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
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.
Hybrids 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.
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
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!
Great to read the encouragement of letting your chickens out of their run, the thought of any animal being cramped and caged all day is horrific !!
I have just got some copper maran but the eggs are batam size will they get bigger
Thank you very much for taking the time to write this page. It was very helpful after we bought 7 chickens at an auction. I cant wait until we expand our coop and run and let some of the hens have chicks next spring. All of the information is useful and cost effective, with easy instructions. Only question I have is how do we make sure the loose rooster doesnt cock-a-doodle-doo outside our bedroom window every morning? Lol
Thanks for the feedback, I appreciate it.
Cocks will start crowing early in the morning. The best solution is to keep the flock in their house until a sensible time in the morning and to have enough distance between the coop and housing so he doesn’t disturb anyone.
Some people have made ‘cock boxes’ which are a dark box (with ventilation!) they put him in for sleeping in say a garage or outbuilding. That can help but it’s a lot of effort of course.
I’m looking into getting some ex-battery hens, just for them to live nicer lives, but I have a cat. Would this cause big problems and/or is it recommended? I don’t want to save some chickens, only to lead them straight to an early slaughter!
Some cats that are big hunters might trouble young chicks / growers and smaller bantams but mostly cats aren’t usually a problem for chickens. Ex-Bats are a reasonable size so you should be fine.
Just wanted to say that I love the info on the site. 🙂 Thank you very much for creating it.
I’ve bought a house in France, which already has a run and chicken coop in it… so…naturally I am looking at getting a few chickens. (The run has a solid roof and proper fencing, the coop should be big enough for 3-4 hens.)
I mostly want them for tick control (I’m on 5.5 acres of fields and woodlands, in the middle of nowhere) but eggs will be nice, of course.
Ex-Battery are hard to find here in France (oddly enough) but there is a livestock market every Tuesday in a nearby town. My biggest worry is foxes, but there seem to be plenty of chickens marching around various nearby fields, so maaaaybe I just worry too much.
I was also thinking of getting a goose as a “Guard Goose” (I have 3 cats, and a dog isn’t an option with them) but I know even less about geese than I know about chickens lol. I don’t know if I can put the goose in with the hens at night (likely not) so that is probably not going to happen. (Besides, I live on a hiking trail. Chances are the goose would assault the hikers…)
I’m still reading, but I’m in the lucky position of living way off the beaten track, with plenty of own land (including woods and a pond), so my situation just offers itself to keeping chickens. (The horses will think they are very snortworthy, I’m sure.)
I’m thinking of getting some Ex-Bat if I can find some. They’ll probably have a heart attack when they see where they’ve landed, though!
I would start with a few chickens, but geese are just as vulnerable to foxes and should have a separate house that’s relatively large compared to the chicken house. Geese should always be kept in pairs or a larger flock with enough females to males. A single goose would not be happy on its own.
The French are keen with la chasse! They are often out shooting so I’m sure the foxes are kept under control but you never know. I would always be sure to lock the chickens up at dusk as a minimum precaution.
Hello I would love chickens again. But the garden I have now has the flower beds trees shrubs . Patio area . But the grass is artificial? Will that harm the birds ?
Artificial grass shouldn’t hurt them (can you clean it though considering the inevitable droppings?) They would need greens of course to eat.