Tips For Keeping Chickens In Suburban Backyards: A Veterinarian’s Experience

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Keeping backyard chickens in a suburban environment is becoming more and more commonplace. Many families in suburban neighborhoods are finding out that chickens are perfectly suited to living in backyards and semi-urban areas.
keeping chickens in suburban backyards
We are fortunate to live on some acreage and don’t have to worry about some of the same issues that come up when owning chickens in suburban backyards. So I decided to interview one of my colleagues (and longtime friend), Dr. Lindsey Daniel, about her experience owning chickens in her suburban neighborhood.
Even veterinarians have lots of questions about raising backyard chickens. Read about this doctor's experience as a first time chicken mom. Interview with a veterinarian: Keeping Backyard Chickens at

What made you decide to raise chickens in your suburban backyard?

For some reason, I have always loved the idea of having my own chickens.  I love to cook for my family and others, and dishes made with fresh eggs just sounded better.  My husband and I are both small animal veterinarians, so I thought for sure we can do this!

I still decided to read up on the subject before we dove in.  The book I found the most helpful was A Chicken In Every Yard,  by Robert and Hannah Litt.  Even as a vet, I had forgotten so much and knew so little about basic husbandry for poultry.

Super adorable chicken coop in a suburban backyard.
Super adorable suburban chicken coop in Dr. Daniel’s backyard.

Where did you get your chickens?

We purchased our first four chicks in May 2015 from a seller on Craig’s List.  I had been researching breeds a lot, so I knew what we wanted.  We started with two Easter Eggers, one Rhode Island Red, and one Chocolate Orpington

They were all around 4 weeks old, had been vaccinated for Marek’s Disease (a deadly virus, the vaccine is given through the shell), and “sexed” so we knew we were getting all females.

Dr’s tip: When ordering chicks, beware of “straight run” which means you will get un-sexed chicks.  Some hybrid breeds can be sexed by color, but most require an expert to tell the sex, so if you don’t want any roosters always order pullets.

Does your neighborhood have restrictions on keeping backyard chickens?

Where we live (Athens, GA) the law allows you to have up to 6 hens but no roosters.  Remember you don’t need a rooster to have eggs!  The eggs you buy from the store are not fertilized.

How did you care for the young chicks?

Young chicks need to be kept warm and safe in a brooding box.  As babies, they cannot regulate their own body temperature and ideally stay with their mother under her “brooding patch”.  I used an old Pack n Play and it worked very well.  The heat lamp attached easily on the end, and I gave them a small box to hide in.


Pack-n-play brooder set up
I purchased their feeder, waterer, and food from a local feed store.  Young chicks are pros at pooping in both the food and water source, so you have to clean them out often.

Baby chicks in pack-n-play brooder

When did you move the chicks into their coop in your backyard?

Once the chicks reached 3  months of age, they had outgrown their brooding box, and could even jump out of it, leaving piles of poop all over my screened porch.

Seeing as we are not handy people (literally we could not build a bird house) I hired a contractor to build our coop.  You can easily find free coop plans on the net.  For this, I have one word: Pinterest.

My one mistake…I wish we had made our hen house BIGGER!  You will get more chickens than you think…they are addictive.

I would also strongly suggest using Hardware Cloth for the sides and to line the bottom of the entire enclosure.  Chicken Wire is NOT sturdy and can easily be chewed through by predators!

Another thing we recommend is to use the deep litter method for keeping their coop clean. It’s a great way to make sure the coop doesn’t smell which is especially beneficial when you live in a neighborhood where the homes are relatively close together.

Do you let your hens free range?

We let our girls free range in our fenced in yard for several hours a day.  We have trained them to come when we call!  It was easier than I thought to train them to a particular call, using treats of course.  If they hear myself or my husband do the “call”, they will literally come full speed running to us from all over our yard.  It is kind of adorable.

What has been the most fun thing about owning suburban backyard chickens?

Since there are four of us in our family (myself, my husband, and two kids), we each picked a chick and named it.  The four OGs (original gangstas/girls) were Chickie Flicks, Fluffy Casserole, Oprah Win-fried, and Butt Butt Toot Toot Snuggle.  You can probably guess which one my then three year old son named.  The internet is filled with hilarious hen names.
We are now up to 6 hens (remember I said they are addictive).

Adorable coop

What has been the most difficult experience with owning chickens in a suburban backyard?

The hardest thing has been having to deal with losing our birds and seeing how much it hurt the kids.

We lost 2 of the original birds to health issues which we learned a lot from.  My 7 year old daughter took the first loss really hard.  I did not realize how attached we had become.  We buried that first one at her request.

What about keeping chickens with other household pets?

The biggest risk for most backyard chickens are dogs (possibly not your own), hawks, and feral cats.  Oddly enough, our own cat Mr. Moose seems to like our girls and even lays outside “protecting” them when they are roaming the yard.  Our two Basset Hounds would rather sniff out chipmunks.

We have had a hawk swoop down twice, but the girls are expert hiders.  Our kid’s trampoline provides wonderful shade and security!  If you are worried about dogs or other wildlife, I would suggest building a huge run off your coop so your girls have plenty of room to scratch and stretch their legs.

Are you happy with your decision to get backyard chickens?

You can probably tell we are HUGE backyard chicken fans.  The experience has been amazing for our family.  I have always had a small garden, and I like my kids to know where food actually comes from.
Our son collects the eggs every afternoon in a basket, we get 5-6 eggs a day now.  My daughter is the chicken snuggler.  She holds them all, petting and talking to them.
Adorable kids with hens
Dr. Daniel’s precious hens and chicks. 😉

Any tips for a first-time backyard chicken owner?

The greatest expense will be a well-made coop.  On materials and labor, we spent around $550-600.  Do it right and do it BIG the first time. A well-made coop is worth the money for your birds’ safety.

One cool thing we’ve noticed is that we waste a lot less food. Our girls love leftovers. We feed them fruit, veggies, cooked pasta, bread, etc so we never have food go to waste. Plus it saves on their feed costs.

Chickens are very skittish around humans, but if you raise your own birds from chicks and feed them lots of treats, they’ll be more affectionate.

Chickens as pets are quite easy to take care of, but I would suggest you do your research before bringing home chickens. Especially to make sure backyard chickens are allowed in your area. It would be terrible to invest time, money, and emotion into bringing home some birds that ultimately get taken away.

I would like to thank Dr. Daniel for taking the time to talk with me about her experience with chickens in suburban backyards and allowing me to share her thoughts and pictures on my site. It is very encouraging to hear that the experience has been all around positive for her family, and I hope it encourages you to get your first flock.

Recommended chicken keeping resources on Amazon:

Free resources:

Dr. Daniel is the owner and founder of Mobile Veterinary Ultrasound, LLC out of Athens, Ga. She and her husband have completed specialized ultrasound training and visit small animal clinics across northeast Georgia to perform ultrasounds on small animal and exotic species. Their service provides a painless and non-invasive way to diagnose a large variety of diseases combined with the convenience of having the procedure performed at your regular vet.


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  1. We too love our backyard, free-ranging chicks. We’ve incubated two groups the past two years and had the thrill of watching a broody hen raise her young this spring. We too have had our heartache, loosing 5 sweet young hens to an aggressive Roo when we weren’t watching. But there is no greater thrill than gathering those eggs… two years now and the thrill is still the same. Not to mention how delicious they are! Thanks for sharing this info, Laura! (And glad to have “met” you through the Simple Homestead Blog Hop!)

  2. I am ready to get pecking! I have been begging my husband to let me get at least two! Just two! haha. I would have to check out regulations for our neighborhood as well. I want some so bad though! I am bookmarking this article, just in case!

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