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Don't Be A Chicken About Starting Your Flock
Mar 4, 2022

Don't Be A Chicken About Starting Your Flock

Watching your adorable chicks grow into adult chickens and collecting eggs from the convenience of your own backyard is a highly rewarding experience. Learning to maintain your chicken coop will be a process well worth the challenge! Read on to learn how to raise a happy, healthy flock.

Before You Buy

Before getting your first chicks, you will need to consider the space you have for a coop as well as outside area for them to run around. For free-range chickens that will be outdoors most of the day, a rule of thumb for the coop is about four square feet per chicken. Chickens that will be in the coop most of the day will need about 10 square feet per chicken and a spacious run to let them spread their wings. Having plenty of space is important for your chickens to stay healthy and free of stress. Stressed chickens can develop nutritional problems and poor habits such as eating eggs and pecking at one another. A good coop will be weather-proof, offer proper air ventilation, and keep your chickens safe from predators.

Your coop doesn’t have to be glamourous, but make sure it is sturdy, will not easily blow over and has a solid roof to protect your chickens from the elements. It is best not to start out with more than eight hens while you are learning the ropes. Hens lay an average of about one egg every 1.25 days, or about four to five eggs per week. Depending on how many eggs you eat in a week, four chickens should be plenty for two people. After about two years egg production will slow down and you will want to consider getting more chickens.

Chicken Breeds

Before buying your first chicks, it’s a good idea to do a bit of research on the various breeds and what they are best for. Some breeds such as White Leghorns and Production Reds are best for egg laying, while others such as Jersey Giants are often raised for their meat. Some chickens such as silkie bantams, though not as valued for egg laying and meat, are even just kept as pets for their unique appearance and/or docile nature! Purchasing a rooster will not be necessary as they have no effect on the hen’s ability to lay eggs, and only fertilize the egg. They can help fend off predators at night but tend to be quite mean and noisy, so discretion is advised.

Caring For Your Chicks

Once you’ve purchased your chicks you will need to place them in a brooding box. This doesn’t need to be anything fancy and can simply be a large carboard box about a foot or more tall. This can be kept in the garage, barn, or some other location safe from the elements and predators. You’ll want to place some bedding such as pine/wood shavings on the bottom of the box, a heat lamp to keep the chicks warm while their feathers are still growing, a thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature, water, a feeder, and chick starter feed. Dehydrated, malnourished, cold, or overheated chicks can develop a condition known as pasty butt in which waste sticks to their backsides, hardening and closing the vent off. If noticed, wipe off the chick's backside and make sure your chick is getting what it needs to be healthy.

It is important to give the chicks plenty of space in their brooder box and make sure the bottom of the box isn’t slippery, otherwise they can develop splayed legs. At around six weeks they will have developed most of their juvenile feathers and can move to the coop!


Your new coop will need to be furnished with nesting boxes for egg laying. A good amount of nesting boxes to start out with is about one for every three to four chickens, but it is a good idea to keep an eye on their habits to make sure this is enough. If your hens are all trying to lay eggs around the same time, then too few boxes will become a problem. Some chickens such as bantams will share nesting boxes while others will not so make sure to learn about your breed’s nesting habits before building or buying the boxes. 

For the average chicken 14”x14”14” will be a good size, but larger breeds will benefit from larger boxes. While wooden boxes are common, their porous surface makes them more difficult to clean and can quickly become unsanitary. A metal or plastic box will be easier to clean and maintain.

The nesting boxes will need to have nesting material such as straw or hay for moisture absorption and protection of eggs. This will need to be replaced often to avoid having mold and bacteria posing health risks. Pine or cedar shavings can also be used and will make your coop smell great and help ward off mites and insects.


Daily- Make sure to provide fresh food and water for your chickens every day, and avoid leaving feed out at night which can attract predators. Hens drink about two to three cups of water per day. Cleaning up chicken droppings should also be done daily, as well as collecting eggs so they don't build up and break.
Weekly- Nesting materials should be refreshed to prevent mold and bacteria buildup and keep your chickens comfortable. Waterers and feeders should be cleaned and scrubbed with a mix of water and vinegar.
Monthly- Clean hard surfaces and walls as well as scraping built-up droppings from the roost.
Biannually - Try to set aside the time about twice a year to do a top to bottom clean-out of your coop. Remove and compost old nesting material, feathers, and dirt. Scrub down and disinfect surfaces and leave the doors open to let the coop air and dry out completely.

When cleaning out the coop it is a good idea to wear a mask and gloves as chickens carry diseases such as salmonella, E. coli, and bird flu, which can be transmitted through their waste.

Feeding Your Chickens

Chicken feed will vary depending on whether your chickens are for egg laying or meat. For egg layers, focus on higher carb feeds in the winter and higher protein feeds in the summer. Look for foods such as cracked corn and feeds fortified with protein, calcium and vitamins and minerals to support hard-shell egg production. You can give your chickens treats such as meal worms and certain leftovers from the kitchen. Just make sure to do your research as certain foods like chicken scraps and raw potatoes are a no-no! Be careful not to overdo it with the treats to avoid causing unhealthy weight gain. In addition to feed, your chickens will need grit, little stone particles such as oyster shell that are stored in their gizzards to aid in digestion.