Aren’t chickens a lot of work? I get that question a lot about my three backyard hens. And my answer always is, “No, not really.”
Don’t get me wrong. As the caretaker of your backyard flock, you will have responsibilities for the health and well-being of your birds. But if you’ve had any sort of pet, these responsibilities won’t be unfamiliar to you: providing food and water, monitoring their health, cleaning up after them. And you may be surprised to find that compared to a large, active dog that needs to be exercised and let out on a regular basis, chickens take up relatively little of your time.
If you are thinking of adding a few suburban chickens to your backyard this spring, it may be helpful for you to see a breakdown of the time I spend on my chicken chores on a daily, weekly, and other recurrent basis. You can expect that you (or someone in your household or employ) will need to devote a similar amount of time carrying for your birds.
Note: The times I have listed reflect the minimum time you will need to spend caring for your backyard flock. As with any pet, the more time you are able to spend interacting with your pet chickens, the better off you all will be.
Daily chores for three suburban chickens (5-10 minutes total, morning and night):
- Provide access to the outdoor run in the morning: The chickens start clamoring to be let out of their coop as soon as the sun comes up – and even earlier on nice days. Trust me, I can hear them from my bedroom even with the windows shut. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but if you check the chicken cam at about 5:00 a.m. some June weekend, chances are you’ll spot me in my pajamas letting the chickens out so I can go back to bed. The rest of the chores can wait.
- Provide food and fresh water: I don’t keep food and water inside the coop (mostly because there isn’t much room for it and it just gets dumped everywhere), which makes it even more important to let the girls out on a timely basis. Each morning I add a large scoop of food to the poultry feeder that sits under the coop. I don’t give them much more than what they will eat in a day so as not to attract critters to the pen. As for water, it takes a lot of water to make an egg, and laying hens can drink up to two to three cups a day. So access to fresh water is important. While I refill my three-gallon water fount only about every other day, each morning I make sure the water in the trough is clean and free from debris.
- Scoop droppings from the litter in the coop: The floor of the coop is covered with a thick layer of wood shavings to control moisture and odor. Each morning, I use a large cat litter scoop to scoop out any droppings that have accumulated overnight. The droppings go into a bucket and then into the compost pile. Admittedly, I may miss a day here or there if I’m running late (just like I sometimes miss a day doing the same thing with my cats’ litter boxes), but I do make an effort to complete this chore every day. For one thing, it’s twice as much work to scoop out two days’ worth of droppings. Also, the task gives me daily insight into the health of my flock. Not to be indelicate, but if the poop doesn’t look right, I know there might be a health issue that needs my attention. Which brings me to my next chore …
- Monitor and interact with the flock to observe any signs of ill health or other problems: This isn’t really a chore; you will find that chickens make such fun little pets that you’ll want to spend time with them – except for maybe on the coldest of days when none of you want to be outside. I list it, nonetheless, because it’s important to spend at least a few minutes with your birds every day to make sure they all are eating, drinking, and otherwise acting normally. You can do this first thing in the morning while you are feeding them and tidying up the coop or throughout the day. When I work from home, I visit with the chickens several times a day whenever I need a stretch break.
- Provide scratch, scraps, and treats: What to feed your chickens is beyond the scope of this post, but chickens aren’t real picky about what they eat. I feed mine a non-medicated commercial layer feed and supplement their diet with scratching grains, kitchen and garden scraps, and meal worm treats. In fact, our little morning ritual involves a handful of Happy Hen dried mealworm treats, which all three girls eat right out of my hand. Also, because those pesky homeowners association rules keep my chickens confined to a pen and unable to free range, I give them a cup of scratching grains with a bit of poultry grit mixed in each morning. I toss it around the pen so they can spend the day scratching and pecking to their little hearts’ content.
- Collect eggs: The really fun chore, and the reason I got chickens in the first place, is gathering the eggs each day. I usually wait until early evening to check the nesting box, after all the squawking has stopped (hens are quite vocal when laying eggs). But sometimes when the days are short and the chickens turn in early, I combine this task with the final chore of the day …
- Shut and lock the coop door: Once all the chickens have gone in to roost for the night, I shut and lock their access to the run. This important final step keeps them safe from predators, and this is the time of day when you will find me actually counting my chickens – to make all three are there perched on the roosting pole. Sometimes I have to kick a hen out of the nesting box, and then there were those painful several months when Petunia was new to the flock and insisted on using the outside roost. (It sure would have been a sight to see me on the chicken cam chasing a chicken into the coop at night.) But I always make sure the girls are secured for the night.
Note: Just as you need to make arrangements to have someone care for your dog or cats when you are gone from home, you also will need to arrange for a chicken sitter who will perform these daily tasks for you.
Weekly chores (.5-1 hour per week or as needed)
- Maintain the pen: I pick up any debris (like the uneaten parts of garden scraps), sprinkle a cup of PDZ Stall Refresher around the pen, and rake it in to the litter. I also add litter as needed – either a bale of straw or a bag of wood shavings. I just put the new litter into a pile and don’t spread it around; the chickens like to do the work for me.
- Add litter to the coop: I use small wood shavings as litter inside the coop and add a few more handfuls (maybe half a small bucketful) on a weekly basis to keep things fresh.
- Scrub the water fount: I tend to do this more often than weekly in the summer when the water trough gets scummy from the heat. To thoroughly clean and sanitize a water fount, use a stiff-bristled brush or scouring pad and a chlorine bleach-water solution. (Put ½ cup bleach in a cleaned gallon milk jug, fill to nearly full with tap water, replace cap, and shake to combine.) Make sure to rinse thoroughly.
- Handle each chicken: At least once a week, I make it a point to pick up each chicken to get a closer look at things, to make sure there are no signs of ill health or problems like a parasite infestation. If I see problems, I consult with a chicken care guide like the one at Fresh Eggs Daily for information about what to do.
Other recurrent tasks (1-2 hours 4-6 times per year or as needed)
- Thoroughly clean the coop: Every few months, I remove all of litter from the coop and give the coop a thorough scrubbing with a bleach solution (the coop is designed so the plywood floor slides out, making cleaning pretty easy). I then spray the entire coop down with Manna Pro Poultry Protector, an all natural enzymatic solution that helps protect against pests. After everything dries, I add fresh litter.
- Thoroughly clean the pen: Each spring, I enlist my husband’s help to remove all of the litter from the pen, spray it down, and add a thick layer of fresh straw. We have to work quickly, since the girls are locked in the coop the entire time and aren’t happy about it.
- Winterize the coop and pen: Each fall, I add a thick layer of fresh straw over the existing straw in the pen. I also install a tarp over the coop, a heated base for the water fount, and a low-watt infrared bulb in a brooder clamp light inside the coop. The bulb is programmed to turn on only when inside temperatures drop below freezing. When spring comes around, I pack away these items for the warm season.
And that’s pretty much all the chores I can think of that occur in the normal course of chicken keeping – besides all the trips to Theisen’s to buy chicken food and supplies.
So what do you think? Does caring for a flock of suburban chickens sound manageable to you? (Now, excuse me, it’s time to go lock up the girls.)
Products mentioned in this post (affiliate links; click on images for more information or to purchase from Amazon.com, and see my affiliate disclosure below):
Happy Hen Treats:
PDZ Stall Refresher:
Manna Pro Poultry Protector: