Have you ever wondered how to get started raising chickens in your backyard? Rebekah Scoville and her family have their own brood in Oak Park. Below is her story. For those who are looking to do the same; you’re welcome!
In July 2013, I purchased a house that had room enough to fulfill the goal of raising backyard chickens. Two years later, I’m no expert at raising chickens but it has been quite a learning experience! Here’s my journey from idea to reality with our chicken coop in Sacramento.
Armed with the book, A Chicken in Every Yard, I read about the different kinds of breeds and picked five different breeds with egg production and appearance as the primary criteria. I wanted five full grown hens, but because the book suggested some chicks may not survive, we brought seven baby chicks home that day from Bradshaw Feed & Pet Supply.
We chose a Australorp, two Rhode Island Reds, two Ameraucanas, a Plymouth Rock and a Wyandotte. I like the look of a diverse flock with different varieties of hens and this mix was just right for us. The one regret I have is only getting two Ameraucanas. This breed is also known as an Easter Egg chicken because they are known for laying multi-colored eggs, which I was so excited about!
Sadly, one of the baby Ameraucana, or Easter Egg chicks was accidentally stepped on (by a toddler) about a week after we brought it home and had to be put down. While we did have one other Ameraucana chick left, it only laid eggs the same color as my other hens. So the next time I choose baby chicks, I will get a few more Ameraucanas, to ensure more variation in egg color.
Here is a list of the supplies we had when we brought our baby chicks home:
- Two large cardboard boxes taped together with cedar shavings and newspaper on the bottom. Newspaper is great for quick cleaning, just pick up and replace daily.
- Small chick feeder.
- Water feeder. I had a plastic one at first, but it got moldy and gross after just a short period of time. I would encourage you to pay a little more and get a metal one. After a year the metal one still looks great, even after being outside in the elements!
- Heat lamp. Chicks need a lot of warmth during their early weeks of life. About 90 degrees for the first week and then taper down five degrees each week for five to eight weeks.
- Chicken feed for baby chicks. I buy mine at Western Feed & Pet Supply.
- Small cardboard box for the car ride home.
Our baby chicks were kept in our over-sized laundry room for the first six weeks to keep them warm and protected during their early weeks of life. It was the only place to have them in our house while keeping them away from our curious toddlers. They were much more dusty and stinky than I had anticipated. Chickens love to scratch and dig, which creates a good amount of dust. I don’t mind that at all when they are outside, but I did mind the sudden layers of chicken dust inside my house. The next time I have chicks, I am going to find a different place to house them for those initial six weeks while they are too delicate and small to fend for themselves outside. The fun part of this period is that they are so tiny and cute!
The Coop and Run
We have a very basic, functional chicken run and coop set-up. As you can see from the picture, it is nothing fancy. We were given the coop by my aunt who also raises chickens. My husband built the chicken run around the coop.
Chicken Run vs. Free Range Chickens
We chose to give our hens some extra room to roam with a slightly larger run, so we made our chicken run 10’ by 10’. A run that is 8’ by 4’ is adequate for up to eight birds if you let them roam during the day, so our run has plenty of extra run for our little ladies. We were so excited to start raising our chickens, we brought our chicks home before the chicken run was complete. I figured we had to keep the baby chicks inside for six weeks anyway, so that would be plenty of time to finish our run, right? Well, finishing the run took longer than planned (like everything, right?). My advice is to have your chicken run and coop space completely finished before buying your chicks. Our run was still incomplete when the chicks became too large to keep in the house. So for the first few months, they truly had free range of our entire backyard. I liked this idea in theory; chickens roaming around happily eating the worms and bugs and producing eggs to their hearts content. Though in reality, our backyard was completely covered in chicken poop within a few days. Not just on the ground, but on the patio table, chairs, walkway, hose, outdoor mat, kids toys…anything and everything we had in our backyard, a chicken would poop on it. It got to the point that I didn’t like to go into our backyard, let alone let the kids play back there because the poop was everywhere. When we finally completed the chicken run, we put the chickens in their new home and thought we had solved the poop problem. However, a new problem arose when in less than an hour of being in the completed chicken run, the chickens flew over our six-foot-high fence and were back to being queens of the yard. My father-in-law helped by clipping their wings so they couldn’t fly over (no chickens were harmed here and clipping wings is painless). Yet even with clipped wings, they still managed to escape. We ended up having to put chicken wire on top of the whole run. Doing that solved the problem. There was no more escaping and no more poop in the backyard. Finally! I do let the ladies out when we are in the backyard gardening, watering or playing. I love letting them roam a bit, eat the bugs, scratch at the ground and have a bit of freedom. However, to help prevent the previous poop problem, my husband made me promise to put them right back in the coop when we go inside.
TIP: The best way I have found to wrangle chickens back into their coop is by squirting them with the hose. They hate getting wet so they run from it and I can get them to go in whichever direction I want.
People ask me all the time if chickens are a lot of work, but in my opinion chickens are the easiest animals to own, even at this time in my life with two small children. Daily chicken maintenance takes about five minutes. I go out with my bowl of food scraps, throw the ladies the scraps and some chicken feed on the ground of their run, change out their water, grab the eggs and I’m done.
Each month, I put new cedar shavings in the coop where they lay their eggs. My hens insist on roosting at night on top of their coop, so I never have to clean out the inside of their coop because they don’t poop in there. Whenever I have the time, I spray down the roof of the coop with the hose to clean off the poop that accumulates on top. That’s all I do for them. Like I said earlier, we let them out to roam sometimes and interact with them when we have the desire. I love that I can give them extra attention when I have time, but when days are busy, it’s a five-minute chore that rewards us with yummy, fresh eggs. It’s a win in my book!
Pros of Backyard Chickens
I love having my hens in our backyard. During the summer we get about five eggs a day from our six ladies. During the winter months when there is less daylight, their egg laying is reduced by about half.
I love being able to feed my family fresh eggs that were laid that day or just a day or two before. We are spoiled and rarely eat store bought eggs anymore. The other thing I love is that feeding the chickens eliminates our need to compost fruit and vegetable waste. We give all of our fruit and vegetable scraps to our chickens and they love it! They eat a variety of produce with the exception of citrus. We even put our grass clippings in the coop as well. We don’t put any chemicals on our lawn, so it is safe to feed our chickens. I never have to feel guilty about not eating mushy grapes or when my kids only eat half of their bananas. We give it straight to the hens and they are much healthier and happier for it. Another small pro is the joy I get from looking out the back window and seeing my hens walking around. Observing them has a calming and relaxing effect on me.
Cons of Backyard Chickens
The cons are so small in comparison to the benefits, but I do think our coop is a bit of an eye-sore at times. We are in the middle of re-doing our backyard and one of my next projects is planting vegetation around the run to make it not stick out as much. In the summer there are a lot of flies around the coop too. Of course the chickens are a bit smelly too, but I don’t notice it until I am close to the chicken run. Our coop is on the back side of our property away from the house and I am thankful we chose to put it there.
Areas of Improvement
One of my goals is to plant more food in my garden next year so that I can decrease my feed costs. I like the idea of them eating more fresh produce and less processed feed. Healthier hens produce healthier eggs and in turn, a healthier family.
Thanks so much for letting me share our backyard chicken story with you! If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Rebekah Scoville who lives in Sacramento with her husband Scott (Sacramento beer enthusiast – check out their family business beersinsac.com) and two young sons.