Photo: Some children grow up to love their chickens like pets. Credit: Shutterstock
29. Make a Budget For Overall Cost and Savings
Building a chicken coop is a big up-front cost, and the free organic eggs you get in exchange will take a very long time for it to pay off financially. Before you get started, figure out how much it will cost. Most pre-built chicken coops cost between $200 to $300 each. Some people save a lot of money by building their own coop from scratch for under $100. You will also need to pay for the chickens themselves, feeders, waterers, heaters, food, and a fence to enclose their area. This is just the beginning, and the accessories you buy keep going. All-in, you should expect to spend at least $400, if not more.
Before you take the leap, figure out how much your family currently spends on eggs. One dozen organic eggs cost $3 to $4 at the store. So you will need your chickens to lay 1,200 eggs before you break even, assuming you spent $400. This sounds like a lot, but if you buy multiple laying hens, you can easily get that many eggs in one year. My family eats two dozen organic eggs per week, which costs $8. Over 52 weeks in a year, that’s $416. So, assuming my chickens will lay enough eggs to prevent me from buying them at the grocery store, I’ll break even within one year, and have totally free eggs for the rest of that chicken’s life. And, of course, once you have the coop in place, it’s just a matter of raising new baby chicks, and continuing the cycle.
The rules surrounding chicken coops vary drastically depending on where you live. Never assume that installing a coop is okay, because even the town next door could have drastically different rules and regulations surrounding raising poultry than where you live! Just because your friends managed to do it, you will still need to do some research about what is required in your local area. There are ways to find out and get the resources you need to achieve your chicken dreams.
Depending on where you live, you will most likely need to get a permit and have a visit from a poultry inspector. There are livestock specialists in many areas that will likely visit your property to tell you whether you’re allowed to build or not. It’s best not to spend any money on the project until you know you have the go-ahead. This will also tell you how many chickens you can keep, how big your coop needs to be, and so much more.
Before you get started, make sure you have a large enough backyard for your chickens to have a comfortable life. You don’t need huge property to do this. But the more space you have to dedicate to a chicken area, the better. Larger chicken breeds need more space to survive. Having more space will help your chickens be happier and healthier. And if you can allow them to occasionally leave their pen and walk around your backyard, this is called “free range”.
Sometimes, the breeds in your local area make it necessary to have a lot of land. For example, I live in New Jersey, and we have a breed specific to our area called “The Jersey Giant”. These can grow up to 10 pounds! They require at least four-square-feet of land per chicken. In my case, you need a good portion of land in order to raise these chickens in my local area. Do some research on the breeds you plan to own, and plan your flock accordingly.
Before you buy your chickens, do a little bit of math to figure out how many eggs you want every week. There are going to be days when your hens don’t lay an egg at all. If your goal is to completely stop going to the grocery store, you’re going to need a handful of hens to be able to eat everyday. You also need to ask yourself if you need a rooster or not. If you plan to raise baby chicks, the answer is obviously “yes”.
Discuss this plan with your partner before you buy a large number of chickens. While they may be inexpensive, these still require more time, food, and upkeep. Do some research, and feel confident in your choices. Remember that you can always buy more chicks in the spring, if you feel like you didn’t get enough at first. Don’t overcommit yourself to begin with. Start out small and once you feel comfortable with what chickens demand, then add more to it.
There are a lot of people out there who want backyard chickens because they think it’s a great way to save money. However, don’t forget to budget chicken feed into the cost of keeping your chickens. More often than not, the cost of feeding your chickens might outweigh the amount of money you’re saving on eggs at the grocery store. A 40-pound bag of chicken feed is roughly $30, and it will last you two weeks or more, depending on the number of chickens you have.
If you have a backyard garden, you can eventually start to feed your chickens leftover scraps in the spring, summer, and fall. And if you have a large property where you allow your chickens to free range, they will peck at the ground and try to eat seeds, bugs, and weeds they find in the grass. (Just be careful, because they tend to sneak into your garden and eat everything in sight!) Once they begin hunting for food on their own, the amount of money you spend on feed from the store will go down exponentially. However, in the winter time, your only option will be the store bought food.
Unless you’re a chicken enthusiast, you may not realize that there are dozens of chicken species out there to choose from. There is most likely going to be a common or dominant species of chicken that you find in your local area. This is the breed you’re going to find your local farmers market or farm supply store. However, you don’t have to settle for the breeds you find locally. Check out online communities that sell chickens. Even farmers on Etsy sell fertilized chicken eggs that they send in the mail! For example, Hand M Farmz will sell you six silkie chicken eggs for $50.
If you can afford to have variety in your flock, browse the many different chicken species out there to choose from. Their eggs are different colors, and it can also give you a lot more variety and interest in your flock. Some birds will also lay far more eggs than others, or they have a difference taste. The only thing is that you may have to do a bit of searching to find someone who is selling the chickens you want.Click here to see a full list of chicken breeds.
Just like having children and house pets, chickens are going to need someone to watch them. So if you ever plan to go on vacation, you need someone to come over to your house to watch over the chickens to make sure they are okay. Earlier on this list, we already mentioned how in the absolute best case scenario, your neighbor might offer to be the chicken-sitter. This would obviously be the most convenient, since they live right next door. However, the likelihood that they would be willing to do that is slim, and you should never count on it. Make sure you know a go-to friend or relative who is on-board to help you. Maybe if another friend also has a chicken coop, you could swap looking after each other’s chickens while the other is away.
Some people hope that they can just set up their chickens with an automatic feeder and be able to ignore their chickens for a day or two. While this might cut down on the time you need to spend caring for chickens, it doesn’t totally eliminate all of your responsibilities. Some people get away with going away for the weekend, and everything is fine. However, any longer than one or two nights away is too long to let your chickens fend for themselves. If your truly can’t find someone who has agreed to help care for your chickens while you’re away, you can always look to see if there are professional services in your area.
A lot of parents buy a chicken coop with the idea that it might help teach their kids a sense of responsibility. As the parent, you can technically force any chores upon your kids that you want. However, if your kids are not on board with the idea of raising chickens, this is going to build resentment, and will turn into a negative memory for them. For example, I know a family who raises chickens and ducks. The kids grew up with the animals, and loved them like pets. Everyone took turns cleaning the coop, so there was never too much burden on one person. The kids love the chickens so much, they want to have their own backyard coops when they grow up.
On the flip side, it can go terribly wrong. I know someone whose parents owned horses, chickens, and turkeys. Unfortunately, they forced him to be the one in the family to shovel all of the poop in the stables and the coops. In his parent’s minds, they probably thought it was good to give him chores. But they clearly gave him the job in order to avoid doing the dirty work themselves. To this day, he still resents them for it, and it completely turned him off from the idea of ever keeping pets. Your relationship with your kids is far more valuable than getting free eggs. So really think about that first before forcing this responsibility on your children.
Speaking of shoveling poop, you’re going to have to clean up after your chicken’s waste. If this is left too long, it can lead to disease, and even death for your chickens. It also makes the surrounding area smell very bad. If your chicken coop is lined with hay or wood shavings, you will need to shovel out everything that has been soiled. If you have a garden, you can use that as mulch to help your plants grow. Farmers who grow mushrooms also love to use chicken manure, because it really helps fungi grow.
There are some people who like to use a composting litter system for their chickens. This is very similar to having a composting toilet for humans, where you’re adding more wood shavings and letting brown and green matter break down into compost. The farmers who use this method claim that it cuts down on the smell exponentially. However, the drawback to doing this is that you can’t use their manure as fertilizer. Always research your options, and do what works best for your lifestyle, and the backyard coop.
20. Make the Most of Your Chickens By Gardening, Too
Earlier on this list, we already mentioned the fact that if you have a backyard garden, you can eventually use the leftover vegetables as food for your chickens. This is a great way to have a sustainable garden. Your chickens are essentially recycling this leftover food that would have otherwise gone in a compost pile or a trash can. And when your chickens are done leaving their waste, you can use that as mulch to go back into the gardens and help vegetables grow big and strong.
One obvious drawback to keeping chickens while you have a vegetable garden is that they might get into your veggies when you’re not looking. This is especially true if you choose to allow your chickens to roam your backyard. Even chicken wire around your garden is often not enough to keep out the curious beaks of a hungry chicken. Make sure your vegetable garden is protected by a fence, or in some other way so that you still have something left for the humans to eat!
Earlier on the list, we mentioned making a budget for setting up your chicken coop. However, there is always the chance that one or many of your chickens might end up getting sick. It’s also common for chickens to get lice, parasites, and worms. This is why many people provide them with a dust bath, which can help prevent those critters from attacking. In most cases, you can use the Internet to research any issues that may come up. It could be as simple as changing their diet or environment.
But in the worst case scenario, you may need a visit from the vet. Most vet visits cost a minimum of $60, and it might be necessary to get help for multiple chickens. Do your best to provide the flock with a clean and healthy environment, even if it means putting in a little bit of extra money and time. And please try to have some money set aside for their medical bills. Just like pets, these are living beings that need to be taken care of with love. The healthier your chicken is, the healthier their eggs and meat will be.
If you want your little chicken family to grow, you may want to consider raising baby chicks. Baby chicks are only $3 to $5 each, while a full-grown, egg-laying hen is $20 to $50 each. Obviously, it’s a lot cheaper to buy these animals as babies and let them grow up on your property before they’re old enough to start laying eggs. This can be cost-effective, but it can also become a great memory for your kids. A lot of parents like to buy baby chicks as an Easter present. If you plan to keep chickens for their full life span of 5-10 years, this can become a wonderful family pet, similar to buying a kitten or puppy.
Before you bring chicks home from the store, make sure you have a “brooder” set up. This is a place with a heat source, hay, feed, and water so that they chickens can stay warm and comfortable. It’s important to keep them confined so that they don’t run away or get into trouble. They can’t regulate their own body temperatures, and need to be near the heat source at all times. This will go on for at least 6 weeks before they’re old enough to begin to live outside and in a regular coop.
Hens lay eggs once a day or every two days. Fill your chicken coop with a comfortable place for your hens to lay their eggs into soft wood chips or hay, to make sure the eggs don’t break. It’s important that you gather their eggs every single day, especially when the weather is very hot or cold. You don’t want those eggs to freeze, and you don’t want them to spoil in the heat either. Sometimes, chickens will stop laying eggs in the winter time.
Some chicken owners try to extend the laying season by putting a heater inside of the chicken coop. There are also a lot of other techniques people use to extend the laying season, but it doesn’t always work. Remember that it’s normal and healthy for your hens to have a “molting” period, when the length of daylight in 24 hours is shortened so dramatically. They begin to lose their feathers, but don’t be scared. This is a normal way for them to rest and recuperate their bodies from laying so many eggs.
Always make sure your chicken’s shelter is prepared to handle the climate in your local area. This is especially true in the winter time, where harsh temperatures might be enough to cause your chickens to freeze to death. Many people install a heater in their chicken coop, as well as making sure their water doesn’t freeze. However, don’t use a household space heater, because it could potentially start a fire with the dry hay! Normally, chickens huddle their bodies together for warmth in the winter time, and they are more resilient to the cold than you may think.
With that being said, there are still a few things you can do to keep your chickens warm in the winter. Make sure their hay is dry, so that they have insulation that won’t grow mold. Feed them both day and night, so that they stay plump. Some people will build a glass greenhouse area of the coop so that the hens can stay warm and get a lot of sunlight. This will encourage them to continue laying eggs. In some extreme cases, if the temperatures are dropping too low, people have been known to bring their chickens inside their house when it got too cold.
Pretty much everyone loves to eat chicken. Before you set up a chicken coop, do some research about the predators in your local area. Depending on where you live, you might have a lot of animals to worry about. If the animal is particularly large like bears, mountain lions, or coyotes, attracting them to the area with chickens can also endanger the people in your neighborhood, or members of your family. Depending on the type of predators that you have nearby, you need to make different adjustments to ensure that your livestock will stay safe. If you think a fence is enough to keep them safe, think again. Hawks also like to eat chicken, and they can swoop in from the sky. This is why many keep make sure to keep their coop below a large tree.
A lot of people make the mistake of knowing that certain predators exist in their local area, but they assume they’ll be fine. This past summer, I asked my local farmer if she had any fresh eggs for sale. I was shocked to hear her tell me that all of her chickens were killed by wolves. It is not common for wolves to come out of our woods, so this was a big surprise to hear. I’ve lived here all my life, and never saw a single wolf. But it was clear as day in her night vision camera. The next door neighbor’s chickens were left untouched, because they were safe inside of a coop that was incredibly well-built, and lifted off the ground. Her coop, on the other hand, was far less safe, which is why her entire flock was killed in one night.
In the last bullet point, I told the story of my local farmer who discovered that her chickens were eaten by wolves. She would have never known this if it weren’t for her night vision cameras. These are very important for you to figure out which predators are in your local area. Hopefully you don’t have to figure this out once the chickens are already dead. You may be able to see a motion sensor camera that will let you know which animals are sniffing around the coops at night.
Based on what you find and the night vision footage, you might have to adjust your setup to make it more safe for your chickens. It’s also very interesting and a lot of fun to see what kind of animals are roaming your property at night. Obviously, this is going to be yet another up-front expense. This will cost around $100 or more, depending on the brand that you purchase. However, if you plan to keep chickens in your backyards for the rest of your life, consider it an investment in your new lifestyle. This can also help anyone who is a hunter, and obviously, the motion sensor camera is also helpful for home security.
Some people might imagine sprinkling feed on the ground every day for their chickens to eat. Yes, you can do this if you want. However, this is a lot more time and labor intensive. You also don’t know if your chicken will get hungry later when you’re not around to sprinkle the food on the ground. This can cause some aggression among the chickens if they start to fight over food. That’s why it’s best for you to install an automatic feeding and watering system. This also makes it a lot less work for you in the long run.
However, if you start to feed your chickens with scraps from the garden or allow them to free range in the backyard, you might start to realize that they don’t need to use an automatic feeder or watering system. But it’s still important to have those things as a backup just in case. In the winter time, waterers tend to freeze after just a couple hours. A lot of people struggle with this, and carry out fresh water to their chickens every few hours. That’s why I recommend getting a heater for their water, so that it doesn’t’ freeze.
When you observe a chicken, it might be easy to assume that they’re not very intelligent. After all, all they seem to do is pick up the grass, eat, and sleep. But just like dogs and cats, chickens get bored very easily. And if you leave them to their own devices, they might be more likely to get into trouble by flying the coop. In the winter time, they become even more bored than usual, because they can’t walk around in the snow or enjoy beautiful weather like they can in the spring, summer, and fall.
You actually need to buy them toys and give them ways to keep themselves entertained throughout the day. One of the most popular toys is a xylophone, because the chickens can peck at it and make “music”. You can also install ladders, swings, dust baths, straw bales, and more. Holding your hens, petting them, and giving them love has been shown to help lower their blood pressure, and keep them calm. Just like dogs and cats, they need attention from their owners! And the more human interaction they have, the more social they will be.
Beginners assume that you can buy any chicken wire at the hardware store and you’re good to go. However, there are different types of wire depending on whether you are simply trying to keep chickens out, or if you are trying to prevent predators from getting in. If you go to your hardware store and ask for “chicken wire”, this is only going to stop your chickens from escaping. In order to protect them from big predators, you’ll need to buy something called “hardwire cloth”.
If you own a full backyard farm, you’ll also want to make sure that you put chicken wire around your garden to prevent time from eating all of your fruit and vegetables. Many people decided to double up on chicken wire if they need to make sure your flock is secure. As time goes on, be prepared to purchase additional wire if your setup needs an upgrade. For first-time users, be sure to watch YouTube tutorials and follow the instructions on how to install it properly.
Chickens have a life span of 5 to 10 years if you let them live out their natural life. If you plan to eat your chickens at some point, you need to do a lot of research in order to properly kill and prepare your animals. It’s always possible for you to hand off your chickens to a local butcher and pay him to do the work for you. However, if you’re trying to stay on your own property and be self-reliant, this means that you’re going to have to deal with the consequences of preparing meat. For a lot of people, this can be a traumatizing experience. This is especially true for children.
Of course, there’s always the option to let your chickens live out their natural life expectancy. Some farmers feel as though they don’t want to spend the money to take care of these chickens long-term if they no longer lay eggs or become unproductive in some other way. If that’s the case, look for an animal rescue in your local area. There are places out there where they will allow your chicken to live out the rest of their elderly life without resorting to killing them.
Since most backyard chicken coops are built by hand, a lot of people try to use leftover materials or whatever they can afford to use at the time. One of the roofs that people commonly make is sheet metal similar to what you might see in a garden shed. Technically, this might be okay with your town ordinances. But just because it’s not against the rules doesn’t mean that it’s a good choice. Believe it or not, raccoons are strong, and they have little paws with five fingers that are like human hands. They can grab and rip those metal roofs off like a pull-tab can. It’s very common for raccoons to break into a chicken coop and all of your livestock.
This is why it’s always a good idea to build a roof with wood and shingles, similar to one that you would see on a real house. It might be more expensive and difficult to install in the short-term, but it means that you’re going to be building a much safer and secure house for your chickens to live in. It can also potentially be more insulated to keep out the cold in the winter time, and keep it cool in the summer. If you were considering building your own coop, this might be more incentive for you to actually buy something pre-made, because it’s often more safe and secure.
There are pros and cons to having a rooster in your flock. On the upside, roosters will become the dominant bird, and keep the hens in line. Without a rooster, hens typically choose an alpha based on whoever the biggest bird is. This can cause fights among your hens, if they can’t agree on a leader. It’s part of a rooster’s natural instinct to want to protect the hens. When you have predators in your area, it’s important for you to have this rooster to keep them safe. It’s also obviously necessary if you want eggs to become fertilized so that you can have baby chicks.
However, for all of their upsides, roosters aren’t actually necessary for laying eggs. Unfortunately, roosters can be a real handful sometimes. Certain breeds tend to be aggressive, and can potentially attack the humans who are trying to take care of the hens. They also crow at all hours of the early morning, and can make your neighbors angry. Some cities even ban keeping a rooster in your backyard, because they are known to cause too many problems. Hens will lay eggs on their own, even if a rooster is not present. Obviously, they are needed for baby chicks. But if all you want is eggs, just skip the rooster.
Something that a lot of people don’t realize about chickens is that they do in fact fly. And they also tend to want to roost in high branches at night so that they are safe from predators. If you allow your chickens to walk around your backyard, this means that they will always fly up into the trees when they are ready to go to sleep. For most people, they are shocked to see their chickens in the tree and completely unprepared. Some families even go through the process of getting the chickens out of their trees every night, simply because they want to give him the freedom to roam around the backyard as much as they want.
An alternative to dealing with chickens getting caught in a tree is to simply give them a room inside of their coop that is high up off the ground. Make sure that they feel comfortable and safe. Some people even go as far as to make a fake tree inside of the coop so that they feel as though they’re in a natural habitat. Others make sure that they have a large enough fenced-in area to encompass everything that they need, including one or two small trees.
Plenty of people who keep backyard chickens will sprinkle the feed over the ground and let them eat it that way. However, if you’re trying to keep your chickens in the coop for the majority of their day, it’s best not to put their food or water on the ground. Chickens can be dirty animals, going to the bathroom or kicking dirt into their water. Obviously, this is not sanitary, and it can lead to them getting very sick. This is why most experts recommend hanging or elevating their feeders and watering system. Some people create their own cheap and easy feeding and watering systems using Home Depot buckets suspended on chains that are hung to the roof of the chicken coop. They drill holes into the bottom of the bucket, and attach nipples so that the chickens can drink from that.
With that being said, some people still put their feeders and waterers on the ground for a number of reasons. Maybe their coop isn’t set up for this, and other chickens simply can’t reach or have a beak deformity that makes it impossible to drink out of the suspended watering system. For those backyard farmers, they are willing to change out fresh water every day. In the winter time, make sure you buy a heated water bucket for chickens, so that the water doesn’t freeze over. Earlier on the list, we already mentioned some automated feeders that you can buy online. If you want to elevate your chickens food and water, it’s a good idea to do some research about your options online.
It is very common for people to keep several kinds of birds on their backyard farm, because it gives you a lot of variety. You might be thinking about also keeping ducks or turkeys on the property as well. Just keep in mind that these birds all need different types of nutrients depending on whether you’re growing them for meat or eggs. Don’t assume that you can use the same seed for all of the birds. Do some research on what kind of nutrients that each of your birds need. There may be some overlap in what they can all eat and enjoy at the same time. However, make sure that they all have what they need in their respective areas and that they are all given space to thrive.
Also keep in mind that your roosters might not like seeing other birds near their hens. This can lead to a lot of aggressive behavior, and some of your other birds could get hurt. Turkeys aren’t very intelligent, but they can also cause a lot of property damage if they see their own reflection, and think it’s a rival mate trying to start a fight. Before you go and buy a bunch of different poultry eggs, be sure to do your research beforehand to make sure everyone can be one big, happy farm family.
4. Keep Your Dogs and Cats Away From The Chickens Until They’re Trained
If you own dogs or cats, You might be excited to make all of your animals into one little happy family. However, this can be especially dangerous if you bring home baby chicks. Your dogs and cats might assume that the chicks are a toy they can play with. This can lead to the baby chicks dying or getting eaten very quickly. And if you have a rooster, be prepared for your dog to get attacked or scratched by its claws.
Most chicken owners keep their dogs as far away from the coop as humanly possible. However, there are plenty of farmers who have trained their dog to not only stay away from the chickens, but actually protect them. In order to accomplish this, you have to train your dogs to know that you, as the alpha, have first dibs over the chickens. Once they have calmed down, they can happily co-exist. Unfortunately, cats can’t really be trained in the same way. So it’s best to keep baby chicks away from your cats until they have grown until adult birds. When the chickens are fully grown, cats will leave them alone.
Earlier on this list, we mentioned that you can give chickens scraps from the garden as food. However, you need to be careful, because the wrong foods can have unintended consequences. If you plan to give your chickens scraps of food from the garden, be aware that their eggs will begin to smell like it. For example, garlic and onions are so strong, that the flavor will transfer over to the eggs. If you’re making an omelette, maybe that’s a good thing. But no one wants to crack an egg into your mixing bowl, only to realize their cake tastes like garlic.
You also need to make sure your birds are eating a balanced diet. For example, a lack of calcium could make the egg shells too thin, and break easily. This is why many people buy store-bought food that’s fortified with extra calcium supplement. And if you were planning to eventually eat the chicken for meat, you would need to do some research to see which vitamins and minerals are going to result in the best-tasting bird.
2. Keep Your Chickens Away From Plants That Can Kill Them
While it may be tempting to throw all of your food scraps to your chickens, you need to be very careful with what you’re feeding them. There are a lot of foods and plants that will make chickens sick, or could even lead to their death. Avocado pits, dried beans, rhubarb, and moldy or rotting foods are examples of what can make a chicken very sick. Certain foods like potatoes are toxic when they’re raw, but okay for chickens to eat if they’re fully cooked beforehand.
Before you even think about giving your flock of chickens a new treat, do a quick Google search to make sure they will be okay. The full list is too long to include here, so pleasecheck out this website for all of the plants that are toxic to chickens. If you have children, it is very important to teach them this, because it’s all too easy for kids to unwittingly give the chickens something that will make them sick or die.
1. Look Into Homestead and Small Farm Tax Deductions
If you plan to create a backyard farm, it might be a good idea for you to look into potential property tax deductions. With urban sprawl taking over natural landscapes, most municipalities have incentives for people to maintain farmland. Every state, and sometimes even towns are very different from one another with their rules of what constitutes a “farm”. Keep in mind that some of these rules have become more strict as time goes on. Some older farms have been grandfathered in to the looser restrictions.
Where I live in New Jersey, we have some of the most expensive taxes in the entire country. By becoming a farm, you get a 90% discount on property taxes, so it’s totally worth it to qualify as a farm. You need a minimum of five acres, and prove that you make at least $1,000 annually selling products that were created on your farm for two years before you get any tax breaks. There is a 20-page rule book that goes over all of the eligibility requirements. Your local area will most likely have similar rules and regulations.