Raising chicks, gathering the eggs and hanging out with them in the backyard has been such a pleasure for our kids (as well as us) that I thought I would share about our adventure.
Originally published on Oct 26, 2013. Keep scrolling to see our current chicken coop and feature on TV!
We got our first flock about two years ago. Cute, little one day old chicks arrived in a box that the post office hand delivered. Apparently it created quite a stir since there was immense chirping coming from the box so they drove it over in their special delivery van! We were all so excited and we raised the chicks in our family room for the first six weeks. Then we moved them out to the garage when they started getting bigger, and finally out to their coop.
I designed the coop, built it the previous fall and couldn’t wait to see the chickens in their new home. It’s made out of cedar to survive the elements and a local window distributor gave me a sample window that they were going to get rid of. There is a “people door” on the opposite side so we can have good access for feeding and cleaning. On the far right there are nesting boxes off the back with a hinged roof to get the eggs. The “chicken door” that leads to the run (caged-in area outside) pulls out into a ramp. So in the morning we open it to let them out and at night we close it to protect them from any predators that might try to get in. The chickens automatically go in on their roost at dusk to go to sleep. One night when I was closing the door and checking their food it looked like one of them was putting their wing around the other… so cute!
The hens started laying eggs when they were 18 weeks old. It was so exciting to see an egg in those nesting boxes. At first the eggs are really small, but still such a joy to gather them from the coop. All of the hens usually lay their eggs before noon every day and after all this time I still get excited to open the hatch and see eggs in there. I love giving them many of our kitchen scraps and edible plants we pull out of the garden! For example, they eat our apple cores, carrot and beet tops, and spent broccoli plants. So it’s a wonderful feeling eating the eggs when I know how healthy the chickens are eating.
Another wonderful aspect of having chickens is hanging out with them in our yard. Our chickens turned out to be very social, which surprised me. They follow me around when I’m gardening and when the chickens see our neighbors behind us they walk over to the back fence to check out what they are doing. The kids love their company and when their friends come over they all have fun throwing them grapes to eat.
Unfortunately there has been some heartbreak. One of our chickens died from natural causes; she laid half of an egg and the yolk stayed inside. She got an infection and there was really nothing we could do for her other than keep her comfortable and warm. It actually turned into a great lesson for the kids about the circle of life, which I think was a gentle way of experiencing loss before anyone close to us had passed away.
We also live fairly close to the forest preserve and have had foxes living around here, so it shouldn’t shock me that they would be a problem, but we did have a fox attack two of our chickens in the backyard. I mistakenly went inside for a little while in the middle of the afternoon when the chickens were roaming our yard and a fox took that opportunity to hunt. I ran out there and one of the chickens jumped into my arms (an experience I will never forget), but two others weren’t that fortunate. A very sad day for us… and lesson learned. My neighbors were so sweet, giving me boxes so I could transport the hurt chickens to an emergency poultry hospital and making us banana bread for our loss. It was nice to feel that sense of community.
So we started our second flock. The joy has definitely outweighed the sorrow of those situations and I wasn’t going to let it discourage me! I’m really glad we decided to continue keeping chickens because they really are a part of our family; I call them my little babies sometimes… and yes, I get called the mother hen on occasion. And nothing beats the fresh, healthy eggs!
If you have any questions about keeping chickens or want to hear more, email me or comment below. I’ve put together a few commonly asked questions in case you are curious.
Where do the chickens go in the winter?
They stay outside! When it’s below freezing we turn on a light up in the roof of the coop to keep them warm at night. They huddle together which helps too. You don’t have to have anything fancy, just a metal heat lamp with an extension cord.
How much work is it to take care of them?
Every day we open the chicken door and make sure they have enough food and water. At night we close the door. Every week and a half to two weeks we clean out the bedding (we use wood shavings) and replace it with fresh. That’s pretty much it!
How many eggs do you get?
In general, each hen can lay one egg per day. I’ve noticed that when the chickens are under stress, such as extremely high or low temperatures, they will lay less. Their laying ability also depends on breed. If you are keeping chickens mainly for the eggs, I would look into which breeds lay large eggs with excellent production.
What are your favorite breeds?
Barred Rock, Golden Buff, Rhode Island Red, Plymouth Rock, Buff Orpington, and Black Australorp. I know many people like Easter Eggers (or Araucanas) because they lay blueish and greenish eggs, but their production is not great so you can opt for the pretty eggs, but know that you might not get as many as you could with other hens.
Is it legal to have chickens in the Chicago suburbs?
You have to check with your own town laws and guidelines. My family has a chicken permit! It’s so funny every time I think about it because permits are usually associated with construction projects, but I had to go through the village to apply for and obtain a chicken permit.
Do you need a rooster to get eggs?
No. In fact, most suburbs don’t allow roosters. But hens lay eggs whether they are fertilized or not so it’s not a problem.
How did you learn about raising chickens?
I read a lot of books in the beginning and of course I’m continually learning from experience! My favorite book that I still reference is “Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens” by Gail Damerow. I would definitely recommend looking into coop design and setup before building anything or deciding what to buy because it will make it much easier to maintain later. I think the best way to do that is by learning about the habits or chickens, where they lay their eggs, what type of feeder you plan on using etc.
Where did you buy chicks?
We bought our chicks from Meyer Hatchery in Ohio and I’ve been happy with them. Yes, the chicks came in the mail! That was definitely the cutest package I’ve ever received with all of the little chicks chirping and excited about their new home. Meyer Hatchery overnights them through the post office along with a heat pack to keep the chicks warm. The minimum is three chicks and they will not ship them until the spring because of the temperatures outside. November is actually a great time to order chicks because most of the popular breeds sell out by the Thanksgiving/Christmas time period.
Update from 2019: Featured on WGN TV
Erin Ivory from WGN TV and her cameraman Brad came to our house in April to meet the chickens and do a feature segment on our suburban backyard flock! You can see the segment below.
New Chicken Coop Design
After having chickens for several years we were ready for a coop update for three main reasons: we wanted to have storage in the coop for food, bedding, and treats instead of storing it in our garage, four chickens did not produce enough eggs for our family, and we wanted the coop to be in a different location in our yard. So I set out to design and build a new coop.
Here’s the finished product and then I’ll show pictures of the progress along the way. We started building in May, 2018 and finished in July because I was building in my “free time” and getting help from a friend.
The first phase after digging and pouring piers was framing. As you can see, the coop is the raised section on the left, the run is on the right, and storage and space for the chickens to hang out is underneath the coop.
Complicated roof framing is not my speciality, so I left this entirely up to my friend, but I had fun designing it.
I loved framing out the walls to plan where the doors and windows would be. It’s finally taking shape!
Meanwhile, we raised chicks in our house. How adorable is this one?!
I set up a work station on our driveway to enjoy myself while building the doors.
Next, the plywood went on…
The chicks were quickly feathering out and kept me company while working on trim.
Beautiful Annabelle the Plymouth Rock with our Lavender Orpington named Flora in the background.
My daughter helped me paint, which was awesome and a lot of fun!
Doors with bead board panelling installed, run painted, and cedar shakes on the roof.
I gathered branches over the last few months and I couldn’t wait to put this ramp together… trying to make it organic looking!
This branch came from a tree my parents cut down in their backyard and it makes a cool spot for the chickens to roost.
And here’s the finished product! You can see an access door on the left, door to the nesting boxes to gather the eggs on the right top, and the storage doors across the bottom. A neighbor gave us a bunch of pavers when they were redoing their patio and thought they would be perfect around the coop!