If you are reading this post then most likely you have already done some research on raising chickens but want to dive a little deeper. If you don’t know anything about raising chickens then I suggest you read my post here. While raising chickens is pretty simple, there is still a lot to know to avoid mistakes and stress. I have compiled all of the frequently asked chicken questions I get when it comes to raising chickens for eggs.
Should I Buy Chickens Already Sexed?
Yes. If you are raising chickens for eggs then definitely buy them sexed. Young female egg layers are called pullets. If they are straight runs it means they are unsexed so you have a 50/50 chance of getting a female. In my opinion it best to know you will have all females especially if you are a beginner. Having one rooster around does have its benefits but you need to ask yourself what you will do if you end up with two or three roosters. We have had to cull roosters before because we had an extra but we have the equipment from raising meat birds. If you are a first timer to chickens then its best to stick with pullets to avoid this situation.
What Do Chickens Eat?
Chickens are omnivores! They are not vegetarians. My chickens are raised on pasture spring, summer and fall. This gives them access to bugs and fresh vegetation. I supplement feed them with organic layer feed, kelp and oyster shells. One of my favorite brands is New Country Organics. I also keep a bucket in the kitchen for scraps that I throw to them daily.
Why are Pasture Raised Chickens Best?
Pasture raised is better for your chickens, better for the nutritional value of the eggs and better for the earth. Having chickens on fresh pasture will provide your chickens with things that can’t be supplemented. There is a whole complex ecosystem living within the pasture that chickens benefit from. When chickens are living in a stationary coop they miss out on all that the pasture has to offer. Part of raising them on pasture means moving them too fresh grass once a week. When they are left in the same spot long term that area begins to decline from being overworked.
Plus chickens get bored! A bored chicken is not a happy chicken. They become stressed and this can impact the quality and quantity of their eggs.
Can I Just Keep Them In a Shed?
You could, but again they won’t be happy or very healthy. Chickens need access to fresh air and sunshine at the least. But in my opinion and experience, chickens require access to fresh pasture daily in order to thrive. Not just for their health but it is also their birthright.
Will My Chickens Run Away if They Get Out of Their Enclosure?
When chickens do escape their enclosure and they most likely will, they typically do not stray too far. However they are foragers by nature and when they do get out you will likely find them grazing for bugs and fresh grass within the vicinity of their coop. If they are still out at dusk then they will find a place to roost for the night but they are not necessarily safe this way. When this happens they are extremely vulnerable to predators.
Will Other Animals Eat My Chickens?
Yes! This is a lesson I have had to learn over and over again in my 6 years of raising chickens. Everything wants to eat your chickens. If they are not locked in a tightly secured coop at night or if you are not using a predator proof fence during the day, then something will find a way in. Period. We have had foxes, raccoons, bears and opossums attack our coop at night or during the day when we forget to turn the electric fence back on after morning chores.
When Can Baby Chickens Go Outside?
This will depend largely on the weather, but your goal is as soon as possible. Once the chickens are off the heat source and are feathered out then they are ready for outside. We typically move our chickens out around 4-6 weeks. If its a very cold spring and temperatures are consistently dropping below freezing at night then we will hold off on putting them out.
How Many Eggs Will My Chickens Lay?
The number of eggs your chicken lays will greatly depend on the breed of the chicken. A hybrid chicken can be a laying machine and can lay an egg almost every day. A high producing heritage breed chicken such as a Rhode Island Red you can expect to lay 260 eggs a year by comparison. When you purchase chicks the hatchery usually has this information but a quick google search can help you find the answer as long as you know the breed. However, if your chickens are chronically stressed, are not fed enough or if you are using low quality feed with not enough protein your hens will stop laying. Also a broody hen, one that is trying to hatch her eggs will stop laying.
What Kind of Housing Do My Chickens Need?
For the the first few weeks you will need a temperature controlled predator proof brooder. The brooder should strive to emulate a mother hens care. It should be kept as clean as possible with a deep layer of bedding. For more on brooder setup check out my post about the first 8 weeks – How to Raise Chickens.
When the weather is warm enough and the chickens are feathered out we move them to the chicken tractor. The chicken tractor is a simple rectangular coop with bottomless floor. The chickens will move on from this coop long before they start laying so nesting boxes are unnecessary. The quicker you can get chickens onto pasture the better. The pasture keeps the chicks hardy and in good health.
Finally, when the chickens are are 8-12 weeks we move them into an electric fenced area on pasture with a mobile chicken coop. We move this fence and coop weekly ideals never returning to the same place for another 6 months. For more on this look at How to Raise Chickens on Pasture.
Why Do Some Chickens Lay Brown Eggs and Some White or Other Colors?
Just like quantity of eggs this is determined by the breed. Some chickens lay light brown eggs, some dark brown, some white, some blue and so on. Most often the egg shade can be determined by the chickens earlobe color! Araucana chickens can have ear lobes shades of blue and green and match the pigment of the eggs!
Do I Need a Rooster?
It may be an unpopular opinion but I personally like having a rooster around. They protect the hens by warning them of danger and possibly even fighting off predators. They prevent the hens from going broody and broody hens stop laying. As long as the rooster is not too aggressive, especially towards children then they are good to have. I have small children and last year we had to cull a rooster that was just too violent. He was great at protecting the flock but a very aggressive rooster can easily injure a child.
Why Have My Chickens Stopped Laying?
There can be a few reasons a hen will stop laying. It could be her age, chickens peak at around two years. Another reason could be the feed is inadequate or you are not feeding them enough. I have switched suppliers for this reason before. It could also be the time of year. In the fall when the days are shorter and much cooler, this signals the hens body to slow down and conserve energy. She could also be broody.
How Do I Tell if My Hen is Broody and What Do I Do?
Signs of a broody hen are refusal to move from the nesting box, She may be puffed out or flat like a pancake when siting in nesting box. She will peck at you when trying to remove her from nesting box. She may also start pluck out her own feathers. If you have a broody hen and don’t have plans to start hatching your own chicks then remove her to a secluded area like a shed and provide her plenty of fresh water and food. After several days away from the flock she should snap out of it and begin laying again.
When Will My Chickens Start Laying Eggs?
Some breeds start laying as early as 4 months, others could take up to 6 months.
How Long Will My Chickens Lay Eggs For?
The highest production occurs in the first 2 years but a chicken can continue to lay for 10 years!
How Much Space Do My Chickens Need?
If you buy a chicken coop it is likely that the manufacturer will tell you how many chickens it is intended for. There is a lot debate over how much square feet each bird needs but at least 2 square ft. per bird. In my experience chickens like to cram together in one corner of the coop at night when they sleep. It is more important to give them plenty of space on fresh pasture during the day then having a massive coop for roosting and laying. A coop should have one nesting box per five birds.
I Live In a Cold Climate, How Do I Overwinter My Chickens?
Check out the post I wrote about how I overwinter my chickens here.
I hope this answers most of your chicken questions. If you have any more chicken questions please leave a comment and I will do my best to answering them. Raising chickens for eggs is one of my favorite parts of homesteading.
It forces us to get up and out of the house every single morning, rain or shine, snow or sleet. Its a great chore for children to participate in and the eggs are always fresh and high quality. It is a privilege for my children to learn the art of raising chickens. I hope one day they will be proud to say they have been doing it since birth!