Backyard Chickens: What you need to know

backyard chickens

Keeping Chickens – Types of Chickens, The Chicken Coop, Chicken Health and More.

I would like to introduce you to my three pet chickens, Gertie (white), Ethel (black) and Mildred (black and white who is sadly no longer with us). They are all heritage hens or pure breeds. Gertie is a White Sussex,  Ethel is an Australorp and Mildred was a Plymouth Rock.

Ever since we moved into our house in May 2013 I wanted chooks. The yard is big enough and the suburb we live in is so country like in look and feel, it just felt right. I also thought it would be wonderful to have our own fresh eggs and a great opportunity for Elliott to learn about looking after them.

A friend of mine has 6 chickens and her chooks really inspired me to get my own. To sit next to my friends chicken run and hear them cluck cluck clucking away is the most relaxing sound, I just love it.

But like any other pet, you have to be prepared in terms of their housing and shelter, safety, food and so on.

We learnt about the safety thing the hard way, but I do blame myself. Our dog Billy couldn’t wait to get a taste of one of the chooks (as you can clearly see in the photo below) and one day when I put Billy out in the front yard thinking that the side gate to the back yard was closed, I was wrong. When I got up from my front office to check him, my stomach sunk when I saw the open gate and I knew what I would find out the back. RIP Mildred.


backyard chickens

Since then, we’ve put in a fenced chicken run with a gate so the chooks and Billy can happily share the backyard.

chicken run

There are so many people I’ve spoken to that are keen to get chooks and really, they’re a wonderful pet to have if you have the space. So, I thought I’d put together my top 10 list of things I think you should know about owning backyard chickens.

Purebred or Hybrid Hens

There are a number of differences between purebred chickens and hybrid chooks. The main things that stood out for me were that purebred chickens typically live longer and lay longer, an average of 5 years. Whereas Hybrid chooks don’t live near as long. I was actually told that once they stop laying at around 18 months to two years old, they have a bit of a meltdown and die. Quite sad actually. There’s a lot more to choose from with Purebred hens in terms of their features and personalities but you will always pay a lot more for the purebred hens.

At least 1.5m is required per chicken

This is the recommended space needed for chooks to be happy and healthy. I would also recommend contacting your local council about keeping poultry.

A chicken coop

Chicken coops come in all different shapes and sizes. You can buy them ready made, you can buy them flat packed like we did and put them together yourself or if you’re the handy type, you can build one yourself from scratch or using recycled materials. The most important thing is that the coop you build is secure and provides proper protection for the chooks while they sleep and in bad weather.

This is our chicken coop, it could happily house 4 chickens.

chicken coopA safe environment

It’s not only dogs you have to be weary about but foxes, cats and snakes. It’s best to keep your coop away from bushes and in an open area, make sure their coop and where they sleep is properly secure and there are no gaps where snakes can make their way in. There are some really great solar powered gadgets on the market these days which you put into the ground and they send off high frequency sounds and vibrations into the ground to scare off snakes and toads. They’re quite inexpensive and great if you are concerned about this type of thing.

Lastly in terms of safety, make sure there is sufficient shade for the chickens, especially in hot months. Our coop is next to a large magnolia which gives off plenty of shade over the coop. There is also some other trees which they like to hide under, especially the bougainvillea.

A mixture of foods

Chickens need a varied diet. In addition to the commercially available laying mash, chickens should have access to greens, grain and grit. Our chooks seem to love the pak choy from my veggie garden as well as silverbeet, kale and spinach. We also feed them scraps including wholemeal bread, rolled oats, fruit and vegetables. I was also told that if their egg shells seemed to be a little soft, grind up their egg shells very finely and add to their food (egg shells must be very finely grinded).

It is important that you DO NOT feed chickens rhubarb, avocado, chocolate, onion, garlic, citrus or lawn clippings. Potatoes are also not very good for them.

Access to water at all times

This is super important, especially in warmer weather. Without water, chickens will die.  Water should be replenished daily and not kept in the sun where it can go green.

Block off gardens and veggie gardens

If you love your gardens, flowers and vegetables, my recommendation would be to fence these off so the chickens can’t access them. If you don’t, the chickens will absolutely flatten them i.e. scratch and eat the plants.

Nesting boxes

I was never quite sure how many nesting boxes to have per number of hens and because my girls aren’t laying yet (they’re still a little young) but my friend told me (and I’ve read) that chickens often lay in the same box anyway.

At this stage we have two nesting boxes which was to be for 3 chickens. We will be getting another 2 chickens soon and so I believe two nesting boxes will be more than enough. From my research, it seems that the rule is around about 1 nesting box per four hens.

Natural alternatives to worming

Nasturtiums are growing wild at our house which is great because I feed it to the chickens. It’s not only a great food for them, but the peppery green leaves are also a natural worming food because they contain natural antibiotic and antiseptic.

Cleaning your coop

We use wood shavings in our coop instead of straw because it was recommended to me and I find it very easy to clean out the coop when needed. At this stage I have been cleaning out the coop every one and a half weeks with daily spot cleans where I scoop out the poo that they’ve done overnight and then I just turn the shavings with a hand spade.The great thing about our coop is it has a tray that can be pulled out to clean all of the droppings.  It’s really important to keep the coop nice and clean so to stop mites and other nasties and so it smells clean.

I’ve been doing a little bit of research though, on how often you should clean your coop and I came across what is called the Deep Litter method of waste which seemed quite interesting and smart. However, it did make me a little nervous because it was emphasised that you had to do it exactly right for it not only to be effective but for it to be safe for the chickens and not pose a health hazard.

The Deep Litter method is whereby the shavings or straw isn’t removed but instead turned and layers added. The poo then breaks down with the straw or shaving matter to create both warmth and eventual compost which you can then throw on your garden. I’m not game enough to use this method yet just in case I do something wrong!

chicken run chicken coop

I hope some of this information helped you a little more in making your decision about getting chickens. Please be aware that this is just a guide and is what I have learnt as a chicken owner. I would highly recommend that you talk to a chicken breeder or similar professional if you have any questions about raising chickens.

Have you got backyard chickens or are you thinking about getting some?


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Eva Lewis (The Multitasking Woman)

Eva Lewis (The Multitasking Woman)

Eva is the Editor and Owner of The Multitasking Woman. She always has her fingers in many different pies but wouldn't have it any other way. Eva is a freelance writer, a social media manager, a Mum to her six-year-old son, one-year-old daughter, six chickens and Benny the dog and wife to Mr G. They all live happily in their little worker's cottage in Ipswich, Queensland, Australia.
Eva Lewis (The Multitasking Woman)

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  1. September 15, 2014 / 6:32 am

    I’d love to have a couple of chickens in the backyard, just have to try and talk my husband into it!

  2. Jody at Six Little Hearts
    September 15, 2014 / 6:52 am

    We had chickens too. Eventually a fox got to our last two. I thought the girls were hilarious but we wont do them again as they were a bit too much work and the smell was pretty full on in Summer too!

  3. LydiaCLee
    September 15, 2014 / 7:09 am

    I’d like to get some but partner not so keen…would be fun pet & handy for eggs…

  4. Lucy @ Bake Play Smile
    September 15, 2014 / 7:18 am

    These are great tips! My hubby mentioned a while ago that he would like a couple of chickens. I just don’t think I could handle the poop lol!! Oh and our retriever would probably stalk them all day too! xx

  5. September 15, 2014 / 8:51 am

    I’d love to have chickens but its never going to happen while we’re in a townhouse. Maybe in 5 years when we move although I’m sure Trent will want a dog first.

  6. September 15, 2014 / 10:58 am

    I think we have nine hens and one rooster. We just killed the other four roosters and am slowly eating them. I love our chickens. I refuse to ever buy eggs again. We free range ours, which drives me batty. They poo everywhere and prefer to nest in my pot plats squashing, and slowly killing off my garden. But, I love sitting outside with them pecking all around me.

  7. September 15, 2014 / 12:50 pm

    I’d love to have some chickens, our dogs might love them a little too much though. One day!

  8. FitFun Mum
    September 15, 2014 / 1:18 pm

    I’m so jelly of your chicken coop! My fiancé is petrified that the chicken feed will encourage mice (and then snakes) so we haven’t had any chooks yet. One day! How does your beautiful dog go with the chooks?

  9. September 15, 2014 / 1:35 pm

    Oh I would LOVE some chickens!! We unfortunately don’t have the space but when we move to a bigger home at some point the are on the list!

  10. September 15, 2014 / 2:11 pm

    We have chooks, absolutely love them!! We get so many eggs that I am practically supplying the neighborhood from 5 chickens! I have heard that the egg shells in the food can make them tempted to destroy their eggs, I don’t know if there is any truth to that though… Your coop looks fantastic!

  11. TeganMC
    September 15, 2014 / 4:19 pm

    My partner used to have chooks and they were beautiful. They were pretty much free range and then going back into their coop at night. One of the hens used to come into the house all of the time and would sit on my feet while I was sitting on the couch.

  12. September 15, 2014 / 7:39 pm

    I killed the veggie garden, not sure if it would be good to keep chooks.. That being said, maybe if we had a year big enough I’d give it ago.

  13. Kirsty @ My Home Truths
    September 15, 2014 / 8:42 pm

    I have to be honest, I’ve never longed for chickens or rabbits or anything like that – too much work for me!

  14. Alicia-OneMotherHen
    September 15, 2014 / 9:20 pm

    I didn’t know that about nasturtiums, I just pulled a heap out and wasn’t sure to put them in the pen or not. I have four hens, three have just started laying in the last couple of weeks. So great to be getting our own eggs again. I have several nesting boxes, but they all lay in the same one.

  15. Kaz @ MeltingMoments
    September 15, 2014 / 9:24 pm

    How fantastic. I don’t think I could manage a fish a the moment but I do love the idea of having chooks and fresh eggs.

  16. September 16, 2014 / 2:13 am

    Wish we had the room for chickens. Your set up looks impressive!

  17. September 16, 2014 / 7:47 am

    Wow, that’s a whole lot of work! Our neighbours have chickens and our boys love to visit them. The owner named all his chooks after his four sisters-in-law:)

  18. September 16, 2014 / 7:56 am

    We lived on an Island once for a year and had a ragtag collection of chickens. They laid eggs of very different sizes. The kids would collect the eggs each day and weight them looking to see if any of the hens had beaten their personal bests. It was great fun.

  19. September 16, 2014 / 1:14 pm

    We have 3 chooks which I find is plenty. We learnt the hard way with regards to the veggie patch demolishion. Some good tips you have there. Hopefully we never have to worry about snakes..