The Ultimate Guide to Raising Backyard Chickens for Beginners

Raising backyard chickens has become an increasingly popular hobby. Not only do backyard chickens provide a steady supply of free-range eggs, but they also make fun and friendly pets. However, properly caring for chickens does require some work. This guide covers everything a beginner needs to know about starting a small backyard flock.

Why Raising Backyard Chickens?

Before diving into the specifics of housing and chicken care, let’s first go over the many benefits of keeping your small flock of hens:

  • Farm-fresh eggs – Having easy access to super fresh eggs is a top reason for many beginners. The taste and nutrition of eggs from hens in your backyard can’t compare to store-bought.
  • Natural pest control – Allowed to roam in your garden, chickens will scratch and peck at any rogue insects they find. A natural and chemical-free way to keep pests at bay.
  • Fun pets – Chickens have very individual personalities. As you spend time caring for your flock, you’ll find them entertaining companions.
  • Garden fertilizer – The manure and nitrogen-rich droppings chickens produce make for excellent fertilizer to invigorate your vegetable garden soil.
  • Teaching opportunities – Involving young kids in tending to the daily chicken care tasks can foster responsibility and a connection with nature.
variety of farm-fresh eggs
variety of farm-fresh eggs

If these advantages sound enticing, learn how to get your backyard chickens settled and thriving with minimal effort.

Choosing the Right Backyard Chicken Breeds

While all chickens lay eggs, not all breeds are well-suited for beginner backyard chicken keepers. Here are some ideal starter breeds that are both prolific layers and docile in temperament:

AustralorpEggs and meatHot and coldMediumFriendly and calmBlack with green sheen
Barred RockEggs and meatColdMediumFriendly and activeBlack and white stripes
Buff OrpingtonEggs and meatColdMediumFriendly and calmGolden yellow
Easter EggerEggsHot and coldSmallFriendly and activeVarious colors
Rhode Island RedEggs and meatHot and coldMediumFriendly and activeDark red
SilkiePets and showColdSmallFriendly and calmFluffy and silky
images of the recommended chicken breeds
images of the recommended chicken breeds

Key things to evaluate are your climate and how much you’d like to interact with your chickens. Cold, hardy breeds like Wyandottes have thick feathering to handle colder northern winters better. Docile breeds like Orpingtons will be less skittish around children.

Where and how to purchase chickens for your flock will depend on your preferences for breed, age, and cost:

  • Baby chicks – From $2-5 per chick, mail order from hatcheries or buy locally at farm stores during spring. Require brooder setup.
  • Started pullets – Typically $10-25 per teenage hen ready to start laying eggs soon. Convenient but limited breed options.
  • Laying hens – Around $20+ per mature hen recently started producing eggs. Verify egg production history.

Be sure you are permitted to keep backyard chickens in your municipality before acquiring any birds. There may also be limits on rooster ownership due to noise concerns.

Chicken Coop Plans, Size, and Setup

Housing your chickens securely and safely is arguably the most critical component for success. Do it right from the start; ongoing care will be much easier with fewer issues. Several key elements go into an ideal beginner chicken coop:

backyard chicken coop
Backyard chicken coop


Pick a level, well-drained area of your yard:

  • Close enough to your home for convenient daily access and electricity if desired.
  • Far enough away that smells or sounds won’t be a nuisance.
  • Chickens with partial shade and sun exposure have variety.

Size Guidelines

The minimum recommendation for starter backyard flocks of 3-5 chickens is:

  • 2-4 square feet of indoor coop floor space per chicken
  • At least 10 square feet per chicken in the outdoor run area

This ensures they have adequate room to prevent issues like cannibalism or aggressive dominant behavior. As your flock size expands, make sure to provide sufficiently larger housing.

Construction and Materials

For your first coop, buying a ready-made option assembled onsite or constructing from a building plan are good starters before taking on full custom builds.

Use these sturdy predator-proof materials:

  • Pressure-treated wood frame and high-quality plywood or wood planks for walls and roof
  • 1/2 to 1-inch hardware cloth on any windows, vents, or sections attached to chicken wire fencing so animals cannot tear through
  • Metal sheathing around the base of the run if you have burrowing predators

And incorporate these essential inner features:

  • Nesting boxes (1 box per 2-3 hens) with soft bedding material
  • Perches for overnight roosting
  • Ventilation holes and windows for fresh air flow
  • External access doors for human cleaning access
  • Chicken-sized doors transitioning into covered outdoor runs

Pro tip: Build your coop at least 1-2 feet off the ground on a concrete foundation or treated lumber floor frame. This guards against moisture rodents digging underneath and makes cleaning easier.


And if building from scratch seems daunting, there are also ready-made modular coops available to have delivered and set up.

One last consideration is lining the interior floor with an easy-clean protective layer such as vinyl floor panels, reclaimed shelf liners, or contractor board panels. This shields the wood from moisture damage over time while letting you shove soiled bedding out the access door more easily at cleaning time.

Feeding and Watering Your Backyard Flock

Giving your chickens unlimited access to food and fresh water is essential to their growth, health, and egg production. Proper nutrition guidelines also encourage feed efficiency, so none goes to waste.

Image depicting proper feeding and watering setups for backyard chickens. 2
Feeding and watering setups for backyard chickens.

Food Types and Amount Guidelines

  • Chicks younger than 16 weeks – Feed antibiotic-free chick starter feed. It has 20% protein content, which is crucial for developing bones and muscles.
  • Chickens over 16 weeks old – At the point of lay, transition to 16% protein layer feed. This optimizes egg production rather than excessive weight gain.
  • Calcium supplementation – Besides layer feed, provide a separate dish of insoluble granite grit or oyster shell to support eggshell strength and development.

Feed amount will vary based on your flock size, average chicken size, breed, and time of year. Here is a rough estimate:

  • Chicks 9 years or younger: 10 lbs of starter feed for each batch of 25 chicks per 8-week period
  • Laying hens: 3-4 oz of feed per hen per day

In summer, when consuming more bugs or grass from foraging, reduce supplemented feed by 25%. Increase by 25% in cold winter when burning more energy to stay warm and producing fewer natural food sources.

Monitor your hen’s production levels and weight as you establish customized amounts over time. Note any drop-offs that indicate an issue like malnutrition or illness needing attention rather than normal fluctuations.

Feeders and Waterers

Use these feeder options to minimize waste:

  • Chickens over 4 weeks – Use a horizontal tube or trough feeders. Allow 2-4 inches per chick.
  • Adult hens – Hang vertical feeders at chest height for easier access. Or place feed in scattered trays around the run area to entice movement.

And provide clean drinking water 24/7 through:

  • Chick founts have narrow openings to limit waterfowl use and messy spills during the first month.
  • Wide mouth waterers, vertical nipple systems, or heated bowls for adult birds.
  • At least 1.5 gallon capacity per 25 chickens.

Freshen water twice daily or more in extreme summer heat. Scrub and disinfect all feeders and waterers monthly. Position them on wire stands or cinder blocks to prevent tipping, soil contamination, and parasite transfer from dirt and droppings.

Chicken Health and Ongoing Care

Caring for backyard chickens encompasses letting them roam for exercise, collecting eggs generously, maintaining clean living conditions, and monitoring for illness or issues needing attention.

a healthy backyard chicken
a healthy backyard chicken

Free Ranging Considerations

Allow chickens to roam freely around your yard whenever possible under supervision:

  • Benefits include natural foraging opportunities, pest control, and improved health through more activity.
  • Limit free range time or use a portable tractor enclosure in yards with abundant chicken predators. Consider supervised range time if you have concerns.
  • Designate a covered, fenced garden or landscaped run as a safe all-day access area.
  • Rotate locations from week to week to give vegetation a chance to recover.
  • Add enrichment elements like tree stumps, bales of straw, and overturned pots for hiding spots.

Rotate locations occasionally to prevent overgrazing and erosion in any one section. Also, pay attention to early indicators of decreased foraging grass or insect activity so you can supplement feed appropriately.

Egg Collecting and Storage

Gather eggs from nest boxes at least twice daily. Any longer invites egg eating, damage, or chickens hiding them outside the coop.

  • Wear gloves when collecting and washing.
  • Gently brush away any stuck-on feces.
  • Discard any odd-shaped or broken eggs.
  • Refrigerate clean eggs right away for the longest shelf life.
  • Label cartons with the date of giving anything away.
  • Use the oldest eggs first when cooking recipes.

Expect anywhere from 4-6 eggs per week from each young hen. Gradually increasing to nearly an egg-a-day pace through their first couple of laying years. Make adjustments if production declines, signaling issues like molting, stress, illness, or inadequate nutrition.

Cleaning Coop and Run Area

Plan to fully clean and replace soiled bedding material every 4-8 weeks, depending on the size of the living area and the number of chickens. Spot clean wet patches in between.

Follow this thorough cleaning checklist:

  • Remove all chickens from the area.
  • Shovel out damp litter wearing PPE gear
  • Deep clean indoor floor and all surfaces with soap/disinfectant
  • Rinse to remove any residue contaminants
  • Apply fresh herb/enzyme odor treatment if desired
  • Add a 4-6 inches deep layer of new litter once fully dry.
  • Monitor ammonia levels and stir litter weekly to encourage composting action.

Maintaining cleanliness is essential to healthy chickens and the quality of eggs they go on to lay.

Health Concerns and Treatments

Chickens are hardy by nature when optimal housing conditions are met. But occasionally, issues pop up requiring attention:

  • Diarrhea
  • Respiratory infections
  • External parasites like mites/lice
  • Behavioral changes like reduced activity
  • Injuries like broken bones or wounds

Try these at-home treatments first for minor illnesses and injuries:

  • Electrolytes and probiotics
  • Isolate sick chicken
  • Topical sprays and vetRX remedy
  • Tricide-S solution for external parasites
  • Iodine/wound dressing on cuts

Call your veterinarian if conditions persist or worsen. They can prescribe antibiotics, provide lab testing, or advise if humane culling is warranted.

Prevention is also key. Follow these biosecurity tips:

  • Purchase vaccinated stock
  • Quarantine new additions 4 weeks
  • Restrict visitors or worn clothing/shoes tracking germs
  • Keep wild birds away from feed and housing
  • Don’t share tools or transport carriers between farms

Following sound husbandry practices from the start reduces the chances disease takes hold within your flock. But staying alert to early signs allows prompt action if it arises.

Preparing for Winter Chicken Care

Cold and snowy winters present increased challenges for chicken health, safety, and consistent egg production. But a few adjustments make it manageable:

  • Switch run openings to the facing direction.
  • Ensure ventilation isn’t blocked by stacked straw bales or tarps
  • Crank up supplemental heat option if the coop is uninsulated.
  • Water line heaters prevent frozen drinkers.
  • Switch to complete feed ration.
  • Litter refreshes just before the deepest freeze is expected.

Monitor for signs of frostbite on combs and wattles during sub-zero spans. Apply petroleum jelly to prevent scabbing.

Let them remain indoors on dangerously cold days below 10°F or with wind chill.

Adding a wind barrier along their outdoor run can allow safe access for much-needed activity time if closer supervision isn’t possible during your work hours.

The keys block winter elements when possible and provide extra calories their bodies can burn to stay warm and energized. The additional TLC gets them through until spring conditions return once again.

Top 10 Tips for Beginner Success

Raising small flocks of backyard chickens is tremendously enjoyable and rewarding. Follow these core pointers for the best experience:

  1. Research local chicken ordinances before acquiring any birds or building housing
  2. Start with just 4-6 hens initially as you learn the ropes
  3. Select friendly, cold, hardy breeds suitable for your climate.
  4. Construct secure housing with predator-deterrent materials.
  5. Provide minimum recommended space per chicken
  6. Feed quality layer feed without interruption
  7. Practice attentive preventative care and health monitoring
  8. Handle eggs safely and often for maximum freshness
  9. Clean the coop fully before cold winter weather sets in
  10. Connect with other local chicken owners for tips and troubleshooting


Stick to the fundamentals outlined here, and you’ll soon enjoy all the perks backyard chickens offer without all the pitfalls that discourage many beginners. It doesn’t take long before the tasks become second nature. Let us know if you have any questions about raising your small flock!


The content presented is informational, not medical, veterinary, or professional guidance. No warranties of any kind are given, express or implied, as to the accuracy or completeness of this information. The author and publisher shall not be liable or responsible for any damage, injury, or liability caused directly or indirectly by using and applying any of the contents. Please consult with local agriculture authorities and qualified poultry professionals for up-to-date regional backyard chicken regulations and husbandry standards before obtaining or caring for chickens.

Additional Resources

To continue growing your backyard chicken knowledge, check out these helpful sites:

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