10 top tips for first time backyard chicken owners
We’ve owned chickens now for nearly a year and learnt very quickly what works and what doesn’t. So I’d like to share these experiences with those who are thinking about getting chickens. But firstly, what made us want to get chickens:
Daily fresh eggs. We used to buy quite a lot of eggs and thought we could save ourselves a penny or two.
I grew up with cats, hamsters, fish and dogs so always thought I’d have some kind of pet when I got married and had kids. My wife however isn’t keen on indoor pets because of the mess and smell they create. She was however happy to have an outdoor pet and we’ve been thinking about becoming more self sufficient so chickens were the perfect solution. Whilst chickens are incredibly stupid, they do all have their own individual personalities and like to follow us around the garden when we’re out there.
Chickens are easy to look after and the neighbours are always happy to look after them when we go away for more than a couple of nights. For the free eggs of course.
So here are my top 10 learning points:
Poo poo poo, everywhere. Chickens poo nearly every other step and they don’t care where they are at the time. They will poo in their food, in their water, on each other and in their bed, not to mention on their eggs! You will need to consider this when deciding where to put their water and food and how you will clean out the run and coop bedding. TIP 1. To prevent the chickens from pooping in their food and water, raise the food off the ground. We hung ours from the roof, at chicken head height, and did the same for the water. This will also prevent rodents getting to the food.
Chickens can jump up to about 5 ft even with their wings clipped. We had no idea they could jump this high and built our fences far too low, eventually having to raise them which you can see here.Tip 2. When building your run ensure it has a roof or make the walls just over 5ft. Without clipped wings expect chickens to jump over 6ft. Our boarder fences are 6ft but our chickens never try to jump over them. They seem very content staying in our garden which is only 92ft x 27ft.
Frozen water in winter. We don’t get many days with temperatures lower than zero degrees but when it does the chickens water freezes over. We looked into a water heater but actually decided to just replace the water each morning as a heater requires running power to the coop and run.
Chickens love eating grass. When we built their run it was full of lush green grass. It didn’t take four chickens long to eat and scratch their way through this and turn their run into a mud pit. Tip 3. Build their run on a platform that cannot be dug up and isn’t covered in soil. Otherwise the ground (if originally grass and soil) will quickly get out of control and become a nightmare to manage.
Entertainment. A happy chicken is a good layer, so plenty of space for them to move around will keep them happy and stop them from getting bored. It’s also important to provide some kind of entertainment. Cucumber tether ball, a swing and somewhere for them to sit and preen themselves.
They love to dig. Rather than keeping the chickens confined to their coop and run we wanted to give them free roam of the garden. Little did we know they would cause havoc by scratching and digging at everything possible. This was a pain as we have a number of areas with small stones which were constantly being dug up and spread about the garden. Tip. 4. Try and confine them to areas of the garden that you don’t mind them destroying.
With boredom comes bullying. Chickens form some sort of pecking order where the most dominant chicken will peck at the others. So when the chickens don’t have much to do they will peck and pull feathers, usually from around the neck area. Tip 5. Try and ensure the chickens aren’t locked up all day. Just a hour a day roaming outside their coop/run will prevent boredom.
Food storage. We kept our food in the 20kg sacks they were purchased in and kept them in our shed. I was sure nothing could get into the shed but this didn’t stop something eating through the bags and helping themselves to the pellets and corn. Tip 6. Purchase a solid plastic or galvanised steel container to keep the food in with a scoop to help.
Red mites and worms. These are the two main concerns when keeping your flock pest free and whilst we’ve been successful at controlling the worms, it’s been a nightmare keeping on top of the mites. These little buggers live in and around the coop and climb onto the chickens in the night to feed on their blood. They multiple very quickly and no matter how hard I try, I can’t get them all! We’ve been sprinkling diatomaceous earth onto their food for the worming and spreading more around the coop to get the mites. Tip 7. Buy lots of DE (Diatomaceous Earth).
Chickens love to clean themselves by kicking dirt into their feathers. It’s like a natural insect/pest control for them. Tip 8. To help them along with this make a nice bath for them. Chicken bath to include 1/4 dirt, 1/4 wood ash, 1/4 diatomaceous earth and 1/4 sand. The chickens love it.