Texas Living

I Want to Have Chickens in My Backyard

By Peter Simek 2.21.18

In recent years, chickens have gone from farmyard staple to urban chick, er, chic. Who can argue with the appeal of raising backyard chickens? Not only are they cute and playful — while providing your breakfast eggs every day — chickens offer a host of other less obvious benefits.

A backyard chicken coop helps with pest and weed control, provides free fertilizer when decomposed correctly, cuts down on waste, and helps educate your family about caring for life and the natural world. Plus, raising chickens is fun, and not as difficult or expensive as you might think.

Getting Started

Prior to buying chicks or building a coop, the best thing to do before you start your backyard chicken adventure is check with your local ordinances. While cities are generally loosening up on their chicken laws, there can still be restrictions on coop size, ranging, and other aspects of chicken-rearing. So make sure you’re legal!

The easiest way to start is to purchase chicks from a local farm, hatchery, or online hatchery. That said, some people want to hatch their chicks. For this, you’ll need to build a brooder — an enclosed, warmed area that provides your little birdies a place to grow.

In choosing your chicken options, decide what breed best suits your needs. Some have a reputation for temperamental personalities, while others are noted for high-yield egg laying. Speckled Sussex, Rhode Island Reds (the lapdog of the chicken world), or Cuckoo Marans are all safe bets. Just make sure you buy hens and not roosters!

Building a Coop

Chickens are pretty good at taking care of themselves as long as they have a nice home to live in. You can buy pre-made chicken coops, but issues of cost, available space, and customization may make you decide to build your own. Don’t worry. It’s not terribly difficult. Chicken coops will need a feeder, water containers, and a nest box.

The big consideration when designing your coop is size. You’ll need one nest box for every three hens. It should be large enough for you to stand in to get at the eggs and shovel manure, and each bird should have about 3 to 4 square feet of space in addition to outdoor space they can roam in. Crowding your birds could lead to disease or feather picking, so don’t skimp!

Chickens are sociable animals, and they like to get out and stretch their legs. Ideally, a chicken run — a portion of your yard adjacent to the coop and fenced in with chicken wire — should allow the birds a 20-by-5-foot area, depending on the number of birds, to prance and strut.

Caring for Your Birds

Taking care of your chickens isn’t too difficult. Their diet consists of protein-heavy chicken feed, as well as grain and seed, but you can scatter grass clippings and vegetable scraps as a treat. Allowing them time to roam outside also allows them to search for bugs in the grass. Be sure to provide ample water and keep an eye on their bottles. And clean up that free fertilizer regularly!

Finally, collect your eggs! Hens will lay regularly through the spring, summer, and fall as long as they have 12 to 14 hours of daylight. That means collecting eggs once or twice a day. You’ll have plenty to use and some to share with friends.

For more ways to bring the outdoors to your backyard, check out our tips for building the perfect birdhouse.

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