Raising Chickens: What you need to know before you buy laying hens

So, you’ve decided to start raising chickens because let’s be honest, fresh eggs are amazing. But, if you’ve never had chickens you can feel a bit overwhelmed at the thought of being responsible for the well-being of animals you have no clue how to care for.

raising chickens

This post contains affiliate links.  Please see our full disclosure policy HERE.

There’s this common pattern I see happen among homesteaders. The purchase the animal first and THEN figure out how to house them, fence them in, feed them, etc. Most who have done that will tell you not to. Their experience in doing things that way was most likely not an enjoyable one as they rushed to build something to shelter and fence in the animal.

While we are light years behind many other homesteaders in building up our small homestead here, it’s mostly because we wanted to be prepared first before we welcome new animals. So, we made sure our coop was ready before we brought the chickens home. We are currently working on getting everything in place for our next animals, but I’ll wait to tell you what kind of animals we are bringing home on the homestead until they are actually here. 🙂

Especially when you are new to homesteading, it’s a lot less stressful if you have what you need in place.

So, today we are going to talk about all the things you are going to need in place before bringing chickens home.

Now, if you get baby chicks there is the argument that you don’t need to coop prepared right away as you can brood them indoors, in a garage, or in a barn, but it’s still nice to not have to worry about being under a deadline if you have everything in place already.

Of course, there are some of us, or some of our husbands who work better with a little pressure. 🙂

But for those who don’t, here’s what you need in place before you bring those chickens home.


A place to live. Your chickens are going to need some place to live, aka, a coop. This coop can be built from scratch, you can renovate an existing building on your property, or you can buy an already built coop like this one. How many chickens you want will affect your decision on this. The biggest thing you want to make sure is that it is predator proof, as well that it has good ventilation and air flow, but not too drafty for the cold winter days.

Your coop can be a walk-in style, or a smaller one that you can just make outside egg doors from the opposite of the nesting boxes to collect eggs from. This is a great feature to have, but be sure to make these extra doors predator proof if you add them.

We personally have a walk-in style coop and I really like it. It’s easy for me to get in there and clean, move things around, feed them, and chase down a chicken if I need to!

A place to run. The chickens need a place to run around outside. Some people free-range their chickens, some pasture raise, and some in a smaller pen. Where you live will help you make some of these choices. We free ranged our chickens but had a high coyote population and unfortunately learned the hard way that without a guard dog in our yard we couldn’t free range safely. Ours are currently in a pen, but we are building a larger fenced in pasture for them so they can graze. When chickens graze in the grass you’ll notice the yolks so much brighter.

You can also consider making a chicken tractor. What is that, you ask? It is basically a mobile chicken pen on wheels, often with a coop attached. This is a great method if you want to free-range them without actually “free-ranging” them. They are safe in their mobile pen while enjoying fresh grass. The benefit of a chicken tractor is that you can move them to a new patch of grass whenever needed so they don’t get bored and your grass has a chance to regrow. This kind of method works best with a small flock.

A place to roost. chickens like to roost. We found that a couple roosts worked well as sometimes one chicken needs some space away from the rest of the chickens and can roost away from the others. You want to make sure your roosts are above your nesting boxes or they may try to sleep in the nesting boxes and you want to try and avoid that.

You want your roosts to be flat as opposed to rounded, especially if you live where it is colder. This way they can keep their feet warm in colder weather.

A place to lay eggs. Ah. Nesting boxes. The best part. The place where your chickens are going to lay all those beautiful farm fresh eggs. Nesting boxes can be made out of multiple items. You can make them from scratch, or you can use milk crates or another kind of container, or you can buy some nesting boxes. Generally speaking a good rule of thumb is to make them 12 inches high, 12 inches wide, and 12 inches deep. Ours are a little smaller, mostly by accident. I was concerned it would be an issue but it hasn’t as the chickens have had no problem laying in our nesting boxes. We just used plywood we had lying around.

Something to drink out of. Most people like the one gallon plastic waterer, but another kind that is growing in popularity is a waterer with nipple spouts coming out of the sides. It really is just a matter of preference.

Something to eat out of. All you need is a simple hanging feeder, nothing too fancy.

Something to eat. The kind of food you need for your chicken will depend on their age. When they are babies you use chick starter feed, and as they get older you will give them a different kind of food. This will also change if you are raising meat birds. I found the easiest way to make sure I have the right stuff is to ask the clerk at the store when I buy it. They’re usually pretty knowledgeable with those things and will give me exactly what I need.

When they are chicks especially you have the option to get medicated or un-medicated feed. Medicated chick feed can help prevent coccidiosis, a disease that is fatal if the chicks contract it. We always get the first bag of chick feed medicated, and then feed them un-medicated after that. Whether you decide to use medicated feed or not is a personal choice, however, the one instance you should definitely not use medicated feed is if your chicks are vaccinated.

Something to light up their space. While you will definitely need a heat lamp when you have baby chicks, when your chickens are all feathered out and grown, lighting in your coop is entirely optional. Many people add artificial lighting to their coops in the winter to help with laying, as many breeds will decrease their egg production.

We personally choose to not add artificial lighting for egg laying. We did the first winter, but not this past winter because we just felt if they stopped laying when days were shorter, maybe it’s because their bodies need a rest. Our chickens actually still laid eggs all winter without the artificial lighting. We have hybrid chickens that are very good for egg production and that is winter hardy. We are going with some heritage breeds for our next batch of chickens so more than likely we’ll discover a decrease in winter production without artificial lighting.

Something to provide comfort and absorb chicken “stuff”. The coop and the nesting boxes need some kind of bedding. We mostly use wood shavings, but in the winter we add some straw to the mix to help keep them warm. We prefer to not use straw in the summer as you can have mildew issues with it. When it comes to wood shavings be sure to never use cedar, as cedar can cause respiratory issues in chickens. Pine is the kind you want.


When it comes to managing your coop, there are two main methods people use. You can put a light layer of wood shavings down, and then clean it out every few days, much like you would if you were keeping an animal like a hamster in the house.

Or, you can do the deep litter method, which is what we do around here. I’m not going to lie, we chose this method because it’s perfect for people like me who will struggle with keeping up with cleaning the coop.

So, what is the deep litter method? You start by filling your coop with about 6 inches of bedding that will compost such as wood shavings, straw, even dry leaves! Every week or so you will add a layer. The bedding breaks down and composts over time.

This method is also great if you live in a cold area because the layers of bedding that are composting will literally produce some heat for your chickens. Using the deep litter method will mean you are cleaning out your coop once or twice a year.

If you use this method and the coop has a strong smell of ammonia, it means there isn’t enough ventilation, or you aren’t adding enough layers of bedding.

backyard chicken owners


When it comes to baby chicks, there are some things you are going to need that are separate from the coop.

Here’s what you will need:

A brooder box. You can buy a brooder box, but the cheapest way is to make one yourself. Just don’t make our mistake and use chicken wire on the sides! You will have wood shaving chips all over your floor if you do that. 🙂 Lesson learned.

Anyways, people have used kiddie pools, plastic storage bins, and even cardboard boxes (though, a cardboard box has the risk of getting wet and soggy.) You will want to make sure they can’t get out of what ever you brood them in and that it can handle a heat lamp in it. This is where the chicks are going to live for the first few weeks of their life and where you know they will stay safe.

A chick waterer. No, you definitely can not use the waterer you bought for the grown chicks. Baby chicks can drown easily and the waterer for grown chickens will put them more at risk of this happening. Even with the chick waterer I like to put rocks in the feeder to help prevent drowning.

A feeder. They need something smaller to eat out of as well. What you’ll notice with baby chicks is that while they are ridiculously cute, they are insanely dirty and messy. They will walk all over the food dish and poop in it. You want to give them as little room as possible for this to keep it cleaner.

A heat lamp. Baby chicks need to stay warm. A heat lamp is a definite necessity. I prefer the ones with the cages over the light bulb for extra safety since heat lamps can be a fire hazard if not used correctly.

A thermometer. This will help you keep track of how warm it is in the brooder box. Each week the chicks will need the brooder box to be 5 degrees cooler so you will want to be able to monitor this.

If you’ve never had baby chicks before and are unsure of how to care for them, be sure to check out my post, Raising Baby Chicks – A Beginner’s Guide for all you need to know about how to care for the little fluff balls.


While it may seem overwhelming when you first start out, you’ll quickly discover that raising your own chickens is one of the easiest animals out there to own. They are a great addition to a homestead no matter the size, or even a backyard if your community allows backyard chickens.


When Can I move them from the brooder box to their coop? They are ready to move to their coop when they are fully feathered out, generally around 6 weeks of age. This is when they don’t need their heat source anymore.

When will my chickens start laying eggs? While this will vary from breed to breed, the generally around 6 months of age, give or take. Ours started laying shortly after 5 months.

Should I get a rooster? It depends. If you live in a city that allows backyard chickens, there is a good chance you aren’t allowed to have a rooster as they are noisy. However, if you live in an area where roosters are allowed, you may want one if you want to hatch your own eggs, or you want extra protection against predators as a rooster will alert the other hens when there is a predatory threat.

We’ve yet to get a rooster but will try one out with our next batch. While some people have stories of roosters being aggressive, others will tell you they have never had a problem with their rooster.

If you do decide to get a rooster, you want to make sure the ratio of hens to roosters should be 10:1. Roosters can become a problem if there are not enough ladies to go around. 🙂

How many nesting boxes will I need? You should have one nesting box for every 4 birds. However, chickens tend to all lay in the same nesting box they deem as their favorite. We have three nesting boxes and usually only one gets used!

What is the best chicken breed to get? That will depend on many things like the climate where you live, whether you are a beginner or seasoned chicken owner, and what kind of temperament and qualities you are looking for. Be sure to check out my post, 8 of the Best Chicken Breeds for information on specific breeds.

What is molting? Molting is the process of chickens losing their feathers and then regrowing new ones. The first molt happens at about 18 months and will happen once a year after that. Many chickens stop laying while molting. The molting process can take anywhere from 3-6 months to complete.

Article Name
Raising Chickens: What you need to know before you buy laying hens
If you've decided you want to start raising chickens, there are a few things you are going to make sure you have before you bring the chickens home.
Publisher Name
Simple Life of a Frugal Wife

6 thoughts on “Raising Chickens: What you need to know before you buy laying hens”

  1. Thank you, this is so helpful for me I will get started right away.
    One question, how old should my hens be when I can start raising my chicks again inorder for a consistent egg supply?

    1. It really varies on breed and what your preference is. For us we are finding that buying a new batch every two years works. After two years the breeds we have still lay eggs, but production slows down. I know other people who get a new batch every year, and other people who wait 3 or more years. It takes about 6 months before the chicks will start laying so be sure to account for that.

  2. Do the chickens need a grassy area? I have a shed we may convert to a coop and along side the shed is a dirt area with some pebbles and weeds. I was kinda hoping to fence it in somehow. Would that be sufficient? It’s plenty enough space, space is not my question…it’s about what’s in the ground. Wondering also about flies…hmmm

    1. Yes, our first coop was a metal shed that was converted into a coop – it was already here when we moved it. The fenced in area for the chickens was just dirt, no grass. So, of course they eat more grain that way since they aren’t feeding on grass, but it was fine. You can also feed them kitchen scraps to get some greens into them. We would let them out from time to time to free-range them (though that has it’s risks as well and we did lose some chickens once to free ranging.) The major difference I see when they have a grassy area is the yolks are so much brighter. But our chickens spent two years with a dirt area and were just fine. This year we relocated them and they are now pasture raised on our property. As for flies, i didn’t notice an issue but I’m sure it may be dependant on where you live.

    1. It really depends on how many eggs you are hoping for a day. Depending on the breed you may get an egg every day, or every second day. We have 5 layers for our family and we get about 5 eggs most days.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *