Country Living: Backyard Chickens

Tony Barnard leading class on raising chickens

Raising Chickens 101: The Basics

By Tony Barnard

Summary of a presentation on June 6, 2009 at the Grange.


Why Raise Chickens?  
Here are a few of the most frequently expressed reasons people raise chickens:  

Easy and inexpensive to maintain
Eggs that are fresh, great tasting & nutritious
Chemical free pest control
Free fertilizer
Bug and Weed Control
Fun & friendly pets with personality (yes, you read that right)

Where To Get Chicks:

Local Feed Stores often carry a variety of day old chicks around Spring
Online there are sites such as McMurray, Ideal Hatchery, locally Shank’s now Lazy 57

How To Care For A Chick - First 60 Days:

Young Chick Brooder - Can be as simple as a sturdy cardboard box or a small animal cage like one you'd use for rabbits.
Flooring - Pine shavings work best
Temperature - 90 to 100 deg. for the first week, decrease 5 deg. per week.  A 100 watt bulb pointing in one corner (not the whole brooder) works well.
Food & water - chick crumbles / starter & a chick waterer
Play time - Play with your chicks when young to get the use to being around people.
Outside time - Section off an area in your yard where the chicks can explore, scratch, etc.  Make sure you can catch them when it's time to come in.

General Hints 

So, now you have some cute little fuzzballs...
what now?? The main things to attend to for the first 60 days:

  • housing
  • temperature
  • food and water
  • cleanliness

Chicks should be kept indoors (or in a heated brooder) until they have their feathers, about 5-8 weeks.


The chicks' first home is called a "brooder". For one-time or once-in-a-while use, a cardboard box works just fine. A cage suitable for a rabbit or guinea pig is terrific and easy to clean (see picture). Some people even use an aquarium! The bottom should have a layer of clean litter (pine shavings or similar) or newspaper.

Newspaper print ink can get the chicks dirty though, so we've never used it, and it can also be slippery. The litter should be changed out every couple of days, and never allowed to remain damp - cleanliness is VERY important at this stage. Baby chicks are prone to a number of diseases, most of which can be avoided with proper sanitation.
The size of the brooder depends on how many chicks you have - the chicks should have enough room to move around, and to lay down and sleep. You also need to have enough space in it for a waterer and a feeder (see below).

When the chicks are a month old, add a low roost - a stick or piece of wood dowelling about 4" off the floor of the brooder. The chicks will jump on it and may even begin sleeping there. Don't put the roost directly under the light, it will be too hot.


The brooder can be heated by using a light bulb with a reflector, available at any hardware store. A 100-watt bulb is usually fine, though some people use an actual heat lamp. The temperature should be 90-100 degrees for the first week or so, then can be reduced by 5 degrees each week thereafter, until the chicks have their feathers (5-8 weeks old). A thermometer in the brooder is helpful, but you can tell if the temperature is right by how the chicks behave. If they are panting and/or huddling in corners farthest from the light, they are too hot. If they huddle together in a ball under the light, they are too cold. You can adjust the distance of the light (or change the wattage of the bulb) until it's right.
Clean, fresh water must ALWAYS be available to your chicks. Get at least a medium size waterer - chicks drink a LOT of water. We like this plastic kind, it's easy to clean, inexpensive, lightweight and they can't tip it over. They also poop everywhere including right into their water; clean the waterer at least once a day (depending on how crowded it is, even twice a day).

Chicken Care After First 60 Days, General Chicken Care:

Rule of thumb is about 2-3 square feet per chicken inside the henhouse and 4-5 sq/ft per chicken in an outside run. Keep local  predators in mind and make a safe home for your flock!
Flooring - Pine shavings work best.  Food & water - Most people go with chicken layer feed / pellets.

Feeders and Feeding

Even baby chicks will naturally scratch at their food, so a feeder that (more or less) keeps the food in one place is good. The feeder shown is a popular design made of galvanized steel; the top slides off to clean and fill it. Again, cleanliness is important; the chicks will poop right into their own food, so you must clean and refill it often.
Chicks start out with food called "crumbles". It is specially formulated for their dietary needs; it comes both medicated or not. We know people that use either kind. If you don't use medicated feed, you run the risk that Coccidiosis will infect and wipe out as much as 90% of your chicks. If you choose non-medicated feed, pay more attention to cleanliness.

The feed is a complete food - no other food is necessary. However, feeding your chicks treats can be fun. After the first week or two, you can give them a worm or a bug or two from your garden to play with and eat. Greens are not recommended because they can cause diarrhea-like symptoms. When droppings are loose, a condition may develop called "pasting up", where droppings stick to the vent area and harden up, preventing the chick from eliminating. Check the chicks for pasting often - if you see this, clean off the vent area (you can use a moist towel or even some mineral oil).

Play Time

Chicks are insatiably curious - after the first week or two, they can be put outside for short periods of time if the temperature is warm. They MUST be watched at this age, however. Chicks can move fast, squeeze into small spaces, and are helpless against a variety of predators, including the family dog or cat. If they have bonded to you (the first large thing a baby chicks sees is forever it's 'mama', this is called "imprinting"), they will follow you around. Chickens become fond of their owners; some will come when you call them (and some won't!).


One of the most common problems encountered when raising and keeping poultry is Mites. There are several kinds of mites that will infest your birds.
Where do they come from?
They can be brought in via wild birds, such as starlings, sparrows, crows, swallows, etc. They can be picked up at poultry shows, sales, auctions, anywhere there is contact with other avian life. They can be carried in with rodents who enter the coops in search of food. Early intervention is necessary to prevent illness and debilitation in your flock.

How do you know what to look for? 
Chicken mites are the most common. They live on the skin of the birds, in the nest boxes, and in the bedding. They tend to be nocturnal, and will suck blood from the chicken while it sleeps. They are very small, and initially yellow/gray in color, but will darken as they feed. Removing the chicken mite is most effectively directed at the coop than the birds themselves. 
Northern fowl mites are more aggressive. They live on the bird itself, and will feed around the clock. You'll see very small red/brown insects, and discoloration of the feathers due to the eggs and waste of the mite. Controlling this mite requires that the treatment be directed at the bird. 
Both of these forms of mite suck blood. If left untreated, this results in weakening, loss of appetite, emaciation, lowered egg production, lethargy, and eventually death.

The Scaley Leg Mite is a concern as well. This creature will manifest on the scales of the legs and feet. What you'll see is the lifting of the scales, and separation from the skin of the leg underneath. The legs and feet may become swollen, tender and have a discharge or exudate forming under the scales.
Poultry Lice
There are many different forms of lice that will infest poultry. Each region will have variations in which strain is the most predominate. What you will see that is common to all of them is that they are small wingless insects. They have chewing mouth parts, which differs from the sucking mouthparts of a mite. You can see a louse as it moves on the skin by parting the feathers, especially at the head, under the wings, and around the vent. Lice do not suck blood. They feed on dry skin scales and feathers. They cause irritation by the act of movement on the skin of the bird, and the action of the mouth. This, while not as direct a loss to the bird, will cause appetite loss and the resulting weakness, lowered egg production, and susceptability to illness.


Treatment for all of the above pests must be undertaken to prevent loss to the flock. There are many products on the market that have been effective for this. Products such as Sevin dust have been used effectively on both coops and directly on the birds. This is a carbaryl based insecticide that will directly kill the existing mites. Re-treament is usually necessary due to the eggs that will hatch and reinfest the birds and coop. Orange Guard is effective organic non-toxic treatment for the coop itself, but cannot be used directly on the birds. All will respond to pour-on medications, such as Eprinex.

In addition to the above, Scaley leg mites can be treated with a direct contact treatment. Petrolatum jelly, vegetable, mineral, linseed oil are effective when directly applied to the legs and repeated every two days till scales are smooth again. Adding 1 part kerosene to two parts oil has been noted to be effective as well.
Prevention of mite and louse infestation is difficult. Early detection remains the best way to control these pests. Keeping the coops and bedding clean and fresh, periodic scrubbing of the coop and nesting boxes with soap and water, and regular inspecting of your flock to catch the problem before harm is done to the chickens.


Avian Pox
Avian pox is a relatively slow-spreading viral disease in birds, characterized by wart-like nodules on the skin and diphtheritic necrotic membranes lining the mouth and upper respiratory system. It has been present in birds since the earliest history. Mortality is not usually significant unless the respiratory involvement is marked. The disease may occur in any age of bird, at any time. Avian pox is caused by a virus of which there are at least three different strains or types; fowl pox virus, pigeon pox virus and canary pox virus. Although some workers include turkey pox virus as a distinct strain, many feel that is identical to fowl pox virus.

Each virus strain is infective for a number of species of birds. Natural occurring pox in chickens, turkeys and other domestic fowl is considered to be caused by fowl pox virus.
Fowl pox can be transmitted by direct or indirect contact. The virus is highly resistant in dried scabs and under certain conditions may survive for months on contaminated premises. The disease may be transmitted by a number of species of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can harbor infective virus for a month or more after feeding on affected birds. After the infection is introduced, it spreads within the flock by mosquitoes as well as direct and indirect contact. Recovered birds do not remain carriers.

Since fowl pox usually spreads slowly, a flock may be affected for several months. The course of the disease in the individual bird takes three to five weeks. Affected young birds are retarded in growth. Laying birds experience a drop in egg production. Birds of all ages that have oral or respiratory system involvement have difficulty eating and breathing. The disease manifests itself in one or two ways, cutaneous pox (dry form) or diphtheritic pox (wet form).

Dry pox starts as small whitish foci that develop into wart-like nodules. The nodules eventually are sloughed and scab formation precedes final healing. Lesions are most commonly seen on the featherless parts of the body (comb, wattles, ear lobes, eyes, and sometimes the feet).

Wet pox is associated with the oral cavity and the upper respiratory tract, particularly the larynx and trachea. The lesions are diphtheritic in character and involve the mucous membranes to such a degree that when removed, an ulcerated or eroded area is left.

Fowl pox is readily diagnosed on the basis of flock history and presence of typical lesions. In some cases, laboratory diagnosis by tissue or transmission studies is necessary.
There is no treatment for fowl pox. Disease control is accomplished best by preventative vaccination since ordinary management and sanitation practices will not prevent it. Several kinds of vaccines are available and are effective if used properly.

Vaccination of broilers is not usually required unless the mosquito population is high or infections have occurred previously. The chicks may be vaccinated as young as one day of age by using the wing-web method and using a one needle applicator. All replacement chickens are vaccinated against fowl pox when the birds are six to ten weeks of age. One application of fowl pox vaccine results in permanent immunity.

Wing clipping

Wing clipping, the most common method of controlling the flight of backyard chickens, involves using sharp shears to cut off the first ten flight feathers of one wing.
Clipping causes a bird to lack the balance needed for flight but lasts only until new feathers grow during the next molt, which may be a few months in young birds or up to a year for older ones. A potential problem is that clipped feathers may not readily fall out during the molt, requiring your assistance.

Wing clipping doesn't seem to hurt the bird at all, and isn't noticeable when they are walking around. The primary flying feathers are hidden underneath when the wings are folded. Also, the flying feathers are easy to pick out -- often a different color than the rest. Make sure to use a SHARP scissors.
Here are some pics (before, during and after), a Rhode Island Red hen:


Treat Type (General Opinions)
Apples: Raw and applesauce. Apple seeds contain cyanide, but not in sufficient quantities to kill.
Asparagus: Raw or cooked. Okay to feed, but not a favorite.
Bananas: Without the peel. High in potassium, a good treat.
Beans: Well-cooked only, never dry. Also, greenbeans.
Beets: Greens also.
Berries: All kinds. A treat, especially strawberries.
Breads:Feed starches in moderation.
Broccoli & Cauliflower: Tuck into a suet cage and they will pick at it all day.
Cabbage & Brussels Sprouts: Whole head. Hang a whole cabbage from their coop ceiling in winter so they have something to play with and greens to eat.
Carrots: Raw and cooked. They like carrot foliage too.
Catfood: Wet and dry. Feed in strict moderation, perhaps only during moulting * (see bottom of page)
Cereal: Cheerios, etc. Avoid highly sugared cereal such as Cocopuffs, etc.
Cheese: Including cottage cheese. Feed in moderation, fatty but a good source of protein and calcium
Cooked Chicken: They may like it and it won’t kill them, but it just seems so….. ummm………… wrong.
Corn: On cob and canned, raw and cooked
Crickets (alive): Can be bought at bait or pet-supply stores. Great treat – provides protein and it’s fun to watch the chickens catch them.
Cucumbers: Let mature for yummy seeds and flesh.
Eggs: Hardcooked and scrambled are a good source of protein, and a favorite treat. Feed cooked eggs only because you don’t want your chickens to start eating their own raw eggs.
Fish / Seafood: Raw or cooked
Flowers: Make sure they haven't been treated with pesticides, such as florist flowers might be. Marigolds, nasturtiums, pansies, etc.
Fruit: Pears, peaches, cherries, apples
Grains: Bulgar, flax, niger, wheatberries,etc.
Grapes: Seedless only. For chicks, cutting them in half makes it easier for them to swallow. Great fun - the cause of many entertaining "chicken keepaway" games.
 Grits:  Cooked.  "Leftovers" Only feed your chickens that which is still considered edible by humans, don't feed anything spoiled, moldy, oily, salty or unidentifiable.
Lettuce / Kale: Any leafy greens, spinach collards, chickweed included. A big treat, depending on how much other greenery they have access to.
Mealworms: Available at pet supply stores. A huge(!) favorite treat, probably the most foolproof treat on the books.
Meat scraps: Not too fatty. In moderation, a good source of protein
Melon: Cantelope, etc. Both seeds and flesh are good chicken treats.
Oatmeal: Raw or cooked Cooked is nutritionally better.
Pasta / Macaroni: Cooked spaghetti, etc. A favorite treat, fun to watch them eat it, but not much nutrition.
Peppers (bell)
Pomegranates: Raw Seeds are a big treat.
Popcorn: Popped, no butter, no salt.
Potatoes Cooked only Starchy, not much nutrition
Pumpkins / Winter Squash: Raw or cooked Both seeds and flesh are a nutritious treat.
Rice: Cooked only. Pilaf mixes are okay too, plain white rice has little nutrition.
Scratch: Scratch is cracked corn with grains (such as wheat, oats and rye) mixed in. Scratch is a treat for cold weather, not a complete feed. Toss it on the ground and let them scratch for it for something to do. Never feed scratch during hot weather because it raises the chickens’ body temperature.
 Sprouts:  What and oat sprouts are great!  Good for greens in mid-winter.
Summer Squash: Yellow squash and zucchini. Yellow squash not a huge favorite, but okay to feed.
Sunflower Seeds: Sunflower seeds with the shell still on is fine to feed, as well as with the shell off. A good treat, helps hens lay eggs and grow healthy feathers.
Tomatoes: Raw and cooked.
Turnips: Cooked. Not a huge favorite
Watermelon: Served cold, it can keep chickens cool and hydrated during hot summers. Seeds and flesh are both okay to feed.
Yogurt: Plain or flavored A big favorite and good for their digestive systems. Plain is better.

Don’t feed the following things to your chickens:
(I'm sure people have experienced exceptions to this list, but if we want to raise our birds the best way possible, "better safe than sorry".)

Here’s why:
Raw green potato peels: Toxic substance called Solanine.
Anything real salty: Can cause salt poisoning in small bodies such as chickens.
Dried or undercooked Beans: Raw, or dry beans, contain a poison called hemaglutin which is toxic to birds.
Avocado Skin and Pit: Skin and pit have low levels of toxicity.
Raw eggs: You don’t want to introduce your chickens to the tastiness of eggs which may be waiting to be collected in the nestboxes.
Candy, Chocolate, Sugar: Their teeth will rot… No, it’s just bad for their systems, and chocolate can be poisonous to most pets.


In the City of Portland: 
We are responsible for enforcement of City Municipal Codes that involve health related matters. Sanitation, manure accumulations and odor are examples.

If you are not sure your concern fits into these limited areas, please call the City of Portland's  HYPERLINK "" Neighborhood Inspections Team first! (503) 823-7306.

Specified Animals
We are also responsible for City Municipal Codes involving specified animals, including chickens, pigeons, turkeys, geese, cows, horses, goats, pigs, rabbits, llamas, bees, etc. Permits are not required if you have a combination of 3 or less ducks, chickens, rabbits or pygmy goats. If you have more than 3 of those animals or one of any other animal mentioned, you must apply for a permit from our office. The issuance of the permit is dependant on how closely your facility adheres to the City's criteria. A permit application  and more information on regulations for facilities can be downloaded or picked up from our office at 5235 N. Columbia Blvd. Portland, OR 97203 (503) 988-3464.

Specified Animal Facilities Permit Fees
Multnomah County Code 13.002 specifies that “Any animal which is of a wild or predatory nature, and which because of its size, vicious nature or other characteristics would constitute an unreasonable danger to human life or property;” therefore, ostriches, emus, peacocks, pheasants, llamas, and bison will now be required to obtain a Specified Animal Facility Permit and will be regulated by City of Portland Municipal Code 13.05 (Specified Animal Regulations). This is limited in jurisdiction to residential and commercial settings, and not to licensed public Zoos or other accredited and recognized animal care facilities.

Cost for a Specified Animal Facility Permit is $31.00; this is a one time only initial fee. 
Cost for a Specified Animal Facility Permit for Beehives is $12.00.