Chickens are easy keepers.

Chicken-love is spreading. From the suburbs of LA to the backyards of PA, chickens are the new black lab. Well, not exactly, but if you haven’t considered keeping a couple hens in your yard, perhaps you should. Chickens are an easy, delightful pet that feeds you and your garden. As long as your township or borough gives you the go ahead, it’s hard to go wrong with a flock of your own. And if you can keep alive a gerbil or a houseplant, chickens will be a very rewarding piece of cake. Here’s what you need.

Shelter. Just like people, shelter is a chicken’s basic need. But chickens aren’t choosy. You can DIY or just hit up Tractor Supply for an easy coop kit for a simple attractive coop. But we’ve found that our chickens don’t need much – a dry, draft-free shelter to protect them from wind, rain, and predators like raccoons and foxes. Most chickens prefer a roost, and you’ll want an easily accessible nest box to collect your yummy eggs. You can make your coop as simple or elaborate as you like, but the general rule of thumb says chickens need 3 to 4 feet of coop space per bird. If space is a premium in your back yard, just remember to keep 12 inches of roost space per chicken and one nest box for every 3 hens. Open their door every morning when it’s convenient, and once they learn the coop is their home, they’ll return to their roost every evening at dusk. Just lock the door to keep them safe from nighttime predators. Pine shavings are great for the floor of the coop, just sweep it out every week or so and replace with fresh shavings to keep your coop clean and your chickens healthy.

Need some ideas for coops? Check out these pretty and inventive ideas.

Food. Chicken are easy to feed. Adult chickens will eat about 1/4 pound of layer pellets a day, while younger chicks should be fed starter/grower crumbles. You can order commercial feed from any Tractor Supply, local feed mill, and even walmart.com. If you allow your chickens to wander freely in your yard, they’ll happily snatch up bugs, worms, and caterpillars that wreak havoc on your garden. Slip them your dinner scraps and watch the antics begin – your happy hens will go gaga over stale (not moldy) bread, scrambled eggs, or just about anything you’ve scraped off your plate. It’s a great way to keep food out of the trash bag and turn it into eggs. Give your chickens food and water each morning when you let them out.

Water. Water is critical to chickens and people. You can use a dedicated chicken waterer or a shallow, clean bucket. Just make sure the water is fresh and your waterer is clean.

Chickens are easy! They just need a little food, shelter, and water, and they will reward you greatly with delicious eggs, pest control, and fertilizer for your garden. Some breeds are great foragers while others, like Buff Orpingtons and Silkies, are cuddly and follow you around like a puppy. You can order nearly grown chickens from most hatcheries or find some locally on Craigslist. And while raising chicks takes a little more in the form of supplies and work, it is definitely fun and worth your efforts. Chickens are surprisingly hardy little creatures, but you’ll want to keep a phone number on hand for a vet that will care for them, just in case you need some help. Of course, we always keep an eye on young children around any animal (especially roosters) and always wash hands after handling.If you live in the suburbs or the city, you’ll want to check your local ordinances first. A quick call to the township office will let you know if you are allowed to have roosters and hens, hens only, or sadly, no chickens at all.

That’s it!  The quick and dirty easy guide to keeping chickens in your backyard. With just a little care for their basic needs and comforts, you’ll be rewarded with eggs, fertilizer, bug control, and chicken love. It doesn’t get any easier – or better – than that.

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