Learn more and buy the 2015 Old Farmer's Almanac!

Raising Chickens 101: How to Get Started

November 18, 2011

Related Products

Your rating: None Average: 3.5 of 5 (43 votes)

So, you'd like to get started raising chickens? Be sure you're ready to commit! Here's the first post of a beginner's guide. Let's "start from scratch," so to speak.

There’s a lot to like about raising your own chickens.The eggs are a real temptation—tastier and fresher than any store eggs and better for baking, too.The shells, along with the chicken poop, can be tossed right into the compost pile. Much of the day, the birds entertain themselves, picking at grass, worms, beetles, and all of the good things that go into making those yummy farm eggs.

Remember, though: Nothing good comes easy.

  • You'll need a coop. It has to hold a feeder and water containers and a nest box for every three hens. It should be large enough that you can stand in it to gather eggs and shovel manure.
  • Chickens need food (and water) daily. Feed is about $20 per 50-pound bag at my co-op; how long a bag lasts depends on the number of chickens that you have.
  • Hens will lay through spring and summer and into the fall, as long as they have 12 to 14 hours of daylight. Expect to collect eggs daily, or even twice a day.
  • All year ‘round, you’ll have to shovel manure.
  • If you go away, you need a reliable chicken-sitter, and they are scarcer than hens’ teeth.

Raising Chickens: How to Get Started Beginner's Guide

Still interested?

Chickens are sociable, so plan to keep four to six birds. They’ll need space—at least 2 square feet of coop floor per bird. The more space, the happier and healthier the chickens will be; overcrowding contributes to disease and feather picking.

The birds will need a place to spread their wings, so to speak: a 20x5-foot chicken run, for example, or a whole backyard. (My hens had lots of outdoor time. They had places to take a dust bath and catch a few rays.) Either way, the space must be fenced to keep the chickens in and predators out. (Did you know? Predators include your own Fido and Fluffy.) Add chicken-wire fencing and posts or T-bars to support it to your list of equipment.

All of this costs money. The materials to build and furnish a coop and a 20x5-foot run are going to set you back $300 to $400. If you can’t do this work yourself, you'll also be buying skilled labor. Want to increase your flock? Young chicks need a brooder lamp for warmth, but don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.

In my next post, we'll talk about choosing the right chicken breed.

Related Articles

Elizabeth Creith has fifteen years of experience keeping chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys on her farm in Northern Ontario. She currently dreams of a new flock of fancy chickens. Elizabeth and her husband also have six and a half years experience running a pet store. On top of that, she's kept more animals than you can imagine from cats to cockatoos!


Can i put. 44 day old

By jk on October 4

Can i put. 44 day old chicks......guineas . peacocks. .chickens. with started pulletd?? Thanks

Our neighbors raise

By Marilyn Gee on September 23

Our neighbors raise chickens…I love chickens, I love their sounds, and I love their eggs. I DO NOT like the rats that are digging into our back yard and dying in the back flower garden. Their tunneling is destroying the brick patio and back fence line flower bed. How can we get through to our neighbors that they need to make a change?
Please HELP!!

I have two hens and one

By kari simmons

I have two hens and one rooster In a 5'-5' coop. I am not wanting to eat the eggs I am wanting babies. One of the hens laid 3 eggs and after the third day I noticed the hens ate the eggs. What should I do??

Totally new here. Just

By Tina Grillo

Totally new here. Just researching raising chickens and am so glad I found you. I recently visited my brother in Washington and he has chickens and I FELL IN LOVE. Told my husband when we get home, I want some! We live in north east Indiana and have no idea where to start. My biggest concern is predators and weather. I have no idea where to start and love your input. Last Spring I started my own meal worm farm for my birds and have also read that they are a fav for chickens. Cannot wait to start this new hobby.

My chickens got into paint

By Gizrye

My chickens got into paint chips (none lead) and mortar chips. Is there any way to help cleanse them?

I just got 6 chicks. My very

By Laura F

I just got 6 chicks. My very first chickens. Enjoying them. When do you introduce grit? Right now I give them only unmedicated starter

I just got 6 chicks. My very

By Laura F

I just got 6 chicks. My very first chickens. Enjoying them. When do you introduce grit? Right now I give them only unmedicated starter

Another quest for advice. How

By Vickie Richardson

Another quest for advice. How long do the hens remain fertile after the roo is removed from access to them? I purchased 3 hens which were exposed to a rooster. I want them to breed with my own rooster. How long should it take before I can be sure the fertilized eggs I am getting are by my own rooster?

hi i think u should put all

By Claudia Harris

hi i think u should put all the hens in a coop and your rooster in there for 2 weeks but don't let them out because if u do they won't go back in .but u can go out to give them food and water then go back inside straigt away i have done it with my chooks so it should work with yours

I would like to hatch some

By Vickie Richardson

I would like to hatch some eggs from my hens. I was told to gather the (fertilized) eggs a couple of times per day, bringing them inside and keeping them at room temperature until I have the amount I want to hatch. Also told that the fertilized eggs will remain viable for 10 days or so as long as they don't get real cold, such as refrigeration, or staying in the nest for too many hours without a hen. Is this true? How long can they set and a chick still be able to hatch under proper incubator conditions?

What is the best average

By Brandon Lewis

What is the best average rooster to hen ratio? I am just about to inherit my buddies chickens and need to know if any more chickens need to be bought....He has 2 red jungle fowl and a rhode island red rooster

What is the average lifespan

By Dennis Bales

What is the average lifespan of laying hens which are healthy and well kept? Thanks in advance.

According to the experts at

By Almanac Staff

According to the experts at Texas A&M: Many commercial laying hens are kept for up to 3 years. There are undocumented accounts of “yard chickens” living for more than 10 years.

I was given 13 hens and 1 roo

By amber flores

I was given 13 hens and 1 roo ..ive had them a couple months now acouple of them look like they are in a molting stage but backs are bare it doesnt look like anything is growing back ..they have been like this since we got them.i think they were raised on fruit and vegetables..i have completely changed their diet to chicken feed...they have a good nesting coop and a 20`x20` open rang to run around...im new to this and im worried could this be an infection or something ..all of the chickens are really mellow so theres no pecking....please help

My chicken coop at home which

By Kirsty

My chicken coop at home which my husband and a friend built is almost done. Can't wait to buy my own chickens. Do you have any suggestion on how many to buy? As beginners we wanted to just take it easy and we are looking into raising chickens as a hobby. Do you have any suggestions on what breeds to buy? Thankyou will really appreciate any insights and recommendations.

Visit my blog www.chickencoopathome.com

The question of how many

By Almanac Staff

The question of how many chickens to buy depends on how many eggs you want (assuming you're raising chickens for eggs). You'll get, on average, 2 eggs a day from 3 hens. So, if you want a dozen eggs a day, buy 18 hens. In terms of the breed, Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, Australorps and Orpingtons are all great egg layers. See the next article that we reference above on choosing your breed: http://www.almanac.com/blog/raising-chickens/raising-chickens-101-choosing-breed

Thank you for your reply.. 18

By Kirsty

Thank you for your reply.. 18 hens might just be too many for us. We are raising hens just for a hobby so might as well settle for 3- 5 chickens considering us being a newbie in chicken raising. I Will surely check the link you provided.

Be sure to check for city

By Jeneal

Be sure to check for city ordinances limiting the size of your flock; and don't forget about the HOA (home owner's association). Good luck with your new hobby!

I have a 2 1/2 month old

By Brenna Harlan

I have a 2 1/2 month old chicken. I'm not sure if its a hen or roo. I'm nervous its a roo because we have 2 hens ans we dont want baby chicks. Is there a way i can tell if its a hen or roo?

I'm new to this but recently

By Jennifer Mackoul

I'm new to this but recently bought 4 chicks from the local feed store. One was a bit more outgoing and curious as a kitten. Its comb grew faster, wider and redder than the others and it started to "dance" in front of the others. It's been almost 6wks. and the little fella is jumping on the others backs and did his first crow 3 days ago and has ever since. I'm no pro but Id say I have a roo! Hope this helps.

It's hard to tell a male from

By Almanac Staff

It's hard to tell a male from a female. The rooster will try to crow about 2 months (though it could be later).

Just got some baby chicks - 3

By Jan Cox

Just got some baby chicks - 3 days old. I have them in a large dog crate (5 of them) on newspaper with some water and their food. I just stuck a few pieces of fresh hay into the cage and they loved it. Is this OK?

The birds will need a place

By anne.bella

The birds will need a place to spread their wings, so to speak: a 20x5-foot chicken run,
best part of this post is Chickens are sociable, so plan to keep four to six birds. They’ll need space—at least 2 square feet of coop floor per bird

I have eight month old

By corey timm

I have eight month old chickens they haven't started laying yet my other chicks were always laying by 6 monthes what are they missing indiet. I currently am giving them corn and oats and eggmash.

Eight months isn't too old

By Almanac Staff

Eight months isn't too old for some chicken breeds.
Are they free-range? Chickens do best eating naturally--with grass, bugs, and other foraged material.
You sound as you have a good mix of nutrition. It's important for chickens to get a minimum of 16% protein.  We've never fed eggs to our chickens. We use soybeans, worms, and yogurt mixed with whole grains (not corn). You may find this page helpful: http://www.lionsgrip.com/protein.html

We have two hens that are two

By vickiw

We have two hens that are two years. A Blessing from our daughter. One of the hens is leaving a very loose stool. This morning a very soft shelled egg was found. What are they missing in their diet? Is is grit or ouster?

It sounds as if they need

By Almanac Staff

It sounds as if they need more calcium and vitamins. Try mixing oyster and egg shell into their feed. Also, add one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar per gallon of water so that they can drink it. This will help the hens absorb the calcium in their system. 

We are starting up with 12

By Simba.Coal

We are starting up with 12 chickens and a nice size coop. My question is....I have a 20 ft x 40 ft garden all nicely fenced in and critter proof. Could I place my chicken coop to attach to the garden for the hens to run around in? Would they damage my plants? Or would you recommend a separate run for the chickens to range around in?

I read you can fence a

By Kensley

I read you can fence a walking path around your veggie garden. Its said to be effective.

I have been wondering about

By William Nelson

I have been wondering about raising chickens, but live in a suburban environment on about 1/3 acre. How much noise do they generate? My neighbors are very fussy and I do not want to create a stir every morning. Glad to read you do not need roosters around to get eggs.

Chickens do make some noise,

By Almanac Staff

Chickens do make some noise, but not necessarily any more than dogs. Only roosters crows, but hens will make noise when laying. Shrubs and insulation can help muffle the noise. It might be worth visiting a chicken coop to get a sense of the noise level and what you think will be acceptable. Odor can also be an issue. Keep well ventilated.

What great advise! My husband

By JakErin

What great advise! My husband and I recently moved onto 10 acres, we have been wanting to raise chickens for years. He loves eggs and I love to bake. We converted an old two stall horse barn, it's perfect for our 6 peeps coming on Wednesday and the two ducklings that I couldnt pass up last week from our wonderful local grange. Not to sure about duck eggs though. Last year I got a puppy chi-wawa, she has become the ducklings new mama. She got in the bath tub with them last night. Can we do too much trying to make them social? Are we overthinking them? New duck and peep mom looking for advise. Thanks

I had chickens growing up and

By GoinBackCountry

I had chickens growing up and loved raising them for 4H. We will be moving back to the country very soon where we can garden and enjoy home canning. I insisted to my husband that we order chickens and begin raising them. It will give me a great deal of peace knowing that between the garden and the chickens my family will always be well fed no matter what the economy does.

We moved back to the country

By Proud Pagan

We moved back to the country 10 years ago. We had a large corner lot in the city and my neighbors all called my hillbilly because my back yard was full of container vegetables and a raised bed for corn. We got rabbits, as I showed and raised those for 4H. I am thinking about chickens and ducks now. I got miniature goats for dairy and make cheese too. Yes, it is awesome knowing that my children, and grandchildren now too, will always be able to have healthy food and be able to feed themselves.

are there any issues with

By Wish I could have a farm

are there any issues with chickens carrying diseases that cause human illness?

We have three hens that are

By peg davies

We have three hens that are just starting to lay eggs. The eggs are soft. We have seen chickens pecking at the eggs. What should we do? Peg

I have read to put oyster

By D'Annette

I have read to put oyster shells in their food because it sounds like they need more calcium.

what is best to feed them for

By corriem

what is best to feed them for winter??

This will be our second year

By Brenda Burey

This will be our second year with our Chickens and we started out with four, on was killed by a crow so we knew we had to cover the top of their outside area, now we have 16 chickens and they have a large chicken coop, with a large free range to go in and out freely, and a nestling area that we can use to just lift up the hinged top to collect eggs from the ouside, the coop is full of hay and long three long perches that they perch and sleep on at night, we feed them lots of corn, they love old crusty bread, we get over a dozen eggs a day, and give to family and friends so its so worth to have chickens and the kids love to come feed them..

So happy to hear about the

By HomeGrownGirl

So happy to hear about the cold weather. I'm a country girl-city girl-finally going back to the country girl and can hardly wait for my chickens to raise. Thanks for all this great info!

Do chickens have to have a

By Always a farmer

Do chickens have to have a rooster around to lay eggs? I say no, but my friend says yes. I don't want babies or meat, just the eggs. Thanks for the info. I really enjoyed reading it and everyone's input. Yes, chickens can be cuddly. I used to carry mine in the basket of my bicycle as a little girl. Also, my mother would hold her and pet her neck until she fell asleep. Happy Farming to You All.

No not at all only if you

By Brenda Burey

No not at all only if you want them fertilized by the male...

Hens will lay eggs with or

By Elizabeth Creith

Hens will lay eggs with or without a rooster around, but those eggs will be infertile.

So excited to see this

By missusprim

So excited to see this subject as I've been contemplating raising some chickens (no roosters.) Recently moved to a farm and I am in heaven and want to take advantage of the space and area to have some feathered friends - but want to do it RIGHT for the chickens sake. So, have been doing much research and was glad to come across this when I came to FA to see about seed starting. Am looking forward to reading future snippets as I can use all the info I can get.

I've always wondered, though; I see where chickens have personality - but can they be cuddly? In other words, do they enjoy human company and/or interaction?

And is it necessary to have a heat lamp for the cooler climes? We live in northern Ohio......

Chickens are very cuddly! I

By Sherry Rodgers

Chickens are very cuddly! I have one big girl who jumps on my lap 2-3 times a day, puts her chest on mine, roosts down and falls fast asleep to the point of snoring! all my chickens enjoy affection and kisses!

We had about 40 free range

By ahackworth

We had about 40 free range chickens on our farm. Every time my Husband would go outside, a Rhode Island red would always hang out with him....even perching on his chest while he was working under one of our vehicles,...I mentioned that he had a "friend" and he was skeptical...since we had several RI Reds...So, we painted the friendly hen's tail blue to see if it really was the same hen hanging out with him...guess what, he DID have a friend! Her name: BLUE....She would come in the house if the door was open just to find him. She followed him everywhere. Boy do I have the stories about BLUE !

No heat lamp necessary. I

By Elizabeth Creith

No heat lamp necessary. I live in Northern Ontario, and only used heat lamps for babies (chicks and lambs). Even in -40 weather, the chickens were fine as long as they were sheltered.

Lol traumatized with the

By hippie homemaker

Lol traumatized with the hose!

Chicky poo is great for the

By PellyRdGirl

Chicky poo is great for the garden after it has been composed for 90 days. We have 39 hens and 5 roosters and not one of my roosters have attacked a visitor or family member. In addition, we put up fencing to keep the chickens out of the gardens, they are trainable. If one gets in, they are immediately traumatized with the hose, yelling and clapping. I have yelled at them from the top floor out the window and was surprised that they got the message and got out!! They're smarter than you think.

Michelle, you're right about

By Elizabeth Creith

Michelle, you're right about chicken manure being to harsh to put straight on the garden. Composting is the way to go. And PellyRdGirl, thanks for the chicken-training tips.

Chicken Poop and Rosters

By Michele Prokopchak

Just so you know, chicken poop is very harsh so don't plan on using it in your garden which, by the way may be destroyed by your chickens--they scratch everywhere! And roosters can be mean and deadly to ones ankles. Mom had four hens and two roosters. They were all gorgeous but the roosters did not like my sister and I. We had to use a broom to keep them off our ankles if we went in her backyard. I build the coop and I loved the chickens. They are great fun to watch and they do have personalities. Don't know why only my sister and I weren't their favorites--they did not bother Mom or Dad or my brothers and their wives! Wish I could have chickens in my condo!

Chicken Blog

By heather101279

So glad to see this...I've been contemplating starting a coop! Keep the advice rolling. Do you have any suggestions for breeds that are "especially heat hardy" I live in the southern most part of South Carolina and our summers can be nasty.

Heat is a problem, isn't it?

By Elizabeth Creith

Heat is a problem, isn't it? Worse than cold. Check out the breed list on backyardchickens.com - it's not complete, but it's pretty good.

re:chicken blog

By Kathy Houghton

come from a long line of chicken farmers, love 'em! And their daily offerings of food, fun and compost building donations are great too.....

Love my chickies!

By Jerri Qualls

I would recommend researching the predators in your area, as well as breeds of chickens that are best suited to where you live. We love having chickens and allow them free-range. However, if you are particular about your patio furniture, or anything for that matter, you need to know that they will perch wherever they can. We do close them up in a coop at night so they do have a safe place to go, but we do have a significant problem with black snakes in warmer weather. Also, our chickens seem to delight in hiding their eggs, so if you do free-range you will probably spend a lot of time looking for nests of eggs and/or chickens hiding and setting eggs to hatch. That being said, I would not trade our chickies for store-bought eggs, nor for the entertainment they provide with their antics. They are also very helpful in the compost pile by turning it over looking for food. Thanks for the blog, I look forward to additional entries.

Chicken blog

By zjaji

LOVE IT and thanks. I need this!!!

Aw, thanks! I'm glad you're

By Elizabeth Creith

Aw, thanks! I'm glad you're enjoying it, and I hope it goes on being useful to you.


By Cajun Girl

I am really excited about this blog. My fiance and his family have always had chickens. They are all gone now, but we are considering starting back up with them. I agree with everybody about the taste of fresh eggs as compared to store bought. I have fibromyalgia, and one of the best things I have done for myself is to study foods and keep a food diary. When I eat organic and fresh, non-processed foods, I do much better. I am looking forward to the next blog! Happy farming :)

Plus it tastes better! I was

By Elizabeth Creith

Plus it tastes better! I was shocked to learn that grocery store eggs are at least ten days old when they hit the shelf.

Most eggs in cafes and stores

By Linda C

Most eggs in cafes and stores can be around 6 months old as told to me from a supplier to cafe chain.

It is great you are covering this

By idol quilts

Chickens are great even without the eggs. My kids moved me to town. I was so sad without my chickens. My son in law finally built me a chicken tractor and brought in my Silkies. I am content here now. They have such funny personalities. I will very much enjoy this. We did a frame run. The "T" posts are not strong enough for a determined big dog.

That's one determined dog if

By Elizabeth Creith

That's one determined dog if it's damaging metal T-posts! A frame run is a great idea. Did you have to go to hardware cloth instead of chicken wire?

I'm excited to follow this as

By Dawn Zomermaand

I'm excited to follow this as I'm debating having my own chickens on my farm!

Chickens are awesome little

By Rosie Alexander

Chickens are awesome little creatures! We have 9 bantams (smaller versions). 7 hens and 2 roosters. We hatched out some eggs and got another rooster. Thought there would be problems w/2 roosters, but it's not. Maybe it's because they are related. i love my chickens! You wouldn't think it but they have such personality. Keep them safe, dry and clean and it's a joy.

I have had 3 roosters at one

By bucy1998

I have had 3 roosters at one time and didn't even know it because 1 becomes dominant, the "alpha".... when I gave away my rooster, all of a sudden, one of the other two became dominant! The same thing happened with the third when I found a home for my second rooster! It was a really neat evolution to watch!

Love 'em!

By Jon Jones

Just this morning as my wife and I ate breakfast, I mentioned how blessed we are to have these eggs. We have had chickens for a lot of years. I would like to offer a few pointers: 1) I put a timer in my coop so the light comes on every morning at 6:00 and off every night at 8:00. I get eggs all year long. 2) When the hens get old, it's hard to cull them because you feel endeared to them for all the many breakfasts they have provided. Do the hard thing and thin your herd. Your production will be better for it.

We don't use lights either.


We don't use lights either. When the sun begins to set, our chickens make their way into the coop. Daylight is for being awake and dark or night is for sleep. We don't try to manipulate Mother Nature.It's -flock- not -herd-,by the way.

You don't eat them? They can

By Jay o

You don't eat them? They can add a nice supper to the list of provided meals.

We don't use lights on our

By PellyRdGirl

We don't use lights on our hens. The hens need that rest in the low laying season. I would never force or fool my hens into laying by adding the additional hours of light just to get a few extra eggs from them.

Loving My Chickens

By Bainbridge Farm...

I would highly recommend getting chickens! Once you get the coop built and critter-proof, it's not that much work. If you have enough hens you can pay for the food with the eggs that you sell...and they taste soooo much better than the store eggs.

I got creative for my coop

By Mendawing

I got creative for my coop and used an extra large dog crate for my coop. I removed the pan from the bottom and zip tied 1/2 inch mechanics mesh on the bottom. I used a dowel for the perch. I bungied a Real Lemon bottle with a watering attachment upside down in the coop. I made a 3 sided concrete block frame to set the crate upon (and painted and planted pentas all around it and in the open front part I slid the pan. Now when it's time to clean out the coop all I have to do is hose out the bottom of the coop and spray down the pan. To keep them safe from rain and cold I fashioned a tarp that rolls down the back and sides of the coop and use an infra red lamp for the cold. My girls lay almost every day! I only have two, but they have a 15 x 15 run that they happily dig up every day. All I have to do is spray out the coop and rake out the yard. For the nest box I used a plastic round planter that is nestled in an iron frame (used to be a foot stool, very ornate and looks like a little throne with a nest on top).

I would love to see a picture

By we have chicks

I would love to see a picture of your coop. We are in need of a coop and the more we can use that is already in our household the better.
If you don't mind sharing a photo please email me at mlouispalacio@yahoo.com.

Thank you.

Loving my chickens

By Elizabeth Creith

I agree - chickens are pretty low maintenance once you get the predator-proofing in place. I really enjoyed mine!

Post new comment

Before posting, please review all comments. Due to the volume of questions, Almanac editors can respond only occasionally, as time allows. We also welcome tips from our wonderful Almanac community!

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.