Backyard chickens can be an excellent addition to the backyard ranch. Backyard chickens can help your family to become more self sustaining. Chickens are fairly inexpensive, provide fresh eggs, meat and pest control. Chickens can also be shown in 4H Fairs.
To start with backyard chickens, you can purchase older hens (female chickens) and a rooster (male chicken), purchase chicks (very young chickens “hatchlings”) from a hatchery and have them shipped to you, purchase eggs from a hatchery and hatch them yourself, or purchase chicks from your local farm and home store.
Raising Backyard Chickens
To beginning raising backyard chickens, it would probably be easier to do some research and purchase older chickens; however, you can purchase chicks and raise them yourself. A good hatchery will normally immunize the chicks before they ship them to you, which is a good idea. If you get your chicks from a hatchery you know that you are getting quality, healthy chicks. Also, from a hatchery there are hundreds of kinds of chicks to choose from.
You will want just a couple of roosters for a bunch of hens. The hatchery will be able to help you decide the best kind of chickens for your climate, your backyard area and how many hens per rooster. Some kinds of chickens are best for meat, some for eggs, some for both and some for special climates.
Young Backyard Chickens
You should be prepared before the chicks arrive once you have placed your order. You will need a “brooder” or a place to raise your chicks until they get their feathers. Chicks need to stay warm until their feathers come in, about 95 degrees (give or take 5 degrees). The older the chicks get, the less intense heat they will need. A heat lamp over a box can be used with proper supervision. Make sure that the heat lamp points in one spot (not too close) and not all over the area so that the chicks can get away from the heat if needed. However, a chick brooder will do all that for you without the fuss or fire hazard of a heat lamp. A chick brooder is strongly recommended.
Your cardboard box brooder should be lined with wood shavings so it can be easily cleaned. It is important for the chicks to have fresh water and clean bedding. Your local farm and home store should have chick feed. The hatchery can recommend a good feeding regimen for you.
A brooder can also be purchased ready to go for your new chicks.
Older Backyard Chickens
Above: Chicken waterers in three sizes from your farm and home store.
Once the chicks have their feathers, they can graduate to a prepared chicken coop. The coop should provide fully enclosed overhead shelter. Please take into consideration your climate and any climate changes. The coop will need to be easily cleaned and as always, provide clean water, feed and bedding. See our chicken coops page and nesting boxes page.
Remember, as the chicks get older the feed requirements will change so will the amount of water and feed required. You will also need chicken feeders and chicken waterers as well as a heated chicken waterer for the winter. Click here to purchase chicken feeders and here to purchase chicken waterers. There are home made versions of chicken feeders and chicken waterers as well. The inside of the coop should allow at least 2 square feet per chicken and the protected outside fenced area of the coop or “chicken run” should provide at least 4 square feet per chicken. This gives the birds plenty of room to scratch and move around. Be aware of predators and build your coop and fencing accordingly (e.g. raccoons, skunks, snakes, dogs, cats, coyotes, large birds and etc.). Chickens should be in the coop at night and allowed out during the day. A top on the outside fencing is a good idea. Chickens can be out in the backyard free range if they are supervised for predators and etc.
Hints For Backyard Chickens
Backyard chickens allowed to roam free range under supervision are excellent for pest control. They kill and eat all sorts of insects. Insects are part of the chickens diet.To the left is a hen out of the coop or free range.
Above are chickens in a fenced enclosure or “chicken run” outside their coop.
Chickens can also be excellent watch dogs. They are very smart and aware of their surroundings. Their demeanor and noises change when there is a problem or something unwanted in the area. If backyard chickens aren’t quite what you are looking for, another good source of meat and eggs are guineas. They are even better watch dogs.