Sometimes old wives tales linger on long enough to become folk legends that people still believe in to this day.
As people become more and more disconnected from their food source, the ‘legends’ continue and can even expand.
Over the years I’ve heard many myths about chickens, some entertaining, but others just outright lies!
We are going to straighten out some of those for you in this lighthearted, but critical look at chicken myths.
Chickens Can’t Lay Eggs without Roosters
I have lost count of the number of people that have asked this question!
My answer is to give them a lesson in human reproductive biology; a woman can ovulate without a man, but needs the man only if she wants a baby- it is basically the same for a hen.
A chicken will ovulate once about every twenty five hours. Thus, an egg will be laid slightly later every day until she ‘misses’ a day.
The rooster sperm has a long journey ahead of it since the egg will be fertilized before the shell is laid down. A hen can store sperm from the rooster for about two weeks in little pockets in the reproductive system.
The eggs a hen lays without being fertilized are perfectly fine to eat, as are fertilized eggs. In some cultures, a delicacy called ‘balat’ is eaten. This is an egg with a chick embryo formed inside the shell- although I have seen balat, I would never eat it.
Many folks will tell you a rooster is needed not only for the eggs, but also to keep order in the flock. This is not so. A dominant female hen will take the lead in a flock and underlings will follow her. Although they may not range quite as far without the protection of a rooster, they still forage.
Chickens are Stupid
Far from it! Of course, like people there are some smarter than others but in general, chickens are intelligent, thinking creatures.
Research done over several years, indicate that chickens are much more than just ‘nuggets in waiting’.
They have a complex social structure called the pecking order. The phrase doesn’t really convey the depth of the relationships between one chicken and the next, but each bird in the flock knows its place in relationship to every other bird of the same flock and they compare themselves against other!
They have over thirty different sounds ranging from ‘I’ve laid an egg’ to ‘danger! Hide quickly’. They are capable of recognizing up to one hundred individuals, including humans and retaining those memories for future use.
They are able to solve some fairly complex problems such as basic arithmetic and self-control! They can be creative and flexible which can help them to solve new problems in novel ways, even chicks have been shown to be able to navigate by using very basic geometry.
They are as smart as a toddler and can grasp some things that toddlers only figure out later in their life.
As an example, if you show a three year old something and then hide it, the toddler will lose interest and forget about it- not chickens! They understand that the thing still exists although hidden from view.
The more socially dominant birds are usually the ones who lead and teach the flock. An example would be the head rooster leading the flock to a new food source or fresh water.
Chickens have also been shown to have empathy and can form inter-species bonds, such as with their flock keeper. I’m not sure if grieving is the right word here, but when one of my dominant females died recently, almost every other chicken came and stood by her for a moment or two.
Chickens are Vegetarian
Chickens are omnivorous. They will eat just about anything they care to.
I have watched in horrified fascination as my ‘gentle girls’ dismember and eat frogs, mice and baby snakes. Once the flock notices that someone has a tasty morsel the chase is on and it becomes a tug o’ war to get a piece of the food.
In general, they eat mainly feed stuff, weeds, insects, seeds, leftovers and of course, the treats we give them.
If you have ever sat and watched your flock patrolling the yard, you will have seen them picking at the grass and weeds, scratching through the dirt to get some grit- chasing butterflies is also a favorite pastime!
The compost heap is a favorite restaurant for my girls- bugs, worms and left-overs are all fine chicken cuisine. They benefit by getting tasty little morsels and I benefit from the girls turning the heap on a daily basis.
As we know, most of their nutritional requirements come from the pellet or crumble feed that we give them, although hens that are allowed out to pasture have eggs that are phenomenally full of goodness!
We have talked before about releasing more of the nutrition to them by fermenting the feed. Fermenting feed is great for your birds. It does however require a bit more time and organization. It also requires a clean and warm space in which to store it.
So as you see not so much the vegetarian chick!
Roosters are Mean
Well I have to admit, there is some truth in this- but it only applies to some roosters. As a chick, roosters are as adorable as the girls, but when they reach adolescence, hormones start to transform them- much as human teenagers.
It is important to realize he is not specifically targeting you.
His little rooster brain is setting him up for domination over the hens. This role also entails protecting them from threats (possibly you), finding food and water for them and populating the world with his offspring.
Many roosters will try to ‘flog’ you at least once. Flogging is when they fly at you and beat you with their wings- usually the claws are not involved in this test of boundaries.
The key to establishing roles is to not tolerate this from day one. Some people think it’s cute and don’t think it’s a problem until it’s too late.
If the rooster believes it’s ok to do this, he will keep testing his boundaries. A rooster can give you a nasty peck or gash from the talons.
If a rooster is treated firmly he will respect you and take care of his hens without seeing you as a threat. There are many ways of keeping a rooster in his place; it seems everyone has a favorite trick or two.
My personal preference now is to carry a light switch sapling and be confident when he is around. It needs to be long enough to prod him from a distance and thin enough to give a reminder without hurting him. It seems to be working for my current roosters.
Some roosters are very mellow and never have to be shown who is boss. Then there are others that no matter what you do, they are mean.
Chickens are Dirty and Smelly
A chicken coop is as clean as the keeper maintains it.
Yes- the poop can be a bit ripe at times, but if you clean the poop trays regularly, this is not a problem.
In the heat of summer, poop attracts flies and other nasty bugs.
So please try to remove in at least every other day.
An unsanitary coop can lead to ‘flystrike’. This is where the fly will lay eggs on the mucky rear end of a bird. When the maggots hatch, they will eat all the filth but then start on the healthy flesh of the hen.
Also in summer, the fumes from the poop’s ammonia become more pungent and can affect the respiratory and eye health of your hens.
Shop Bought Eggs are the Same
Whoever said this plainly did not have a clue!
The visual difference between store bought and freshly laid is easy to see.
In general, a store egg yolk will be much paler than the beautiful golden yolk you get from your own hen. Also, store eggs spread over the pan when cracked- why? It’s because they are not fresh. A fresh egg when cracked with hold together well.
Nutritionally the pastured egg wins the prize for being the perfect food!
There have been scientific studies that have investigated store bought eggs versus pastured eggs.
The pastured eggs ran off with the prize- they contain twice as much omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin A, three times vitamin E, seven times beta carotene and four times vitamin D. They are also significantly lower in cholesterol and saturated fats!
Chickens that are given flax seed as an addition to diet will produce eggs that are omega 3 enriched.
Generally speaking, the lower the cost of an egg, the lower the nutritional value will be just because the hens are kept in poorer conditions.
If you still buy eggs you can visit this scorecard that rates various egg producers around the country.
Chickens Carry Disease
It’s a fact that every living thing has its own unique flora of bacteria. Everyone that you see each day, talk with regularly and work with, even you, are populated by unique blends of bacteria.
This goes for animals too: dogs, cats, goldfish and yes, chickens!
Our personal ‘brand’ of bacteria does not cause us any trouble, we have a symbiotic relationship. The problems only start to arise when a bacteria from one animal invades another. This is known as a zoonotic disease, meaning it can travel between species.
It seems we read almost daily about people getting sick with salmonella, listeria or E. Coli. While it’s true that you can get these diseases from backyard chickens, it is highly unlikely if you use good hygiene such as hand washing.
Recently, smaller, very limited outbreaks in several areas of the country have been traced to improper hygiene used in handling homestead chickens.
If you butcher your own birds it is essential that it be done cleanly and carefully, otherwise the possibility of salmonella or E. Coli can become very real.
As much as you may enjoy cuddling with your birds, please do not kiss them! You run a much higher risk of contracting disease if you are putting your lips on the bird- it’s also possible for the bird to catch something from you!
These are just a few of the ‘urban legends’ about chickens, there are many more out there! We hope this article has given you something to smile at and hopefully you learned something too!
I think my favorite myth is that hens need roosters to lay eggs 🙂
Have you ever heard a chicken myth? We love hearing from our readers, so don’t be shy, write and tell us yours!