How to start raising backyard chickens
Have you considered raising backyard chickens? More and more people start having their own chickens. Whether it is for more self sufficiency, their love for chickens, or the enjoyment of some fresh eggs every day, to start raising backyard chickens is becoming very popular.
If you are in doubt, check out my article on should you raise your own backyard chickens? If you have decided, let’s continue on.
Step 1: Check your local zoning regulation for backyard chickens
Unfortunately, having a few backyard chickens is not allowed everywhere. And even if allowed, it may for example be limited to at most 6 hens.
To find out about which zoning laws apply to you, you will need to contact the local city hall or zoning office. All the information about zoning is in the public record, so you can ask for a copy without any problems.
If you live somewhere with a homeowners association, you will need to check their rules as well. If they forbid it then you can’t start right away either.
If you find out that you are not allowed to raise your own backyard chickens, hope is not lost yet. Most of those rules have once been established decades ago. That means that usually there are few people against it right now. With a little bit of campaigning it may be possible to get the regulations changed or scrapped.
Step 2: Getting your own backyard chickens coop
When you know you are allowed to start raising backyard chickens, it is time to decide on a coop. You can either build one yourself from scratch or buy one. Either way, make sure that you also have a run for the chickens. Some coops don’t have runs, and you wouldn’t want to forget about it when making one yourself either. The run should be about 6-12 square feet per chicken. This will allow your chickens to walk around and eat some insects. We’ve written an article about the best chicken coops as well.
If your backyard is very safe from predators, you may be able to let the chickens roam freely. I would still recommend getting a run, and only letting the chickens roam freely every so often at first. It is very difficult to be sure there are absolutely no predators nearby.
Pre-made coops generally range from $200 to $800 depending on the quality and size of the coop.
Step 3: Getting your own incubator
Are you going to hatch eggs yourself? Fertile eggs can be a lot cheaper than hens, and if you have a rooster you may be able to hatch your own eggs. If so, you’re going to need an incubator.
You can build your own incubator, although I wouldn’t advice that. Very solid incubators can be bought for $50-300, depending on the quality and the amount of eggs you want to hatch. Factory made egg incubators are often excellent at holding the perfect temperature, holding humidity, removing bacteria, and turning the eggs. Although home-made incubators can definitely work, it may not be worth the trouble to make one.
Step 4: Getting your own chick brooder
Once eggs are hatched you aren’t done yet. Chicks need an external source of heat to survive the first 4-5 weeks. So if you are hatching your own eggs or are buying day-old chicks, you are going to need a brooder.
Brooders go for anywhere between $10 and $200. You can choose between using a brooder hen, a heat lamp, and a chick brooder plate. Each of them have their own benefits and downsides.
A brooder hen is the most natural option, but also the most difficult to use. If you are raising more than just a few chicks, you’ll need multiple brooder hens. Besides that brooder hens don’t lay eggs. Lastly the hens of some breeds of chickens aren’t that good at brooding chicks anymore.
A heating lamp is the most commonly used option, and generally costs $5-20. Although the cheapest, it does come with a few downsides. Heating lamps can overheat, which may cause them to explode. And even high quality heat lamps may pose a fire hazard when used in wooden coops.
Lastly there is the brooder plate. Brooder plates don’t explode and generally don’t cause any overheating or fire risks. This does however come as a cost, as most brooder plates cost between $50 and $100.
Step 5: Getting chickens
Time to get your own chickens. Or chicks. Or even fertile eggs, depending on where you want to start. There are many, many different chickens breeds. Most fall either under the broiler or egg layer categories.
Broilers generally gain a lot of weight quickly, and are often raised for their meat. Egg layers are breeds that lay eggs very often, and possibly extra large eggs. There are some more categories such as mixed breeds and show breeds. Most likely you will want to start with some egg layers.
Chicken prices vary a lot depending on the breed, and if you are planning on fertilizing eggs and raising chicks yourself you may want to go with some of the more expensive breeds. At any rate, make sure that the breed you are getting is well adapted to your local climate. Some breeds prefer colder or warmer areas.
Step 6: Getting chicken feed
Lastly you will need a source of chicken feed. Checking a nearby farm is usually the cheapest option, but if there aren’t any nearby with solid chicken feed you aren’t entirely out of luck. Nowadays you can buy high quality chicken feed online on plenty of websites, so feel free to check them out.
Not all chickens like all types of chicken feed equally, so it’s best to try out a few different types and brands of feed so you can find out which feed your chicks like best.
Step 7: Enjoy the fresh eggs!
Congratulations, you made it!