The Happyish Homestead

Friday, April 18, 2014

Chickens 101–A Mostly Comprehensive Guide


There should be a large selection during the spring, starting about February and a smaller selection during the fall.

Baby chicks usually cost between $2 and $3.

They require chicken feed, cedar wood shavings (I buy a big bag for about $9), water and a heat lamp.  One with a red bulb as it helps baby chicks stay calm.

I keep our chickens in a large galvanized container, my sister keeps hers in an enormous box.

Ours stay in the kitchen under the table.

You’ll need a water and feeder base.  They are plastic or metal and are about $2.50 each.  I use a regular mouth canning jar to hold the water and feed.

I buy an all-in-one feed and it’s the same I use for my older chickens.  It’s about $15 for a 50# bag.  (I keep ours in a plastic, lidded trash can.)

The heat lamp/light starts low and is raised about a foot higher each week until it is no longer required.  I use the one that comes with a clamp and just attach it to the edge of the table or a chair.

Situate your food and water and heat lamp into different areas, not all clumped in one corner.

They grow really fast and will become escape artists before you know it.  We just put a section of chicken wire over the top to keep them contained.

It is recommended for baby chicks to remain indoors for the first eight weeks.

But they can get loud and obnoxious so I usually throw mine outside between six and seven weeks with out a problem.

This is the time where the chicks need lots of loving and holding.  It will make for nicer, more domestic chickens.

Make sure your chickens stay dry and warm.

Work for this stage of life is minimal and really is just cleaning: out the water, their food, and bedding.









If you eat eggs every day, I would recommend 8 – 10 chickens.

If you eat eggs occasionally, 3 – 6 is probably enough.

If you want them mainly for pets with eggs as a bonus 2 – 3 is probably adequate.

If you want to sell and eat 15 – 20.

We have a family of seven and we sell our eggs (5 – 6 dz a week).  I have 30 hens.

Also, when you are buying baby chicks, keep in mind you might end up with a rooster or some may not make it.  I would probably purchase one or two more than you had originally planned on.

If you have a small space, I would also recommend getting all the same breed, as they tend to get along better in a limited area.




Brown Leg Horn, white eggs, super smart, considered one of the best layers.


Gold Sex Link, calmer breed with large, light brown eggs.


Barred Rock (Plymouth Rock), for us, these tend to be a bit more aggressive, light brown eggs.


Australorp, also considered one of the best layers, large, light brown eggs, calm, stocky.


Ameraucana, I think these are the most unattractive of the lot.  They have a ‘mane’ and can be white or brown.  They are a gentle breed.  Most of them lay blue eggs.DSC00152



The one in the middle looks like a Barred Rock, but isn’t.  We ‘adopted’ her when we saw her down on the street corner.  We thought she was one of ours, turns out she wasn’t. 

We’ve adopted two mature hens and find that it’s pretty easy to incorporate them into the rest of the flock.


Fat Lucy, Gold Sex Link.


Left, Rhode Island Red, light brown to dark brown eggs, more aggressive breed.

Brown Ameraucana.



Our chickens are free range.

We allow them to ‘imprint’ on their coops for three to four weeks. 

We keep them locked up during that time, feeding, watering, and continuing to hold them.

After that time, we let them out.

They wander the property during the day and come back to the coop to roost when the sun starts heading down.



Their housing doesn’t have to be elaborate.  It is more important for chickens to have fresh air than space.  But they still need space.  I saw someone convert a dog house into a chicken coop.

Their coop needs to have: food, water, roosting dowels, nesting boxes, and bedding.

For bedding you can use straw or cedar chips.  Straw is easier to clean out but cedar is cleaner.

Our coops are two storied, with cement on the bottom, tin on top for the roof and wood for everything in between.

We have found it helpful (but not mandatory) to have coops that we can section off so we can add new broods easily.  Top to bottom or side to side.


We use a double walled galvanized water bucket.  They’re about $20 but are pretty sturdy.  We use two for 30 chickens and fill them up every other day.  They’re designed so if you want to hang them up to keep chickens from scratching wood chips in there, you can.

Chickens will also just drink out of a bucket.  Just make sure it stays full so it’s easy for them to reach.

You can set up a more complex system with nipples and a bucket with PVC.


We clamp heat lamps to the roof in the winter.

Be very careful with heat lamps, if they fall while still on and sit in the coop for a while, they can start a fire.


Roosting dowels.


In one coop, I put a bowl with a rock in it (so they didn’t tip it over) for their feed.

In another coop I have a hanging plastic container.

These are not terribly sturdy, but stay relatively clean because they’re off the floor.



Nesting boxes.  Chickens like privacy so make sure they get some.  In one of the coops, we just put a box in there with some bedding and angled a flat board over it and that works just fine, too.

Put wood eggs in the boxes to demonstrate what the boxes are for.

Collect eggs regularly.  Some chickens will peck or eat their eggs.  (This is normal.)

If you find a cache of eggs (a large amount of eggs, not in a laying box that you had no idea about) - you can promote the chicken still laying there by removing her eggs and replacing them with wood eggs.

If you want to see if they’re still good, you can do a simple water test:

Fill up a bowl with water.  Place eggs in the bowl.  If they float, throw them out, if just the large end rises, they’re about 2 weeks old, if they sink, they’re pretty fresh.

Eggs can stay good, if unwashed, on your counter for up to three weeks.  Washing them takes off their protective covering, so make sure they’re refrigerated if you’ve cleaned them.









It takes a good six months for hens to start laying.

They lay about every 28 hours.  Some days you’ll have more eggs than other days.

Chickens only have so many eggs - Brown Leg Horns and Australorps have one of the higher egg counts - so the sooner they use them up, the sooner they’re done laying.

Chickens can lay three to five years.

Some chickens die unexpectedly, sometimes they are egg bound.

We put a heat lamp in our coops during the winter to keep their water from freezing and to keep the eggs coming.  This is optional.

There is such a thing as a pecking order.  It helps keep the younger chickens in line and knowing their place.

Chickens are not usually aggressive towards people.

They can become aggressive towards one another when they’re hungry, bored, or not enough space.

In our personal experience, our chickens have not been unnecessarily cruel, but it does happen, so just be aware and try to keep your chickens safe.

Chickens are not as delicate or dumb as led to believe.  We had one chicken attacked by a dog, skin hanging and everything, we bandaged her up and she healed quickly and easily.  Some chickens will attack a hurt, injured or weakened hen, but this has not been the case with us.  If you are concerned, you can keep the the hen separated in a cat kennel or rabbit hutch until she’s healthy again.

I’ve also had some chickens hide when they’ve heard a dog barking.

They’ve never tried to cross the road.

I had two chickens stuck in some blackberry brambles and I went over and called to them and they came right to me.

Chickens are creatures of habit.  I had cleaned out one of their coops one day and neglected to put everything back in with some fresh bedding.  Needless to say they refused to go in at night and I spent a good 20 minutes gathering them up from around the yard where they had decided to roost.  (Trees, windshield wiper, porch light….)

They can jump up to seven feet.

They like to roll around in dust to help with mites.

They eat just about anything, even stuff that is off limits, but won’t touch ants.

They keep our grass healthy be eating it down and fertilizing it.

Ours eat right out of the compost bin, they love left over oatmeal, bread, greens, etc.

Also, it is good for chickens to eat the shells of their eggs or you can buy oyster shells at the farm and feed store.  It helps their egg shells be strong and healthy.

Chickens do not like the rain or to get their feet wet.

Sometimes hens lay a soft shelled egg.  This is normal.  Sometimes it is due to the hen getting wet.

After hens are a year old, they will start molting in the fall and spring.  This is a terrible time of year where they lose all sorts of feathers and are generally depressing to look at and egg production pretty much falls off.

We alleviate this by getting new chicks almost every year.


Chickens make great pets.  The kids like to chase them and catch them.  You don’t have to walk them or clean up their poop.  {Hose it off from your brand new patio?  Yes.}  And they’re just as happy with lots of attention or no attention.

If any of the three people that were in favor of this post have any questions, let me know in the comments.



  1. learned a lot of things I did not know...also enjoyed the pictures of what the coops look like inside and out. I will never/ever forget Adelaine walking around your yard a couple of years ago, always with a hen in her cute!

  2. Oh I love this. Simple, straight forward, great get started guide! I pinned it to my Homestead: Chickens board. Someday...someday. Your flock is lovely.

  3. Great post Katie! I do not have chickens. But you know my husband. If he could have chickens, we would have them. Probably a million of them. So it is good to learn, as I am sure I will get the responsibility of keeping them alive. :)

  4. Well, its good to know, for the most part, I think I'm doing it right. I did learn something though, I was just about to google to find out how long I could leave eggs on the counter...and now I know! We have 9 in our flock and will need to build a bigger coup if we get more. Where'd you get your plans? How much to do you sell your eggs for? Thanks for posting!

  5. Thanks indeed. If I can talk the handsome half into chickens it will still be about a year. I think my biggest concern is the coop and how chickens will handle next door neighbors with dogs. There are fences all around but barking still happens often. Anyway. This was good to read and hopefully next year I will remember to read this again.


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