How to Raise Chickens

A detailed guide for backyard beginners on how to raise chickens, includes information onn types of chickens to buy, chicken feed and setting up a dust bath for chickens.

| February/March 2003

Learn how to raise chickens.

Learn how to raise chickens.


Learn how to raise chickens using this beginners helpful guide.

A guide on how to raise chickens. Most people start with day-old chicks purchased in the spring from a local farm store or mail-order catalog. But mail orders usually require a minimum shipment of about 25 chicks (so the chicks can keep each other warm en route). If you just want three or four hens for the mini-coop, combine your order with some friends' orders to meet the minimum, or find a farm-supply store that will order exactly what you want when they place their orders. We don't recommend roosters for backyard beginners — they are loud and aggressive, and the hens will lay better without them. When you order your chicks, specify that you want all females.

Before the chicks arrive, set up a "brooder" — a box (a plastic storage box is a good choice) with a heat lamp hanging over it. You can buy a lamp at the farm store, or for just a few chicks you can use a regular 75- or 100-watt bulb. You'll need wood shavings, straw or dry leaves for bedding, a waterer and feeder, and some chick starter feed.

Adjust the heat lamp's height so the chicks can sleep under it comfortably, without trying to huddle too closely together (which signals that they are chilly and the lamp should be moved closer to them). As the chicks' feathers grow in, gradually raise the lamp. Change their bedding often, and keep their feeder and waterer clean and filled.

When nighttime temperatures remain above 50 degrees, your chickens can be moved to their coop outside. MOTHER'S mini-coop (see the end of this article) is designed to keep your hens safe from predators, while allowing them access to fresh "pasture." But it is still a good idea to close the coop door every night. All kinds of critters like to dine on poultry, including raccoons, skunks, opossums, weasels, foxes, coyotes, dogs and feral cats. In the daytime, hawks might be a problem.

Adult birds will need a larger feeder and waterer. Using a commercial waterer helps keep the water supply clean. You can make an excellent homemade feeder by cutting a hole in the side of a big plastic kitty litter container. In addition to their feeder full of "laying mash" you'll buy at the feed store, your hens will love your kitchen scraps, grass clippings and any weeds you pull (be sure they are pesticide-free). If you're moving the pen regularly, the hens will be able to pick up plenty of the gritty sand they need to digest their food (they use the sand in their crops to grind their food, since they have no teeth), but you should give them a crushed oyster shell supplement to provide extra calcium for strong eggshells.

11/30/2016 2:17:28 AM

I HIGHLY recommend visiting if you want to build your own chicken coop. The website simplifies the entire building process in a guide called "Building A Chicken Coop". It covers building a coop from scratch to caring for chickens. You don't need any special tools, the plans are easy to build, and you'll save a lot of money! It was very easy to build a chicken coop using the info at -- Building your own chicken coop will be one of the best decisions you'll make in your life. Your own backyard chicken coop will provide you with daily fresh organic eggs for the kitchen. It will recycle your families food scraps and produce high-quality fertilizer for your garden.

4/18/2016 6:05:00 PM

4/18/2016 6:04:14 PM

What a GREAT article!! I wanted to post a link here for fellow chicken lovers!! :) My husband and I (here in Colorado) used this to build our new coop and it turned out really cool. We have a lot of coyotes in this country and we were losing hens left and right. I thought maybe there were some people on here who could use this info. It gives you really good detailed steps. It was worth the money and is a great resource if you plan to or already raise chickens.

3/25/2016 10:09:25 AM

My three wyandotte hens love sandbaths. We have a sheltered area under our sunroom that stays dry all winter. We carry then hens from their coop to under the sunroom and they bath themselves in the sand. this is a video of the girls enjoying their bath, they make these content purring sounds.

2/9/2009 11:25:42 AM

I have had a chicken as a pet for 14 years. Does anyone know how long they can live to be.

2/3/2009 1:32:06 PM

Wait--according to this article, the chickens will molt in autumn and not get all their new feathers til spring? ("As daylight hours dwindle in the fall, production will decline and the birds will molt. In the spring, they will grow new feathers and increase their laying rate.") This would mean they have poor feather protection in the coldest months. This doesn't sound correct, but I've never raised chickens before.

2/3/2009 1:27:54 PM

Wait--according to this article, the chickens will molt in autumn and not get all their new feathers til spring? This would mean they have poor feather protection in the coldest months. Is this correct?

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