How and where to get started
Learning to raise chickens can be overwhelming at first. Follow along below to learn steps towards easy chicken raising!
Have you been wanting to raise chickens but aren’t sure how to start?
Raising chickens may seem daunting at first, especially if you are new to the animal, but keeping poultry is also very rewarding. There are lots of things to consider before raising chickens! Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for you.
If you are truly a beginner with chickens, consider checking out our common chicken terminology page:
Things to consider before you get chickens:
Do you want to raise chickens for meat or eggs?
This will determine the breed of chickens you get.
Make sure to check local guidelines for regulations regarding chickens.
Some cities have zoning regulations regarding the number of chickens you can have on your property, how far away from neighbors the coop must be, what to do with their waste, whether you can have a rooster or even sell eggs! Make sure to visit your city’s website to see what regulations are in place before you decide to get chickens.
Do you want to start by raising chicks, pullets, or laying hens?
Chickens require different care at different life stages. All three have their benefits, and disadvantages:
(0 to ~20wks)
Are more likely to bond with you, making handling easier later.
Cheapest to buy eggs or chicks
More time intensive
Require more attention to keep alive
May not be able to tell if you have a rooster or a hen
(under 1 year old, we use this term to designate the period between chick and laying hen, usuallybetween 15-22 weeks old).
Have time to bond with them (so they are easier to handle)
Less fragile than chicks
Do not lay eggs yet
(Hens start laying between 18 and 25 weeks)
You know you will be getting a rooster or a hen
May not bond as well with you (meaning they will not want to be held as much)
Egg production decreases by almost half after the hen is 2-3 years old, so if you get a hen close to that number, you may not get as many eggs.
More expensive to buy at this life stage.
What kind of shelter will they need?
Make sure you build a secure coop and run, especially if you live in a place with active predators. Have this completed before you bring chickens home. If you are raising chicks, make sure you have their brooder set up before you bring the chicks home or before they hatch!
Make sure they have access to fresh, clean water.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you need to add a pump/water connection to your property or buy a water container, do this before getting chickens.
Protect your family and your flock following simple biosecurity methods such as having separate “coop shoes,” raising food off the ground, protections to keep wild birds away, etc.
Block off any plants you do not want them eating.
Chickens have an unparalleled appetite and will devour anything within a matter of minutes. If you have special plants on your property you do not want chickens eating (if they are free-range), make sure to “chicken proof” them. This includes gardens, plants chickens should not eat, or set grazing fields.
Make sure you have someone or a group of people willing to take care of the flock daily.
Plan for disposing of waste.
The average hen produces one cubic foot of manure every six months. The great thing is chicken manure (when composted properly) is GOLD for your compost/garden beds! Composting does not require much space and can easily be done in the city. We urge you to consider composting your chicken waste and recycling/reusing feed bags, but if that is not possible, plan for disposing of them correctly according to your city’s guidelines.
What you really need to raise adult chickens
On average, an adult laying hen will drink about one pint of water a day.
Chickens need more water in warmer months (can drink up to a quart a day!).
Water intake depends on breed/size, outdoor temperature, and season.
Always make sure their waters have fresh water and NEVER deprive chickens of water
Typically, a hen’s diet will consist of a layer feed (crumble or pellet feed from a local feed store), extra protein (mealworms, bugs, and kitchen scraps are great), treats (such as lettuce, kitchen scraps, and scratch), and extra calcium (oyster shells or crushed up eggshells).
Check out our Nutrition page for more information!
Things to consider when building a chicken coop/shelter are:
- nesting box
- predator security
Chickens digest their food differently than humans. They must swallow small, hard materials (sand, small pebbles, or oyster shells are common), collectively called “grit”, to help break down food in their gizzard.
To produce yummy eggs, chickens need extra calcium in their diet to produce hard, protective shells.
Oyster shells or crushed up eggshells are common sources of calcium.
Chickens will eat the extra calcium on their own, so just provide a bowl of it, or sprinkle it in their food.
From Avian Flu to eggbound hens, having access to a veterinarian for emergencies and checkups is important. Whether you use an online veterinary service (like Airvet) or have an office close by, find a vet before you get chickens.
Make sure to put together your own poultry first aid kit for common ailments you can treat at home!
If chickens are bored, bad things happen. They can
- Start pecking each other (which will stress the flock and in extreme cases lead to death)
- Destroy plants
- Dig too many holes for bathing
- Escape to look for something better
To avoid this, give your chickens stimulating actives or a job (looking for bugs, digging in compost, aerating the soil, grazing, food enrichment.
It takes a village to raise a child, and raising chickens is no different. There is an AMAZING online community of people raising chickens, sharing methods, and providing support to other chicken farmers from backyard coops to large scale farming.
Biosecurity refers to measures taken to prevent introduction and/or spread of harmful organisms (viruses, bacteria, bugs, etc.) to your flock.
This is a very important part about keeping chickens.
Biosecurity efforts include:
Washing your hands before and after handling your chickens.
Washing hands after handling eggs and other chicken items.
Keeping separate “coop shoes” to be worn inside the coop/run only.
Raising food and water off the ground and picking up kitchen scraps nightly to deter bugs and rodents.
Measures to keep wild birds away (consider: an enclosed run, no bird seed/houses by the chickens, getting a fake owl for the coop, etc.).
Frequently cleaning and disinfecting the coop and all coop related items.
Properly introducing pullets/new chickens to your flock and farm.
Paying attention to local news for outbreaks of avian diseases.
Items needed to raise chicks:
Starter feed (and grower feed after six weeks)
A heat source
Optional: enrichment activities
Raising chicks can be time intensive, but also very rewarding. If you are starting with chicks rather than pullets or full grown hens, make sure you have these items to get you started!
Watch our Raising Chickens Tutorial Videos to learn more about caring for your chickens.
Print out our easy chicken routine pages and put them by your coop!
Read up on chicken breeds and
buy your chickens!
P.O. Box 80620
Phoenix, AZ 85060-0620
Chickens.org is a program of Capax World, a 501-c-3 charity dedicated to sustainably alleviating malnutrition and poverty.