Skip to main content

Determined to raise backyard chickens? 6 essential things to do before you set up your coop

Urban chicken coops are trendy and rightfully so. With a group of hens you get fun pets plus eggs how often does the family dog contribute after all? But you can’t dive in on every Instagram trend, and this one, in particular, requires a pretty big upfront commitment mixed with a reasonable amount of upkeep, especially for beginners who have never owned so much as a parakeet. Just because it seems like a lot to handle, that doesn’t mean you aren’t cut out for poultry farming; many find it fun and rewarding. Before jumping into backyard chickens, think through these six things and determine if a flock of birds is really the right fit for you.

Chickens in their backyard coop
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Look up local laws

Even if you see chickens roaming nearby, you’ll want to thoroughly check up on the laws of your area, as well as any HOA regulations. You’d be surprised how many very specific rules might apply to setting up your little farm. Think about the coop itself, the rules for owning fowl, and the noise ordinances. Specifically, if you intend to have a rooster heading up your group as they can crow at decibels you wouldn’t imagine and at hours you don’t usually see.

Find your perfect spot

Next, scope out your yard and start planning. You need a large space for the coop itself (more on that in a minute) but that’s not the whole picture. Since you started with a relatively small space to begin with (remember chickens often roam over many acres in a more rural habitat), you want both an indoor structure and an outdoor run. Altogether, you might need a sizable portion of the yard to accommodate them. If you plan to add other birds like ducks, you must calculate too where the pool will go and how they will access it.

Design your urban chicken coop

There are probably a few laws governing how big this can be, and you might need to apply for a permit, so you’ll spend a decent amount of time in the design phase. Decide if you want to buy something pre-made or build a structure that perfectly fits into your yard. Either way, you should allocate about three square feet per chicken, so your building will get big quick, even if you want to start small. And that’s just indoors. They need to be able to come out sometimes but still stay safely nearby.

Research breeds

Think all chickens are the same? Think again. Get ready to narrow it down from the 500 chicken breeds out there. The local climate will slim that as well as the available space, but you still have a bit of your own studying to do. And it’s not just breed, you can impact what types of eggs you get based on what chicks you get (along with the food and environment).

Three chickens eat while outside in their backyard
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Research breeders

We suggest doing a bit of internet sleuthing before showing up at the nearest farm and walking away with a few babies. If you want all females, you need to wait as much as eight weeks to be sure you’re getting little ladies. You also want a crew that has been taken care of from the egg stage with a healthy mother to boot. Ask questions and do your digging.

Start small

The excitement of bringing home your first bird can cause you to go overboard and wind up with a whole mess of animals. And we mean mess literally. The more hens you have, the more noise and poop they bring with them. Not to mention flies and predators (it’s called fox in the henhouse for a reason). Start with half a dozen at most, though never just get one as she’ll become lonely.

If you’ve made it through this list and still want to dive in, go for it! When all is said and done, chickens don’t require as much work as many other pets since they never need walks and keep each other company. Assuming you have the right enclosure, plenty of feed, and a desire to deep clean frequently, you’ll take to your birds with ease. And who knows, you might find your flock expanding quickly as the next generation is born.

Editors' Recommendations

Rebekkah Adams
Rebekkah’s been a writer and editor for more than 10 years, both in print and digital. In addition to writing about pets…
Follow these 6 tips to stop birds from eating your grass seed
Birds flock around feeder in yard

While we love having birds flock to our feeders, we don't want them making our lawns their meal. Planting grass seed invites a host of animals, including winged ones, who see this as an all-you-can-eat buffet. Of course, you don't want to harm them or scare them off forever, but you do need your grass to recover. There are a few tricks you can use to keep the animals off your lawn and continue to encourage them to visit when and where you want them. Here's how to keep birds from eating grass seed.

How do I keep birds from eating my seedlings?
Think about this in two ways: You can scare birds from the seed area or you can cover your seeds. Both will work in tandem as well if you want extra protection. We'll start with coverage options.
Add straw
The goal here isn't to completely hide the seeds — straw or hay won't do that for you. But adding a layer of mulch will cause most birds to search for their meal elsewhere. Make sure you rake the seeds first and that you sparsely scatter the straw. You don't want it so dense that it blocks the light and kills your little seedlings. While this is a great first step, it won't work in certain conditions, like a windy area. 
Use netting
This brings us to our next idea. Placing netting a couple of inches above the ground means birds can't get in to eat the seeds. You'll want to get something heavy-duty enough that they don't shred right through it but not so thick that it prevents water or sun from reaching the new plant life. Because it needs to stay off the earth, you'll have to attach it to stakes at the edges. Make sure to fold down the edges so that birds don't crawl underneath and wind up stuck. 
Place down burlap
Burlap combines ideas one and two together. You're both hiding the seeds from sight and preventing critters from getting at them. Unlike netting, this will be easy to tear, but if the birds don't realize there's a delicious snack under there, they'll hopefully give it a pass. Put something heavy around the edges, such as rocks, to keep it in place. Burlap also can benefit the seed by trapping heat and should let enough water and light in while keeping birds (and other pests) out. 

Read more
8 toxic food for birds you probably have in your home
Parrot cracks nut in his claw

We all know dogs cannot digest it, but can birds eat chocolate? It may come as a surprise that a number of familiar foods are on the no list for our feathered friends, even some fruits and veggies. You wouldn't want to accidentally poison your pet or the neighborhood singers, so think carefully before grabbing a snack from the kitchen. While there are plenty of things you can both share, avoid the items on this list of toxic food for birds.

Toxic food for birds
We hinted at this earlier, and you should always remember it. Because it contains theobromine, a heart stimulant, most pets can't eat chocolate, and it should never be given to any animals. Keep all candy where you know birds won't get at it and make sure your treats don't have chocolate in them by accident (don't give your bird cookies, for example). Luckily, outside of dogs, most of our companions don't have much interest in this dessert.
In addition to anything with cocoa, you want to avoid this stimulant. It can become tricky to do so if you share cups of water with your pets, so we recommend teaching them not to drink from a glass at all. You wouldn't want your tiny bird's heart to go into overdrive, which means keeping them away from the coffee, tea, and soda that you enjoy.
While you might see people happily throwing bread or crackers to outdoor birds, we recommend against it. It's not poisonous per se; the real issue is that birds can completely fill up on dense, carb-heavy bread that gives them essentially no nutrients. On top of that, any bread mold will cause harm — definitely don't provide them with old scraps that have gone bad. 

Read more
5 fun lovebird facts to know before you get one
Woman sits at laptop while her pet lovebird perches on it

There's a lot to love about lovebirds. They're known for being extremely affectionate, either with each other or with us (usually not both; more on that later). Plus, these pretty pets are intelligent, funny, and, of course, gorgeous to look at. Whether you're an avian expert or getting your first feathered friend, you'll find the lovebird to be a solid choice. In fact, they work as a great beginner bird for anyone who isn't equipped to take on a larger parrot. Before taking the plunge and bringing one (or two) home, check out these lovebird facts.

They mate for life
No surprise here — it's right there in the name. These attractive parrots probably are monogamous because it enhances their social structure, and so lovebirds are extremely devoted to their partners. In the wild, this means they choose mates young and maintain that relationship through rituals and courtship behaviors, like feeding. At home, a single lovebird will bond with you since they don't have any other animals to hang out with. A pair, on the other hand, will mostly want to stick together and may ignore you completely. Remember, though, if you sign up for a solitary bird, you need to take the place of her great love. Be prepared to spend a lot of time together and try to bond early in her life. Never break up a mated pair once they've become attached. If they need to be moved or re-homed, do everything you can to ensure they can stick together. 
There are a few different kinds
Nine distinct species, to be exact, and they all come from Africa (or Madagascar). While color and temperament vary slightly, they're all known for their distinctive green plumage. Not all types make good pets, though, so when you adopt one, it'll probably be a peach-faced, Fischer’s, or masked. Because they breed easily in captivity, you'll definitely have your choice of plumage coloring. Do a little research in advance and figure out what you're looking for before committing. All of them stay pretty small, however, so you won't have to worry about them outgrowing their space. 

Read more