7 Expert Tips for Getting Started with Backyard Chickens

Reader Contribution by Claire Woods and Editor Of The Happy Chicken Coop

After raising chickens for over ten years, you pick up a trick or two along the way. In this article I want to share with you my top 7 beginner tips to raising backyard chickens.

7 Tips for Raising Chickens

My first tip is to make sure you understand what chicken math is. Anyone who has already raised chickens knows that they are incredibly addictive. For some reason each time spring comes around I find my flock expanding! Most beginners will start off with a flock size between 6-12. This will normally expand as you become ‘addicted’ to chickens; this is affectionately referred to as chicken math. For this reason, I would recommend that you start out with a coop twice as big as you think you will need. Chances are your flock will be expanding quicker, and sooner, than you think.

Tip number two: start with pullets instead of chicks. What are pullets I can hear you ask? Pullets, also known as point of lay, are chickens that are around 18 weeks old. They will either be just about to, or will have just started to lay eggs. Whilst the thought of getting chicks is very exciting there is a high chance they several of the chicks will die before they reach maturity; this chance increases a lot with beginners. Chicks require far more attention and effort to look after than pullets. Instead if you get pullets, they will be fairly hardy and much more self-sufficient. For more information on this read this guide to raising chickens.

Here is a tip I learnt the hard way, exercise caution when following coop manufacture’s advice on how many chickens you can put inside a coop; their recommendations tend to fall on the small side. If you cramp your chickens, either in the coop or when roaming, it can cause some serious behavioral problems. Some of the most common ones being bullying and anti-social behavior. If left untouched it can cause havoc to the flock. As a general rule each chicken should have 3 square foot of coop space and a minimum of 15 square foot of pen/roaming space. So if you have a flock of six hens, your coop would need to be around 18 square foot (remember my chicken math tip before though). And your pen/roaming area would need to be at least 90 square foot.

Make sure you choose the right breed. In general terms there are three main categories of chicken: egg laying, meat birds, dual purpose.

There wouldn’t be much sense in choosing to get a meat bird if you’re looking to get hens that can lay eggs and vice-versa. Not every hatchery will carry every breed of chicken but you should at least make sure the breed of chicken you’re getting falls into the correct broad category for you needs. If you’re wondering dual purpose hens are a combination of egg layers and meat birds; they normally lay 200-300 eggs each year and at the end of it can be used as a meat bird if needed.

Another top tip I would offer you is to understand your flocks’ normal behavior. You can do this by just spending time watching them as they go about their day. After a few weeks you will be able to understand what their typical behavior is, who the dominant members of the flock are, and how active they are. It’s important to know this because when their behavior abruptly changes it’s a good indication that something is wrong in the flock and you should start investigating.

Have you ever tried collecting eggs from chickens that free range and don’t use their nesting box? I have, it’s a nightmare and can take several hours! As soon as your hens start to lay you should train them to use the nesting box. Not only is it much more convenient for you, it’s also comfier for the chicken. You can use ceramic or plastic eggs and leave them in the nesting box to encourage your pullets to lay there.

My final tip is make sure to tame your hens. In my experience it’s much easier to tame them when they are younger. You can do this a few ways but my favorite is to use treats. Twice a day you can visit your hens and give them treats. You can start by just standing still and putting the treats on the ground near you and progress until they will eventually eat from your hand and let you pick them up. As soon as you get your chickens you should start this taming process. You should want to get them tamed because it will make things like picking them up and performing health checks so much easier.

Claire Woods is the editor at The Happy Chicken Coop and is a fourth-generation chicken keeper. She can be found at her blogThe Happy Chicken Coopor on her author page atAmazon.

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