Raising chickens is a joy. Hens lay colorful, delicious eggs, they’re delightful to be around, and they’re very photogenic. I often have a few hens surrounding me while I garden, and my daughter’s favorite likes to be picked up for cuddles. But my husband is less charmed. “I’ve spent some of the most disgusting moments of my life in that chicken coop,” he once told me. Behind every glossy photo of a fluffy hen in a spotless designer coop, there are gritty realities that usually involve poop and a lot of expenses. Anyone considering a small backyard flock needs to understand the good, the bad, and the smelly before committing.
I spoke to eight experts—including farmers, veterinarians, and the co-owner of the oldest chick hatchery in the United States—and compiled a list of everything you need to get started, from a chicken coop to first aid to the chicks themselves. We have information on the tougher aspects of chicken keeping, too, including diseases, parasites, chick mortality, and rooster mating. There’s no one right way to raise chickens, but we have a substantial amount of advice to get you started.
Petmate Superior Construction Chicken Coop
No ready-made coop we’ve found is perfect, but if you don’t want to build your own, this customizable model provides a sturdy and well-designed home for your chicks.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $450.
If you’re considering a first-ever backyard flock of chickens, we recommend the Petmate Superior Construction Chicken Coop as a durable, easy-to-construct home for your birds. (If you’ve built IKEA furniture, you can build this.) The Petmate coop comes unfinished, so you can paint or stain it however you’d like—a fun customization not available on most prefab coops—and it’s packed with convenient features such as direct access to the nesting boxes for egg gathering, a slide-out panel to assist with cleaning, and a full-size door to the chicken run.
The Petmate coop isn’t without its faults, but when we first published this guide in 2021 it was easily the best we found in the under $500 range. The price has since increased to $600, and we’re currently testing a popular less expensive model, the Producer’s Pride Sentinel Chicken Coop.