Raising backyard chickens is becoming more popular, especially with people who want to explore self-sufficiency and become more connected with how their food is sourced. Americans in rural, suburban, and even urban areas are welcoming flocks to their yard. Generally, it is not less expensive than buying chickens and eggs at the grocer, but your supply will be fresh, and you will know where your food comes from. If you’re thinking about getting in on the fun, you’ll want to take a few notes on the proper way to care for your flock. It isn’t difficult to raise chickens, but you will need to provide proper shelter and health care for your flock. And, although most rural Barndominium owners will have no restrictions for chickens on their property, make sure you know what is allowed in your neighborhood and whether permitting is required.
A safe, clean chicken coop and yard are essential for healthy, productive birds. The chicken coop should be well ventilated and provide adequate shelter from inclement weather. If you live where there is extreme weather, you may want to insulate your coop. If the coop sits directly on the ground, spread a 3-inch to 4-inch bed of litter such as rice hulls or wood shavings. Keep the yard clean and allow your flock unfettered mobility. You may want to consider adding electricity for lights and heat.
The enclosure needs to protect your birds from predators such as hawks, racoons, and coyotes. A determined racoon can make its way through a flimsy fence, so be sure your wire gauge is heavy enough to keep other critters from tearing through it. Laying brick or pavers around the perimeter helps keep predators from digging under it. To protect against hawks swooping down from above, you can cover the run with chicken wire or a tarp, add a black chicken (which might be mistaken for a crow, a natural enemy to hawks), add a rooster which are natural protectors, or place shiny objects around the coop to discourage hawks (flash tape works well).
There are a couple of “special rooms” in your chicken house you will want to pay attention to. The first is suitable accommodations for the baby chicks during their early growth period. For the first 3-4 weeks after hatching, chicks will need a separate, fully enclosed area with wood shavings or another litter for warmth. The other area you will need to construct is a nest box for laying hens to lay their eggs. Dimensions for the nest box should be around 12 inches by 12 inches and be filled with hay or wood shavings to create a nest.
First decide what you want from your flock. Some breeds are best for meat while others are better suited for egg production. Then, there are breeds that are added to the flock simply because they are attractive and add personality to your yard such as the Polish, Cochin, and Sumatra. If your goal is lots of fresh eggs, the best varieties of egg layers are white or brown Leghorn strains. Some White Leghorns can lay over 300 eggs a year however, and while some are friendly, many are not. Plymouth Rock varieties are excellent egg layers, too and may be a more agreeable bird. They also happen to lay brown eggs. Other popular brown egg laying breeds include Rhode Island Reds, Barnevelders, and Wyandottes.
Broilers, chickens raised for meat only, often have white feathers. Some desirable breeds include Cornish Cross, Jersey Giant, and Freedom Rangers. There are also breeds raised for both meat and egg production. These include Buff Orpingtons, Black Australorps, Dark Cornish, Cochins, and Delawares.
Something to keep in mind when selecting your flock is that some breeds are better suited for colder climates and some for warmer climates. Also, not all breeds get along well with each other. Consult your local agricultural extension office or feed store to guide you on your flock selection.
Vaccinating your flock helps to protect them from viruses they may pick up from wild birds or bugs. Chickens should be vaccinated for Marek’s disease, Newcastle disease and Fowl Pox. Usually, one dose is sufficient, but some growers opt for boosters.
Keeping the yard clean of manure and excess feed will make it less attractive to rodents and wild birds which may carry diseases. If you have bird houses, feeders, or baths for wild birds, place them away from your flock.
Anytime you acquire new chickens, quarantine them for about six weeks before commingling them with the existing flock to make sure they are healthy and won’t transmit any disease or ailment.
Keep an eye out for respiratory issues. If a bird is sick, quarantine it and always handle sick birds last, then disinfect your hands and boots when finished. Separate older birds from younger ones to prevent aggressive older birds from harming the young ones.
Viral diseases rarely transmit from chicken to humans; however, several bacterial infections such as salmonella in birds do pass to humans. The best prevention is soap and water. A good hand scrubbing after handling birds and eggs can help reduce risk of infection.
Your flock should always have access to fresh water. Nutritious feed enriched with protein and vitamins, even for free-range chickens, is important for maximizing egg production. Once hens reach about 25 weeks old, they should produce on average, an egg a day. Chickens can live 6-8 years or more, but their egg production will wane with age.
Raising backyard chickens can be a productive and rewarding activity for the entire family. Chickens can be beautiful and full of personality. Fresh meat and eggs are the bonus!
1,000 living sq ft
PLAN NUMBER: s2-11000
Covered Porch sq ft: 155
• Morning Kitchen
• Screened-In Chicken Coop
• Covered Porch
PDF Plan cost: $1,395*