Frequently Asked Questions about Raising Chickens

As an experienced chicken raiser, I often receive many questions about raising chickens. These inquiries range from the basic to the complex, each reflecting the diverse challenges and rewards of chicken keeping. This post will answer some of the most frequently asked questions, serving as a comprehensive guide for both newcomers and experienced chicken enthusiasts alike.

Starting Your Flock

How to Choose the Right Chickens?

The first step to starting your flock is choosing the right chickens. Your choice will depend on what you aim to achieve – whether it’s a plentiful supply of eggs, meat, or simply the joy of having feathery friends around.

Different breeds offer varied attributes. For instance, the Rhode Island Red is an excellent egg layer, while the Buff Orpington is known for its docility and suitability as a pet.

Leghorns can be flighty, but they are real champs at laying eggs. Some Bantam breeds can be just plain nutty, but they are good foragers and fun to have around.

The thing is if your focus is a lot of eggs or a good meaty bird, or a combination of both there is a chicken that will satisfy your wants and needs.

How Many Chickens Should I Start With?

Space considerations play a crucial role here. As a rule of thumb, each chicken should have 2-3 square feet of space inside the coop and 8-10 square feet outside. Besides space, consider the number of eggs you’d like per week.

A healthy, laying hen typically produces 4-5 eggs per week. Remember, chickens are social creatures and do best in groups – a flock of 3-5 is a good start for beginners.

Chicken Coop Essentials

How Big Should a Chicken Coop Be?

Again, space per chicken is key. In addition to space, your coop should have essential features like nesting boxes (one for every 3-4 hens) and roosting perches (8-10 inches per chicken).

What Makes a Safe Chicken Coop?

Safety is paramount. Protecting your flock from predators involves measures such as securing the coop with predator-proof locks, burying hardware cloth around the coop, and ensuring all vents are covered with predator-resistant mesh. Ventilation is critical to keep the air fresh, and good insulation can help regulate temperature.

Nutrition and Health

What and How Much Should I Feed My Chickens?

Feeding your chickens a balanced diet is essential for their health. Layer pellets are perfect for hens as they contain the right nutrients needed for egg production. Chickens will eat approximately 1/4 to 1/3 pounds of feed per day.

Adjustments may be necessary depending on age, health status, and breed. If you free-range your birds, that helps reduce feed costs.

How to Keep Chickens Healthy?

Regular health checks, a balanced diet, and clean living conditions are the pillars of chicken health. Watch for signs of common health issues like parasites, respiratory illnesses, and egg-laying problems. Don’t hesitate to consult with a vet if you’re unsure.

Watch for excess scratching, preening, sneezing, and coughing. Lethargy when all the other birds seem active is an indicator that something might be wrong with a chicken. It’s important to know what to do for a sick chicken!

The Laying Process

When Will My Chickens Start Laying Eggs?

Most hens start laying at around 5-6 months old, but this can vary depending on the breed. Signs your hen is about to lay include increased vocalization, nesting behavior, and changes in the comb and wattle.

Do I Need a Rooster for My Hens to Lay Eggs?

No, hens do not need a rooster to lay eggs. The eggs will be unfertilized and won’t hatch into chicks. Having a rooster has its pros and cons, and this choice will depend on your personal preferences and local regulations.

If you think you might want to incubate your own eggs, you will definitely need a rooster on board to, well, you know.

Seasonal Care

How to Keep Chickens Cool in the Summer?

Heat stress can be a significant issue in the summer. Provide plenty of shade, and fresh water, and consider using fans or misters if temperatures climb very high. Watch for panting, lethargy, and loss of appetite, which are signs of heat stress.

It is important to keep your chickens cool in warm weather. Stressed birds don’t lay as well as happy chickens.

How to Keep Chickens Warm in the Winter?

Most chicken breeds handle cold well, especially if they have a dry, draft-free coop. Add extra bedding for insulation and ensure the coop is well-ventilated to prevent moisture buildup which can lead to frostbite.

You want to keep your chickens warm in cold weather. Although huddling together in a coop that is not too big for the number of chickens you have is usually enough to keep them happy, you might want to consider adding a heater for the coldest of times.

In conclusion, raising chickens can be a rewarding experience. It may seem daunting at first, but once you get to know your flock’s needs, it becomes second nature. Remember, each flock is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. Happy chicken keeping!

For more detailed information, the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension provides a wealth of knowledge on raising chickens.

12 thoughts on “Frequently Asked Questions about Raising Chickens”

  1. My chicks just turned 6-weeks. They have been in the house and I turned off their heater last week. I wanted to leave them for the first time overnight last night in the coop, but the temperature got down to 56. Is it safe for them at that age, or should I still wait?

    Reply
    • Hi Donna! It sounds like you are doing a great job of keeping your chicks warm and safe. By now, six weeks, they should be fully feathered and ready to brave the warm summer nights ahead.

      They would have been fine at 56 degrees F, but I completely get your concern. They were so fragile just a few weeks ago. But they grow fast and it’s time for them to start their new life in the coop.

      They can huddle together if they get cold, and they will spread out when it is too warm. It’s time to start thinking about roosts and nesting boxes and such.

      Good luck with your new flock, Donna.

      All the best to you.

      Dave

      Reply
      • Thanks for prompt response. We did set up roosts and nesting boxes, however, is it true that you should block the nesting box until about five-months of age so they use in ONLY for laying and not for all purposes?

        Also, some people leave a light on at night, why?

        Reply
        • No problem, Donna. I try to get back to people as soon as I can.

          It’s a good idea to encourage your chickens to use the nesting boxes only for laying eggs, so prohibiting nesting box use until they are ready to lay is a sound practice.

          Chickens will use the boxes for many reasons. Bullying, draftiness, and injury are all reasons for a chicken to seek the safety of a box. It is better to eliminate the problem than allowing the boxes to be a substitute for sound practices.

          Some people leave lights on to promote year-round egg laying. Chickens need 14 hours of daylight to lay well. Heat lamps also generate a lot of light, so if you plan on helping to heat the coop with a high-wattage bulb in the winter, then the lights will always be on. There are better heater alternatives to the bulb, unless you like the light.

          Reply
          • Hi Dave, I have been reading on dust baths and preventing lice on chickens. Do you have any recommendations on products to put on the dirt to help prevent lice?

          • Hi Donna! I do have a recommendation for you and it is very effective. You probably know that I am going to suggest diatomaceous earth. You’re right. I am. BUT!!! Sorry, but here we go…

            Dust particles from common outdoor dust are large in size compared to SOME of the particles in diatomaceous earth or wood ashes. Some of these smaller particles will be inhaled by the chickens since the chickens are literally throwing the particles up in the air. This is probably not a big deal unless the amount inhaled is enough to overwhelm the chickens’ windpipe cilia and scavenger cells deep in the lungs. If this happens the particles continue into the circulatory system where damage can be done to the chickens’ health.

            Now, there are ways to mitigate the respiratory issue. Firstly, you can mix at a 3:1 dirt to earth ratio to be safe, and secondly you can make sure the bath is open only on days when the air is not still, or you can provide a fan or some other ventilation.

            I hope that helps, Donna.

  2. It does help, but makes me paranoid. With my flock so small, maybe I could just treat if lice are seen, as I understand they typically tend to this problem themselves, unless the coop or the pen is unclean…??

    Another problem. My chicks have been brought up in their brooder in “the house”. Literally. They have seen every move I have made since, well day one, as I have a tiny house. They even watched TV with me. Even in my lap.

    Here is the problem, when I am in their pen, they come out and graze. When I go in my house to do whatever, they go back inside their coop. This has been going on for a week now. I have left the radio on outside for comfort. I go outside, periodically, they run out to me. I go inside, they go inside.

    Any suggestions?

    Last night, they were gathered by the gate all huddled together because I think they heard the TV inside and wanted to get in the house. UGH…

    Reply
    • Hey Donna! I hope all is well with you. Let’s take one problem at a time

      First, the lice issue. I don’t think you are going to have a problem given the obvious amazing care you are giving your babies. If you do and you want to treat them, take them to a remote spot away from their everyday living quarters and dust them carefully with diatomaceous earth, keeping the dust away from their nostrils as much as possible. Respiratory issues only occur during long exposure. While they are away from the coop spray the coop with a citrus peel extract. Here’s how to make it. Boil the peel of 2 oranges, lemons, or grapefruits in a quart of water. Let it sit for 24 hours then strain the liquid into a spray bottle. Citrus extract is a nerve toxin for the lice.

      Part II – Needy chickens. It’s great that your chickens love you. They are social creatures and they consider you to be part of the flock! But! They do know the difference and they know that you mean food, fun, affection and food, and food. I’ll bet you hand feed them a lot. So, yeah, they like being around you but they are perfectly fine without you. They go in their coop because it makes them feel secure. Sometimes you just have to be strong, Donna, and encourage them to become a little independent. As much as it hurts, sometimes you just have to rip that Band-Aid off. Otherwise, you are not allowing yourself to enjoy your freedom.

      Reply
      • Ok, thanks so much for all the information. I REALLY like the option you explained above with the lice, if they do get them. I have also read on creating dust baths for them in the winter for their coop!!! Very cool how they instinctively know how to treat themselves and will keep an eye on them.

        Yes, you are right, I do have to rip that bandage off. I do go out to them too much… And, yes, I do feed them from my hand and hold them and hug them (literally).

        As you know, they are such awesome creatures. Thank you so much for all your help.

        I’m sure I’ll be contacting you soon… 🙂

        Reply
        • Thanks, Donna. I’m happy to help. Fall and winter are the worst for lice and mite infestations since the birds are literally cooped up so the indoor dust bath is a good idea.

          I look forward to hearing from you again. Happy chickeneering!

          Reply
  3. Hi Dave, How and why would my girls get worms. Will I see them in their feces? Or, will they start looking weird. No sign of worms, just wanting to “be prepared”.

    Thanks so MUCH!

    Your friend, Donna

    Reply
    • Hi, Donna. That is a great and complex question, the answer to which would require a couple of thousand words. So, I am going to give you a quick answer and offer a self-serving, opportunistic link to a wonderful book that will answer all of your chicken health issues.

      There are a dozen types of worms and twice as many treatments. “Infection” can affect any and every part of a chicken from the wattle to the vent depending on the type of worm. Transmission can be from feces to mouth or prey to mouth (think earthworms, beetles, crickets).

      Worm eggs are measured in micrometers. or millionths of a meter so you will not be able to see them without the aid of a microscope.

      Symptoms are varied from swollen eyes to death with a common theme being lethargy.

      Here’s some good news for you. As chickens mature, they become worm resistant. A healthy environment including relatively clean coops (get rid of droppings regularly to break egg cycles), clean food and water feeders, and vigilance should ensure happy, healthy, wormless chickens.

      Constant deworming is not a good habit to develop any more than overdosing your dog or cat on dewormer would be.

      Knowing how you have been taking care of your wonderful little flock, I would think you are pretty safe to have very healthy birds.

      Now, if you want a comprehensive yet approachable book that covers all of your chicken health questions, I recommend “The Chicken Health Handbook” . It’s an inexpensive way to get peace of mind.

      Thanks for the question, Donna. Take care. Talk soon.

      Reply

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