Last Updated on July 31, 2020 by Milo Martinovich
Having a source of high quality, organic protein right out your back door may seem impossible, but backyard chicken farming is one of the easiest ways to create a self-sustaining protein supply for you, your family, and even a few customers!
Backyard chicken farming can take on a variety of shapes and sizes, depending on whether or not you want eggs and/or meat. Also, if you plan on making this a side hustle to make some extra cash, your backyard chicken farming operation will look much different than someone who just wants fresh eggs for the family.
How do I start a backyard poultry farm?
Starting your backyard chicken farming venture is as simple as ensuring that chickens are allowed where you live and then acquiring chickens. Setting up shelter and a fenced-in area can be accomplished when you are raising your day-old chicks in their brooder. That’s where they will spend the first few weeks as to develop their feathers and mature enough to be ready for the great outdoors (or your backyard).
There are several other steps for every specific backyard chicken farming operation out there, but what I listed is the bare minimum for somebody looking to get a poultry farm going.
As for types of chickens to get, licenses or certifications required, or type of fencing and coops all depend on where you live, what you want from your chickens, and the idea you have for raising the chickens themselves (free-range, rotational “grazing” with chicken tractors, or permanent fencing).
How many acres do you need for a chicken farm?
The answer to this question could be as little as the average size of a typical backyard, to hundreds of acres, depending on how large of a chicken farm you want. Since you are reading this article on backyard chicken farming, I’m going to assume you want a small operation to supply your household with food, and maybe a few customers to make a small profit on the side.
There are tons of guidelines online about the space needed per chicken, but I like sticking to 3-4 square feet per chicken for coop space and 20+ square feet of outdoor space per bird. This isn’t some magic formula. It’s actually how I designed my backyard chicken farming space when first starting out. It gives the chickens plenty of room to play around in the day and scratch to find bugs without getting bored and getting at each others’ throats.
If you are looking at a free-range setup, obviously you only need to worry about coop space. For rotational grazing setups with tractors, your outdoor space can be smaller since you are planning on moving it often to a new patch of your yard every day.
Each design has it’s pros and cons, so deciding on which style of grazing works for you is imperative to nail down before diving too deep into farming.
How much does it cost to set up a poultry farm?
You need chickens, a coop, and some fencing most likely. The more extravagant your fence and coop become, the more money you are looking to spend upfront. Chickens are usually the lowest cost since you can get great quality day-old chicks for a few bucks apiece. You’ll also need a brooder with heat, food and water bowls, and other miscellaneous materials like nesting box materials, coop bedding, and maybe some wood chips for a deep mulch set up in the chicken run.
After the initial infrastructure set up, you need food and fresh water.
If you plan on breeding them for more chicks, you might need an incubator as well.
Sheesh, things might add up quickly! That might be a reason to look for a way to make some extra money backyard chicken farming too.
How many chickens do you need for a family of 4?
My family of 4 started with 4 Barred Rock hens and a Rooster for protection for the hens. This didn’t meat our eggs needed, but it was a good start. If your family eats fewer eggs than mine, it might be just right for you.
Finding out the breed you want to keep will help you decide how many chickens you need. Some lay more eggs than others. Knowing how many eggs your family eats per week and then calculating that out to the average weekly lay for a hen of a specific breed is simple.
The same process applies to raise chickens for meat.
If you want a dual-purpose breed that is good for eggs and meat, you probably want to hatch some of the eggs as well, since you need new chickens to harvest for meat regularly. This adds to your egg needs and changes the amount of breeding stock you need to keep.
What do backyard chickens need?
Safety from predators, a good climate, fresh water, and healthy food. A nice fenced in pen and safe coop are crucial. Feeders and waterers are necessary for most as well. Nesting boxes for the hens when it’s laying time. A heat source might be needed in the winter in the coop if you have rough winters. All the rest is the icing on the cake to make your chickens happy!
What should be inside a chicken coop?
You should have some deep bedding to create an easy composting system in the coop itself, some nesting boxes for the hens, and roosting poles for the chickens to sleep on. Some people might need food and water inside the coop, depending on their climate. Coops aren’t 5-star hotels. These are chickens, after all.
How to raise chickens for eggs
If you are starting with day-old chicks, you need to keep them in a brooder until they mature enough to handle outside conditions. Raising them on grower feed until they are at the stage of laying eggs and keeping fresh water and bedding, a supplementary heat source is all it takes to raise day-old chicks to maturity for the most part.
Once they reach their egg-laying days, you switch them over to layer feed and ensure they have nesting boxes available. You can find fake eggs at feed stores to trick the hens into thinking that’s where they should be laying their eggs too, but I’ve found that ping pong balls work just fine as well and are much cheaper.
Hens don’t need roosters to lay eggs. They will lay regardless. Their peak laying stage will last a few years, but they can continue laying for the majority of their lives. How long you keep them as your main laying stock depends on your needs.
Backyard chicken farming for meat
The same process applies through the brooder stage for meat chickens as it was for laying chickens. The difference is that meat chickens are typically harvested by 16 weeks or less, depending on the breed you choose. For example, Cornish Cross chickens are usually harvested around 8 weeks old, meaning they are only out of the brooder and outside for a few weeks.
While you can certainly harvest older chickens, it isn’t recommended if efficiency is what you desire when backyard chicken farming.
Grower feed is typically used up to butcher day unless you want them to live longer, in which case they are switch to laying feed for the females and flock raiser feed for the males.
Backyard chicken farming for meat and eggs
If you want eggs and meat, you have two choices. You can buy a group of hens for your eggs and groups of meat breeds for your meat needs. Your hens live out their days supplying eggs and you regularly buy and raise batches of meat birds for your meat needs.
Or, if you want to stick to one breed of chicken, you can pick a dual purpose bird and harvest the males for meat and keep the females for laying eggs.
How do I make my backyard chicken farming self-sufficient?
Sticking with dual-purpose breeds, you keep a breeding stock (a group of hens and a rooster or two), and hatch some of the eggs while eating the rest. Out of the hatched eggs, you can raise the males for meat and the females for meat or more egg-laying. The process continues and self-regulates based on your egg hatching.
Getting a few different bloodlines of roosters and hens will extend your self-sufficiency to avoid too much line breeding.
Raising baby chickens
As I mentioned before, the first few weeks of a baby chickens life is spent in a brooder. A heat source mimics the heat generated from cuddling up to a hen. Fresh water is supplied and high-quality food is always available. Give them deep bedding to cover up any smells and create a great source of compost at the end of the process, which is one of the best organic gardening tips for those who garden and have chickens.
You can go further and supply them with grass clippings from where their outdoor location will be and a scoop of dirt from the same location to give them a natural source of grit, get them introduced to the microorganisms present in their future home, and encourage natural foraging habits.
4-6 weeks is typically plenty of time in the brooder, depending on the time of year and your local climate. Then, they are ready for the backyard!
Backyard chicken coop basics
I built my first coop out of scrap wood and a pack of screws that I bought. So, it cost me about $5 total. I’ve gotten hundreds of eggs out of that coop’s nesting boxes and it is still in use today.
The chickens need bedding, roosting poles, and nesting boxes for laying hens. That’s about it. If necessary, food and water can also be put in the coop. For extreme winter conditions, a heat source will be useful to keep the birds healthy and happy.
How to raise chickens in winter
Most chickens will thrive much more in the other seasons, but ensuring the right farming tactics during winter is crucial to keep your backyard chicken farming running.
Picking a breed that is hardy for your local winter conditions is getting off on the right foot. Other than that, keeping the run from getting drenched and soggy, and keeping the coop warm and clean is necessary.
Your laying hens might drop egg production. Your meat birds might not grow as quickly. But, rest assured, everything will work out fine and explode come Springtime.
Are there disadvantages to keeping chickens?
Chickens aren’t helpless. But they do need regular check-ins to ensure they stay healthy, well-fed, and hydrated. That means less
time away from home. If you like to go on vacation a lot, you might want to look into a different method of farming.
If you keep your chickens confined in a small area and don’t clean often enough, the pen will start to smell and might make your neighbors upset. Offset this with regular cleaning and putting down deep bedding in the run to absorb everything.
Last, but not least, you might get attached to your birds, so raising them for meat or culling them when they stop laying may become an emotional journey. But, I like to say: if you can’t bring yourself to harvest the meat you intend to eat, you should go Vegan!
Is there money in poultry farming?
Depending on your local economy and how much time and space you have for backyard chicken farming, it can be profitable. Specializing in organic eggs and meat will bring in more money without too much more investment. Proper farming tactics will raise your profits as well.
But, don’t think that a small backyard of chickens can become your full-time job. While I’m sure it’s possible in rare cases, it will mostly be a nice supply of extra money for the household, not the main provider.
How much money can you make chicken farming?
How much does a dozen eggs sell for in your area? What about an lb. of chicken? You can typically charge a bit more than grocery store prices since people love supporting and eating great, locally produced foods.
Now, you need to calculate how much it costs to raise an lb. of chicken, or a dozen eggs.
I recommend starting by just providing for your household and keeping track of these calculations. If you can keep the costs of producing the meat and/or eggs lower than the price of the finished product, you can scale up as you find your customer base and begin making some money!
Is chicken egg farming profitable?
Eggs are easier to produce than meat for most looking to venture into backyard chicken farming. It’s as simple and collecting eggs every day from the nesting boxes in your coop. No butchering or labor-intensive jobs involved.
Once you get a good laying stock together, you can sell your extra eggs to your local area. Most people will love the taste of healthy chicken eggs instead of the store-bought factory-produced eggs and become repeat customers for a long time. Scale as your market requires and you can be a profitable backyard egg farmer!
How much can you make selling chickens?
I didn’t talk much about this because I don’t have experience doing this, but you can also start a chick farm. Establish a great breeding stock of a few great breeds and you can sell day-old chicks to people in your area. Chicks are regularly sold for $5 when the breeding stock is high quality. The profit you make comes down to your ability to sell more chicks.
For those that you don’t sell, you can raise for eggs or meat for your household as well.
Backyard Chicken Farming FAQs
What’s the best breed of chickens for the backyard?
The best breed will be the breed that most aligns with your goals and local climate. For example, if I want a cold-tolerant laying bird, I’m not going to go for a heat-tolerant meat breed. Most hatcheries have this kind of information readily available, like Murray McMurray, so picking the right breed will be easy once you know what you need from the chickens.
What is the average lifespan of a chicken?
Chickens will live for up to 10 years if you let them. Often, meat birds are harvesting very early, and laying hens are harvested after their peak laying years to make the farm more profitable/sustainable.
Do backyard chickens stink?
They can if you don’t clean the run and coop regularly and/or don’t give them enough space. Keeping your run and coop in deep bedding to absorb the smells is a good choice. Even better, you can choose to raise them in chicken tractors that move daily or free-range them, so no patch of land gets obliterated.
Are backyard chickens worth it?
The short answer is Yes! They can provide healthy meat and eggs for your family for years and years. You can even make some money on the side if you choose to do so. If you are willing to put in the time to raise them and the initial money required for the infrastructure, backyard chicken farming is worth it!
What do you think about farming chickens in the backyard? Are you doing it? Let me know with a comment below, especially if you have some tips for the beginner!