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FAQ About Raising Backyard Chickens

Chicken Coop at Living Homegrown

As an urban homesteader who owns city chickens, I get asked a lot of questions about the care and maintenance of my flock. I’ve noticed that I get the same questions over and over, so I thought today’s post should address some of those questions.

Here we go…

1 – How much coop space should I have?

Now if you ask my “diva” chicken Charlotte this question, she will tell you that each chicken should have:

  • 1,000 square feet per chicken
  • Their own unlimited stash of meal worms
  • A personal “chicken” massage therapist

But the truth is, that for chickens that free range out in the garden during the day, you only need about 3-4 square feet in the coop/run area for each bird. They will really be spending most of their time outside the coop and only using the inside area for the nesting boxes in the day and roosts at night.

So for 4 chickens that free range, you only need a coop/run area that measures about: 4 by 4 feet (16 square ft). But it is always best to give them as much space as you can.

For chickens that will be inside the run all the time (never free ranging), you need to bump that number up to 10 square feet per bird. So now those 4 chickens need a coop/run that is 6 x 7 feet (42 square feet). It is always best if you can give them a little outdoor time each day to look for bugs and get fresh air. But if that is not possible, look at how much space you have and only get the number of birds you can accommodate. Having too many birds in too small of a space can cause health problems.

2 – How many nesting boxes do I need?

Trust me, the hens can share. You don’t need a box for each bird. And even if you did, you would find that they would probably all use the same box anyway. I find that one nesting box for every three hens works great.

3 – Do I need a Rooster to get eggs from the hens?

Some of you probably think this a silly question. But no question is silly! In fact, I get asked this question all the time.

“Hazel” the Blue Silkie Rooster

The answer is NO, you do NOT need a rooster to get eggs. In fact, most ordinances don’t allow roosters within city limits due to the noise. (They crow all day long – not just in the morning.) A hen ovulates (and lays an egg) whether she is fertilized by a rooster or not. So no rooster is required to cause the ovulation. You only need a rooster if you want to hatch the eggs.

If you accidentally get a rooster, I discuss having a rooster plan HERE.

4 – When do the hens start laying eggs?

For most breeds, you can expect to start getting eggs when the hens are about 5-6 months old. The first few eggs can be a little funky – small, misshapen, double yolkers and even this double shelled egg I got once. It can take a few months for their juvenile bodies to adjust to adulthood.

5 – How many eggs can I expect?

Some breeds are better layers than others. But in general, a chicken will lay an egg every 24-48 hours IF they are receiving 12-14 hours of daylight per day.

The daylight triggers a photo-receptive gland near the eye and that causes ovulation. So in the winter months (when the days are shorter), your hen’s egg production will slow down or might stop all together for a few months. To keep production going, you can add artificial light inside your coop to extend the number of “daylight” hours. Personally, I let the hens rest naturally, but many of my friends use artificial light with no ill effects.

Some breeds are like clockwork and will consistently give you 1 egg per day. Other breeds will lay just a few times per week. After 2-3 years, a hen’s egg production slows down and she eventually stops laying.

6 – How long do chickens live?

On average, most backyard chickens live to be around 8 years old. I have heard of some living much longer. Your chickens will be well cared for, so they should have a long, happy life.

The important thing to remember is that they will only lay eggs consistently the first few years. If you are keeping them as a pet, you will not be getting eggs from them for the last few years of their life. You may want to add a few newer chickens to your flock every 3-4 years to keep your egg production up.

7 – What about mites and lice?

Mites and lice happen, so always keep an eye on your birds – look for bald spots and sores. Here is a good article with photos.

Most mites and lice come from the wild birds visiting your backyard. The wild birds come to nibble on the chicken food and leave a few parasites behind. Keeping wild birds out of the feeding area helps. Overcrowding makes it worse, so for the health of your birds keep your flock numbers manageable.

Chickens will naturally give themselves dust baths to prevent parasite infestations. You will see them do this when out in the dirt areas of your garden. To aid them even further, you can add a dust box to their coop. Keep it filled with a mixture of course sand and food grade diatomaceous earth (Here is a source). Be careful not to add too much diatomaceous earth (only a cup or so) as it creates a fine powder that can cause respiratory problems. Some people also add wood ash to the mix, but I have not tried that.

8 – How do you treat those parasites if I get them?

I really like Poultry Protector because it is an all natural, non-toxic spray that uses enzymes to control the parasites. You can spray it directly on the birds and also inside of the coop (nesting boxes, etc). The liquid easily gets into all the nooks and crannies of the coop.

The only bad thing about this product is that the chickens absolutely hate being sprayed.

Hope that helps! If you have your own FAQ or chicken keeping tips, please add them in the comments. I would love to hear them!

 This post was part of a blog series called the 31 Days of Living Homegrown

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy®. For 9 years, Theresa was the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two sons and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.