Keeping Backyard Chickens – Everything You Need To Know About Caring for Your Flock

Phyllis the bantam pekin chicken

What could be more pleasant than chickens happily clucking and pecking around in your backyard? Having your cheeky flock chasing after you for treats and providing you with fresh, delicious eggs daily. Seems like a dream, right?

Chickens can make a great backyard addition, however, despite the rewards, chicken keeping isn’t as easy as you might think.

It’s essential for first-time chicken owners to read up about raising backyard chickens before you bring your first beloved flock home as many things can go wrong, particularly for beginners.

Chooks are just like any other pet, these tiny creatures need your care and attention and have particular needs that must be met. A happy and healthy chicken will bring you many more rewards than just eggs for breakfast!

To help get you started, we’ve written a complete beginner’s guide on the basics of what you need to know about raising chickens in your backyard.

Let’s jump in!

Does your council allow backyard chickens?

Before you fall too in love with the idea of keeping chickens, you must check your local council’s regulations on the matter. If you can’t find information on keeping chickens as pets in your area, then make sure you contact your local council; it may save you heartache in the future should you be told you can no longer keep your feathered family.

Each council will have its own specifications on what rules you need to adhere to in order to have chickens on your property.

Generally, they will state things like:

  • How far the coop needs to be from the fence boundary, footpaths, and your neighbours’ house
  • How many chickens you can have
  • Whether or not you can have a rooster (for suburban areas, the most likely answer is no)
  • Specifications on your coop

Once you’re full bottle on your local council requirements and you have a suitable spot in your backyard to keep chickens, then you can move on to the fun part – planning for their arrival!

Your essential flock accessories

You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to keep a flock of chickens, but there are a few things you’ll need to get started. Here’s a list of the essential flock accessories:

  1. A chicken coop – Inside the chicken coop is where your chickens will sleep and lay their eggs. It’s important to choose a coop that’s well-ventilated and predator-proof. The coop should include an appropriate number of nesting boxes for egg-laying activities and some perch space for them to sleep at night.
  2. A chicken run – This is an enclosed area where your chickens can roam and exercise. It’s important to make sure the run is big enough for your chickens to move around freely. Chickens need some shade and protection from wet weather too, so make sure your run includes this.
  3. Garden fencing – If you plan to allow your girls to peck around the garden, make sure you put in some garden fencing to protect anything you don’t want to be destroyed.
  4. Chicken feeders and waterers – These are essential for keeping your chickens fed and hydrated. Make sure to choose feeders and waterers that are durable, easy to clean, and protected from the weather.
  5. Hemp bedding – Hemp bedding is absorbent, breathable, and anti-microbial, making it the perfect material to keep your chickens comfortable and healthy. 

The anatomy of a chicken coop

Chicken coops come in all shapes and sizes, but they all serve the same purpose – to provide a safe and comfortable home for your chickens. 

If you’re looking to save money, you can opt for a more basic design. A simple chicken coop can be made out of recycled materials like pallets or old fencing.

If you’re willing to spend a little more, you can opt for a chicken coop with all the bells and whistles. These coops often come equipped with features like automatic doors, heated floors, and built-in nesting boxes.

Whether you’re looking to build a coop on a budget or want something a little more luxurious, all chicken coops should have the same anatomy. Here are the main features of a chicken coop:

  • enough space
  • good ventilation
  • protection against the elements (including the temperature)
  • protection against predators
  • nesting boxes
  • roosting perch
  • bedding (like hemp)
  • an attached run
  • a waterer
  • a feeder
  • access to dirt

What do chickens eat? Feeding your chickens 101.

Feeding your chickens should be an easy enough task if you keep a few things in mind.

Firstly, chickens are omnivorous creatures, which means that they will eat (or try to eat) almost anything. Chickens love chasing after anything that catches their eye!

Layer feed should be the primary food for your girls, which comes in pellet or crumble form. It provides laying chickens with the nutrition they require to remain healthy and keep producing quality eggs. Most chickens won’t get enough food from foraging alone, so you must provide them with layer feed.

You can also supplement their diet with scratch mix (which is a mix of grains and seeds) and kitchen scraps, however, make sure you familiarise yourself with what chickens can and can’t eat from your kitchen before you give it to them.

At times you may need to add extra vitamins to your chicken feed. For example, if your hens are laying soft shells, it could be a sign that they need more calcium. So, if you begin to notice something strange about a member of your flock and find that it’s a symptom of a particular vitamin deficiency, you will need to feed your birds something to help boost that vitamin.

And as it is with most animals, while it is essential to give them plenty to eat, the most important thing to keep in mind is that they need fresh water available at all times.

Best backyard chicken breeds for beginners 

When it comes to choosing the best backyard chicken breed for beginners, you need to first decide what your goals are for owning them. 

Are you wanting to keep chickens for eggs? Or do you just want a few pretty chickens to look at and are not so concerned with collecting eggs?

You’ll need to consider those questions, but also whether the breed of chicken is suitable for where you live and what their temperament is like.

If you’re just starting out, resist the urge to bring home cute little baby chicks. Firstly, you can’t guarantee you’ll end up with hens which means you’ll probably need to rehome any roosters you get. Secondly, raising chicks takes far more time and resources than pullets (young hens) and adult chickens.

Some chicken breeds that are good for beginners (in our opinion) include:

  • Pekin Bantam (around 120 small-sized eggs per year, 2-3 eggs a week)
  • Silkies (around 120 small-sized eggs per year, 2-3 eggs a week)
  • Frizzle (around 150 medium-sized eggs per year, 2-3 eggs a week)
  • Orpington (around 180 medium-sized eggs per year, 3-4 eggs a week)
  • Plymouth Rock (around 200 medium-sized eggs per year, 3-4 eggs a week)
  • Wyandotte (around 200 large-sized eggs per year, 3-4 eggs a week)
  • Araucana( around 250 medium/large-sized eggs per year, 4-5 eggs a week)
  • Leghorn (around 250 medium-sized eggs per year, 4-5 eggs a week)
  • Rhode Island Red (around 250 medium-sized eggs per year, 4-5 eggs a week)
  • ISA Brown (around 300-350 medium/large-sized eggs per year, 5-7 eggs a week)

Bringing your flock home

When you bring your first flock members home, it’s a good idea to keep them locked in their coop for the first day and night so they know where home is particularly if you plan to have them free-range during the day.

Delay introducing them to other pets that will share the garden space so they have a chance to settle in and feel more at home first. Supervise other pets with them until you’re sure that they won’t harm each other. Some dogs or cats might not get to that point of being trusted around your chickens, but hopefully, they can eventually co-exist and potter around in the garden together.

If you’re introducing new chickens into your established flock, it’s a gradual process, you can’t just pop your new chickens into the coop and be done with it. Chickens can be super mean to new arrivals so you must take your time to ensure their safety.

Here are some tips to help ease the transition.

  • It’s a good idea to quarantine the new chicken/s for about 2 weeks if possible, in case they are carrying a disease that may infect your whole flock
  • If you can, keep the new arrivals in a separate enclosure but still visible to the flock for a few days or a week so that they can get used to seeing each other
  • Put them in the flock’s coop for a few hours a day until you feel it’s safe to leave them in there
  • Make sure there are spots that your new chickens can hide, particularly if they’re young

Some aggressive pecking is normal. The pecking order needs to be established. But if your new hens are being constantly bullied and losing a lot of feathers, then you need to be more patient and take extra time transitioning them.

Ongoing care to keep a healthy flock

Chickens require very little maintenance, but there are a few things you can do to keep them healthy and happy:

  • Clean and safe environment –  This means cleaning their coop regularly and providing them with fresh water daily.
  • Worming – Worm your chickens every 6-8 months, even if they’re not showing signs of a worm infestation.
  • Diatomaceous Earth – Sprinkle some Diatomaceous Earth in and around the coop to help keep external parasites like mites and lice at bay.
  • Apple cider vinegar – Add a little apple cider vinegar to your flock’s drinking water for good health and boosted immune systems.
  • Vitamins – Consider adding some vitamins to your flock’s drinking water for a boost to maintain optimum health.
  • Grit – Grit is an essential part of a chicken’s diet to help them break down its food into a digestible form.

Even with the best care, chickens can still get sick and die without much of a clue as to why. Do some research into common chicken illnesses so you know what to look out for and how to treat them when they do get sick.

Some (sometimes harsh) facts about chickens

We need to lay down some (sometimes harsh) facts about chickens.


The lifespan of chickens varies, but if you keep your girls happy and healthy and they don’t have any genetic conditions, they may live a long life up to 10 or 12 years. Generally, though, the commonly accepted lifespan of a chicken is around 5-10 years.

They don’t lay year-round

Depending on what breed of backyard chicken you choose will determine how many eggs you can expect on average. Even the best layers may not provide you with an egg every day.

Most backyard chicken breeds won’t lay every day of the year and many hens slow down or stop egg production altogether during autumn and winter – this is completely normal. They may use this downtime to moult and grow new feathers.

Chickens don’t lay forever

Chickens don’t lay eggs for their entire life and there will come a time when your beloved hen closes up shop for good. Generally speaking, you should get a good 3-4 years of eggs before her egg production starts to diminish. You might also start to see the eggshell size and quality begin to decrease too.

When that happens I hope you’ll have the capacity to let your beloved pet live out her life in a comfortable retirement with some younger flock members to pick up the slack.

Space needed

The more space you can give your flock of backyard chickens, the happier they will be. You’ll need to consider:

  • The size of the coop – an enclosed area where your girls will sleep at night and protect themselves from the weather
  • The size and number of nesting boxes – where your girls will lay their eggs
  • The size of the run – a protected fenced area attached to the coop where your girls will spend their day enjoying dust baths, digging for worms, and enjoying the sunshine; and/or
  • The size of a free-roam area – where your girls are free to roam your backyard and destroy your garden

Ideal chicken coop size per chicken

You may think that the larger the coop, the better. This actually isn’t the case. If you have a large coop and a small flock, your girls might struggle to stay warm in the colder weather. Try to provide a coop that is an appropriate size for your flock.

Your chicken coop should be at least 3 square feet per chicken for medium-sized chickens. The coop should include a nesting box/es and a roosting area. The roosting area is where the chickens will sleep. Ideally, this area should be about 10 inches of perching space per chicken.

Ideal nesting box size per chicken

Nesting boxes are where your hens will go to lay their eggs and are essential for your flock. You should aim to provide a nesting box for every three hens that is at least a cubic foot of space (1ft tall, 1ft wide, 1ft deep). In saying that though, you may find that they all demand to use the same box (sometimes at the same time). 🤦‍♀️

Ideal run/free-roam area size per chicken

Your flock should have 15 square feet per chicken to roam, whether that’s in a run that’s attached to your coop or a free-roam area in your backyard. They should have access to this space daily.

They poop a lot…like, a LOT

All poultry have a combined waste called excreta, which means that feces and urine are excreted together. And they certainly excrete a lot!

Chickens poop a lot because they eat a lot, and they can’t use everything they eat.

So it’s super important to keep the coop clean, otherwise, it’ll very quickly begin to smell and attract flies and mice.

Here are some tips for keeping your chicken coop clean:

  1. Scoop out the poop daily or every couple of days
  2. Change the bedding regularly, maybe once a week
  3. Ventilate the coop when you can
  4. Deep clean the coop at least 2-3 times a year

You don’t need a rooster

If you’re thinking about getting chickens, you may be wondering if you need a rooster. The answer is quite likely no.

There are a few reasons for this. First, they can be noisy – you’ll probably find that your neighbours won’t appreciate the jarring crows, particularly in the early hours of the morning. Second, they can be aggressive, and that’s not something you want around small children or pets. Finally, roosters aren’t necessary if you’re just looking to get fresh eggs – hens will lay eggs without a rooster around.

Not to mention that most councils have strict rules around owning a rooster in a suburban area.

Eggs don’t need to be washed

This may come as a surprise, but you don’t need to wash the eggs you collect from your darling hens. When eggs are laid, they are covered with a natural coating called bloom. This coating prevents bacteria from getting into the egg. Because eggshells are porous, washing them removes this barrier.

So, if your egg has a little poop on it, simply brush off the bulk of the poultry droppings and store your egg unwashed until you use it. If you simply cannot stand the thought of an egg having poop on it and you still want to wash it, then you’ll need to refrigerate it immediately.

While you don’t need to wash your eggs, you do need to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling the eggs or your chickens! Chickens may have salmonella or other nasty germs (even when they appear healthy and clean) and can make you quite unwell if you catch it. So, to help reduce the risks, make sure to clean and disinfect your hands after each coop visit.

Eggs don’t need to be refrigerated

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to keep your eggs in the fridge if collecting straight from your backyard chickens.

Commercial eggs from the supermarket are washed with a solution after they’re laid, which kills any bacteria that may be present on the eggshell, but it also removes the natural protective coating that keeps out bacteria and other contaminants.

As a result, refrigeration is recommended to prevent bacteria from entering the egg through the shell and causing food poisoning. However, if you’re collecting the eggs straight from the source, you can store them on your kitchen bench for a couple of weeks so long as you haven’t washed them. The moment they touch water they will need to go into the fridge.

Chickens can’t fly

Did you know that chickens can’t fly? That’s right, these popular backyard poultry are grounded! Chickens are built more for running and walking than for flying. Their breastbone is short and flat, which gives them limited power for flapping their wings. Also, their weight is disproportionately large compared to their wingspan making them too heavy to take flight.

In saying that though, they can still manage to flap their wings and reach up to a height of 3 metres so we do recommend that you clip your chickens’ wings to stop them from escaping your yard.

Everything wants to eat your chickens

Chickens have many natural predators including dogs, cats, foxes, snakes, eagles, and hawks. You’ll need to secure your coop if you want to keep your backyard chickens safe.

Sometimes they die

Chickens are like any other living thing – they can get sick and die. Sometimes, there’s just no explanation for why. It’s sad, but it’s the truth.

Keep an eye out for signs of illness, and if you notice anything off, take your chicken to a vet that specialises in poultry right away. Unfortunately, even with the best care, sometimes chickens just die.


So there you have it! Everything you need to know about keeping chickens happy and healthy. There’s nothing quite like hearing the happy clucks of your feathered family drift into your home. 

If you’ve decided to take the plunge, we hope you have fun and enjoy your new backyard chickens!


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