Backyard chickens can be an amazing experience for you and you children (if you have kids). There are some things I have learned in the past year since researching this topic, incubating our own chicks, and now having backyard chickens. I wouldn’t keep chickens if they weren’t easy and fun. I have some tips that can make your backyard chicken ownership experience much more enjoyable than you ever knew! Here are my top 8 tips.
1. Get Chickens that Match Your Needs and Wants
Not all chickens are the same. There are a wide variety of chicken breeds. The breed can determine how many eggs they will likely lay each year and how friendly they are with children. Each breed is different, just like dogs. Our first round of incubating we hatched Rhode Island Reds. We hatched this breed because I knew we were not keeping the chickens and these are a great laying breed that are considered “hearty”; meaning they do well in both the heat and the cold weather months. It was easy to find homes for these chickens because they are a desired breed for families who want lots of eggs to eat.
For our second incubation we hatched Silkie chicks. These are my favorite of all chickens, because they are considered “the lap dog of chickens”. They are a smaller breed and are typically very friendly, especially if socialized from an early age. We love our silkies! They are perfect for families with children and they still produce eggs, just slightly smaller eggs since they are smaller chickens.
If you are looking for high quality Silkies, I highly recommend Dunham Farms in the Fort Worth area. They breed chickens that are show quality. http://www.thedunhamfarm.com/
We got our eggs for incubation from Dunham Farms. THEY DO NOT SELL EGGS FOR HATCHING. However, they made an exception for me, as I educated a lot of people about home incubation on this blog using their eggs. Here is one of the postings I made while we did the incubation: We are Incubating Silkies!
2. Know Your Local Ordinances
There are many people that don’t know you are allowed to have chickens in your neighborhood, even if your HOA bans chicken ownership. In the state of TX there is new legislation to prevent HOA’s from banning chicken ownership (HOA’s referred to as Subdivision Politics). Here are some helpful screenshots-
Being a good chicken owner means you are also good with your neighbors. They should not hear or smell your chickens. No crowing in residential areas for our city. There are crow collars for purchase to help reduce or eliminate crowing. It didn’t work for us, but I know they have for other people. We have given our roosters to good homes because we didn’t want to be disruptive to the peace in our neighborhood. We also have our chickens contained in their coop unless the kids are outside playing with the chickens and holding them. They have escaped just once and we searched the neighborhood for them. We thought all four chickens had been eaten by something, as it had been hours since they escaped. I had put our coop on a slope in the yard (our coop is movable) and they were able to sneak underneath. My bad. We went to our neighors asking if they had seen them and searched the neighborhood. It turns out they were asleep in the shrubs near our pool and had never even left our yard! Ours are too quiet! Which is a good thing for backyard chickens, unless of course you lose them and are trying to find them.
3. Socialize Your Chicks to Make Them Family Friendly
Chickens are very social creatures. Much like dogs and cats they need to be socialized in order to be friendly with children and people in general. With the chicks that we have hatched we began holding our chicks the day after they are born (none died from handling either). This way they are used to being handled and they learn to enjoy human companionship. All of our chickens have been socialized by us and when they went to new homes people were shocked by how the chickens are so friendly and easily handled. Our chickens are not just being used for eggs, they are also pets for our kids.
4. Know Where to Take Roosters
Roosters are much louder than you think. They also don’t just crow in the morning. Some roosters will crow all day long. It is obviously annoying to neighbors, so you won’t want to keep roosters once you know that you have them. With the Silkies we could not tell which were male and which were female. Most websites said you will know when they start crowing or laying eggs. Two of ours started crowing. I re-homed them asap. I gave them away on local buy/sell/trade pages on Facebook. People were lining up to take these roosters, since Silkies are a desired breed. Chickens are not allowed to be “sold” on the Facebook marketplace. Therefore, you need to give them away and also post your listing as a “discussion” on the page, rather than using the selling features.
I also know that some feed stores will take roosters, so you can contact your local farm/feed store to see if they will take roosters. There is a store on main street in Grapevine, TX that was my next option for giving away these roosters, but thankfully they went to a good home together.
5. Get an Easy Clean Coop
I am so thankful I have a coop that is easy to clean. I don’t have to touch anything with an ick factor. Our coop, like many others, has a floor tray that slides out so you can hose it down, scrub it, or even use a pressure washer on it. Unlike dog poo that needs to be picked up from the yard, chicken poo goes into the grass and disappears overnight. No picking up poo in our grass makes these pets easier than owning a dog!
We bought a coop that is plastic, so that it can be entirely hosed off and washed. I literally slide the bottom tray out and into a commercial sized garbage bag. All the debris goes into the bag, so none of the old chicken bedding or mess is touched by me! I then prop up the trays on the fence to hose down (its actually 2 trays stacked, one that allows debris to fall below to the second/ bottom level tray). Charlie is my expert washer. He uses a scrub brush and dawn soap and the trays are clean within 5 minutes. We then allow them to air dry. I typically hose out the entire coop while it is opened up. Then its all put back together when dry. It takes us about 15 minutes once or twice a week to keep our coop clean and sanitary.
We also bought a coop that was portable. This was very important, as I wanted to be able to move it under our covered area at night to protect the chickens and give our grass a break. We then wheel it out each morning to a different area of the grass, so we have no damaged yard areas. EVER! It is amazing!
We bought a more expensive coop. However, these chickens are more pets for us and I wanted all the convient features this particular coop offered. There are lots of coops on the market and even Amazon.com sells many options. Here is the link for the coop we own which is called the Eglu Omlet Go Up: https://www.omlet.us/shop/chicken_keeping/eglu_go_up/
I added the green shade screen to ours since Texas is hot. I found it on Amazon and then cut it to the exact size I needed. It has worked beautifully for us! http://amzn.to/2z3IlhI
6. A No-Stink Coop is Possible and Here is How!
I found a product that has literally eliminated the chicken smell! My Dad said he still can’t forget the smell of the chicken coops from when he was growing up on the farm in Wisconsin. It is a very distinct and potent smell. I found this powder at our local ACE hardware, where they carry chicken supplies. I sprinkle some on their bedding each evening before I add another layer of bedding into the coop. It has worked so well!! It is called “Coop ‘N Compost: Coop Oder Neutralizer”. Of course you still need to clean out the bedding and entire coop (once or twice a week).
7. Keep Bugs Out of the Supplies
I purchased “bug-proof” storage containers for our chicken bedding and food. They are called the “Gamma2 Vittles Vault”. They are sturdy, high quality containers. These have worked exactly as advertised. No bugs or critters have been able to get into these containers. The tops screw into the bottom storage part, and its like magic! I keep ours in a cabinet outside and for months we haven’t had a single issue with bugs or critters. I know it is because I bought the right product that actually works! I purchased the 15 lb container for the food and the 35 lb for the bedding: http://amzn.to/2yu1vQA
8. Find a “Chicken Sitter”
There is nothing worse than being tied to home because of a pet. We don’t have that with our chickens because we have an amazing chicken sitter! We hire our neighbor Emma to take care of the chickens while we are gone. She comes in the morning to let them out of the closed coop area (we lock them in at night to protect them from animals) and into the fenced in area. At night the chickens put themselves to bed and she then locks them in and wheels the coop into our covered patio area. She feeds them and refills their water in the morning and evening. Chickens don’t require the same attention that a dog needs when you leave town. It makes the chicken sitter job not too difficult. Moving the coop, feeding them, providing water, locking and unlocking them is what a chicken babysitter needs to do. If you have an enclosed area like we do, it makes it easier to leave them at home, since you know they are safe even without you at home. Someone to come and tend to them twice a day is all that is really needed. We are thankful for our reliable Chicken Sitter Emma!