How to raise and care for backyard chickens

Chooks in the backyard

Larissa Dubecki and Jessica Taylor Yates

Posted November 09, 2022

A winning mix of cute companion, garden helper, and waste disposal service; backyard chickens are the perfect pet to help around the home.

Backyard chickens have flown up the household pet pecking order to become the fourth most common household pet behind dogs, cats, and fish. Approximately 400,000 Australians have registered backyard chooks in a wide variety of colours, breeds, and sizes. 

While many councils have rules on how many chickens are allowed to roam in a backyard, they may just be the pet that suits you best, providing a good source of sustainable, free-range eggs; compost; and companionship.   

Find out how to raise helpful, happy, and healthy chickens in your backyard. 


Australorp chicken

The black Australorp is one of Australia's favourite chickens. Image: Getty. 


How to care for chickens

Do backyard chickens make good pets?

Beyond the eggs, backyard chickens help keep the garden clear of pests and weeds, and are avid consumers of household food waste, acting as both a domestic pet and farm goods producer. 

Backyard chickens are also endlessly entertaining, with their own individual personalities and a penchant for human company - many chickens are known to remember up to 100 human faces.

How many chickens can I have in my backyard? 

Before looking to get backuyard chickens, it is imperative to get in touch with your local council. Rules vary, but it’s generally fine for suburban households to keep chickens, with provisos including restrictions on numbers, keeping chicken coops away from boundary lines, and an outright ban on noisy roosters in non-farm settings.

What type of backyard chickens should I get? 

So, which chicken to choose? And how many?

While there are hundreds of chicken breeds across the globe, there are three ‘general’ categories of chicken – laying (egg producing), meat producing, and dual breeds.

The most popular chook Down Under is the Australorp, a native Australian chicken known for its friendly nature and ability to lay 250-plus eggs per year. That’s a lot of eggs-pectation on one Aussie hen!

Small bantam chickens can also be good for smaller surburban settings, as they are friendly, only eat half the amount of other chooks, and are small so don't take up as much space, meaning less pressure on your garden. 


it's important that your chickens have ample room to roam throughout the day. Image: Getty. 


Which backyard chickens lay eggs? How should I store the eggs?

Anyone searching for backyard chickens will want to factor egg production into their choice of chicken breed. Hybrids, such as the rugged Hy-Lines and Langshans, have been bred to maximise egg production.  

Generally, they’ll lay an egg a day for around three years before passing after four or five years. Most pure breeds, on the other hand, stop laying over the colder months, but live longer past 'henopause', possibly to around 12. 

So, when are the eggs good to eat? The plot chickens!  

  • The rule of thumb with backyard chicken eggs is if washed, refrigerate, which you only need to do right before consuming (unless very dirty). After collecting, fresh eggs should be washed in clean, lukewarm clean water before consumption. 
  • Eggs can generally survive from two to four weeks at room temperature before needing to go in the fridge.  
  • If refrigerated, they can last months if store din an airtight container. 
  • And if you forget how old an egg is, take the sink or float test: If it sinks, it is egg-cellent. If it floats, it’s time to free this egg from the coup.  

How can I make sure my chickens stay healthy and happy? 

While keeping chickens can be an enriching and rewarding experience, it is important to make sure they are well looked after to prevent infection and diseases such as  salmonella poisoning, for both your chickens and family.  

  • Just like other health practises, ensure you always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and clean water after handing chickens and their surrounds, such as cages, eggs, manure or nesting. When cleaning, wear gloves at all times. 
  • While it may be tempting, try not to let children ‘cuddle’ or kiss chickens, or have any direct face contact.  
  • It’s also important to have dedicated shoes to wear in your chicken area, such as gumboots, that are not worn inside the house to prevent spreading germs. 
  • Look for chickens that have been vaccinated from a reliable seller. 

A chicken coop needs to be cleaned at least weekly to prevent infection and disease. Image: Getty. 

What do I feed my backyard chickens?

Chickens are omnivores, which means they can survive on both plant and animal matter.  A balanced diet when raising chickens including fruit, vegetables, scraps and insects can assist in meeting their nutritional requirements. 

When feeding chickens, their food should be served as layered pellets and mixed grains, supplemented by scraps and shell grit, alongside fresh water daily. They can eat kitchen scraps, but avoid chocolate, onions and garlic, human foods which can be bad for animals. 

It is best for chooks to eat through a chicken feeder that is both vermin and bird proof, which protects their source of food from predators and contamination. 

What is involved in the daily care of backyard chickens? 

While arguably easier than a dog, backyard chickens do require daily maintenance, so ensure you and your family are up for the challenge of how to keep chickens and that you are ready for a pet before welcoming the responsibility into your home. 

Chickens require fresh food and clean water daily, as well as a break out of the coop in the day and back in at dusk to avoid any predators. 

Egg collection should happen twice daily, with the coop being cleaned at least weekly (including feeders and water stations) to prevent disease, infection and odour. 

What’s the scoop on chicken poop? 

As well as providing your family with freshly laid, cage-free eggs, chicken manure is a great source of compost for your backyard garden.

The key here is to ensure the chicken poop is composted (decomposed) before being placed in your soil, where it will need to mature for about two months before being repurposed in your garden. 

Try adding anywhere from 30-50 per cent chicken manure to 50-70 per cent ‘brown’ compost materials such as leaves, twigs, branches and dried grass.

Follow the steps for creating your own backyard composting guide.


Chooks in the backyard

Having backyard chickens can be egg-cellent. Image: Getty. 


How do I set up my backyard for chickens? 

  • Each chicken should have a minimum of half a square metre, and ideally one to two square metres of space inside their run (a yard encased in wire mesh).
  • Make sure both the coop, or chicken house, and run are fox and rodent-proof.
  • Furnish the coop with a feeder and constant supply of fresh water, along with nest boxes and perches of different heights.
  • Let the chickens out to scratch around and dust bathe each day. 
  • Put up small barriers if you want to protect delicate plants and seedlings: 
  • Give your chooks environmental enrichment – such as a mirror, pea straw or hanging greens to peck at. This will stop them from getting bored and bullying each other.
  • Cover the base of your coop with straw or sawdust to be used as a litter for droppings. 
  • Ensure your chicken cook has proper ventilation, and protection from wind, hail and rain. 
  • Clean out any old straw and food scraps regularly. Add it to your compost, or use it as mulch.

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