Keeping chickens is one of the easiest ways to live more sustainably; besides getting a steady supply of eggs, they make fertilizer for your plants and happily eat your table scraps as part of their regular diet. Chickens and other poultry are often among the first farm animals for beginning farmers or a small backyard farmstead.
Chickens don't need much to keep them happy and healthy. They're easy to care for and don't require specialized attention. With some supplies from your local feed store or purchased online, you can have happy, healthy laying hens or meat birds—the supplies are the same. You only have to scale up your supply list if you plan on incubating the eggs. You'll also need some space—plan for 2 to 3 square feet per chicken inside a coop and 8 to 10 square feet per chicken for the outdoor run.
Take a look a the essential supplies you'll need for keeping chickens.
Waterer and Feeder
Your flock's size, coop, and available space will determine the size and type of feeder to buy. A wall-hung unit might be the best bet for a small enclosure with few birds. You can buy an inexpensive plastic hanging feeder for an indoor coop; it will last you for years. Hanging waterers and feeders prevent the birds from roosting on them and keep the contents free of shavings and poop.
If your feeder is outside, you need to consider a vermin-proof waterproof type. Metal feeders tend to be the most durable. However, do not get a high-capacity feeder for only a few chickens. Feed will get moldy and can get toxic if left to sit. A 10-pound feeder is suitable for six chickens—scale up or down.
One chicken needs about one liter of water per day to keep healthy. Most people place waterers outside the coop to prevent wet bedding. If your waterer is in the run, make sure you let your chickens out promptly in the morning so that they can drink first thing in the morning. Container waterers are the easiest and most feasible for a small coop. If your chickens keep kicking dirt or manure into the water, it might be positioned too low on the ground.
You'll need four hanging feeders or 300 inches of trough space per 100 birds. For waterers, aim for 96 inches of trough per 100 birds. For large numbers of birds, look into an automatic waterer system.
Feed stores sell different feeds for the various stages in chickens' lives. Use "chick starter" for hatchlings. A higher-protein layer feed is recommended for laying hens. For birds raised solely for meat consumption, a "grower/broiler" and sometimes "finisher" feed is used. Organic and conventional feeds are available. You can also make your chicken feed.
Chickens like a bit of variety in their diet. You can mix in table scraps from your kitchen as snacks. Scraps should not exceed 10% of their diet on any given day. Foods to never feed include avocados, raw beans, uncooked rice, chocolate, foods with processed sugar or xylitol, moldy foods, apple seeds, or fruit pits (peach, apricot, cherry, plums). Present these items in the afternoon after the bird has filled up on their primary chicken feed.
Scratch is a treat food for your flock made of grains and seeds like corn, oats, wheat, rye, and sunflower seeds. You can also include plain cracked corn, which chickens love. Scatter some on the ground, and they'll scratch through it with their feet and eat it. Like table scraps, you should only feed them when the chickens have had their primary feed later in the day. Scratch and table scraps should not exceed 10 percent of their daily diet. Too much scatch can affect the health of chickens and decrease egg production.
Grit is tiny stones that the birds store in their crop to help them break down food. Some feeds have grit included, but if you feed your hens your kitchen scraps (and you should!), or even scratch grains, they'll need grit. If your birds have access to a gravel driveway or other small stones or sand sources, you don't need to supplement with grit.
Pine shavings, hemp bedding, straw, and hay are all potential bedding choices for your chickens. It's a matter of personal preference, cost, and availability. Straw or hay is not as absorbent, and some say it can encourage insects, lice, and mold more than pine shavings.
One of your top considerations for chickens is where to keep them. The choices and sizes vary between a chicken coop, a henhouse, and a chicken tractor. Will chickens live full-time in the coop, or will they have access to an outside run or pasture? Do you plan on getting a movable coop or chicken tractor that you can frequently relocate to provide fresh ground for the chickens to forage?
If your birds will have access to outdoor foraging in a run, allow 2 to 3 square feet per bird inside the coop. But if your birds will remain cooped up, aim for five to 10 square feet per chicken. Other considerations for your coop include nest boxes, roosts, ventilation, shade, dust baths (chickens use dust to control parasites), and protective fencing from unwanted animals like dogs, cats, foxes, and weasels.