Hey friends! Today’s post is all about my backyard chicken beginner story! There are so many people taking the dive into raising chickens in the midst of all the craziness of this year. If that is you, and you are an absolute beginner, this post is just for you!
The MOST Unlikely Backyard Chicken Beginner!
I never thought in a million years that I would willingly raise chickens. My parents had chickens when we were growing up. We had 2 roosters named King and Prince. King was big, gentle and majestic. Prince was smaller, insecure, and mean spirited. I think he had a bit of a complex.
One day I went out to the barn and he gave me the side eye, fluffed his feathers and flapped his wings. I knew I was in trouble. Immediately, I started hoofing it out of the barnyard as fast as my little legs would take me. He chased me all the way up the lane, clear up to our house. I’m telling you, he never lost his resolve! My dad had to rescue me, and needless to say, that was the end of Prince’s chasing days! So as a result of this childhood trauma, I basically swore off any future aspirations of animal husbandry….
What Changed My Mind?
That was a lot to overcome, but 2 things changed my mind. First, my husband LOVES fresh eggs! When my parents or my sisters come to visit from Ohio, they will often bring us a couple dozen eggs. Chris always looks forward to eating eggs fresh from the farm. Honestly, if you have never eaten fresh eggs, you will be surprised how much better they taste. The difference is incredible!
Over the years, we have talked about getting chickens. It always kind of seemed like a far off possibility. But it was more like a romantic notion than a priority.
The second thing that changed my mind was living in the year of our Lord 2020. All I can say is that this year has been completely insane. When we first went into lock down, I wasn’t sure how we were going to feed our family. We had never experienced weeks of empty shelves at the grocery before. The fear that swept over the globe was really overwhelming. We are not homestead people necessarily, but we wanted to do whatever we could to prepare. I planted a potted garden on our back patio, and we decided to get chickens.
Never Make Decisions Based on Fear!
I just want to say that fear is the worst possible motive for making any decision. We didn’t make our decision out of fear. It was with a clear mind and a determination to focus on the things that we could do instead of all that was beyond our control. Like I said, we had considered getting chickens for years. The global crisis we found ourselves in just gave us the final kick in the pants we needed to getter’ done.
Getting Started: Building our Coop!
Once we decided to be backyard chicken beginners, we started building our chicken coop. There are countless designs on the internet. Lisa Bass from Farmhouse on Boone has a great post about how they built a chicken tractor. Chicken tractors are great because they can be moved to allow the chickens to eat in a fresh spot every day. We decided to go with a stationary coop because I know myself. I would not move a chicken tractor every day. To thine own self be true! You just have to figure out what will work best for you.
Using Salvaged and Repurposed Items
Since we were in lock down, it was important to use what we had on hand. I have always loved the idea of repurposing and using salvaged items. It’s something that we always practice when possible. We have done countless DIY projects and renovations over the years. As a result, we have a LOT of leftover scrap materials.
- 4×4 Boards for the chicken run- I can’t remember what these were originally from. A “chicken run” is the outdoor enclosure attached to the coop.
- Tin for the roof- Salvaged from our shed renovation. We took in the porch of our shed and kept the tin from the exterior wall.
- Siding- given to us from a friend!
- Hinges- salvaged from a family member’s home renovation.
- Scrap wood for the nesting boxes- This was salvaged from our old shed. It was originally a work surface.
- Screws- we had a huge box of screws leftover from the renovation we did to add on to our house.
- White Exterior paint- leftover from our porch makeover.
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- 2×4’s for the structure
- Silicone to fill in holes in the tin roof
- Chicken wire
- Handles for the nesting box access doors
- Locks to keep predators out
- Paint for the siding
I am so grateful for all the materials we kept “just in case.” We were able to build a really substantial chicken coop for around $300. Of course you can purchase a prebuilt coop at places like Tractor Supply for a similar price. You just have to figure out what is best for you and your situation.
Here is a link to the plans that we used for our coop. My husband chose these plans specifically because they were so detailed and included diagrams with all the measurements. He modified it so that we could stand up in the chicken run when it comes time to cleaning it out! If you are interested in building your own coop, we definitely recommend these plans.
Beginning with Chicks!
So, now that the coop was under way, we had to figure out where to purchase chicks. We decided to start with chicks because we are total newbies. Also, I had to get over the memory of meany Prince from my childhood. Buying baby chicks allowed them to imprint on me, and me to imprint on them. You can’t have irrational fears of a cute little fuzz ball. It’s impossible. I needed to be endeared to these little creatures, and I was!
When we were ready to purchase our chicks, everyone was out. I called around for a couple of weeks with no success. Finally, I went to a local store called P&M Hardware and was able to purchase 10 baby hens—they are called Pullets. That is the name for female chicks. That was new information for me! Haha!
What Breed to Choose:
I know that a lot of people do a ton of research into which breed is best for their needs. Some breeds are better egg layers, others are better for meat. Still others are really good for both. Because of the unique circumstances we were in, I had to take what I could get. I ended up with 5 Rhode Island Reds and 5 Plymouth Barred Rocks. Both breeds are really good egg layers!
The woman who runs the local hardware store where I bought my chickens does not sell roosters. She says they are mean. I think this also depends on the breed. Some types of chickens are really docile and sweet and others are mean and sassy like Prince was back in the day. She told me that a good mother hen will be just as protective of the flock as a rooster, so I decided not to worry about getting a rooster for now.
How to Prepare for Chicks:
Obviously you can’t place baby chicks in a coop. They need a temporary place to live with a constant source of heat, safe from predators. I was on my way out the door to go to Tractor Supply and I realized, I had no idea what I needed to buy. Once again, I turned to Lisa from Farmhouse on Boone for help! Here is a list of things I purchased after watching her Youtube video, “Backyard Chickens for Beginners.”
- Stock Tank – I wish I could have found an old used one, but I wasn’t able to find one in the time frame that we had. We bought a 100 gallon tank for $100. It worked perfectly and we will repurpose it, as always.
- Heat Lamp – The one Lisa recommended had a cage on it to prevent fires if it fell. I was totally down with that. Highly recommend!
- Wood Chips – My boys are allergic to hay, so this was a great alternative for bedding.
- Waterer – (some websites call them “drinkers”) I bought a bigger one so I wouldn’t have to refill it as often.
- Organic/Non GMO Feed – It’s amazing how your perspective changes when you KNOW what your animals are eating. I don’t want to feed my family garbage, so I’m not going to feed my chickens garbage either.
- Feeder – The one I bought is a long, narrow trough so they could all eat at once. But somehow, they always want to be in the same spot!
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Stock Tank Maintenance and Trouble Shooting
Once we got the chicks home and cozy in the stock tank, everything went really well. We had to clean out the tank about once a week when they were little. As they got bigger, we cleaned it out twice a week. I just transferred all the chicks to a big cardboard box and scooped the poops and wood chips out of the tank. Not exactly glamorous, but even my princess self tolerated it reasonably well. Also, they have no qualms about using their feeder as a toilet. Super gross! Just be prepared for LOTS of poops.
The only issue we ran into was that they were constantly filling their waterer with wood chips. This would soak up the water almost like a sponge and prevented the chicks from getting enough to drink. It also stank really bad! We placed the waterer up higher on some landscaping bricks and that helped a lot! We kept the chicks in the tank for six weeks. They are hilarious when they figure out they can use their wings. At some point, we had to make sure they didn’t fly out of the tank, so we built a frame covered in chicken wire to prevent them from escaping.
Getting Ready for Moving Day!
We finished up the coop and got it in place by the shed. I wanted it to be pretty because it is in direct line of sight from our dining room. So, I chose Sherwin Williams Moon Glass for the siding and white for the trim. We read a lot about how many predators will come out of the wood work when you have chickens. In order to prevent animals from digging their way in, we placed salvaged landscaping bricks around the perimeter of the chicken run. The last step was to create a path around the coop with cement stepping stones. This might seem a little extra, but we live in Louisiana and it gets pretty soggy when it rains!
We moved our little toddler chicks to the coop at six weeks. I was actually worried about them moving into the big coop. They looked huge in the tank and so tiny in the chicken run! They were super nervous and flighty, and they even cried when I left them for the first time! They stayed huddled together for a while, but they eventually adjusted to their new surroundings. I’m happy to report, they are spoiled rotten and quite content now!
Part-Time Free Rangers
Every evening when my husband gets home from work at around 5:30, he lets the chickens out of the coop. They run around scratching and eating bugs in the woods around our house until the sun goes down. I love that they are able to get out and enjoy life! I love it even more that they put themselves to bed! Their instincts are amazing! We just have to make sure to shut and lock the door every night so they don’t get eaten by predators.
What I have Learned From My Backyard Chicken Beginner Story:
My backyard chicken beginner story has been a lot of fun. I feel like I have learned a lot about food, where it comes from, and how those animals live and die to provide sustenance for us. It seems like people who live on farms probably know a lot more about the realities of life, because they see the full spectrum of life in the animals they raise. My chickens remind me that life goes on and it is beautiful. God’s creation and his design are beautiful. No matter what is going on in the world, life wins! I hope this inspires you to start your own backyard chicken beginner story! If I can do it, I promise, anyone can! God bless you friends!