How to Raise Backyard Chickens

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I have been in the chicken business for about 5 days now, which practically makes me an expert (ahem).  Although I am truly NOT an expert in the chicken department yet, I would like to share what I have learned from my research from experts and how this newbie (a.k.a. me) got started with raising backyard chickens from chicks.

I had planned on writing this post months or years from now, when I actually can consider myself an expert.  However a combination of a last minute decision to not write the post I had planned this morning, writers block for other ideas, laziness to go upstairs and get my list of blog post ideas, and the constant chirping I am listening to at the moment has led me to the decision to share with you what I have learned in the last 5 days from experience as well as all the great resources I have discovered.

Our family has always enjoyed other people’s chickens and their eggs.  When we lived in Colorado, we were friends with the nicest people who truly were experts on backyard chickens.  They shared their fresh eggs with us weekly and we took care of their chickens if they were out of town.  My kids loved to go and gather eggs and take our scraps or freshly caught grasshoppers to the chickens to watch them fight over the food.  We have missed that sweet couple and their chickens since moving to Wyoming.  We have made friends in our new town who have chickens and it was talking with her that convinced me to go ahead and give chickens a try.  This friend of mine adores her chickens and once she informed me that I wouldn’t need a heat lamp for the chickens in the winter, I was ready to try it!

Resource #1

Talk with friends, neighbors, and family about their chickens and get all the advice you can from those already doing it in your area.  They know the predators to be aware of, how to protect the chickens from the elements where you live, and what breeds do best in your climate.

Resource #2

My next step in gathering information was watching a ton of YouTube videos.  Here are links to a few of my favorite:

Resource #3

The other helpful information I received is from Murdoch’s, where I purchased our baby chicks.  The salesman answered several of my questions and they had a pamphlet and information sheets and checklists to help me get started.

Resource #4

I found these websites helpful in learning about the different chicken breeds:

Decision Time:

After gathering all kinds of information, it was time to make some decisions.

  1. Where to build the chicken coop. I learned that there are city codes to help you make this decision.  One code said the coop must be 25 feet from the house (not including the garage) and 35 feet from the neighbors house.  We wanted an area that would be easy to get to during the winter months (which is about 9 months out of the year for us…).  We decided the perfect spot for our coop would be next to the far side of our garage.  The garage and a fence will help protect the chickens from the wind and cold of Wyoming and there is a patch of cement on the other side to prevent predators from digging into the run.
  2. What type of coop you will use.  There are so many great designs out there, so the hard part will be choosing what works best for you.  A general rule I have noticed is that the coop needs to be about 2-4 square feet/chicken inside and about 8-10 sq. feet/chicken in the run.  We got our idea from one we saw in a neighbor’s yard.  I will keep you updated on that project when we get there!
  3. How many chickens you want.  We want enough eggs to feed our family of 6 and provide a few extras to either give away or for the kids to sell.  From what I’ve read, I think 5 chickens would be plenty to provide eggs for a family of 6.  We are starting with 9 knowing that some might not make it and to have extra eggs.
  4. What type of chickens will you buy.  There are online hatcheries that you can order your chicks from and that seems to be a good choice.  We decided to just buy our chicks from Murdoch’s, which does limit the breeds available to buy.  They were totally sold out of chicks, but getting new shipments weekly.  I got a list of the breeds that would coming in and then I did my research on those breeds to make sure they were hardy (could survive the winter).  I then showed a picture of a full grown chicken from each breed to our kids and they each got to pick 2 breeds they wanted to claim as their own.  This was a good idea in theory, but the day we went to pick up the chicks, they were already sold out of some breeds and I had been given wrong information on the date that other breeds were coming.  So we didn’t get to buy the variety we were planning on, but we are still happy with what we got.  We ended up with 2 Delaware, 2 Silver Lakenvelder, 4 Rhode Island Reds, and 1 New Hampshire Red.
  5. Where will you raise the chickens until they are ready to be outside (5-8 weeks).  Chicks need to be kept inside in a brooder box for several weeks until they are fully feathered and strong enough to withstand the temperatures outside.  The first few weeks they can be kept in a storage tub, but by about 4 weeks they need a bigger box still usually in the house or garage.  We have a good spot in our basement that is on tile floor, so we don’t have to worry about spills or poop on our carpet.  We are using a large pink storage tub.  I would recommend using a clear one if you have it, because the combination of the pink tub and the red heat bulb makes for quite a glow!  We plan to move them to a box that held our new bathtub when they get older and need more space.

Ready to begin

Finally you have some decisions made and you are ready to begin!  We might regret this, but we bought our chicks before having the outside coop built and ready to go.  We figured that we should have at least a month before they need to go outside, so we’ll see if that was an OK decision or not in a few weeks.

The first supplies we bought or gathered were:

  • brooder box (storage tub and large box)
  • heat lamp and bulb
  • Chick starter food and grit
  • Pine wood shavings
  • Chick feeder and water containers (we bought used)
  • Electrolytes and vitamins
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Thermometer

The total cost so far without the chicks was $54.

Once we had the basics and had the brooder box set up and ready to go we then got the food and water ready.

The brooder box needed a couple inches of the pine shavings on the bottom, the heat lamp securely attached, a thermometer near the bottom to accurately know the temperature (new chicks need the temp to be about 95 degrees), their feeder, and something solid for the water.  We placed two bricks side by side for the water and that has been helpful to prevent it from knocking over and keeping the pine shavings somewhat dry.

For the food we poured some of the chick starter food into a container about 3/4 of the way full.  We then filled the rest of the container with 1/4 of grit to help the chicks digest their food.  After mixing it up good, it is ready to pour into the feeder.  To prepare the water, we used a gallon jug and filled it with room temperature water and added 1 Tbsp of Apple Cider Vinegar to help the chicks with digestion and overall health.  The day that we got the chicks we poured that into their water container and then added about 1 tsp of the electrolytes to their water container, not the gallon sized jug.  They do not need electrolytes all the time, but it is good for them in the beginning after the stress of being transferred.  Now it is time for the chicks!

We went and picked out our chicks and brought them home!  The chicks cost $40 for 9 of them.  Like I mentioned before, we did have to make a few last minute decisions on the breeds, but the salesman was great at helping me make those decisions.

When we got home my 5 year old was busy at carefully placing the chicks into the brooder box and then he was perfectly entertained the rest of the day!

Now What?

Now our job is to

  • Interact with the chicks (1-2 hours a day), so that they get used to us and being handled.
  • Keep their food container free of pine shavings and filled each day.
  • Clean their water container to make sure it is free from pine shavings.
  • Wipe their bums if they get backed up (a.k.a pasty butt).  I was not thrilled with the idea of having to wipe bums, but it really hasn’t been too bad.  Only 3 chicks really needed it for a couple days and then it’s been better.
  • Make sure the temperature is where is should be.  It starts about 95 degrees for the first week and then decreases by 5 degrees every week after that.
  • Clean the brooder box every other day.
  • Get that chicken coop built!

Lessons Learned

We unfortunately learned a very hard lesson.  Our kids need clear rules about what is allowed with the chicks.  The first night we had our chicks, my husband and I were finishing our dinner while the three boys were downstairs with the chickens.  We assumed that my two older boys would supervise the 2 year old with the chicks.  But we were wrong.  My two year old, apparently tried to make a chicken fly by tossing it into the air.  The poor chick landed on the tile floor and died.  It was the saddest thing!  We buried the chick and now my son keeps asking where the chicken is and if it flew to heaven.  Since this incident, we now have strict rules with the chickens.  Carter is only allowed to hold the chicks if a grown up or my daughter is with him and he has to be sitting down on the blanket next to the coop.  This rule applies to friends that are over as well.

The happy lesson we have learned is that the chickens like to be snuggled and kept warm!  My daughter is a chicken whisperer and discovered that they like to be wrapped in her shirt and will snuggle in and fall asleep!  We snuggled these chicks while we FINALLY got to watch The Greatest Showman over the weekend.








If you are considering starting backyard chickens, I hope this will give you information and encouragement to try it out.  We are only 5 days in and other than one casualty, we are really enjoying this new addition to our family.  It is giving the kids more responsibility and a chance to learn how to care for animals.  I really don’t enjoy pets in general and I plan to have as little as possible, but I am actually excited about the chickens.  They are an animal that gives something in return!  Carter had to go to time out after his chicken incident and now he is ready to be nice and happy!

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