New chicken owners – start here

Breed selection

  • “cold weather” breeds are just the ones without single combs. Unless you are in a very cold place, or keeping roosters, this is simply a non-issue.
  • Mix and match if you want, but avoid huge size differences (bantams and brahmas, for ex). Personalities can vary by breed, but are more nurture than nature. I personally think Rocks and RIR are naturally mean hens, but some people have raised them as pets and they are very sweet birds, so this should not be a major factor.
  • If you want lots of eggs, select breeds or hybrids known for that, not kept mostly for ornamental purposes. “Dual Purpose” should be partly between those 2, but often are rather disappointing in egg production. It is fine to mix a few of these into a laying flock, for example, getting a Copper Marans to lay super dark eggs even though she doesn’t lay as many. She won’t be the “backbone” of your laying flock, but might be your best layer in December when the others are taking a break. And each egg she lays will make your co-worker gasp in surprise.

Purchase considerations

  • Always get birds vaccinated for Marek’s Disease, unless you are in a place where Marek’s is not seen (it is seen a LOT in the Mid-Atlantic region of the US). For a deeper dive into this, read the page I made:
  • Know if they are sexed or straight run. If you don’t want roosters, never get straight run chicks. If they claim to be sexed, check that you can be sure. Hatchery sexing is only 90 to 95% accurate, not bad, but straight run is 50% accurate if sold as a pullet by mistake. You might want 100% accuracy, but only certain breeds or hybrids can guarantee that.


  • Think about a winter blizzard, or whatever are the harshest of conditions. Can you coop survive that? Will the birds inside be OK? I’ve seen coops at TSC that would definitely be blown to bits by the winds we get here in SE PA. These things happen at the worst possible times, and you will rue the day you bought a coop based on price only.
  • Build or buy bigger than the recommendations. Extra space is always a nice thing. You will need to clean less often if your coop is oversized. Maintenance is one of the things that will make you wonder if this was such a great idea, especially if you have to clean and re-bed the coop every week in the middle of winter (or summer).
  • No heat or AC needed, let the birds adapt to the climate, they have been doing that for centuries. In the winter, cold is not the enemy, it is dampness. You need good ventilation in winter, but drafts across their roosting area is not good. Think about air flow that is continuous in the coop, but creates pockets of still air for them to retreat to when they are cold. Warm air rises, moist air tends to drop, if the vents are below the roosts, the chickens will be happily sleeping about the flow of cold air that pushes out the extra dampness. Frostbite is caused by water on their extremities, as it evaporates it sucks out a lot of heat from their combs and wattles. Think about your hands outside on a cold day, you don’t want wet hands with temps are low.


Groups are great for getting 4 different answers to a problem, all at least partially right. Experience is a great teacher. If you can find a local friend who has made a bunch of mistakes already, you can benefit greatly from their poor decisions, if you ask. Once you have made some of those yourself, try to make yourself available to others starting out in future years. At its heart, farming of any kind is a community activity. That is what adds to the fun, IMO.