Where to begin when raising backyard chickens

Jan 30, 2023

Written by our friends at UT Extension

Raising backyard chickens may seem like a good idea, but be aware that there could be bumps in the road. It is likely less expensive to buy meat and eggs from the store than to produce them yourself at home. Plus, there’s lots of work to be done before chickens ever show up in your backyard. However, Extension is here to help you if you are committed to taking the plunge.

Always start with the end in mind. What is your end goal — fresh eggs, meat, pets, teaching your children to care for animals, 4-H or FFA projects, showing your birds, or simply enjoying the various personalities your chickens will display? Whatever the goal, don’t call up the mail-order hatchery tomorrow and order chicks.

Start planning months before the first chicken arrives. Check local city/county/state ordinances to make sure regulations do not prohibit poultry flocks in your area. You don’t want to spend money on housing, fencing, and chickens to learn later that you can’t have them on your property. If you can have chickens, though, inquire about the limit on numbers and whether roosters are allowed. Roosters crow, which often causes municipalities to ban them. If chickens are legal, consider the importance of good neighbor relations. Visit your neighbors and let them know you are considering chickens so that they aren’t blindsided when your chickens arrive.

Decide how many chickens you will have and then consider housing and pen space. Be flexible because you may want to increase your flock size later. Chickens will need food, water, protection, and care 24/7/365, including weekends, holidays, vacations, etc. It’s best to pen the flock instead of letting them run free. This will keep them at home where they can’t bother the neighbors, lessen the disease threat, and protect them from predators. Critters such as coyotes, skunks, opossums, snakes, hawks, owls, dogs, and cats like chicken dinners just as much as we do, and many of these predators are just as common in urban areas as they are in the country.

Understand that chickens come with expenses. The chickens, housing, and feed all cost money, especially the feed, which is roughly 70% of the cost of maintaining chickens. Also, if you start with baby chicks, you will have 6 months of time and expense invested in the flock before the hens are old enough to lay eggs. Still, chickens are less expensive than other farm critters and benefit from the fact that they are:
  • Small (compared to cattle, hogs, or horses)
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Easy to acquire
  • Doesn’t require a lot of land
Backyard chickens can be a fun, rewarding, educational, and enjoyable experience. However, it’s not all fun and games. Your flock will depend on you for its survival and protection, and this will require time and money on your part. Your local Extension office or Co-op can help you determine if backyard chickens are a good fit for you and your family! Find the Co-op nearest you, here.
For more content like this, check out the latest issue of The Cooperator!

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