We keep chickens as outdoor pets on our property (nearly 1 acre in Northern Utah) for several reasons. Not only do we love the fresh eggs they produce for us, but it also helps to teach my kids how to be responsible and caring for animals. We have also found that the chickens help reduce bugs on our property.
Fresh eggs are definitely the best part of keeping chickens as outdoor pets. My kids also love taking care of them, running around with them, and playing with them. However, chickens aren’t always perfect pets. They can make a mess of landscaping and garden beds by scratching at the mulch and disrupting the flowers. They also leave droppings pretty much everywhere they go.
Chickens don’t need a lot of attention, so they are good for families who want to learn to take care of animals. They would also be good for retirees, or someone who just loves the feel of a farm without wanting the entire farm. As they don’t require a lot of space, most backyards could accommodate a small flock.
Outdoor chickens need a coop to find shelter from the weather, and a nice place for them to lay their eggs. They also need a good place to run around and flap their wings a little. They don’t typically fly over fences, but they will wander aimlessly around the yard. A designated chicken run is nice, but if that’s not possible, a home with a fenced in yard is ideal.
Chicken coops are generally built of dimensional lumber (2×4’s and similar), and plywood. If the coop will be out in the weather, which most will, you will need to waterproof the coop and make sure you have good roofing to keep out any rain.
The first step of building a backyard chicken coop is knowing what kind of flock you want. Chickens need about 2-3 square feet inside the coop. So, if you will have a small flock of less than 8 birds, you can build a relatively small coop.
Larger flocks will require more square feet in the coop, but also more space to roam and free range.
The next step to building a backyard chicken coop is finding good building plans. I have great building plans on my website for a flock of about 12 chickens (https://www.thecreativemom.com/free-chicken-coop-plans/).
Once you have building plans, you’ll build your coop, you will need to get some chicks. Don’t forget to consider if there are any predators in your area that might aim to harm your flock. If you have dogs, foxes, raccoons, or other predators in your area, you will need to make sure to provide a safe place for your hens. Chickens are especially susceptible to be preyed on at night, when they are most vulnerable.
Backyard chickens usually lay eggs every 30 hours or so. You can expect nearly one egg per chicken, per day. In the winter months, when the sun does not come out as long, the egg production will most likely slow down.
Chicks should stay under a heat lamp for about 4-6 weeks, until they have enough feathers to keep them warm. During the winter months, keep a heat lamp in your chicken coop, especially if the temperature gets below freezing.
When there are days with less light, the chickens will stop laying eggs. We have found that keeping a heat lamp or light on during those shorter days helps our hens to lay more consistently. We like to keep the heat lamp on a timer, so it isn’t on during the daytime hours when they don’t need a light.
Supply the hens with plenty of food and water, and give them enough space to roam around. We have found that a nice water container and food container will help keep things tidy. When they are still small, you will feed them chick starter, but eventually move them to layer pellets.
Every city has different ordinances in place for keeping backyard chickens. Check with your city zoning office for the requirements.
Backyard chickens are relatively inexpensive. In most places, you can buy baby chicks for just a few dollars each. However the feed can add up over time. You will also need a chicken coop for your hens, so make sure to factor that into your cost.
If you are looking to build a nice, solid chicken coop that will last for many years, you want to use good quality lumber and supplies. A chicken coop like mine will cost between $600-$900, depending on lumber costs in your area.
As long as you have an easy to follow, well written building plan, most homeowners can build a chicken coop. You can build a very simple chicken coop, or build something more elaborate. Chickens don’t care, as long as they are safe and dry.
Chickens are so much fun, and really easy to take care of. Building them a little home in your backyard is fun and brings a lot of satisfaction, not to mention plenty of fresh eggs!