Do You Have What it Takes to Raise Backyard Chickens?

by Nate Smith

The simple fact that you even find yourself reading this article probably means that you satisfy the first requirement of raising backyard chickens: desire. Obviously, without a strong desire to keep chickens the occasional hassles and burdens of doing so would quickly become overwhelming, leaving you wondering why you ever got started with such a silly idea in the first place! So let’s go back to assuming that you do at least want to have and raise chickens, whatever your reason may be (and the reasons can be many). There are a few more requirements that cannot be overlooked in this hobby, so let’s take a look at each one and hopefully that will help you to determine personally where you stand.

 

Do I Have the Time I Need To Devote to My Chickens?

Time is something that you will need to continually have in order to effectively raise chickens. I’m not simply referring to the time it takes to properly set up before getting your first few chicks, although that is something to consider as well. If you are contemplating the idea of building your own chicken coop you will want to make sure you have allotted enough time to have your coop completely finished before the first birds arrive. If you aren’t going to be building your own chicken coop, but instead will be purchasing one that comes already assembled, there are options for that as well.

The real time commitment comes, however in the daily chores and tasks that it takes to simply keep your chickens happy and healthy. Depending on a few different things, you should plan to devote somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes each morning to care for your small flock. If you have automatic feeders and waterers you’ll probably be toward the lower side of that time commitment, and the higher end if you don’t have those things. Still, you might simply have a desire to sit and watch your chickens for a bit, just to observe their behavior and make sure everything looks fine. No matter what, try and make sure you take care of any of your chickens needs, or anything in the area of the chickens, before they are going to sleep for the night. Lights coming on after they have already been sleeping can cause them undue stress; it’s simply not healthy for them. Most experts agree that chickens need roughly 14 hours of light and 10 hours of darkness so you might need to look into artificial lighting during the winter months, depending especially on where you live.

In addition to the daily tasks you will probably want to set aside one day a week to do a more thorough ‘cleansing’ of your chickens’ area. You will need to make sure you clean out the manure from the tray of your coop, and then replace it with clean litter. Although you won’t always need to clean off the entire chicken coop itself, you will probably want to scrub down the water containers to help prevent any sickness to the birds, and then of course make sure to refill the feed bins. This last one might need to be done more often than once per week, so be vigilant and make sure your chicks have the food they need! You might even take some time every few months for a more intensive cleaning where you remove everything, clean all the parts individually and then put them back. I like to do this around the change of each season.

The good news is that the time it takes to care for your birds will probably not go up incrementally. Having 25 birds should not take you five times longer to care for than having only five chickens. The only time something like that would ever occur is if you were to house each chicken individually, in which case you might expect to spend around five to ten minutes taking care of each one. Normally the only people who will be looking to house birds individually in this way will be those who are keeping show-birds.

 

Do I Have the Space My Chickens Will Require?

It’s not an exact science but typically you should count of having about 2 square feet of sheltered floor space for an adult chicken, and about 3 square feet of outside run space. More is always better. When you go to purchase a chicken coop you will usually be able to read on each coop how many chickens that particular chicken coop was made for. More often than not the same will go for any chicken coop plans that you might find. You can keep these measurements in mind, but again they are not exact. One other thing to keep in mind is that depending on the zoning of your area you might only be able to keep up to a certain amount of chickens, so make sure to check your local chicken laws.

As for where to place the chicken coop in your yard, you should try to keep it as far away from neighbors as is possible. Although hens are not very loud this will at least lessen the chance of your neighbors complaining. Be courteous as the chickens belong to you, not your neighbors.

 

How Much Money Will it Cost Me to Raise Chickens?

The first cost that you are probably wondering about is the chicken itself! Don’t worry, unless you are looking to get fancy, more rare show birds of some kind you probably won’t have to spend very much money on hens at all. And adult hen that has already proven herself a good egg-layer will be somewhere under $10 usually, and baby chicks will average somewhere around a few bucks. If you look at online classifieds sometimes you can even find people who are just wanting to get rid of their chicks for free, so keep an eye out for that.

Your housing costs can vary quite a bit depending on what you’re looking to do. If your chickens will mostly be roaming around free, and you have a corner of a shed or something along those lines that you want to simply convert to housing it will be very cheap. If you are looking to buy a chicken coop will probably be able to do this for a few hundred dollars. Some very nice, fancy coops will cost well over $1,000, but that is an option for you as well.

The best thing to do is to first determine your budget, and then begin looking for something that will fit in that range. No matter your budget you should be able to find something that is going to work for you. Another thing to keep in mind, however is that in addition to a chicken coop you will need feeders and waterers and even nesting boxes. Your coop might or might not come with some of those things, so check that first and make sure you factor all of those in, although these additional items shouldn’t cost more than $50 combined.

The last item you will need to get is chicken feed. This can be purchased at most pet stores, and is pretty comparable in price to dry dog food or cat food. It will depend on how many birds you have but you should probably be able to feed 4 chickens on about $20 per month.


 

Nate Smith has been homesteading and dealing with backyard chickens for a number of years. He encourages people who are looking to begin raising chickens to gather information first on the best breeds of chickens, types of chicken coops and requirements that go into raising backyard chickens.

 


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8 Comments

  1. great article, Nate! what is your opinion on the moveable coops that supposedly make your land more fertile? IDK that I can afford to buy one, but the idea of making one and also enlarging my gardening area easily is attractive…

  2. Raising chickens can be an experience for anyone who has never really been around them before. I’m a bit of a push over when it comes to animals anyway. My dogs wear sweaters in the winter and yep, my chickens have a heated chicken house. The thing that I have noticed about the 9 Rhode Island Red hens that I have is that each one has their own personality. Of course I have one that is the matriarch of the flock. Has to watch and investigate anything I do. Heaven help me if I cross over one of her imaginary lines. I’ve been pecked (that’s hen pecked I guess), bitten and even had her latch on to ma sock one time in a mock fighting stance. But, I tolerate her and she accepts me. The funniest of the 9 is the hen that can’t seem to get off of the high perch each morning. She walks back and forth with a soft preening sound until I walk into the hen house and talk softly to her. I then pick her up and put her on the ground. And of course I have one that is bats….t crazy. Anything makes her run and fly thru the chicken yard.

    All in all I have found them to be amusing and entertaining. I have enjoyed not only watching them but also the eggs they produce.

    If anyone has the desire and space, I’d definitely recommend raising chickens.

  3. Great article, and great timing. I am in the middle of my chicken coop build. It ended up bigger than planed. 7×6 floor and a 7ft roof. I figure it could be a shed later if need be. Im very excited about getting my birds. There run is outside and not covered any suggestions on hawk prevention (besides covering it, it is around 400 sqft) also we have a mountain lion who keeps trying to eat my cat so chickens may be in danger. Craigslist has been a help in finding chickens and also our local farmers co-op. I could really use any good advice, we want eggs and i want meat chickens down the road. Anyone have experience with mixing flocks or quarantine times?

  4. ‘…have a desire to sit and watch your chickens for a bit’ Really? Someone has been spying on me. There’s a special lawn chair by the back door where I sit daily and watch our girls.
    Just to add my two cents worth, chickens are unbelievably easy to care for. We never clean the hen house, as it has some mulch from straw, shredded paper, grass clippings, leftover lay pellets, whatever, over an OSB decked floor. You can sweep back the mulch and the OSB is nearly as clean as the day it was put into use, probably 15 years ago. I clean the chick brooder in the corner of the hen house every year before we get new chicks, but that’s about it. We have a roost with a built in poop collector that keeps a majority of the poop off the floor and makes it easy to collect for the compost pile, which aids in keeping the hen house clean.
    We have put a lot of work into our chicken facilities, this year rebuilding our chicken run to 12′ X 24′ of 6′ chain link, with the bottom of the wire embedded in a 6″ wide concrete curb and a chain link roof, so it’s fairly predator proof. The girls get out for a few hours each day when I get home from work. Usually by that time, 2 or 3 pm, they’ve laid most of their eggs in the hen house so I don’t have to go searching for them. I’m planning on expanding my flock from 20 to at least twice that number this spring.

  5. Several years ago I raised a few chickens in my backyard, in the middle of town. They were so funny, guests would just walk thru my house from the front door right on out the back door. Some just walked around the house without even saying hello. Everyone would sit and just watch them. Better than TV.
    Family members live out in the country. They have several of the moving cages. Each day they get moved, so there is always a nice piece of grass with bugs and all sorts of stuff for the hens to eat. A happier bunch I’ve never seen.

  6. Yes, raising chickens is fun and rewarding plus you know your eggs are fresh. Oren, I have few Rhode Island Reds and one is very aggressive and bossy, named her T-Rex.

  7. …thoughts/ideas/suggestions…
    1. guerilla retreat.
    …raising a guerilla/wilderness garden/livestock
    ssystem is possible.just like the preparedness required to build a cache system…having free range/or caged rabbits/chickens would be possible.
    can also use the moveable coop system .it works great but i would have a main coop and use moveable to contain chickens rabbits to areas i want them. (also protects them)… i grew up with huge gardens.raised ducks/geese/rabbits/chickens.
    gardening…predig your holes..lay plastic…then prep holes with good soil…
    (helps water retention)… fencing helps keep out hungry visitors…
    2. …for home/retreat…please consider…research fallout shelters…for your
    self…pets…livestock…and greenhouse for gardening.research ventillation systems. want to protect good gardening soil from fallout?… dig holes… lay heavy plastic put in soil .lay more plastic over top…cover with more soil…and can safely use it tpgrow in future.
    3. a expedient fall out shelter system can be for more than just humans.
    water: same way as soil *above …dig hole/lay plastic/fill with water seal the “bag”… but now reinforce/make a roof using 2by4’s /plastic etc…then soil.
    a buddy also makes/has…for years now…lots of homemade cisterns using a wood frame/ropes always has lots of water. (a mpsquito net “canopy”/roof would help keep things out but let water in…pits can be a way to stockpile things(and hide things…)… but still utilize the above ground space.
    …underground chickencoop/rabbit hutch.

  8. …a permanent or expedient/guerilla chicken coop
    needs a good shelter vent system. just remember:
    “If the fallout particles do not become mixed with the parts of food that are eaten, no harm is done”. and…”Food and water in dust-tight containers are not contaminated by fallout radiation”.
    *see chapter1. the dangers from nuclear weapons:facts and myths.
    http://www.oism.org/nwss/s73p912.htm
    …chickens/livestock…and the storage of water/food and soil to grow food…can all be protected from fallout.
    hopefully these thoughts may give you some ideas..spur you into deeper research and not just simply make a coop but make a fallout shelter type coop. raising livestock is fun…and a inexpensive way to add to pnes preps.

    God bless!

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