The first chickens you own are an unforgettable experience, but it can be a scary prospect raising your birds if you’ve not had any chickens before. The good news is that anyone can learn to raise a pet chicken and have a good time doing it. We’ve broken down everything that you need to know in this simple guide.
How to raise a pet chicken: a step-by-step guide includes why you should raise a pet chicken, things to think about before you buy one, how many chickens to buy, how much space you need, how much they cost, what kinds of chicken to get, how to construct a chicken coop, how old they should be, how to raise chicks, how to keep them happy and how to collect and store their eggs! That’s everything you need to be a confident chicken owner.
Why You Should Raise A Pet Chicken
Before you start buying chickens, it’s a good idea to think about why you want pet chickens and for most people this boils down to one simple reason: eggs.
Sure, you could technically also eat the chickens, but we’ve found that people generally don’t want to consume a pet chicken any more than they would their pet cat. Once you’ve given them names and cared for them during the good times – it’s pretty hard to give them residence in your tummy.
Eggs, on the other hand, have no names and they’re really tasty. In fact, they’re one of natures superfoods and contain a huge number of vitamins and minerals and they are rich in proteins and good fasts whilst being completely sugar free!
Gardeners often love to have chickens on hand too because they can clean the lawn and because their poop makes amazing fertilizer.
We’d also say that, from our own experience, raising chickens offers companionship and also a lot of fun.
However, we’d also note that raising pet chickens takes a bit of work (as does everything worthwhile, mind you). So, let’s turn to the things you have to think about before you buy your chickens.
Things To Think About Before You Buy A Pet Chicken
There are a few serious considerations you need to check off before you get your check book out and head down to the nearest breeder and they are:
- Check the law. Your town or city will probably have some local ordinances around the keeping of pets. They may not allow chickens at all or they may have some strict limits on the number of chickens you can keep. Finding this stuff out in advance can save you a small fortune in fines and other trouble.
- Check you have the space. Chickens don’t take up as much space as you might expect but they do take up some space (particularly the chicken coop will need to occupy some fixed physical space as will the nesting box(es)).
- Check the costs. We’ll break this down in a bit for you. Chickens don’t cost a fortune to buy and they don’t cost a fortune to keep (well, unless you want to buy some super rare breeds of chicken, that is) but they do cost money and you should be sure that you have enough money in your budget to ensure their care.
- Commit to doing the work. Committing to eating the eggs is the easy bit. You also need to be committed to feed them all year round, clean up for them all year round, take care of them all year round (yes, if you go on vacation – you’ll need to hire a chicken-sitter). If you don’t think you have the time to care for your pets, it’s best not to take them on in the first place.
How Many Chickens Will You Keep As Pets?
You can’t keep a single chicken. Why not? Well, because rather like people – chickens are sociable animals. They want to hang around with their fellow chickens and if you don’t facilitate this social life most chickens become depressed and withdrawn.
This isn’t irrelevant moodiness either – a depressed chicken lays no eggs and that means keeping a single chicken is going to be very pointless as you won’t be able to get any benefits from it.
Most people are going to want to keep at least 3 and probably more like a half-dozen chickens. You’ll never run short of eggs that way – one chicken lays roughly 2 eggs for every 3 days of nesting. That might sound surprisingly low to you but laying an egg is quite a lot of work for a chicken.
One thing you’re also going to need to consider at some point is that after 2-3 years, hens stop laying and if you want the eggs to continue, you may need to cull your flock to make room for new birds.
How Much Space Should You Allow For Your Chickens?
There is no fixed space for a chicken and there are all sorts of different guidelines as to how much room a chicken needs. It won’t come as any surprises that in a world of battery chickens, you can legally keep a chicken in what would be torturous conditions for any other animal.
We’d say that you will need 3-foot x 1 foot per chicken for coop, 1 x 1 foot per chicken for nesting box space and about 10+ square feet per chicken (we’d prefer 25+ square feet to be honest per bird – that’s enough for your chickens to truly bloom) of back yard for them to run around in.
Some people will build a chicken run in the back yard where their chickens are built in and protected when they come out to play. Others will simply let the chickens roam free (but will ensure that there are no predators around to ruin the chickens’ day and the egg production).
Either way, this is going to require you buy some fencing because otherwise your chickens may run off or things that eat chickens may run in.
How Much Is This Going To Cost?
How long is a piece of string? The factors that affect the costs of owning chickens are:
- The chickens themselves. You can buy a chick for about $5 of most common breeds and an adult will typically sell for $1-$30 depending on breed, condition, age, etc. We wouldn’t spend much more than $50 for a half-dozen birds to get started with chicken ownership.
- The coop, the nesting boxes and the run. This is your biggest investment and while you can go cheap here, we’d advise you build the best possible items so that they last – in the long run, this will save you money. We’d say between $300 and $1,000 here depending on where you live and whether you can do this yourself or you need to hire somebody to build it for you.
- Feed and bedding. The two regular expenses for pet chickens are feed and bedding. Now, it’s going to cost you less to raise a chicken than to keep a cat but $6-$10 a chicken will be your monthly outlay on these two. In addition, you need to buy feeders and watering devices – these are one off expenses and while you can buy cheap ones to get started, investing in automate ones can make life much easier in the long run.
- Veterinary bills. Chickens need vaccinating. They get sick. They injure themselves. Not every day, mind you, but it does happen and when it does – you’re going to need to pay a vet to make them well again. These costs, of course, can’t be estimated in a useful way.
What Kinds Of Chickens Should You Get?
If you don’t know much about chickens, it can come as a huge surprise (as it did when we first looked for some pet chickens) as to just how many different breeds of chicken there are out there. There are dozens of them! That can make it difficult, at first, to decide what kind of chickens you want to buy but here are some pointers that can help you narrow things down:
- The eggs. You can’t get an exact number on how many eggs any given chicken will produce but some breeds are more prolific layers than others and it’s also worth thinking about the colors of egg that you want as each bird’s eggs are slightly different colors.
- The temperament. Some chickens simply make better pet chickens than others because they’re more docile and easier to be around. If you’re buying your first chickens buying an easy to keep breed can make the whole experience much more fun.
- The noise levels. Yes, some chickens are much, much louder than others. No big deal if you live out in the country with lots of space between you and the nearest house, chickens that are too loud can provoke war with the neighbors in the city though. Why not read our 10 Brilliant Ways To Hide Chickens From Your Neighbors.
- Their attitude to being cooped up. If you don’t intend for your birds to be free range, then you need to pick a breed that’s OK with being confined. If you don’t, then you’re setting yourself up for fights and even cannibalism in the flock.
Our Recommended Chicken Breeds
Our number one pick for a first time breed is Silkies. Silkies simply have the easiest temperament and are decent layers. They’re happy to get along in almost all environments and they’re super family friendly.
We’ve also found Rhode Island Reds to be a good choice again because they’re fairly docile (and they don’t make a huge amount of noise) and they’re a fairly high laying breed too. You should be able to get either of these breeds from a hatchery near you without a problem.
If you want something truly exotic, on the other hand, how about “Easter Eggers” which are capable of laying green or blue eggs! Nobody’s ever disappointed to see their eggs on the breakfast table, that’s for sure.
If you can’t find any of these breeds near you – ask around and see what others in your area recommend and for the first time out focus on ease of use, you can branch out a bit more when you have some experience of keeping chickens.
Constructing A Chicken Coop
You do not need to be an expert engineer to build a chicken coop, however, we’ll blunt – if you don’t feel confident about this bit, outsource it.
Any carpenter worth their salt can put a coop together in an afternoon and their labor costs are unlikely to break the bank. Sometimes, we think life’s just easier when somebody else does something for you.
However, if you want to go ahead and do it – here’s what you need to think about:
Design & Plan The Coop
- Work out how much space you need. 3 square feet of floor space per chicken. Usually in a 1 x 3 arrangement for your coop. A nesting box needs 1 x 1 per chicken. Really big breeds might need a little more space.
- Draw your plan for your chicken coop on paper first. Honestly, it costs much less to fix a sketch than to fix a mistake in real life. Work out how it fits the space in your yard too – don’t just go 5 chickens means 15 x 1 feet. Will that go in your yard?
- Mark out the ground first. Taking the plan and then marking it out on the ground let’s you consider whether it’s going to work well in your yard. One thing we’d suggest is you pay particular attention to where the sun is and that you aim for the highest ground you can (it prevents flooding in the coop).
- Make sure you have a door on your plans, you chickens need to go in and out of the coop and they’re not strong enough to break through the walls (you need to be able to use the door to collect eggs too). Also plan for a floor, if you use wood or poured concrete you need to allow for the material (and wood needs to be raised off the ground unless you want it to rot).
- Consider ventilation. Chickens are better off cool than boiling hot but air circulation is vita; and you should also look at where the roosting space should be situated.
Build The Coop
OK, if you’ve got your plans these are your next steps:
- Take the plans to the lumber yard. Some helpful person there will walk through them with you – see if there are any things you’ve missed and then help you work out what wood, materials and tools you need to bring them to life.
- Consider chicken wire around the coop. This can help keep predators at bay, though once you’ve finished your coop, you should plug any obvious holes in the walls, floor, etc.
- Install the waterers and feeders. They’ve got eat and they’ve got to drink.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the simpler your design, the better. Installing a coop does not need to be an architectural masterpiece – it’s a place for chickens to live. They don’t care.
How Old Will Your Chicks/Chickens Be?
There are three main options when it comes to buying chickens and a lot depends on how desperate you are to get your first eggs as to how old your first chickens will be:
- Day-old chicks. You need to plan for these as most hatcheries only have 1 or 2 batches of new chicks a year for sale. Chicks are an absolute delight to raise and many people will want the fun of bringing up the little ones but they’re not going to produce any eggs for at least 6 months. They’re cheap to buy and cheap to feed and they go cheep too. (Sorry, we couldn’t resist that).
- Pullets. A pullet is a chick that is nearing its laying age. You’re going to have to pay more for a pullet but, on the bright side, it shouldn’t be very long before you’re enjoying some boiled eggs with your breakfasts, either. Pullets are usually guaranteed to be female. Again, most hatcheries will only have 1 or 2 batches of pullets for sale each year, it’s best to order them in advance.
- Laying hens. It’s harder to find a hen that’s already laying, and you can expect to pay a bit more again for them. Usually, if someone’s selling a layer, it’s because their productivity is falling off and they’re a bit old. Don’t ever buy a battery chicken and try to use it as a layer on your home farm, they’re usually worn out and completely incapable of producing any more eggs.
How To Raise Chicks?
Raising chicks is the easiest job of any chicken owner’s life. That’s because it’s a job so simple that a chicken can do it and as we’ve noted in the past (and probably will again in the future), you won’t find a chicken running a Fortune 500 company any time soon because they’re not very clever.
You need some chick starter, clean water and a special brooder pen. You want a special red brooder lamp over the pen all the time (this regulates the temperature – which is vital if you don’t want your chicks to fight or turn cannibal).
When their feathers come through, you gradually reduce the temperature and when they hit 6 weeks old, they start to eat grower mash instead of chick starter.
Don’t forget to handle chicks with real care, they are very delicate, and you can harm a chick if you hold them too tightly.
How To Hatch Chicks?
If you don’t want to visit a hatchery every time, you can always “make” your own chickens. If you fancy going this way, you’ll need a rooster for your flock as eggs won’t fertilize themselves.
It’s worth noting that there are some parts of the world which forbid the ownership of roosters by law even if they allow hens – so, please check before you head out to buy one. Hens don’t need roosters to lay, but you can’t have a chick without a rooster.
Hens must be broody to get “pregnant” too. Many domesticated chicken breeds are deliberately bred not to be broody because it makes for easier laying. However, in our experience if you have half-a-dozen layers, one of them will probably be broody enough for the “magic” to happen.
If that’s not working, you could always buy a Bantam. They’re the broodiest chickens ever. They’ll even hatch another breed’s eggs!
If you want to hatch those fertilized eggs yourself, you need to buy an incubator machine. They take about 3 weeks to hatch. However, you must keep a close eye on their progress as a chick left in an incubator for very long can die because the heat dehydrates them. Or you could just let your hens do the job. That’s probably easier.
How To Keep Your Chicks Happy And Living In Harmony?
We’ve got some quick tips to help your birds live together without killing each other (quite literally too – unhappy chickens will peck each other to death and even eat each other):
- It’s best to keep chickens of a similar age. Mixed age flocks can end up with the older birds bullying or even killing the younger ones.
- Make sure that your chicks and chickens always have access to food and water. The only motivation a chicken feels 99% of the time is related to food. Their happiness and health depends on being able to eat and drink.
- Use red bulbs over your chicks. Why? Because it doesn’t allow any injuries to show up. The color red is like a rag to a bull with chickens, they will peck each other to death if they see blood.
- In the chick pen always block the corners with cardboard. If you don’t, they tend to huddle too closely together, and some chicks suffocate.
- Clear chick waterers regularly. Chicks have been known to accidentally drown themselves in blocked waterers.
How To Collect Your Pet Chicken’s Eggs?
OK, if you’ve made it this far – your chickens are going to be fine and that leaves just one last question, possibly the most important question of all, “how do you collect the eggs?”
The most important rule is to get out every single morning and collect all the eggs you can find. Don’t worry, you won’t end up fighting your chickens for them.
However, the longer eggs stay with your chickens the more likely they are to damage them either by accident or design. Yes, chickens aren’t exactly delicate, and they can stamp on their own eggs and break them as they move around and occasionally, they just decide to start eating their own eggs too.
How To Store Your Pet Chicken’s Eggs?
You should never wash or wet a chicken’s egg because it comes covered in a natural substance that prevents infection from bacteria. If you have to clean an egg wipe it with a dry, slightly rough cloth instead.
Leave them out in the air to dry before you put them away and then pop them in egg cartons and store them in the fridge. (Note: if you intend to eat them quickly, you can skip putting them in the fridge, they’ll be fine in a cupboard for a week or so).
It’s a good idea to mark cartons with the date you collected the eggs. An egg will keep for up to a month in a refrigerator and a week out of it (assuming normal temperatures – if it’s boiling hot in the storage area, the eggs will go off much faster).
We hope that our “how to raise a pet chicken: a step-by-step guide” has got you excited about owning your first birds and that you feel fully prepared to start life with some chickens in your backyard.
We won’t pretend that it’s always plain sailing with chickens and our chickens teach us something new every day, but you can learn to raise chickens quickly and easily and be enjoying fresh eggs every day for the rest of your life. That makes it all worthwhile.
Here are some of my favorite products for chickens and their coops: