How to Start Raising Backyard Chickens in 7 Simple Steps
I personally don’t think keeping chickens needs to be hard, complicated, or life-altering (well, other than having life-alteringly good eggs to cook with). Once your flock is established, you can spend as little as five minutes a day caring for them. I think that anyone who has the space—and it doesn’t take much—can raise chickens if they want to. You can do this, I promise!
Step 1: your environment
This is not a problem for us way out in the middle of nowhere, but if you want to do suburban or urban chickenkeeping, you need to check in with your city, state, local, and homeowner’s association ordinances. Many locations ban roosters because of the noise, and some places put a limit on the number of backyard chickens you can keep.
Some still completely ban chickenkeeping.
Check the laws before you get too far down the chicken path.
Step 2: Set up your brooder.
Chances are, you’ll be raising your chickens from just-hatched chicks. Incubating and hatching egg is more of an advanced-chickenkeeper thing, and personally, I’d recommend waiting until you have a bit of chicken experience before trying it out.
Since these freshly-hatched chicks will be away from their mother hen, you need to set up a hen-like environment for those baby chicks to grow and thrive in—this is called a brooder.
A brooder needs to have five things: warmth, food, water, security, and cleanliness—these are all things that would be provided by the mother hen in the wild, but we have to jump in and create them when we become Mama Hen.
The traditional brooder set-up is a big cardboard box, pine shavings, feeder, waterer, and a heat lamp. This is a really affordable and simple way to get started—but I personally don’t use this set-up. The pine shavings can be hard on baby chick’s lungs and the heat lamp can be hard to control, and in the worst case scenarios, burn your house down.
Depending on the number of chicks, we either use a cardboard box or a plywood box, and fill it with corn cob bedding—this is typically used for horse stalls and can be found in almost any farm supply store. It’s cheap as all get out, super absorbent, and easy on the chick’s lungs.
Instead of the heat lamp, we use an electric radiant-heat brooder. At $80, it’s definitely more expensive than the heat lamp method, but I love that there are no worries about fire or inconsistent heat. The brooder lamp works just like a mother hen—the chicks run under it when they need to warm up, and come out when they don’t. It’s a really great investment if you plan on raising more than one batch of chicks—and the resell value is great on them, too.
You need to keep the brooder away from any predators (including your other pets—dogs, cats, etc.). And keep it in a protected area. A basement or garage works—but be warned, chicks can be really messy and dusty, so I wouldn’t put it in a super nice area of your home.
And then, of course, provide food and fresh water. We just use these cheap-o plastic waterers up on scrap blocks of 2″ x 4″ wood—raising them up helps keep the chickens from messing in their food and water.
You’ll want your brooder to be easy to clean—you’ll be amazed at how much poop little chicks can produce—and you’ll want to keep everything nice and tidy while they’re growing big and strong.