Having a new flock of chickens can be a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, especially for beginners.
It takes years to learn the ins and outs of good chicken keeping.
If I could go back and start over, there would be a handful of things I wish I had known as a beginner.
These ten tips will help prevent confusion and heartache for the new chicken owner.
Tips for Keeping Chickens
Feeding and Watering New Baby Chicks
Bringing home a box of peepers is one of the best feelings in the world.
Opening the box and seeing the new chicks bouncing around, stopping only to study you with their large inquisitive eyes, is nothing short of breath-taking.
Until the panic sets in…they need to eat now!
Hatchery chicks will most likely arrive a day or two after they have hatched.
They are dry and fluffy.
When they arrive at their new home, they need to eat and desperately need to be re-hydrated.
Some smart chicks will know what to do almost immediately, some have no idea, and some may be too weak to figure it out on their own.
To assist a chick in taking their first drink of water, I simply take them in my hand, hold them firmly but gently, and lightly dip the tip of their beak in the water— just the tip to wet their whistle.
I then watch them swallow awkwardly and set them back down.
That little bit of water is often enough to make them instinctively go for more.
To feed, I tap my finger on their food dish or at food on the bottom of their brooder.
Watching them rush to see what my finger is tapping on is amazing.
It’s as if my finger were a mother hen pecking at tasty ground treats.
It works like a charm every time!
- Introducing Water and Feed to Chicks
Chickens Are Not for Chasing
Sometimes, a chicken needs to be handled to be moved or receive medical attention.
Chasing a chicken is not a productive way to get a hold of them, nor is it meant to entertain neighbors as mush as it usually does.
This is usually a lesson all new chicken owners learn quickly.
Chickens are wired to run…fast.
They are extremely swift and agile.
So, instead of chasing my chickens, I wait until dusk when they roost to make my move.
Chickens become almost lethargic and tired at night.
In most cases, a predator can pluck a chicken from its perch in the middle of the night with no issues.
This is a time to consider clipping their wings as well.
Protecting from Predators
Whether kept in confinement or free-range, chickens are at risk of attack from predators large and small.
One of the most effective ways of preventing attacks is to lock the chickens in their coop at night, even if they are free-range.
If this is not possible at the end of every day, automatic chicken coop doors lock and/or close on their own.
Chickens are intelligent and love to roost in the same place every night.
Like clockwork, they will come home around the same time at the end of the day (based on the season).
If there are aggressive predators, please check your local and federal laws before culling predators.
Some may be endangered or protected.
To Crow or Not to Crow
Yes, roosters, to some, are considered a pain. They can be noisy, and some can be mean.
But they are great for protecting their hens from aerial predators.
After a few years of losing hens to hawks, I decided to add a rooster to my flock, and I haven’t lost a hen to an aerial predator.
Not all towns allow roosters so it’s important to check the local ordinances before adding a roo.
I remember the first time my rooster signaled all of his hens to rush to the cover of the forest, I was at my kitchen table looking out the window.
Literally, minutes later there was a brown tailed hawk scanning for prey.
I still do not know how the rooster detected or sensed the hawk over the cover of the forest, but I have high respect for the diligent roosters who protect against predators.
Dust Baths Are Normal
It’s easy to think that a chicken taking a dust bath is distressed or hurt.
They wriggle and fluff about, and it almost looks like they are injured.
However, dust baths are good for chickens.
It helps them eliminate excess oils, preserve their feathers, and prevent mites and other unwanted hitchhikers.
Confined chickens should be provided with an area to take a dust bath.
They are completely happy with a pile of dirt from the garden.
Free-range chickens will find their particular spot, usually a beloved flower bed or landscaping mulch-like, at my place!
We are working on a solution to get them from returning so we can stop brooming our sidewalk.
- My Hens Dust Bathing On My Landscaping
Molting Happens Every Year
At first, a molting chicken looks like it could be sick or injured. However, it is something that each chicken goes through at least once a year.
Molting can be stressful for chickens, so they must have a place to stay safe and warm during this time.
You can also feed them additional protein to give them the energy they need to get through the stress of a long and embarrassing molt.
- Example Of A Chicken Molting
Choosing the Right Breed of Chicken
Most people want to add chickens to their homestead for the eggs or to be entertained by their delightful antics.
It is important to research chicken breeds rather than running to the feed store and grabbing whatever is in the water tank.
Some are better suited for cold climates than others, and some are friendlier.
Other things to consider:
• Meat or Eggs – Some birds are bred as meat birds and do not lay eggs often, if at all.
This breed was not meant to live a long life.
They grow very fast, and if left unprocessed, they often die due to heart conditions or the inability to carry their weight.
• Color of Eggs – Various beautiful eggs range from white to light pink or blue to brown and chocolate.
• Ornamental or Functional – Some chickens may lay very few eggs but are lovely to look at.
Chickens Lay Eggs Everywhere
Even the most inviting nesting boxes are no match for the warm, sunlit, just-out-of-reach nook under the porch.
Nothing is more frustrating than finding a clutch of old eggs in an area you can’t reach.
This often happens if chickens are free-range upon arrival or have been free-range for an extended period.
They have their preferences, so sometimes, you must retrain them to lay their eggs in a more accessible area.
To remind a hen that the nesting box, which was so thoughtfully created for her, is the best place for her to lay eggs, she should be confined with the nesting box for at least a week and then re-released.
She will most likely continue to return to her nesting box to lay her eggs.
Chickens are wonderful creatures of habit…stubborn but wonderfully predictable.
The Importance of Good Feeders and Founts
Unfortunately, chickens are messy little critters.
Throughout the brooding period and into adulthood, having the right containers keeps chickens clean and healthy.
Chickens scratch at the ground throughout their entire lives, which means they are also very messy in small areas.
Water founts or waterers will often accumulate shavings, droppings, and feed as the chicks peck, scratch, and carry on as chickens do.
A dirty fount or waterer is an excellent place for bacteria to grow, especially in brooder or humid weather.
Founts and feeders that restrict the amount of waste that enter the trays are ideal for chickens.
Also, it is wise to keep feeders off the ground, preferably raised or hanging.
This minor adjustment can keep chickens from making a huge mess and putting their health at risk.
- A Dirty Chicken Waterer – Full Of Droppings And Bedding
Stop the Egg-Pecking Please
While it sounds strange, chickens tend to eat their eggs.
It is frustrating to expect fresh eggs on the breakfast table, but none were collected from the coop.
Usually, a telltale sign of egg-eating is when production seemingly stops, and there are no signs of illness. Egg-eating often starts when an egg cracks under the weight of a hen.
The hen becomes curious and pecks at the cracked egg, quickly realizing its deliciousness.
Unfortunately, the rest of the flock takes note and also wants to try the egg. From there, the problem spreads like wildfire.
It is like an epidemic and extremely frustrating.
The good news?
The egg-pecking can be cured!
First and foremost, ensuring the flock has the grit and calcium they need is of the utmost importance.
If the chickens don’t have what they need, they will seek the calcium they crave in their eggs.
Then, simply add a dummy egg. Usually, a porcelain egg, or golf ball, to the nesting boxes will be enough to deter egg eaters.
Pecking at the fake egg is uncomfortable and unproductive for the chickens, who will usually give it up after a while.
Need more help on this topic?
Check out our complete guide on egg-eating prevention.
- Chicken Pecked And Eating Their Own Eggs
Tips for Keeping Chickens: Final Thoughts
These tips help keep chickens healthy and prevent early losses for beginner chicken owners.
Chickens can be confusing and stubborn at times, so understanding their quirks and needs early on will ensure many years of delicious eggs and humorous backyard antics— that hopefully don’t include a chase between a human and a chicken.
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