With hobby farming making a comeback, here are 3 musts for starting your own backyard chicken flock.
By Elizabeth Millard
Whether you have sprawling acreage that’s perfect for hobby farming or just a small clearing nestled up against the woods, adding chickens to your mix is always a fun consideration. And who doesn’t love free farm-fresh eggs?
Although you’ll need to pay attention to proper coop setup and make sure that your feeding/watering schedule is on track, raising chickens can be a low-maintenance, highly entertaining enhancement to your log home lifestyle. Here are three fundamentals that will get you started on the right foot:
Often, it’s best to start a flock as chicks that grow up together. There’s a reason the term “pecking order” sounds so rough: Chickens create a definite hierarchy, and if you bring adult chickens from various flocks or locations together, you could see more fighting than you’d like.
You’ll also want to choose a flock size that’s manageable for the amount of coop space you have, usually 2 square feet per bird.
Overcrowding can affect chicken health, so be sure they have enough room to roam. And maybe most importantly, pick a breed that’s right for your climate.
Some are more cold-hardy than others, making them perfect for chilly northern locations, but less ideal for spots where it’s humid year-round.
There are numerous coop configurations, and you can either buy one pre-made or turn it into a DIY project. You’ll find some particularly attractive options out there: The Urban Coop Company and even Wayfair offer a wide variety at a range of price points. And of course you can side the structure with logs to match your house.
Regardless of the style you choose, be sure to have adequate space for your birds to roost.
Some people have luck using old ladders with narrow rungs, while others build a horizontal structure where chickens can snuggle together in a row. Chickens prefer to sleep on perches, often as high as possible.
Especially if you’re close to wooded areas, predators can be a concern. Foxes, weasels, raccoons, dogs, hawks and owls would love to get in that hen house of yours.
Keep them out with strong protection, such as heavy-gauge chicken wire inside your coop, and potentially some electric fencing around its perimeter. If your neighbors don’t mind — or you don’t have any within earshot — keep a rooster as well as hens. Roosters actively look for threats and they boost egg production, increasing your chances of having future generations of chicks.
Identifying local resources will also be hugely helpful. Locate the nearest feed store, which should have plentiful chicken supplies and often some expert advice to go along with it. Many of these stores have chicks in the spring, too, making it even easier to start your chicken-centered adventure.
Looking for the right breed of bird? There are more than 200 types of chickens to choose from. Here’s a quick guide to some top egg producers.
Egg color: Brown
The state bird of Rhode Island, the Single Comb Rhode Island Red is one of the most popular breeds for brown egg production. They’re a common choice for backyard chicken flocks because of their laying abilities, hardiness and breeding ease.
Egg color: Various
The Easter Egg Chicken (aka Ameracauna) originally came from Chile. Easter Eggers have a wide variety of feather colors and patterns. The color of their egg shells varies from pale to dark blue, various shades of green and light brownish/pink. Easter Egg Chickens are great for backyard coops, larger chicken houses and for raising them free-range style.
Egg color: White
White Leghorns are prolific producers, laying an average of 280 eggs per year and sometimes reaching 300–320. Their originations lie in Italy, Denmark and England.
This breed is very athletic and hardy, and they lay very nice large/extra large white eggs. The Leghorn is great for free-range chicken farming or organic eggs.
Egg color: Brown
Black Australorp chickens originated in Australia. They were bred for egg production but unlike many egg-layers, they’re also are good for meat. Just make sure you have a wind break and dry bedding in your chicken coop, as well as shady areas so they don’t overheat in the summer.