Being a new chicken owner is fun and exciting, and it is easy to become enamored with chickens and their adorable antics. Generally speaking, chickens are hearty little creatures that often take great care of themselves. But mistakes are made, and here are my top 10 mistakes made starting off raising chickens. Had I known what I know now, I may have been able to keep my first few flock members around for much longer.
1. Coop Size Issues
One of the first concerns for a new chicken owner is to find the perfect coop for their new flock, and one of the biggest mistakes made is purchasing or building a coop that is not large enough for the number of chickens that will be occupying it. Sure, chickens are small when they are young, but when a hen starts to fill out, that cute little coop for sale online will probably end up being too small. It’s smart to watch out for coops that are meant for rabbits but advertised “great for chickens too” because chickens will quickly outgrow a small coop.
By the way, those cute coops online? Yes, they are cute, but new chicken owners should always look closely at the materials being used, often, the construction is poor, and the wood is extremely weak or untreated. Coops like this simply do not last in the elements. Follow our DIY chicken coop plans here and get details on quality builds.
2. Lack of Protection from Predators
It might be easy to whip up a simple coop for a new flock, but if the proper precautions are taken, predators will quickly find a way in. Weasels, for example, can squeeze into the smallest openings on a coop and cause devastating damage. Each coop must be checked for gaps to prevent predators from killing birds, stealing eggs or spreading diseases.
3. Run Size Issues
When I began my chicken journey, I couldn’t allow my chickens to free-range, so it was necessary for me to provide a run for them to forage, and exercise, in. I was completely delusional about the amount of space a chicken needs to stay healthy and happy—not to mention to maintain the health of my lawn.
It turns out that if 10 square feet per chicken is not provided in confinement, chickens will fight, trample the earth, and even become ill. It is incredible to see how quickly a small flock of chickens can destroy a small patch of lawn. I guess the good stuff is always on the bottom.
4. Not Providing Adequate Grit
For years I was under the impression that oyster shells were synonymous with grit. What I didn’t know, was that I was depriving my chickens of a valuable tool that aids in digestion. I was buying only oyster shells thinking that it would work the same as grit. This wasn’t a problem for my free-range birds, but not having adequate grit caused impacted crops for the ones living in confinement.
5. Forgetting That Pet Chickens Get Old
I never wanted to butcher my chickens, but because I was terrible at “chicken math,” I was always accumulating more. I loved trying out new breeds, and I enjoyed incubating my purebred Orpington eggs, but all of a sudden, I had more chickens than I knew what to do with, and needless to say, some needed to go.
Unfortunately, I never had a plan for the older chickens that were no longer laying. I often joked that they became free-loaders, but in all reality, I needed to either sell them, give them away, or butcher them to make room for the productive birds.
I quickly learned that it’s a good idea to have a plan for chicken retirement before a flock of 10 turns into 50 without even realizing it. I wish I would have thought it through before I became too overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do with all my birds. Needless to say, I learned to slow down with my chicken-buying habits, and to part with my beloved birds in the best way I saw fit.
6. Taking Roll Call at Night
After a long day at work, it’s easy to just pry myself off the coach to mindlessly close the chicken coop up for the night without taking a head count. One winter I didn’t count my chickens, and I closed up shop before one of my professional foragers returned for the night. Sadly, she froze to death, and to this day I will never close up at night before taking roll call. Even during the summer, a straggler can get snatched up by a predator and never seen again.
Something has helped me with my late nights and not making it at night to close the coop is my automatic chicken coop door, which has helped in the laziness department. Though, if my flock has been free ranging all day I like to take a walk and roll call to make sure they are safe. If I know they are in the run, I trust the automatic coop door to do the job.
7. Inspecting Fresh Eggs
I’ll admit, when I collected my first batch of fresh eggs, I was a little nervous about getting sick. I had always eaten store-bought eggs that I had always assumed were fresh and clean. Now, the cleaning was up to me. I was terrified that I would accidentally give away a beautiful carton of eggs to someone and they would get sick.
After a few years of eating farm fresh eggs, I became lazier and lazier. I had never gotten sick, and instead of obsessively checking over each egg for blemishes, cracks, and poo, I found myself nonchalantly washing them in warm water and consuming them without a second glance.
However, since I am considered the master of deviled eggs, I was recently charged with making three dozen for our family’s Easter. I love to make hard-boiled eggs in the instant pot, and as I was lowering one egg at a time, I became horrified at the sight of a slight crack in one of my beautiful blue eggs. I had forgotten how easy it was to miss a cracked egg!
Cracked eggs allow for bacteria from poop and other organisms to enter the egg and cause illness when consumed, so needless to say, my egg checking habits were soon back in check.
8. Inadequate Nesting Boxes
Speaking of egg-checking, another mistake newbie chicken farmers often make is not having a desirable nesting box for their hens—or none at all! Chickens absolutely must have a safe, enclosed, nesting box to produce clean, crack-free, eggs regularly.
When I moved my hens into the barn for the winter, I gave them a weak-looking nesting box that was exposed to the elements of the barn. It was a small box, similar to that of a shoebox cover. Again, laziness set in and I was naively sure that production would keep up all winter. Boy, was I wrong. My hens started laying their eggs all over their pen, and nowhere near the nesting box. The eggs were damaged from being trampled, dirty, and eventually, I didn’t have any fresh eggs to speak of–either they stopped laying, or they began eating them.
To remedy this messy situation, I replaced the shoebox with an enclosed nesting box with a small entrance, just large enough for my hens to enter. It had a lovely little door on the side that I could open for collecting my eggs, and to my delight, after about a week with the new nesting box, my hens were leaving clean eggs for breakfast once again.
9. Not Collecting Eggs Regularly
I’m letting my laziness shine through here, but I’m hoping it helps beginners avoid making the same mistakes I did as a beginner. In the colder months, I didn’t feel the urgency to collect eggs every morning because I knew the temperature was cold enough to keep them fresh. Sometimes I would collect them in the evening, and yes, sometimes I’d wait a day to collect. What ended up happening was twofold:
- Eggs became trampled, cracked, or they burst from the cold.
- Due to the cracks in the eggs, the chickens became curious enough to start pecking at the imperfections on the neglected eggs; thus, they developed the nasty (hard-to-break) habit of egg eating.
It took me a good month, and a lot of trial and error, to remedy this epidemic. With a few porcelain eggs and some filled with mustard, the ladies were back in business. Make no mistake, egg-eating is a tough habit to break and when one chicken starts, they all want a taste.
10. Rooster Considerations
Roosters are often misunderstood by new chicken owners. I am amazed at how often I find myself defending my roosters to other chicken fanciers. I can’t imagine a flock without a rooster, and I am lucky to be able to keep them where I live. Not every rooster is like the scary dinosaurs often seen chasing children in the latest viral video. They really just care about protecting their hens. Since having a rooster in my free-range flock, I haven’t lost a single hen to an aerial predator.
Even beginners will find that raising a young roo can be fun, entertaining, and easier than initially thought. The problems arise when there are either too many, or too few roosters for the number of hens and space provided.
- If there are too few hens, a rooster may hurt them by breeding them too much. This can cause injuries, feather loss, and exhausted hens—which inevitably can lead to a slow in egg production.
- If there are too many roosters, they will undoubtedly fight over the hens, and may even kill each other for them if there is not enough space provided for a multiple-rooster flock.
Lastly, some newbies believe that in order to get eggs from hens, a rooster must be present in the flock. For those who cannot keep a rooster…great news! You don’t need a rooster to have fresh eggs. Luckily, a hen will produce unfertilized eggs, perfect for french toast, even without a rooster.
Everyone is bound to make some mistakes when they first start raising chickens. There certainly is a learning curve, but luckily, chickens are forgiving animals, and by correcting errors, a healthy and happy flock is easy to keep for many years.
What were some of the mistakes you learned from? Let me know below, I am sure someone will benefit from your learned lessons.