My senior year in college, I was browsing around Anthropologie when I came across a coffee table book on urban farming. Curiosity got the better of me and next thing I know, I’m nose deep into the book on the chapter about backyard chickens thinking, “I could totally do this.” I left the store with a few new cute tops, and the thought of keeping chickens at my house in the future stuck in my head.
Fast forward a year. I’m now married with a house and two dogs, and the idea of backyard chickens still stuck in my head. I floated the idea out to my husband, John, and I’m pretty sure he thought I had lost my mind. He told me that if I wanted chickens for a full year, we could get them. That next year, I start doing all kinds of research on how to take care of chickens and if we could even keep them in Dallas. After John and I took a class at Rooster Hardware, we were sold.
We’ve had chickens for over 4 years now and recommend them to just about everyone we come into contact with. They are the easiest, most low maintenance, entertaining and rewarding pets you can get! Take it from me: You. Need. Chickens. Now.
Have I peaked your interested and do you want to learn more?? Here are the top things you need to know before buying chickens:
1. City Ordinance
Before you go any further into thinking you want backyard chickens, check your city ordinance to make sure it is legal for you to own them and if it is, are there any limits on how many you can have? If you are in an HOA, you will need to check their rules as well!
Backyardchickens.com is a great resource for this, they have summarized many of the major city ordinances for you. If your city isn’t on the list, just google “chicken ordinace in [your city name]” and you should be able to find details.
Once you’ve ensured that you can keep chickens, you need to make sure you have the space to keep them. Inside the coop itself, you want to have 2-3 square feet per chicken and then 10 square feet per chicken in the outside run (if they are not allowed to free range).
They really require minimal space, so you don’t need a huge backyard to keep chickens! I do recommend letting them free range as they will be happier and honestly, produce more flavorful eggs as a result. Heads up though, they will eat most plants, so if you do want to let them free range, be prepared to have your landscaping demolished!
We have a fenced in area for ours, that way we can still enjoy landscaping and give our chickens room to move around.
One of the questions I get asked the most is, “what does a day in the life with chickens look like?” They are the easiest animals to care for that I have EVER owned. Okay, well maybe a goldfish is easier, but that is about it.
Really the only thing you have to do on a daily basis is lock the hens up at night in the coop and then let them out in the morning. You do this not to keep them in the coop, but to keep predators OUT. If you don’t lock them up, snakes, possums, raccoons, foxes, etc can get into the coop and kill your hens.
If you hang your feeder and water bucket like we do, then you only need to refill them once a week. If you have them sitting on the ground, you will need to clean them out on a more frequent basis to ensure there isn’t dirt, poop or shavings in them.
Fully clean the coop out and put new shaving in once ever two weeks. You may have to do this more frequently if you don’t free range your chickens and they are in the coop all day long. The time that this takes varies greatly depending on the size of your coop, but cleaning ours, which is big enough to house 10 chickens, only takes 15 minutes!
Altogether, you are looking at maybe an hour a week in maintenance. See? Just like I said, easiest animals ever!
4. Essential Supplies
So you know you can legally keep them, you have the space for them and you have the time. Now what on earth do you need to buy?! So glad you asked.
- Coop (duh)
I shared in section 2 how much space you need, depending on how many chickens you have. Use this as a guide to decide what coop to buy. You don’t need anything fancy, trust me they will poop all over it and it isn’t worth it! Here is a great resource of coops and you can search by how many chickens you have (or are going to have).
Get yourself a nice big hanging feeder, trust me on this one. This is a great one that isn’t super pricey!
- Water Bucket
Nipple water bucket is the way to go. Buy a 5 gallon bucket and these little guys to make one yourself. Many of the local hardware stores that sell chickens will sell them pre-made also.
We use shaving, but you can also use pine straw!
5. Chicks, Pullets or Hens?
You’ll need to decide what age of chickens you want to start with. You have three options: chicks, pullets or hens. There are pluses and minuses to each, but here is the high level summary.
- Chicks – super cute and sweet, you will have to keep them in your house under a heat lamp for 6-8 weeks, but this allows you to handle them frequently and imprint on them so that they will be very friendly when they get older.
- Pullets – these are young hens that are about to start laying, so you will quickly start having eggs but potentially won’t have hens that are as friendly.
- Hens – already laying but may not be as friendly and may run from you (depending on how they were raised).
Before you decide what breed you want, you need to decide what you want from your chickens. Do you want hens that lay large eggs? lay frequently? look pretty? are friendly? are good for eating? can handle hot summer? can handle cold winter? play nice with other hens?
Just like with dogs, every chicken breed will be different, so do your research before deciding on which ones you want. Here is a list that breaks down the qualities of all the breeds and can help you select which ones you want! You can also order from this site once you decide on your breeds, or pick them up from a local store that sells them. If you do have a local store that sells there (we buy ours from Rooster Hardware in Dallas) and you want a certain breed, you can ask them to custom order them for you with their next shipment.
Here are my favorite breeds, all of which can handle hot or cold weather and do well in large flocks:
- Orpington: SO friendly. She runs right up to us and lets us pick her up. She’s my little sweetheart and is also a great layer (brown eggs)! We just recently bought two more Orpington chicks because we love this breed so much.
- Ameraucauna: these lay blue and green eggs and have beautifully colored feathers
- Cucko Maran: these lay dark brown eggs, so just a fun variety to have in your flock
- Plymouth Barred Rocks: really great and consistent layers (brown eggs)
- Rhode Island Red: EGG-cellent layers of brown eggs (almost one a day)
These are just the basics! I’ll be writing more posts to go into additional details on all things chickens. What questions do you have? What else do you want to know?