Raising backyard chickens is a hobby your whole family can enjoy. They are quiet, don’t smell a great deal and help cut back on food waste while reducing your grocery bill (for eggs anyway).
You may wish to evoke childhood memories or step back to a more traditional way of living by bringing a few chooks to live in your backyard. Whether you’re on a property or have a quarter acre block, you’ll find these tips for raising backyard chickens very helpful:
Why keep chickens?
There are plenty of great reasons for raising backyard chickens. Let’s explore just a few.
If nothing else, there is one clear and obvious advantage to having your own chickens. Eggs! If you love to cook and bake, having your own free supply of eggs is a true boon. For a delicious and wholesome breakfast fry up or an easy dinner, eggs are a great mainstay. Chickens are cheap to keep and maintain so in time you will save a bit of money as well.
There are also several reasons that keeping chickens can be spiritually rewarding as well. We’ve all seen the horrible footage of battery-farm chickens. Even though you probably buy barn-laid or free-range eggs, raising backyard chickens can give you peace of mind. You’ll know you are in no way contributing to the outdated and barbaric practices of some chicken farms. Your happy girls will live a contented life with plenty of space.
Along with the above, having chickens is a beautiful feeling of connection to the past. For generations, people have kept chickens. You can feel a great sense of times gone by when watching your chooks pecking away in your yard. It harks back to simpler times, without the hustle and bustle of our internet age.
Finally, raising backyard chickens will go along the way to relieve any guilt you feel about food waste. Chooks love table scraps and will eat almost anything. You can get special feeders which they have to stand on to open. This will deter rodents or other local birdlife from making your chook pen their home.
What breed of backyard chicken is right for you?
You may think a chicken is a chicken but this is far from the truth!
Chickens are as varied as dogs and they come in a bewildering array of sizes and shapes. Find your way to a show and you will be stunned and amazed by the different cluckers.
This leaves you with the question, what breed of chook do I want in my own yard?
It comes down to what you want from your chickens but odds are you want eggs! Seek out a hardy and friendly bird who is an egg-cellent layer. Here are a few of your best options for reliable family chooks.
- ISA Brown: The humble ISA Brown is a true favourite for backyard coops. Bred specifically for laying, these lovely ladies are docile yet tough and will keep you in breakfasts better than just about any other breed.
- Australorp: For a true blue Aussie, the only choice is the plucky Australorp. This Australian breed is nearly as good a layer as the ISA Brown. It is likely to lay most days of the year and also comes with the chirpy, friendly attitude of a true Aussie battler.
- Rhode Island Red: One of the few chicken breeds that even the un-initiated can name, the Rhode Island Red deserves her fame. With her distinctive reddish plumage, she’s a stunning addition to any backyard who will also help you bake a cake year round.
Of course, eggs aren’t the only reason to keep feathered friends in your yard. Chooks can also be a great aesthetic addition to the designer garden.
- The Silkie: Silkies are lovely little chickens who thrive in backyards. These white, feathery ladies lay small eggs but have style, flair and personality in spades. Looking like a cross between a glam rocker and Lady Gaga, Silkies have a cute tuft of ‘hair’ which differentiates them from other breeds. They are fun to keep and will always be a talking point.
- Cochin: The Cochin is a big and beautiful lady who simply oozes style. With her thick and luxurious plumage and distinctively flared feathers around their feet, Cochins are a delight to behold. At up to 5kg they may seem intimidating but they a gentle natured and loving and make great family pets.
- Frizzle: With her flashy plumage, curling out rather than lying flat, the Frizzle is another eye-catching little lady. Surprisingly hardy for such a fashionista, these little stunners are also placid and good-natured.
You will notice the reference to ‘girls’ and ‘ladies’ when it comes to raising backyard chickens. This is because a rooster is a whole different ball game.
Roosters can make sense if you want to breed chickens but the problem is they are VERY early risers. Unless you live on a large property and you don’t mind being woken before sunrise, think twice before bringing a rooster home. Your neighbours may protest and the local council probably has regulations against keeping one in an urban area.
Building a chook shed
Once you’ve decided which cluckers are best for you, they’re going to need some decent accommodation. It’s time to build a chook shed!
When it comes to chicken pens, your imagination really is the limit. Although simplicity is no crime, a quick Google image search can show you the amazing array of styles that creative types have come up with. These can include luxury quarters, multi-storey entertainment areas and even slides.
When building your chook shed with a plan of raising backyard chickens, be it extravagant, or utilitarian, there are a few basic things to keep in mind:
- Chickens need a warm dry place to nest. Without this, not only will your girls be unhappy, you also won’t get the eggs you need for breakfast. Along with enough nest boxes, you’ll also need somewhere for the ladies to roost. Something as simple as a ladder attached to the wall will work, so long as there is room for each hen.
- Make sure the coop is well ventilated. Chickens need nice fresh air as much as we do.
- Chickens love shade. Don’t expect your girls to sunbathe all day. They need a nice spot to escape to which is out of the harsh sun.
- Likewise, chickens need shelter from rain. Make sure their nesting spot is dry.
- Predators can be a problem. Foxes are making their way into urban areas more and more these days and even stray dogs can make a mess of your poor girls. Make sure your coop is safe and secure with no way in for the baddies or out for the chooks.
- A good rule of thumb for the size of the coop is 2 to 3 square feet per chicken for chooks who prefer lots of outside time. If your chooks will spend most of their time in their cop, allow 5 to 10 square feet per lady.
- Make sure you communicate with the local council and check guidelines. Different councils will have different regulations and by-laws about animal husbandry and breaking those laws can result in trouble. Talk to the council and your neighbours to make sure that everything remains above board and everyone is happy.
Hardware stores like Bunnings have flat-packed chicken coops and ready-made fencing to help you start your journey of raising backyard chickens sooner.
Don’t forget: your chickens need water. Look for a slow release system which you can top up every few days.
Purchasing your chickens
As with any purchase that requires decent quality, seek out reputable breeders and sellers. It may be cheap and easy to find some chooks on Facebook or Gumtree but there may be hidden problems and it will be difficult to complain or return any sickly chooks.
Consider what age chickens you wish to buy. Day old chicks are adorable but they’re going to need a lot of care and attention, plus they can be carried off by predators.
Younger birds can be a great buy in terms of value but you may have to wait for a little before they start to lay. Most people buy their chooks at ‘point of lay’. As the name implies, these ladies are just beginning to lay so eggs will be forthcoming, but they are also young enough to remain members of the family for some time to come.
How many chickens should you get?
There are two major factors to take into account when choosing the size of your flock. Firstly, space is an obvious issue. You need to factor the size of your yard and how much room each chicken will need to be happy.
Secondly, you need to consider your egg requirements. You might have all the room in the world but if you don’t need a lot of eggs, you might not want a lot of chickens. A flock as small as six chooks can produce a surprising amount of eggs, sometimes up to a dozen per day. Before you know it, your fridge will be overflowing and all your friends and family will be sick of your ‘gifts’ of fresh quiche! Three to four good laying chooks will give you an egg or two for every day of the year.
Raising backyard chickens: the cost of getting started
The cost of backyard chickens can vary depending on your wants and needs. For a few chooks, a basic coop and feed, you need not pay more than a thousand dollars. If you find recycled materials and are happy to build a coop yourself, the cost can be considerably less. You may even find some good layers who need to be rehomed and will sell for a bargain price.
Of course, if you have the money to spend and want the best of the best for your poultry pals, the sky’s the limit. Just make sure you keep the tips above in mind and do your due diligence. Don’t spend money on something that seems fancy if it won’t actually serve the purpose for which it is intended.
Did you know you can do a Try Before You Buy with chickens?
(check out https://rentachook.com.au/ – based in Sydney)
You wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive and now you can do that with chickens too! (Test them that is, not drive them). Companies such as rentachook.com.au provide an easy option to try your hand at raising backyard chickens. Most companies will set you up with everything you need to get started, including a coop. Once you have tried out your new feathered companions you can either return them or keep them if you have fallen in love.
What to feed your chickens
Chickens are so easy to feed and will eat a range of food.
Chicken feed can be bought at many different retail stores including pet shops, farming supply stores and even many supermarkets. If you don’t have the cash for store-bought seed and grains, your chooks will be happy with most kitchen scraps. Just avoid beans, garlic, raw potatoes, onions, and citrus as well as raw or cooked meat as these aren’t good for your girls.
Keeping your backyard chickens healthy
Chickens are easy and fun to keep but are still a responsibility. Luckily, there are a few simple tips to keep your gals happy and healthy.
- Keep an eye on your chickens. Simply spending some time with them each day and watching their behaviour you will know if something is wrong. Watch for interactions and activity. Sluggishness or aggression could be signs that something is wrong and a trip to the vet is needed.
- Clean their coop often and thoroughly. Just like us, chickens can get sick and living in a dirty environment can be a leading factor. Keep the dirt dust down and your chickens will stay in top shape.
- As well as being well-fed, chickens also require stimulation. They are naturally curious and love to explore. Make sure they have plenty of space to investigate and exercise. Spend some time interacting with them as well. Some breeds are surprisingly sociable and affectionate so give them love and they will return it in spades.
You might even be lucky enough to have a lap chicken who loves a cuddle with you or your children. Just remember they are not so great to have inside your house. Pecking can cause damage and they leave droppings without warning — yuck!
Raising backyard chickens is an excellent past time for adults and kids alike. They are low maintenance and are an enjoyable addition to any garden.