Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
22 Jun

A Beginner’s Guide to Backyard Chickens

backyardchickensKeeping backyard chickens has long been an interest of mine. I’ve never actually gone through with it, partly because I just don’t have the time, partly because the homeowners association would veto it in a heartbeat, and mostly because I have a very reliable, reasonably priced source of pastured, bug-eating chickens and chicken eggs. Nevertheless, I love the idea of stepping outside my back door, greeting the flock of chickens (perhaps by name), and coming back in with an armful of fresh eggs. It’s admittedly a romantic, possibly naive vision, especially without the flecks of manure obscuring it. In any case, I’m drawn to the idea of it, so I’ve researched this growing trend and will share with you my findings in this not-so authoritative guide. Hopefully the general information, links, and leads will inspire you to dig deeper. And if you have any experience raising chickens I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment board.

The backyard chicken movement is growing, paralleling the burgeoning trend toward real/slow food/farmers’ markets and, in some respects, the Primal/paleo/ancestral movements. To me, this is unequivocally welcome news, because it suggests that people from all different backgrounds and proclivities are stumbling toward the same basic goal: freedom from the industrial food culture. That might mean whittling down “grocery store” to a four-letter word and camping out twelve hours before the farmer’s market opens on release day of the new golden beet crop. It might mean eschewing all the industrial agents altogether, like we Primals like to do. Or it might mean raising chickens in your backyard. So, why are more and more homeowners turning to backyard chicken farming?

Well, the most obvious way to attain freedom from the industrial food scene is to produce your food yourself. Gardening takes care of fruit and vegetables, but what about animal products? Cows, sheep, and goats are too big and cumbersome for most yards, while chickens are small, relatively quiet, willing to eat just about anything, and they can produce a steady stream of eggs. So – here’s my quick and dirty armchair guide to backyard chicken farming with an emphasis on egg laying. I’m not going to get too detailed because, well, I’m not qualified. I’ll fill in the blanks with links to people who are qualified, though.

Getting Started

To get started, you need some chickens. If you start with chicks, which run about five dollars apiece on average (more for rarer breeds), you’ll need to raise them in a climate-controlled brooder for 5-8 weeks, or until they develop feathers. You’re trying to replace their mother’s warm embrace, so you have to keep the chicks warm. Start at 95 degrees F for the first week, then reduce 5 degrees each week thereafter. Make sure your chicks aren’t cowering in the corner (it’s too hot) or huddling together directly under the lamp (it’s too cold) and keep their bedding and food clean and dry. Order chicks online or search for local suppliers on Craigslist. You might also try asking around at local poultry farms through Eat Wild or at the farmers’ market. Cost: $10-20 for two chicks.

Another, easier option – especially for beginners – is to start with full-sized hens. This way you can let them outside and start feeding normal feed immediately, and you should start getting eggs soon. Most hens I’ve seen run about $20-25. You can usually find both hens and chicks on Craigslist. If I were starting out, I’d go this route. Cost: $40-50 for two hens.

You also need a coop, even if your chickens are going to range free. They are natural roosters and prefer having a piece of shelter to call home. Besides, even the most developed city has raccoons and cats, either of which will make short work of your chickens if they can reach them. Coops can be expensive commercial productsDIY projects, Craigslist finds, or something cobbled together on the fly. You can even convert an old dog house into a serviceable coop. Whatever you choose, pick a coop that you’ll be willing to keep clean. If you buy a coop new, it’ll run between $400 and $1000. If you buy it used, you could get one for $100 to $400, maybe. DIY could be super cheap to the point of being almost free, or you could drop close to $700 and make something great.

Unless you want to run a two-chicken CAFO, you’ll also want to provide some safe outdoor space. That can mean sticking the coop in your backyard and giving the chickens the run of the yard, or it might mean putting together a chicken run enclosed on all sides (top included) with chicken wire. Free ranging chickens left to their own devices will eat bugs, weeds, and often gardens. If you’ve got enough room, you can use the chicken paddock method, which involves a stationary coop with a mobile chicken run. Once the chickens have exhausted a section of grass, move the chicken run to a new section of grass.

You could also make your own chicken tractor, a mobile containment unit that keeps them in, keeps predators out, and allows you to choose where your chickens forage. Once they’ve picked a spot clean, simply move the unit to a fresh area of grass. Joel Salatin does this on a massive scale to let his flocks forage without robbing the land of nutrients. Doing it with a few backyard chickens should be even easier, albeit on a smaller scale. Try making one from common wooden pallets.

You’ll also need to feed and water your birds, which deserves its own section. Waterers run inexpensive, and feed can be served in a little bowl. Just don’t let the food get wet.

Overall, how much you spend depends on how much you want to spend. You can go all out and drop about a thousand bucks, or you can repurpose common items, dig around on Craigslist, and build stuff yourself and spend just a few hundred, or even less.

Feed

The common chicken descends from the omnivorous red junglefowl – a wild bird from the jungles of Asia that fed on bugs, snakes, fruit, seeds, greenery, and small rodents – and yet we expect it to thrive on stale corn, soy, and grain spiked with mineral supplements, antibiotics, and vegetable oil waste. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if those vegetarian chickens did better on animal byproducts! Anyway, here’s your chance to escape the tyranny of vegetarian-fed chickens.

Ideally, your chickens would have daily access to all the bugs, wild seeds, grass, and forage they can handle, but it’s rare that a backyard can provide all that for even a single chicken, let alone several. That’s where modern ingenuity and modern table scraps come in. Since chickens love bugs and your yard can’t sate their appetite, why not produce your own? Here’s a sustainable way to produce mealworms indefinitely, perfect for those potentially cold and bare winter months. You can also toss scraps and compost to your chickens. Bones, meat (including organs), veggies, greens, yogurt, grass clippings (watch the chemicals), weeds – it’s pretty much all fair game, and since your kitchen scraps will undoubtedly be of the healthy, Primal variety, you’ll be improving the taste, quality, and nutrition of the eggs your chickens lay. In fact, eggs from pastured chickens given access to greens, grass, and bugs contain 2/3 more vitamin A, two times more omega-3, three times more vitamin E, and seven times more beta-carotene than eggs from battery farms. I mean, the difference in taste alone is astonishing, and I bet the satisfaction of producing your own eggs would add another layer of enjoyment.

An added benefit to getting them hooked on bugs: they can keep your car’s grill clean after long road trips!

I would avoid standard commercial chicken feed that uses stuff like “poultry feed fat,” which is just recycled vegetable oil from restaurants. It might be worth it to spring for an organic feed, or even a soy-free, corn-free, GMO-free organic feed (though even that one seems to have vegetable oil). Another option is to mix your own feed using seeds, legumes and grains. Don’t worry about the grains in a hen’s diet, beyond perhaps corn, soy, and wheat; these animals are actually built to digest seeds and grains (in addition to bugs and greens), as opposed to cows. Here’s a recipe, but hens are flexible. Be sure to add grit (which chickens use in their gizzards to grind up grains, seeds, and bugs) and a mineral source, like oyster shell or even ground up egg shell (never leave the shell whole or halved, or else your chickens might start associating their eggs with food).

Legality

Before you start buying chicks, constructing coops, and stockpiling feed, check your local city ordinances regarding backyard chickens. From my cursory research, it’s usually allowed, with a few restrictions, but it can’t hurt to check. Or, you could flout the laws and do it anyway. If you go this route, I’d advise against keeping a rooster. Hens might scratch, peck, and cluck, but they won’t wake up the entire neighborhood at the crack of dawn with an ear-splitting cry. Ask your neighbors for permission before you do it (according to a recent article on illegal chicken farming in Philly, anti-chicken ordinances are rarely enforced unless a neighbor complains), keep a handle on the waste (don’t let smell become an issue), and avoid roosters.

This is a great, quick resource for checking city ordinances. And here’s another one. They both rely on reader submissions, however, so they aren’t complete. If your city isn’t there, trying searching “YOUR CITY chicken ordinance.”

Scofflaws: resources exist for you, too. Jane Richardson wrote a great article on how to get your city to allow backyard chickens. Here’s a blog by a South Salt Lake City underground chicken farmer detailing his horrible crimes against the state that threaten the safety and stability of society. And then there’s the Dayton Underground Chicken network.

Waste

When it comes to how much manure chickens produce, I’ve heard several different figures. First, from Urban Chickens Network: six chickens produce about four pounds of manure each week. I’ve also heard it described thusly: five chickens produce about as much waste as a medium-sized dog. Either way, it’s not a huge amount of waste. Also, chicken poop can be an effective fertilizer. In fact, I’d advise against simply tossing the manure. Repurpose it. Use it in your garden. If you don’t have one, post the manure on Craigslist.

When it comes to fresh, “hot” manure high in nitrogen, use it sparingly on your garden. If you allow manure to compost for several months, you can use it more liberally. For more detailed tips and tricks on using backyard chicken manure as fertilizer, read this thread full of folks who have been doing exactly that for years.

Time

Hobby chicken farming appears to be a low-maintenance pursuit. Oh, sure, you’ve got the initial labor of setting up the coop/run, procuring the birds, buying/mixing the feed, and taking the plunge, but everything after is fairly simple. You distribute feed, change the water, clean the manure every few days, move the chicken tractor if you’re using one. For the most part, though, a few chickens in your backyard aren’t much work. I suspect it’ll be such a novelty that the work doesn’t even feel like work. Add to your flock and things might change.

From what I gather, it’s best to look at your backyard chicken experiment as a hobby – at least initially. These are interesting, somewhat fearsome looking creatures with funny personalities who like to eat everything. Oh, and they also lay eggs from time to time. Just don’t expect an egg a day out of every chicken, because you aren’t a full-time chicken farmer running a finely oiled operation consisting of feathery egg dispensers on the perfect feed mix. You’re just a guy or a gal having fun and trying something new. If things work out, and you get the hang of this chicken farming stuff, you can always buy more chickens and refine your process, but for now, just see what happens. Have fun watching your chickens try to eat an entire sardine or go crazy over some feeder crickets and enjoy the eggs when they come.

Further Resources

Backyard Chickens – Premier online resource. Great, active forums. Check out their 101 section.

Breed Chart - Dozens of breeds listed with temperaments, personalities, and egg-laying tendencies.

Starting a Small Flock of Chickens – A quick, basic guide.

Raising Chickens 2.0 – Beyond the coop.

Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens – Very thorough and very well regarded.

Minnie Rose Lovegreen’s Recipe for Raising Chickens: The Main Thing is To Keep Them Happy - Hmm, to this married man, this sounds awfully familiar.

Victory Chicken – Live in New York City and need some help getting started? The people at Victory Chicken have you covered.

So, how’d I do? Do you feel like you have enough information to get started? Did I provide sufficient links and resources for further research? If you’re already a chicken farmer, tell us all about it in the comment section. If you decide to try it out, come back later and tell us how it went. Hope to hear from you, and thanks for reading!

You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. So glad you posted this! We just “adopted” about twenty backyard chickens a few months ago (we have a couple of acres).
    I bought them all from a trusted farmer as adults and we consistently get at least a dozen eggs a day, which is great for our family. They are mostly free range (we keep them out of the garden sometimes) and get supplemental feed and foods from the garden. Haven’t made the jump to producing mealworms yet!
    Great post!

    Katie wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • Free Range or not:

      My uncle (who is a farmer) was explaining how act in cages or with space. He was pretty much saying free range is BS (Not from technical/legal I wanna put free range on by product label stance). He was explaining that chickens with space tend to hudle together and follow each other around, so really they don’t require very much space. And for obvious predator reasons they don’t rome a farm like cattle.

      What are you thoughts?

      Paleo Josh wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • That hasn’t been my observation at all. I have 9 chickens on just under an acre. They wander all over, sometimes in groups of two or three, but often one will go off on her own, particularly those lower on the pecking order. If somebody finds something good to eat, the others will all come running. I haven’t ever kept them in cages, so I can’t compare, but except when they are in their coop for the night, they seem to enjoy space to roam, flap their wings, scratch and take dust baths.

        lucy wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • In my experience – only kept 4 in the back garden – they huddle a bit in their coop at night but not at all during the day. They are more than happy wandering far and wide. Also seeing the local farmers free-range chickens they definitely spread themselves about – they don’t seem to take much notice of each other at all and definitely don’t huddle.

        QOTSA wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • I only have 3 hens on under 1/4 acre, and they usually stay in line of sight with one another when they’re ranging our yard, but not necessarily close together. If one finds a treat, they will all charge over and try to get it, but other than that they like to spread out and hunt more independently.

        Tiffany wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • We have about 18 hens and a rooster on 7 acres. I’d say the chickens forage on about 1/2 that area, they don’t go too far from the coop.

        NoSurf wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • Well that’s hogwash, sorry to say. I’ve been raising free-range gals for 18 years. Sure they tend to flock together but they roam everywhere. Perhaps your uncle’s experience was with the Cornish Cross, bred for meat. If not encouraged to go outside at 1 week or so, they are hesitant to go out.

        Chickens in cages have horrible, miserable lives. I adopted 5 from a hatchery. They were terrified at first but after a day or so, they started to venture out. It was one of the high points of my farm life to watch these formerly caged hens get back to nature.

        My girls roam like cattle every day. Makes terrific eggs.

        Bev wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • Free range doesn’t mean let chickens roam individually all over your 10-acre property. It means letting them be outdoors in contact with grass and bugs. If that’s a little run or a big fenced-in area, doesn’t make any difference, it’s still meeting those criteria.

        I am a bit beyond annoyed at all these farmers who scoff at sustainable methods of food plant and food animal raising. It’s one thing to be an expert on all aspects of farming, and another to be an expert on mechanized, industrial farming, including CAFO. In my experience–and I come from two farming families, and I have occasion to go home from time to time and talk to people–far too many “expert farmers” are in the latter category. And when I want their advice on how to strip topsoil, abuse Mexican immigrant workers, or run a smelly CAFO operation that pollutes waterways for miles around, I’ll be sure to ask ‘em.

        Not saying your uncle is in that category; I don’t know your uncle. I’m only saying what I myself have observed. And of course they will all say they’re not like that. They know it’s not what the public wants to hear. They have enough trouble keeping their heads above water without losing customers too.

        Dana wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • I have 52 chickens of my own, and we share land with a farm with hundreds of free-roaming chickens. They don’t huddle. They have cliques that walk around together, like in highschool, and the roos get in spats every now and then, but they roam wherever they please. They tend to stay within about 100 yards of the barn, though. And most stay closer than that, but they don’t huddle, and do enjoy their space,

        The geese, on the other hand, do huddle, but their roaming territory is triple that of the chickens.

        Has your uncle ever seen free-roaming chickens???

        Imogen wrote on June 23rd, 2011
      • Another important thing to remember is that chickens are like living roto-tillers. Even if a group of chickens stays together as it wanders, if that group doesn’t have enough space to wander over, they’ll quickly destroy the area they do have, and then there won’t be any grass for them to eat. Whenever we have to fence in our 12 chickens, I’m always astonished at how large an area they can strip of any sign of vegetation and how quickly they can do it.

        Audry wrote on June 23rd, 2011
        • Wow! That was lots of great feed back. I wanted to see what other had to say.

          Thank you!

          Paleo Josh wrote on June 23rd, 2011
      • They’ll stick around each other, yeah, thats called flocking and they (and most birds) do it so that they can keep an eye on predators for each other and share tasty resources if they find it. They will wander together as a flock for acres and acres, though, looking for new tasty things to eat.

        cTo wrote on June 23rd, 2011
      • This is nonsense. If the chickens are huddled together all the time, something is wrong. They’re ill, or have reason to fear predators, or something. I have 38 chickens, and they’re all over the place, with or without company.

        Only very young chickens (chicks or immature pullets/cockerels) would follow each other around all the time, or birds that were newly introduced to an established flock. And that would change as they mature and/or get used to their surroundings and flockmates.

        Jeanmarie wrote on August 21st, 2013
    • Thanks for this Mark. I’ve been enjoying my flock of chickens for many seasons now and the benefit goes far beyond nutrient rich eggs. As you noted, the fertilizer is beneficial, as is the fact they consume bugs, including ticks, when they can find them. I had a small flock of free ranging barred rock hens that kept my RV free from spiders and earwigs for most of this spring, until a pair of raccoons mistook me for Colonel Sanders one night last week. The survivors ended up in the pen with the caged flock and I am attempting to acquire a real coonskin hat. Keeping livestock, and keeping them safely, can be a real challange, but it is a rewarding experience, and not simply in the food provided. Keeping livestock will teach you things.

      Richard Rogers wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • We live in Brooklyn NY. And we were as far from dealing with chickens as we are from China. But when I was diagnosed with cancer, someone suggested that we get layers. There were several reason other then obvious to have fresh eggs why we had to have them. I am cancer free today and I think my beautiful darlings, my chicks contibuted alot.
      Thank you for your Guid. I think it is great. You did fantastic job putting things together.
      Thank you.

      Kate Reznikov wrote on August 1st, 2012
  2. I know a few Chicagoans who have rooftop coops, but they raise them with terrifying feed. I’d love to have a wide open pasture with some ruminants grazing and a bunch of chickens running wild. I do have a HUGE rooftop here in Chicago where I could build a coop, but I really would prefer a pastured chicken.

    I’m VERY surprised you can buy hens and chicks on Craigslist — they have a rule about the selling of animals/pets! Crazy!

    A.B. Dada wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • I am not sure if I would eat these types of chicken eggs either. My bro lives in Chicago and I can’t imagine coops on rooftops! I will have to keep my eye open the next time I am in town!

      Primal Toad wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • I believe the rule w/ Craigslist is that you can sell livestock (chickens, cattle, and horses are all things I see frequently listed) but not pets.

      Another resource not listed but worth looking into is a local hatchery… That’s the best deal where I’m from- they sell both day old chicks (4 types: brown or white egg layer, or cornish cross or heritage broilers) as well as point-of-lay hens. Unfortunately, most point-of-lay hens from commercial suppliers will have been debeaked…

      Victoria wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • Another option is to talk to the egg and chicken meat sellers at the farmers market. That is where we are getting ours. Some folks looked at us like we were aliens when we asked so we just kept asking until someone was excited that we wanted some. We’ve become great friends with these farmers. They even came to our wedding! Good stuff. :)

        Darren wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • Here in Oregon, the local farm Co-Op often gives away free chicks with every bag of chicken feed in the spring. You can get a sizeable flock started by simply buying the necessary feed. Something to check into. Check with your local farm extension office for information about opportunities in your local area.

        Richard Rogers wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • Could you put down a rooftop lawn/garden and put the coop on that? Better than feed, and greener too. :)

      Omnomnivore wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • Chickens are (loosely) livestock. Craigslist allows the selling of livestock. Working dogs can also be sold under “farm/garden”.

      Jen wrote on December 30th, 2013
  3. My dad has taken on chickens and houses them in a chicken tractor. He is so attached now – calls them “his girls”… I don’t think he will ever have the heart to slaughter them!

    Crunchy Pickle wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • :) that’s sooo cute!

      Robin wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  4. This is incredible! I have been considering having chickens when I get a house, and its great to have this as a resource. Thanks for putting together all of this research and including links and references. I look forward to someday owning my own chicken.

    Reena wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  5. Really curious about this one. Not sure I’m ready for the amount of work involved, as I’ve already got two very small children to look after.

    But I currently pay $5/dozen for pastured eggs from a nearby farm. And I eat 2 – 3 eggs for breakfast almost every single day, so I buy a lot of them.

    Can anyone tell me how that cost would compare to getting eggs from my own backyard chickens instead? (not including initial setup costs, but the ongoing maintenance costs – feed, etc.)

    CJW wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • Lucky about that $5/dozen. Here in Chicago proper, Whole Foods retails them for $10/dozen (with tax), and the local farmer’s markets sell out so fast that they’ve raised their prices to $8-$9/dozen (with tax).

      I found a few farms in the burbs that sell them for $14/2-dozen, but the drive + gas + time is too much.

      A.B. Dada wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • Wow, I guess I am lucky! During the winter months, I buy pastured eggs (the “Vital Farms” brand) from my local Whole Foods and it only costs $6/dozen (plus tax).

        I wonder why it’s so much more expensive in Chicago? (I’m in south-eastern Massachusetts).

        CJW wrote on June 22nd, 2011
        • Are you guys serious?!!?!!? You pay that much for eggs? Really? For a dozen?

          I pay $3.00 here in West Michigan. And yes they are pastured raised chicken eggs. The high is $4.50 but the norm is $3 to $3.50 per dozen.

          And these are JUMBO eggs. I can’t ever imagine paying $10 per dozen eggs. That’s crazy.

          I’ve been to whole foods in Chicago but have never seen eggs for that much. My bro lives in Wrigleyville…

          Are the yolks of the eggs you buy orange? If so, then its maybe worth it.

          Primal Toad wrote on June 22nd, 2011
        • CJW:

          I have no idea why they’re that much here. It’s ridiculous — I might have to scan a Whole Foods receipt to prove it! But, they’re ALWAYS sold out, so high demand = higher prices. I’m fine with that.

          PrimalToad (just started following your blog!):

          The yolks are very orange, plus they’re the only pastured eggs out of probably 15-20 brands of “Vegetarian Organic!!!!!!!” eggs (raised with organic soy feed likely). Those of us who know want those, and the demand is extremely high for them.

          I did find a brand that said “Pastured” on it, contacted the farm, and they said “Pastured in the warmer months, soy and corn feed in winter.” They were cheaper at $7/dozen (plus tax), but I don’t want to risk it.

          A.B. Dada wrote on June 22nd, 2011
        • Primal Toad:

          Yep. $5/dozen. There are a few different sources around here, and $5 seems to be the standard price.

          The yolks are indeed orange (in varying shades, but nowhere near the bright yellow of conventional eggs).

          I don’t *enjoy* paying that much for eggs. But if I’m going to be eating them every day, I want to make sure I’m getting the best eggs I can. So far, $5 is the best price I’ve been able to find.

          This is why I’m curious about what it would cost to raise the chickens myself.

          CJW

          CJW wrote on June 22nd, 2011
        • Yikes, $10 a dozen!? I sell the surplus eggs from my chickens and ducks for $4/dozen.

          As for cost-effectiveness, I have 9 chickens and 4 ducks and go through about a 50 lb. bag of organic feed and 50 lb. bag of organic scratch per month. Right now they are about $25 each. I’m planning on adding a few more hens to my flock, so I’ll have more eggs to sell to offset the feed costs. Right now we’re getting anywhere from 5-7 eggs a day, and we eat 4-6 per day, so I’ve only been selling a few dozen a month.

          lucy wrote on June 22nd, 2011
        • Yeah, I pay $2.50 – $3.00 a dozen from the Mennonite farm market. It depends on the size of the eggs how much they charge.

          Lynna wrote on June 22nd, 2011
        • I also buy Vital Farms too for ~$6/dozen. I’m in St. Louis. Consider me lucky too.

          Kevin wrote on June 22nd, 2011
        • I have never had an egg with an orange yolk…

          Primal Toad wrote on June 22nd, 2011
        • I just found a farm that says they have orange egg yolks! If you live in Michigan then buy your eggs from Crestwick Farms!!

          Primal Toad wrote on June 23rd, 2011
      • Dang! And I thought $4/doz for range eggs was pricey. *Very* thankful I don’t live in Chicago area… I’d love to get a couple chickens, but doubt the trailer park would allow us to keep them.

        Fyre wrote on June 23rd, 2011
      • My goodness that is a lot! Here in Northen CO the Whole Foods has several choices in local free range eggs that are all under $4/dozen.

        FoCo Girl wrote on June 24th, 2011
    • Fortunately for me, the backyard-egg market in upstate SC seems to be in a supply glut lately. I’m getting a dozen pastured L-XL eggs for about $3. Most of them with DARK orange yolks, and some with two yolks :)

      Stuart wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • Aha! Mark, Must have set you off with those pictures I posted of those double yolked eggs and bacon I’ve been enjoying very much.The flavor of those eggs makes no going back to store bought eggs again .

        Jay wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • That’s what I’m talking about ! I have to travel to the feed store up in Holly Hill SC from Charleston to get them but my bird dogs are training there so it’s a nice plus.ALL double yolks!

        Jay wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • I “hate” you. I am on a mission. A mission to eat an orange egg yolk. I’ll probably just slurp it right up.

        Primal Toad wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • We have 11 chickens – 5 Delawares (dual-purpose “heritage” breed for meat + eggs) and 6 Gold-Stars (layers).

      We get a year-round *average* of 8 eggs per day (3 from the 5 Delawares, 5 from the 6 Golds) – more in spring and fall, less in winter and summer.

      The organic feed + mealworms/crickets + miscellaneous food (occasional cabbages, cucumbers, salad greens, etc. that we find on sale – organic, of course!) costs us about $60/month, so it the eggs cost us about $3/dozen.

      Emily wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • We have three backyard chickens to go with our three (6 and under) boys. I built a coop, the plans for which can be found here http://catawbacoops.com/. The chickens free range in the fenced yard (our lot is the typical 1/4 acre) and eat some organic commercial feed as a supplement to what they find in the yard. The feed costs about $6-$8 per month. We get 2-3 eggs per day (one of the girls is not as good of a layer) so, a little over a dozen per week. So, our dozen costs about $1.50 – $2.00. The coop cost about $300 to build.

      Mike wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • We have raised our own chickens for the last three years. We currently have nine and a rooster. Our kids take care of them. They cost a $10 bag of chicken feed and a $9 bag of scratch every week 1/2. We also bought oyster shells to mix with the feed, but that doesn’t happen but 4 times a year and it’s only about $5 a bag. We don’t take them to the vet, and they lay about 7 eggs a day. We keep a red light on in the winter and production drops to 2 eggs in the cold weather. They go ALL over the yard, and I advise getting a rooster as he does a great job keeping the girls in line when they get very snippy. Good luck!

      Tricia wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • We’re running a collective with 24 chickens and feed costs us around $1.50/dozen eggs produced.

      However, you also have to factor in the capital costs of setting up the coop, and that depends on the materials you’re using and whether you’re doing the construction yourself, or paying someone else to do it.

      Funnily enough, I wrote a post about the cost considerations just this week on http://www.windsorurbanchickens.com.

      Philippa wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • Yeah, with the two small children, especially when they’re twins, that’s going to take up a lot of your time.

      Still… I do not have direct experience with all aspects of chicken rearing. But my dad had a small flock when I was in high school. It was one of those things where my four-years-younger brother and his friends brought home colored Easter chicks and ducklings from someplace or other (a church?), and Dad decided to raise them.

      He built a coop and he set them up a little area where they could run around and do chicken and duck stuff. (The ducklings turned out to be female mallards.) He fed them, he watered them, he mucked things out. Not much worse than having a cat–which is also a lot of work, if you’re doing it right.

      If someone’s got a chicken tractor that adds to the work. We’d never even heard of such a thing; I’m not sure when the idea was first developed. And of course chicks are more work than adults.

      To be fair, having a stationary coop is what all small farmers did. Maybe some moved the flock from paddock to paddock a la Joel Salatin. Not the folks I knew as a kid, though, grandparents and such. So you wound up with stripped ground in the end. But wow, the eggs were still really good.

      Dana wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  6. One thing I’ve heard that I didn’t see mention is that chicken poop smells awful. Anyways, something to factor into the decision-making process. :)

    David wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • If you just have a few chickens and are feeding them good food and letting them free-range to scratch and collect bugs, the smell isn’t bad at all. Certainly not as bad as dog or cat poop.

      lucy wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • It isn’t smelly at all if they’re fed good food. We have 11 chickens in a relatively small coop/tractor, and there’s no odor.

        Emily wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • Versus cat poop, dog poop, or domesticated pet bird poop?

      Dana wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • I’ve also heard that chicken poop kills your nice green grass/lawn. Is this true?

      Otherwise I will have to consider fencing off a non-grass area if I get some chickens..

      Isis wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • It just has to be handled properly. Bad smell is a sign of bad management. I use the Deep Litter Method, raked daily, and have a well-ventilated coop (and the chickens are free-ranging all day), so little smell.

      Jeanmarie wrote on August 21st, 2013
  7. Hawks,cats and just about any other predator will take out your chickens – so if you’re hoping to have them running free in a pasture, prepare to lose at least a few(or all, depending on what’s munching on them)

    As I type this, my hens are out there – making quite the racket. They do this every morning and later in the day, when they’re laying. So, they can be quite loud. It may be too loud for your neighbors.

    Other than that, chickens are awesome. :0)

    Charlotte wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • I do some chicken sitting. Always thought I wanted my own, but they are a lot of work, are too noisy for neighbors and predators are a constant worry. Good hen keepers will let them free range in an enclosure that has netting to keep hawks out when people aren’t around being scarecrows. If you have the time and money go for it. They are delicious. Being a dog behavior cons/trainer, I advocate for humane animal care and enrichment, fowl included. I have only so far seen one humane set-up. Most people slap a wood house together and fence and call it a coop. Ya, they’re cooped up alright. You need to really have room and give them humane living conditions – much more than you think! See the hen cam here: http://www.hencam.com/barncam.php

      Sandra Brigham wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • If you have a dog…you can easily train it to ignore the chickens and protect them at the same time. We keep chickens free range here in Western NC, have two yard dogs and have never had attrition from predators..and believe me..there are plenty around. In fact, it is common to catch the chickens pecking around the sleeping dogs, while the cats nap nearby. They are all friends!

      Ally wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • We’ve had the same experience – if anything, the chickens harass the cat (and he’s 20 pounds!) – not the other way around! :-P

        Emily wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • Depends on the dogs. I have kept chickens in the past but now have two lurchers. They would kill them instantly. They’re bred to chase and kill.

        QOTSA wrote on June 22nd, 2011
        • Yep, my two Akitas would make short work of any chooks that appeared in ‘their’ back yard too, unfortunatley.

          Misabi wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • You gotta get the dog as a puppy and train it from day one against eating chickens. And then it’s got to be a breed that hasn’t had its chase-anything-that-moves impulse exaggerated as a breed trait.

        Mutts are pretty much a wash. I mentioned in another comment here that my dad raised chickens when I was in high school. We also had a dog. She was the reason we had one of our chickens for dinner in the spring before I left home.

        Knew she couldn’t help it, she was playful and I think she thought the chicken was a live toy. Had she intended to eat it, we wouldn’t have had any left over for dinner… :)

        Dana wrote on June 22nd, 2011
        • Yeah, I would not even try with any breed of terrier or border collie.

          cTo wrote on June 23rd, 2011
        • I’ve successfully trained a Rhodesian Ridgeback and a Rat Terrier to leave my chickens alone. Now I’m working on our tenants’ puppies. It takes persistence but is probably possible for most dogs.

          Jeanmarie wrote on August 21st, 2013
  8. This is my first year raising chickens, we have 15 of them. Other than them pecking at my toes while wearing my 5 fingers or flip flops I love having chickens!

    Fern wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  9. Been raising 3 chickens for a couple years, but they don’t lay eggs anymore (chicken stock, coming right up!).

    We have 25 chicks + 1 bonus rare breed on the way. Going to have to find someone to take a few off our hands.

    Dave wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  10. A friend of mine in a busy neighborhood of San Jose, California (where I recently moved from) has a pretty normal sized backyard which she converted into a little paradise. She’s not at all paelo. She’s quite the junk food junky actually, but she’s got a garden of veggies in the back (most of which she gives away because she doesn’t like vegetables) and a cherry tree and lemon tree and a couple of other trees.

    She raises chickens from chicks under a warm light in the garage. Once they’re big enough, they wander freely in the backyard, pecking and scratching all day long. To keep them (and the cherries) safe, she laid a net on top of all the trees to create a huge canopy. She’s got 7 or 8 chickens. They’re not loud, they don’t smell at all, and they are her best friends. It’s super cool. She used to be my egg supplier.

    Peggy The Primal Parent wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  11. I hope to someday start a chicken coop. I mean… free eggs on a daily basis? It will just have to wait till I travel around the world and meet thousands of cavemen and cavewomen :)

    When I decide to settle down and find my home then having a spectacular garden along with a chicken coop will be a “necessity.”

    This is a great guide and I will refer back to it about 5-10 years from now!!

    Primal Toad wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • On a side note… my parents good friends are raising 7 chickens and they love it. Very intriguing.

      Primal Toad wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  12. We got our first 6 hens ($15 each, about 18 weeks old) about a month ago. Recently expanded that to a total of 14 hens (though two are “ornamental” – they really look cool and will probably only lay once or twice a week). Your article very well written, with loads of great resources. I don’t really have much to add.

    Chickens are highly underrated pets!! Our chickens are immensely entertaining (great for stress relief and relaxation!…kinda like watching fish swim around). Basicaly: easy to care for, fun & interesting, they provide you food almost every day and when they’re dead it’s socially acceptable to eat them. :P

    They primarily eat bugs, kitchen scraps of all kinds and anything else they find in the yard. We do supplement with commercial feed, but the hens rarely ever avail themselves of it once they’ve acclimated to their new home. Their favorite treats: mealworms, ground beef and watermelon!

    There is virtually no odor and just a few flies that hang out around the hen house. Nothing too bad. They take maybe 10 minutes of “work” every day – opening/closing the coop, picking up eggs, tossing out food, filling water and making sure the nesting boxes are clean/filled.

    The only “issue” we’ve had are the few birds with unclipped wings that decided the grass really was greener on the other side of the fence. Easy enough to snip the flight wings and problem is solved.

    Loads of pics of our hens & setup on our site: http://worldofgrey.com/?cat=116

    Next on our “to do” list is raising some meaties!

    Heather wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  13. I’ve had chickens for slightly over a year now, and they are fantastic creatures. Not only do they provide delicious eggs, but they are incredibly amusing and entertaining. In my opinion, there are few better ways to spend the evening than with a glass of wine, sitting in the garden, watching the chickens strut about eating whatever goodies they find.

    Victoria wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  14. Owning my own chickens is a dream of mine, along with living in a rural setting. Friends who have their own seem to love it, and the chickens themselves, strangely enough. :-) I think the temptation is to think they are maintenance-free however, and that hasn’t been my observation so thank you Mark for providing this guide.

    Alison Golden wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  15. Just a quick comment on the legality aspect. Even if backyard chickens are allowed, be sure to check additional zoning ordinances.

    For example, the search tool at backyardchickens.com says they’re allowed in my city. But another ordinance says that coops can’t be within 30 feet of an adjacent property line. Most common city/suburb lots are 40-60 feet wide. That automatically prevents coops in my city for anyone living on a lot less than say 65 or 70 feet wide.

    JohnT wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • We have a similar restriction in my town (San Diego County), however my chicken tractor is only 2X8 feet with the coop on top and it is mobile so therefore not a permanent coop structure. Comfortably houses my 4 hens while I’m at work and at night, otherwise they roam free. You can usually work around the limitations if you think creatively.

      Also the chickens aren’t very loud and don’t smell so there is no reason for neighbors to complain, provided you’re on good terms with them, I guess. Free eggs don’t hurt either. I will say the chickens have taken over the yard and it is a fair amount of maintenance to keep things tidy and poop free, however they make me smile and I love that they come running when I get home and hunker down for a good scratch. Seems to keep them happy too and they lay more eggs when I give them personal attention. I even bought them a covered turtle sandbox to bathe in, which they love. Talk about spoiled!

      Mariah wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  16. Hey Mark,
    What is your source. I live in the Los Angeles area and would love to get some good chickens and eggs.

    Can’t raise them myself…am an apartment dweller.

    Thanks

    Pamela wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  17. I have completely free range chickens that put themselves away at night. The coop has an electric door that opens in the morning and closes in the evening. they are in a 2 acre cattle pasture they can get out of but offers a little extra protection for them to run in and get away from predators. We hatch a clutch or two a season. Keep the hens and eat the roosters after about 5 months. We lost a few babies early on to a fox and a hawk. we put a mini donkey in the pasture with them and have not lost one since. Having an active large rooster helps protect them from predators also as he warns. I LOVE MY CHICKENS…and their eggs. Not only do they get all the bugs, grass, and organic feed, but they are happy. Even the roosters are loved and treated with respect until its time to go. I really think the hapiness makes them even healthier for my family.

    Sarah wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  18. Ah…I just got back from giving our flock a mid-day treat of some mixed berries (blueberries were a HIT, blackberries, not so much) and wanted to add one thing I didn’t see mentioned: noise.

    If you have neighbors close by, look for breeds that are listed as quiet. By far, our loudest and noisiest hens are the Rhode Island Red and Polish. Next in line is the silver laced wyandotte, though I think that’s an individual bird thing b/c wyandottes are not known for being noisy and our other two wyandottes are quiet.

    Most of the hens will give a little cackle after they lay an egg and that’s about it. The noisy birds will chatter all throughout the day and can be loud at times.

    Heather wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • Agreed, I can hear our Rhode Island Red Rooster from 3/4 of a mile away…at our neighbors house!

      Ally wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • If you don’t have a rooster, there is a good chance that one of the hens will start crowing. That happened to me.

        TXCHLInstructor wrote on June 23rd, 2011
    • Our Delaware hens are VERY noisy (we do not have a rooster). Anyone out there know which breeds are quiet? We’ll need to get quieter hens the next batch!

      Emily wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • Oh man, we have 9 different breeds and ALL of them will ba-gock at the top of their lungs every time any one lays an egg… the layer will start and then they’ll all chime in for about two minutes. It makes quite the racket. Lucky for us our neighbors are all stay-inside-with-the-AC-on types.

      Audry wrote on June 23rd, 2011
  19. I’ve had chickens (currently 9 hens) for almost a year now. I buy standard cheap layer mash – I figure their idyllic lifestyle and table scraps offsets the crappy food, but of course that’s a personal decision. The last time I really tracked my feed costs, my eggs cost right at $2/dozen – cheaper than “better” eggs from WF and WAY cheaper than “best” eggs from farmer’s markets. Also, they’re incredibly amusing to watch.

    When they were young and really gung-ho about laying, I was getting 9 eggs a day. Now that they’re about a year old, they’ve settled into 5-6 eggs a day, which is a number I can barely cope with.

    I probably spend less than 5 minutes a day caring for them. About once a month or so they’ll find a way out of the fence and I’ll have to do some maintenance. Adult hens are dead easy to take care of, if you’re zoned for it!

    funder wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  20. Oh man, Heather is totally right. I have Leghorns and they’re RIDICULOUSLY NOISY!

    This chart mentions how noisy each breed typically is. Can’t personally vouch for how accurate it is though.
    http://www.ithaca.edu/staff/jhenderson/chooks/chooks.html

    funder wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  21. Very cool. Now if only I had a backyard. I need an article for how to raise a condo chicken!

    Gary Deagle wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  22. Add us to the list of backyard chicken farmers. We’re up to about 40. They’re oddly charming critters. They also turn ticks into food — you’ve gotta love that!

    I confess to feeding them less-than-optimal feed in the winter; soy-free feed is hideously expensive. We give them scraps, freezer and refrigerator dregs, mice we catch in our kitchen, meat drippings, lots of stuff along with the feed. Too, this year we’ve planted pumpkins, with the idea that they’ll make a good winter supplement.

    This time of year they’re nearly free, since we have a big yard and just let them free-range. Don’t let anyone tell you chickens are natural vegetarians. Every time I see those eggs labeled “From chickens fed vegetarian feed” I think “Oh, poor chickens!” Our girls will jump over every kind of vegetable scrap to get a bug or scrap of meat. You should have seen ‘em when I threw them a salmon skeleton! And God help any toad, salamander, or baby snake who gets in their way.

    Great compost from the poopy straw from the coop, of course.

    Oh, and ours cost more like $2 each, not $5. Of course, we live in a small city in the Midwest, where we have farm supply stores, that very likely makes a difference.

    Dana Carpender wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • I totally giggle when I read that “vegetarian-fed” label. Although, there’s a farm that supplies my local co-op grocery, and they have this little explanatory pamphlet on the wall near the egg cooler, and they say their hens are vegetarian-fed but eat bugs out in the grass. I’m not sure what that’s about–maybe under the same category as “pescetarian.”

      Not that I’m gonna pretend the eggs at Kroger labeled “vegetarian-fed” are from chickens who get to run around outside.

      Dana wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  23. It is very satisfying to watch the chickens consume vast quanities of Japanese beetles this time of year. We pick hundreds off of the grape vines and dump them into the chicken pen (mass chaos follows)

    Tim Huntley wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  24. I plan to do this some day…But I can’t trust my dog. I know he would eat them when I’m not looking. I think that’s normal for a dog…

    Rhonda wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • It depends, I have a golden retriever named Bear (a bird dog, no less!) and a sheepdog. I was worried at first, but they know that the chickens are part of the family and don’t bother them. The first time our golden saw the baby chicks he could not stop drooling. When they were big enough to go in the coop, they were still contained, so he couldn’t get to them, but could see them. A bunch of them got out one day while I was at work, and I came home after dark to a very worried Bear, who paced between me and the coop. When I went over to see what was going on, there was a little pile of hens at the door of the coop, who couldn’t figure out how to get back in, and were just trying to keep warm for the night. I got them back in, and started letting them free-range after that. Bear doesn’t like the chickens to get too close, and once even pinned on down that tried to peck at him (he got a good scolding for that), but he will protect them from intruders and we haven’t lost any to predators. When I brought our other dog (Winston, the sheepdog) home, Bear taught him the ropes, so he has never bothered the chickens. He does like to herd the ducks into the coop at night, though :) They don’t always put themselves to bed like the chickens do.

      lucy wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • One of the kelpies had a go at new batch of pullets so I pinned her head to the ground and mr. wood explained that the hens were off limits. Working dogs are quick learners.

        kem wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  25. Chickens are too much fun! We are long time and dedicated chicken ranchers, and we’ve been working to localize the feed sources for chickens. If I might be so bold as to suggest our website: http://www.sustainablechicken.com as a resource.
    Someone above mentioned the smell of chicken manure, and then there’s the quantity, and I have one word for you: bedding. Just like keeping a hamster in the house, always have bedding available for your chickens. We use shredded junk mail (nothing shiny), and add it to their pen as it’s convenient. Dry leaves, straw, weeds, lots of material goes into the coop and pen. We have no smell, no flies, and the slowly building compost hosts worms and other critters that the chickens periodically scratch down to and eat.
    Obviously I could go o;, I do so love the eggs we get!
    Thanks Mark, and grok on!

    Christopher Peck wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  26. Rescue a CHICKEN! No, seriously. My husband and I have gone to large egg farms to buy chickens for our home. We live in Texas, and the warehouse chicken farmers rotate their stocks often and I have bought chickens for a nickel a piece. They are usually just your white leghorn variety. But you’re saving them from a life housed in a 12″ square cage (that’s 2 hens per cage, thankyouverymuch).

    I also loved buying the exotic hens from catalogs that gave blue, green, and sometimes speckled eggs. Those are always cool to show to your friends who think eggs only come in styrofoam boxes at the grocery store.

    And last, but not least…always get a rooster. Fertilized eggs just take better. It’s a country girl thing.

    Andi wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • I just bought 12 GREEN duck eggs !
      Some have speckles on them.

      Never seen duck eggs for sale anywhere ’til we stumbled upon a very unique Co-op 120 miles from our home. I can get chicken eggs all the time here but nothing ‘exotic’ like duck eggs. I bought 2 cartons and 5 blocks of pasture Butter.
      And a bunch of other weird stuff I’ve never seen…sure was worth the trip.

      Primal Palate wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  27. My only thoughts are these:

    Chicken poop *may* contain salmonella (bad for kids to be around if free-range), etc.

    And lastly chickens smell! Chicken coops and poop smells.

    Have considered raising them, but was discouraged by the disease factor I could be introducing to my backyard and the smell factor! Yuck.

    Any thoughts from those with experience with chickens/kids and beautiful landscaped backyards?

    EvansMama wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • We have four children and have never had an issue. We have also raised pigs, cattle, goats, sheep. You simply teach good handwashing. And you can create a coop/chicken yard that is completely enclosed and that doesn’t affect your beautifully landscaped backyard.

      Free-range doesn’t mean they have to have free run of your yard. It means they have the freedom browze/graze and walk around without being imprisoned in a small cage 24/7.

      Andi wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • Thanks for the tip! And the advice.

        I just don’t have the space to separate out an area…we only live on 1/3 acre….and it is all landscaped to some degree with trees and shrubs, although some areas are more wild than others.

        Maybe in the future when we move.

        EvansMama wrote on June 22nd, 2011
        • You need to google “chicken tractor”. We have 3 chickens, a chicken tractor, about a half an acre, a landscaped yard,(flower beds- we don’t worry much about the grass) and a three year old. :) I just roll the tractor to a new spot of grass every few days. Usually there’s not even enough poop in the old spot to bother with, and it dries fast. We also have a basset hound so total free range of the backyard is a no go. Tractor works perfect for us.

          Andrea wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • Try to relax about germs, especially salmonella. Your children have a greater risk of contracting it via commercial egg/chicken..other products. Chickens that are free-ranged and small farm raised rarely have problems with this. Due to the fact that they are not confined and overwhelmed by their own waste. You will need to keep their coop litter clean and their nest boxes, too. But, I would not worry so much. Also..we have a mobile chicken fence ( electric mesh, solar powered, that we use to herd them around on different areas of our property. This way..they get all the fresh plants, bugs, compost, etc..while staying away from areas where we work/play. And, out of the garden in the summer. During the winter, they pretty much have the run of the property…because kids are not running barefoot around and there is no risk with the garden issue. We have less problems with pests,especially ticks..now that they freerange around. Chickens love ticks!

      Ally wrote on June 22nd, 2011
      • Actually I am plenty relaxed about germs. We don’t use any kinds of germ-killing products or insecticides or anything. We are organic.

        I have heard that before about commercial chicken farms vs. family farms and salmonella mainly living in commercial farms. However, having not had experience…it didn’t seem prudent to chance it.

        Thanks for the real-world advice!

        EvansMama wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • A coop has to be pretty dirty for it to smell, just clean regularly and lay fresh pine shavings down every few days, and it’s not an issue. To me it’s just a “Country” smell, and I like that. But I do live up the street from a horse stable, so maybe I’m weird. A few birds in your backyard should absolutely not smell.
      I usually wash my eggs before using them. In four years we’ve never gotten sick from our eggs.
      As far as landscaping, they will scratch the ground and eat some plants, so if pristine landscaping is important to you, just keep them contained. My vegetable garden is fenced off so they can’t go in there, where they would certainly wreak havoc.
      Kids and chickens are great together, I have friends with kids and nieces and nephews who visit and they love the chickens and have never gotten sick.

      lucy wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • Not sure where you are coming from as I was raised with chickens and many other farm critters (like much of the world used to live and still do). You will catch a nasty bug and smell more foul stench from your fellow humanoids than you ever will from living more naturally. Growing up I ran all over our 80+acres with my 4 other siblings, much of the time barefoot and swam naked in our pond. People live in so much fear today, we fear everything and that’s not living. As far as landscaped yards go (hopefully not fertilized in order to get that way) keep them in a run and do some controlled free-ranging. Fence areas where they are not allowed, not that hard.

      Erik wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • If you have ANY mulch in your landscape forget about keeping it in place. The moment you rake it back to where it belongs your chickens will kick it back out. They will also scratch around the roots of some of your favorite plants (that’s where the bugs are of course!) potentially killing your landscape plants. But if you can free range them in a separate part of your yard they are great!

      brian wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • I come from two farming families. I was around chicken and pig poop from time to time. I’m still here.

      It weirds me out the way everyone gets nutty about salmonella but they still drive around in cars. Check the stats sometime on how many people die from car wrecks annually in the U.S. versus from salmonella. I believe even the flu death rate is higher.

      Weston Price documented that tuberculosis-exposed Swiss who were still eating their traditional diets were far less likely to contract the disease than city Swiss who ate a lot of industrial food. Something to think about: the best way to protect your loved ones is to feed them right, not keep them in a bubble.

      Dana wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • It comes down to population density. If you put too many of any animal on your land, you’ll have problems with odor, disease, bugs, etc….Assess how much land you have and the appropriate number of hens that land can naturally support and you won’t have problems with odor, disease and you’ll have healthier animals.

      We also wash our hands after handling our chickens, collecting eggs or handling our outside rabbit.

      Heather wrote on June 23rd, 2011
    • Chickens are *great* for kids to be around. For a healthy, functioning immune system, children need to be exposed to dirt and microbes. Trying to keep your little darlings isolated from germs is an unwinnable war. Even if you succeed, you lose because they won’t be as healthy.

      Bad smells are the result of bad management. Look into the Deep Little Method for bedding in the chicken house. You do need sufficient space and lots of ventilation for chicken health, and that will also mitigate smell.

      Jeanmarie wrote on August 21st, 2013
  28. 5$ a chick is a bit high, most hatcheries are under 2$ each. http://www.cacklehatchery.com/ has the best prices that I’ve found. This chicken tractor http://omelays.blogspot.com/2008/05/how-to-build-chicken-tractor-cheap.html is by far the best, light, easy to move, much much cheaper and easier to build than wood. We build a 10×12 for about $60 and are raising 100 pullets in it right now.

    Marie wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  29. I raised chickens in the County when I owned a home way back in the woods. I started with them in a coop, but some animal kept getting to them so I let them roam free in my yard. They had a better chance of flying a little ways …they roasted on my front porch, which I had to scrub each day. I could not kill them, but I did enjoy the eggs, of course some I did not use and I enjoyed watching them hatch…the lil yellow fuzzy things that they were …

    Sharon Bush wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  30. I am so interested in doing this next year. (This year, we had a baby instead of baby chickens.)

    In my first-ring urban-feeling suburb, city codes say we can have chickens but no roosters.

    Anne wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  31. Mark, for climates like ours (I live in Santa Barbara) I let my chicks outside in a pen at week 3, but mine always seem to be hugely independent at week 2. They get a light until week 8 at night. Also Modesto feeds has soy free organic chicken food if people can’t make their own. Otherwise Azure Standards has organic corn/soy free.

    Also, my hen is laying on 6 eggs currently, if anyones interested in chicks, they are due to hatch in 1.5 weeks and will be ready in Sep as pullets or cockerels. (mother raised) This batch is Americana x silkie, I’m working on purebred egg breeds for the next hatch. Like I said, I’m in Santa Barbara :)

    Brianna wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • Your hen is “sitting” on eggs, not “laying” on eggs. Or brooding a clutch of eggs.
      Fun fact: chickens sit in the nest as they prepare to lay, but when they finally get the urge, they stand up to lay the egg.

      Jeanmarie wrote on August 21st, 2013
  32. We’ve been contemplating the idea and recently moved to a place that would allow us to have chickens. We’re thinking 3 egg layers would be a good amount to start with. A smaller number is easier to contain at night.

    Hal wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • Agreed! And you will be surprised how quickly eggs pile up! Three is a good start!

      Ally wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  33. I encourage anyone with acreage to have a flock of free-roaming hens. It’s very easy to raise chicks under a heat lamp — allow them to get closer/further away and adjust their own temperatures. Dogs are a problem, and must be carefully trained to protect the flock from varmints but otherwise leave the chickens alone. I have two good dogs now, but in the past have had problems, and it can be heartbreaking to make the choice between a dog and your chickens. Some breeds are better than others around livestock.

    I sell eggs for $3/dozen (NC, near Chapel Hill). I eat 2 or 3 eggs a day.

    Another caveat: Make sure you do not purchase roosters unless you love loud crowing from 3 am onward.

    Casey wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  34. I love my chickens. Have had them for a few years, and they offer up eggs, pest control, fertilizer, and hilarity.
    Once the coop is built, they really are low, low maintenance. I let mine out to roam in the morning, and put them away at night, and that’s about it.

    This year, we raised some Cornish Cross meat chickens as well.

    fitmom wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  35. I’m an avid reader, Mark, and am excited that you’re posting on this topic. You can’t beat the quality of backyard-raised eggs. They fit perfectly within the primal way of eating, and you can fine tune what you feed the chickens to get ideal yolks and whites.

    If I may, I invite anyone interested in building their own coop to check out my site (TheGardenCoop.com). I have plans for a couple of original coop designs and write a blog all about coop construction tips and other creative ideas. Hope you find it helpful.

    John wrote on June 22nd, 2011
    • Hey John, good to see you here, thanks again for the awesome DIY Garden Coop design!

      Great information in this article as usual Mark, thanks!!

      Since starting our backyard chicken project last year we’ve enjoyed fresh organic eggs as an essential part of our new primal menu. Nothing beats the feeling of sticking it to the industrial farming culture when we can! :-)

      Primal Phil wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  36. I have a collection of 6 hens, two roos, an australian shepherd and a four year old son. DS is VERY attached to his ‘girls’, and the smell factor is nil. Seriously. Highly, HIGHLY overemphasized. If you smell your chooks, “UR DOIN IT RONG”. We play with our chooks a LOT, and if you raise them properly, the salmonella issue, again, yawn. Mountains from molehills. Just wash your hands when you’re done. Common sense at work here, not rocket science!

    I have a largish lot (.33 acre) and its IMHO quite nicely landscaped-the girls mosy in and out of the shrubs, and japanese beetles and cutwroms are a thing of the past. They love the ‘wildflower jungle’ of the cutting garden, and until you have watched chicken tag, and chicken keepaway, you really haven’t laughed.

    My rawfed dog poop lasts longer and smells more in the yard than the birds doo-and his poo lasts all of three days tops. (It’s white and crumbly after 3 days tops).

    My neighbor actually asked to please NOT get rid of my two roos, only one crows, but she said they so enjoy hearing him in the mornings. You may be surprised at the reaction they get.

    My dog (a herding breed, for those that aren’t familiar) is chicken proof-he spent the whole day, inadvertently, in the garage last spring with an escapee, and both survived quite well. He’s very enamored of them.

    Go for it. You’ll not regret it.

    Laurel wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  37. If you are paying $5 for a CHICK you are getting ripped off bigtime. For something very special and rare, fine, but for your average feed store chick, that’s just outrageous. Locally on Craigs List they run probably $2, and I just dumped 165 for 50 cents each just to move them since it’s late in the year and I didn’t want to risk getting left with them.

    Jennifer wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  38. We have chickens in our backyard and I love it! It’s been so fun for our kids to watch them grow from chicks to full grown hens.

    Sometimes they can be really loud but so far none of our neighbors has complained. They do wake me up in the morning- and these are hens not roosters.

    Someone above said they can stink but as long as you keep the coop clean and provide enough space/ fresh air for the amount of hens you have it won’t be a problem.

    I wrote a post on my blog just the other day about raising chickens:

    http://theprimalhome.blogspot.com/2011/06/want-free-range-eggs-get-backyard.html

    Kara wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  39. I love my chickens, too. I adopted two Light Brahma hens two years ago on the 4th of July. They are definitely hilarious and immensely smart. If I’m late on feeding them breakfast (they really like a banana with their soaked! grain) they mysteriously get out of their run and peck on my bedroom back door. We still haven’t figured out how they get out, but breakfast time is the only time they take the opportunity. My son, who is now 13, adores them. They are friendly, comical, beautiful and their eggs are amazingly delicious!

    Penny wrote on June 22nd, 2011
  40. Build an insect trap into, or adjacent to, your coop, using a black light, to supply your chickens with free food.

    http://ipm.osu.edu/lady/L.T.instr.htm

    http://www.ehow.com/how_5082621_make-insect-light-trap.html

    http://www.uky.edu/Ag/Entomology/ythfacts/4h/unit2/hotm&ult.htm

    Kevin Greer wrote on June 22nd, 2011

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