When raising chickens for the first time, it is essential to do research first. There’s an abundance of guides available to read both in print and online, however they tend to provide the same information from guide to guide. While this information is essential, there are also some lesser known facts that are equally important for new chicken raisers!
Chickens Can Keep Pests in Check
Many chickens enjoy free ranging, for both the exercise and the bugs. Bugs like ticks, beetles, and mosquitos make tasty snacks for chickens, so they will help keep those pesky critters out of the yard. This is especially true for larger chicken breeds. Big breeds like the Brahma, the Australorp, and the Jersey Giant enjoy having extra outdoor space to stretch their legs, and they are known to forage while they’re out and about. While eating pests won’t reduce feeding costs drastically, allowing chickens to forage for bugs may save money on fly traps and other forms of pest control!
Chicken Manure Can be Used as Compost
Believe it or not, chicken poop contains many nutrients that plants need to thrive. Chicken manure generally contains potassium, phosphorus, and ammonium. The type and amount of nutrients provided by the manure may vary depending on the breed, the composition of the chickens’ feed, and the storage time of the manure, but these three nutrients are the most common. Additionally, chicken manure improves water filtration in the soil. The one thing to be wary of with chicken manure is to make sure it does not contaminate groundwater sources.
When it comes to manure, bigger is better. If a flock has many chickens, or just bigger chickens like Jersey Giants and Brahmas, there will be more manure generated. With enough chicken manure, there will be no need to spend money on more. Plus, if there is too much manure for one family to use, manure can be sold for a profit.
Nesting Behavior Can be Trained
It is common knowledge that chickens need to have nesting boxes to lay their eggs in. But what makes a chicken choose to lay in the nesting box, instead of laying wherever they please? Turns out, there are methods to subtly train the chickens to use the nesting box. Here are a few effective strategies:
- Keep the nesting box clean. Chickens will not lay in the nesting box if it is dirty. This can be accomplished by regularly checking and changing the nesting material and separating the nesting boxes from feeding and roosting areas, which could contaminate the nesting box.
- Make sure the nesting boxes are in a shaded, sheltered area.
- Collect eggs laid outside right away. When chickens see eggs laying around outside, they may copy the behavior and lay their own eggs outside. In contrast, when chickens see eggs being laid inside the nest, they will know that is a good place to lay their own eggs.
- Buy the right number and size of nesting boxes. If the nesting boxes are too small for the hen to fit comfortably, or if they’re all already occupied, they may choose to lay elsewhere. To prevent this from happening, make sure there is at least 1 box per three or four hens. The box can be 12×12 for standard breeds, but giant breeds will likely need 14×14 foot boxes.
Feather Loss May, or May Not, be Natural
Feather loss should be expected when a hen reaches the end of her laying season. This process is called molting, and it is completely natural! It is also completely natural for egg production to slow during a period of molting. The molting process generally starts with the wing feathers, so this should be an indicator that the feather loss is nothing to worry about. However, molting is not the only cause of feather loss to be aware of. Some other causes include:
- During mating hens may lose feathers on their back and neck, and this is not a cause for concern.
- Lice and Mites. This type of feather loss should raise concern. If a chicken has lice or mites, feather loss will usually occur around the vent. The feathers may not fall out completely, but rather will appear chewed.
- Feather picking. Picking is another source of feather loss that is concerning. If the feather loss is due to picking, whole feathers will be missing and there may be blood on either the feathers or the hen.
Different Predatory Species Leave Different Clues
Just as different patterns of feather loss reveal different causes, different patterns of predation will reveal different culprits. Even with precautionary measures in place, predators can find ways into the pen and harm birds, so if it happens it is important to put an end to it immediately. Identifying the predator will hint at what protective measures need to be strengthened, where there may be holes or weak points in the pen, and how to make the predator leave for good. Here are some ways to identify predators:
- Hawks: Hawks eat their prey on-site, so there will be many stray feathers, and it will likely be near a tree or another perching spot.
- Foxes and coyotes: The whole hen will be missing, and there may or may not be feathers.
- Rats: Rats target chicks, and may leave parts of the chicks behind.
- Household pets: Cats will prey on chicks or pullets, and dogs will usually kill the birds without eating them.
Birds of Different Species Should be Separated
Different breeds have their own unique benefits to offer, so it may be tempting to order multiple breeds. Sometimes this is doable, however mixing breeds can increase the risk of disease, particularly if they’re purchased from different sources. Plus, some breeds may bully more docile breeds, leading to aggression and pecking behaviors. For these reasons, it is best to only keep one breed at a time, unless they are completely separated from each other.
Chickens have a lot to offer, from eating pesky bugs to supplying manure for crops.
They will also need their caregiver to look out for what’s best for them, whether it’s choosing the right nesting spot, or keeping them safe from predators, disease, or even other chickens! Hopefully, these facts will help in each of these areas.
Find recipes and more on the Discover Blog.
Chris Lesley has been Raising Chickens for over 20 years and is a fourth generation chicken keeper. She currently keeps 11 chickens which includes 3 Silkies