Ten Things Every New Chicken Owner Should Know
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Chickens gain popularity every year, and for a good reason! They provide us with breakfast, entertainment, and so much more. There will be ups and downs in your new chicken adventure, so hang on for a wild ride full of surprises, more smiles than you ever thought possible, and a few bumps along the way. Here are 10 common experiences that you will likely encounter with chickens.
- They will steal your heart
You will soon discover that chickens are so much more than a pet that provides breakfast. They each have unique and endearing personalities, and whether it be their fluffy cheeks, a huge floppy comb, or the way they look at you sideways, you’ll soon have favorites in your flock.
- Treats and proper nutrition
Chickens love treats, and it’s so fun to watch them eating out of your hand or in your lap if you’re lucky to have an extra friendly lady. We all want to spoil the ladies, but it’s important to keep treats to no more than about 10% of their diet. The majority of their diet should be a quality layer feed that provides the proper amount of protein, vitamins, and minerals that they’ll need to stay healthy during their laying years. An imbalanced diet can lead to overweight chickens, which can cause health problems and affect their egg-laying. Chicks, pullets, and adult chickens have different nutritional requirements, so provide the proper feed for your chickens’ age.
- How to keep your flock safe
Chicken predators are always looking to make an easy meal, so it’s important to provide secure housing and daytime accommodations for your flock. Ensure your coop has no gaps in the walls or floor that small predators like weasels can slip through. If you provide an outdoor run, use ½-inch hardware cloth instead of chicken wire because raccoons can easily reach through chicken wire to grab a cornered chicken. Portable electric poultry netting is a great option if you want to provide a large outdoor area for your flock or want the flexibility to rotate their pasture while keeping them safe from larger four-legged predators. Aerial netting or overhead wires can deter aerial predators. If you can’t be home every night at dusk to ensure everyone is safely in their coop, automatic coop doors can be a lifesaver.
- They will ruin your garden
When I got my first flock of three backyard chickens, I thought my garden and chickens could coexist. That idea lasted for about five minutes! Chicken wire can keep chickens from digging in your favorite areas of the garden, which is the first place they will go to make their dust bath.
- There will be roosters
Although most chicks are sold as “sexed,” meaning that there is an approximately 90% chance that they are females, several breeds are also sold as “straight-run,” meaning a 50% chance of getting a rooster. You’ll inevitably wind up with an unexpected rooster in your batch of chicks at some point. He will start to reveal himself by about two months of age with his brighter feathers and beautiful tail, and of course, by his crow at about five months of age. If you live in the city and can’t keep a rooster, only buy sexed chicks and resist the urge to hatch fertile eggs, which, according to Murphy’s Law, will undoubtedly result in roosters.
- Chicken math
With so many beautiful breeds of chickens available in a variety of colors and patterns, different styles of crests and combs, and even with feathered feet, you will soon find reasons to add to your flock. In my case, one of my first three backyard chicks turned out to be a rooster, so naturally, after rehoming him, I had to get three more chicks to round out my flock. I now live in the country with 30-ish chickens. Enough said!
- Chasing the egg rainbow
In addition to the many temping breeds of chickens, there are almost as many different colored chicken eggs. From the dark brown egg layers such as Marans and Welsummer to the blue and green egg layers such as Araucana, Easter Egger, and Cream Legbar, to the relatively new olive egg layers, chasing the egg rainbow goes hand in hand with chicken math.
- Broody chickens
Some breeds want nothing more than to be a momma hen. While this can be a good thing under the right circumstances, it can also be annoying in a small flock when your hens decide to stop laying eggs and to hatch them instead. Take this personality trait into account when selecting chickens for your flock. Breeds known for their broodiness include Silkie, Cochin, Buff Orpington, and Brahma.
- Reproductive problems
This is one of the hardest parts of raising chickens. They have been bred to maximize the number of eggs they lay, which unfortunately has resulted in physiological changes that often lead to damaging or fatal reproductive problems. Becoming egg-bound, internal laying/egg yolk peritonitis, or laying frequent soft-shelled eggs are all too common in our flocks, and it’s heartbreaking when it occurs in one of your favorite ladies. If you can take your chicken to an avian vet specializing in chickens for treatment, this is the best option, but it can be expensive, and there are no guarantees that she can be saved. As I said, this is the hardest part about keeping chickens, and I wish it weren’t so.
- Flock integration
If you keep chickens for many years, or if you fall victim to numbers 6, 7, or 8 above, you will find yourself needing to integrate younger birds into your existing flock. This can be just as traumatic for the chicken owner as it is for the chickens being integrated, who will quickly learn the meaning behind the term “pecking order.”
A few tips may help with this challenging time. Wait to integrate the new chickens until they are close to the same body size as the older chickens. Provide adequate space and hiding areas where they can get away from the older girls. Always introduce new birds in groups. Never try to integrate a single hen into an existing flock; it will be extremely difficult for her as the sole object of the existing flock’s attention. Besides, everyone needs a buddy, even in the chicken world.
Originally published in the April/May 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.