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Eggs are delicious and full of a high level of nutritious vitamins for your body AND your skin. They are usually inexpensive at grocery stores and readily available. However, in recent years, great concern has grown about the environment the hens are raised and how they are treated overall. Many people are starting to consider raising chickens themselves.
This new empathy toward chickens and other animals used for food in our diets has taken the form of backyard chicken coops for sustainable supply of fresh eggs. If you’re concerned about the way store-bought eggs are acquired, consider raising chickens in your backyard. You can ensure they are humanely treated and fed the best, organic feed.
Chickens are good for more than just delicious eggs, though. For example, they are a great addition to the health of your garden. The manure from chickens (and there will be a lot of it!) can be utilized as fertilizer.
Chickens spend their days grazing for weeds and pecking at insects. Worms, beetles and even overripe vegetables are also in their pecking order. Endlessly pecking and scratching can till the ground of the garden, saving you time and energy.
Before you begin building your flock of chickens, you will need some to buy (or make) these preparations:
If your concern is raising happy chickens, a place for the birds to spread their wings is imperative. So is protecting them from predators – both wild animals and your own cats or dogs can be a danger to chickens.
Given that you’ll be entering the coop daily to collect eggs or other maintenance (feeding, cleaning, etc.), the coop needs to be high enough to accommodate your height. Chicken coops typically measure 20 X 5 feet.
The chickens shouldn’t be cooped up in the, well, coop their entire lives. They need a fenced in spot to roam free. Preferably an area surrounded by chicken-wire fence.
Like you, chickens need food and water daily to survive. Chickens can be fed table or garden scraps, but they still need grain or poultry pellets.
You’re going to be shoveling chicken poop every day, multiple times a day for the duration of owning chickens. So you’re going to need a shovel and a place to store the waste.
Due to lack of light, hens do not typically lay as many eggs in the winter. Some may even stop laying completely. You’ll still need to care for them and we have how a section on that below. During spring and summer, your chickens will lay eggs daily (not so often in the fall) and you need to collect them daily to get them into the refrigerator (or for same-day meals.)
Some hens even lay eggs twice a day.
What are the Easiest Chickens to Raise?
There are literally hundreds of different breeds of chickens. Choosing the right one for your needs is essential and can feel overwhelming.
Here are the easiest chickens to raise:
Rhode Island Reds
The easy-going nature of these official state birds of Rhode Island make them perfect for new chicken owners. They do well in confinement and can withstand any climate, even colder ones.
These docile creatures average 5 eggs per week.
Barred Plymouth Rocks
If you’re looking for a chicken that lays large brown eggs, the friendly Barred Plymouth Rock breed is the perfect choice. While they prefer to free-graze, they aren’t bothered by being confined to the coop or cold climates.
This plucky chicken lays 4 eggs per week.
The large bird is from New Jersey are relatively good-natured for chickens. They aren’t popular on commercial farms due to the six months it takes for them to reach their full growth. But they do well in backyard coops.
3 eggs per week is what you can expect from the Jersey Giant.
Araucanas aren’t as easy to own as the others, as they tend to be flight risks. They are pretty rare, so getting you’d have to find a breeder to get your hands on this bird.
They lay 3 green-shelled eggs per week.
Taking Care of Chickens in the Winter
Even though your chicken most likely won’t have enough light to lay eggs in the winter, you still need to feed and take care of them. Here are the answers to questions you’re asking yourself about keeping chickens in winter:
They Don’t Need Heaters
You might think of putting a heater in their coop to keep the chickens warm, but don't! They are too much of a fire risk. Chickens huddle together anyway, so they don’t need any heaters. If you’re really concerned about the cold, give them extra bedding. You can also make sure the coop is well-ventilated, insulated and that your hens have a clean coop to cuddle together in.
But They Do Needs Roosts
Roosts keep chickens off the cold floor. The roosts should be placed two feet off the ground and have enough room for them all to fit comfortably. They will roost together for warmth.
Use Supplement to Get Them to Lay Eggs
Some chickens, such as the Buff Orpington, continue to lay eggs throughout the winter. Most don’t. If you want to encourage your chickens to continue their daily egg production, you can use a supplemental light. However, some birds do find the lights stressful.
Feed Them in the Evening (and Morning)
Continue to feed your chickens in the morning as you regularly would. At night, give them a nice snack of cracked corn. They will digest it during the night, which keeps them warm. And we know how much chickens love corn!
Petroleum Jelly Protects from Frostbite
The combs and wattles of chickens are vulnerable to frostbite in the colder climates. You can dab petroleum jelly on the combs and wattles for frostbite protection.
Don’t Force Them Indoors
Chickens, like most animals, do not like being left out in the cold snow. However, they are also independent thinkers and can decide to go inside the coop on their own. So, you don’t need to try to shoo or cajole the chickens into the coop. They’ll go in if they want. If you live in a predator-heavy location, however, you should try hard to train your hens to go in at night for their own protection.
Do Chickens Get Lonely?
Chickens are very sociable and don’t do well if left alone in confined spaces. Much like dogs can get separation anxiety, chickens can get depressed and lonely. These feelings, coupled with boredom can cause them to act out or be more susceptible to diseases.
Four to six is the ideal number of chickens in a flock. Less than four can cause the chickens to begin pulling out the feathers (feather picking) of their coopmates.
Which Breeds of Chicken are the Friendliest?
Chickens make terrible house pets. Not because of their personalities — which can be very sweet – but because they poop a lot and their constant preening emits a harmful dust that can be toxic in prolonged exposure.
However, chickens are surprisingly fun, intelligent and calm. Even though they are being raised to produce eggs, chickens can be affectionate to their owners and act like pets.
Chickens that lay brown eggs are considered much more friendly than those that lay white eggs. The white egg chickens are nervous around humans, which makes them flighty.
Here are the friendliest chickens most likely to let you cuddle and pet them:
The most recommended chicken for new backyard chicken owners, these chickens are highly intelligent. Calm and friendly, they are considered good mother hens. They have plumage that is quite fluffy, hence the “buff.”
This patient bird lays eggs 3 times per week.
This peaceful bird from Australia is friendly and sweet. Despite its shy demeanor, the Australorp are also assertive once comfortable in their new home.
These dignified fowls lay eggs 5 times per week.
Independent but friendly, this bird keeps to herself. You don’t have to worry about this chicken flying off, because they are bad fliers. Their easy-going nature makes them great for all climates.
This somewhat bossy bird lays eggs 4 times a week.
This chicken is a hybrid of several different breeds. Despite its mixed heritage, the bird is docile. They lay different colored eggs, which is where their silly name comes from. This chicken is a huge hit with the kids.
This fun bird lays colorful eggs 4 times a week.
The Sussex is considered the friendliest and happiest bird, though she does give chase when she sees food – even if it’s in your hand.
This confident bird lays eggs 4 times per week.
Chicken Coops & Free Range Chicken Runs
The type of enclosure you choose for your chickens depends on the size of your backyard or area where the chickens will live. Chickens like to roam free for a few hours every day for exercise and mental stimulation, so keep that in mind when you build your coop.
Here are a few options on where to house your chickens:
Chicken arks are perfect for backyards. They are movable and placed directly over the area you plan to use for the chickens. For example, you can place it over untilled soil, let the chickens work the ground and then move the ark to another spot. Voila! You now have a tilled garden.
Moving around freely helps prevent disease in chickens and also gives them fresh grass. It’s also easiest to clean, which should be every 6 weeks.
Fixed Hen House
Fixed hen houses are best used in conjunction with a fenced in chicken run. The fixed houses are great for large numbers of a flock. The hen houses do take a lot of time and energy to clean, because you have to scrape manure off every surface and disinfect it to prevent diseases from spreading.
Nesting boxes are useful for egg laying. 3 hens can share one box. The boxes should be lined with straw and 14 inches off the ground. While the nesting boxes only need to be cleaned once a month, any broken eggs need to be removed immediately. Otherwise, your hens will continue to eat eggs, broken or not. You don't want to be racing out to the coop every morning to beat her to them!
Perches are part of the hen house, not a separate enclosure. The birds need 8 inches of space to roost comfortably and there should be enough for all of the chickens. Perches should be placed less than 2 feet off the ground to prevent injuries.
Chicken runs are meant to be attached to the enclosure of your choice to allow the chickens to walk or run around. They need to be fenced in with chicken wire or mesh that is at least 6 feet high. Some of the wire should be buried in the ground to prevent animals from digging underneath.
The top of the run should also be covered in mesh to keep predators out. Some people put runs on each side of the chicken house and alternate usage to keep the ground from being overly damaged.
Regardless of what type of coop you decide on, your chickens still need the following things:
- Protection from predators
- Ventilated but not drafty
- Facing the rising sun
Are you going to be raising chickens anytime soon? Share some of your egg-cellent ideas down below!