How To Raise Chickens
We are completely self taught when it comes to raising chickens. We have had to learn some things the hard way and others through research and experimentation. So we will collect here in this FAQ the information we have learned over time, in the hopes it will help others.
- Get adult hens when you want eggs now.
- Get adult roosters if you want them to protect your flock, to fertilise eggs, or to slaughter them for meat now.
- Get chicks if you want eggs and meat in 4-5 months, as this will give you about 50% hens and 50% males once they grow up.
- Get juveniles for the same reason as chicks. They have also made it through their most vulnerable period and they will mature in less time.
Depending on your coop location, and the time of year, you can remove your source of heat from as early as 2-3 weeks. Some people will keep (what we call) juveniles under the lamp for 2-4 weeks more. The longer you keep the heat the longer it will take the juveniles to develop their first set of feathers. They actually need a bit of a chill to kick start the feather development. The best way to be sure is to do a test in the evening when it's cool but there is still light. Switch off the heat or let them out in a pen in your garden. See if they will wander around, scratch and peck at the ground; or if they just sit in a huddle because they are cold. I would avoid exposing chicks in their first week to the cold as this is when they are most vulnerable.
Chickens can use dry dirt, sand, wood chips, or even gravel to help clean their feathers. They will make a little pit to sit in and then they will rub their necks, wings and other feathers into the dirt. When they get out they will shake all their feathers to get rid of the majority of the dirt. This process helps to get rid of mites, mud, and anything else that might get stuck in their feathers. This, along with general preening, is a chickens way of grooming. You may want to create a sandbox if your chickens are inside the coop the majority of the time; or if you want to control where they bathe in your garden.
A chicken can loose feathers for many reasons. Most chickens will moult twice a year. This is when they shed some of their feathers in order for new ones to have the space to grow through. This could be because they need a thicker coat for the winter or they have another layer of colour to come through. This is a natural part of the process and if you wait a few weeks they should get back to normal.
Hens can also loose feathers if they are over mated (when you have more than 1 rooster for every 10 hens). Hens will end up mating a lot more with competing roosters and the process will wear on their back feathers. The best thing is to separate the males out with their own flock, or to cull them so you have a 1:10 ratio of males to females. The back feathers can take months to grow back if you leave it too long.
Hens can also loose their under feathers when they are broody and are trying to keep eggs warm so they will hatch.
Sometimes chickens will eat feathers. They may pull their own feathers out, or the feathers of lower ranking hens. We've not had much of a problem with this, but there are treatments and tricks online to help avoid this behaviour if it becomes a problem.
Broody hens are displaying the behaviours that help eggs hatch into chicks. A broody hen will pretty much stay in one spot for as long as she can get away with. They often only leave their nesting spot once a day to get a round of food and water. As soon as they have accomplished this they go back to their nest. They can cluck, puff up their feathers, and can get quite moody. They may try to peck you when you encroach on their space. They will loose feathers on their breast and stomach, as they use as much of their body as they can to keep the eggs warm.
Hens can remain broody even if you remove all the eggs underneath them. Some hens are broody only when needed, where as other hens seem to prefer to take on the broody role for most of their lives. If you don't collect all your eggs it could trigger a hen to become broody to protect a successful clutch. There are tips and tricks online to help stop a hen from being broody. We tend to leave the broody hens alone and check them once a day to collect any eggs they may have tucked away.
We recommend that you have at least 1 nest box for every 5 hens - broody or not. A hen that isn't broody may display similar broody behaviours. These will pass once she has laid her egg. When this occurs a non-broody hen will leave the nest and will likely make a loud squawking noise to announce the fact.
No it is not required. Your hens will still lay eggs if you don't have a rooster. The eggs are then unfertilised so they won't hatch into chicks. A rooster gives an advantage in that he will protect and tend to the hens when you are not around.
If you have a flock of chickens that has a rooster, and then your rooster goes away for some reason, the hens can morn the loss of their rooster. Chickens take changes to their flocks quite hard. They are usually quick to learn changes in their routine, but flock changes seems to stress them. So losses or additions take a while for chickens to adjust to.
When we lost the majority of our first flock to foxes our remaining hens missed our rooster and the group seemed to lack cohesion. One of the hens began acting like a male, as if to fill in the role they were missing. Once we got another rooster on site she returned to acting like a hen again.
So if you start with a rooster, you should continue to keep a rooster in your flock. If you do without, then the hens will become accustomed to that instead.
Either way we recommend avoiding flock changes once you have taken your chickens home. If you do have to bring two flocks together then you should quarantine the new chickens for around 6 weeks. Then keep them all in one coop for 2-3 days, without letting them out, so they can get used to their new flock dynamic. It may take some time but they will get there once they have settled in and sorted out the new pecking order.
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