What goes around comes around, or so they say. And, "they" would be correct when…
The idea of keeping chickens on one’s property isn’t exactly new. After all, people have been caring for and raising chickens at or near their home for years, in various capacities.
While time and technology have resulted in a shift long ago from relying on personal livestock and animals, chickens remain a viable and popular option -- and you don’t have to live on an acreage, or out in the country to do so. All you really need is a chicken coop.
Raising chickens can seem a little intimidating to some, especially if you haven’t been around livestock, or have only had cats and dogs as pets. The truth is, chickens can be very easy to care for, and very rewarding, regardless of where you live.
Chicken coops are the key to raising backyard chickens. Unless you have a large barn, or want to take your chances by simply letting your chickens roam around all over the place, a proper chicken coop provides the solution to healthy, happy, and productive chickens, even in smaller backyards.
This article will serve as introduction of sorts to the world of backyard chicken raising, the benefits of doing so, and why a chicken coop is so important.
Benefits Of Raising Backyard Chickens
There are some obvious reasons for keeping chickens in your backyard, but the many related benefits one can get from doing so may surprise you. Not only can chickens improve your food supply, they provide some added advantages that touch on everything from pollution to fighting pests.
Organic Meat And Eggs
When thinking about the different reasons for raising chickens in your backyard, the first thing that pops into your head is probably the food aspect.
Eggs are a staple in most households, with many consumers buying hundreds each year. The large demand for eggs has resulted mass production methods that are not the most ideal for ensuring quality eggs.
If you want to buy organic eggs, you’re going to likely pay double. While these may be healthier, the cost can add up quickly, and you’re still relying on store-bought eggs.When raising chickens, you have a daily source of eggs that you can take right to your kitchen.
If you’ve never tasted a fresh egg, you’ll be amazed at the difference in taste and quality, even when compared to organic eggs. They are also much healthier, and there’s no mystery about how they were raised, or what they were fed, or any of that.
Converting your main staples such as eggs to organic and/or self-sourced can make a huge difference in your health, the quality of your food, and your budget as well. You can also cut down on waste from expired eggs (home-sourced eggs last much longer from when you get them,) and avoid the last-minute grocery store visits when you suddenly run out.
If you’re raising chickens for meat, the benefits are all the same. With all the health scares involving salmonella and other bacteria these days, sourcing your own meat is a surefire way to sidestep those concerns. The quality and freshness are under your control as well.
Rich Soil Compost
This isn’t the most glamorous benefit, but it can’t be ignored. Chicken waste can be valuable as an additive to soil compost. The materials help with the soil breakdown, which in turn adds the composting process and results in richer soil in the end.
You can also add eggshells to the compost for an even better effect. Chicken coops make it easy to collect the chicken waste, so you’ll never have a hard time getting a steady supply to add to your compost.
For whatever reason, it seems that most people who raise backyard chickens tend to raise their own produce as well, or just gardening in general. The chicken waste is very useful and valuable, helping with any crops you're raising, or decorative plants that can benefit from compost.
Cutting Down on Waste
Chickens are like pigs in a few ways, mainly that they really do pretty much anything. This includes your own food waste and scraps. Adding food scraps to your chicken’s diet provides a boost of nutrients they certainly benefit from, which in turn creates better eggs.
By giving your food waste to chickens, you are keeping it out of landfills, which in turn helps the environment while cutting down on your own waste. Everyone wins. Plus, your chickens will be happier, and eventually figure out when they think you'll be bringing them some gifts -- leading to pretty entertaining behavior.
Looking for some natural pest control methods? Chickens can be your greatest ally in the fight. Chickens spend a good portion of the day awake, walking around and poking at the ground in search of snacks.
They will eat everything from ants, to snails, grasshoppers, beetles, slugs, and a wide range of other harmful creatures that you don’t want hanging around in your yard.
Even a handful of chickens can make a big difference in the environment in your yard. They stay vigilant each day, constantly patrolling the ground for the next treat, all to the benefit to your grass and gardens.
Raising chickens isn’t just about what you can get from them in terms of physical products. The experience can be very rewarding, and if you have children, it can serve as a valuable lesson in responsibility and sustainability.
Chickens are also good pets in general. You’ll be surprised how quickly you notice the differences in their personalities, how they act in certain situations, and even their affection for you. It’s not uncommon for chickens to show excitement when they see their keepers, and may even jump in their laps to be petted.
For those that may think raising chickens is hard, or requires a ton of extra knowledge and learned skills, don’t worry. Chickens taker care of themselves for the most part. They bathe themselves, lay their own eggs without any assistance, sleep at night, and generally behave for the most part.
If you can raise a cat or dog, you can raise a chicken or two, or three, or four. It’s much easier than you think.
How To Start Raising Chickens In Your Backyard
Getting started with caring for chickens in your backyard may seem like a huge task, but it doesn’t require all that much preparation, or even materials. Your main concerns are going to be deciding on where they will live, what you’re feeding them etc.
What You’ll Need
We’ll do a brief rundown of all of the things you’ll need for happy and healthy chickens in your backyard or property. This covers the most essential items.
In regards to materials, a chicken coop is the most critical item needed when raising backyard chickens.
A chicken coop is an enclosed space or “house” where chickens are kept at night. The coop also serves as a place for them to lay eggs, nest, and access food and water. At nighttime, it serves as protection from both the weather and predators.
The chicken coop is where your chickens will be staying most of the time, except for when they are out roaming, whether it's within a run or freely in your yard.
Chicken coops vary in size and design, and the type and size you’ll need depends on a variety of factors, including the number of chickens, your yard, the weather, etc.
Why Chickens Need A Coop
Chickens need a coop for many reasons, as the coop is a multi-use facility of sorts.
The main reason is protection. Chickens are a favorite target of many different predators, such as foxes, cats, and maybe even your own dogs. Many of the most effective predators that will take an interest in your chickens are more active at night. Thus, the coop keeps the predators at bay.
Weather is also a concern. Chickens are very hardy, and can easily withstand temperatures as low as 15 degrees, but this doesn’t mean they need to be subjected to it. Frequent exposure to hot and cold temperatures are not good for your chickens, or its eggs.
The same can be said for precipitation. Although chickens generally spend most of the day outside of the coop, the structure does give them the option to retreat inside when there’s rain or snow.
While a coop does benefit the chicken, it also makes things easier for you when taking care of them. With a chicken coop, you know where your chickens are at night, and you know they are protected.
The coop is also used to provide a place for them to lay eggs. It does require some initial training, but eventually the chickens will lay their eggs solely in the coop, saving you from having to go find them in the yard, or risk them being eaten by other animals, or even the chickens themselves.
So, the importance of a chicken coop is paramount. It serves as the headquarters for your precious chickens, making living easier for both you and them.
Feed and Water
Although chickens will eat pretty much anything, it is important that you provide them with chicken feed as well, as a mixture of both is preferred when striving for optimal health, and better-tasting eggs.
Chicken feed is easy to find. You can buy it at some hardware stores, and most certainly at pet stores. Buying online from sites like Amazon gives you even more choices, with regular delivery right to your door.
Either way, make sure that you keep your chicken feed accessible within the coop, and well-stocked.
Your chickens will also need access to fresh water, as they can consume as much as a liter each day. There are plenty of choices for both feeders and water-holders online.
If you have an average-sized backyard, there’s a good chance you’ll want to keep your chickens restricted to a certain area during the day. Letting them roam around may actually end up damaging some of your plants and yard if they are left unchecked.
Chicken runs can be attached to the coop, providing the chickens with a designated area to walk around in during the day. These runs come in all shapes and sizes, allowing you to pick one perfect for your chickens and your yard.
The runs can be fully enclosed, or simply include chicken wire and fencing. Regardless, the run should always have access to the coop’s door.
Chickens are not difficult to care for if you are already used to having domesticated animals around, but they do require some vigilance. Your chickens are much more reliant on your protection than dogs and cats, and they have some unique needs as well.
You can make your rounds with the chickens in about 5 to 10 minutes each day. This includes inspecting them, making sure they have water and food, a secure run and coop, and gathering any eggs they’ve laid since the previous day.
Also be aware that it’s a little more complicated to find someone to care for your chickens if you have to leave town than it would be for other pets. Make sure you have a backup system in case you have to leave abruptly.
Over time, you’ll notice the chickens getting a hang of the schedule each day, looking forward to their time with you, feedings, and being let out to roam around. Before you know it, you’ll have a bond with your chickens that lasts for years.
Types Of Chicken Coops
When choosing a chicken coop for your backyard, there are definitely more than a few you can consider. While there aren’t a lot of official types, there are many different ways you can categorize chicken coops, in regards to everything from their size, to what they are made of.
Some people are surprised when they learn the actual size of the chicken coop they’ll need. It’s easy to picture requiring some large barn-type coop to keep your chickens happy, but this is not the case.
Remember, the inside of the coops are only for nesting at nighttime and inclement weather, so they only need t have enough room to comfortably accommodate how many chickens you have.
If you plan on keeping maybe 2 or 3 chickens, you’ll only need a small coop. In some cases, depending on the design, the coop may not need to be more than 6 feet long and 4 feet wide. This is more ideal for smaller backyards and a small amount of chickens.
If you are going to be raising 5 or more chickens, you’re going to need a large coop to accommodate them, and leave them enough room to be happy, avoid bickering, and move around some.
Large chicken coops are primarily for larger backyards that have room for a bigger run, or those who have an acreage with enough room for a specific chicken area where they can roam free during the day before retiring back to the coop at night.
Elevated Chicken Coops
An elevated chicken coop is the most favored design. They allow you to maximize the space you've set aside for the coop, while also providing more shelter during the day. They can also place the coop at a higher level that is easier for you to access while standing.
Elevated coops have a ladder for the chickens to walk up to get inside the coop. Plank-style ladders provide even more overhead shelter during the day, giving your chickens a spot to avoid the sun or rain when needed. It also gives them something else interesting to walk around on.
Parts Of Chicken Coop
Chicken coops are simple structures for the most part, with just a few common parts.
There really aren’t a lot of choices for chicken coop materials, but this isn’t a bad thing.
- Wood - The more “traditional” of the two main materials choices, wood remains a popular one. Wooden coops often have a house-like look, and are generally considered the most aesthetically pleasing. If you’re crafty, you can customize your wood chicken coop to match the look and feel of your backyard.
Wooden chicken coops do have a preferred look to most, but they also require more maintenance, and will eventually need to be replaced down the road.
- Plastic - Plastic chicken coops are usually combined with sturdy metal wire caging to form the structure as a whole. The coop itself will be made from lightweight plastic materials, while the surrounding caging is made from metal.
Plastic coops have a greater longevity and are lighter, but most don’t favor their looks as much as wood.
It’s all subjective, so there really isn’t a wrong choice either way. Do what’s best for your own preferences and backyard space.
The fence of a chicken coop is just as important as the coop. There are numerous choices, but most of them tend to be different forms of metal wire fences. These are affixed to wooden or metal poles to keep them up. Some designs will be enclosed on the top, keeping predators away during the daytime as well.
Depending on your yard and space, a stationary chicken coop may be just fine. For those that need to move things around for whatever reason, a portable chicken coop is the way to go.
These coops often have wheels that allow you to carefully move the coop to a different spot. This almost always includes runs and fencing are easily broken down and set up again.
Other mobile chicken coops are referred to as “chicken tractors.” These may or may not have wheels, but they are essentially an all-encompassing structure that can easily be moved at the same time. They generally lack a floor, and use an A-frame design, with the coop part attached on one end, with the rest of the structure serving as the run.
Chicken tractors are almost always for 2 or 3 chickens, but there are some larger versions available with wheels.
Chicken Coop Maintenance
Proper maintenance of your chicken coop is extremely important to the health of your chickens and quality of the eggs. The maintenance aspect is not all that extensive, but there are some things that need to be done regularly.
The most important tasks involve keeping your chicken’s bedding, food, and water clean. Neglect any of these things, and your chickens may not only become unhappy, they could get sick.
Food and water levels are the main things you need to check on each day. Chickens do not like dirty water, and may not end up drinking as much as they should if it's not clean. Give them fresh water every day, and clean the water feeder regularly.
The same goes with their food feeders. Inspect the feeders often to make sure nothing has gotten into them, and replenish food as needed. Your chickens will also feed on bugs and whatever food scraps you give them during the day, but fresh, clean feed is important.
The nesting area is just as important. The chickens will soil their bedding at night, so you need to change it out whenever it gets too dirty, usually weekly. If using sand, you may be able to scoop out clumps similar to cat litter.
Regardless of the type of nesting material, check up on it weekly at the very least.
How Often Do I Clean A Chicken Coop?
There are times when you’ll need to clean the entire coop out. We suggest doing it every six months. A deep cleaning bi-annually ensures the coop remains clean and free of accumulated dirt and bacteria.
How To Clean a Chicken Coop
When deep cleaning a chicken coop, start by removing the chickens (duh,) and then the food and water. This is also a good time to dump whatever nesting you have, as you’ll want to replace it with fresh bedding afterwards.
For a bi-annual deep-cleaning, it’s best to use a solution of one part bleach, one part dish soap and ten parts water. Cleaning can be done using a garden hose and a sponge with your solution. Pay attention to any particularly soiled spots.
When using a solution, be sure that you’ve thoroughly rinsed everything and allowed it to dry before putting the coop back together. Replace the bedding, re-install the food and water feeders, and you should be good to go.
We hope you have a better understanding about raising backyard chickens, and how rewarding and easy the process can be. You’ll be amazed at the difference a few of these precious flightless birds can make in your life!
If you’re ready to take the next step, be sure to check out our chicken coop buying guide. There you’ll find more details and information on various chicken coops, and how to make sure you choose the right one for your yard and particular needs.