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. Why do my Hybrids take so long to come through the moult
    Also the one I am collecting soon only seem to be bald at the rear end?Does this mean they are nearly through it as they start from the head back dont they?

    • The older a chicken gets, the longer it takes. Also, if they moult later in the season, it can take longer. Yes, they normally start at the head but the bald bum might be due to feather pecking not the moult.

  2. Hi,

    We have just bought 3 chickens. A Sussex white, a Bleu de Landes and an ISA Brown. We live in Belgium and bought them at the local animal market. They seem healthy and I have read nearly all your (fab) website so I think I am doing OK. There is loads of space and their coop is in an old sheep shed which has 1 foot high troffs which they perch on and straw in to lay. There’s loads of floor space to dig around in too. My concern at the moment is that the Brown seems very stressed. They are all (apparently) around 5 months old, but the brown is much smaller than the other two. She has found a perch high up (in an old sheep feeder) and has not left her spot for a whole 24 hours. It never occurred to me that different breeds may not “get on”. To be fair all three of them are a bit nervous and have barely ventured out into the fenced area. This is around 20metres by 5metres with shade and lots of grass. There is another thing which I thought maybe a problem: Adjacent to this area is next doors chickens with a beautiful big Cockerel, could they be a bit scared perhaps? I hope its just a settling in thing…… any advice would be most appreciated. MJ.

    • Yes, they can hide if they are getting bullied. They won’t be scared of next doors birds though unless they can get to them and bully them. Observation is the key… Ensure they can get to their food and drink (give multiple feeders and drinkers) then give them some time to pick up courage. Observe them all the time and see whether this small bird is being picked on. Eventually if she isn’t she should get established in the flock and start to come out. Bonne chance et a bientot!

  3. Hi,
    I have been looking into getting 2/3 chickens, however my garden is only around 50ft x35 ft, it is grassed and there are a couple of small veggie patches about. I wondered if this would be enough space for them to roost and scratch about in? Also would you be able recommend a suitable laying breed for such an environment, although am not sure if this is the right time of year to be starting out?

    Any help is much appreciated,
    Many thanks in advance

    • Sounds ideal to me. They will find lots of interesting things in your garden I am sure. I would consider a fence to keep them restricted though during the spring to stop them from scratching up your vegetables. Autumn and winter is a good time to buy as breeders are off loading stock they have grown. Hybrids can usually be bought at any time of year though.

  4. Im currently doing my research with a view to keeping 3-4 chickens. I live in the highlands of Scotland, what precautions should I take in the winter months… Is there a particular hardy breed for colder winters ?

    • Most chickens are hardy and can withstand extreme cold. What they can’t stand is draught and the wet whilst roosting. I would avoid some of the fancier breeds but most others will be fine if you give them the usual basics.

  5. HI,

    Thanks for your reply. A quick update. The three of them now appear to be friends, however they will not leave the coop. Its been 10 days and they are all still very jittery and only the Bleu des landes has ever ventured out. We shooed them out and shut the door a couple of times but that hasn’t worked. We leave them alone as much as possible too. I cant think of a reason for this other than they were treated poorly before and/or they are still very young. Is there anything I can do help then settle in and start laying? Thanks again…. MJ.

    • ACV in the water helps with stress but if they are still nervous, you can only really give it time and give them enough space in a secure environment with tit bits to try to tempt them.

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