Getting Started

Keeping a few chickens in the back yard really is quite straight forward; however there are some things to consider in order to get the right sort of birds for your situation and to keep them in the best possible health to get the most enjoyment out of keeping them.

This page hopes to get you thinking about the types of chickens and their requirements.

Choosing a breed

white orpington

White Orpington growers

There are quite literally hundreds of different breeds of chicken to choose from and out of these, many have slightly different requirements.

Some breeds of chicken come only as Large Fowl, and others are also available as Bantams which are a smaller version that look the same. The Orpington for example is available in both large and bantam sizes but the Cochin is only available as large fowl.

There are a handful of ‘True Bantams’ where there is no large fowl equivalent. Examples of these are Dutch Bantams, Japanese Bantams and the popular Pekin Bantam.

Bantams tend to be quite flighty whereas the heavy breeds of large fowl often cannot fly more than a few inches off the ground. Orpingtons for example won’t usually roost very high due to their huge size and will usually just huddle on the floor of the coop.

Every breed is slightly different in the amount of eggs they lay. Typically hens that have been bred for exhibition purposes do not lay as well as utility hens. Bantams of course lay smaller eggs which some people say they prefer for taste.


Hybrid ChickenHybrids are chickens that have been created by crossing pure breeds. They are typically crossed to make good layers (the hybrid to the right can lay 280 to 300 eggs!), coloured eggs or attractive hens. Some can be very attractive and they are all generally very hardy. Hybrids are produced in larger numbers that pure breeds and most of the crosses used make the males a different colour as day old chicks so that only females can be raised, therefore reducing costs by about half. A typical hybrid hen will cost you around £15 compare to £25 to £30 for a typical pure breed hen.

Hybrids are a good choice if eggs are one of your priorities although if you think you might like to hatch some eggs, remember hybrid hens do not breed true – you would need the original pure breeds to cross again in order to create more of the same thing so whilst you can hatch their eggs, you may want to consider a few pure breeds for this purpose or consider buying in eggs to hatch.

Free Range

You will of course need a chicken coop but also a secure run or area that is predator proof. A question that people always ask me is “How big should their run be?” I always say “as big as possible within reason.” Even 2 chickens kept in a 2 meter run will soon turn it to mud and get bored (which can introduce vices such as feather pecking and egg eating) but I always believe that it’s fine to provide a small run like this if you can let them out for a few hours each day to free range while you are around. This will give them a chance to forage, supplement their diet and reduce boredom.

Once chickens have settled into their new house, they will go back to it to roost every night so you can let them out in the late afternoon, knowing they will come back to roost at night keeping everyone happy! Some houses and runs have handles or wheels that make them easy to move onto fresh ground which is not only good to prevent a build up of worm eggs and disease but also provides them with a little fresh grass to graze.

Keeping Chickens in the Garden

chickens in the garden

Young Black Australorps in the Garden

If you have a ‘nice’ garden that you don’t want spoilt, it’s usually a sensible idea to limit their foraging. Chickens scratch at the ground, make dust baths in the dry soil, leave muck wherever they go and destroy tender young plants. If you can plant in pots, this will help and fencing off part of the garden is usually a good choice to keep them out if you have tender or precious plants. Chickens with feathered feet scratch less and bantams can clear a 6 foot fence if they want to. Heavy breeds of large fowl can be kept out with a knee high fence or box hedge. If you want to stop a bird from flying then you can clip one wing (not both).

So you have decided on the breed that’s right for you and your circumstances. Next, you will need to think about keeping them secure from predators in a suitable chicken house and chicken run – click on a link to go to that page!


  1. Im fixing to purchase my first flock of laying hensand wondered if I purchase 20 Leghorns what is the best rooster to put with them and is 1 rooster enough? Thank u from Oklahoma

  2. I’ve been donated a bit of ground on which I want to keep chickens. I’ve cleared most of it of weeds and the ground is now bare and rather soft and muddy. Will the hens mind this? Other areas are coved in winter heliotrope which grows rampant everywhere here. Is it safe for hens to graze on this? It has large fleshy leaves which I fancy they would like.

    • Mud isn’t ideal for chickens and it harbours worm eggs.

      If the area is small, I would use wood chippings or if it is a large area then sow it to grass in the spring.

      I’m afraid I am not familiar with heliotrope but chickens usually know instinctively if something is poisonous for them.

  3. Hey guys,

    Just to say, I was on this site around 7 month ago and new to chicken keeping and I found and got all the advice I needed,

    The most important advice I got was to keep my 5 girls as clean as possible, I use a cat scoop and clean their poo from their coop every morning and this one bit of advice has kept my girls looking gorgeous and it is much appreciated to the chicken keeper that runs this site, thank you so much my dear

    Just a note I eventually learned that my girls love porridge, just dried rolled oats and every Thursday they get 2 grapes each which they also die for and once a fortnight I make 2 slice of toast and cut it into strips, obviously good butter spread on it first and they love it, but the other bit of advice I found on this site was a huge bucket of weeds and this is much appreciated by my girls, they spend hours sifting through it. I have made one close friend out of my 5 leghorns and she is the head hen, she is beautiful and I made friends with her through grapes and interestingly enough when she got close enough after a while she must have been fascinated with my eyelashes cos she came close to my eyes with her beak and she gently pulled my eyelash, believe it or not,. I was a little apprehensive but I let her do it, now she is completely secure around me and I can pick her up with not a problem, I am now as happy as a pig in sh***….thank you one and all,

    P.s… plus I am to this post getting 5 eggs a day and Im in the highlands of Scotland east coast,

    • Glad to hear you are getting on well… I must say I don’t clean my coop out as much as this but a clean environment does keep worms down and bacteria away.

  4. I have six point-of-lay hens. They have a house in a wire framed coop of about 4ft x 10ft sitting in a free range area of about 60 sq meters. Two thirds of the range is grass and the rest rough ground which they completely ignore despite being full of quite juicy looking weeds. Despite having lots of space they seem to spend quite a lot of time all together in the coop which I find surprising. I’ve been feeding them layers pellets which they don’t seem enthusiastic about and the level in the feeder goes down very slowly. They go mad for the afternoon treat of mixed grain. A neighbour who has kept hens professionally tells me I should feed mash rather than pellets. I’ve bought some and they go frantic for it, emptying a small feeder in no time at all. Should I change to mash or can i mix it with pellets?

    • Mash and pellets are the same nutritionally so it doesn’t really matter which you feed. Normally, you would gradually introduce the new feed so the hens can get used to the new feed but it sounds as if yours are quite used to it.

      Do not feed too much mixed corn. This should be regarded as a treat only.

  5. i am thinking of getting a few hens in a plastic coop (omlet), how often should i relocate my coop and run (within the garden) to stop the decimating the grass?

    • It should be moved when the grass looks worn down, typically every week I’d say but it does depend on the grass, time of year, number of hens and area etc.

      Good luck.

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