Kelly Liston

A Practical Guide to Keeping backyard chickens, an intro - ohlardy.com
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When I was a child, I grew up smack dab in the middle of Phoenix.  We had a small backyard, a couple of dogs, and a couple of cats.  No farm animals.  I didn't even have any friends who had farm animals.  Wait, scratch that.  My best friend's father had horses. But I don't really count those.  Not sure why, but I don't.  Never in a million years did I think that I would ever keep chickens in my backyard as an adult.

At the beginning of 2009, things were starting to change for me as far as food goes.  I knew I wanted to grow my own food, but I didn't know where to start.  So I started with tomatoes.  Just tomatoes.  As those tiny plants were growing, I also started reading about how more and more people were keeping chickens in their backyard in order to enjoy their fresh eggs.  At first, the thought seemed kind of “out-there” but as I thought about it more, it started to make sense to me.  When I mentioned it to my husband, he looked at me weird. My family thought I was weird, too.  They most likely still do.  Anyway, I wanted to know more.  I bought about every book I could find about raising chickens and devoured the information, and, all along the way educated my husband on all of the “pros” of chicken keeping.  It didn't take much to sell it and as soon as he was on board, I picked out our first three chicks (you can't get just one – it would be sad).  When I came home I told him he had 6 weeks to build me a coop.

Four years later, that coop is still standing tall – even if the door doesn't close all of the way.  We have lost some hens to heat, illness, and dogs.  We have also increased our flock to six hens.  We discovered that while backyard chickens can be very entertaining and a pleasure to own, we LOVE eggs.  And three hens just weren't giving us enough.  Honestly, I can't imagine not ever having chickens in my backyard.  They are so easy to keep and they give me food.  My dogs don't give me food.  In fact, I will go so far as to say that my two dogs are more of a chore than my backyard chickens.

Okay, enough about me.  So, why keep chickens?  Why on earth would you want big birds flapping around your backyard and pooping on everything?  Are the eggs really THAT good?  Yes, they are.  We will get to that.

Caring for Backyard Chickens is Easy

Once your backyard flock is established, daily chicken care is minimal.  Just like your other pets, chickens need food, a clean shelter, and exercise.  Your biggest time investment will come at the beginning, when you are building your coop and preparing for your flock.  I spend 10 minutes a day (if that) making sure they have plenty of food and water, throwing out scraps for them to snack on, and checking for eggs.  Now my kids check for eggs, so I don't even have to do that!  Since I let our hens free range in the backyard, I only have to clean out their coop every 3 to 4 weeks.  But, I have to hose my back patio more frequently.

Here's a quick introduction to my chickens!

But what about The Law?

Fortunately most large cities allow residents to keep a few backyard hens.  In fact, most city codes aren't terribly restrictive – as long as you aren't a nuisance, you can have chickens.  For example, in Phoenix, I can have 20 hens on my property as long as my neighbors who are within 80 feet are cool with it.  One thing I can't have is a rooster.  I guess their crowing all day would be considered a nuisance.  Search your City's code to find out how they feel about backyard poultry.

But what about HOAs?  Here is the major bummer.  If your HOA says “no chickens” then you can't have chickens.  My advice would be to start a petition within your HOA that is full of good research and signatures that support chicken keeping in attempt to change the bylaw.

The Fresh Eggs

backyard chicken eggs

This is the #1 reason we have hens.  A warm egg fresh from the nest box is one of life's simple pleasures.  That may seem gross to you now.  Just wait.  Fresh eggs are incredibly rich in flavor, appearance, and texture.  My husband is a converted egg snob.  He never thought he would be one.  But he is.  And for good reason.  The shell (which can be a variety of colors) is kind of hard to crack.  The yolk is not only vibrantly orange, but also resilient.  I can roll it around in my fingers and it won't break.  The white is thick and gelatinous.  Never runny.  They make the best poached eggs.

You know the saying, “You are what you eat”?  Well, the same goes for backyard chickens.  Whatever you feed them goes into their eggs.  All of those left over veggies and fruits, the grasses and weeds, the quality of their feed, and even bugs contribute to the nutritional content of their yolk.  A well fed hen will give you an egg that is nutritionally light years ahead of its conventional counterpart.

So, how many will you get?  A hen lays an egg about every 25 hours.  We currently have 6 hens and all happen to be laying eggs.  This is awesome because until recently only one hen was laying eggs.  Today I collected 6 eggs from the nest boxes.  Yesterday I collected 5.  If this seems like a lot of eggs to you, don't get 6 hens.  (I dare you to try.)  Two to four hens will provide plenty of eggs for a small household.

They will eat your bugs!

Backyard Chickens and Kids

The #2 reason we got chickens was to help with scorpion control.  We live in a desert and our property is plagued with the nasty little devils.  I am sure scorpions serve some good purpose on this earth, but in my backyard their only purpose is to be eaten by my hens.  And they happily oblige.  Chickens live for bug hunting.  It seems to be their favorite thing to do.  All day long I see them foraging in the grass and rocks, looking for a tasty treat.  Since we introduced chickens in our backyard, our scorpion problem has abated.  We still find them from time to time, but not nearly as often as we used to.  As far as pesticides go, we no longer use them.  The backyard chickens do a darn good job, and besides, the hens will peck at anything and everything to check it out.  So harmful pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are a no-go in our backyard.

Chicken Poop is Excellent Fertilizer!

You heard that right.  Chicken poop will make your yard look amazing.  If you want to make a great compost you need nitrogen.  As luck would have it, chicken poop is full of it! My reasons for making the choice to let our hens free range in the backyard were two fold.  One, to eat the scorpions.  And two, poop all over the grass and hope they scratch it in with their feet.  Of course, by letting them free range, they also happily poop all over our patio.  I have washed many a child's shoe because of chicken poop.  In order to have a clean patio, I would have to lock them up.  Then, the scorpions may return.  I will take the poopy shoes over scorpions any day.  Bottom line, if you need some good fuel for your compost bin, the droppings in your chicken coop will fit the bill.

A funny story about chicken poop – one day while cleaning up the backyard I noticed what I first thought was a weed popping up in the middle of our rock landscape.  As I went to yank it out, upon closer inspection I realized that it was a tomato plant!  A chicken, who had at one time enjoyed some leftover tomatoes, pooped out some seeds and grew us a new tomato plant!  My husband thought that was just about the coolest thing he had ever seen.

Entertainment

I never thought I would say this, but chickens are totally entertaining!  They each have different personalities and quirky behaviors.  They are pretty to look at!  With so many different breeds, you can find some really cool looking chickens.  Some are quiet and some are chatty.  Since all of them associate me with food, they come sprinting across the yard (which is funny to see) when they hear the backdoor open.  The kids love to pet them and hold them – I once found poor Harriet up on top of the play structure!  The kids think they can be hilarious, but don't always like it when they peck their toes hoping for a tasty morsel.

Raising Our Own Food

Since getting hens four years ago, our attitude towards chicken keeping has evolved a bit. At the beginning, I thought it would be cool to have chickens.  We would have some neat looking birds, enjoy them as pets, and eat their eggs.  As we started to get more interested in eating Real Food, the hens in our backyard came to be more valuable to us.  We are raising our own food.  We know what our eggs are made of because we know what we feed our hens.  Teaching our children to know where their food comes from is a priority for us.  When I was little, the food came from the grocery store.  I knew that eggs came from hens, of course, but I didn't care where those hens were.  I think it is neat that my kids have actually seen an egg being laid and have carried that warm egg into our house.  The best is when they kneel down to pet one of the hens and thank them for the egg.

We love having backyard chickens and enjoy the simplicity of raising our own eggs.  Because it is simple.  Not only are they fun little pets to have, these pets make us breakfast.  And that is a pretty cool superpower to have.

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A Practical Guide to Keeping backyard chickens, an intro - ohlardy.com

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27 Comments on “A Practical Guide to Keeping Backyard Chickens – An Introduction”

  1. The info pic is so funny! Thanks for sharing this 🙂

    I am glad to read this series of articles, and from someone knowledgeable personally. And the blue eggs are just gorgeous. Chickens are very approachable, and so many people could have them in their backyards, no problem. I love how clearly you have written about the whole picture of keeping chickens. There are so many benefits when it comes to integrating animals into our lives, some that we don’t expect because we may have not grown up on farms. Thanks for doing this series!
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  2. I Love this post! I just sent it to my husband. We pay $4.25 for a dozen of pastured eggs and eat through 2-3 dozen each week. $$$. Great tips. 🙂

    1. I pay $25 for a 50 pound bag of organic corn and soy free layer feed. It usually takes me about a month and a half to go through one bag. Let’s say it is only 30 days. I get 5 to 6 eggs per day right now (let’s say 4 to be conservative). So, currently, it costs me $2.25 per dozen. Which is half of what I would pay at the farmer’s market for their eggs. And those eggs aren’t corn or soy free. Currently, I am ahead. 🙂 Of course, in the fall the days are shorter, hens may be molting, so production falls. But I still love knowing where my eggs come from. 🙂 I try to remember that when I am not getting peak production from my hens. 😉

  3. We raise our own layers and meats birds, well, turkeys, pigs, and jersey cows now too. Feeding them all pasture first and foremost. We dont feed soy or corn and all the supplements are organic so it gets pricey. We eat a LOT of eggs. We’re going to try raising some winter feed for the girls this summer. The corn and soy feed from Azure Standard is good but spending $30+ a week gets old. I wish everyone farmed the natural way so we didnt ave to reinvent the wheel.

  4. You nailed it with a very clearly written treatise on keeping chickens! If one in every 5 families kept chickens we would put the chicken factories out of business and wouldn’t that be something? I think it could happen.

    1. Yes, Julie!! Chicken Keepers Unite!! Just need to get the Cities who forbid chickens to get with the times!

  5. Way cool that you’re in AZ! We’re a bit north of you, and love our chickens! Just got 21 more as our other girls are laying less as they get older. Where do you get the soy/corn free feed?? We’ve been trying to find some for ages!

  6. Great little blog love the poster which was sent to me on FB by a friend….curious what organic feed you use and what breeds you have thanks 😀

    1. Jules, I supplied a link to where I order my chicken feed from in Phoenix. You can find it in the comments above. I will mention it again in another post as well.

      I currently have a Welsummer, an Ameracauna (easter egger), a speckled russian orlaff, a red sex link, a black sex link, and a mystery hen. She is the black and white spotted one in the video I posted last monday:

      http://ohlardy.com/coming-soon-a-practical-guide-to-keeping-chickens

      1. The black and white one looks like a Barred Plymouth Rock to me. She looks like one of our girls. 🙂

  7. Such a nice article. I have a flock of a half-dozen hens on Long Island, NY. I have enough eggs to feed the family AND sell to friends at work. It covers the cost of feed. I just tilled the vegetable garden this weekend, and the fresh-turned dirt was like Christmas morning for them.

  8. I was wondering how to take care of them in the winter. I know you live in AZ so its irrelevant… but I live in Utah and winters can get pretty cold. Also, I’ve read that chickens can attract predators (rats, raccoons, fox, etc.) Have you had any issues with this? thanks 🙂

    1. I will be addressing this in future posts! Thank you for the questions and I will be sure to answer your questions. 🙂 FYI, my dogs are their most threatening predator at the moment. 🙁 However, we have had a hawk stop by a few times when they were smaller. It hasn’t come back because there is no way it could carry off a huge hen now!

  9. I couldn’t agree with you more. I have 14 chickens now in the yard (13 laying chickens and one laid back rooster). I love each one for their funny personalities and also watching the rooster doing his protective guy thing over his flock. Very cool to watch the dynamics. (Yes, chickens have social dynamics). Anyway, I also couldn’t imagine the yard without them and love that these are the few “pets” you have have in your yard that gives you food back!

  10. MY HUSBAND AND I NOW HAVE 6 BROWN LAYERS, 1 YEAR OLD THIS WEEK. WE JUST RECEIVED 44 NEW BABY CHICKS LAST WEEK FROM MURRAY MCMURRAY…WE WANT TO RAISE MORE, AND SELL OUR EGGS AND MEAT CHICKENS. JUST LOVE THEM. HOW CAN I DOWNLOAD THAT POSTER,,,I LOVE IT!

  11. I’m so excited to read the rest of your series! We just went under contract on a house with a backyard (we’ve been in a condo for years), and I’m wanting to get some chickens. Can’t wait to read the rest of this!

    By the way, I grew up in Phoenix as well! No farm animals for us, although we lived across from Sunburst Farms which were all acre lots and allowed farm animals. Lots of chickens and roosters, goats, sheep, horses, etc.
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  12. A few questions: the chickens don’t tear apart your lawn? and do you have to fence off your veggie garden to keep them from eating produce? Thanks!

    1. Hi Megan!

      No, my yard isn’t torn apart. That being said, they just found my Rosemary in my raised beds and they like to take a dust bath right next to it. I will have to block it off somehow. As far as gardens go, if they find a tasty bit, they will eat it! Once my hens found my tomatoes, they were GONE! So, most chicken owners with gardens, have them fenced off.

  13. What a fun series! I am def interested in having some backyard chickens in the hopefully not so distant future! I grew up going to my grandparents farm where there are lots of animals. Although I have to say I have a little bit of fear of chickens, but I suppose if I raised one from when it was a chick we would learn to like each other along the way (chicks are so darn cute!).

    Is it possible to not give chickens any feed (corn or otherwise), can they not survive on foraging and scraps of food?

    Also do the chickens mind when you take the eggs away? Oh, and how is it dealing with sick or dead animals…the dead animals part seems tough to me (I feel I would make my husband deal w it!)

  14. Hello ladies, I sure hope to get my 6 -7 week old babies possibly on Monday. What is your best suggestion for bedding and bottom of their cage? I sent you a note about a week ago. I’m also in Phx on 1/2 an acre with two dogs. One is a hunter and the other is a killer so they will be very protected from them. Anyway like I said my husband bought a very overpriced, unfinished cage/coop from the place in downtown Glendale… You know our weathers been super for us but I’ve been afraid to put them out after they’ve been living in my Moms home in a cage in the center of her kitchen table… I’m looking forward to hearing from you! Thx much, Kat E.

  15. I’ve always heard that chickens will also kill snakes. I found a dead snake in my yard, which I believe they killed (though I didn’t see it). They do eat lizards though and I’ve seen that.

  16. Pingback: How 4 Cute Baby Chicks Changed My Life

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