Backyard chickens have been increasingly popular over the past decade. People want chickens as pets, to provide eggs, offer company, and because they’re just very cute!
But, backyard chickens also take a lot of work. Chickens can be smelly, eat things you don’t want them to, and need a lot of space.
The best backyard chicken breeds for you depends on whether you’re mainly getting chickens for eggs, or as pets.
Backyard Chickens – Contents
- Fun facts about backyard chickens
- Types of backyard chickens
- Chicken coops
- What do backyard chickens eat?
- Cleanliness and general care
- Backyard chicken eggs
- Chicken health
- Should I get backyard chickens?
Whatever the reason you’re considering getting chickens, there’s a lot to learn about these birds.
Fun Facts About Backyard Chickens
Chickens are actually quite intelligent birds, and are known to show complex emotions like boredom and frustration.
In fact, every chicken you have at home will have its own individual personality. As you get to know them, you’ll see just how different these little birds can be from one another.
Chickens also have very well developed senses. They can see colors and hear frequencies that humans can’t!
Backyard Chicken Breeds
There are so many chicken breeds to choose from, so it’s important to know exactly what you’re looking for.
If you want lots of eggs, choose a chicken known for its egg-laying abilities. If you’re more eager to have backyard chickens as pets, choose a breed known for its friendly personality.
Here are some common chicken breeds that many people have success with.
If you’re looking to get lots of eggs from your chickens, the ISA Brown is a good choice. This crossbreed was actually developed in France specifically for the purpose of laying.
In fact, each one is advertised to lay over 500 eggs.
These brown chickens look a lot like the Rhode Island Red breed. Their proficiency in laying means they’re a popular breed for commercial egg producing.
This is a versatile breed that adapts well to a variety of environments.
Originally, they were called Italians, but now many know this lovable breed as the Leghorn!
Leghorns come in a huge range of colors, but most common is white.
This breed has a lively personality. They are intelligent and great at flying, so will explore every inch of your yard if given the chance.
Leghorns will be friendly and affectionate if hand-reared from a young age, but aren’t known for being the most affectionate breed.
This is another great choice if you want plenty of eggs. The Leghorn is known to lay over 4 eggs a week in its main laying years.
The Plymouth Rock is an American chicken breed. The most common coloring is a black and white barred pattern, but they come in a variety of shades.
They are known for laying well in their first couple of years, but this will start to slow down as your chicken ages. However, they are known to continue laying into their 10th year.
Plymouth Rocks are calm, gentle, and friendly birds. They are known to get along well with other breeds.
They are also very curious, and will love to explore your yard, or just follow you around.
If you’re looking for a friendly chicken that still lays relatively well, the Plymouth Rock is a great choice.
The Barnevelder is a Dutch chicken breed with brown and black patterned feathers. However, they can come in a variety of other colors.
They are known to produce 3 to 4 eggs each week, but are popular for laying through the winter.
Barnevelders are friendly, easygoing, and chatty birds. They are active, and can be great for families with kids.
This chicken is a great choice if the personality of your bird is important to you.
The Orpington is a recently popular backyard chicken breed that was actually considered endangered until 2016.
These chickens are quite large, with broad, heavy-set bodies.
They are calm, friendly, and affectionate. Orpingtons will love to have a cuddle with you, especially if hand-raised from a young age.
They are great with kids, and can adapt to a variety of climates. However, they need access to shade in hot weather.
They are good layers, but more popular for their gentle temperament. Be wary of keeping them with more aggressive breeds, as they may get picked on.
Rhode Island Red
The Rhode Island Red is another American breed from – you guessed it – Rhode Island! Their coloring varies from a rich red to nearly black.
Rhode Island Reds are another chicken breed mainly known for their egg-laying capabilities. They are a good choice if you are only using your chickens for eggs.
However, they can be more aggressive than the other breeds we’ve looked at here. So, be wary of putting them with less boisterous breeds, that could get bullied.
Backyard Chicken Coops
No matter which chicken breeds you choose, they will all need a good sized, safe coop.
Even if you are going to let your birds range freely around your yard, it’s important they have a secure coop to roost in at night.
If you’re choosing to keep your chickens in a run within your yard, it must have enough space to keep your birds happy and well-exercised.
The RSPCA recommends that 12 square meters should be enough for up to 30 birds. But, this depends on the layout of your run and the facilities available for your chickens.
As a minimum, they need enough space to carry out normal behaviors, including scratching, and stretching.
Protection from Predators
Make sure there are never any gaps in fencing or mesh that you use in your chicken run. This fencing is vital to keep your chickens safe from predators.
You may want to put a mesh under the base of your chicken run, too.
Predators like foxes will often try to dig underneath a fence, so would easily get into your run if there is no mesh underneath.
Overhead cover will also protect your chickens from predators that can attack from above.
Layout and Extras
Make sure there is nowhere that your chickens can become trapped or injured. Housing should be warm, dry, and well-ventilated.
Your chickens need access to food and fresh water daily.
There should be enough space for all of your chickens to roost, and to get up and down from perches comfortably.
If you have laying chickens, they need a quiet, enclosed nesting box with comfortable nesting materials.
Multiple exits are a good way to encourage chickens to use the outside area. They should be large enough that chickens can pass through without crouching.
Feeding Backyard Chickens
If your chickens are allowed to roam freely around your entire yard, they will forage for lots of foods, including bugs and plants.
They need constant access to fresh, clean water. Make sure their water doesn’t become icy in cold weather.
Chicken water drinkers are best, especially if you have young chicks, as they are shallow enough to prevent drownings.
Chickens are omnivores, so they can eat a wide range of foods.
Many people like to offer them scraps from the kitchen alongside their normal seed. But check your local laws before doing this – for example, it is illegal in the UK.
But, a commercial chicken seed is a good way to ensure they are getting all of the nutrients they need. Adults will need a different type of commercial food to baby chicks.
Cleanliness and General Care
It’s important not to underestimate the amount of care that backyard chickens need. These birds need fresh food and water every day, and will need to be cleaned very regularly.
Chickens poop a lot, and can become very smelly if they are left uncleaned for too long. This can attract parasites and other pests.
You’ll also need to clean their food and water providers regularly.
Cleaning chickens and their coop is a lot of effort. If you’re not prepared to clean your chickens regularly, you should not consider getting backyard chickens.
Remove any old food every evening to prevent mould and pests. You should replace your chickens’ nesting material at least once a week, perhaps more if it is particularly smelly or dirty.
You will also need to complete a more thorough coop clean once or twice a year.
Chicken owners need to have a prepared plan for any time you go away on vacation. Chickens have daily care needs that must be seen to.
So, you need to know people who are willing to come in and check on your chickens every day.
Backyard Chicken Eggs
One of the major reasons that people choose to get backyard chickens is a constant supply of eggs that you don’t have to buy from the store.
However, as we saw earlier, different chicken breeds will lay different amounts of eggs.
And, they won’t continue laying for their whole lives.
If eggs are a priority for you, choose breeds known for laying well, such as the ISA Brown, Leghorn, or Rhode Island Red.
Most chickens continue to lay eggs for several years. But, they will lay fewer eggs per week as they get older.
Backyard Chicken Health
There are a number of health problems common among backyard chickens. So, make sure you are checking the behaviors and appearance of your hens every day.
Here are some common health concerns, and what symptoms to look out for in sick hens.
To a degree, feather pecking is a normal behavior in chickens – hence the term ‘pecking order’. However, it can become problematic.
Excessive feather pecking can also lead to cannibalism.
If you are worried about this, make sure to speak to your vet. Provide your chickens with safe refuge areas, and enough enrichment activities to keep them occupied and prevent stress.
Feather loss can indicate inadequate diets or a lack of foraging opportunities. So, see if there’s anything you can improve in these areas.
Also, be aware of the temperaments of your chickens. Avoid mixing aggressive individuals with very timid ones.
Backyard Chicken Parasites
There are a number of parasites and pests that are common in chickens.
In fact, one study of backyard chickens in Finland found that ectoparasites were the most commonly reported health issue.
Make sure to worm your chicken regularly.
Two of the main parasites you should check your birds for are lice and red mites.
Symptoms of Sickness
Healthy chickens will be alert, curious, and bright-eyed. There are some symptoms to watch out for if there is something wrong with your chicken.
Here are some common symptoms of sickness:
- Hiding in corners
- Reluctance to move
- Head tucked under wing
- Hunched posture
- Erect feathers
- Excessive feather loss
Should I Get Backyard Chickens?
If you have the space in your yard and plenty of time to dedicate to the care of these birds, getting chickens could be a great idea.
Make sure to carefully research the right breeds for you, considering the main reason you’re getting them.
If you’re mainly considering it for the eggs, choose a laying breed. But, if it’s mainly as a pet, choose breeds with more affectionate temperaments.
Also check local government guidelines and rules on owning poultry. This varies depending on your location, so you will need to make sure you are acting within your local guidelines.
Do You Have Backyard Chickens?
If you’ve had backyard chickens before, or have some roaming around your garden now, we would love to hear from you!
What’s your favorite thing about them? Which breed would you recommend for first time owners?
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References and Resources
- Marino, L. ‘Thinking Chickens: A Review of Cognition, Emotion, and Behavior in the Domestic Chicken’, Animal Cognition (2017)
- ‘ISA Brown’, ISA Poultry
- Rollin, B. E. ‘An Ethicist’s Commentary on Backyard Chickens’, The Canadian Veterinary Journal (2014)
- McCrea, B. (et al), ‘Common Lice and Mites of Poultry: Identification and Treatment’, UCANR Publications (2005)
- Pohjola, L. (et al), ‘Questionnaire Study and Postmortem Findings in Backyard Chicken Flocks in Finland’, Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica (2015)