17 Sep Did You Know… Chickens
I compiled this list of things I didn’t used to know about chickens. For most of my early life (i.e. before Nick), all I knew was what I saw on my plate. But my in-laws have had backyard chickens for about 15 years, and I have learned a lot from them. I’ve helped care for their flock and even brooded a few chicks myself, which we moved to my their coop when they got bigger. Now, I am a huge proponent for backyard chickens. We currently rent a house where the HOA restricts livestock & chickens, but I look forward to being in a place where we can have our own flock soon. I’d love to hear how many of these little tidbits you already knew, let me know in the comments!
Things I didn’t know about Chickens but I Do Now
- Chicken eggs are different colors because of the different breeds of chickens. Brown egg layers include Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, Orpingtons, Australorps, and more. White egg layers includes breeds such as the commonly seen Leghorns (the white chickens with red combs & wattles). Eggs also come in other beautiful colors such as blue (such as those laid by Ameraucanas and other Easter Eggers), green (Olive Eggers), dark brown (Marans), and a light pinkish cream.
- Hens do NOT need a rooster to be around in order to lay eggs. They lay just fine without any rooster around, and these eggs will never be fertilized.
- Some hens are broody and some are not. Not all hens are the types who like to sit on their eggs. Certain breeds tend to be more broody and will spend weeks sitting on their eggs (whether they are fertilized or not).
- Roosters can be mean. Depending on the rooster (I have met some sweet ones who just get on with the ladies), I have seen terrible roosters who have bullied the hens so badly where they pull their feathers off and spur them causing them to bleed. They will also go after people and children, scratching and pecking at legs, to “protect” their flock.
- The pecking order is a real thing. Larger, more established hens will peck at the smaller ones, at times quite painfully, to show them who is boss.
- Baby chicks can be sent through the mail. In fact there are quite a few hatcheries who specialize in shipping baby chicks. They arrive via USPS at the post office. This is able to be done because baby chicks don’t need to eat much the first few days after they hatch. Normally, when a hen hatches chicks, there may be some that are hatched first, then other eggs hatch at a later date. So chicks have a natural ability to wait up to 72 hours without food or water until mother the hen is ready to go after all the chicks have hatched. It is during this time period that most baby chicks are sent through mail.
- Chickens put themselves to bed at night. Yup! They instinctively return to their coop or find a roost each evening as the sun goes down. All you have to do is close them up so they are protected from predators.
- But some chickens need to be taught at first to return to their coop in the evening. You can do this by finding them wherever it might be after they’ve settled for the night (usually on a branch or some sort of roost), then moving them while they’re asleep back to the coop. After doing this a few nights in a row, they figure it out and realize they need to get to their coop for bed.
- Chickens can recognize up to 100 faces. I love this. After helping my in-laws take care of their chickens for a week while they were on vacation, the chickens recognized me as the one who would get the shovel out and dig worms up for them as special treats. They would run to me when I showed up at their house. It was adorable!
- Happy, healthy chickens lay happy, healthy eggs. Chickens that are allowed to free range are able to forage grubs and insects that add to the nutrition of their eggs. They still need to be supplemented with feed, but you can see and taste the difference in their eggs from industrially kept chicken farms.
- Unwashed fresh eggs can sit on a counter for 3 weeks without going bad. Eggs naturally have a protective coating after they’ve been laid that protects the egg from bacteria by sealing the shell’s pores. The reason we need to refrigerate our eggs from the supermarket is because they have been washed in the commercial egg production process.
- Industrial/commercial chicken compounds are something to consider when we purchase eggs. Most eggs we buy from the supermarket come from commercial egg facilities where chickens are stuffed in cages so small they can’t stand up, and so many in each cage they can barely move. All they can do is lay and peck. Their eggs roll down the slightly sloped wire cage floor to a conveyor belt that carries it away. If a chicken happens to die in the cage, the other chickens will eat it. They also have been known to eat their own feces while in those confinement cages. Knowing this, and currently not having my own hens, my ideal option right now would be to know the person I get my eggs from and see how they raise their chickens. However, this isn’t always possible, so when at the supermarket, I try to buy Free Range eggs whenever I can, and Cage Free if Free Range is not available (or crazy expensive). As with all things, marketing can twist the meanings of “Free Range” and “Cage Free”, but it’s still better than caged.
Maybe You’ve Thought About It
Just an encouragement in case you ever considered it – getting backyard chickens may not be as difficult as you think. In fact, it may not be difficult at all! Thank about it, you get to enjoy so many benefits – your own fresh, healthy eggs, knowing where your breakfast came from, and just the fun of having chickens, who often seem to have their own personalities and quirks.
First, get connected if you’re at all interested! Chances are, your city or state may already have a Backyard Chickens group on Facebook – if you’re at all interested, join it and see what it’s like! I love those groups, especially when people start getting their first eggs. It is always so much fun, for me it never gets old to run to the coop with the egg basket and see the beautiful eggs laying there in the nest.
Next, check your HOA or city zoning requirements, more and more neighborhoods are opening up to the idea of backyard hens. I think it would be cool if more people started approaching their HOA to ask them to reconsider allowing backyard chickens. We are planning to move soon-ish, or else I would totally try to organize some people to see if we could get the covenants & restrictions changed to allow a few hens in the backyard. I know asking for roosters would be too much, but hens are no where near as pesky as certain neighborhood dogs who bark every time I go into my backyard.
How to Get Started with Chickens
The set up is simple! There are all sorts of nifty chicken coops for sale out there, or you could try to build your own. If you already have fencing, all you really need is a safe coop with nesting boxes (where the hens will lay), something for bedding (like pine shavings), water, and feed. If you want to try to get eggs ASAP, look for some laying hens that people are looking to re-home. Check Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist.
If you want to start with chicks, you can set up a super simple brooder with a large plastic bin. Here’s a great YouTube tutorial on how to do it. To keep your chicks warm, I’d recommend using a brooder heat plate rather than a heat lamp because it’s safer and the chicks get into a more natural rhythm with it (the brooder light keeps them up all night). Your local farm store will likely carry chicks in the spring. Or you can order them online – two of the more popular hatcheries that ship around the US are Meyer Hatchery and McMurray Hatchery. Just a reminder for planning – chicks can take 4-6 months before they start laying.