Common Mistakes Poultry Keepers Make (And How to Fix Them)

By mymilliefleur · Apr 10, 2015 · Updated Apr 10, 2015 · ·
  1. mymilliefleur
    If you ask any poultry keeper, they will probably give you a list of things they would have done
    differently. Everyone has made mistakes at one point or another, some of them are harmless,
    but others can lead to your birds getting seriously injured, or even killed. Hopefully you can
    learn from some of these common mistakes, and prevent them from happening to you.

    • Not noticing a sick bird in time
    It is very important to observe your birds everyday so that in case you have a sick or injured bird
    you will notice it in time to save it. Becoming accustomed to your birds normal behavior, and
    observing them daily is a good idea. Your birds all should be active and have nice bright
    eyes, healthy red or pink combs, and their feathers should be clean, glossy and well preened.
    (Keep in mind that there are exceptions to these last two while your birds are going through
    their annual molt).
    Symptoms of ill birds include:
    Moving slowly, and not interested in food or treats
    Refusing to come out of the coop in the morning
    Not eating or drinking
    Huddling on the roost or floor during the day with closed eyes
    Head pulled tightly in
    Droopy wings and tail
    Heavy or strained breathing
    Decreased egg production
    Acting lethargic
    Ruffled feathers (Keep in mind that hens will sometimes ruffle their feathers when cold)
    Pale or purple comb, and wattles
    Cloudy, leaky, swollen, or watery eyes
    Sneezing, wheezing, or coughing
    Swollen legs or feet

    When you have a sick or injured bird, it is best to separate it as soon as possible. Inspect the
    ill birds weight, vent, face, mouth, and nostrils and look it over for blood, scabs, and other signs
    of injury. Also, check for mites and lice, and expect the birds legs for scaly leg mites.

    Typical look of a sick bird. This hen most likely died of some kind of internal injury.

    • Using toxic chemicals around the coop
    You have a rat problem in the coop, and there are some annoying weeds growing in your birds
    run. Well the right thing to do would be bring out the rat poison, and herbicides right? Wrong!
    Most chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, and pest poisons, are deadly to your birds. It is best
    to avoid using such items around your coop, run, or anywhere that your birds range. Even if
    you put out rat, or other rodent poisons were you are sure your birds will not get it, your birds
    may find and eat the dead or dyeing rat, in which case the birds may ingest the poison that way.
    If you spray weeds or grass around your coop, or anywhere that your birds range, they may eat
    than it, and ingest the chemicals, which can cause illness or death to your birds. It is best to use
    such chemicals sparingly and with caution around your flock.

    • Buying birds from an unknown source/dishonest breeder
    Buying birds from unknown sources is very risky for many reasons. For one thing you don't
    know what you are getting. The birds may have health issues or carry deceases that may not
    be apparent at first. Another reason not to buy birds from unknown sources is to avoid
    dishonest breeders. While there are a lot of very good breeders with very high quality birds,
    there are some that either are not knowledgeable about the birds they raise, or just plain
    deceptive. For more on buying birds, read this article:
    When adding birds to your flock, it is a good idea to quarantine them for a little while before
    adding them to the rest of your flock.

    • Overcrowding and/or overheating your chicks in the brooder
    Many people make the mistake of keeping chicks in a small brooder until they are well
    feathered out. This is a mistake for many reasons, for one thing, chicks grow very quickly, and
    will outgrow a small brooder (such as a plastic storage tote) very quickly. The general rule of
    thumb for how much space your chicks will need is a minimum of 1/2 a sq foot for the first
    week, 1 sq foot for the second week, and than increase that every week by 1 sq foot. (keep in
    mind that you can get away with slightly less space for bantams, quail, and other small birds,
    and you will need slightly more than that for large birds such as turkeys and geese). No, this
    does not mean that you have to give your birds a bigger brooder each week, but take in to
    consideration before you purchase your chicks, how much brooder space they will need as they
    Observing mother hens has convinced me that baby chicks do not need as much heat as we are
    often told. I have seen many a mother hen out scratching with her chicks on 20F and 30F degree
    mornings, and even one hen and her 2 week old chick out eating on a 5F degree morning! Don't
    get me wrong, chicks do need to be kept warm, but they don't need to roast under a heat lamp,
    all the time. Chicks out with a mother hen, would go out and scratch for an hour or two, and than
    come and warm up before going out to eat and scratch again. As they get older, the time spent
    out eating and scratching will increase. Chicks that are kept in a heated brooder all the time
    have far less tolerance to cold temps, and often are poor winter layers. When setting up or
    constructing your brooder, make sure that your baby's have a place where they can get out
    from under the heat. Observe them closely and make sure they are comfortable. As long as
    you are not getting temps 30F's or below, your chicks should be ready to leave the brooder
    by the time they are fully feathered out.

    • Keeping birds in a dirty/poorly ventilated/dark coop
    This is a common mistake. Keeping birds housed in dirty, poorly ventilated, and dark coops
    can lead to many health issues such as respiratory problems, mite/lice infestations, higher
    susceptibility to frost bite, decreased egg production, and a host of other health issues and
    deceases. Make sure to keep your bedding clean, and change it often. Make sure your coop
    is well ventilated with plenty of air flow. Light is also important. Don't keep your birds cooped
    up in a dark coop with out natural light.
    Here are a couple articles on the subject:
    Good, clean bedding is a must.

    • Not predator proofing your coop
    Your getting ready to build your coop. Chicken wire is the obvious thing to use right?
    Unfortunately it probably is, but it is not the best thing to use. Predators can easily tear through it,
    and carry off your defenseless birds. While chicken wire is good for interior use, and on coops
    where predation is not an issue, it is not recommended for exterior use. Hard ware cloth (though
    more expensive) is much stronger and safer. Keep in mind while building your coop, that almost
    everything loves a good chicken dinner, so make sure your coop is VERY predator proof.
    Note: Check out the ''Coop & Run: Design, Construction, & Maintenance'' section of this
    forum for more on the subject of predator proofing your coop.

    • Not buying/building a big enough coop
    Overcrowding can lead to stress, cannibalism, feather pecking, and other issues. Chickens need
    a minimum of 4 sq feet each in the coop, and preferably 10 sq feet of run space. Remember this
    is a bare minimum, it is best to (if possible) at least double that size. Remember, there is no
    such thing as a coop that is too big. You may plan on getting 12 chickens at first, but you may
    want to add a few more in the future, so instead of rebuilding a new coop when your flock
    expands, it's a good idea to build a bigger coop from the start.

    • Not picking the right breed
    Chickens are bred for many different purposes, such as meat, eggs, exhibition, etc. Before
    buying your flock, decide why you want chickens. Do you want them for production? Pets? Meat?
    Decide carefully on what breed(s) you want. For example if you want pets, don't buy a breed
    known for being flighty. Keep climate in mind too, and pick a breed that does well where you live.
    Handling your birds is also a good idea to get them accustomed to you
    • Be prepared
    At one point or another you may very well end up with a sick or injured bird. When this happens
    you don't want to be caught unprepared. This is why it is good to have a first aid kit on hand.
    Here is some help that will help you get a first aid kit started:

    I hope this article helps you have a better experience with your birds! If you have any questions,
    comments, or would like to add anything to this list, feel free to post below, or PM me.
    Thanks for reading!

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  1. EggWalrus
    "Great words of wisdom!"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Sep 8, 2018
  2. AlderCreekFarms
    "Good advice!"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Sep 7, 2018
    Will have to keep this on hand. Great links, thanks for posting
  3. The Farmers' Daughter
    "A big help"
    4/5, 4 out of 5, reviewed Sep 4, 2018
    Thanks for easing the minds of those of us that have had these issues. Now we know that we're not the only ones.


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  1. ChickenyChickeny
    i have done a few of these :( good article
  2. Kathy Sistare
    Very good for beginners!!
  3. alexa009
    I am going to check on my flock right now.;)
  4. sunflour
    Great article. Wish all newcomers would read this before they start their own flocks.
  5. Tomtommom
    I would add preparing for a worst case scenario: Either have the number to a vet that sees poultry, or educate yourself on dispatching birds yourself.

    I had a bird attacked by a hawk and she was ripped open, but alive. We'd only been keeping chickens for about 6 months. That is NOT the time to have to figure out there are no vets in your area that treat chickens, or they are outrageously expensive. In the end, she lived.. I considered dispatching her at first, it seemed so bad. But she was fighting to stay alive, so I couldn't give up on her. She's still with us today, happy and healthy. It took a good 2-3 months before she was fully recovered.
      aprilbos, Anasenes and jolenesdad like this.
  6. crazyfeathers
    Thanks. I couldn't agree more about chicks and heat. My hen Mary hatched 5 chicks in March, in Wisconsin it was still below 0. Mary has her chicks out in all kinds of weather and they do fine of course with occasional warm ups from mom. I also after 2 weeks do not give my chicks supplemental heat while in the house in a brooder again they fair very well, never had any issues.
  7. Chicken Girl1
    Very true. Thank you mymilliefleur for writing this!

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