Raising Backyard Chickens – A Beginner’s Guide

Raising backyard chickens for eggs or meat can be a rewarding experience, but it depends on your goals and priorities. If you are looking for a long-term supply of fresh eggs, egg-laying hens might be a better choice. If you are looking to raise chickens for meat, you will need a plan for processing and be prepared for the work involved.

In this guide, we’ll explore the benefits and challenges of backyard chicken keeping and provide practical advice on what you need to know.

About Backyard Chickens

man feeding chickens

Backyard chickens are chickens that are raised by individuals or families in their own backyard, rather than on a commercial farm. They are typically kept for their eggs but may also be raised for their meat or as pets.

They’re often raised in small flocks of a dozen or less and are housed in a coop or other enclosure to protect them from predators. The usual diet consists of chicken feed, grains, and scraps, and are allowed to roam free in a fenced area during the day.

Backyard chickens have been a part of human life for centuries, providing a source of food and companionship for people around the world. Today, they are experiencing a resurgence in popularity, as more and more people seek to live sustainably, produce their own food, and reconnect with nature.

Backyard Chickens – A Brief History


Backyard chickens have been kept by people for centuries, with evidence of chicken domestication dating back to ancient times. Chickens were originally domesticated in Southeast Asia around 7,000 years ago and spread to other parts of the world through trade and migration.

In the United States, chickens were first introduced by European colonists in the 17th century, and quickly became an important source of food for settlers. Backyard chickens were commonly kept in rural areas, where families could raise their own food and sell excess eggs and meat.

During World War II, the U.S. government encouraged people to raise backyard chickens as part of the war effort, to help increase food production and reduce pressure on commercial farms. This didn’t last long because backyard chicken keeping declined in the post-war years, as people moved to urban areas and became more reliant on commercial food production.

In recent years, statistics show that backyard chickens are kept by millions of people in the United States and around the world and have become a popular hobby and a symbol of the local food movement.

Backyard Chickens – Advantages

many chickens

Raising backyard chickens has its benefits that make this a popular trend. Let’s have a look at some of the advantages of having your own backyard chickens:

Fresh Eggs

One of the main benefits of having backyard chickens is that you can have a steady supply of fresh, nutritious eggs. These eggs are often of higher quality than store-bought eggs, as they are fresher and have not been subjected to the stress of transportation.

Sustainable Living

Raising backyard chickens can be part of a sustainable lifestyle, as it allows you to produce your own food and reduce your reliance on store-bought eggs.

Pest Control

Chickens are natural insects and pest controllers. They will eat insects, snails, and slugs, which can help to keep your garden free of pests without the use of harmful chemicals.


Chicken manure is a rich source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which can be used to fertilize your garden and improve soil health.

Educational For Children

For young families, raising chickens can be a fun and educational activity for children, teaching them about responsibility, animal care, and where their food comes from.


Backyard chickens can be entertaining to watch and interact with and can provide a sense of companionship for their owners.


Compared to other pets or livestock, chickens are relatively inexpensive to maintain, requiring minimal space and feed to produce eggs.


Chickens can also make fun and interesting pets, with their quirky personalities and unique behaviors.


Raising chickens can also be a way to connect with and build community with other backyard chicken enthusiasts.

Backyard Chickens – Disadvantages


While there are many benefits to raising backyard chickens, there are also some potential drawbacks that you might want to consider if you are thinking of having your own flock. Here are the main disadvantages:


Roosters can be very noisy and may disturb your neighbors, especially if you live in a residential area with close neighbors.


Chicken coops can produce a strong odor, especially if they are not properly cleaned and maintained. This can be a problem if you live near neighbors.


Chickens can create a mess in your backyard, scratching up soil, leaving droppings, and creating dust baths. This can make your backyard less attractive and may be a nuisance to some people.


Backyard chickens are vulnerable to predators such as foxes, raccoons, and hawks, and you may need to take extra measures to protect them from these threats.


Raising chickens requires a certain level of responsibility and commitment. You will need to provide daily care and maintenance, including feeding, cleaning, and protecting them from predators.

Zoning And Regulations

Some cities and neighborhoods have restrictions on keeping backyard chickens, and you may need to obtain permits or meet specific requirements to keep them legally.

Health Concerns

While the risk is generally low, backyard chickens can carry salmonella, which can be transmitted to humans through contact with their feces or contaminated eggs. It’s important to practice good hygiene when handling chickens and their eggs.

Backyard Chickens for Eggs

many colored chickens

If you are raising backyard chickens for eggs, here are some tips to ensure a healthy and productive flock:

Provide proper nutritionA balanced diet is essential for egg-laying hens. Feed them a commercial layer feed supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as oyster shells or other calcium supplements to ensure strong eggshells.
Keep the coop cleanA clean coop helps prevent disease and promotes egg production. Clean out the coop and nesting boxes regularly and provide fresh bedding.
Ensure adequate spaceHens need enough space to move around comfortably and lay eggs. Provide at least 2-3 square feet of space per hen in the coop, and an outdoor area for them to scratch and forage.
Monitor their healthKeep an eye out for signs of illness, such as lethargy, loss of appetite, or abnormal droppings. Address any health issues promptly to prevent the spread of disease.
Collect eggs dailyCollecting eggs daily helps prevent them from getting dirty or cracked. Store eggs in a cool, dry place until ready to use.
Provide enough nesting boxesHens prefer to lay their eggs in a quiet, private space. Provide enough nesting boxes for your hens, at a ratio of one box per 3-4 hens.
Practice good hygieneWash your hands before and after handling chickens or eggs to prevent the spread of bacteria. Clean eggshells before cracking them to prevent contamination.

If you are raising backyard chickens for meat, here are some tips to ensure a healthy and successful flock:

Choose the right breed  Certain breeds are better suited for meat production than others. Look for breeds such as Cornish Cross or Freedom Rangers that are known for their meat production.
Provide proper nutritionFeed your chickens a high-quality commercial feed formulated for meat birds, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables for added nutrition.
Provide adequate spaceMeat birds grow quickly and need plenty of space to move around. Provide at least 1-2 square feet of space per bird in the coop, and an outdoor area for them to forage and exercise.
Monitor their healthKeep an eye out for signs of illness or stress, such as lethargy, loss of appetite, or abnormal droppings. Address any health issues promptly to ensure the health of your birds and the quality of the meat.
Butcher at the right timeMeat birds can be butchered as early as 8-12 weeks old, depending on the breed and the desired weight. Butchering too early or too late can affect the quality of the meat.
Use humane butchering methodsEnsure that the butchering process is done as quickly and humanely as possible to minimize stress and pain for the birds.
Store meat properlyAfter butchering, store the meat in a cool place and use

Backyard Chickens – For Eggs or Meat

small chickens

Here are some key differences between raising chickens for eggs and raising chickens for meat which you should consider before deciding why you would raise backyard chickens.

·      Breeds

Different breeds of chicken are better suited for egg production versus meat production. Some common egg-laying breeds include Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, and Plymouth Rocks, while popular meat breeds include Cornish Cross and Broilers. Make sure to choose a breed that fits your goals.

·      Housing and Space Requirements

Chickens need adequate space and housing for both meat and egg production, but the requirements can vary. Meat birds tend to grow faster and need more space to move around, while egg-laying hens need nesting boxes and roosts to lay their eggs comfortably.

·      Feeding

Both egg-laying hens and meat birds need a balanced diet, but the requirements can differ. Meat birds often require a high-protein diet to support their rapid growth, while egg-laying hens require a diet that is higher in calcium to produce strong eggshells.

·      Time Commitment

Raising chickens for meat can be a faster process than raising chickens for eggs. Meat birds can be ready for processing in as little as 8-10 weeks, while egg-laying hens typically take 4-6 months to start laying eggs. However, egg-laying hens can continue to produce eggs for several years, while meat birds are typically only raised for a few months.

·      Processing

If you are raising chickens for meat, you will need to have a plan for processing them. This can be done at home or at a local processing facility. Keep in mind that processing chickens can be messy and time-consuming, so be prepared for the work involved.

How to Start Your Own Backyard Chickens

brown hens

After weighing out the advantages and disadvantageous, if you’re still interested in raising backyard chickens, there are several things you can do to prepare:

·      Check Local Regulations

Check with your local government to determine if there are any regulations or ordinances regarding backyard chickens in your area. Some cities and neighborhoods may have restrictions on the number of chickens you can keep or require permits.

·      Choose A Breed

There are many different breeds of chickens, each with its own characteristics and requirements. Research different breeds to find one that is well-suited to your needs and environment.

·      Prepare A Coop and Run

You will need to provide a secure coop and run for your chickens to protect them from predators and the elements. The coop should be large enough for the number of chickens you plan to keep, with roosting bars, nesting boxes, and ventilation. The run should be fenced and covered to keep your chickens safe.

·      Purchase Supplies

You will need to purchase supplies such as feeders, waterers, feed, and bedding for your chickens. You may also want to purchase other accessories such as heat lamps, chicken saddles, and egg baskets.

·      Consider The Cost

Raising backyard chickens can be relatively inexpensive, but there are still costs associated with purchasing supplies, building a coop, and running, and providing ongoing care and maintenance.

·      Learn About Care and Maintenance

Before getting chickens, learn about their care and maintenance requirements, such as feeding, watering, cleaning, and protecting them from predators.

·      Plan For Egg Production

If you plan to keep chickens for eggs, consider how you will use the eggs and whether you will have excess to sell or give away.

FAQs on Backyard Chickens

1. What are backyard chickens, and what are their benefits?

Backyard chickens are chickens that are kept for egg-laying, meat, or as pets. They provide fresh eggs, help control pests and weeds, and can be a fun and educational hobby.

2. How much space do backyard chickens need?

Backyard chickens need at least 2-3 square feet of space per chicken in their coop, and access to a fenced outdoor area to scratch and forage.

3. What do backyard chickens eat, and how often should they be fed?

Backyard chickens eat a balanced diet of chicken feed, supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables. They should be fed twice a day, with access to clean water at all times.

4. Do backyard chickens need a coop, and what should it include?

Yes, backyard chickens need a coop to provide shelter from the elements, roosting space, and a place to lay eggs. It should also include nesting boxes, ventilation, and secure doors and windows.

5. How do I care for the health of my backyard chickens?

To care for the health of backyard chickens, they should be checked daily for signs of illness or injury, kept in clean living conditions, and provided with a balanced diet and fresh water.

6. What are some common health problems that backyard chickens can experience, and how can they be prevented?

Common health problems for backyard chickens include mites and lice, respiratory infections, and egg-laying issues. Prevention includes regular cleaning, vaccination, and monitoring for signs of illness.

7. How do I protect my backyard chickens from predators?

Backyard chickens should be protected from predators such as raccoons, foxes, and hawks. This can be done by securing the coop and outdoor area with fencing and netting and keeping a watchful eye on the chickens.

8. Do backyard chickens need to be vaccinated, and if so, against what diseases?

Yes, backyard chickens should be vaccinated against diseases such as Marek’s disease and Newcastle disease. Talk to a veterinarian or poultry specialist for advice on vaccination schedules.

9. How often do backyard chickens lay eggs, and how many eggs can I expect?

Backyard chickens lay eggs every 24-36 hours, depending on the breed and age of the chicken. On average, a chicken can lay 4-6 eggs per week.

10. What are the laws and regulations around keeping backyard chickens, and what permits or licenses are required?

Laws and regulations around backyard chickens vary by location. Check with local authorities for any permits or licenses required and be aware of zoning and noise restrictions.

Wrapping Up

Overall, a close look into backyard chickens shows that they can be a rewarding and sustainable addition to any household, providing fresh eggs, natural pest control, and a connection to nature.

However, as clearly seen here, raising chickens also requires careful planning, preparation, and ongoing maintenance. By considering the pros and cons and following best practices for chicken care, anyone can enjoy the many benefits of backyard chicken keeping and achieve a more sustainable lifestyle.