How to Have a Backyard Chicken Coop? 6 Essential Questions for Getting Started

Many folks are beginning to plant gardens in the backyard or grow vegetables in containers on the balcony. It’s all part of a growing interest in knowing where our meals come from and a desire to provide clean, healthy, fresh food for our families. Adding food-producing animals to your household is a part of this and keeping chickens is a perfect way to get started.

It Doesn’t Get More Farm-to-Table than a Backyard Chicken Coop

Farm-to-table restaurants are popping up all over the country, offering fresh, ethically farmed food that tastes delicious. 

Not only is it reassuring to know where your food comes from, but freshly grown food simply tastes better. When you bite into that meal made with ingredients from the farm across town, or even your backyard garden, you simply feel more connected with the land. 

That’s why so many of us have backyard chicken coops. It’s one of the easiest, most accessible ways for you to start producing fresh, healthy and safe organic food for your family right from the backyard.

Get Started Raising Chickens in No Time

Every spring we bring in several shipments of baby chicks just hatched from a reputable hatchery. Those baby chicks are snatched up by customers within days if not hours of arriving here.

Chickens provide hours of entertainment, rich manure for organic compost and of course delicious, fresh eggs. Here at the store, we get loads of questions from people who are keeping chickens for the first time and want to do it right. 

Today, we want to answer those questions for you right here in the Homestead Library.

Our store focuses on organic and natural animal husbandry and gardening practices, so naturally; we suggest that approach with raising chickens. Here are the most frequently asked questions about getting started raising chickens...

1) How many chickens should I get? 

Four chickens will provide a family of 4-5 people with plenty of eggs and tons of great compost building manure. Chickens are social birds and prefer being in a flock. At least two birds are recommended to keep your chickens happy and productive but 4 are ideal. 

Chickens lay about 1 egg each per day so keep that in mind when deciding how many to get. Neighbors and family will most likely be thrilled to take any extra eggs off your hands.

2) How long do I have to keep the brooder light on my baby chicks? 

Baby chickens are covered with a layer of down when they hatch. The bird’s showy feathers quickly replace that down. Baby chicks must be kept warm before and during that transition. Keep a brooder lamp or heat lamp on the chicks for 6-8 weeks or until the chickens are “fully feathered”. 

Some breeds are hardier than others and will not need their lamp on all the time. The chickens will tell you when they are too hot or too cold. Chicks will move away from the heat lamp if they are too warm and huddle under it in a clump if they are too cold. 

Adjust the lamps height based on what your chicks are telling you.

3) What do I feed my chickens?

Baby chicks need to be fed chicken starter feed and plenty of fresh, clean water. 

Chick Starter - There are a variety of chick starters available including medicated chick starter. Medicated chick starter is recommended by some to keep the babies at their healthiest during their delicate first few months. We stock regular chick starter, organic chick starter and medicated chick starter for our customers. 

Layer Pellets or Homemade Feed - Once your chicks have gotten all of their feathers and you have moved them outside to their permanent home you will begin feeding them “layer pellets” or a homemade feed blend. We stock a variety of layer pellets for our customers. We carry organic layer pellets, conventional layer pellets, and even corn and soy-free layer pellets for those who are interested in GMO-free feed.

You could also make your own chicken feed from a variety of seeds and supplements such as crushed oyster shells. We carry these items in 25-50 pound bags and they can be mixed as needed.

Find out what feeds are available at your local feed store. We believe you should make your own choice about the food you feed your chickens because ultimately, you will be the one eating the eggs they produce.

4) What kind of space do I need to provide for my chickens at home?

Chickens need…

  • A minimum of 4 square feet per bird in their enclosed coop
  • A small outdoor run of about the same size. 
  • If you plan to “free-range” your chickens or let them out into an expansive yard during the day you can get away with 2 square foot per bird in the coop. 

Chickens need to be protected from predators. Raccoons, skunks, o’posums, foxes and a slew of other animals would love to get their little paws on your fat chickens or their eggs. Protecting them by providing a secure fenced area with a coop that can be closed at night is important.

Chickens also need a place to take a bath. Chickens take dust baths to keep themselves clean and free of mites and other parasites. If you have your chicken run on a dusty or dirt clearing that is sufficient for chickens to bathe. Chickens will make their own baths on a dirt floor by making little ruts in the ground to roll around in.

Watching a chicken take a dust bath is one of the most entertaining things we can think of! If you don’t have dirt available for your chickens, provide them with a kiddie pool, or other shallow container that is low to the ground filled with sand or loose, sandy soil to bathe in.

5) Can I give my chicken’s kitchen scraps or let them “free-range”?

Chickens love kitchen scraps and scratching around the yard for weeds and insects. Providing these things to chickens will not only give them something to do but they will make the eggs they lay taste better!

Ever wonder why the yolks on farm fresh eggs are dark orange in color as opposed to the light yellow yolks of store bought eggs?

That is because those chickens are getting variety in their diet that cannot be replicated by store bought feed. However, waiting until your chickens are several weeks old to give them scraps or let them peck around the yard is best. They need time to get used to using their provided feeder and waterer.

Never feed your chickens meat products, dairy products or oils from your kitchen.

Chickens will also shy away from spicy vegetables and citrus fruits. And very importantly, chickens love tender greens and well cared for plants. If you don’t want your vegetable garden destroyed in a short afternoon, keep your chickens out!

6) How can I use chicken manure in my garden?

Fresh chicken manure is HOT (meaning strong) stuff and needs to be properly composted before using in the garden. If you don’t have a compost pile and you are planning on getting chickens you will surely want to start one!

Chickens provide endless amounts of fresh manure and the bedding you use for their nest boxes and coops mixed with that manure makes fantastic organic compost.

Don’t forget. Never jump into keeping animals of any kind without doing your research first. All these details may seem small on the surface but play a big role in the happiness and health of your chickens.

Over to You...

It’s part of our mission here at Mountain Feed to help you make delicious, sustainable, homemade food, more often. Stop by and say hello on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. Or, as always, you can do it the old fashioned way and come by the store to speak with one of our in-house experts.

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