Chickens are fun, easy and so rewarding. But to successfully raise chickens, it’s important that you plan carefully, follow basic healthcare practices, feed them properly and select appropriate breeds. These 75 expert tips will help you do just that and make your chicken-keeping operation nearly effortless!
1.The best coop size for your flock depends on how many birds you have or want, what breeds you have and whether there’s outside run access.
2. Build a larger coop than you believe you’ll ever need. Chickens multiply magically!
3. For bantam breeds, plan 2 square feet per bird with outside access or 5 square feet per bird without.
4. Standard size birds need 3 square feet per bird with outside access and 8 square feet per bird if there’s no outside access.
5. For heavy breeds, plan 4 square feet per bird with outside access, or 10 square feet per bird without.
6. Before you build, be sure to check local ordinances. Some governments may restrict where you can place a chicken coop and run.
7. A coop located near the house is preferable, especially if you’ll be collecting eggs daily.
8. Locate chicken housing where there’s room for an outside run (sized for at least 10 square feet per chicken).
9. Take advantage of available light, breezes and shade to help stabilize temperatures inside the coop and run.
10. In hot weather regions, this typically means placing the chicken housing in a shaded location.
11. Facing the coop south with protection from northerly winds is often ideal in cold weather areas.
12. Locate the structure downwind from prevailing winds that pass your home to minimize odors and noise.
13. Make water and electricity available at the chicken house. Chickens drink lots of water and carrying it gets old fast. Electricity powers conveniences such as heated waterers, an automatic door-opener and winter “lights-on” for better egg production.
Access & Storage
14. In order to clean, water, feed and care for your chickens, easy access and room to work are essential.
15. Include a human-sized access door and room to stand up inside your chicken house.
16. For smaller coops, incorporate a hinged roof that can be lifted to allow access.
17. Include a separate area within the coop for storing chicken feed, oyster shell, grit and medicinal items.
18. Chicken housing must be well ventilated year-round to remove the large amounts of moisture, ammonia, dust and heat that chickens generate.
19. The amount and location of vents needed varies as weather conditions change throughout the year. So, create many ventilation options that can be closed or opened as required.
20. In hot weather areas, entire sides of the coop can be constructed to be removed to maintain sufficient ventilation.
21. In areas where hot weather is not a problem, plan 1 square foot of vent opening per 10 square feet of floor space.
22. Cold weather vents should be high up (above roosts) and protected from rain and snow by roof overhangs.
23. Warm weather vents can be lower in the coop so they provide a cooling breeze.
24. Making the coop and run predator-proof is essential. Many predators consider chickens an excellent meal and will do anything to get them.
25. There should be no coop openings that a predator can get through at night, and all windows or vents should be covered with 1⁄2-inch hardware cloth (even when open).
26. The small pop-hatch door that chickens use to enter and exit must close securely at night (with them safely inside the coop).
27. Consider an elevated coop to eliminate unwanted entries from below. It will keep predators from burrowing in and provide your chickens shelter from both sun and snow.
28. The common choices in flooring are dirt, concrete or wood. They all have pros and cons that you should consider.
29. Dirt floors are very cost-effective but are difficult to clean. It’s also difficult to keep predators or rodents out.
30. Concrete floors prevent predator access and are the easiest to clean, but they’re also the most expensive.
31. Wooden floors are inexpensive and work well if the coop is elevated to prevent rot and keep predators out. However, they’re difficult to clean. Covering them with linoleum or a protective finish makes cleanup easier.
32. At nighttime, chickens instinctively sleep off the ground to protect themselves from predators. So, provide your chickens with appropriate roosts.
33. There should be at least 8 inches of roosting space in the coop for each standard size bird and at least 10 inches for heavy breeds.
34. Don’t locate waterers, feeders or nest boxes below roosts because chickens do most of their dropping at night while sleeping.
35. Roosts should be placed higher in the coop than the nest boxes so the chickens aren’t tempted to sleep in them. (This causes dirty eggs.)
36. Locate roosts at heights from about 1 foot off the coop floor to a couple of feet from the ceiling. But stagger heights so chickens can easily hop from lower to higher roosts.
37. Wide roosts are beneficial in winter so chickens can tuck their feet under their feathers to stay warm. Place 2-by-4 boards so their feet sit on the 4-inch width.
38. Plastic or metal piping isn’t suitable for roosts because it’s too slippery for the chickens to grip.
39. Chickens prefer to lay their eggs in a dark, protected location, so appropriately sized nesting boxes are needed in housing for laying birds.
40. Nesting boxes should be 12-inch square for standard-size birds or 14-inch square for heavy breeds.
41. Unlike coops and runs, nesting boxes shouldn’t be too spacious or multiple birds will crowd into the same box and cause broken eggs.
42. One nesting box for every four hens in the coop is usually sufficient.
43. A nesting box front lip that is about 2 inches high will hold in bedding material, while a sloped roof will prevent the birds from roosting on them.
44. Some coop designs incorporate nesting boxes that can be accessed from outside by lifting a hinged lid. These make collecting eggs and keeping the nest boxes clean quite convenient.
45. Install a chicken coop door opener to automatically let the chickens out every morning and close them up at night. That way, you don’t have to rise early to let them out or worry about closing them up at night.
46. Keep waterers from freezing in cold weather by using heated chicken waterers.
47. If you want your chickens to continue producing eggs during winter, add artificial lighting so your chickens receive a minimum of 14 to 16 hours of light throughout the fall and winter months.
Health Care Basics
48. Practice biosecurity by restricting access to your property and your birds. Wild birds, new chickens or human visitors may carry diseases that can quickly infect your flock.
49. Make it a priority to observe your flock daily. This will allow you to learn each of your birds’ typical behaviors, spot any health issues and appreciate the joy of chicken-keeping!
50. Provide chicken dust-bathing stations. Chickens need dust baths to get clean and rid themselves of parasites.
51. Use the deep-litter method to maintain a cleaner coop with less work. In addition to being easier, it’s also beneficial for your chickens’ health. (You can find out more about the deep-litter method here.)
52. Feed your poultry flock pumpkins, melons, cucumbers and squash (members of the Cucurbitaceae vegetable family) to entertain them.
53. Add culinary herbs and edible flowers to your chickens’ coop and run. They contain vitamins, minerals and other components that improve flock health.
Feed & Water
54. Chickens need feed that is nutritionally appropriate for their age (chick, pullet, hen, etc.) as well as type (meat, laying or dual-purpose) for optimal health.
55. Commercially available feeds are convenient and are expertly formulated to provide ideal nutrients for each type and age of chicken.
56. Every bag of chicken feed sold in the U.S. is required to have a nutrition tag specifying the ingredients. Learn to read these labels to control what you feed (think added omega-3s, no soy, etc.).
57. For chicks, feed should be available 24/7. They grow and create feathers at an incredible rate, so chicks continuously need high levels of nutrients and protein.
58. Medicated feeds are available to help prevent chick losses due to coccidiosis. They can be fed to egg breed chicks up to 16 weeks of age and meat breeds up to five days before slaughter.
59. Up to about 6 weeks of age, feed egg-laying breeds a chick-starter feed and meat chicks a broiler-starter.
60. After 6 weeks of age, switch egg-laying breeds to a pullet-grower and meat breeds to a broiler-finisher.
61. As female chicks approach laying age, their dietary needs change. They don’t require as much protein, but they need much higher levels of calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D.
62. Start young hens (egg-laying or dual-purpose breeds) on layer rations at about 18 weeks of age, or when the first egg arrives, whichever comes first.
63. A continuous supply of fresh, clean water is critical for chickens. Chickens won’t eat if they are thirsty, which can stunt their growth and inhibit egg production.
64. An adult chicken needs to drink two to three times the weight of water that they eat in feed.
65. Egg-laying hens need large amounts of calcium to produce eggshells, so offer free-choice oyster shell or calcium grit. When fed free-choice, hens will self-regulate the amount of calcium they consume.
66. Chickens don’t have teeth, so any chickens that free-range or are fed scratch need grit. Grit is the only mechanism a chicken has for grinding its food into pieces small enough to swallow.
Build Your Best Flock
67. Owning a backyard flock means you get to mix and match chicken breeds to meet your individual goals. Want many eggs, love colorful eggs or prefer quiet birds? There are breeds for all that and more! (Read on for more on breeds.)
68. If you want “friendly” chickens, then it’s important to handle your birds frequently and give them treats from chick age on. Many breeds will come when called, eat out of your hand and enjoy cuddling and petting.
69. When choosing breeds, consider your climate. Most chicken breeds handle cold, but many struggle in heat. For hot climates, choose breeds that have smaller bodies and large combs (think Mediterranean breeds such as Leghorn). In cold climates, choose larger bodied chickens with smaller combs (think Golden Buff or Barred Rock).
70. Roosters are an individual choice; it all depends on your situation. (Remember: Some locations prohibit them.) The positive aspects of roosters are flock protection and fertile eggs, while the negatives are crowing and possible aggression.
For our final five tips, we’ll look at which breeds to get for what you’re looking for.
71. Quiet: If a quiet flock for city or suburbia is your goal, consider the Ameraucana, Australorp, Brahma, Cochin, Java, Orpington, Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, Sussex or Wyandotte breeds.
72. Kid Friendly: Larger breeds are usually quite docile and good choices, such as Australorps, Cochins, Orpingtons, Sussex and Wyandottes.
73. Egg Laying: Top breeds for egg-laying include Australorps, Austra Whites, Golden Comets, Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds.
74. Dual Purpose: Great dual-purpose breeds (good for egg-laying and meat) include the Buckeye, Delaware, Dominique, Plymouth Rock and Rhode Island Red.
75. Colorful Eggs: Chickens that produce colorful eggs include Araucana (blue), Ameraucana (blue), Easter Eggers (many colors), Marans (dark chocolate brown), Olive Egger (olive green) and Welsummer (speckled chocolate brown).
No matter where you are in your chicken-keeping journey, following the guidelines outlined in this article will lead to a happy, healthy flock that you can be proud of and enjoy for years to come.