The dos and don’ts of keeping backyard chickens

Chickens are traditionally a farmyard animal, but that doesn’t mean that you need to be a farmer with lots of land to keep them. There are in fact lots of people across the country who keep a few chickens in their backyard, including us! You’ll be surprised at how well these birds can flourish even when kept on just a small plot of land, but as long as they have somewhere to scratch around outside and a safe coop to sleep in, then they should be very happy.

We’ve had our chickens for two years now and originally wanted them so as we knew our chickens were well looked after, ate a good organic diet and so we could eat the eggs.  We stopped buying store bought eggs and would only eat those from our own chickens.  Times have changed and we have since all turned vegan, so we now sell the eggs to Ben’s work colleagues.  We’re not sure if we’ll keep the chickens long-term now, but I know Ben loves to look after them and they’re a fun pet for the kids!

If you are considering getting some then you will find that chickens can be a joy to keep, and watching them do their thing around the garden can be very entertaining. Not only that, though, but you will also be able to take their eggs to use yourself or sell them to others. It can be relatively easy to look after your chickens, especially if you follow these dos and don’ts.


Do make sure you’ve got enough space

One of the first things you need to think about, is how much space you have to spare for the chickens in the garden. Even though it’s perfectly fine to keep chickens in quite a compact garden, there are some yards that are just too small. If you don’t have any space for a coop and a little run for them, then your outside area is probably too small. It’s not fair on the chickens to keep them inside all the time, so you need to make sure that there is space for them to walk outside.  If you are going to keep them inside a lot, then it needs to be a big coop!

Check out our first two versions of our chicken coop.  We needed way more space than we originally thought and we also let them out into the rest of the garden:

How to build your first backyard chicken coop and run

Chicken run extension – since this blog post, this chicken extension has been extended to double its size with different levels!

Don’t forget to check your local laws

It’s also wise to check the laws in your local area regarding keeping chickens in a back garden. Some areas may have strict regulations, and you might not actually be permitted to keep chickens without first consulting your local council or other authorities. Some areas require homeowners to apply for a permit before they do get any chickens. So, make sure you know if you do need any licenses or permits so that you don’t accidentally break the law by bringing some chickens into your garden.

Do set up a pen

As I’ve already mentioned, your chickens will need an outside space in which they can run around and scratch about in the dirt in the daytimes. If your garden boundaries aren’t that secure, you can always make your own pen with some stainless steel mesh and pegs. Using these tools and materials, you’ll be able to erect a fence to create a pen. Chickens are flightless birds, but you’ll be surprised at how high they can jump using their wings.  Some owners clip their wings so they can’t jump as high. You can also use the steel mesh to create a roof on this pen so that the chickens are safe from potential predators, like foxes.  Our garden is secure so the chickens are often let out in the morning and then locked back up in their fox-proof coop when it get darks.

Don’t start off with chicks

You might think that it’s a good idea to buy some chicks to get started with. Not only will they be super cute, but many people think that they will be low maintenance and provide an easy introduction to looking after chickens. Unfortunately, though, that isn’t the case. In actual fact, chicks can be very high maintenance, and they will require a lot of care and attention from you. It’s much better to start off with some adult chickens as they will be a lot more independent than chicks, and will also be very used to living in a coop and pen.  You’ll want to search for POL chickens which means ‘Point of Lay’ and that they are almost ready to start laying eggs, or they even might be laying already.  Find a reputable breeder to buy them from.

Do check them regularly for lice

Chicken are prone to suffering from lice. The lice can spread around chickens that live in small coops, and can cause irritation to the birds’ skin. You will need to check the birds regularly for signs of lice. If you spot any dry, red skin under the feathers, they will need to be taken to a vet for treatment. If you don’t check them, and the lice infestation gets quite bad, the chickens could become quite ill very quickly.

Do give them a good diet

Even though your chickens may look like they are always scratching around on the lookout for food when they are outside, it’s not a sign that you are underfeeding them. I’m not sure it’s possible to overfeed them as they just eat what they need.  We leave huge food dispensers in their coop which only need refilling once a week or so.  It’s even possible to buy organic and soy-free feeds so you can be sure that the food you buy for them is good quality and full of the right nutrients.  They also need access to some ‘grit’ which is made from shells and things and a big vat of water with some apple cider vinegar added.  You can even feed them scraps of your food or leftovers, but search online as there are some items that are bad for them such as raw or undercooked beans and raw potato peel.

Keeping chickens isn’t really too hard at all.  The best advice we had was just to go for it!

This will be useful: 10 top tips for first time backyard chicken owners

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