How to Raise Backyard Laying Chickens

by Daisy on 08/05/2008

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Okay, now that I’ve done this for a while, I feel like I might have some things to say that would make it easier to get your own backyard chicken flock going.

First, you need chickens.

If you order them from McMurray, you can get vaccinated chicks that are one day old. Only thing is that you have to order them in batches of 25. So, you either need to find a friend who wants to split them with you or head to your local feed store to get them individually. However, the feed store only has them at certain times of the year. If you’re impatient like me, splitting an order is better.

I found mine on Craig’s list for $4 each. Someone close to my house had ordered the whole McMurray batch and was selling off the extras. Worked out great. Just the breed I wanted. RED STAR. Good layers, friendly to kids, quiet, gentle, tolerate being held.

Second, you need housing.

For the first six weeks of life, a cardboard box lined with newspaper in warmish location or with heat lamp is just fine. These babies SMELL though, so keeping them in your house probably won’t work. We overnighted them inside when it was really cold, but P-U!

After six weeks, they can live outside. Then, you need an enclosure to:
1) protect the chickens from predators at night
2) keep your eggs in one location so you don’t have an easter egg hunt all over your yard.

As long as your enclosure does these two things, it doesn’t matter what it looks like. For a couple of months, my chickens lived in an old dog house with a super-gate around it and chicken wire tied to the top. It was UGLY, but it worked just fine. I propped up the end of the run on a toy dump truck in the morning and put it down in the evening. Chickens put themselves to bed. Which rocks.

But now, I have a swanky-cute coop.

I would recommend you not have such a wonderfully roostable roof, though. I have to regularly put them inside by hand now. They want to sleep up there. I think the shingles are easy to grip. There’s a place to roost INSIDE, but it’s so totally not as cool as the roof, apparently.

Third, you need food and water (lots of water). Go to your local feed store and get a bag of Chick Starter. It’s like 5 bucks for 25 lbs. After three months, start buying Lay Crumbles, which are about 9 bucks for 50 lbs. We use THIS BRAND.

What you do not need…
According to my feed store owner, who has raised yard chickens for over forty years and his family before him, and me after him (for a whopping nine months):

1.) There is no need to buy ‘grit’.

If they need it, they’ll find it in the dirt.

2.) There is no need to buy poultry feeders.

They can eat out of bowls just fine.

3.) There is no need to buy poultry waterers.

Unless you intend to hang them, these suckers get poop in every hard-to-wash crevice possible, in about two seconds. Actually, I find that the best watering container for them so far is one of those 1$ shoebox-size plastic bins that had been living in our sandbox. But, anything that when filled is too deep to tip or accidentally walk through is perfect.

So, basically, they only thing you HAVE TO BUY to raise backyard chickens is CHICKS and FOOD, unless you’re vain, like me. Then, you need a fancy-pants coop.

Well, you can make your own chick feed, but I doubt I’ll be doing that. Besides, I have a tiny crush on the old dude at my feed store.

Ivory

P.S. (Edit 12/30/08: I conferenced with my chicken guy about the necessity of oyster shells or other calcium supplements. He said they can be offered as a preventative, and the chickens will eat them just fine, but that they are only necessary if your chickens start giving you soft shells. )



{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

TennZen September 5, 2008 at 8:59 pm

I needed to see this! My husband and I have been talking about raising some chickens! Thank you so much.

I LOVE YOUR BLOG and will definitely be back!

Boni Ashburn September 7, 2008 at 4:04 am

You are a complete and total dork, Ivory Soap!!

Please, go write. Leave the chickens to Farmer Brown…

:)

p.s. Bawk-bawk!!

Ivory Soap September 7, 2008 at 2:08 pm

But you totally love me. :P

Ivory Soap September 7, 2008 at 2:13 pm

You are welcome, tennzen. I’m thrilled you found it useful. I LOVE MY CHICKENS. HA!

I got four eggs yesterday. Seems that if you leave a couple of eggs in the ‘nest,’ they all feel the NEED to contribute.

anajz September 7, 2008 at 4:43 pm

Thanks so much for stopping by my place. I love it here at yours! I am so envious of your backyard chickens. We live in a small rural town of about 700 people, but we have an ordinance about keeping livestock within the city limits.
This is one of the few times in my life (aside from the occasional speeding while driving)that I have considered willfully breaking the law. :)
I can see laws against keeping a horse, cow, pig, etc. out of the backyard, but chickens? Come on…we even still have the original chicken house in the backyard of my 100 year old house.
Thanks again…

Ivory Soap September 7, 2008 at 6:54 pm

Really? We have an ordinance, but it mentions the animals specifically. Pig, horse, cow. “Fowl” of all kinds are allowed, especially if they aren’t a nuisance animal (rooster) and you keep them in your yard. No free roaming the neighborhood guinea hens and peacocks. But, interestingly, GOATS are in limbo. Some people keep pigmy goats as pets. I think it’s up to your neighbors to complain first.

Annie October 25, 2008 at 2:07 pm

If you have a high clay fraction in the soil like we do here in Houston, you definitely need to buy grit cause there are not rocks for the birdies to find. But hey, if you have rocks is your soil, awesome! Those bags of grit weigh a ton!

Lisa October 26, 2008 at 7:26 pm

Ok, this is what I could find in our village ordinances: “No person shall keep or harbor any animal or fowl in the municipality so as to create noxious or offensive odors or unsanitary conditions which are a menace to the health, comfort or safety of the public.”

Based on the wording, could I keep hens? And how do you make sure you’re getting only hens when you buy chicks? (Total city girl here,obviously!) But I want HOME-GROWN eggs!!

Maybe this could be an entire blog post, because I’m sure I’m not the only one wondering. Or maybe I am…

Ivory Soap October 27, 2008 at 4:33 pm

Lisa,

This wording seems aimed at the scary lady with 400 cats or parakeets, but it in no way applies to keeping a few hens. They don’t smell or create unsanitary conditions for the public. If it were me, I’d totally go for it!

Huck November 11, 2008 at 6:52 pm

Hi, How many chickens do you need to produce enough to feed your family? (totally city girl too)

Ivory Soap November 11, 2008 at 7:44 pm

Huck,

It all depends on what breed you go for. The breed we got lays every day, cold or hot. but, some breeds won’t lay every day, or won’t lay in really hot weather, or won’t in the winter. So, I can only speak for ours. Red Stars lay one brown egg a day. We have 4, so that’s four eggs a day, which is plenty for us.

Hope that helps!

old lady August 31, 2010 at 7:11 pm

i have introduced a new breed with my 2 year old buffs and none are laying very good. has anyone ever heard of not mixing young with old or differant breeds together?

Tomato Lady September 1, 2010 at 8:29 am

Here are some places to start:

http://www.poultryhelp.com/introbird.html

http://www.themodernhomestead.us/article/New+Kid.html

Hope this is helpful. Good luck!

Chirpmiers February 28, 2011 at 8:29 pm

OMG LOVE THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ok well we have been debating about how much raising chicken costs with the high priced coop and everything, and the food. Well, not anymore! YOU inspired us to get chickens!

Birdy April 17, 2011 at 8:46 am

I have a question. I recently got two barred rock hens. Both had been with roosters before I picked them up. I am leaving their eggs in one nest in the coop to see if we can have babies for the grandkids. (One time only~!) How long should it take one of the hens to start setting on the nest to hatch these things? Seems like it used to take about 8 eggs in the nest before they got the right idea???? Love this blog!

Tomato Lady April 17, 2011 at 9:31 am

Birdy–8-10 eggs is a typical clutch size, but it’s possible they may never sit on them–seems to depend on whether or not they are in a broody stage. Is one of the hens showing signs of wanting to stay on the nest? When I have a broody hen she will sit on the nest even with nothing there. You might try asking over at the Backyard Chickens Forum. You can get a lot of input over there. http://www.backyardchickens.com/forum/index.php
I’m glad you like the blog!

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