7 months ago I came home with 4 baby chicks that I picked up at Rooster Hardware (a local hardware store here in Dallas that emphasizes homesteading and gardening). We had been talking about getting chickens for years – it’s actually a pretty popular thing to do in Dallas, having backyard chickens, but we had also heard some horror stories of chickens getting killed by racoons/bobcats/hawks/dogs, a serious increase of rats (because of the increase of chicken poop), finding snakes in the nesting boxes, etc. It was enough to deter us for several years from taking the plunge. However, once March 2020 hit, we really wanted to up our homesteading game and have at least one food source that we controlled so we decided to go for it.
A friend told us that we would either hate having chickens and give them away quickly…or we would love it. We love it! I’ve compiled everything I know and have learned about owning backyard chickens into this blog post. I hope it helps anyone that is thinking about getting chickens or currently owns them!
Baby Chicks – There are so many different types of chickens out there! We bought Golden Sex Links which are supposed to be really amazing egg layers. They cost us around $6 per chick but there are some chicks, like Easter Eggers (the ones that lay really beautiful colored eggs) that can cost up to $35 per chick. I had no idea if we were even going to be able to keep these guys alive so I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money only to end up chick-less a few weeks later. Up until they were about 3 months old we kept them in a big wooden box with chicken wire on the top in our garage with food and water inside the box. Our brooder box was made by a friend and pretty fancy – it had a wooden bar that went the length of the box for roosting, a spot to keep food, a fancy latch system, etc. But yours doesn’t have to be fancy! You can keep them in something super simple like a cardboard box at first.
A few important things to note about baby chicks:
- Buy a water container (like the one linked above) that is drown proof. When the chicks are really little there is a possibility of them drowning in a regular bowl full of water.
- Watch out for pasty butt/poop butt – this can happen to newly hatched chicks when their wet poop sticks to the chick’s vent and then cakes, dries, and hardens, sealing off the vent. This can cause the chick to die if left untreated. I checked for this often and read that an easy way to remedy it is to take warm water or a warm damp cloth and very gently brush the caked poop off of the vent. This youtube video was helpful on that subject.
- A heat lamp is a must for baby chicks – I think we stopped using one a few months into owning them and when it was pretty warm outside. We used one similar to this one. At first we positioned it right above the box and as the chicks got older we positioned it further and further away. This video explains how to manage the temperature for the chicks.
- Cleaning out the box – I scooped out poop with a designated shovel several times a week and then once a week I would put the chicks in a separate box and dump all of the hay out and refill with new hay. We used one bag of hay for almost 5 months – that includes when we started using it in the coop that we built.
Chicken Coops – We searched for a chicken coop that we could purchase online and easily put together ourselves when it arrived but we couldn’t find anything that got great reviews or looked big enough. And, friends told us that the ones that are sold online fall apart pretty easily and weren’t worth the money. So then I started looking into people/companies that could build a chicken coop for us – we aren’t super handy over here when it comes to woodworking so the idea of building a chicken coop on our own was really intimidating. However, having a chicken coop built for you can get really expensive even though they all looked so neat. We ended up asking our handy neighbors down the street to help us build the coop and we are super happy with it and proud of ourselves for mastering the project on our own. We used these plans but with some changes:
- We added another latched door so that the coop had doors on both sides. This made it easy for us to reach in and get the chickens out on both sides and be able to feed them more easily.
- We added a ‘ladder’ so that the chickens can choose to walk up the ladder or fly up to the nesting spot themselves. We took a board and just nailed some wood pieces along it to create ‘steps’ and leaned it against the upstairs. They use the ladder all of the time!
- We vented the top. I honestly can’t tell you details on this because I’m not even sure how we did it, but if you really want to know please email me and I’ll get my husband to respond 🙂 But, it adds extra air flow which is especially important in the summer when it’s super hot.
- We reinforced areas where there were gaps in the chicken wire so that predators would have a really difficult time getting in.
We have been really happy with the chicken coop and how it has worked out. It’s huge! So much space for the chickens to walk around and nest. It’s easy to collect their eggs, get the chickens out to free range, and we could easily add several more chickens in there down the line.
Free Ranging – The chickens free range in our backyard a majority of the day. We let them out around 7am until anywhere between 10am-12pm and then we let them back out in the afternoon for several hours. Our dogs are, thankfully, completely fine with hanging out around the chickens and are not a danger to them. However, our dogs are old and one of them can’t see very well, so I think that has something to do with it. If you have young, spritely dogs that are prone to chasing squirrels and the like, I’d be careful mixing them in with the chickens until you’re sure they won’t go after them.
Allowing the chickens to free range as much as possible lets them have the opportunity to search for, and eat, bugs, worms, etc. which is their natural diet. The more time the chickens free range in the grass (or pasture, if you’re on land), the more nutrient dense the egg becomes. You’re able to tell if the chickens are getting what they need if the egg yolks are a deep orange color verses a neon yellow color which is what most conventionally raised chicken egg yolks look like.
Laying Eggs – We were told that our chickens would start laying about 6 months after we got them but we had also heard from friends that sometimes it takes a full year. So we really didn’t know what to expect when it came to when our chickens would start to lay eggs. One of our chickens started laying right at the 6 month mark, 2 of them started laying a month afterwards, and we expect our 4th chicken to start laying any day now. They first started laying them on the ground on the bottom floor of the coop but once we fixed up their nesting boxes with more hay and nesting beds they immediately switched to laying them up there. When they first started laying eggs they would lay one about every other day but now we are regularly getting 3 eggs a day from all 3 chickens that are currently laying. It took about a month for them to get regulated. Here is what we keep our eggs in.
Chicken Poop – Be prepared…chickens poop…So. Much. There will be chicken poop everywhere. If you have a patio in your backyard, it will be covered in chicken poop. The chicken coop will be covered in poop. Your driveway will be covered in poop. You get the idea 🙂 The best way to clean it up on your patio and driveway is to wait for it to dry and then use a broom (one that is designated solely for this task) to sweep it off into the grass. If you’re impatient to wait for it to dry then using a hose with a good spraying nozzle works just as well. Even though the chickens poop a ton I have yet to be pooped on and, surprisingly, their coop doesn’t smell bad! And neither do the chickens, for that matter.
Chicken Disposition – Chickens are so much fun! They really do have little personalities and can be pretty funny. Several of them will walk up to the patio window and tap on it – peering inside looking for a human to come pay attention to them. Once they start laying they also became a lot less flighty and easier to pick up and hold. They generally stay grouped together unless one of the chickens goes back to the coop to lay an egg. They squawk and ‘talk’, roll around in the dirt, find the funniest places to ‘nest’ in the yard, and occasionally fly over a fence to see what’s on the other side.
I think that’s it! If you’re on the fence about getting chickens I hope this post helped! We love having them and we love having a super nutrient dense food source that comes straight from our backyard. If you have any questions please leave them in the comments or ask me on my latest chicken post on Instagram.