Chickens are a great asset to any home or homestead! But if you are new to chickens, you may have some questions you want answered before taking the leap. We have the answers to 10 common questions that people ask before getting backyard chickens!
Should you get backyard chickens? Yes. (The answer is always “yes” to both chickens and tacos, by the way). Chickens can be a very wonderful and beneficial addition to your backyard if they are allowed where you live. I like to think of ours as adding beauty and interest to our yard, like one of those pretty little garden statues… that happens to move and poop and eat bugs. But before you take the leap, there are certainly some things to consider. And you probably have some questions, too. Well, let’s get those questions answered!
Question 1: Do chickens lay eggs every day?
Would you wanna lay an egg every single day?! Yeah, neither do the chicken ladies. They need days off to eat chocolate while binging on Netflix too. Cause they work damn hard and they deserve it. Or at least that’s what they tell themselves after the second Dominos pizza gets broken into… Oh wait, we were talking about the chickens. Ahem…
No chicken is biologically designed to lay eggs year-round. Certain breeds will lay more frequently than other breeds (cause we’re all good at different things, amiright?) but no chicken will naturally lay eggs every day, year-round. Chickens go through a “molting” season, usually in the fall to early winter. They loose a bunch of their feathers and look like a hot mess for a couple of months while they grow out new feathers. Oh girl, we’ve all been there after that bad haircut…
During this time, egg production also significantly drops and sometimes stops all together. It’s largely due to the fact that there are less hours of daylight, which is something that chickens require in order to lay eggs. My chickens generally stop laying in November and pick back up again in mid-February. Some people will use artificial light during this period to “trick” the hens into continuing to lay eggs. That’s certainly an option, but I think that my girls deserve the break and the time to focus on being their best selves and growing those long beautiful locks… er, feathers.
Again, the breeds that you pick will largely effect how many eggs are produced each year. Just remember, each breed has their own strengths. But if egg production is your main concern, some breeds to consider include Rhode Island Reds, Leghorns, Sussex, Barred Rocks, Orpingtons, and Australorps. These breeds will generally lay 200+ days a year when healthy and happy.
Question 2: Do they need a coop to live in?
Technically, the coop is for sleeping at night and for laying eggs. Other than that, chickens don’t want to hang out in there. Most pre-built coops come with an attached run which is where the chickens will be during the day. Now, to be completely honest, I think that most of the coops that you can purchase are not big enough for more than a couple birds and the runs are teeny tiny as well.
Remember, these are miniature dinosaurs! They want to do wild and crazy chicken things like rummage through your potted plants and cross the road. They don’t want to be stuck in a tiny run all day, every day. It’s a recipe for mentally and physically unhealthy birds. Now, that’s not to say that you can’t create a nice big run for them with lots of fun and stimulating enrichments. Sometimes, especially if you live in an area with lots of predators, this is the best option.
The other option is to let your chickens free range in your yard and then lock them in the coop at night (they will naturally go to bed on their own). This is personally my favorite method, but we are also lucky to live in an area with few predators. That being said, we have lost a couple of chickens to predators. For me though, it’s most important to know that they get to be out living their best chicken life everyday, and I think free-ranging is the best way for them to do that. It also helps us in numerous ways: they eat bugs, they turn the compost pile, they fertilize and they are able to find a lot of their own food, reducing our feed bill and making the eggs even tastier in my opinion.
Question 3: If I let the chickens free-range, will they destroy my flower beds?
Oh yes, without a doubt. Let’s get one thing straight: chickens are basically tiny dinosaurs. So just imagine those Jurassic Park t-rex’s performing their reign of terror on your yard, just on a much tinier and much cuter, fluffier scale.
In all seriousness though: yes, chickens like to scratch. That’s how they find all those yummy bugs to eat. If you have an earwig problem like we have, sometimes the scratching ain’t all that bad! If you decide to let them free range, certain ground covers will work better than others. Bark is no match to chickens, but rock and perma-bark holds up pretty well. You can also use a taller border or edging to keep the ground cover material contained a bit more.
And don’t underestimate those little dinosaurs – a potted plant is no match for them. They will find a way to get into the pot and either eat your plant or scratch it right out of the pot. You can use wire cloches to protect potted plants, young plants and particularly tasty plants (like marigold which are apparently chicken crack). Bottom line: if there is an area where you don’t want the chickens to be at all, a small wire fence is your best bet.
Question 4: What kind of regular care do chickens need?
Chickens are pretty easy keepers, but like any animal, they require regular care. Daily care includes cleaning and filling food and water containers, opening the coop in the morning, closing it in the evening, and collecting eggs (a rather fun chore!). Every week or two (or sooner depending on your preferences), you will want to clean the coop thoroughly. That’s about it for regular care, except for hanging out with them and enjoying all their crazy little dinosaur antics!
Another thing to keep in mind is that, ultimately, chickens are a form of livestock. Like a lot of livestock, the vet options for sick or injured chickens is very different than what is available for dogs and cats. Have you ever heard of a chicken vet? Chances are, it’s going to be hard to find one! This means that it’s important that you educate yourself on how to properly care for your backyard flock. You will want to understand how to care for common illnesses, injuries and how to prevent internal and external parasites. Monthly health checks are a great idea!
Question 5: Couldn’t I buy eggs for cheaper?
Let’s be very clear: you don’t get backyard chickens to save money on eggs. There is a reason that factory farms exist and that’s to produce the cheapest product possible, even if it’s at the expense of the animals, workers and environment. So, if you want to do it right, you aren’t going to save money. But the quality and taste of fresh eggs from happy, healthy chickens can’t be beat! You will also have the opportunity to utilize the manure for your garden and the chickens will gladly help you control the bug population at your home! But the biggest benefit of raising chickens is being able to enjoy the animals while reducing your dependence on industrially-produced food!
Question 6: What breed of chicken is best?
This largely depends on what qualities you like most! If you want fun-sized chickens, check out bantam breeds which are smaller than standard sized chickens. I’m particularly fond of bantam cochins! They have wonderful personalities, although they tend to be broody (could be a good or bad thing depending on what you want) and they don’t lay eggs as consistently as many other breeds.
If you want chickens that lay colorful eggs, there are plenty of options! Easter eggers, Araucanas, Ameraucanas, and legbars (my personal favorites) are all great options. Marans and Welsummers both lay dark brown speckled eggs. And you can even get eggs with a pink tint if you decide to keep Barred Rocks and Light Sussex chickens!
There are a lot of different types of chickens available! Think about what factors are priorities for you (heat/cold tolerant, egg production, hardiness, size, personality, etc.) and find a breed that will meet those needs.
Question 7: Will I catch a disease from them?
Chickens carry diseases that you can catch, like Salmonella and E. Coli. So does lettuce and produce and a bunch of other things. Risks are everywhere. In my opinion, the benefits of keeping chickens far out-weigh the risks, and we take measures to make sure we keep our environment clean and healthy.
According to the CDC, chickens have been responsible for 70 salmonella outbreaks since 2000, which really isn’t that much in my opinion. It is important to remember to wash your hands after you handle your chickens or work with their coop, food, etc. And make sure your kiddos do the same! Above all, resist the urge plant a big ol’ smooch on those feathered cuties. Because, yes, they are cute. But they also have cooties.
Question 8: I’m scared to eat farm fresh eggs because I’m worried there might be a baby bird in it!
This is actually a surprisingly common concern! So let’s break it down: hens lay eggs, even if there isn’t a rooster present. These eggs are not fertile and will never become a baby bird. If there is a rooster, then there is a pretty high chance that the eggs are fertilized. Fertilized eggs can grow into baby chicks if all the conditions are right; otherwise, they are just eggs.
In order for an egg to turn into a chick, the egg has to incubated at around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. A humidity of around 60% will also need to be maintained throughout the 21 day incubation period. These are all really hard factors to get perfect! We have hatched multiple batches of chicks, both under a broody hen and in an incubator. Even with near-perfect conditions, a hatch rate of 60-70% is pretty good in my opinion. So the chances of an egg spontaneously producing a chick are about as high as my chances of getting a rose on The Bachelor. Collect your eggs daily and even if they are fertilized, you can be pretty confident that your eggs will not have baby chicks in them.
Question 9: Are chickens noisy and smelly?
Let’s start by addressing the smell issue. Chicken farms smell terrible, so I’m pretty sure that’s where the “smelly chicken” reputation came from. Chicken farms are often overcrowded and produce a large amount of manure. Backyard chickens, when kept in manageable numbers in a clean, well-ventilated environment, really are not smelly at all. Honestly, the only smelly thing I notice in my chicken yard is the fly trap. It smells much worse than any of the chickens!
As far as noise goes, I think that chickens (even roosters) are much quieter than a lot of people’s dogs. Roosters definitely crow (a sound I find rather endearing) and some crow more loudly and more often than others. Hens make the more familiar clucking or coo-ing noise. Some hens really like to “sing the song of their people” every day to declare that their egg-laying ventures were successful, but they are otherwise fairly quiet.
Be sure to check your city, county and neighborhood rules and regulations before keeping chickens. If it is allowed but you live near neighbors that have concerns about your tiny dinos, you can usually butter them up by sharing some of those delicious fresh eggs!
Question 10: Is it best to buy chicks or adult chickens?
This totally depends on what you want! When we first started our flock, we bought pullets (young hens) who started laying shortly after we got them. This was great because we got eggs right away and we didn’t have to invest in the supplies needed to raise young chicks.
Raising your chickens from chicks is especially helpful if you want your chicken to be very social and friendly since you can handle them from a young age. Regardless of what you decide, make sure that your chickens come from a responsible and knowledgeable chicken owner and that they are healthy, happy chickens!
What other questions do you have about owning chickens? Drop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them!