You’ve made it your New Year’s resolution to finally get chickens. Good for you. Chickens are low-maintenance pets that give so much in return. On top of the amazing compost, free entertainment, and fresh eggs right from your backyard, you’ll also gain the skills and confidence to tackle more projects down the line.
Here are 10 steps to help you stay focused so that your chicken keeping resolution becomes chicken keeping reality:
- Check your local ordinances. Before anything else, see if you are even allowed to keep chickens where you live or if there is a limit to how many chickens you can keep with or without a permit. Many towns forbid roosters because of the noise. And even if you’re in a place that allows chickens, you may still be under an HOA or neighborhood covenant that prohibits them. You can inquire directly with your local government or neighborhood association or peruse this collection of ordinances. If chickens are not allowed where you are, consider starting a movement. Seriously. Dozens of cities from Salem, Oregon, to Nashville, Tennessee, have become chicken friendlier recently thanks to dedicated groups organizing for change.
- Find a local resource for feed and supplies and decide where you’ll get your chicks or pullets. Feed stores often sell chicks starting in February and through the summer months, or you can mail order as few as 3 chicks from an online source like MyPetChicken.com.
- Gather a few chicken keeping reference books and find a forum, neighbors, or a local group for questions. Our Buyer’s Guide and links and resources pages can get you started. Hint: if a chicken keeper friend forwarded you this post, they see potential in you, and they’re ready to offer any help they can!
- Research your chicken coop design. Go on a chicken coop tour if you live in a town that has one. Get books from your library. Browse photos of coops online at sites like BackyardChickens.com, Pinterest, and Google Images. Of course, since our chicken coop and run plans take the mystery out of building a safe, beautiful home for your hens, you should look at them too. And our gallery of coops in the Make It Your Own section of our site and blog show you the many ways people have customized our designs for their backyards. Also note, we’ve used the henhouse of all our coop designs to brood our chicks, so if you get the coop built in time that saves you the next step.
- Build/fashion a brooder for your baby chicks. The most basic option is to use a large cardboard box or plastic bin. Or for something neater, buy a pre-built brooder cage. When we get new chicks and it’s still cold out, we brood them indoors for a couple weeks to give them time to begin feathering out and get used to us (we handled them daily). Then we move them outside to brood in the henhouse.
- Choose your breeds. The Pickin’ Chicken Breed Selector App by Mother Earth News and this handy breed selection chart are great tools to get you started. There are many beautiful heritage breeds and hearty hybrids to choose from. Also poke around on chicken keeping forums to see what others have to say about various breeds. Some things to consider are the size of the chickens for your space, whether they’ll be content with smaller spaces or prefer ample area for foraging, what size and color eggs you want, and whether you are looking more for friendly egg producers or lovable pets that also happen to lay eggs.
- Pre-order your chicks. If buying chicks from a local store, this is simply a matter of checking with the store to see when they’ll get the breed(s) you want and then putting them on hold.
- Build a coop. Or you could get your chicks first, then build a coop. A rapidly growing flock of chirping chicks — not to mention the fine layer of “chicky dust” covering everything in your garage — is great motivation for getting the big-girl coop built. Again, another plug for our coop plans.
- Get your chicks and starter supplies. What can I say? Such an exciting day!
- Now care for your chicks and watch them grow into beautiful hens, each with her own personality. The give-and-take that happens with farming, even on the relatively small scale of your backyard, is what makes keeping chickens so rewarding. You agree to feed, shelter, and protect your hens — and in return, they bring life to your garden and fresh, nutritious food to your plate.
Still sound a little daunting? Take a breath. There’s no need to have it all figured out before you act. Just scroll back up to #1 and take things one step at a time. You can also download our free chicken keeping and coop design tip sheet for handy answers to a lot of common questions and subscribe to Coop Thoughts to get email notifications of our latest posts.
If you’ve resolved to make this your year for fresh backyard eggs, what’s left to do on your list? Leave a comment and let us know how close you are to having your own flock. And if you already keep backyard chickens, what helped you get from dreaming to doing? Please share your experiences and tips below. Happy New Year!