Check local ordinances
Check with your local officials to ensure that chickens are allowed where you live. Some municipalities have bans on chickens, or limits on how many chickens you can keep on your property. Because of their infamous early-morning cockadoodle-doos, roosters are banned from many cities. If your city isn’t yet chicken-friendly, CommunityChickens.com has articles on how to change local ordinances if you have one in your area.
Build a happy chicken home
You’ll need a chicken coop or a secure hen house that offers the birds a safe place to lay eggs, as well as a “run” where they can roam and peck. Make sure your coop is predator-proof.
Each chicken needs three to four square feet of space in the coop, and another three to four square feet in the run. Because chickens are social animals, we suggest a minimum of six chickens—which would require an 18-sq foot coop and a run of equal size. Experts also recommend having one nesting box inside the coop for every three to four chickens—you can use a pre-fabricated wooden box from a feed store, or utilize any number of things you may have at home, like old milk crates, plastic tubs, dresser drawers, and even a five-gallon bucket placed on its side.
If you’re a do-it-yourself-er, the internet is rife with ideas and instructions—from coops on wheels that can be moved from place-to-place in your yard to designs to build a coop for under $100. Choose non-toxic and sustainable materials to have the lightest impact on the earth and its climate.
Pick your chicks
There are many breeds available for your flock. Different breeds have different personalities and different rates of egg-laying—and you can combine breeds in one flock for variety. Mother Earth News has a “Pickin’ Chicken” app to help you choose, or use MyPetChicken.com’s Breed Selector Tool to find the breed of chicken right for you.
If you want to raise your chickens from chicks, you’ll need heat and special feed; chicks can be found at local feed stores and farms. You may also be able to find older chickens locally. Consider looking at local shelters and farm sanctuaries first.
Care for them daily
Taking proper care of your chickens will ensure that they stay healthy and will help you get the most eggs out of your flock. Each chicken requires about ¼ cup of feed per day, as well as a supply of fresh, clean water. Chickens can survive both hot and cold weather and will be fine outside with temperatures as low as 15 degrees, but their laying patterns will change with the seasons.
Be sure to be vigilant about cleaning your chicken coop every two weeks and cleaning your hands and shoes after handling chickens and their eggs. The old bedding material and manure collected from the coop and run make excellent organic fertilizer to add to compost and garden beds (once aged).
Keeping chickens is one of the optional Climate Victory Gardening practices because of the animals' climate-savvy fertilization techniques (manure) and their ability of divert organic wastes from the landfill where it would otherwise generate potent greenhouse gases.
Most hens start laying eggs at about six months old and will lay with the greatest frequency for that first year—around four to seven eggs each week, though it may vary with the seasons. The number of eggs she’ll produce will reduce by about ten percent each subsequent year, and most backyard hens can live from eight to ten years.
Learn more about The Many Benefits of Backyard Chickens.