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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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June 22 2011

A Beginner’s Guide to Backyard Chickens

By Mark Sisson
209 Comments

Keeping 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!

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209 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Guide to Backyard Chickens”

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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!

    1. 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?

      1. 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.

      2. 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.

      3. 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.

      4. 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.

      5. 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.

      6. 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.

      7. 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???

      8. 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.

      9. 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.

      10. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

  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!

    1. 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!

    2. 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…

      1. 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. 🙂

      2. 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.

    3. Chickens are (loosely) livestock. Craigslist allows the selling of livestock. Working dogs can also be sold under “farm/garden”.

  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!

  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.

  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.)

    1. 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.

      1. 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).

        1. 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.

        2. 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.

        3. 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

        4. 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.

        5. 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.

        6. I also buy Vital Farms too for ~$6/dozen. I’m in St. Louis. Consider me lucky too.

        7. I just found a farm that says they have orange egg yolks! If you live in Michigan then buy your eggs from Crestwick Farms!!

      2. 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.

      3. 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.

    2. 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 🙂

      1. 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 .

      2. 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!

      3. I “hate” you. I am on a mission. A mission to eat an orange egg yolk. I’ll probably just slurp it right up.

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

    5. 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!

    6. 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.

    7. 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.

  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. 🙂

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

    2. 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..

    3. 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.

  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)

    1. 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

    2. 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!

      1. We’ve had the same experience – if anything, the chickens harass the cat (and he’s 20 pounds!) – not the other way around! 😛

      2. 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.

        1. Yep, my two Akitas would make short work of any chooks that appeared in ‘their’ back yard too, unfortunatley.

      3. 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… 🙂

        1. Yeah, I would not even try with any breed of terrier or border collie.

        2. 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.

  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!

  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.

  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.

  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!!

  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. 😛

    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!

  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.

  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.

  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.

    1. 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!

  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

  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.

  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.

    1. Agreed, I can hear our Rhode Island Red Rooster from 3/4 of a mile away…at our neighbors house!

    2. 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!

    3. 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.

  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!

  20. 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.

    1. 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.

  21. 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)

  22. 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…

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  23. 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!

  24. 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.

    1. 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.

  25. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

    2. 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!

      1. 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!

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

    5. 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!

    6. 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.

    7. 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.

    8. 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.

  26. 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 …

  27. 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.

  28. 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 🙂

    1. 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.

  29. 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.

    1. Agreed! And you will be surprised how quickly eggs pile up! Three is a good start!

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

    1. 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! 🙂

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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

  36. 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!

  37. I’ve had chickens for a while, in my (what I thought was huge) backyard. There are definitely pros and cons. Keep in mind I only have 4. First off, once you factor in the cost of the coop, the chickens, the feed etc etc. your eggs will end up costing you about the same amount as you would pay in the store. HOWEVER, they taste way better and are fresher, plus you know where they came from and how the chickens were treated. This was worth the cost for me.
    Raising chickens is a commitment. You can’t just go away for a week – I liken it to having a dog. You’ll need to find someone to care for them. Again, worth it.
    My chickens are rabid carnivores. They eat all my kitchen scraps but go for the meat first. The scraps they don’t want (egg shells etc) I chuck into my Worm Factory. Then, once every couple of days, I throw the chickens some worms. They freak out over them. Also, believe it or not, they LOVE tuna. They can’t get enough. All 4 chickens lay an egg every day when they get meat – if I only give them grain and grit, they start to get pissy.
    Also, I was all about the “free range” aspect at the beginning, until the chickens DECIMATED my vegetable garden in less than 10 minutes. I had to build a larger pen to keep them in after that. They also need access to greens so in went the weeds and grass clippings etc. They eat everything. I also give them flaxseed.
    If you’re able to have some in your yard, I recommend it for the experience. But unless you’ve got a larger operation or a farm, don’t think you’ll be saving money. It’s still awesome though and a great way to be responsible for and in touch with your food.

    1. Oh, and they eat all the black widows in my backyard. I’d rather have the kids playing in chicken poop than with spiders. 😉

  38. We LOVE our girls. Such a symbiotic relationship- they eat bugs & scratch the ground & I get cute little friends that chirp when they see me & give me eggs 🙂 If properly cared for, there is no issue with disease & children. Certain breeds are noisier than others, some are more aggressive, some are flightier, some lay more eggs… BUT, you’d need to get chicks to raise if you want them to be bonded to you. Mine love to sit in my lap & be petted 🙂 I’ve got wyandottes & orpingtons & they’re great with my family -my lab dog is a sweetie & hangs out with them 🙂 The “deep litter” method actually prevents diseases & provides them with B12 – it is what the old farmers used to use before factory farming took over, but its on its way back… its basically like compost- compost stinks if not turned & cared for, but good compost doesn’t stink. As for cost, ours were $2/each. Feed is minimal if they’re free-rangers, the coop cost the most (but we built a disguised “potting shed”). Good luck 🙂
    link on deep litter: http://www.plamondon.com/faq_deep_litter.html
    link on great chicken site:
    http://www.backyardchickens.com/

  39. We live on a small 30 acre farm and we’ve raised a lot of poultry – geese, ducks and chickens. The problem (for me) is having to slaughter after the birds are done laying. A layer will only produce daily eggs for a short time – maybe a year to a year and a half then…well…it’s to the stew pot. But by this time they are cherished pets with names. Free roaming laying hens are very, very tough birds to eat by the time they are done laying! You can make soup out of them though. If you want the delight of free-roaming birds and daily eggs WITHOUT the problem of bubble-gum consistency chicken poop on your lawn (and on the bottoms of your shoes) then might I recommend ducks? Duck eggs are awesome (worth twice the carbs and fat of a chicken egg) and duck poop is very wet which means that it hits the grass in liquid form and quickly dries to a powder and disappears or the rain gets it. Chicken poop will be on the lawn and sidewalk to your front door for MONTHS. Ducks have a fabulous personality and ponds are not required. Laying ducks are either Khaki Campbells or Runners and both are a hoot to get to know. We did fill a kiddie pool for them every day (our well groaning in the process) but it’s not necessary. Winter can be tough because they make an icy mess in a water bucket in winter!

    1. We let our ducks roam (8 of them) but our yard became a layer of duck goo, so we sent them to a new home with a pond.

    2. Duck eggs are way healthier than chicken eggs AND taste better, too.
      I just had my very first duck eggs EVER in my life and I’m hooked.
      Once you go quack you never go back 🙂

  40. Unfortunately I am unable to have chickens. My yard is too small according to the legal stuff.

  41. My family just got everything set up and purchased some ducks.

    I highly recommend ducks over chickens for a few reasons.

    1. Ducks are flocking birds which means, among other things, that they look out for one another… Chickens establish a ‘pecking order’ and have been known to be quite brutal to eachother.

    2. Ducks are generally more intelligent and better able to drive off small predators (though you still definitely want to have safe place for them at night).

    3. Duck eggs are typically the size of jumbo chicken eggs, or larger, and are also quite happy to forage in the back yard for bugs/plant life/etc.

    4. Ducks are generally quieter than chickens, and the poop is 90% water and therefore decomposes more quickly and is generally less of a mess in the back yard when they are out free ranging.

    If you go with Indian Runner, Welsh Harlequin, or Khaki Campbells you should average around 250 to 300 eggs a year per duck and you should get close to 100% yield for 2 to 3 years, with a dramatic drop in yield each year after the 2nd or 3rd. (Most chickens only give full yield of eggs for 1 year).

    If you want to spend a bit more you can buy Golden 300 or or “White Layer” breeds. These breeds average a minimum of 300 eggs per bird per year and have a 100% capacity timeline of 3 years or more, on average. They also tend to lay larger eggs. These are the ducks most laying farms typically use. I found a local free range duck farm here in the Seattle are that is selling their extra Golden Layers for $35 each, full grown and ready to lay. I bought our 5 ducks at 9 months old, they had been laying for 2 months.

    1. You know, I had read this about ducks as well. Plus I also read they don’t scratch up the landscaping like chickens do.

      Nice to hear about the poop option as well….

  42. I have a question about the mealworm option. I followed the link for raising mealworms, and they are fed with grains. Seems kinda silly since we’re trying to avoid feeding grains to the chickens. They’re basically just putting the grains one rung lower on the food chain. Anybody have any thoughts on alternative food for mealworms?

  43. I’ve raised chickens for eggs and meat for 20 years, always ordered from Welps Hatchery. They are shipped by mail, and I love the post office call at 6:30 a.m.: “Come get your chicks!! They’re making a racket!”
    Once grown, I do feed them all our uncooked kitchen scraps (and chicken feed), but they stop laying if fed meat and fat. Read up on chicken “moult” before you panic when they lose their feathers and stop laying.

  44. I’ve had backyard chickens for about 3 years now. I think you’ve covered most of the relevant topics pretty well Mark.

    For those concerned about the smell, I use this stuff called EM-1.

    http://www.teraganix.com/

    Just a little bit in their drinking water, and some diluted in a spray bottle and sprayed all over the coop once a week and there is almost zero manure smell.

  45. My Grandma raises chickens! 🙂
    She feeds them on grains and inside a cage, though. 🙁

    Now… Do you think you would be able to kill and eat the ladies afterwards…? I personally would see them as partners, pets, nothing more.

  46. After our 12 year old dog passed, I wanted a different kind of pet for my family to enjoy, and since I’d recently stumbled upon Primal living, I was inspired to try chickens. A friend donated 7 chicks (5 boys, 2 girls) and a hen – they grew quickly and were a delight to watch, and after we rehomed the boys (we live in city limits and can’t have a rooster), we still have 3 beautiful hens that provide us with entertainment, a relatively bug-free zone, manure, and lets not forget those delicious eggs! Please note that hens are social animals, so it’s best to have at least 3. My husband built an awesome coop (Chicken-Mahal) from a repurposed rabbit hutch we got for free on craigslist, and we let our hens range in our yard when we’re home to make sure they stay safe, then at night they get locked up in their coop to protect them from predators. We will continue keeping chickens – they’re so much fun!

  47. Great topic! I plan to have 4 chickens when we move out of our current house (I plan to name each one after the Seinfeld characters) and maybe a few ducks/geese. I’m surprised more people don’t do it considering how cost effective it is and the fact youc an control what they eat.

  48. Funny this post should appear today, we just picked up 5 new chicks today. We have found that one of our old girls usually wants to brood them so we stick her in with the little ones and pretty soon she’s a mama again for a few weeks. Its really cute. Any yes, the ORANGE yolks are the BEST. We get 2-3 eggs per day, but will soon be geting 5-7 when these girls start putting out in the fall.

  49. Just chiming in with the chicken lovers. We’ve had chickens for more than 8 years now; having as little as 6 to more than 100 (chicken lust gone wrong). Currently we have about 50 birds, mostly chickens, but also ducks, geese, and turkeys. They roam our 2 acre property during the day (although I do try to keep them out of the gardens), and are looked in coops at night to protect them against fox and coyotes. We do have the occaissional hawk kill, but not too often. Homesteading and loving it in the NJ Pine Barrens

  50. In our town we can keep a few hens but no roosters, and only after we’ve asked permission from all close neighbors. My neighbors keep three pet hens – I love the sounds.

    It seems to me that no matter how up-market a housing development is or how well-built the houses are, if a homeowners association (aka “yard Nazis”) can order you around and interfere with food gardening and small animal husbandry, that housing development is lower in class than one which looks more modest but allows more freedom. Growing food, hanging laundry outside, and keeping a few rabbits or ducks or chickens seem to me to be basic human rights.

    In short, Mark, in your shoes I’d think of moving away from the “association.”

    Has anybody kept quail? I thought that might be fun.

  51. I get my pastured eggs from a lady who raises chickens in her hilly backyard, she has about 60 of them. I pay $5/doz, the yolks are orange and definitely taste way better than any store bought, free-range or pastured eggs. I thought about raising my own chickens but our city limits the max to 6 and, as many eggs as we eat, we wouldn’t be able to get enough eggs that way. I’ve also seen what the chickens have done to this lady’s yard – not pretty – so I’m happy with buying them for now.

  52. If anyone else wants to do this, I wish them all the luck in the world. My parents did this when I was a kid, and it was disgusting. You’ve got to have a really big backyard, and you have to be okay with your kids never playing in their own yard, because it is covered with chicken crap. You have to be willing to wade through chicken crap on a daily basis to collect the eggs and to fight the chickens for them. You have to be willing to clean your chicken shed regularly, which will be covered in crap again as soon as you do.

    I’d rather pay more for pastured chickens and their eggs than deal with the mess, myself.

  53. Chickens are the best pets I have ever had. I have had chickens on a double urban lot of about half an acre for a few years now. I have 20 and they wander all up and down our dead-end street visiting neighbors, many of whom are elderly and immigrants from Asia who grew up in more rural settings. They get very nostalgic when the hens wander in their yards and hearing the roosters crow in the morning. By some miracle we have not had issues with raccoons, raptors or coyotes even though we know they are plentiful around Seattle where we live. We have a variety of breeds and get all different colors and sizes of eggs with fabulous rich deep yellow yolks. We let the occasional broody hen hatch a few eggs from time to time, and give them to friends or keep the more personable ones. Interestingly we have some that travel in a pack of 2-4 at a time and then some that dont mind being solitary, although they will occasionally hang out with the others. The roosters are fascinating to watch – they shepherd the small groups of hens around, point out food and keep watch while the ladies eat. I’ve seen one of my roosters fight off an aggressive dog, so they clearly take their job as protectors seriously, and it is too bad that they are so unwelcome in most urban settings. They live in harmony with my dogs, free-ranging rabbits and cats. I feel very fortunate to be able to maintain this little farm in the city and expose my son to the joys of personally investing in some of our own food sources.

  54. Well…this is interesting. I decided to check out Mark’s wonderful blog as always and saw this blog. I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while so I jumped over to craigslist out of curiosity and I saw an add for 3 one year old tame Buff Orpinton’s, a coop, chicken fencing and feed all delivered for only $200. Looks like I am now the proud owner of 2 chickens :D.

    Sometimes I feel this blog controls my life :P.

  55. Boy, does this bring back memories = the chickens and rabbits my folks had when I was but a wee tot (~4-5 years old). When we had to move, Dad had a bunch of hens we couldn’t take with us so he gave them away. He didn’t have the heart to kill them even tho he hunted wild rabbit, deer, quail and doves. I don’t remember what happened to our domesticated rabbits, but I would guess they ended up in the stew pot as did their ancestors before them. The hens were another story—

    But I really enjoyed reading about the roosters. During the 1950’s we lived across the street from another Italian family who had a huge back yard and lots of chickens and roosters. The crowing started anywhere around 3:00 AM, and even tho we lived smack-dab in the middle of Los Angeles, at that time the roosters were still OK to have. (And we still had incinerators to burn our trash so that tells you how long ago this was!)

    The big bonus was the eggs – our family grew vegetables and traded fresh produce for fresh eggs with our very dear friends across the street. Those eggs were unbelievable – the yolks were a deep, dark, bright, redish orange. After our friends passed away, their kids took over the property and the hens eventually disappeared mostly because city ordinances changed.

    Half the time anymore I can’t remember what I ate for lunch, but I sure can remember those eggs!!

    Today DH and I live in a HOA community of free standing homes with fairly large lots. I’d love, love, love to have chickens but we have 8 cats, a rabbit and a turtle – not to mention the wild animals that abound around here (central Arizona). Even tho we have 6′ block wall fences around our property, coyotes can scale those walls with no trouble. I’d hate to bring chickens in only to send out an invitation to the coyotes who would do a number on our cats. (The rabbit lives in our bathroom, so he’s safe).

    Variances differ from city/city and HOA/HOA, etc., but you can check out what’s allowed in your area (assuming you give a rat’s ass) and you might be surprised! One thing that I found interesting is that bees are considered “livestock” in some areas so you can’t have bee hives on your property!

  56. Chickens are a lot of work. I grew up on a farm. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to have some again one day, but I know what to expect in terms of startup workload and daily effort. Glad you mentioned grit and oyster shells too!

    Also, make sure you’ve got the stomach for chopping heads and pulling guts – those egg-laying chickens will eventually need to ‘move on’ and you might as well make use of the meat!

  57. I’m not raising chickens now, though I’d like to someday. But I have looked into the laws here in Columbus, Ohio. Weirdly, you are not allowed to compost your chicken manure! I kind of understand why–it’s very nitrogen-rich and that can be an explosive hazard if not handled correctly. But what do they think we’re going to do with it, throw it in the trash? That’s even worse. At least if it’s out in the air rotting, it’s less likely to go off.

  58. Pine shavings as bedding is the way to go. Your coop won’t smell bad at all. If you only have a dozen or fewer chickens, and you feed them organic feed and use pine shavings to keep their coop clean and fresh, your eggs could cost you as much as the farmer’s market price! It is not really cost effective once you add organic feed, which is 3-4 times more expensive than regular feed. I buy the regular feed, but my chickens eat lots of table scraps, bugs, worms, and even meal worms. So their conventional feed is just a little filler, and a bag lasts a long time. It’s cheaper to use junk mail and newspaper as litter, but much more labor intensive, if you want the coop to remain clean and dry. Paper absorbs a lot of urine and gets damp and smelly unless you add to it several times a week. Kiln-dried pine shavings are more expensive, but they last and last. You’ll get great eggs, but you will not necessarily save very much money. It’s up to the individual as to how much money or labor they want to put into it, but don’t go out and get chickens thinking it will save you money on eggs until you’ve done the math! It’s a hobby first and foremost.
    There is also the down-side of shooting predators and slaughtering sick chickens. The taking-of-life comes with the territory!

    1. Raising chickens is like any other endeavor – it’s fun, gives benefits but definitely has it’s price so you need to be sure to factor the real costs in to what you’re getting as a return. What’s the real cost of each one of those precious eggs?

      Just like veggie gardening – by the time I factor in all the costs even for an organic garden, I could probably buy a heck of a lot more veggies for half the cost it took me to grow my own. Yes, it’s fun to go out in the garden and pick stuff for tonight’s dinner, I know where it came from and what wasn’t sprayed on it, etc. Same for the eggs – you know exactly the whole history of that particular egg and that’s self gratifying in it’s own right. It’s a hobby and that’s how I see it foremost – the other benefits are just icing on the cake (that being a Primal cake, of course!)

    2. We started with shavings, and then added dry sand for dust-bathing, which they looooved! With the scratching, the whole brooder was filled with well-mixed sand-and-shavings, and doesn’t stink.

      We also had a few eight-foot natural branches that they used all the time, and kept them from trying to perch on one another, which they do, if they have nowhere to perch.

      Even with organic feed, a beautiful permanent, outdoor, insulated brooder, and overhead netting, these chickens will be much cheaper than either organic store-bought or farm-gate birds.

      But I live in the far north of Canada and a 2 lb organic chicken is $12, and $5/lb farm-gate. Eggs are $5/dozen farm-gate and $7/dozen store-bought.

      I couldn’t make my chickens that expensive to raise without seriously trying, lol.

  59. I grew up eating duck eggs, my parents had White Pekins and a lone Indian Runner. We lived on two acres near a pond. The ducks got let out during the day and cooped at night. We still lost a few to dogs and weasels. Duck eggs are a hair bigger and richer than chicken eggs. The ducks were very good at keeping the slugs and snakes under control. My mother-in-law has had chickens for years and aside from the orange yolks I discovered the hard way that the shells are much harder and thicker than store bought. She has a mobile pen with netting on top and a coop. We have hawks, eagles, coyotes, weasels, skunks, dogs and oppossums that all like eggs or chickens. She has also fed them scraps in addition to the feed. Design your coop in such a way that rats cannot hide in or under it, because they like chicken food too. I’ve never thought that chickens or ducks smelled much unless someone was shoveling poop. I don’t consider chickens or ducks to be particularly noisy and rather enjoy hearing them talk to each other.

    Invildr

  60. I raised chickens for eggs and meat in the early 80s — such fun! Much reward for very little work and almost no cost. The eggs were amazing… deep orange yokes that stood up tall in the pan with incredible flavor.
    I located the coup and a run right next to the garden and fed them all the over-ripe veggies they could eat. But they REALLY loved the weeds. Especially chick-weed. They went nuts for it (wonder how it got it’s name? ;).

    Brooding chicks — watch out if you do it indoors. They put out MASSIVE amounts of dust. I raised two dozen chicks in my basement, and after a couple of weeks,it looked like the place hadn’t been cleaned in 40 years, but the chicks were adorable.

    One other note — rats really like chicken feed, too. I had rats the size of cats tunneling all around the coup. I think they went after the food when the chickens went in at night. Live and learn.

  61. Can anyone address (more completely) the end of useful life issue. What, exactly is required to slaughter and dress your non-productive older birds.

    1. The forum on the backyard chicken site has an area dedicated to meat chickens and how to process them (or dual purpose birds aka retired egg layers). http://www.backyardchickens.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=248648

      I really believe if someone is willing to eat meat, they should have the “stones” to be willing to do the dirty work…I told my husband that by the end of this, we’ll either be eating yummy free range chicken or we’ll be vegetarians. Give ’em a good life, then off with their heads!

  62. I wrote in earlier that I have 52 chickens. I started with 60 day-olds from a so-called “reputable” hatchery. I later found out that the farmer who was dealing with what she thought was the hatchery, was actually dealing with a dealer for the hatchery, so I was unwittingly very far removed from the transaction (never again!).

    A surprising issue for me has been the discovery that chickens from hatcheries are not, in general, bred to eat real, organic, nutrient-dense food. So, since we’ve been feeding them real food of that sort, which they looooove (and isn’t the point, or the problem), several of them were unable to stand up by their fifth week! They were eating themselves to death.

    They are not cornish; they are supposed to be redbros (meat chickens that free-range and are supposed to take longer to size up, making them stronger overall- uh huh, we’ll see…).

    Ours have been just dying, and it seems that they cannot handle real food, whereas the chicks at another farm that were a part of the same order, are doing fine on a diet of double-milled sprayed grain with a very low nutrient-density and only 11% protein. One step above sawdust. One.

    We are killing our chicks by feeding them properly (followed all the guidelines for protein intake for these birds, temp. guidelines, and they are on pasture since they feathered out).

    The difference between how we have cared for our birds and the two other farms where the birds are not dropping off, is that we feed them organic chicken feed and they are pastured. So obviously, ours are dying. :/ Right.

    It is all well and fine to want to feed the chickens what you would want to have in your body in terms of quality (we do, and will continue to do so), but if they are bred to tolerate only low-nutrient, chemicalized food, then they may not tolerate it.

    In my case, I refuse to feed them crap, even if I lose half the flock. I don’t want to eat birds that were raised on chemicalized grain pablum. That’s why I’m raising my own to begin with!

    Next year, we’re going to raise fewer birds, and all heritage chickens and ducks from a small farm that has the whole life-cycle going on on their farm. That’s what we want, too, so we’re going to take the time required to raise healthy, robust flocks, because day-old chicks from trays just isn’t good enough.

    I’m seriously disappointed with these. That and there’s really good reason why young are raised by their mothers. Two years ago, our two goslings ate something really thorny and one died. This time, five goslings died because without their mother to show them, they weren’t eating any grit and they bunged up their digestive tract. So dumb. Natural selection right there- but expensive for me. I can give them a gorgeous insulated brooder, consistent heat at the beginning, water, (green) feed, and fresh air all day, but I can’t monitor how they use their beaks– that’s their mother’s job.

    I am keeping two of the smarter geese to hopefully raise goslings for me next year. My older geese are raising my neighbour’s goslings right now, and it’s working out perfectly. I gave them my geese, which is why they are not raising my goslings.

    I highly recommend finding mother birds or pairs (for geese especially) to brood chicks, unless you’re only going to have a handful of them and you are happy being a mother to them. They are babies, and they have very similar needs to human babies, which I find annoying, since my mothering energy goes rightly to my five children.

    They are NOT smart! They need training! By their MOTHERS! I’m already thinking past these ones to the healthy strong birds we’re getting from a farm, not a hatchery. It’s a homestead farm where they raise free-roaming heritage animals on a very small scale. I am hopeful that this will be a better experience for us.

    If you want eggs, can’t keep messy, loud chickens, and don’t mind little eggs, quails are easy to keep, very quiet, and make delicious eggs.

    Bantam chickens are good for eggs and require less space, too, than standard breed chickens.

    Okay, carry on. 🙂

  63. Great post! Bit surprised reading about the brooder … it’s so un-primal. I think you have more healthy chickens when they are raised by their mother.

    For a lot of people it’s really an ideal picture of a chicken who welcomes you every morning. Our hen Sneppie escapes every morning over the fence and welcomes us at the door (hi, it’s me and more important … give me some seeds!).

    Since a few months we have a cock. He’s huge! We were very happy to hear him crow for the first time. But when it got summer and the sun raises at 5 … we weren’t so happy anymore 😉
    The cock has done a great job … 19 little chicken were born 10 weeks ago. And 12 more to come. Al raised by their mommy. Very cute!

    Our eggs are great and we are very curious about the meat. Yes … we intent to eat some of them (if we are emotionaly ready for it …;-)

  64. We’ve raised literally hundreds of chickens. I currently have 50 Freedom Rangers, a bred-for-pasture meat bird, that are about 3 weeks old (http://www.freedomrangerhatchery.com/) and 25 dual-purpose chicks – most of the roosters will become stew/coq au vin, although we might keep one if he’s nice ;), and the rest will become laying hens (I’m raising some for a friend). We also have 9 older layers. For a family of 4 that eats primal, I like to have at least 7 dozen eggs a week, so 12-18 birds is perfect for us. Add in bartering, sharing with friends, and cooking for potlucks and 20-25 is not out of the realm of reasonable.

    The 50 meat birds we butcher ourselves – check out my tutorial here (and forgive the spam): http://smallfarm.about.com/od/farmanimals/ss/processchickens.htm They are delicious and grassfed, although they do eat some chicken feed as well; we get it locally. (The birds in the tutorial are Cornish Rocks but I far prefer the Freedom Rangers. This is our second year raising them.)

    I use the deep litter method for managing bedding in the chicken coop. I highly recommend it – no smell, and we just clean it out every spring and start over, adding the year’s worth of bedding to the compost pile:

    http://smallfarm.about.com/od/farmanimals/a/deeplitter.htm

    If you’ll forgive still more spam, I’ve written dozens of articles on raising chickens for About.com and would love to help MDA readers by sharing the link:

    http://smallfarm.about.com/od/chickens/Chickens.htm

  65. My father-in-law lives out in the country and has a full up coop of about 20 chickens. Eat only their eggs as I know exactly what they eat and where they eat it from. Pure bug-land!

    Never had an issue with sterilization and you can tell the difference between a real free-range eggs and the ones that say so at the supermarket. The real ones taste A LOT better and the yolk takes up most of the insides.

  66. We love our chickens! We live in a suburban neighborhood with a nice sized backyard and we have six (the max that we’re allowed). The neighborhood kids love it and often peek over the fence and talk to them. It’s my 14 yr old daughter’s job to collect the 4-5 eggs we get a day and she always says “Thank you ladies.” when getting them. They are in a pretty big run but are let out to roam the yard in the evenings and on weekends. And fresh eggs are a great hostess gift!

  67. I’ve scanned over the comments so I hope what I am adding will not be redundant. We raise chickens, ducks, guineas and geese and have for 10 years on our hobby farm. My remarks are based on raising chickens in a rural area, not in town so some of what I say may not be relevant.
    It is work and you are tied down. You can’t just go off and leave your birds while you take a vacation, that’s the first thing I want to say right up front. Raising chickens sounds very cool but the reality is that it requires work and your presence all the time. We haven’t had a vacation together in years. That isn’t a problem for us because we love our place and my DH is a recluse but I don’t think there is an awareness of that aspect frequently.
    If you order from a hatchery, and we have had good luck doing that, be sure you do not order a “straight run.” That means you get what they send you and you will get a large number of roosters. When you have a lot of roosters they are very hard on your hens with there constant “attention.” You will have to slaughter them early. We made that mistake when we first started and it wasn’t pretty!
    If you also plan on having a garden chickens can destroy it post haste, especially seedlings. Chickens are also “varmit bait” where I live. The predators think it’s Furr’s cafeteria and chicken is the special of the day. When we were free ranging we had coyote in the yard area, the day we had enough was when we couldn’t get the coyote to get up from the chicken it was eating to leave the yard area.
    We now have a good size coop and a fenced area the size of most people’s yards. We feed kitchen scrapes and some grains and mealy worms to supplement the bugs, etc. However, they do scratch it to the dirt very rapidly so we supplement with fresh green cuttings and comfrey. We don’t have problems with the poop smelling, haven’t heard much complaint about that. We clean the coop out into one of garden areas that is laying fallow for the year.
    We have had our entire coop cleaned out at least twice by raccoon- lost everything. Even though we thought the coop was very secure, the raccoon can climb and have very dexterous fingers. Skunks are also a problem. We have had very little luck with hen raised babies because of snakes getting in the nest boxes and eating eggs before they were hatched (also skunks). We brood ours in on extra bedroom or on the dining room table (which we don’t use lol).
    Least you think we have poor housing for our birds. We have rebuilt the coop twice and have a new very large multiple room coop with concrete footing. The entire series of bird yards are enclosed with 2 foot sheet metal and an 8 foot wire mesh fence on top.
    I highly recommend ducks and geese. They free range our entire farm without damaging the plants or gardens. They are good weeders. They are large enough to have, so far, escaped the predation that our chickens seem to attract. They are much less noisy than the roosters although there is nothing quiet about our place, which seems to surprise people who come to visit. The geese make great pets. Although I enjoy my chickens, the geese have been more fun and more interactive.
    As far as eggs, the duck and geese eggs are larger, last longer on the kitchen cabinet or refrig (6 months in the frig or 2 months out for duck eggs). The yolks are larger, they are really good for cooking. I’m sure this group doesn’t mind but fertile eggs with have a red spot in them and some our customers only unfertile eggs (strange people).
    In Texas we sale our chicken eggs for $3 a dozen, duck for $4 and geese eggs for 50 cents a piece.
    I love my birds and wouldn’t do anything else. I just want people to understand the reality. I have had more than one case of folks thinking it sounded so great to raise their own cute chickens in their backyard only to come face to face with reality and confine them to little bitty coops or discard of them in inhumane ways.
    By the way we have about a dozen chickens, 10 Peking ducks, 6 geese adults as well as 6 baby ducks and 6 baby geese and one pet goose that lives in the house with us. Our dogs and cats all get along with our fowl, although our mastiff accidently killed one playing with it one day. We keep our cats very well fed to decrease any feeding on our fowl or yard song birds. I hope might have been helpful-I didn’t go on and on about all the wonderful parts of owning our animals because that has been covered above. I wanted to just interject some of the less wonderful parts for anyone considering.

  68. I’ve had a variety of chickens over the last 25 years we have lived on our little farm of 15 acres. We’ve gone from the dog house renovated into a coop to a full-fledged Amish built coop that will hold about 10 chickens. We currently replenished out stock – red foxes are the bane of our chickens’ existence. My husband’s gun is the bane of the red foxes’ existence 😉 I had to laugh at the commenter who said cats were a threat to chickens. We have always had a supply of barn cats who can bring down a small rabbit with ease but we have never had a cat mess with the chickens, even the peeps. The mother hens can be quite ferocious, not to mention the roosters. It is not uncommon around here to see the chickens and cats drinking water from the same communal bowl in the barn. Similarly, our dogs seem to accept them as part of the family and never even threaten. The same cannot be said of a few neighbors’ dogs over the years. I’ve always said chickens are like mini-dinosaurs and we are thankful they are not much bigger because they love their meat. I laugh when I see the “vegetarian-fed” labels at the store. We supplement our chickens with bird seed, especially sunflower seeds, in the winter when insects are wiped out by the cold. We never feed commercial chicken feed. Their yolks are the loveliest orange and the taste of a fresh chicken egg will never let you go back to commercially raised eggs again.

  69. I should also add that our hens are Buff Orpingtons, a very large docile breed that lay eggs very consistently even through winter months. We have two roosters, a Buff and our newest, a Brahma, a comical guy with feathers on his feet.

  70. Growing up we had chickens and ducks. (As well as cows, pigs, giant veggie gardens, and a small orchard – the good life :).
    Having a lot of chickens (or any animal for that matter) is stinky and messy. But, they are actually very fun to be around. Much better tempered then geese or turkeys. My town does allow backyard hens and I have every intention of purchasing Sussex hens next spring. I would recommend doing plenty of research on breeds that meet your specific wants/needs. Don’t just buy a cute fuzzy little chick, there are a lot of breeds out there with distinct characteristics.

  71. My father kept them … in a huge sort of fenced yard, with trees and grass and a big Nissan hut of a chicken house. I was terrified of the chickens. He used to make me feed them … he would open the door of their house in the morning, and the warm, not-so-sweet-smelling fug of straw and chickens would hit me … and I would hope upon hope that they would all wander their noisy, pecking way out quickly, and without touching me, so I could quickly collect the eggs and escape the pen!
    Moral of the story: I’m sure Dad thought it was a great experience for me, but it left me with a lifelong fear of chickens … eggs were amazing, though ; )

  72. @jo spencer

    Egg Box. Simple solution that allows collection of eggs without going into the coop or pen. Delicious eggs, and no mingling with the little pecker heads, lol.

    Also, externally fed waterers and feeders mean not having to go in for that either.

    To muck out the coop, we shoo our chickens out into the yard and we built it so that we’re on the other side of the fence where they can’t go. They have a huge yard, so it doesn’t need mucking.

    The only time we need to touch or be next to our chickens is when we gather them for butchering.

    Problem solved if all you want are eggs. You wouldn’t need to be in the same space with them ever.

  73. Hahaha. Shipping chicks. I wonder how much stress that puts on them, and how long it takes to arrive?

  74. (www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/the_smallscale_poultry_flock).

    This link will take you to the publishers page for my husband’s book on this subject. There you will find a full description of the book and where to pre-order. It will be available in late September.

    You can check out our website in the meantime.

    http://www.themodernhomestead.us.

  75. I’ve toyed with the idea of this for years. It wont happen now that I’ve gone back to apartment living, but may one day. My parents have friends that raise quite a few chickens in the country and they are constantly giving away eggs. Can’t eat them fast enough.

  76. I’ve killed older laying hens. They make absolutely fantastic stock. Just unbelievable – like jello out of the fridge, and so much tastier than even stock made with meat birds (young/12 weeks or so of age at slaughter). And yes, birds I “knew” for a couple of years. I don’t have a problem with it.

    That said, I have some 3-4 year old hens who are still laying. Free range and organic feed and not using supplemental lighting all winter gives them a much longer egg-laying life span.

    1. They can. They can be fed sawdust and double milled grain husks with a bit of the grain left in it. They can be fed diseased offal and heat-sludged human waste through a tube.

      But do you want to eat the body that ate those things?

      Chickens are ominvores, and because of that reality, their bodies are built with the expectation of an omnivorous diet- that is unless you have factory birds that can’t handle real food, like mine, and I ranted about that earlier, lol.

      Real chickens, from high quality lines, will eat meat, grass, vegetables, bugs, fruit, eggs, etc…. They eat like us, essentially, with some preparation differences (usually).

      Corn, soy, and wheat mess up the natural omega fats ratio in their bodies, and alter the proper pH in their bodies, leading to disease, including improper digestion and therefore poor metabolism.

      But many birds have been bred to eat that junk, and consequently they are also bred to have very short lives, if they survive to butcher. If you feed that to layers, their eggs will likewise have unhealthy ratios, as the hens’ bodies.

      I have had eggs from chickens fed corn/soy/wheat, and there is a very noticeable difference. I actually find grain-fed layers’ eggs disgusting- the whites have a most unfavourable texture and the yolks are weak and the whole thing is pretty flavourless overall. My children literally gag from them, though they love pastured eggs.

      Pastured birds get the natural grain from the tops of the grasses, in a quantity and season that makes sense, and the bugs, soil, and scraps of meat and vegetation make delicious, healthy eggs. Their bodies are likewise amazingly delicious.

      I only know about the delicious meat from having it in Cuba where the chickens received no feed at all- just pasture. I have had old layers that were pastured, too, and they were excellent (as stock), as were their eggs before they were butchered.

      “Fed” chickens are inferior to pastured chickens without exception- in taste, texture, nourishment to our bodies, etc…. I have to feed my chickens a bit because their pasture is not great due to a three-month growing season where I live, so they are not top quality, but very close. I feed them weeds from the garden, a variety of indigenous grasses, legumes- fresh and dried, some organic cracked grain (only a little), and occassionally some scraps from the table, though those are reserved in general for our pig. They have a free-for-all on insects all day, every day.

      That’s as good as it gets up here, and I am satisfied, though I would prefer to raise them like I saw in Cuba- essentially like wild creatures that come when I call them, lol, and from whom I can easily steal eggs. 😉

  77. We used to have chickens when I grew up. We fed them some grains, but mostly kitchen scraps and oyster or sea shells. I remember them being pretty low maintenance and besides if you look at it like a hobby, it doesn’t really feel like work. The eggs were fantastic, huge eggs with an orange yolk. Reading this makes me want to have chickens again. I just need to leave my city apartment first 🙂

  78. We’re raising our first chickens right now. They are meat birds and just moved out of their brooder into our chicken tractor. They are pretty messy when confined to one spot, but the chicken tractor removes that issue. They are in a pasture right now (we have 4 acres) and if we move them every day the poop doesn’t build up to yuck proportions. I’m certain it will be very good for the field. Meanwhile, we’re looking forward to have a year’s worth of whole chickens in our freezer by the end of summer. Should work out to about $2/lb. We have considered getting laying hens but there are three farms on our road that sell their fresh, pastured eggs from an honour-system egg stand. So I can literally go out at 2 am and grab a dozen awesome, orange-yolked eggs for $3.50 for a dozen jumbo size. Really, why have chickens 365 days per year with that kind of convenience (meat birds are “done” at about 7 – 8 weeks of age)? 😉

  79. We love our backyard ladies, and have had chickens for 6 years now. The quality of the eggs is unmatched (I can’t even get “pastured” eggs at the farmer’s market that taste as good as ours), and the kids love having the chickens around. However, I think it’s important to realize that there are definitely some downsides! Landscaping has already been mentioned, as well as being able to go out of town easily. Sometimes neighbors can be problematic (especially if the chickens get into THEIR landscaping!) But also you have to be prepared to be more of a farmer than a pet-owner. Most of us can’t afford to take a chicken to the vet every time it has an ailment (especially once you have more than 10), so we’ve treated things like Bumblefoot or other infections ourselves. Also, dealing with predators is a big issue where we live, especially with raccoons. Hubby and I once had to fend off a raccoon with rakes and a hoe at 3:00 am in our bathrobes:

    http://ironmom.blogspot.com/2010/12/how-i-avoided-being-arrested-in-my.html

    and a neighbor’s dog once killed three at one time, which was very difficult for the kids since they were our first hens.

    For us, the positives far outweigh the negatives, but many articles don’t mention the downsides much, so it’s worth thinking about.

  80. My wife and I just picked up 4 chicks yesterday. We’ve (I) have been interested in getting chickens for the last few months. This article kinda pushed me over the edge!

    We are in the middle of building a coop off of plans purchased on the internet. It will have wheels on one side so it will be easy to move around our yard. We are also making a self-feeder and self-waterer that will be part of the coop. That way, when we move the coop, everything moves with it. The food and water will be able to be re-filled without having to open the coop up. I have visions of being late for work, trying to feed the hens, and then chasing them around the yard once they escape.

    We plan on letting them “free range” in our yard when we are home. We have to train the dog to protect the hens, as opposed to hunting them.

    They are about 3 weeks old and seem to have done well on their first night in our house. We went with a rubbermaid bin and a red-bulb light. The temperature was 87 degrees inside the bin all night. When we checked on them, they were comfortably laying down sleeping. It has been 100+ degrees here in Northern California so we have to be mindful of that when we move them outside to the coop. Luckily, the coop we are building, will have white roof panels, which should block out a good deal of overhead sun and provide a nice area for them.

    My wife thinks I am nuts but I am looking at getting the BioPod to use for grub composting. The chickens apparently love grubs and they are a good source of fat and protein. Between the chickens, the grubs, and our worm bin, we should have very little food waste going in to the the trashcan.

    We are very excited to add to our family. We are even more excited to get some tasty eggs in a few months!

  81. send some informations about backyard farming i got 30 chickens and 25 ducks

  82. Well, I don’t know what you did to me with that article Mark, but we’d been putting off getting chickens for years. We now have a converted greenhouse with 6 newly arrived hens at the bottom of the garden. What the hell happened there? 🙂

  83. Me and my wife started raising chickens about a year ago. It is not as bad as it seems plus you know where your eggs are coming from.

  84. It is really interesting how many people are getting into raising chickens. Even in Vancouver B.C. the city allows people to keep a few chickens now. City hall even set aside a few thousand dollars for a sort of lost or abandoned chicken chicken home. People cannot keep roosters though.

  85. Great post. I really feel that more and more people are becoming aware of the benefits that raising backyard chickens can give. First they are fun, second the healthy benefits compared to grocery bought eggs and chickens are endless.. I use to buid my own chicken coops but now I buy them from http://www.chickencoopselect.com Great source for tractors, coops, and accessories. Thanks so much.

  86. hi i own a chicken farm close too 100 chickens some run arround in the yard for eggs beacuse thery so much richer and better to eat and outhers cage up to rase out of i got a 600 egg incubator i got fill up cant wait to sell some chickens agin free run is better on chickens than cage up cage up has shorther life spend than run a lose

  87. Check out the Chicken Fountain for an easier way to hydrate your flock!

  88. I’m raising pastured chickens myself. Unfortunately, doing it “primal” or “paleo” is a much tougher proposition than doing the same for a beef cow or hog. The chickens must be fed a ration in addition to the foraging they can do on my land. And there is nothing grain/legume free on the market to feed chickens that is balanced for their needs, organic or otherwise.

    I am currently working with a poultry nutrition expert in Barcelona (I am in Florida) to come up with a balanced diet. The problem is protein, which is currently supplied with soybeans to almost all chickens in this country. We started with dried mealworms and maggots, but they are too expensive and, coming from China, are dubious as to their content.

    The cheapest and still soy/grain free way to go would be to use the lupin pea as the protein source. But that is a legume. What do you think about eating chickens that are fed an organic diet, forage all day, but eat some of a balanced ration based on a legume, but isn’t soy?

  89. My family and I raise backyard chickens. We started out about 3 years ago and now have 12 chickens. We also built a site called http://kernschickenfarm.com to help newbies get started.

    I’m always happy to hear when people get there first chicken.

  90. Am a zambian who is interested to start chicken farming.am asking for your guidance on the chemicals that i should give my chicks on each stage and how much feed ican buy on each stage.

  91. Iam staunch poultry keeper for almost 15 years now. I raise both layers and indigenous chicken. recently i introduced a new blood (genes) from Tabora into my flock. the strain is relatively fast grower and big in size.the first flock (F1) is six months old from which i sold two cockrels at 8.125 US$ each which is the price adult chickens. I have a back yard flock of 250 layers and 40 indigenous chicken. it is anaticipation i will live to this dream. afterall iam a poultry expert

  92. Iam staunch poultry keeper combining both layers and indigenous chicken here in the southern highlands of Tanzania. i have an experience of about years in poultry business. I KNOW OF NEW CASTLE AS A DEADLY DISEASE AND I NORMALLY TAKE CARE OF MY CHICKEN BY PROVISION OF NCD VACINE INCLUDING THERMO-STABLE AND LASOTA STRAIN. ALONGSIDE NCD FOWL POX IS AN UNDERDOG THAT EMERGE FOLLOWING VACCINATING CHICKEN AGAINST NCD.MY AMBITION IS TO ESTABLISH A FEED FACTORY FOR THE FAST GROWING POULTRY BUSINESS IN THIS PART OF THE COUNTRY.

  93. have 100 free range chickens on my farm. Hope to have as much as 50000 birds to trade at any given time….

  94. I currently have 16 hens (we also had several roosters, but they went into the freezer). They have a large (11×20) covered run, and an 8×8 chicken coop. I feed them Organic, soy/corn/canola free feed, that I buy in bulk for about $22/50lb bag (including freight). They also get freeze dried crickets and mealworms (they were getting live red wigglers until my daughter bleached the worms by accident), table scraps, and organic fruits and veggies just for them, from time to time. Because we eat Primal/Paleo, I know our scraps are safe for them as well. we’re getting as many as a dozen eggs a day, and have had lots of “are you selling eggs yet” queries (so far, we just give eggs as gifts, but will probably start charging soon, to recoup feed costs).

    Once we get our fence up this spring, I hope to let them free range a bit. We have too many dogs, coyotes, and other predators that walk across our acre lot. And since I have no roosters anymore, no one to protect them from hawks, etc. So the covered run will do for now!

    Chickens are seriously easy. The eggs are so much fresher, and I know they haven’t been bleached/exposed to other chemicals in the commercial washing process. Definitely worth every penny/effort.

  95. I’m planning to start a chicken coop this spring and am looking for the perfect Paleo chicken feed. Can anyone help me? I’ve tried clicking thru the links on this post, but most of the pages no longer exist. My local farm and feed store (where I currently purchase my eggs) suggested I feed a mix they sell of corn and soy. ?? I’m a newbie…….and want to have the healthiest chickens and eggs.

    Thanks for any help…….Tina

    1. You can buy grain mixes, or single varieties of seeds and grain from feed mills or local farms to feed your chickens directly. I’d recommend you check out sprouted grains or fodder – these are excellent, healthy options for feeding chickens. If possible, free ranging (letting them roam in a yard to hunt for most of their own food, like bugs, greens, even mice) is the best way to go, provided they have plenty available to eat in the yard.

      1. Thanks, Tiffany…I’ll look into the sprouted grains. I do plan to let my chickens free range, but I also want to supply a good source of food for them, too.

  96. Thank you for this very informative post. Backyard chicken raising provides you with a healthy source of organic chicken eggs and meat. However, there are also the disadvantages of raising a chicken so think carefully before planning to raise a backyard chicken.

  97. Thank you for that awesome article! I just bought new incubator because I have a few chicks six or seven months from winter and these young hens often will lay in winter when others don’t. Is there a chance to give me some more indications? I already checked a few web pages like this one http://incubatorsatilir.meximas.com/index.htm but I still need some help. Thank you!

  98. how are chicken in the wild survive in the winter when all is frozen and covered up with snow ?

  99. What a great and informative blog. We keep the ultimate back yard chicken the silkie hen, we have these in many clours along with Polish chickens too on our small holding in somerset, UK. They are awsome little birds, love them. Great work XX

  100. I raise about 30 chickens, and we spend around $60 bucks a month for hay and feed. I figure we average 15 eggs a day (the chickens like to hide the eggs in pasture-raised model, so we lose quite a bit, plus a few of them crack a few eggs daily) and so we pretty much use up all of the eggs and give the remainder to family, as well as doing about 30-40 eggs a week for deviled eggs at church (donation). I figure if I sold eggs at anything less than $3 per dozen i’d end up losing money, especially considering I have to run irrigated pasture 1/2 the year,which is a 5hp well pump at 50GPM. We also invested a ton of money in fencing to keep them safe, and a 6×12 coop ran us about $800 — which we designed ourselves. The fencing area (12×40) ran us about $300 to complete w/ stakes, fencing, clips and some shade, which is attached to the coop so they can graze before we get up in the morning, then we let them out until dark. Cartons in dozen format alone run $.35 each, so there’a another 10% margin down the drain. I should mention I have about 50 acres of lush grassland in California. Here most pasture-raised eggs on craigslist start at $4-$5 per dozen but the good stores are now upwards of $6-8 in some cases for vital farms style eggs. My eggs are orange and look incredible when poached for eggs benedict. If I had to include any time for delivery it is just a waste of time. People in the US are finally starting to see the added value of actually eating good food, or at least they realize it is going to cost substantially more than store bought crap by 2-3x.

    So the only reason we even do this right now is because we love eggs and are utilizing a resource we own. I can’t see commercially selling eggs in this manner retail for less than $6 per dozen to actually make a living. The opportunity cost in farming would be better spent on organic lamb or natural pork per man hour vs chickens on the 50 acres we own.

  101. I bought chickens several years ago as an experiment. Mainly to see if the chickens would eat ticks in the yard. What I found is that not only ate ticks, but make my kids more involved with outdoor chores. From collecting food waste to deef the chickens later in the day, to collect fresh eggs every day from the coop. We found ourselves spending more time outside. And also many friends visited us on a regular basis, just so they could just sit outside, walk around the yard, and look at the chickens!
    Even cars driving by would slow down to take pictures at the chickens. I also loved how the grass grew. Much greener than before, and if you don’t like the weeds growing on your lawn, the weeds will take care of them. It is a win-win.