Before I got my first chickens I read and researched for over a year.
Even after this there were still things I did not know – some things you only find out by doing it yourself!
No two people will experience the same things. So if you are fairly new to chickens or just about to embark on your journey, I urge you to read all the lists. The more you read the better prepared you will be and the smoother your voyage will be.
What follows is a general list of things that I have found out on my chicken journey that will be useful for you to know…
Contents and Quick Navigation
- 1. Friendly and Loving
- 2. Egg Laying Myths
- 3. Reading and Research
- 4. Stopping Chicken Dinner
- 5. Chicken Wire
- 6. Roosters and Zoning
- 7. Straight Runs and Roosters
- 8. Hatcheries and Breeders
- 9. New Breeds
- 10. Chicken Space
- 11. Chickens and Gardens
- 12. First Aid and Isolation
- 13. Personalities
- 14. Manure and Poop
- 15. Stay Flexible
- 16. Heat Not Cold
1. Friendly and Loving
Chickens are fun creatures.
Even the way they walk is funny to look at!
They are exuberant about everything they do and nothing is done half measure with them.
Sure, let us take out Mom’s plants while we are at it!
Spending time watching your chickens is probably the best and cheapest form of therapy. You forget your problems and can relax with them because no-one is watching and no-one is judging.
Their antics are fun to watch and they are totally unselfconscious.
Your chickens can be very friendly and loving – some may even demand snuggles from you.
2. Egg Laying Myths
If you are new to chickens then there are a few egg laying misconceptions to lay to rest.
- Your chickens will not lay until they are around 4-5 months old.
- Even the best egg layers will not give you an egg each day. The best you can hope for is around 5 eggs each week.
- You do not need a rooster to get eggs.
- During winter your egg count is going to be reduced, or non-existent, unless you add light to the coop.
- Finally, chickens usually live longer than they lay. So you need to have a plan with (especially if you live in an area where you are limited to the number of hens you can keep).
Always feed you hens high quality food and do not forget oyster shell.
3. Reading and Research
Some folks like to just take the plunge and get started.
But I highly recommend that you do some research first.
Having a basic understanding of what is needed and what you want is important. You do not have to read everything about chicken keeping, just enough to get you through the first few hurdles of being a flock keeper.
At a minimum you should think about your climate and what breed you want.
The success of your flock can sometimes hinge on seemingly unrelated things like the climate.
If you have people nearby who keep chickens, then go knock on their door – people love to talk chicken!
4. Stopping Chicken Dinner
Foxes, weasels, raccoons and lots of other animals enjoy chicken dinner.
Your number one job as a flock keeper is to protect your chickens from predators.
To do this you need to have a good security system in place.
Wire mesh should be used underneath the coop and on the run.
To protect them from hawks and owls you need to have an open mesh cover over your run. If your chickens free range then make sure there are places where they can hide such as bushes and covered areas.
5. Chicken Wire
Chicken wire will help to keep your chickens penned in, but it will not stop predators from breaking in.
You should only use chicken wire to divide runs and protect your garden from chickens.
To protect your chickens from predation you should use wire mesh. If you have a raised coop or a dirt floor coop then use wire mesh on the base of the coop or lay it directly on the dirt and attach to the coop walls.
This will prevent rats and weasels from burrowing in.
If money is tight then use wire mesh on the lower three feet of the run and chicken wire above. It is not ideal but it will stop raccoons from pulling birds through the wire.
6. Roosters and Zoning
It is important to check your zoning.
Local zoning laws may stop you from keeping chickens or may limit how many you can keep in your backyard. The majority of places do not allow roosters to be kept in urban or suburban areas because of the noise factor. Even if you are allowed to keep chickens, a miserable neighbor can make your life difficult. Make sure you there are no reasons for the complaint and keep your flock clean and vermin free.
7. Straight Runs and Roosters
You can buy chicks that are either a straight run or sexed.
Straight run chicks can be either a boy or a girl, so you have a 50/50 chance to get at least one rooster.
Sexed chicks are chicks that have been sexed at the hatchery by a professional. However just remember that even the professionals only get it right 95% of the time so there is a small chance you may get a boy.
If you live in an urban area it is best to get sexed chicks. Although straight run chicks might be a bit cheaper, unless you can have roosters where you live it will become a problem later on.
Most places will not take back male chicks so make sure you have a contingency plan in place.
8. Hatcheries and Breeders
To give yourself the best chance of healthy chicks you should buy them from a reputable source.
Whether this is a hatchery or a breeder it does not really matter.
What does matter is that you can refer back to them if you ever need to.
All reputable hatcheries have a customer service area where you can ask questions about the care and health of your chicks.
If you buy from an online auction or the local paper then you run the risk of getting chicks that are unhealthy.
There are a few diseases that do not show until the chick is a few weeks old and by this time it will be too late to return them or complain about it. Hatcheries on the other hand have a reputation to protect and in most cases will be helpful and try to work with you to resolve issues.
9. New Breeds
Chickens are addictive!
There are always new breeds and colors that you just have to have.
When you look through a hatchery catalog at the amazing variety it is tempting to have one of each.
Chickens generally like the company of one of their own so buying a pair of each breed is actually better for them.
Children usually like the fluffy hens like Polish Chickens or Silkies.
Whilst these breeds are not the best egg layers they are fun hens to have around.
10. Chicken Space
Just like people, chickens need personal space.
If you buy a ready-made coop they will have you believe that you can jam six hens into a very small space.
The truth is you can but it will create problems down the line, like feather picking and bullying.
If you would like your hens to behave like civilized creatures then you need to give them enough space. Most folks agree on a minimum of four square of coop space feet per chicken. If you let them free range then the coop can be a touch smaller. You should read our article on How Much Space Do Chickens Need.
11. Chickens and Gardens
If you enjoy growing beautiful flowers and fresh vegetables then keep your garden fenced off from your chickens.
Do not get me wrong, chickens can be very helpful in the yard but they love to dig, scratch and dust bathe which will destroy your seedling and flowers.
Even fully grown plants are not safe because chickens like to sample as go around the yard – tomatoes (a favorite), squash, cucumbers, nothing is safe! My suggestion is in the fall, once your veggies and flowers are basically done, open up the areas for your hens.
They will have a great time picking bugs, scratching around for weed seeds and tasting any fallen fruits.
Chickens are good little soil cultivators and very good pest control officers.
I let them roam through the areas until spring comes and it is time to plant again.
12. First Aid and Isolation
From time to time your chicken might get sick so there are a few things you will need.
First of all you need an isolation area that is safe.
A large sized dog crate will do, or you can buy or build a small coop. If you do build a separate coop then this can also be used as a broody nesting area if (when) the need arises. You also need a first aid kit for your ladies as accidents can happen. Some of the essentials of your kit should be:
- Blu-Kote (or similar)
- Large clean towels
- Vinyl gloves
- Dropper or syringe
- Sav-a-chick electrolyte solution (or DIY)
- Plain aspirin
There are other items you can add but this should see you through the majority of the problems.
People who do not keep chickens will not believe you when you tell them that your chickens have personalities.
Each one is an individual that has a personality of their own.
There will be the extroverts who always want to be first, there will be the shy ones who hang back and do not interact very much, there will be others that seek out humans and there will occasionally be the ones who want nothing to do with you.
Finding this out is usually done over extended periods of watching and interacting with your chickens. Needless to say, the extroverts will make themselves known early in the process!
14. Manure and Poop
If there is one thing chickens do to excess, it is poop.
Chickens will poop up to 15 times each day – even while they are asleep!
The average bird will poop about 4lb of manure a month.
That is a lot of manure so what are you going to do with it?
You cannot put it directly onto plants as it will kill or burn them, so you have to compost it. Mixing it with leaves, grass clippings and bedding will create a fine compost over time. In a small backyard some people use a barrel composter which takes up little space but churns out manure much quicker.
15. Stay Flexible
Flexibility is a must when you are keeping chickens.
Most days will go along normally but every now and then they will do something unexpected.
Someone will go broody, stop laying or do something else out of the norm.
Because chickens are a prey animal they will disguise all signs of illness if they can. Sometimes you won’t know a hen is sick until she keels over and dies. Sadly it happens sometimes.
Being flexible helps you to keep your sanity and be able to respond to whatever emergency the hens throw at you.
16. Heat Not Cold
Heat can very easily kill chickens.
Chickens can only cool down through their feet, legs, combs and panting.
While most people worry about keeping their chickens warm, they are far more likely to die from heat prostration than the cold.
In hot climates they need access to shade and cool water.
There are so many things you could include here but I have limited myself to things that will make life easier for you and your chickens.
Once all the initial fuss of settling your chickens into a routine is done, do not forget to relax and enjoy your new family members.
Chicken TV is relaxing, amusing and fulfilling so make sure you enjoy it.
People who have started with chickens have often gone on to other livestock such as ducks, turkeys, goats and larger animals.
I suppose this is another thing I wish I had known keeping chickens can lead to keeping other animals.
Once you are feeling comfortable with your flock I am sure you too will start a what I wish I knew list – it is never ending!
Make sure you share them with us in the comments section below…