Well BYC, it's been a good while since I was last on here! In the past couple days I've suddenly been bit by the writing bug again, and thus I thought I had better write on this website seeing as my last article was published over a year ago!:th

I've been at this chicken raising thing for a while now. Eight years, numerous chickens, and one published chicken book later, I've had my fair share of chicken raising experiences. I've also had my fair share of regrets and things I wish I had done differently from the start. For all those people out there just getting started in this whole realm of poultry owning, I figured this article would be useful, from one chicken keeper to another. Hopefully you can learn from some of my mistakes and apply this information to your own journey. However, I also want to add the disclaimer that the tips I bring up in here are not mandatory for you to do; they're simply preferences and things I personally would have done differently if I did them over again.

For those who have kept up with previous articles I've written in the past, you might remember that I wrote an article somewhat similar to this a couple years back. I'll link it here
It essentially covers the major things I've learned from raising chickens, whereas this article will be discussing the specifics of what I would have changed if I started over.

So, let's get into it!

#1: Know what you truly want from your birds
When I first started my chicken keeping adventures, I did my research. I went from not knowing the name of a single chicken breed to being able to recite comb types, feather patterns, and egg colors all within a couple months. I thought for sure I knew what type of chickens to get. However, looking back, even though a steady supply of eggs and a fancy, beauty plumage sure sounded appealing, I now know that what I truly cared about was personality. I wanted cuddle bugs that would climb into my lap and beg to petted.

That wish was granted in one hen, Gracie, my Buff Orpington. She passed away this summer, and I now regret not having ten more of her. I made the mistake of initially trying out several different breeds (some of which are not known for having friendly dispositions), and consequently ended up with only a couple affectionate flock members. The next flock I get, I'll insure I only purchase friendly breeds. And that is my tip for you: seriously do your homework before deciding on a couple random breeds. Chickens can live quite a long time, and you don't want to be stuck with breeds you don't like.

#2: Start using herbs from the very beginning

Again, if you follow my other articles, you know I'm a huge fan of using herbs and other natural remedies with a flock. Sadly though, I didn't jump on board the herb wagon until several years into chicken raising. I wish I had started my very first chicks with herbs in their brooder. My girls are plenty healthy in their old age, but I can only imagine what issues could have been prevented if I had used herbs from the beginning.

It's actually insane the health benefits herbs can have on a single flock. They can aid in feather and bone regrowth. They help boost immune, digestive, and respiratory systems. They can act as laying stimulants and even enhance yolk color and egg nutrition. Ultimately, they can help soothe, heal, and strengthen the health of any flock.

#3: Spend more time taming when they're little
This point goes along with #1. Not only was it important that I purchase friendly chicken breeds, but I clearly still had to put in the energy and effort to tame and socialize them. And in hindsight, I would have spent even more time doing this. When my birds were babies, I had several that instantly took to me and always wanted to cuddle. Therefore, I spent the majority of my time with them and somewhat neglected taming the others. Fast forward to present day and those couple that I didn't spend as much time socializing with are now the most skittish of the flock.

Don't get me wrong, my flock as a whole is probably more tame than many other flocks out there. They're simply not as tame as I had hoped they one day would be. Therefore, once my ladies have all passed on, and I start anew with more birds, I will be putting in double the time and effort to tame each one of them. (I also want to add a quick side note here: while chicken breeds are labeled for their average/common dispositions, every bird is unique and may or may not fall into the mold of their breed expectations. So while you may spend all your time trying to socializing them, some might not end up being as friendly as you hope, OR, under that same line of thinking, some hens might not lay eggs as well as their flock mates of the same breed. That's just reality.)

#4: Build the coop bigger
As I've come to realize, bigger is always better when it comes to chickens. They can be pretty hardy in terms of being able to tolerate tight spaces. But, if given the option, they loovvvee wide open roaming space. While my girls seem to be very content with their coop size as it is currently, I personally wish I had built the enclosure larger just to make room for them to explore more and do other things.

It's a common rule of thumb that each chicken needs about 3-4 square feet per bird in their living quarters. When building the henhouse and run, my family and I always kept this rule in the back of our minds. But if I could go back, I would scratch that rule and plan on providing over 6 square feet per bird just so that the end result would be more spacious. Plus then it creates the easy potential for more chickens in the future.;)

#5: Add more roosts
While roosts are relatively easy to install and add more of, I wish I had known just how much chickens love to perch when I initially built the coop. The original design for the henhouse contained two roosts and the run contained three. Fast forward to today, the henhouse has four and the run has five...plus a wooden ladder with four rungs! The necessity for multiple, sturdy places to perch cannot be overstated. Chickens can't fly, but the instinct to be up high is most definitely still programed into them. Simply put: the more roosts the better! Your birds will thank you.
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(Note: Unlike the image above, make sure to position 2X4 roosts with the 4 inch side facing up...that's another thing I wish I had known from the start, LOL!)

#6: Don't use wood shavings as bedding
While wood shavings are perfectly safe to use as bedding in the henhouse, I personally have found them to be a pain. Yes, they are reasonably cheap to buy, and they're very comfy for the birds to walk on and nest in. But, they also are heavy and unbelievably dusty. The dust has been the real turn-off for me. Not kidding, the dust will build up in less than a week and, if left to continue collecting, will turn every-little-thing in the whole coop grey. Masks become a must when deep cleaning, not to mention the chickens develop respiratory issues easier.

Shavings also mold if they get wet and, with a flock that obsesses over spilling any kind of waterer I put in their henhouse, the two do not mix well. Not to mention wood shavings also blow around in the wind and can end up outside the coop and inside your house if you're not careful! The two bedding options I hope to one day switch to and use instead are either sand or dried coffee grounds. I'll probably forever use wood shavings in the nest boxes, however. The hens just love the comfort that the shavings provide in there.

#7: Buy a heated water base rather than a heated waterer
Every chicken keeper has their struggles. One of my biggest battles has been to find the best waterer for my chickens. I've gone through more than I care to mention. Something has always seemed to go wrong with them. I live in the mountains of Colorado and our winters can get pretty rough. It has always been a struggle to keep the water from freezing. I remember one winter not having a heat system that worked and literally having to refill the water every couple hours each day.

The problem always happened when I would purchase a new heated waterer for the winter which would then break during the summer. I swear I don't know how it happened, but every year come autumn, the heater system would be busted. This year, I finally chose to purchase a heated base for the water bowl instead. And so far, no issues have occurred! Nothing has frozen, nothing has broken. I wish I had done this from the start. It has been a huge a weight lifted off my shoulders to not constantly be worried that my hens would die of dehydration, 'cause believe me, they've come close.

The one downside so far to having a heated base, is that it gets so hot that I am unable to put any of my plastic waterers on top of it. Only metal containers can sit on it while the heat is turned on. This hasn't been too big of an issue, just another thing to be cautious of.
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#8: Start with more birds than you think you need

This one I want to be cautious in advising since you don't want to end up with more birds than you can handle. However, in my situation, it would have been helpful if I had started with a bigger flock initially rather than trying to add on later down the road. I have very limited space where I live, and so there wasn't a lot of leeway for bigger coop measurements. Therefore, I couldn't have a very large flock. With that being said though, if I had known that two of my chickens would have to be re-loacted within their first couple years of life (I couldn't keep them for various reasons), I would have purchased a couple extra chicks from the start.

It is so, so, so much easier to buy your extra birds at the beginning rather than try and add new chickens to an established flock later on. Don't stress though, if you're worried about starting with too many birds, better be safe and buy the bare minimum. There are tons of articles and other resources on BYC that walk you through the introduction process of new and old chickens. All the information certainly helped me during the time period that I introduced two pullets to three adult hens. Nowadays, they all are the best of friends. Thus, success is most definitely possible.

#9: Let them free range more
This one will not apply to those of you who are lucky enough to allow your flock free range access all day every day. Due to the various predators here in Colorado along with the fact that our yard is not fenced in and we are located right in the middle of town, I cannot allow my girls the luxury of free range, unless I'm out with them supervising. With that being said, I wish I had the time to let them roam in the front yard more.

After free ranging, my chickens always seem happier, more satisfied, and even healthier. They were designed to range, so I guess I can't expect anything less. Ultimately, if you are able to allow your chickens to free range, I'd recommend doing it. They are very good at fending for themselves, foraging for food, and they also are keen observers who quickly take notice of any potential threats. I'm not saying they will fight off or hide from all danger that may arise, I'm just saying they can be a lot hardier than we give them credit for.

#10: Listen to them

Lastly, and speaking of their hardiness, over the past 8 years, I've discovered that chickens will let you know when they need something. Any animal raiser in tune with their animals will tell you that they can communicate with their creatures. I don't spend loads of time with my flock, but I can tell you which bird is clucking when and what each of their individual sounds mean. I've come to understand what their noises for things like "danger", "we're out of water!", "I'm bored", and "I love you" are. Contrary to popular belief, chickens really are not stupid. They know how to get around. And as responsible owners, it will only be natural for us to pick up on their communication cues. They'll tell you when they're hurt, injured, scared, or happy.

I hope you've enjoyed this read of things I would have done differently after 8 years of chicken raising. While it is important to reflect on things we've learned throughout any experience, I also want to make it very clear that no regret surpasses the joy of keeping chickens. I wouldn't take back anything if it meant I couldn't be where I'm at now with my flock. They truly are a delight, and these past 8 years have been the best adventure.

Thanks again for reading,
-Mountain Peeps