If you are getting or have backyard chickens, like any livestock, there are definitely some things you need to take good care of them. These are the top 10 tips I have for caring for backyard chickens.
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. We are also affiliates for others and only endorse products we support. You can read more about our disclosure policy here.
Tip 1: Get familiar with your breed
Like dogs, chickens come in a wide range of breeds for different purposes. Everything from the wee bantams to the largest Brahmas. Just like people, chickens will have different personalities that will vary greatly based on their breed.
Related content: How to build a chicken tractor
Some chickens are more flighty, prone to aggression or super docile. Some chickens are more clever, easier to train than others. Within your own flock, some chickens will be high ranking, get the best food and access to the nicest roosts. You may have an easy going flock, that is relaxed and explores easily or a high strung flock that flaps and runs away at the slightest noise. Knowing more about how they operate is a really interesting part of owning chickens.
Tip 2: Pet chicken?
Are your backyard laying hens going to be family pets too? If you raise them from egg or day-old chicks, one way to have them be more docile and accepting of people is to handle them a lot when young. This will teach them not to fear you and to expect things like being pet and picked up.
Pet chickens are more like a lap dog compared the more traditional utilitarian view of chickens. They are docile, friendly, come when called, easy going and part of the family. Chickens can carry salmonella so hand washing is key but if you want a pet that gives you eggs, chickens are great for this.
Tip 3: Have a vet and a small first aid kit
Line up a vet and first aid kit with some basic supplies before you get your chicks. Definitely want to consider a vet that has a little poultry or domestic bird experience.
If you have never owned chickens, do a little homework on common chicken ailments and how you can help your birds. Issues such as mites, egg-bound, lash egg and broodiness are all important so make sure you have a general understanding of these.
Tip 4: Get to know your laying hens!
It may sound a bit odd, but spending time watching and even training your chickens will help you know when something does not seem right. You can follow Karen Pryor who advocates for positive reinforcement training for more on this.
Using a bridge such as a whistle, clicker or other noise can help flighty chickens become more comfortable with you. Especially if they think they’re going to get cracked corn mmmmmmm…
Tip 5: Wait for eggs
It will take a while for your baby chicks to becoming laying hens. Around 18 to 22 weeks, your hens will begin laying. These first eggs might be smaller than they will eventually become. But interestingly this is their final color. If you have one that might different colors, whatever egg color they present first is the one they will have for life.
You can’t really speed up this process so give your chickens a little time. You will be feeding, teaching, watering and cleaning your feathered friends for a while before you get those fresh eggs!
Tip 6: Decide early the future
There are many people that consider the chickens their pets. They are also those who raise them specifically for a purpose such as for eggs or meat. If you are raising chickens for eggs, eventually they will likely slow or stop laying. Depending on how you feel about keeping them, make sure you think carefully about how the will live out there lives.
By the time they’re laying may slow or stop, the meat is usually too tough for a roast chicken. However, you can make good chicken stock. Be mindful though if you choose to give your birds treatment and/or choose to euthanize. Those chemicals will end up in the meat or blood.
Tip 7: Keep nest box very clean
Definitely replace the bedding regular, remove feces. Chickens can be messy, even in their nest boxes. If you want clean eggs (see below) then you must have very clean, nicely bedded nest boxes. I use pine shavings from the local farm store for this but there are several options. Definitely consider your climate and number of chickens.
Tip 8: Do not wash eggs
This is somewhat controversial, but all laying hens leave a protective “bloom” on their egg that helps keep out bacteria that is removed when the eggs are washed. You can clean off your eggs by wiping them down. This will leave the bloom on while cleaning the eggs of feces or dirt.
If you do choose to wash your eggs, make sure you refrigerate them and wash them with warm water. Washing them is common in the US but not in Europe, which is because of the way the animals are inoculated in the two places.
Tip 9: Plan for vacation
I argue that chickens are easier to care for than dogs. Because the chicken tractor doesn’t have a floor, the biggest challenge for going out of town is moving the tractor from time to time. The bedding, water, food, egg collection are easy and only take a few minutes a day.
If you live in a city, many people, neighbors and friends may not be familiar with chickens but they are pretty easy to train even your neighbor dog-walker how to care for. However, if you want more experience you can look into posting at the local farm store or craigslist.
Tip 10: Have a back up chicken house
Almost certainly one of your chickens will get sick, go broody, get picked on by the others or get injured from the many predators out there. Have a back up place for a chicken or two to be for a time, when recovering. I use a giant dog crate that I used when they were chicks.
Related content: DIY Chick Brooder
A large dog crate can keep one chicken away from her group while she receives treatment. If well enough, you can keep the crate near the coop so she is not too lonely and stays connected to the group.
Bonus tip: Avoid predators
Many people, especially with any appreciable amount of land, choose to free range their chickens. This allows them to get access to bugs, sunshine, fresh grass and more. However, this also can lead to more predation. There are a few things you can do to reduce this. Including guard dogs, good fencing around your property, hawk deterrents, and more.
Or, if they live in a coop with a fun or chicken tractor full time, allow them some time to roam around freely when you are with them. Especially if this is in a closed area like a backyard. If they are in this set up, make sure your set up is secure.
Pin for later: