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