Raising Chickens 101
So, you are interested in raising chickens? Chicken keeping is a rewarding and enjoyable hobby that is rising in popularity as more people recognize the many benefits of having a backyard flock. In addition to having "a pet that makes you breakfast" (by providing you with fresh eggs) you'll quickly experience how fun it is to have chickens as pets. From there you can expand into breeding, showing, and rare breed preservation. Before you know it, you'll quickly find you have embarked on a fun and exciting journey of raising BackYard Chickens.
BYC (BackYardChickens) is FULL of fantastic information on all aspects of chicken keeping, combined with a wealth of experiences and knowledge shared by our community members. If your question isn't answered in our Learning Center Articles, we promise there is an answer on our chicken discussion forum.
This article will help you begin your journey by covering the basics of raising chickens. We'll link to other sections of the site where you can scratch up even more details!
Why Raise Chickens?
Many old and new chicken keepers are frequently asked this question. Most people know chickens provide delicious eggs, but don't realize the many other benefits that come with having your own backyard flock. Here are some of the most common reasons to raise chickens:
- Chickens are easy and inexpensive to maintain (when compared to most other pets—see what our members say in this poll: Chicken Keeping—easier, same or harder than dogs/cats?)
- Their eggs are fresh, delicious and nutritious
- They provide chemical-free bug and weed control in your garden
- They are manufacturers of the world's best fertilizer (and they'll dig over the garden for free )
- They can be fun and friendly pets with personality (yes, you read that right!)
- They can be fantastic pets for children of all ages (and Kids with Disabilities Can Enjoy Chickens Too!)
- Also see our poll on Why Do You Raise Chickens
Before you take the plunge and start your own flock, make sure chicken keeping is allowed in your town/city and make sure you understand the ordinances applied to your specific area.
- Here is an introduction to Chicken Laws and Ordinances (and how you can change them)
- Search our database of local chicken laws & ordinances
- Double check your local city/town ordinances and homeowner's association
- Make sure you know if you require a "set-back" (distance from your coop to property lines, fences, buildings, etc.) before building your chicken coop.
- Raising chickens (and life) is generally easier if you have a good relationship with your neighbors (the promise of no roosters and free eggs helps!)
- Read comments and post your questions in our forum devoted to chicken laws & ordinances
There are a number of places you can buy chicks, older chickens and even fertile hatching eggs to get you started on your journey.
- Check out our BYC Breeders Directory for breeders listed by State
- Local feed stores often carry a variety of day-old chicks from February to June
- Learn how to hatch chicks from eggs, and learn how to make your own homemade egg incubator
- Search our Buy~Sell~Trade forum for members' listings of hatching eggs or chickens for sale.
- More information can be found in our article regarding where to get chicks and chickens
Did you impulsively buy a box full of chicks? Or are you planning to get some soon? Here's a quick rundown of what you'll need:
- You'll need a chick brooder—see our list of homemade brooders here.
- Or put together this brilliant Mama Heating Pad for the little ones.
- Flooring—pine shavings & corn cob bedding are best for brooders. (Stay clear of newspaper since it doesn't absorb well and can be slippery underfoot for the little ones.)
- Temperature—90*F+ (in the warmest part of the brooder) for the first week, and then decrease it roughly 5*F per week. Be VERY careful of fire hazards!
- Food & water—you'll need chick crumbles/starter and a chick waterer (see our list of homemade feeders & waterers)
- More information can be found here: Article: How To Raise Baby Chicks—Forum Section: Raising Chicks
Before you know it your little fluff-balls will be tiny, feathered dinosaurs and you'll be inspecting the nest boxes daily, waiting for that first egg!
- Once the chicks have feathered out (roughly 6-7 weeks) you'll want to move them out of your house and into a chicken coop! When buying or building a coop, make sure it's big enough for them (and any future additions). A good rule of thumb for space requirements is approximately 3–4 square feet per chicken inside the coop and 10 sq/ft per chicken for the outside run. This article is a great guide to the topic of how much room do chickens need?
- Building your own coop? See this article with tips on building a chicken coop—do's, don'ts and things to consider.
- Keep local chicken predators in mind and make a safe home for your flock!
- Flooring—pine shavings work well, using sand in your chicken coop is gaining popularity and you can try the deep litter method for even less maintenance.
- Food & water—most people use a formulated chicken layer feed/pellets. In depth discussions on the pros and cons of most feed brands can be found in our Feeding & Watering Your Flock forum section. Also see our article on Feeding Chickens here.
- You can make your own homemade chicken feeder/waterer for your flock!
- What about feeding treats? Vegetables, bread, bugs, chicken scratch (cracked corn, milo, wheat)...
Now that you've skimmed the basics, you might be ready to dive deeper into learning more about raising backyard chickens. We suggest the following:
Learning Center Index:
- Visit our diverse Chicken Learning Center with a multitude of articles and information about raising your backyard chickens.
- Visit our chicken community discussion forum where you can search and post your questions to our outstanding community of thousands of chicken enthusiasts!
- Check out our Topic of the Week discussions where our members discuss crucial aspects of chicken keeping...sharing knowledge and experience.
- Check out our Chicken Breed Focus threads for discussions on the most popular chicken breeds to help you pick breeds to get started with.
- Join BYC and become a free member! (See the benefits here)
- Getting Started Raising Chickens
- Hatching Eggs & Raising Chickens
- Housing & Feeding Your Flock
- Maintaining A Healthy Flock
- Other Fowl (Other Poultry Types)
Further recommended reading:
Advice from our members for chicken owners
Chicken FAQs - The Frequent Asked Questions Of Raising Chickens