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The Master Backyard Chicken Keeping Checklist

by on April 18, 2022
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So you want to keep backyard chickens? You’ve come to the right place! I’m a major advocate for chicken keeping. I love our hens and all the ways they benefit our garden and homestead. And with the way provincial by-laws are changing, there’s a good chance you too can keep hens on your property. This post covers the master backyard chicken keeping checklist you need to get started.

First, if you live in a cold climate (which, let’s be honest..is really most of Canada), I invite you to check out my comprehensive post Keeping Chickens In A Cold Climate — What You Need To Know.

This blog covers the best breeds of chickens, supplies, coop building tips and more. It really breaks it all down and is the perfect starting point if you’re brand new to all this chicken keeping stuff.

Today’s post will walk you through the A-Z master checklist of everything you need for chicken keeping. Basically, it’s everything chickens need to survive. And everything you need to have a stress-free chicken keeping experience!

I was inspired to write this post as The City of Winnipeg has just reviewed their Responsible Pet Ownership By-Law and announced that they’re proposing a two-year pilot program for backyard chickens. This is great news! And judging by the response I received when I shared the article on my Instagram, many of you feel the same.

Be sure to look into the By-Laws for your area. Rural areas can also sometimes have restrictions.

The Master Backyard Chicken Keeping Checklist

Everything you need for raising chickens in your backyard for eggs.

Select any of the items on this list for a jump link to more info on the topic.

  1. An Initial Investment of $1,500-$2,000 
  2. Chicks or Mature Birds
  3. Approx. 500 square feet of Outdoor Space
  4. An Insulated Coop/Shed
  5. A Roost
  6. Nesting Boxes
  7. Bedding
  8. A Fenced In Run
  9. Feeder & Waterer (Winterized)
  10. Chicken Feed & Water
  11. A Power Source
  12. Hanging LED Light
  13. Extension Cords
  14. Compost Area/Pile
  15. Egg Cartons

An Initial Investment of $1,500-$2,000

The first item on our checklist is being sure you have some supplementary cash you can spend on your your set-up. Though chickens are incredibly inexpensive to keep (approx. $50/month for a flock of 10-15 birds), there is an initial investment required.

Be sure you have anywhere from $1,500-$2,000 set aside so you can purchase your coop, waterer, feeder, bedding, chickens and any other supplies needed. This is a one time cost, and if done right, an investment that pays off by keeping your hens healthy and safe long-term.

Chicks or Mature Birds

You have three options for how to acquire your chickens. 

Brown hen with red comb being held

Option 1: You can buy unhatched eggs and incubate them indoors until they hatch. Note that this option will require you to purchase additional supplies as well as add-on to your timeline of when you’ll have laying hens (chickens usually start laying when they are 4-6 months old). You also run the risk of hatching both male and female birds, meaning you could end up with several roosters.

Option 2: You can buy young chicks from a local breeder or from a large-scale farm supply store, such as Peavey Mart. This also requires additional time, work and money as you’ll need to keep your baby chicks inside for the first few weeks until they are ready to be out in the coop.

Option 3: You can buy mature hens that are already egg-laying age (anywhere from 6 months+). This option will result in less work and your chickens can live outside in your coop set-up immediately. Plus, you’ll be getting eggs right away. Try your local buy & sell, like Kijjiji to see if hens are available in your area. Be careful not to buy hens that are too old and no longer laying regularly. This would be hens older than 3-4 years.

Approx. 500 square feet of Outdoor Space

You’ll need space for your chickens to free-range. This is one of the most important items on your checklist! Be sure you have approx 500 square feet of space you can allocate to your hens. 

This 500 square feet can either be the space where you’ll place your coop and run, or it can be additional space in your yard where you’ll let your hens free-range.

When friends come to our property and see our hens walking around the yard, they often ask if they’ll run away. And the answer is NO! I actually find it pretty funny when I hear that asked, but I totally understand the logic. However, chickens are actually pretty clever and know not to range too far away from the safety of their coop.

An Insulated Coop/Shed

A well-built, insulated chicken coop is the other very important item on this checklist. I cover more of the logistics behind buying or building a cold climate chicken coop on this post.

Side by side of chicken coop and close-up of chickens

We built our own custom coop. But you could simply buy a shed from a hardware store and add in a layer or insulation. I caution against buying a trendy, pre-made chicken coop online as they are usually built for warm climates and won’t protect your hens throughout Winter.

If you’re thinking of building your own coop, I highly suggest checking out Easy Coops and following one of their design plans or PDFs.

They have a great variation of chicken coops styles and at various sizes, so you’re likely to find something that fits your backyard well. You can even customize your search to find a chicken coop plan based on the number of hens you’re wanting to keep and/or winter requirements.

The biggest thing to consider is that your coop offers enough space for your flock to comfortably move around. This is especially important in the Winter when they spend most of their time inside.

A Roost

A roost is a platform that is elevated off the ground where your chickens will perch and likely sleep at night. Our hens LOVE their roost and spend lots of time hanging out on it. It’s also the place where they huddle together on cold Winter nights to keep warm.

Building a roost is easy and you can go about it in several different ways. Our roost is simply a 2×4 length of lumber screwed into either end of the chicken coop. It’s about 3ft off the ground. But I’ve seen roosts made from sturdy branches or old ladders. Get creative with it!

Nesting Boxes

Your nesting box is where your hens will go to lay their eggs. It’s a space they should feel safe in. For our 10 hens, we have two nesting boxes, which seems to be plenty! Most of the time they all lay their eggs in one box anyway.

Nesting boxes are another item you can customize and build to your likes or create a DIY solution. Our nesting boxes are made from lumber. They are about 1.5’ deep and maybe 2’ tall. Just be sure your nesting boxes are easy-to-access so you can collect the eggs daily. 

Bedding

Your chicken coop needs bedding on the ground for a few reasons:

  1. Keeps your hens warm in the winter and provides extra insulation
  2. Keeps the coop cleaner as it absorbs your chickens’ droppings
  3. Gives your hens something to scratch at and play in

For years, I have used wood shavings as bedding and believed it to be the best option.

But just recently I’ve been using a product called Healthi Straw that is straw processed very finely and I think I’m converted. It comes at a higher price point, but reduces odour immensely. So worth it in my books!

My post Why The Deep Litter Method Works Best For Chicken Coops During Canadian Winters covers more on bedding and my specific approach.

A Fenced In Run

This is especially important if you live in an area where predators can get to your hens. For this reason, we built a 75 square foot run that is covered in chicken wire on all four sides. We covered the top to keep out predators like owls and eagles as well as the bottom to keep out any rodents.

White and brown chickens in an outdoor run behind chicken wire

If you plan to let your hens free-range in your fenced in yard, you might not need a run. But again, be sure to check the by-laws for your area to ensure you’re following regulations.

I also advocate for a run as it provides a safe, outdoor area for your hens to be if you aren’t home. Hens are pretty low maintenance and are totally fine left alone for 2-3 days at a time. A fenced in run offers me peace of mind, knowing my girls are safe.

Feeder & Waterer (Winterized)

Over the years, I’ve trialed many different feeder and waterer options. Some really suck and aren’t worth the money.

What I’ve found works best is investing in a product you can use year-round. This means a heated waterer for the Winter months to avoid freezing as well as a large feeder that can hold more food in the Winter when hens are eating more to keep warm.

There’s tons of different feeder options out there. I really like ones you can hang from the ceiling as they get less dirty.

But when it comes to a heated waterer, I personally find the electric de-icer bases work best. I just put my normal plastic waterer on top and it keeps it from freezing.

Plastic and metal electric chicken waterer deicers

Chicken Feed & Water

Of course, you need to keep your chickens well fed and hydrated. 

Water is obvious, but be sure your chickens are located in a space where it is easy to bring them fresh water. I typically fill my chickens waterer twice weekly. In the summer, I just use the hose from the garden. But in the Winter months it’s a bit tricker and requires me to bring their waterer inside for filling. Luckily our coop isn’t far from the house. Keep this in mind when you’re finding a spot for yours!

When it comes to food, you can find the correct food for your chickens at your local farm animal pet store. If you’re local to Manitoba, we love going to Canvasback Pet Supplies. Otherwise, you can find food at commercial stores, like Peavey Mart and Home Hardware. 

Be aware that there is different food for laying hens vs. meat birds. There’s also medicated vs. non-medicated food. So ask at the store to understand what’s best for your flock.

A Power Source

You don’t necessarily need power directly in your coop, but you do need to have power nearby. This is key for the Winter months so you can plug in a light or heat lamp as well as your heater water dish. 

Hanging LED Light

This item isn’t necessary but I highly suggest it if you’re keeping chickens in a cold climate.

A light makes all the difference in the Winter months when the days are short. We like to supplement the light our hens get. It increases egg production and keeps them moving for more hours of the day, which means they stay warmer.

We use an LED light that hangs from the ceiling of our coop. From October-April, it’s on a timer from 7:00am-8:00pm.

Extension Cords

Another MUST item on the backyard chicken keeping essentials list!

I’ve talked lots about the various items that require electricity in the Winter months. And therefore, extension cords are needed. Find yourself a heavy duty extension cord that can withstand freezing temps and reamin outdoors under snow.

Compost Area/Pile

This is something I find is often overlooked with chicken keeping. You NEED somewhere to put all the bedding and droppings you clean out from the coop. And chicken droppings are gold for the compost pile!

Chickens in a compost pile

Find an area in your yard where you can build a compost pile. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Our compost area is a 2-bay system that we’ve built walls around to keep our pile from spilling (and so we don’t have to look at it all the time!).

Each pile is at a different stage of breaking down. Usually we have one that is far from being ready to add to the garden. That’s the one we add more organic waste to throughout the season. The other pile is the one that’s close to ready to feed our plants, and so we stop adding any new material to it and just turn it every week or so up until it’s ready to use.

Plus, your chickens will probably like to play in your compost pile. Ours do!

Egg Cartons

The final item on the master backyard chicken keeper’s checklist — egg cartons! Because of course you need somewhere to put all your fresh eggs.

Hands holding four brown eggs

This is your PSA to please avoid buying overpriced egg cartons to put your fresh eggs in. I always see them for sale at specialty pet stores. It seems like a waste of money! Instead, collect empties from your family and friends. In no time, you’ll have a collection. You can even make them custom by adding a label.

And there you have it!

That’s everything you need for raising chickens in your backyard for eggs.

If you have any unanswered questions, be sure to comment below. I love hearing from you and answer all comments.

You can follow @fromsoiltosoul on Instagram and Pinterest for more gardening content too.

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Latest Comments

  1. June 12, 2022

    Hi Maggie! Do you store your eggs on the counter or the fridge? Do you wash them? I’ve been reading mixed information… thank you!

    — Katie R.
  2. June 21, 2022

    Hey Katie! I usually wash them right when I bring them in and then keep them in the fridge. I do this mostly just because I don’t have much counterspace to keep them out. I’ve also heard mixed things about whether washing them removes a “protective membrane” but then I also think about the trips I’ve taken to Asia/Europe and all eggs were always kept out, so who knows!

    — Maggie
  3. March 27, 2023

    Thank you for this super helpful list. We are hoping to start our journey into chicken keeping next year and found this and your other blog posts on chicken keeping very helpful!

    — Meagan Hartle