Considering Chickens? Q&A Just for You!

By Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC

This article provides answers to some common questions asked by people who are considering getting chickens.

Q: What breed of chicken should I get?

A: Consider the right birds for your climate! For cold climates, choose cold-hardy, dual-purpose birds, such as the Barred Rock, Buff Orpginton, and Wyandotte. Their smaller combs and wattles prevent heat loss. For warm climates, consider Mediterranean breeds like the Leghorn, Minorca, and Andalusian. Their bodies are slimmer, and they have large combs and wattles. A first-time owner may have better success with all the same breed or a flock made up of all large fowl, rather than a flock that includes bantams. See Henderson’s Breed Chart for more detailed info on breeds.

Plymouth Rocks are good cold-hardy breeds and Leghorns are great for warm climates.

Q: Do I need a rooster to get eggs?

A: Nope! Your hens will lay on their own. If you want to hatch chicks, you’ll need a rooster. A rooster also helps protect the flock and keeps peace among the hens.

Nutrena NatureWise provides optimal nutrition for your birds.

Q: Can I feed them table scraps?

A: Fruit and veggie scraps are fine, but make sure that 85% or more of their diet comes from a quality, balanced layer ration. A properly formulated layer feed like Nutrena® NatureWise® supports the immune system, provides important nutrients for great eggs, and supports healthy and effective digestion.

Q: Will I get eggs all the time, and how many?

A: Different breeds lay different numbers of eggs. You can get a rough idea of how many eggs per breed on Henderson’s Breed Chart. Your girls will lay the most during their first 2 to 3 years of life but will likely continue to lay for several years afterwards. They generally stop laying during the winter, but with a few tricks like supplemental lighting, you can maximize your winter eggs. Your hens will start to lay again in the spring. Female birds also stop laying when they’re molting (losing and regrowing their feathers). Sometimes a hen will go broody and want to hatch eggs. When this happens, she’ll stop laying. Following some simple tips can help your hens lay their best.

Your hens will lay different numbers of eggs based on several factors.

Q: How do I know when my chicken is sick, and what do I do about it?

It’s important to develop a relationship with a vet who can care for your birds.

A: Chickens are very good at hiding signs of illness, so try to pick up your birds on a regular basis to know what is normal for their bodies and weight. Also know what behaviors are normal. Weight loss and changes from routine can indicate something is wrong. Establish a relationship with an avian or poultry vet in your area, and have an emergency fund for veterinary services. Your state’s agricultural extension office may be a good resource as well. Put together a chicken first-aid kit, including a hospital cage. Get your birds used to being handled in case they have to be treated.

Pullets at point of lay have small, pink combs and wattles, which become larger and more red as they mature.

Q: Should I get chicks or older birds?

A: Chicks are great because they become tame the more you handle them. But they are messy and should be kept in a brooder box (often in the house!). You can also get pullets at point of lay (female birds that are about 20 weeks old). If they were not handled a lot, they may be skittish and wary of humans, but they will lay eggs sooner. You may also adopt a flock of older birds.

Q: Can I add new birds to my flock?

A: Yes! Chicken math is a thing: once you start getting chickens, you’ll want more! But adding new birds to an existing flock can be tricky, so be sure to follow these tips. Also consider the source of the birds and observe proper biosecurity to prevent illness in your flock.

Q: Can I leave my chickens for a few days when I’m out of town?

A: Consider your birds to be a 24/7 commitment. You should have someone plan to look in on them twice a day while you’re away. Morning care should include letting them out of the coop, feeding, and watering. In the evening, around dusk, have your sitter put them back in the coop and collect eggs. The sitter should also monitor for any signs of predators or injury. If you have a veterinarian, provide his or her contact information. Read this post for additional tips.

Q: What kind of housing do I need?

A: Chickens don’t need a fancy home, but they do have a few basic requirements. The coop should be well ventilated but draft free; there should be some air circulation, but, in winter especially, cold air should not come rushing through cracks. Keep the coop and run as dry as possible to prevent illness and frostbite. You’ll also need to have enough space for your birds to prevent them from pecking one another: 4 square feet per bird in the coop; 6–8 square feet per bird in the run.  

Q: How do I convince my neighbors that chickens are a good idea?

A: Sometimes chickens are a hard sell, but they often end up being a fun neighborhood-building activity. Find out what your neighbors’ main concerns are, and then research solutions. Demonstrate that you are following best practices. For example, if rodents are a concern, you can run ¼” hardware cloth underneath the coop and run and keep food stored in metal cans. Provide your neighbors with resources that address their concerns, such as this article by a well-known chicken author. Invite them to go on a tour of well-kept coops in your area. Be prepared to make some compromises!

Most neighbors will come to love your chickens!


Advanced Chick Nutrition: The Secret to Great Laying Hens

by Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC

Young girl holding pullet in her arm and feed in her hand
Quality early nutrition as they are growing helps your chickens perform their best.

You’ve heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” Nutrition matters when it comes to human, kids and adults alike. Quality food is important for our growth and health. The same goes for chickens. Your birds put a lot of energy into creating tasty, nutritious eggs for you, and their food affects egg quality, size, and nutrients. Similar to human children, the right nutrition for baby chicks helps set a solid foundation for your adult laying hens.

Chick Feed with Advanced Nutrition Yields More Productive Hens

What’s in a chick feed, and how does that feed’s quality affect your adult birds? There are a lot of chick feeds out there at different price points, but they are not created equal. A lower-cost feed might seem to be a better value, but your chickens will ultimately be healthier if they start life on a nutritionally advanced chick diet. Not only will they thrive as chicks, but as adults they will lay higher-quality eggs in a shorter span of time. In short, chick feed with exceptional nutrition will cost less when you look at the end result: healthier birds and better eggs.

At Nutrena we believe what’s inside counts: quality ingredients mean healthier, happier birds. We formulated our NatureWise® line of feeds with the best ingredients in balanced proportions.

Our customers from across the United States provided rave reviews of our NatureWise® Poultry Feeds with FlockShield™:

My flock loves it! My chicks just started laying, and their eggs speak for themselves!
—Temecula, CA

Two weeks ago I started my new chicks on this feed and have noticed how happy, healthy, and perky they are. No instances of sick chicks or poopy butts. So thankful!
Madison, WI

I recently switched to feeding exclusively Nutrena to my whole flock, including this chick starter. I’ve noticed my chicks are much more active, almost never have pasty butts, and are looking so good this year!
—Montello, WI

We switched over to this feed about a month ago. We are now huge fans of Nutrena. I have seen a tremendous difference in egg production and overall health in my chickens. My ladies run to the feeder every time! Of course, I can’t forget, their plumage looks amazing! If you have been on the fence, try this feed out. You will not be disappointed.

Here is a 2.5-week comparison:

—Greenville, SC

I started feeding my girls this 2 weeks ago, and their egg production has been amazing. I was getting only 3 to 4 eggs a day from my 8 girls, and now I’m getting 8 eggs a day. A few even have had double yolks. They have had nice, hard shells and weight to them as well.
— Northern WI

Since switching to Nutrena NatureWise® feed, our girls haven’t had any more problems with soft-shelled or shell-less eggs. My girls love the soy-free Hearty Hen. I appreciate the soy-free option as I have a soy food sensitivity. I’ve also noticed that the yolks are stronger and darker as well. We love golden yolks here.
—No location given

See more customer reviews here.

The Scientific Proof

But how do we know pullets started on chick starters with advanced nutrition experience higher egg production? We put our feed to the test using a scientific experiment.

We observed 84 Speckled Sussex pullet chicks from the same hatchery. The birds had been started under identical conditions on two brands of feed at our Cargill Innovation Campus in Elk River, Minnesota. We divided the 84 birds into two groups of 42 birds each. Group 1 had been fed NatureWise® Chick Starter Grower, and Group 2 had been started on a leading national brand of chick starter/grower.

When the birds were 18 weeks old, they were transported to a farm in Wisconsin for an in-field trial. The birds were placed in identical controlled environments (housing, lighting, and amounts of food and water). At the farm, all of the hens were fed NatureWise® 16% Layer feed. Once they started laying, we observed them for 14 weeks.

Eggs Laid Between 1 and 14 Weeks

Birds from both Groups 1 and 2 started to lay six weeks after arrival at the facility, at 24 weeks of age, which is typical for Speckled Sussex. Then the remarkable results came in. Over the next 14 weeks, the 42 birds that had been started on NatureWise® Chick Starter Grower laid more than twice as many eggs as the birds fed the national competitor, 499 to 205!

On average, the NatureWise® hens produced 34.3 eggs per week compared to 11.6 eggs per week for the national competitor, and the eggs laid by the NatureWise® hens were larger and had stronger shells. In addition, fewer birds died in the NatureWise® group. The farm’s owners also noted the birds in Group 1 laid more eggs and were heavier than those in Group 2. We think you will notice the difference, too!

What’s the Difference?

Why is NatureWise® such a good choice? What’s inside counts, in both the quantity and quality of the ingredients. First, let’s look at typical ingredients that are found in most chick starter/grower feeds.

  • Proteins and amino acids help build body tissues. They also assist with metabolic function, conduct specific biological reactions, build hormones, and coordinate functions of different cells within the body.
  • Carbohydrates power cellular activity. They are the body’s preferred source of energy. They make up the largest percentage of a chicken’s diet and come mostly from grains.
  • Vitamins and minerals perform many functions in the body: they encourage healthy growth, create strong bones, and form blood cells. They also support energy use and muscle function.

The quantity of the ingredients affects the health and growth of your chicks. For example, too much calcium can damage your chicks’ kidneys, and too little protein can cause them to process feed inefficiently.

Feed quality is also important: the quality of the all the ingredients—the vitamins, minerals, proteins, and carbohydrates—matters. NatureWise®’s high-quality ingredients make a difference!

Finally, the kind of ingredients is key. Some premium feeds contain extra ingredients that provide supportive nutrition for your birds, such as pre- and probiotics, yeast culture, and essential oils. These extra ingredients boost the immune system, support healthy growth, promote optimal digestion, and cut down on odor in droppings. Our NatureWise® products contain a proprietary blend of these additional ingredients called FlockShield.

Our team at Nutrena has worked hard to create a chick starter/grower feed that improves the health and well-being of poultry, and the results from our study demonstrate in scientific terms how these efforts have paid off in the overall health, vitality, and productivity of the birds.

In addition, better performance equals better value, and you can calculate the savings! Over the 18 weeks of the initial chick study, NatureWise® Starter Grower provided better results than the national premium competitor and cost $1.35 per bird less to feed the chicks over the 18-week period.

Now you can give your birds an exceptional start for less money, providing them with an affordable diet that will support them from chick to adult. They will live their best lives and produce an abundance of the eggs you love!

The Complete Guide to Livestock Guardian Dogs and Chickens

Guardian dog
A well trained, big and strong, livestock guardian dog can be a valuable asset to help ward off wolves, coyotes, and other dangerous predators.

For people that live on land with cattle, sheep, and other ranch animals, livestock guard dogs can be a huge help. People have been keeping livestock for thousands of years and, in all that time, they have been tasked with keeping these animals safe. Helping them keep these animals safe have been livestock guardians dogs.

Similar to the way that bloodhounds are bred to track, these are dogs bred with the specific purpose of protecting flocks and herds of animals from wild predators, other dogs, and even trespassers of the human variety.

Livestock guardian dog breeds are very large, with thick coats and an excess of scruff. Their coats help keep them safe if they get in fights, with their size ensuring they have a good chance of intimidation and victory. Keeping wild wolves and coyotes away from the more vulnerable animals on the property is a job that is much more suited to a 150 pound dog with strong jaws and packed with muscle than is it a 15 pound lap dog that doesn’t really like to move.

While people are usually aware that livestock guardian dogs can protect goats, cattle, and other larger animals, they may not know that some of these dog breeds will also guard chickens with the same amount of ferocity and loyalty.

Livestock guardian dogs have been around for thousands of years, with many different breeds that would come to span across the world. In regards to looks and personality, the livestock guardian dogs are almost identical to their ancestors of hundreds of years ago. The history of the livestock guardian dog is expansive and interesting.

Today, livestock guardian dogs are in decline. Livestock that requires a living protection at all times is becoming more and more rare as technology increases and free-range herds decrease. The dogs are simply not needed as much for their original purpose.

Another reason for this is that livestock guardian dogs are not typically pets. They tend to be more standoff-ish in personality, ranging from shy to outright aggressive with people. Having even a possibility of aggression in such a large dog is very offsetting to people.

Chicken livestock guardian dogs specifically are not often utilized.
This is for a number of reasons, but the main reason is trust. People feel like they can not leave a dog unsupervised with a flock of chickens, and therefore do not want to put in the work and money to purchase a livestock guardian dog for their birds.

They may also not feel that it is cost and time effective to buy and train a dog to protect a flock of birds unless they have a very large, free-range operation.

A really important thing to keep in mind is that every dog will need some kind of training when dealing with chickens. Livestock animals are prey, but chickens are significantly easier to chase and kill than a cow. Any dog with a prey drive, which is almost every dog out there, will naturally want to chase the chickens if the birds are flapping their wings or making distressing noises. The dog can be taught to protect the chickens instead of stalking them. There are a few things that can be done to improve your chances of your dog and chickens getting along.

  • Introducing the dog to chickens when they are young is very important. Old dogs can learn new tricks, but it is a lot harder for everybody involved. Once a prey drive against chickens is established, it will be incredibly difficult to train it out of the guardian dog.
  • Puppy and baby chick getting to know each other
    Always supervise puppies to ensure good behavior during the training stage.
    Though they should spend a lot of time with the chickens, only once the puppy is grown and behaviorally mature should it be left unsupervised with the flock. Some unassuming fencing, like chicken wire instead of wood, will go a long way in ensuring that the dog does not see the fence as a territory border, but as just another part of their property.
  • Supervised time for the puppy to interact with the chickens inside the chicken fencing is important, so that any bad behavior, like chasing or biting, can be stopped right away.

A lot of people who have considered getting livestock guardian dogs have a small flock of chickens and maybe a few goats. The chickens might be fine during the day, but foxes, coyotes, and strays in the more rural residential areas can be a problem during the night. However, people worry that the dog will be bored with such a small flock. They don’t need to worry.

For one thing, this is how a lot of livestock guardian dogs work. They aren’t like herding dogs, that are constantly running around with the herd. Instead, the dogs sit and wait until they are needed to protect the animals under their charge.

A small flock of birds may seem like it is not enough to keep the dog stimulated and working, but this isn’t true. In regards to the happiness of the dog, they will be just as happy and effective with a flock of chickens as they would be with a large head of cattle.

If you have a flock of chickens in a space where you are worried they might be in danger from the local wildlife, a livestock guardian dog might be the perfect solution for you. Livestock guardian dogs add a sense of security for owners.

These are dogs that are at their happiest when they have a job to do. Chicken livestock guardian dogs can have just as fulfilling a life with their small little flock as a free-range cattle guardian dog.


5 Tips To Keep Snakes Away From Chicken Coops

keep snakes away from chicken coop

Making sure your chickens are safe should be one of the top priorities of any keeper.

While adult chickens are more likely to kill a snake than the other way around, chicken eggs and young chicks can be eaten by larger snakes. This danger makes it absolutely necessary to snake proof your chicken coop.

Though it is a myth that commercial snake repellants or devices truly work to keep snakes away, there are a few tips that can help you keep your coop safe without harming or killing any snakes.

After all, snakes are pretty cool animals and their death is not necessary for keeping your flock out of harm’s way.

Are you having problems with snakes getting into your chicken coop?

Keep reading to learn the 5 best tips for keeping your chickens safe, and making sure snakes are not harmed in the process.

How To Keep Snakes Away From Chicken Coops

  1. Clear debris and increase visibility

A great way to prevent snakes from coming into your yard is to make sure there are no places to hide. Snakes are generally shy creatures that need lots of hiding spots from larger predators. This hiding spot could be a log pile, old equipment, wood or sheets of metal, bushes and even tall areas of grass.  Snakes will be a lot less likely to appear if you make sure your yard and your chicken coop is free of debris, overgrown areas and patches of long grass.

  1. Seal any small holes in your coop

Only bigger snakes like rat snakes, bull snakes and large corn snakes really pose any threat to your chickens. Even these larger species pose very little danger to adult chickens and will only consume younger chicks if given the chance. That being said, these larger species can easily squeeze themselves into small holes, and making sure your coop is properly sealed is a great measure to keep snakes out. Any holes that are larger than a half an inch should be sealed. Chicken wire is not recommended around your coop as it is usually big enough that snakes can make their way through the gaps. Once they are through, they may consume a small chick and be too big to get back out again!

  1. Use hardware cloth or wildlife friendly netting

Cloth or netting can help keep snakes from getting into areas that they are unwelcome. You can use hardware cloth or a fine mesh around fences, chicken runs, and even the base of your coop to keep snakes out. Some people suggest bird netting, but this is a really dangerous option for wildlife. Not only can snakes get caught up in it and killed but birds, deer and other larger wildlife can become entangled and die. A better option is smaller mesh (with .5cm or smaller openings), or hard plastic sturdy netting that won’t get caught on snake scales. These wildlife friendly options still work to keep snakes out of your coop, but will be a much safer alternative.

  1. Keep rodents away from your coop

Since the primary diet of most snakes is rodents, having rodents around your coop can actually attract snakes. Mice, rats and chipmunks hanging out around your chickens will encourage snakes to stay in the area as they have a steady food source. To keep rodents away, you should ensure that all your chicken feed and grain is properly sealed in rodent proof containers. You can also bring in your chicken’s feeders at night or use feeders that rodents will be unable to steal from. If your rodent problem is particularly bad, you can dump out the water overnight and refill it in the morning. Taking away the food and water source for rodents will help keep them away from your yard and therefore help keep snakes away. Lastly, keep the area around your coop as clean as possible. Pick up any stray food after feeding and you will likely see less rodents running around.

  1. Make sure you maintain your coop

Making all these changes to keep snakes away won’t work if you don’t maintain them. As your coop ages, you will likely see more and more small holes that need to be filled, mesh and fences that need to be replaced, and an increase in vulnerable areas that predators can exploit. Making sure you are maintaining your coop and keeping the general area tidy and debris-free will be the best long-term strategy to keep snakes away.


Will A Chicken Fight A Snake?

Usually chickens are not keen on fighting snakes and when given the choice, they will flee. However, some territorial chickens that have a strong desire to protect their chicks will take on the challenge. Mature chickens often have no problem killing snakes and the result of their fight almost always ends with the snake’s death.

What Can I Put Around My Chicken Coop To Keep Snakes Away?

There is no specific snake repellant that works nor is there a device that will magically keep snakes away, though many companies trying to sell products want you to believe that. Snake traps may help keep snakes away from your coop, but most of them are also inhumane and usually lead to the death of the reptile. Glue traps in particular should always be avoided as once stuck, it’s almost impossible to remove the snake and they will usually succumb to the elements or injury. The best way to keep snakes away is prevention. Making the area predator proof, clean, and free of rodents are a few steps that can help ensure snakes stay away.


You don’t have to kill or harm wild snakes in order to keep your chickens safe. Commercial snake repellants are ineffective and traps will often lead to the death of any who are caught by it. Thankfully, there are a variety of effective methods that will ensure the safety of your flock while posing no danger to native wildlife. Keeping your coop clean, removing debris and grass that may block visibility, sealing holes, using wildlife friendly netting, avoiding attracting rodents and making sure your coop is properly maintained will give snakes no reason or chance to infiltrate your coop.

Let us know if these tips have worked for you in the comments below.




What To Know Before Building Your Own Chicken Coop

backyard chicken on grass

Are you looking to build a coop for your first flock of backyard chickens? This article has everything you need to know about building a safe coop for a happy flock.

The perfect chicken coop protects your birds from heat, cold, weather, predators, and diseases, while also being comfortable for them and accessible for you.

I’ve had chickens in my backyard for decades, and in that time, we’ve gone through at least three chicken coops. Every time we build, there are new lessons to be learned, but the fundamental principles always stay the same. The perfect chicken coop is big enough to house the whole flock, sturdy enough to withstand the worst weather, and safe enough to keep out the most determined predators. Perhaps most importantly, it is easy for you, the owner, to clean, maintain, and keep in the best possible shape. This keeps your hens safe and healthy as long as possible. In this article, we’ll break down the things you need to know before building such a perfect coop.

  1. Choose a plan that meets all your needs. There is no one-size-fits-all perfect chicken coop plan or design that will work for every flock owner, but there are a number of universal concerns everyone should consider before picking a coop plan. One of the big ones is capacity: How many and what kind of chickens is the coop able to safely hold? How much space your birds will need will depend on a number of factors. Free-ranging birds or birds with a run will need significantly less space than birds that will be confined all day; roosters generally need a bit more space than hens; and bantam breeds can usually get by with less floor space but need more vertical space. Your personal accessibility needs – how well you can get into the coop to clean and collect eggs – is another major concern people often overlook.
  2. Pick a location that will keep your girls safe and cool. As with plans, there is no hard and fast rule about what makes the perfect location, only a series of concerns to balance against your own needs and preferences. Shade is a big one; placing the coop out of direct sunlight can help keep your flock from overheating. However, building your coop directly under the trees can run afoul of another concern, which is accessibility to predators. Hawks will see a flock that lives directly under a sturdy tree as easy prey, and ground-based predators will more easily access your coop if it is surrounded by good hiding places. Finally, human accessibility is key. Building a chicken coop can take anywhere from a weekend to about two weeks, and maintaining a flock in one more than five years. Consider how far you want to schlep building materials, tools, chicken feed, and eggs to and from the coop. As you may be doing this every day for half a decade, reconsider before picking the spot furthest away from the house.
  3. Add enough ventilation for all seasons. It’s hard to think of a few wall vents as a lifesaving design feature, but for a chicken coop, having proper ventilation is absolutely crucial. In fact, it’s one of the best things you can do to keep your girls safe and healthy. A well-ventilated coop will bring in lots of clean air, which will help stop potentially fatal respiratory diseases like Newcastle and bird flu from spreading in your flock. In addition, ventilation will help keep your birds cool in hot weather. Even though modern-day chickens are descended from tropical junglefowl, they are much more susceptible to overheating than freezing. However, both heat waves and cold snaps can be dangerous to chickens. The solution is to have a lot of vents at all heights throughout the coop, which will blow cooling drafts over your birds on hot days, but to have those vents be closeable. In the winter, closing all but two vents at the very top of the coop (above the roosts) will help keep your flock both warm and disease-free.   
  4. Use hardware mesh to keep out predators. When it comes to keeping predators out of the coop, hardware mesh (also called hardware cloth) really can’t be beat. Its small holes (much smaller than those in chicken wire) keep out all manner of ground-based predators, and you can’t use too much of the stuff. Use it to reinforce your walls, your floor, your outer fence, and then bury some more at least six inches into the ground around your perimeter. The one place chicken wire is a better choice is for the upper parts of the run fencing, to keep chickens in and other birds out.   
  5. Customize your nesting boxes and roosts for maximum safety and comfort. Nesting boxes (for egg-laying) and roosts (for sleeping) are the two parts of the coop your hens will use most often. They aren’t fussed about what they look like, as long as your nesting boxes are filled with something soft (like wood shavings or straw) and your roosts are the highest available sitting place in the coop. Have 10 inches of space per bird in your roosts, and one nesting box for every three hens, plus one more than you need for if a hen goes broody or picks a favorite box.

Building your own chicken coop can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. There are only a few crucial elements to keep in mind when building that, if planned for correctly, will result in a sturdy coop and a safe, happy, healthy, productive flock.


Weathering your first Winter with Chickens.

If you are new to raising chickens, you’ll need to know the basics to keep your hens healthy and safe through the cold days of winter. From whether to heat your coop or not, to how to keep your hens from feeling cooped up, Nutrena Poultry Expert Twain Lockhart has advice on winter care that will help you keep your birds safe, happy, and healthy.

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