritage.
Production birds are bred for producing large amounts of eggs or meat fairly rapidly. Whereas heritage birds will lay slightly fewer eggs per year but their production will continue into the third and sometimes fourth year.
Other things you need to consider are the environment and their temperament. Some breeds do better in hot climates and others do better in colder climates. If you live in the colder northern climates, having a delicate hothouse chicken is going to be problematic during the cold winter months.
Temperament is quite important as you really want hens that will be easy to handle and enjoy or at least tolerate humans. Some breeds do not like humans very much, are flighty and will lay eggs in secret places.
- The Complete List Of Chicken Breeds
- 13+ Best Chickens That Lay Lots Of Eggs
- The Complete List Of Bantam Chickens
Chicken Coops And How To Build Your Own
Now you have chosen your chickens it is time to find a suitable coop for them.
Coops come in many shapes and sizes – you can buy one or make one yourself. Regardless of the coop you buy there are a couple of principles to a coop that are crucial to the welfare and safety of your chickens.
Firstly it needs to be sturdy and well built – your coop needs to keep out predators.
Secondly your coop needs to provide a dry, draft free shelter and a safe place to sleep for the birds. For you it should be easy to clean, easy to access the eggs and easy on the eye. You can get wood, plastic and occasionally metal coops.
All of these materials have certain strengths and weaknesses but overall wood is the best choice with plastic a close second.
- Chicken Coops
- 40+ DIY Chicken Coop Plans
- The Complete Guide To Chicken Nesting Boxes
Planning and Buying Your Chicks
There is no definite rule about when you should get your chicks however most people get their chicks around March/April time.
This is the best time for several reasons: spring chicks are healthier, there are more breeds available and they will come into lay around September.
If you do not want chicks then you can buy pullets. These are chickens that are fully feathered and much nearer the point of lay (however they are also a bit more expensive).
Remember there is no reason that you cannot have a mix and match selection of a few breeds, just make sure they are in pairs since they do like the company of their own kind sometimes.
If you are a first time buyer we highly recommend either online hatcheries or a reputable farm supply store. This way if you have any problems you can refer back to them.
How To Raise Chicks
Chicks are small and fragile so they need to be kept in a warm secure place away from family pets and small children.
The first few weeks will ideally be spent in an inside enclosure where their progress can be easily watched. During this time they will need lots of care that demands lots of your time – so be prepared.
Warmth, good nutrition and careful housekeeping are essential for raising your chicks and keeping them healthy.
Chicks require 90°F for the first week of life. You can reduce the heat by five degrees each week until you are down to 65°F or ambient air temperature. Chicks need 20-24% protein feed whilst they are growing to develop their muscles and feathers.
Once they are fully feathered out (around 7-8 weeks) they can be moved outside to a secure coop area.
- 5 Best Chicken Egg Incubators
- How To Raise Baby Chicks
Once you have passed the chick phase and have grown hens on your hands, the care becomes less intense.
If your hens have been hand reared they will remain friendly with you and that helps tremendously when you need to do something to them such as dusting for lice or giving worming medicine.
You should get into the habit of daily eyeball checks. If you do this daily you will soon be able to tell if something is not quite right with a hen.
If you allow your hens to free range make sure the area they have is fairly predator proof. You likely will not stop all predation unless you supervise them at all times, but you can certainly cut down the casualties by being proactive.
A bag of mealworms or a similar treat will become your best friend – after a few shakes of the bag they will all come running to you. You can use this trick to round them up into the coop at night.
- 7 Beginner Mistakes When Feeding Chickens
- Can My Chicken Eat This?
- 5 Best Organic Chicken Feed
Egg Laying Problems
Although your hen may be ready to lay at 18 weeks old, it sometimes takes a bit of time for their egg machinery to crank into gear.
Often the first egg laid will be a small and puny effort – these are known as fairy or wind eggs.
The chicken may lay an egg and then nothing for a week or so. Be patient and things will sort themselves out. When they do start to lay you will need to encourage them to use the nest boxes. You can place rubber eggs in the nesting box to do this.
You should also provide a dish of oyster shell separate from their feed. Oyster shell is basically calcium and they will take as much as they need. This helps to keep the egg shell firm and the hens’ bones strong.
Occasionally you will get a spate of egg eating in the coop. This can be frustrating but if you gather the eggs frequently you can often stop this nasty little habit before it gets to be a regular occurrence. As the hens age you may see some problems with internal laying or infections.
Some of these problems are treatable and some are not. Our guides below will help you through these problems.
- Complete Guide To Egg Bound Chickens (Symptoms, Treatment and More…)
- The Complete Life Cycle Of A Chicken Explained
Health, Sickness And Disease
Taking care of your chickens’ health is important for them and for you.
Watching your hens daily is a good routine to start. However chickens are prey species so they are good at hiding weakness or illness from you – sometimes the only clue you get is from your own knowledge of that particular bird.
You should also check them periodically for parasites (lice, fleas, ticks) and for worms.
The good news is that for the most part your hens will be incredibly healthy and resilient. Sickness and disease should not be a common theme. You should keep a spare cage or pet carrier around just in case you need to isolate a hen for any reason and keep a small medicine chest for their needs.
Biosecurity is key and you should always keep your flock separated from wild birds and other flocks.
- Understanding The Pecking Order
- How To Treat Chicken Mites
- The Definitive List Of Chicken Diseases
- Do Your Chickens Need A Chicken Coop Heater?
Hatching, Breeding And Exhibitions
In this section we have put together some of the things that are a bit more advanced than the beginner stage. All of these things require deeper knowledge of the chicken and yourself.
- We have deliberately avoided talking about hatching chicks from eggs. This is a bit more advanced and really should not be attempted if you are a novice. Once you have become comfortable with the basics, then you can think about hatching your own. Hatching can be done by using an incubator or using a broody hen.
- Some folks enjoy preserving certain endangered breeds. This is a worthwhile endeavor and can be done in conjunction with a club or conservation project. This is the one area where I will say that an incubator is a necessity for consistent hatching. There are many breeds that are endangered and in need of sponsors.
- Breeding and raising your own chickens is a rewarding thing to do, but you will need a basic understanding of genetics. Putting together a Rhode Island Red rooster and hen is pretty straightforward, but when you decide you want something like a Blue laced Red Wyandotte then the breeding pattern starts to get very complex.
- Exhibition or show birds are fun and a great way to meet similar minded people. Certain breeds lend themselves more to being exhibited than others. Birds with a calm and steady personality are easier to prepare and show than flighty and nervous types. It needs to be said that birds who win show medals do not generally come from a hatchery. Breeding a top show bird is hard work so do your research first.
- A final avenue for you to explore is therapy chickens. They are usually found in care homes and residential homes. Their owners take time out from their schedules to take their birds to places where people can touch, pet and talk to the chickens.
This guide has covered everything you need to know about raising chickens.
If there is a specific topic you want to know more about then explore further within the articles mentioned in the key readings for each section.
The main purpose of this page is to give you an overview on keeping chickens – what you need to know, how to raise them and problems that can arise.
Once you have got your routine set up and running, chickens are generally easy to care for and maintain.
You likely will find that they are very individual and each of them has their own personalities, likes and quirks.
Let us know about your chicken raising journey in the comments section below…
Hi Chris. Thanks so much for all the information it’s fantastic. We have 5 Rhode Island hens they are 19 weeks old. They haven’t layed as of yet. One hen seems to be picked on as in damage to her head and eye. We leave them out all day roaming and they never stray. They are so friendly snd follow me everywhere I go. What household food can I give them during the day as a treat. Thanks so much Chris.
Cat food is a nice high protein snack!
I cannot seem to find the area I noted comments on different breeds of chickens. It listed “Eggs: 1-3 weeks”. Most chickens were 4 weeks or 3-4 weeks. I did not understand what this meant. Can you help?
1-3 eggs per week 🙂