Beginner’s Guide to Raising Backyard Chickens Successfully


What are Backyard Chickens?

Backyard Chickens
Backyard Chickens

Backyard chickens are the chickens that are raised or kept at the backyard of homes. They can either be raised inside cages, coops or free-range. They are presumed to be rugged and healthier. They can be raised organically, fed natural food or diet and treated with natural herbs or drugs. This post will explain everything a beginner needs to know about raising backyard chickens. So if you want to know how to raise backyard chickens, then you’re on the right page.

 

The Benefits of Raising Backyard Chicken

So what exactly are the benefits you may ask?

Plenty!


Here is a short list to name a few.

Eggs

First of all, let’s get one misconception out of the way first…You do not need a Rooster to have eggs! I have been asked that question many times. Hens are hatched with exactly the amount of eggs (as cells) they are ever going to lay; no rooster needed folks! The amount they lay over their lifetime has already been determined by this. Also, the frequency of which they lay is determined by their breed.

Now if you want to raise chicks from your own flock…then yes you need a Rooster! Check your local city ordnance though, for instance, where I live, Roosters are not allowed in the city limits.

Backyard Chicken Eggs (Natural Chicken Eggs) and Industrial Mass Egg Production a comparison.

Read on!

Eggs that you normally get from the grocery store are industrially mass-produced. These chickens are kept in rows of small cages called battery cages of up to 8 hens each and they have a short lifespan.

Mass produced eggs nutritional value actually fall short of natural eggs, for example in a test done by the USDA in 2007, free-ranging chicken or backyard chicken eggs contain 1/3 less cholesterol, ¼ less saturated fat and 3 times more vitamin E than the mass produced eggs. Best of all, Backyard Chicken Eggs taste a heck of a lot better!

Insect Control

Chickens love bugs…period! In my backyard, bugs don’t have a chance if my birds spot them. When they do, it is very entertaining to watch. A bug to them is like a t-bone steak to us steak lovers and a huge salad to you vegetarians out there.

Letting them free range in the backyard for a while everyday won’t kill all the bugs, but the Chickens will give it a huge try and insects are protein rich. As a side benefit your backyard chickens will till your yard and the bugs will help with your birds feed bill!

Watch them around your garden though! That tasty head of lettuce will make a fine meal!

Fertilizer

Chickens poop…they a poop a lot. That’s just a fact about Chickens.  I thoroughly clean my coop once a month or more if need be. It can get rather nasty in there! The good thing about Chicken Manure is you can use it as a fertilizer for your lawn or garden.

Chicken fertilizer is full of nutrients that your garden plants will enjoy especially if your soil is nitrogen deficient. Be careful though Chicken manure can get hot and can cause some kinds of garden plants to wither. So a good idea is to let your chicken manure compost for about 4-6 months.

Little Buddies

The title says it all. Chickens are entertaining…just sit and watch them for 10 minutes. Honestly, though some chickens are going to be friendlier to you than others. Some factors that account for this are their breed; this can determine their temperament, and also how you raise them.

For example, my Leghorn loves to sit on my shoulder like a parrot—I raised her from a chick.

Now my Light Brahma which I bought from a hatchery out of Texas doesn’t like to be bothered. My other birds like to be petted; she doesn’t, she thunders off as fast as her legs can carry her. She’s coming around though.

These are just a few of the benefits raising backyard chickens can provide.


Backyard Chicken Breeds

There are more than 60 breeds of chicken across the globe. There are also many breeds of backyard chicken. Nevertheless, there are some great backyard chicken breeds. Note, there is really not a “Right” or “Wrong” Breed, it is determined really by what you are looking for and what you plan on doing. From my experience, these are the Chicken Breeds I prefer:

Here is My List:

  • The Leghorn
  • The Rhode Island Red
  • The Ameraucana
  • The Brahma

Now let’s go into detail about each one

The Leghorn

  • Egg Color: White
  • Primary Use: layer
  • Skin Color: Yellow
  • Feather Color: Up to 18 different colors, White being the most common
  • Weight: 4 to 5 pounds
  • Temperament: Intelligent, Curious, Tame, but can be Flighty
leghorn chicken breed
Leghorn chicken breed

Originally known as the “Italian,” the Leghorn is a Backyard Chicken Breed thought to have originated from Tuscany, Italy. The “Egg Laying Legend,” the Leghorn or “Leggern” is a prolific egg layer and can lay eggs up to 4-5 times a week if not more. They average about 280+ eggs a year. They are rarely broody (inclined to incubate) and don’t eat much per day, averaging just over a ¼ pound in feed. They are not good meat birds because they are a thin Chicken Breed. Another worthy note for this Chicken Breed, they do bear confinement well and are hardy Chicken for the winter season.

The Rhode Island Red

  • Egg Color: Brown
  • Primary Use: Meat or Egg Laying
  • Skin Color: Yellow
  • Feather Color: Rusty color and also can be White
  • Weight: Averaging about 6.5 pounds
  • Temperament: Docile and Easy Going but can be Aggressive to other Breeds of Chickens such as Brahmas
Female Rhode Island Red Chicken Breed
Rhode Island Red Chicken Breed

The Rhode Island Red is a Backyard Chicken Breed that originated in the United States (Rhode Island of Course!) as a Utility Bird or in other words, a chicken bred for its meat and egg laying. They can lay 5+ eggs a week depending on care. They are not broody, are hardy birds, and bare confinement well. The Rhode Island Red is an excellent Backyard Chicken Breed you just have to watch them around other Chicken Breeds; they can be aggressive especially if they are the head of the pecking order! If you are looking for a good meat Chicken, Reds are a good choice.

The Brahma

  • Egg Color: Light Brown to Brown
  • Primary Use: Meat or Egg Laying
  • Skin Color: Yellow
  • Feather Color: Black with White and also Tan to darker shades of Brown
  • Weight: Averaging about 10 Pounds
  • Temperament: Docile and Easy Going, can be Broody.
dark brahma chicken
Brahma Chicken Breed

There are in fact 3 recognized types to this Backyard Chicken Breed. The Light, the Buff, and the Bantam (Miniature) Brahma. Where this Breed originated has been controversial, some have said it was bred from Chickens from Shanghai, while others say it was bred from Chickens from Bangladesh. Whatever the case, they are a beautiful, stately Chicken Breed. They are good egg layers, 3+ a week. The Brahma is an exceptionally hardy winter Chicken with feathery feet and a good meat bird if that is what you are going to raise them for. In fact, the Brahma was the primary meat Chicken for the United States from the 1850s to 1930. They are okay in confinement but they are a BIG Chicken and need a room.

Also Read: Some Common Breeds of Quail

The Ameraucana

  • Egg Color: Light Blue
  • Primary Use: Egg Laying
  • Skin Color: Bluish
  • Feather Color: Many! To include Black, Blue Wheaten, Brown Red, White…
  • Weight: Averaging 5 to 7 Pounds
  • Temperament: Docile and Easy going, not particularly Broody
Ameraucana chicken breed
Ameraucana chicken breed

The Ameraucana was originally bred in the United States from Chickens imported from Chile during the 1970s. They have muffs and beards and a very gentle disposition (mine likes to be held and petted). This Chicken Breed has a very long laying season, laying up to 250+ eggs a year.

They are considered a rare bird and are available through breeders (I got mine from a Hatchery out of Texas). They are good winter Chickens and bear confinement well. Because of their exceptionally docile nature, it would be a good idea to keep an eye on them around other Chicken Breeds!

These are just a few of the Backyard Chicken Breeds available, believe me, there are plenty more. I chose the Chicken breeds above because that is what I have and raise.

All Chicken Breeds have their qualities!


Backyard Chicken Diet

What should I feed my Backyard Chicken..?

Good Question and an important one!

Controversy has surrounded the Backyard Chicken Diet for years. Some say you really do not need to feed them at all, just turn them loose in the backyard and they will fend for themselves. While others say that Chickens should be put on a specific diet, this isn’t really the answer either.

The old saying goes “You are what you Eat”, The same thing goes for your Chicken. Chickens are not finicky eaters; they will eat just about anything.

What you feed your Chicken will determine their health. So the Backyard Chicken Diet is important.

The Basics

Believe it or not, Chickens are not vegetarians by nature; they will eat both animal protein such as bugs (worms of course!) and even mice!

They also eat plant produced foods such as seeds, leaves and fruits. In a backyard setting, Chickens love to forage, but this may result in not meeting their nutritional needs!

In other words, your backyard can be unreliable. This is especially true during Winter with snow all around.

Chickens are like kids, you need to provide the right food choice. If you consistently feed them that one thing they really like, they may be missing out on the nutrition that they need.

Also Read: Raising Chicken for Meat in Your Backyard

The Nutrients Backyard Chickens Need

So exactly what nutrients does my Backyard Chicken need?

  • Protein
  • Fat and Carbohydrates
  • Vitamins and Minerals

1. Protein

Protein is a variety of amino acids. A good Backyard Chicken Diet needs protein. Chickens need a minimum of 16-24 percent protein in their diet, depending on their age and use of course.

Too much protein and its wasted through manure, and not only that it places a lot of stress on the Chickens organs through metabolism. Too little protein and it can cause slow growth, poor feathering and fewer and smaller eggs.

Laying Hens need good quality protein in their diet to produce quality eggs for long periods of time.

2. Fat and Carbohydrates

In reality, chickens do not require a lot of fat. Hens do need some fat for the production of egg yolk. Backyard Chickens use Carbs for most of their energy requirements. Unused calories are stored as fat. Excess fat in your Chicken can cause a lot of health issues, just like people!

Carbohydrates are burned in the process such as breathing and growth. Carbs should be the bulk of your Backyard Chickens Diet, a Commercial Feed will supply this need.

3. Vitamins and Minerals

  • Chickens need all the Vitamins and Minerals People do, except Vitamin C, of which they produce on their own. Some of the Vitamins and Minerals include
  • Calcium for strong eggshells and prevents Rickets
  • Folic Acid promotes healthy feathers, egg production and prevents anemia
  • Niacin helps prevent leg deformities and keeps the mouth and tongue healthy
  • Vitamin E prevents joint swelling, strengthens the immune system and helps prevent mental problems

So what is the Best Feed for My Backyard Chickens to supply these Nutrients?

In my most Honest Personal Opinion? Commercial Feed.

Here’s why:

Commercial Chicken feed is specially formulated for your Chicken. You want something that is balanced. Commercial feed has the proper mix of all the nutrients your Chickens need. Albeit for egg layers, Meat or Show Chickens.

Now for my birds, I supplement their commercial feed and their daily foraging with a handful of Scratch Grains mixed with Dried Meal Worms as a snack for each Chicken. They go bonkers for it.  We also have an Almond Tree in our backyard, and towards the end of the summer, I give some of the Almonds to them…They Go Nuts…pun intended!

Rules of Thumb for what type of feed to give to your Backyard Chicken!

  1. Starter Feed: You want this for Chicks that you are going to raise for Laying Hens or Show Birds.  Meat or Broiler starter for meat birds. For laying or show birds you may want to put them on medicated starter for the first bag after that you will want to go to an unmedicated starter feed. Starter feed should go up to 18 weeks of age. After 18 weeks move over to a Grower Feed.
  2. Grower Feed: Grower feed is used for Pullets (Chickens who haven’t started laying) this feed helps them grow slowly to the right body weight to start safely laying eggs. When they reach 22 weeks or start laying you can move them over to Layer Feed.
  3. Layer Feed: This feed is formulated to provide a protein level of 16-18 percent of which Laying Hens need!

If your eggs are thin or soft shelled your Chickens are in need of calcium. To remedy this, a little feeder of crushed oyster shells will do the trick. It is also a perfect form of grit. Grit is stored in their gizzard to help break down their food; Chickens have no teeth! For my Chickens, I actually leave around a couple of little feeders of Crushed Oyster Shell. That way they have access to it whenever they want.

The No-Nos of the Backyard Chicken Diet!

As mentioned earlier, Chickens are not picky eaters. they will eat anything especially if it tastes good to them! So here is a list of what NOT to give them.

  • Alcohol
  • Anything. Moldy-Molds can contain toxins that can cause neurological damage to your Chicken
  • Avocado contains a fatty acid called persin which can be fatal to your Chickens
  • Chocolate. Not a good idea especially bakers or semisweet chocolate. No Chocolate birthday cake for the Birthday Bird!
  • Green areas of Potatoes or their Sprouts, Poison! Not good for people either!
  • Leaves from Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplant or Nightshade, Chickens normally avoid this stuff unless they are really, really hungry.
  • Garden plants such as Morning Gory, Sweet Pea and Datura Seeds.
  • Raw Dry Beans, Fresh Beans (No Soy Beans) like Green beans are okay but better to be safe than sorry, so cook all beans before giving them any!
  • Raw Peanuts can have a fungus called aflatoxin, bad news for Chickens. A handful of Planters is all right on occasion because those peanuts have been roasted and the toxin cooked out.
  • Rhubarb Leaves contain a toxin called oxalic acid, poison to Chickens!
  • Tobacco should be avoided in all forms including the cigarette butt. The Chickens little bodies can’t handle this stuff.

Ideas for Treats that are SAFE for the Backyard Chicken Diet!

  • Weeds from the Lawn or Garden are good BUT make sure they haven’t been sprayed with a pesticide first. Dandelions, Crabgrass, Chickweed and Thistles are perfect! Avoid the Mushrooms!
  • Green, Orange, and Red Vegetables such as cauliflower and Onions even in casseroles. Just do not overdo it! Pumpkins and Squash they love it especially the inside just make sure it isn’t moldy.
  • Fruite specially wormy any citrus fruit though is not exactly to a Chickens liking.
  • Meat, Chickens love it just make sure it’s cooked. I have even fed my Chickens a Chicken Mcnugget (without the breading), Little Cannibals!
  • Milk and Cheese in moderation! Yogurt too.
  • Eggs and Eggshells, Eggs should be cooked and the Eggshells cracked into small pieces. This actually helps keep your Chickens from breaking and eating their eggs in the nest.
  • Stale bread, Cereal, Cookies– Cereal and Cookies be sure to remove the sugary coating and give in moderation.

I hope I have given you Folks a Good Info about the Backyard Chicken Diet!

Backyard Chicken Coops

What is the Best Chicken Coop to Have?

You have Backyard Chickens, and they need a place to stay.

That’s where the Chicken Coop or “Hen House” comes into the picture. Your Chickens need something to keep out the bad weather be it hot or cold. They especially need something to keep them safe from predators. I’m sure you have heard the old saying “Like a Fox in a Hen house.” They also need a place for their Food, Water, and a place to Nest.

So let’s go over some types of Backyard Chicken Coops.

Types of Backyard Chicken Coops

The A-Frame Coop

  • Houses: 2 to 10+ Chickens (Depending on the size of Coop)
  • Mobile or Stationary: Can be Both
  • Weather: Hot or Cold (Depending on Material used to build)
  • Use: Mainly used for Meat Chickens but can be used for Layers
  • Access: Maybe hard to Access Chickens (Depends on how it is Constructed!)

The A-Frame is a variation of a Tractor (Mobile) Backyard Chicken Coop. Its main usefulness is for temporary warm weather housing or all year round use, but again it depends on the material used for building it. An A-Frame Backyard Chicken Coop is easier to move than a conventional Coop. To build one it takes minimal building skills because of the shape. They are actually quick to build and economical with few supplies needed to construct.

Covering for the Coop can include clear or opaque plastic, shade cloth, metal or canvas. Word to the wise, if you do use one, you will need to anchor it.

If a stiff breeze comes along your Coop can end up across the yard with some unhappy Chickens!

The Tractor Coop

  • Houses: 2 to 10+ Chickens (Depending on the size of Coop)
  • Mobile or Stationary: Mobile
  • Weather: Best Used for Mild Weather
  • Use: Soil Turn Over and Fertilization of Yard or Pasture
  • Access: Feed and Water containers can be hard to access

The Tractor Coop is roofed with an opened bottom. You can use it to raise meat Chickens, but hybrid broilers may fare better in a stationary housing. Young Pullets raised to laying age can use it. Hens can use it too, but you will need to have nesting boxes with easy access for both them and you.

Its primary use is to move your Chickens from place to place to turn over the soil and fertilize it. So with that in mind, it is a good fit for a very large yard or pasture.

Watch where you put it though, you don’t want your Chickens getting in to something that’s bad for them or you don’t want them getting into. You also want to keep them there long enough to eat it down.

When thought is given in the type of construction for the Tractor Coop, it can be built in numerous shapes and sizes. It all depends on how many Chickens, their type, and weatherization. Keep in mind of predators. You want to have it constructed of strong wire so predators can’t break in for the simple fact that it can be placed far from your home.

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The Stationary Coop or All-In-One

  • Houses: 2 to 3+ Chickens (Depending on the size of Coop)
  • Mobile or Stationary: Stationary
  • Weather: Hot or Cold (Depending on Material used to build)
  • Use: Mainly for Layers/Pet or Show Chickens
  • Access: Depends on Construction

This backyard Chicken Coop can come in all different shapes and sizes; you can buy them prefabricated and put them together yourself.

Also Read: 4 Questions To Ask Before Building Chicken Coops

If you do decide to build one on your own, it can take some time and material to build. Especially if you want a good one. Also, keep in mind the weather and predators when you are building it. If you are going to have it exposed to the weather, it would be a good idea to weatherize it. You can do this by painting it with a sealant used for decks. Make sure it is dry before letting your Chickens around it! The same thing goes for Prefab Coops.

If you decide you want to get a prefab, keep in mind shipping cost, a lot of companies sell theirs with free shipping though. Depending on the size, some All-In-Ones can be small with lack of space for your Chickens, so it would be a good idea to let them forage for an hour or more a day under supervision. A plus for All-In-Ones is if you live in the city and do not have a large yard these are perfect.

Remember, things to keep in mind when deciding on what type of Backyard Chicken Coop you are going to get is:

  1. Consider your Neighbors and your Family. Chickens can be loud especially before or after laying. So if you live in a quiet neighborhood, you might get some complaints. You also do not want to have a dumpy looking coop made of 30 different types of material either; I’m sure you have put some effort and money into to your choice of coop, have it look nice.
  2. Keep your Chickens Happy, Safe and Healthy. Keep those predators in mind, you may want to use heavier gauge wire than chicken wire (I have chain link with chicken wire on the outside). Make sure your coop is made to handle the type of climate that you’re in. You don’t want your coop made of material for Southern California and you live in Maine!
  3. Keep in mind what space you have available. This is simple, you don’t want a tractor coop in a little backyard!
  4. Buy it or Build it. If you have the tools, the know-how, and the time, building it may be the way to go. If you want to just save time and effort, a good choice may be to just buy an All-in-One and just put it together.

If you are keeping just a couple of hens as pets or layers an All-In-One or A-Frame is your best bet.

Things you will need in your Backyard Chicken Coop!

  1. A Feeder: You want to make sure that your Feeder does not have access to the top so that your chickens can’t poop or get stuck in it!
  2. A Waterer or Drinker: You will want to place this on a brick to keep it off the ground or hang it.
  3. A Nesting Box: For my nesting box I use Pine Shavings (also used for Rabbits or Guinea Pigs), you can also use Straw.

 


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