Backyard Chicken Basics

They’re less work than pets and more fun than an Xbox. Plus, they provide delicious, nutritious eggs.

| April/May 2011

Chickens in the Garden

Chickens love to hunt for worms and bugs in freshly turned soil. 


Chickens provide good food and good laughs. They’re quirky, beautiful and clever. They come in countless colors, shapes and varieties, and there’s hardly a culture on the planet that doesn’t raise them. Keeping chickens will teach you basic livestock handling, and these hardy birds will amaze you with their individual character traits. They eat ticks, grasshoppers and lots of other pests. More good news: Raising chickens won’t break the bank. A handful of chicks will cost less than a large pizza and require less effort than a house cat.

Another great reason for keeping chickens is the quality of free-range eggs. No more watery whites or pale yolks. You are in for the richness of a country hen’s eggs — eggs proven to be lower in cholesterol and higher in several vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, keeping you and yours healthier (see “More Nutritious Eggs,” below, for more on the benefits of free-range eggs).

But what’s my absolute favorite reason to raise backyard chickens? They add life and vigor to a home, turning houses into homesteads and people (children and adults alike) into naturalists. They connect us to our food and to our past. Trust me: It’s a better life that comes with morning clucks.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to live down a country road to keep chickens. What you do need is a little bit of space, some research and a city ordinance that allows laying hens. Before you begin your adventure with backyard chickens, you’ll need to plan for a few basics needs, such as housing, predator protection and supplies.

There’s a Chicken Breed for Everyone

When choosing your hens, knowing a little about the history and characteristics of the breeds you’re considering will be helpful. Some birds thrive outdoors and require little feed if they can scavenge on their own. Some can lay like champs in close quarters while others need plenty of free-range space to spread their wings. As for temperament, some are major characters while others are calm and gentle.

On the flip side, giant, corn-chowing hybrid meat birds (usually called “broilers”) should never be considered for laying stock because most won’t survive much longer than a few weeks after they reach slaughter weight.

3/16/2014 2:57:28 PM

I'm so ready to raise chicken but I don't have a backyard. :( What I do instead is buy organic and antibiotic-free chicken and egg. I use FreeBird chicken and I've been using it for as long as I can remember. It's meat is juicy and tender. I have high cholesterol level so I need to be very careful with the meat that I'm using. Everything has to be organic.

melinda wilson
5/31/2011 6:12:12 PM

While it is always a great idea to re-use and recycle, you should be careful when buying a used anything for your animals. If you can, ask the person why he is getting rid of the coop and if he was having any issues with his chickens such as mites or other parasites, you do not want to bring anything into your flock. When you get it home make sure to disinfect the entire coop well. Some bacteria, viruses, and internal/external parasites can live in the environment a long time. Scrub and soak all the boards with bleach or other disinfectant and try to expose as much of the coop to direct sunlight to kill any potential bugs that are lurking around. Unfortunately many hobby farmers, and even commercial farmers, don't think about biosecurity. Keeping your farm safe by taking simple preventative measures will help you immensely in the long run.

davilyn eversz
3/28/2011 5:45:39 PM

There is a very nice pic of a coop made with wire in the article. If you live in a rural area please be aware that wire is not secure - even if it has a outside fence around the property. My coop was made really sturdy and I used a compressor and staples to fasten it. A wild dog pack dug under two successive chain link fences and literally ripped off the wire to get to the chickens.

mother earth news fair


Feb. 17-18, 2018
Belton, Texas

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, hands-on workshops, and great food!