how to start a backyard flock

| simple living

most of you know that i keep a small flock of backyard chickens (you can meet them here and here) and today i want to discuss the basics of why chickens are great to have and how you go about doing it.  i know some of you are just dying to eat fresh eggs every morning, right?!

how to start a backyard flock

{photo: my pet chicken}

let's talk about the not-so-fun part first (skip down if you're not into gruesome details).  this is a hard subject to swallow, but one we all need to become much more educated on.  unfortunately, industry standards for producing (any kind of) meat aren't sustainable, nice or fun to learn about. the farming industry is pushed to increase revenue and decrease time so hard that the result is unhealthy, unhappy animals.  chickens are generally kept in cages in a factory building with no windows.  kept in such close quarters and breathing nothing but fecal dust, the farmer's are forced to feed them antibiotics to keep them from getting sick.  growth hormones are added to their food in order to increase egg production, or in the case of meat birds, increase their breast size.  sadly, many of these bird's breasts get so large that they can't remain standing, and topple over from the wait instead.  egg layers kept in cages stacked on one another get feces dropped on them from the birds above and often times they're feet actually grown around the wire cage from inadequate room to move.  we end up eating the growth hormones and antibiotics that are present in the meat and it in turn effects our health.  due to added hormones, girls and boys are hitting puberty earlier than ever and we're as a population becoming less immune to antibiotics as they are being found in any meat we eat that's not organic.  these hormones and antibiotics have many more ramifications but one of the largest is that it ends up in our breast milk which we feed our newborns.  so without going into too much more detail: after learning about the incredibly unhappy animals and destruction to our environment caused from industry farming, the antibiotics and the hormones, i decided to raise my own chickens (and ultimately become a vegetarian).  i truly believe we are what we eat, and i don't want to eat added nasties in my food or consume animals that were never happy or ever saw the light of day. if you're interested in learning more, my favorite book about it all is called veggie revolution.

how to start a backyard flock

{farm fresh eggs}

now- onto more pleasant subjects!! there's a lot to learn about keeping hens, but the good news is that after researching lots of hobby farm animals, chickens win for the easiest and most fun animal to keep. so let's start off with the basics: why would you want chickens?  in addition to the above reasons: chickens don't take up much land, are excellent for your garden and fertilizer, drastically reduce the number of ticks and other icky insects in your yard, are easy keepers, hilarious to watch and give you yummy eggs every day.  a recent article from mother earth news shows that eggs raised on the farm have:

• 1⁄3 less cholesterol
• 1⁄4 less saturated fat
• 2⁄3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

and, i feed mine organic feed which means i have organic eggs at my disposal all the time! we stick to using our hens for eggs, but raising chickens for meat is another fantastic way to eat sustainable, local meat and say no to harmful industry standards.

how to start a backyard flock

my chicks the day they arrived

now that you now the why, we can move onto the how!  more and more cities are now allowing you to keep chickens within city limits.  check with your city or see chicken laws to see if your's applies.  getting and raising chickens are easy.  my hands-down favorite place to order chicks is from my pet chicken.  with a minimum order of 3 (count them, 3!) chicks, you can pick and choose which breeds you like.  they're shipped out the day they hatch and arrive within a few days, all healthy and ready to meet 'mommy'! all you need is a warm place to put them (i use a cardboard box), a waterer and a feeder.  they'll be big enough within about 5 weeks to be moved to a coop and soon they'll be running around your yard!  my pet chicken's free e-care book has all the information you need about getting and rearing baby chicks, so i'm going to send you there for all the nitty gritties (but it's easy, i promise!).

how to start a backyard flock

{chicken and the egg}

what kind of chickens are right for you? there are many different kinds and reasons people want chicks.  some are for show, some are just fun to look at.  some are colorful egg layers and some are only for meat.  i picked mine on temperament (i wanted them to be sweet and not too 'flighty') and egg production.  between my pet chicken's breed list and henderson's handy dandy chicken chart- i had a list of fav's in no time.

how to start a backyard flock

{silkie chicken}

where will you put them? in the first few weeks they'll need to be somewhere that you can check in on them numerous times a day.  i usually keep mine in the kitchen for a few weeks, then move them out into a heated barn, garage or extra room.  after they've gotten big enough (about 5 weeks), you can move them to a coop.  i've seen just about anything work, from a big walk-in coop to an old broken down car!  anything that protects them from the weather and other wildlife (think snakes, cats and wolves) will suffice.  you'll need to be able to securely close them up at night and let them out in the morning.  the setup should be very easy- they'll need a pole to roost on at night, one nesting box per 4 birds to lay their eggs in and a feeder and waterer.  if you live in the city or a close knit neighborhood, you'll want to keep them in a fenced in area, yard or run, and if you live on acreage you can let them roam free!

how to start a backyard flock

{photo: my pet chicken}

some misconceptions:

- chickens smell. they don't smell at all!  as long as you keep a clean, dry coop all you'll get is a whiff of cedar shavings.

- chickens are loud. my girls hardly make a peep.  sometimes in the morning they'll squawk as they lay an egg but generally my neighbors can't hear anything.

- you need a rooster. chickens don't need a rooster to lay eggs!  in fact, no industry egg from the grocery store has ever been fertilized.  the only reason you need a rooster is if you want your eggs to hatch. (and roosters are where the noise comes from)!

- different colored eggs taste differently. i have blue, green, white, beige and dark brown eggs and they all taste the same!  egg color is a result of the color of calcium build up they have in their bodies, that's all!

- chickens are stupid. sorry, mine are smart. i promise.

- chicken's and kids don't mix. they do! hens are sweet, don't peck and can be great teachers to young kids about where food comes from.  i've seen many kids gathering eggs and carrying their hens around the yard!

how to start a backyard flock

my day old chicks

my favorite resources:

- FRESH the movie - a feel good short trailer on farming practices - it's so good!

- veggie revolution - about industry farming practices

- the femivore movement - my fav article on chicks with chicks

- my pet chicken's free e-care book- a MUST read if you're considering buying chicks!

- living with chickens - a beautiful and very informative read on rearing chickens

this is a big subject with lots to discuss, i'll meet you in the comment section to answer any questions or for further discussion! love, bonnie

simple living


  • the first portion of your post brings me back nearly 8 years…those were the first bits of information I learned that totally changed the way I purchase food for myself and my family. priceless information. I’ll be linking from my FB page…
    the second portion of your post may come in handy one day as my girls and I would love to raise a few chickens :)

  • hey jes! yeah! thanks for the support. :) yes, i can remember the first time i learned the info- and it changed my life! i instantly had a passion for it and wanted to take a stand for my the earth, my body and my children. life is so much sweeter now!

  • i feel like i should also say, obviously everyone can’t or won’t want to raise chickens! if we’re talking about sustainability, buying local and organic eggs, meat and dairy products is the same difference. you don’t have to raise your own food to avoid hormones, antibiotics and unhappy animals, i just think it makes it more fun! check with your local farm, produce stands and online to find out where to find organic, happy animals in your area.

  • You’re selling the dream, that’s for sure. Vancouver city council has just recently allowed chicken-raising in urban areas. Have you read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Lots of chickens – and turkeys!

    • hi lauren! yes! i should have included that book- it’s one of my absolute favorites!

  • we live on a farm so raising chickens is a must! i have 12 sexlinks and they lay the most lovely brown eggs…the hens have different personalities (though my husband says i’m nuts!) and are very easy to maintain…a bit messy, but very easy and were so fun when my boys were young…

  • Do you have any pictures of the inside of your coop?

    Did you and the hubs build it?

    I can’t wait to get some chickens once me and the mister buy our house!! woohoo

    • hi jessica! yes! you can see it here! we didn’t build this one but have in the past, we snagged this one at a deal from a local builder!

  • Oh my gosh! This is amazing, I’ve been dreaming of having chickens at home, but have been worried to try. I would need to get a small shed or something on our property, but other than that we have plenty of space. Thanks for all of the wonderful information!
    Melissa :-)

  • This is awesome! I can’t wait to have chickens someday. Your photos are adorable.

  • Thanks for the info! We pretty much live in the country, have a nice sized fenced yard, and I’ve been curious about getting a few hens for eggs and entertainment. If I can figure out what to do for a coop, we may be in business.

  • Yea! I love my chickens, too! Watching them is entertaining and relaxing. There are so many life lessons in chickens (pecking order, hen pecked, rule the roost, something to crow about, to name a few!). If anyone’s still on the fence I recommend you jump off and make it a reality.

  • Oh I am so love with these guys. I want chickens.

    Quick question: Do buy them them vaccinated?

    • hi kristen! i opt not to get mine vaccinated and have never had any issues with them. i’ve heard people advocate both sides, both i’d rather just have mine ‘au naturale’. as long as you keep a clean brooder and dry coop later on, i don’t think there’s any reason to worry about it. :)

  • I was appalled when I first learned how our food was being processed. All those hormones and drugs they put into the chickens (and other animals too) are the reason we have such a high cancer rate and other health problems, in our children!!

  • I adore the little peckers.

    I’ll be sending my husband some little anonymous links to the sites you referenced – we’ve been chatting chickens all summer and he’s getting ever closer to convinced…

  • All of the reasons you stated (and more) are why I became vegetarian/vegan! Great post!

  • Awesome post Bonnie! We are raising meat birds this summer and it has been so fun! Though I’m not really looking forward to butchering time I am looking forward to having a freezer full of home grown meat. Between those and the garden it is fun teaching the kids where food comes from. As a culture we’ve become so removed from the whole “process” and that is part of why the industry has been able to get away with all that they have.
    *Crossing my fingers that I get a chicken coop hammered up by next spring so I can get layers too :)

    • hi heather! oof, i always find myself skipping over the butchering chapters- it’s so hard to read, so i can’t imagine how hard it would be to do it! it’s worth the end result though, and you know you’re doing your family and the environment a good service!

  • My husband thinks I’m crazy to want to raise chickens…I’m going to have to forward this entry to him. Until my day comes, I will have to continue to live vicariously through your blog :)

    • @malerie: haha, just wait till he starts eating homegrown delicious eggs! they really do taste better!

  • Hi, I have now joined the chicken keepers group. My sister gave me 6 for my Birthday. She thought 1 rooster and 5 hens but I am beginning to wonder if more are roosters. They are 5 mos old and fully feathered. Eggs soon I hope. Charlie, the guinea, is facinated with them and great company for him. Guineas are the best for bug patrol. I have not seen a tick, fly or snake since I got the guineas. That is wonderful since I have the horses who seemed to attract flies. Thanks for the info.

  • So excited to possibly start our own backyard flock when we move to a less “urban” area next year {we live in the city right now and are not zoned for chicken-raising}! Do you have any pictures of your process through the brooding phase? I was reading about a woman who used her spare bathtub!! Genius!

    • hi maeghan! oo, i don’t have any pics! i’ve seen people use lots of things though- i’ve used both a card board box as well as a big tubber ware container. i wouldn’t recommend the bathtub (haha)- it would be so hard to clean out! i’m not sure if i’d ever want to use it again, lol. let me know if you have any specific questions and i’ll be glad to help! xo, bonnie

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