After being a member of BackYard Chickens for the past six months and reading thread after thread in all the various topics and subjects until I've needed toothpicks to hold my eye lids open and endless amounts of coffee plus hundreds of other web sites on the subject of poultry I've decided to post what I consider to be the top 10 most commonly asked questions. Am I a chicken expert? Not in the least! So you might ask what qualifies me to be giving others answers on chickens. First, I like to think I do have a little common since. I have been raising chickens for almost a year now and have observed their behavior on a daily bases. I have a fairly large mixed breed flock which has allowed me to observe their day to day activities and how they respond to different situations. I've had to be doctor, nurse, psychologist, councilor and police officer on several occasions to some of my chickens. I've nursed a few chickens back to health who have suffered through Coccidiosis, sour crop and impacted crop. I've raised all of my chickens from week old babies. I've watched them go from being babies to full grown adults. The questions I find most often asked are listed below and I am only answering them in the general since. For any questions and answers needed in greater detail please read through different threads in BYC for more in depth and detailed answers. The following is only general answers.
Top Ten Most Commonly Asked Questions About Chickens
Number 10: How do I get my chickens to go into the coop at night?
Most often at sunset chickens want to find a place to roost and feel protected during the darkness of night. They cannot see very well once it gets dark. When your baby chicks have reached at least 6-8 weeks of age and are completely feathered it's time for them to be taken out of the brooder and introduced to their new permanent home. The coop. Once you have placed them inside the coop close the door and do not let them go out of the coop for a period of two weeks. Always provide them with plenty of ventilation, food and water. Once the two weeks has ended they can be allowed in the morning to come out into the run area or any where else you have decided for them to free range. Since the chickens have been inside the coop for this time period they should know where home is located and be ready to come back inside as night approaches. If for any reason a few do not go back into the coop you can lay out some feed along the path which leads to the ramp or door and back into the coop. This should work if done a few times. They will finally get the hang of it. Chickens are creatures of habit and often observe and learn from the others.
Number 9: How do I protect my chickens from predators?
First and foremost would be a well built coop free of any spaces where small animals could crawl inside. Do not use chicken wire which is often called poultry netting. It is designed to keep chickens in but does not work well at keeping other animals out. Most wild animals have very sharp teeth and will chew right through chicken wire. It is highly recommended to use hardware cloth instead. If your chickens are allowed to be in a enclosed chicken run area the same rules apply. Wild animals will dig under ground and get into your run area so it's recommended to bury the hardware cloth at a depth of at least 12 inches under ground. The hardware cloth can also be attached to the top of the run area to avoid predator attacks from the air. Some predators prefer to visit during the night so deterrent would be adding a security light system called NiteGuard around your coop and run area. The NiteGuard is solar controlled and omits a flashing red light which makes predator think they are being observed. This works for all but one predator which is color blind. That being a raccoon.
Number 8: How many nesting boxes will I need for my hens?
Rule of thumb is one nest box for every 4-6 laying hens. We'll also cover the dimensions of the nest box while we are on the subject. A nest box should be 12" x 12" x 12". This size works for both standard and bantam size chickens. The top of the nest box should never be flat. A nest box with a flat top will look inviting and you are most likely to find chickens sitting on top of the box. The nesting box should have a slanted top. This will discourage any chicken from sitting on top of the box. The best material 'bedding' to use in the box will be pine shavings or straw. Nest boxes should be located in a dark corner of the coop away from the roost area and at a much lower height. Many prefer the nest box to be at ground level or slightly above. The nest box should always be lower than the roost.
Number 7: How big does my chicken coop need to be?
Chickens prefer being outdoors during daylight hours as much as possible. The general rule is providing at least 2-3 square feet per chicken. Also remember you will need additional room for the roosting area as well as a waterier and feeder. If letting your chickens be outdoors or free ranging during the day is not an option and they must be kept coop confined indefinitely you will want to provide at least 10 square feet per chicken.
Number 6: How do I protect my chickens from lice and mites?
The number one choice as preventative maintenance is using 'DE' food grade Diatomaceous Earth. Your chickens can be dusted with DE to treat for lice and mites. It can also be mixed in with dirt where your chickens prefer to dust bathe. It may also be mixed in with their food to control intestinal worms. This most often will help in preventing an infestation. If this does not keep the lice and mites off your chickens you will then need to use a stronger commercial available chemical especially designed for chickens. Also in keeping lice and mites away, the coop needs a regular cleaning paying special attention to the corners and dark spaces. If you are using hay as bedding remove this as well. Replace with new bedding. Hay is hollow and lice and mites can live inside the hay.
Number 5: How much feed will my chickens need to eat?
The amount of feed a chicken eats will vary dramatically according to breed type, the season of the year, the quality of the feed, the age, sex, activity. So this one is a bit tougher to answer. As a general rule, a laying hen will need 4-6 ounces of food a day, bantams require 2-3 ounces a day, larger breeds such as barred rocks, jersey giants will require more. As cold weather arrives chickens will require even more. The best option is keeping food available at all times. That is also the method we use. Additionally, you will want to provide chicken grit.
Number 4: When will my chickens start to lay eggs?
This again varies by breed type. On the average standard breed chickens will start laying eggs at around 5-6 months of age. Some chickens which have been developed strictly for egg production such as 'Red Stars, Golden Comets will begin laying sooner. A good method of knowing about when your chicken will start to lay may be seen as the comb and wattles start turning a dark reddish in color. You may see your chicken acting funny when you approach by 'squatting' down. This is another sure sign she's about ready to lay.
Number 3: How long will my chicken live?
Standard breed size 'egg laying' chickens can live anywhere from eight to fifteen years of age. I have read of people having chickens which have lived up to 20 years of age. The life span of a chicken can vary depending on health and environment.
Number 2: I'm getting baby chicks, what do I need?
The number one thing to have in mind is keeping those baby chicks warm without cooking them. You will want to have an area set aside ahead of time where your baby chicks will be living before they arrive. Most likely you will keep them inside the house for the next 6-8 weeks until they are fully feathered. Here is a check list of supplies you will need.
Chick starter food, chick feeder, chick waterier, heat lamp with a 250 watt red heat bulb, bedding material such as pine shavings, thermometer and a brooder box. These supplies can be picked up at your local farm supply store.
The brooder box can be anything from a cardboard box, aquarium, hamster cage, cat, dog carrier or a commercial brooder box.
Keep safety as the number one priority in brooding baby chicks. I've read too often where baby chicks are dying because they are overheated. Place the heat lamp on one side of the brooder box where the chicks have the option of getting directly under the light or moving away as they become too warm. Make sure the heat lamp is secure without chance of falling. The first week you will want the brooder box to maintain a constant temperature of 100 degrees, Each week there after decrease the temperature by 5 degrees. This can be accomplished by moving the heat lamp to a higher level.
Number 1: Will I need a rooster for my hen to lay an egg?
The answer is, NO! Unless you want to raise baby chicks you do not need a rooster for hens to lay eggs. Having a rooster around only provides you with fertilized eggs which allows baby chicks to hatch .