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.