Chicken FAQs - The Frequently Asked Questions Of Raising Chickens

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) of raising a flock of BackYard Chickens.
By BYC Support · Jan 12, 2012 · Updated Mar 19, 2012 · ·
  1. BYC Support

    1. Should I buy sexed or straight run chicks?

    Straight run chicks are generally less expensive, but they are roughly 50% females and 50% males. Pullets have been sexed by the hatchery and are usually sexed 90% accurately. Most hatcheries or feed stores will refund your money or buy back the cockerels which exceed 10%. With straight run chicks you will have to rehome, or raise the extra males for the table.

    2. When can my chicks go outside?

    You should wait until they are fully feathered to put them outside. Depending on the temperature, they can go outside when they are around 5 to 8 weeks old. Read more: Chicks are 6 weeks, outside time?

    3. Will racoons hurt my chickens?

    Yes. Racoons are one of the most common predators of chickens and also very clever. They will attack mainly at night, and can figure out how to open coop doors to gain access, so care should be taken to build the coop "racoon proof". Read more: Raccoon - Chicken Predators - How To Protect Your Chickens From Coons

    4. How many eggs will my hens lay?

    Some chicken breeds are prolific layers, some not so much. A good laying breed's hens will give you up to 280 eggs a year. Not so great layers can lay as few as 50-60 eggs per year. Read more: 10 Top Best Egg-layers

    5. Should I wash the eggs my hens lay?

    You don't have to, depending on a few factors such as if you're planning to store the eggs, or use them quickly, sell them or give them away? Read more: Cleaning and storing fresh eggs

    6. What is the difference between a bantam egg and a regular egg?

    A bantam egg is smaller. Nutritionally there is no difference.

    7. How long do chickens lay eggs?

    Depending on the breed, some hens will lay up to 8 years or more, but after the first 2-3 years their production starts slowing down. Commercially bred layers will lay prolifically for the first year, slow down in the second and often develop issues with their egg laying mechanisms after 3-4 years.

    8. When will my hens start to lay eggs?

    Most hens start to lay around 4-6 months of age, more or less. However, for various reasons (time of year, temperature, etc.) they may wait until the next Spring to start laying eggs.

    9. How do you tell what color eggs a hen will lay?

    You can tell by the color of the earlobes in general. A white lobed hen will lay white eggs, while a red lobed hen will lay brown eggs.The exception to this would be the Easter Egger, Ameraucana, and Araucana breeds. They will lay eggs in colors ranging from khaki green to sky blue, to pink tinted, to occasionally lavender tinted. They will usually have red ear lobes. Read more: Egg Color Chart - Find Out What Egg Color Your Breed Lays

    10. Where does the egg come from, and how does the shell harden or form around the egg?

    After the yolk is formed in the hen's single ovary, the yolk drops into the body cavity. From there it goes into the infundibulum, or funnel. It then starts it on its way down the oviduct. The oviduct is more than 2 feet long and is lined with glands that secrete the materials for the albumen (egg white), shell membranes, and shell. The egg color pigment is added in the last stages of this process. It takes twenty-four hours or more from the time the yolk is released until the completed egg is laid.

    11. One of our chickens laid an egg without a shell. Is this a cause for concern?

    A soft or even no-shelled egg is something that happens occasionally in even healthy hens. It's generally no cause for concern, unless there is other sign of illness or it's a regular occurrence. There's no need to separate your hen. What you may want to consider is adding some calcium to the diet if you haven't already. This can be given in the form of ground oyster shells, or other calcium supplements. Read more: Common egg quality problems

    12. What is a broody hen?

    A broody hen is a hen who is trying to hatch out eggs by sitting on them all day and all night, only taking breaks once a day to eat, drink, and defecate. Read more: Broody Hen -Tips & Pictures on What to Do

    13. How long does it take to hatch an egg?

    About 21 days, though some bantam breeds lay tiny eggs that may hatch around day 18-19.

    14. Which is better, natural or artificial incubation?

    The advantages of natural incubation (i.e. a broody hen) are that the hen does all the work for you and she will probably hatch out a high percentage of the eggs. The disadvantages are that you can only fit a certain amount of eggs under a broody hen, you can never tell when a hen will go broody, and you can't be sure her chicks will be tame.

    The advantages of artificial incubation (i.e. an incubator) are that you can incubate a large number of eggs, you can incubate whenever you want, and since you will be raising the chicks yourself, you can make sure to tame them. The disadvantages of artificial incubation are that it takes effort and worry on your part, the percentage of eggs that hatch will probably be lower than natural incubation, and you will inevitably have problems with temperature and humidity that could damage the chicks. Read more: Letting Broody Hens Hatch and Raise Chicks

    15. How tall should the side fences be on the chicken yard? Is seven feet sufficient?

    Six feet is a common level for poultry fencing. Seven feet would be sufficient in most cases. There have been cases of chickens flying out even at that level, however. Chickens can be kept contained in their pens as well as protected from overhead predators by covering the pens with some form of netting. A common, lightweight, and easy to use netting is deer netting available in most large home improvement stores as well as hardware stores. Also see: How To Clip Trim The Wings Of Your Chicken To Prevent Flight

    16. What is the best material to spread on the coop floor?

    Pine shavings (or similar) work very well. Straw is also ok, but has spaces inside which can harbor mites and other pests. Sand is an increasingly popular option, especially in wet climates. Some people use the Deep Little Method and found that works really well for them. Read more: Bedding Part 1: Comparing Materials; Bedding Part 2: Maintaining Your Bedding; Using Sand In the Chicken Coop; Deep Litter Method The Easiest Way To Deal With Chicken Litter Dlm

    17. How much space do I need in my chicken house and run?

    Inside a minimum of 4 square feet of floor space. Outside, a minimum of 10 square feet in the run per bird (some say 4 sq. ft., but that's only 2x2, and I personally think that's restrictive). Read more: How much room do chickens need

    18. Can a 6x8 garden shed be used as a chicken coop? What is a nesting box? Are they necessary?

    A standard garden shed can be converted nicely into a coop. You want to provide about 4 square feet per bird, so the size will shelter about 12-14 birds easily. You want to ensure that it is draft free and secure from predators, and has adequate ventilation. Heat and insulation needs vary based on location and climate. Read more: Pictures Of Chicken Nesting Boxes - How To Build A Nest Box

    19. Will painting the interior of the coop cause any health risk to the hens?

    If the paint is non toxic, and well dried, with good ventilation, it should cause no harm to the hens.

    20. Could deer netting be used to fence my chickens in during the day? Will it be effective for keeping them out of the garden?

    The deer netting will keep the chickens in. Another way to address this concern is to put the deer netting around the garden. This way you can use permanent support such as t-posts or wooden fence posts to support it.

    21. What should I use for perches?

    Wooden perches are best and should be 2 inch diameter for regular sized chickens and 1 inch for bantams. Plastic or metal is too smooth for the chicken to grasp. You can also use branches for a more natural setting.

    Note: in cold climates, people use flat 2x4s for perches. That makes the chicken sit on its feet, keeping them warm. Read more: Best materials for roosts?

    22. How much roosting space do I need on the perches?

    You will need a minimum of 8 inches of perch space for each chicken.

    23. How high should my perches be?

    The lowest perch should be 18-24 inches off the ground. There can be multiple perches - chickens will jump up from perch to perch. Some people use a leaning ladder perch arrangement. Read more: Coop Stack Up - How high should stuff be?

    24. How many nest boxes do I need?

    Generally, one box for every 4 hens.

    25. How big should my nest boxes be?

    For larger breeds, a box 12 high, 12 deep and 14 high is fine.

    26. How far off the ground should I place my nest boxes?

    18 to 24 inches is a good height.

    27. What is the best breed for laying eggs?

    Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, Australorps and Orpingtons are all very productive breeds. Read more: What Is The Best Egg Laying Breed?

    28. What breed should I get?

    Different breeds have different pros and cons. Some are excellent layers, some are lawn ornaments. Some breeds are mainly good for the table, some are great pets. It's best to read about the different breeds, keeping in mind what you personally want and then look for those characteristics. Read more: Pickin' the Right Frickin' Chicken: Guide to Picking Backyard Chicken Breeds; Chicken Breed Focus

    29. What is the difference between a bantam and a regular chicken?

    A bantam is a smaller type chicken, usually about 1/4 to 1/2 the size of a regular chicken. Many breeds come in both bantam and standard size.

    30. What is the difference between a cockerel and a pullet?

    A cockerel is a young rooster. A pullet is a young hen.

    31. What should I feed my chickens?

    Starter ration until they are 8 weeks old, grower ration until they are 18 weeks old, then layer ration; or combination starter-grower until they are 18 weeks, then layer ration. Read more: Feeding Chickens - An Introductory Guide

    32. Can I feed my chickens treats?

    Yes! Chickens like many things: cooked spaghetti, clean vegetable peels, fruit, cereal, meal worms, bugs, and snails. Read more: Chicken Treat Chart - The Best Treats For Backyard Chickens

    33. What is scratch?

    Scratch is a cracked corn and wheat mix for chickens that can be fed at a treat. It is available at most feed stores.

    34. Can chicks be fed raw oatmeal?

    Young chicks can be fed raw oatmeal as long as there is sufficient grit added to their diet. Without grit, chicks will be unable to obtain the nutritive value of the oatmeal. Read more: Good treats for baby chicks?

    35. How do roosters mate with hens?

    The sex organ of a rooster is located internally, inside the Cloaca, which is the opening where the feces comes out, and in the hen, the eggs. When mating, the rooster's organ is extruded (comes out) in order to place the sperm in the cloaca of the hen. The rooster mounts the hen, holding on with his beak to her head or neck feathers, in order to be in the proper position for fertilisation to occur.

    36. I have two roosters. One was the alpha but has been challenged by the other. Can they live in peace or must one go?

    You will not be able to make them be friends. They may work out the new positions themselves and the pecking might subside. If not you may have to find a way to let them out alternate days with the hens. A product called Blu Kote, sold in most tack stores for cuts on horses, is good to put on the injured comb to discourage more pecking and help it heal. Use a Q-tip to apply it, careful to not get it in the eyes. Also see: Rooster Flocks

    37. Do roosters need to be separated from each other when they are in with pullets? If so, at what age?

    Roosters that grow up together generally get along and may not need to be seperated. Even if one is bantam and one is a standard they could live in harmony especially if they have a large area. It is individual however and can change with age so always keep an eye out.

    38. Will my hens lay eggs if I don't have a rooster?

    Yes. A hen only needs a rooster in order to lay fertile eggs that could hatch

    39. How many roosters do I need for my hens?

    One rooster for every 8-12 hens is a safe ratio that will probably produce adequate fertile eggs.

    40. When and how can I tell if a chicken is a rooster?

    It is VERY difficult to tell male from female at an early age. Depending on the breed, cockerels (males) develop larger combs and wattles earlier than pullets (females) and will start trying to crow at 6 to 10 weeks (we had one start to crow at 16 weeks - it's not a precise science, sorry!) Cockerels tend to bigger and/or taller than the pullets. You may also observe more aggressive rooster behaviors, like play fighting, hassling, mounting and such. Also see: Chick sexing project

    41. Why do roosters crow?

    There's many reasons why a rooster crows. He could be announcing his territory, or letting the hens know he's there. It can also be a challenge to another rooster. Why they crow and when they crow, only the rooster knows for sure...

    42. Why aren't my chickens laying?

    A number of factors influence egg laying. Stress, the age of the birds, even feeding. Read more: Why are my hens not laying?

    43. My hen chickens are laying thin-shelled eggs. What do I do?

    Try giving them oyster shells - the calcium helps keep the shells thick and strong. Read more: Common egg quality problems

    44. My young hen lays soft and misshapen eggs. Is this a problem?

    When they start laying eggs their young systems will produce eggs that are softshell, irregular shaped, real large, real small, etc. It takes a while for their reproductive system to get the complete hang of it.

    45. My chickens are eating their own eggs. What should I do?

    Usually, egg-eating is due to a need for more calcium. Supplement with crushed oyster shells (available at feed stores). In a pinch, crush up regular chickens eggs and supplement with that (although that may encourage them to peck at eggs). For occasional stubborn hen who has just decided she likes the taste of eggs, you may have to try a nest box that allows the eggs to roll out of reach. Read more: Six Tips On Breaking Your Egg Eater

    46. What is coccidiosis?

    A protozoa in the droppings, easily spread from chick to chick. Coccidiosis can be prevented with medicated feed. Coccidiosis can be treated with any amprolium product (Corid, Amprol, AmproMed, etc). Usually readily available at most feed stores. Cleaning the feeder and waterer at least daily is an important step in the prevention and treatment. Read more: Coccidiosis : E.Maxima Cocci Mid-Intestine

    47. Is it all right to clip a chickens toe nail?

    It is alright to clip a chickens toenails and sometimes necessary. You need to be careful not to go too far up into the nail, or it may cause pain and bleeding. A dog toenail clipper is a useful tool for this. Read more: Trimming Your Chicken's Nails - Tutorial

    48. Is there a salve to put on the hens backs to heal and prevent the rooster's plucking? Can I snip the tip of his beak to make it more sensitive?

    You can put neosporin on the hen's back if there's any broken skin.. You can also use blu-cote on it to reduce the chances of picking. It turns the skin dark and is therefore less attractive to any pickers. Trimming the beak is an option if he's picking with it. It will not make it more sensitive. It will make it shorter so he cannot get a good grip on feathers. However the rooster damage may come from the toenails, rather than the beak. Feather loss on hens is very common.

    49. One of my hens has a protrusion ouside her vent. What can cause this and do I need to take her to the vet?

    What you're describing is a prolapsed vent. This can happen when a hen strains too hard to lay an egg, or the egg is so big it causes some damage to the vent as it is laid. It's fairly common. What to do for it is to lubricate the vent gently with preparation h cream, or any of the hemorrhoidal creams and using a finger, gently push the vent back inside. The cream will then need to be applied twice a day till the vent is healed. It may help to keep the hen in a dark place to discourage laying while the healing takes place. The hen will need to be watched in the future, in case of re-occurance. Rapid treatment is necessary not just to aid healing, but to prevent the other birds from picking the exposed tissue. Read more: HELP - Prolapsed Vent

    50. How can I prevent frostbite?

    Using 2 x 4 roosts, laid flat, make the chickens roost on their feet, which will keep them warm. For combs and wattles, some vaseline will help prevent frostbite from happening. For VERY extreme conditions, heat the coop with a ceramic or red-bulb heating light. Read more: Prevent and Treat Frostbite in Chickens

    51. It's been extremely cold in the northeast. My rooster now has blackness on his comb with yellow blisters. What this is and how can I treat it!

    Sounds like frostbite. Chickens commonly get it on the comb, wattles, or feet. It is best treated with an antibiotic ointment (like Polysporin) over the blisters and blackened areas. The blackened areas may wither and fall off if the frostbite is full thickness. Frostbite can be prevented with a thick coating of Vasaline over the comb and wattles and wide perches such that their feet are flat, like a 2x4 on side, not edge, so that their feet are warmed by the body. Reducing drafts in the coop in winter is important but do not allow the coop to be without ventilation as high humidity will increase the chances of frostbite happening.

    52. What do I do if I live in a very cold climate?

    Insulate the coop, use heat lamps if needed, heat the waterer to keep it from freezing. Read more: Winter Chicken Keeping

    53. In colder climates, is it normal for chickens to stop laying in winter?

    It is normal for hens to stop or slow down laying in the winter months. The shorter days trigger this slow down, rather than the temperature. In order to keep hens laying all winter, artificial light can be used to equal 14 hours of light per day. Read more: Winter Egg Laying

    54. Can you wash a chicken?

    Yes. Show chickens are given baths often so their feathering is perfect for showing. Most people recommend Dawn dishwashing soap as it is gentle and will remove grease. Others prefer baby soap or shampoo. Chickens may have a variety of reactions to being bathed, but some seem to like it, especially silkies. You can also blow dry them on low after you're done.

    55. Where can I buy egg cartons?

    56. What is the best way to introduce new chickens to an already established flock?

    Separate newcomers and established birds with a barrier (i.e., wire), so they can see each other but not directly interact for a period of 1-4 weeks. This will help keep fighting to a minimum. Always introduce them while SUPERVISED, so you can control any fighting. Read more: Adding To Your Flock

    57. How long do chickens usually live?

    Most people say up to 10 years or more if they stay healthy. We have one hen, still laying, that is five years old.

    58. When meat chickens are ready for processing, can you take them somewhere to have them done or do you have to do it yourself?

    Yes you can take them to processors to be killed and cleaned in most areas. Contact your local Poultry Club to find out if there is someone doing that as a business near you. Read more: How To Raise & Process Chickens for Meat - Tips & Pictures; Understanding The Usda Processing Exemptions

    59. What is the molt?

    The molt is an annual process in which the chickens lose and regrow their feathers. Usually chickens molt in the late summer or early fall. They may stop laying eggs while they are moulting. Read more: For the new folks that haven't experienced a molt yet.

    60. Do chickens smell bad?

    No. The only time chickens will smell bad is if they are sick or their coop is not cleaned often enough.

    61. What can I do to get rid of snakes?

    Well, If you can catch them, you can put them in a pillow case for safety and then relocate them far away. Remember that snakes are territorial, and will return if they can.If you feel this will not work, then dispatching them would be your next choice. Read more: Snake - Chicken Predators - How To Protect Your Chickens From Snakes

    62. How can I promote the regrowth of feathers on the back of my white wyandotte hen? I think the other hens are pecking out the emerging pinfeathers as soon as they appear.

    You can suppliment her feed with small cut dry or canned cat food three or four times a week to add protein, which will promote feather growth. To keep the other hens from picking at her, you can either separate her till the feathers are back or get her a chicken apron which will cover her back till the feathers grow in. You can also try coating the area with blu-coat to lessen the attraction to the other hens..

    Here's a link to one source for the chicken aprons as an example.

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  1. preciouspanda
    I have been raising chickens for over a year now and I have quite a bit of them but for some reason I was getting at least a dozen or more eggs a day before now I am only getting 4 or 5 eggs a day noticed they don’t like laying when it rains or when it cold is there anything I can do
  2. Coleen62
    How do I tell a hen from a rooster? By their wing feathers? TIA.
  3. extrememainer
    My friend uses pine shavings for their chickens but I just use them for the little baby chicks:goodpost:
  4. extrememainer
    I found out from an agricultural arrival that around the time that your chickens start laying eggs is when you walk up to them and they squat down.
      ChickaMama49 likes this.
  5. extrememainer
    I know very well that many creatures can harm our birds but- thankfully- my dog actually tolerates my birds and protects them from the creatures like foxes coyotes etc.
  6. chickenlover47
    I would like to know where the articles of: What are poisonous plants to chickens. Mainly because I want to know if gazanias are poisonous to them.
      ChickaMama49 likes this.
  7. Egg-citable
    How can you break a broody hen?
    1. chickenlover47
      You can put them in cold water. The lower half and let them stay for a little while. Do it each time you noticed them doing it and it should break them of the habit. There are some YouTube videos on it.
      Rick&chickTampa likes this.
  8. allymcshop
    which hens lay the earliest? I am going to separate 13 chicks which are 17 weeks old. I want to take the first layers and put them in a larger coop.
      ChickaMama49 likes this.
  9. tifsunkip
    My gals have lice and/or mites. Some are light tan and easy to see, others are white and small as salt. I cleaned everything out of coop and nesting boxes. Sprayed everywhere with something from t.s., put 1-3 drops of ivermectin on each neck or back, put a lot of new de down and wazine in h2o. I had dropped the ball and should have noticed sooner. What else can i do now? How often do i use ivermectin on necks? Is 7 dust o.k. to put on them? I have seen yes and no on here?! Any ideas will be appreciated:/ thanks
    1. chickenlover47
      You should use some diatomaceous earth under their wings and throughout their body also put it throughout their coop until you get rid of the problem. Stay away from their eyes. As for their Coop try to wash it down with soap and water usually Dawn blue soap is the best let it dry and put diatomaceous earth over it until you get rid of the problem try for several weeks if needed.
      jjulian812, ChickaMama49 and Pinger like this.
  10. Strangecacti
    Great FAQ! Thank you from a beginner!
  11. countrydream7
    how often in winter do you put vaseoline on there combs to stop frostbite
  12. CityHen-Indy
    Thank you for providing FAQs and answers, most helpful!
  13. My Six Chicks
    oh sorry, my keyboard was acting up!
  14. My Six Chicks
  15. Dawnrenae
    Just started my own family of Chickens. What is a family of chickens called?
    I'm uber excited to start this project. So is my 4 year old daughter. We already have a African Goose, who we love to pieces, and are considering a new one tomorrow!!!
    Any tips for someone just starting out?
  16. skysky43
    I have a hen that is almost seventeen, she layed until she was around twelve or thirteen.
      jjulian812 and ChickaMama49 like this.
  17. Sarah1711
    Great info thanks.
      Stan kirby likes this.
  18. Scooter&Suzie
    What do you mean by chickens will lay into their teen years? What do you consiter to be a chickens teen years? I've never really known of a chicken to live to be 13. Anyway, if a hen is that old I wouldn't think she would be laying, or would very rarely lay an egg.
  19. mrgreenjeans53
    One of my 15 Red Sex Link hens insists on laying her eggs on the dirt floor of the coop. Why is she doing this? The other 14 lay their eggs in one of the 18 nesting boxes I built. I don't know which one is doing this as I find the egg on the ground when I go into the coop to open the "chicken door" to let them outside into the wire pen.
      Dennis Noble likes this.
  20. The Ott Clan
    Thank you so much for the info. We are new to raising chickens. We just got our first 7 today. So excited yet nervous!
  21. jeep381
    I'm new to raising chickens. I've raised ducks. This information is very informative. Thank you. Today I purchased six chicks, two rhode island reds, two wyandottes, and two new hampshire black jersey giants. All were pullets. I only wanted a couple, but there was a limit. Will the wyandottes and black jersey giants lay good eggs?
  22. Ritag
    Really interesting info! It is amazing how much there is to know. Its like being a first time parent again! Thank you.
  23. PerryChick67
    Glad you shared this info!
  24. charnort
    My 2 R.IS.Reds are almost a year old, and they were the only ones to do a fairly heavy moult in the fall.My austrolorp startedpecking on one of them, so I seperated the austrolorp and applied blu-coat and that helped.That was over 3mos. agoand their bottoms are still bare,except a few feathers are coming in. They still are laying well, and have been dusted, and they get extra protein with dry cat food.Will they ever get their feathers back?
  25. Pollock Hill 20
    Thx for the information, since I got my rooster, the 3rd weekend of Jan.,given to me, I am doing this as this one of my wife's bucket list,things she wanted all her life, with getting diagnosed in Oct.2011, with cancer I knew it was time, she has truly enjoyed the past few weeks, she enjoys the 5 hens, already in the yard, about 14 to 20 weeks old, then on Feb 3,2012 we got 8 more hens, so don't know when they will be able to go out in the yard?
  26. RODNEY01
    how do you know if or when your hen is broody??
  27. mdguffey
    very interesting reading!
      Stan kirby likes this.

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