Chicken 101: Misc. Things We've Learned About Raising Chickens


Of course, it's our humble opinion that everyone should raise chickens. We just have so much fun with ours. We purchased our first flock of layers last summer to raise as pets, although eventually we hope to additionally raise chickens for meat. We just don't have that mind-set yet. We had purchased 11 started pullets and 1 cockerel. If you're considering purchasing your own, we thought we'd share a few things we learned throughout our "rookie year" that we didn't find in the books.
They are:
1. Veterinarians - perhaps I was na├»ve, but I believed getting medical help for any chicken concerns would be as simple as dialing my vet that we use for the cats. Not necessarily so. We have a wonderful vet who cares tremendously about our cats. She doesn't, however, have any experience dealing with chickens. When we had a chicken suddenly showing signs of severe upper respiratory problems we didn't know where to turn. Prior to purchasing your chickens you may want to call around to your local veterinarians to seek out someone you can consult with in case you are faced with a severe medical issue. Find out if they would require you to bring the chicken in, or if they could just give consultation over the phone based on symptoms. The only person around that I was able to find who had knowledge of poultry was an exotic bird vet….with exotic prices. She wanted me to catch all 4 pullets who were now coughing and sneezing and bring them to her office. It didn't happen. It was a 90 degree hot and humid summer day and the chickens had only been in our care for a few weeks. Being picked up was not anywhere near the top of their list for enjoyment, as chasing them around a small, smelly coop in the heat was not at the top of mine. I took one chicken. My vet that we use for the cats has since told us that she would help in any way that she can as long as we understand that she's not an expert in poultry. Boy do we love Dr. Lori!!

2. Medications - I had believed we would never give our flock antibiotics, so I didn't bother looking for sources of medications. Well, it all changes when you have a chicken gasping for air. We were faced with a decision and decided to administer antibiotics. The problem was - where do we get the medications? The veterinarian is a great source, but not if you're going to diagnose on your own. There are many companies out there and I would suggest familiarizing yourself with sources prior to the time when you urgently need them, which brings the next dilemma. Do you purchase a "general" antibiotic to keep on hand for the "just in case" times, or do you wait to see if they're ever needed? We had to pay overnight shipping in order to get a medication in a timely manner. I am now keeping a few basics on hand - a general antibiotic that can be added to drinking water, electrolytes for the summer heat and an herbal-based liquid (Vet RX) for coughing and sneezing that I've had great success with. (I've had good luck with the internet-based companies Randall Burkey and EggCartons.com)
3. Purchase of pullets - We chose to purchase pullets rather than chicks for two reasons: The first, we wouldn't have to figure out where to raise the chicks without other animals harming them (our cute Caity-bug was the main concern), and second, we only wanted a dozen birds. If you decide this is the route for you, there are a few places to look. There's the mail order companies that advertise in all poultry and small farm magazines, local farms, local Universities that have a poultry program, and we've also been told that the Cooperative Extension sometimes have birds for sale followng their chick-hatching program for elementary schools. Remember that pullets aren't typically as friendly as chicks if they haven't been held regularly. Ours are coming around…slowly. I had read about keeping chickens from more than one source quarantined, but neglected to do so. We've found it to be extremely important to find the space to do this wherever you can. We purchased Plymouth Barred Rocks from a farmer in Connecticut and Araucana's from the University of Connecticut. We didn't have the room to keep the two groups separate so we did lose one pullet to pneumonia. We've since been fighting upper respiratory concerns in the others, but I think we're finally winning our battle. Also, if you purchase pullets or full-grown birds, check for mites and lice. When we realized we had them it took a couple of treatments to get rid of them. It was suggested that we give them all a bath. We started and ended with Clyde (see the archived "Clyde's Day At the Spa" story in the "chickens" section to the right). He had his day at the spa, and unfortunately the girls are still waiting for theirs. Perhaps in the Spring.

4. Keeping busy - Our chickens are not free range because of our fear that the neighborhood dogs might decide chicken sounds good for lunch. Instead, our flock has an indoor and an outdoor coop and Jay is building a chicken tractor this Spring. Because they don't have the ability to cruise thru the backyard all day, they get bored. I found that suet holders are a wonderful and inexpensive way to house greens, and it keeps them busy as they're pecking away at the food inside. Additionally, freezing lettuce and greens into ice seems to be intriguing and keeps them out of trouble.
5. Nothing is off limits - We've found that to a chicken, if it's accessible, then it's theirs for the taking. Jay built a beautiful chicken coop with two beautiful roosts, a shelf for storage of straw, wood chips and food and a window with a ledge by the roof for ventilation. Guess where they chose to sleep? You've got it, the shelf and the ledge. We've made it so they can no longer enjoy either, because where they sleep they also defecate which means quite a mess. Jay felt so bad for them he built an additional shelf that's easier to get at for cleaning. They're quite spoiled.

6. Dust - Chickens LOVE to dig. Where there are chickens there will be lots and lots of dust.

7. Do they smell? This is the most frequently asked question. The answer is "it depends". If you clean the coop regularly (we clean every morning) then no. I think you could even do every 2 days and be ok with this. At night, wherever they roost there is going to be a lot of "fertilizer". Scoop it out and throw it in your compost pile. I've had many people comment that they're so surprised that the coop doesn't smell.

8. Wood chips - It seems that whatever book you read, each author has a different opinion about the coop "litter". They all seem to agree that it should be wood chips, but they seem to disagree on which type. We've had very good luck with pine. It's also important to try to find a larger style of wood chip so there's less dust.

9. Are they easy to take care of? This seems to be the second most popular question we're asked and the answer is absolutely yes. They love attention, are very curious, and appreciate special treats from time to time. They are really easy going and the only trouble we've had is with the ongoing upper respiratory issues.

All in all, if you can arm yourself with a few good books and do a little research prior, it really is a great experience. We have a lot of fun with ours, and what's better than farm fresh eggs? They love to send us off with well wishes for the day in the morning (including numerous cock-a-doodle-doos from Clyde) and greet us when we get home at night. Chickens are very social and love attention. They would chat with me all day if they could. Our rooster, Clyde, is a wonderful boy and adds a bit of balance to the coop, but if you've got close neighbors or don't want the noise, don't get a rooster.

14 comments:

Flat Creek Farm said...

I commented on this the other day. I swear I did! But for some reason me and the comment thingie don't always get along :) Anyhoo, thanks so much for more great info. I will refer back to this soon, for sure. You've also reinforced my recent thoughts that I should probably buy pullets and not baby chicks (although the babies are pulling at my heartstrings!). Simply would be too much danger around here - with our barn kitties and all. Great info.. thank you again! -Tammy

Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Thanks so much Tammy for such a nice comment. I know the pull between purchasing those adorable baby chicks or the cute pullets. We struggled with it as well. Claire has finally been consistently laying on 2 eggs so maybe we'll have a baby or 2!

Mark said...

Thank you for great insight into keeping chickens. By the way I am interested to see you prefer woodchip as bedding. I tend to prefer straw, mainly because it rots down better in the compost. But I guess that's just personal preference isn't it

Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Mark,
Yes, I agree with you as far as the straw composting better. We used straw in the first coop and found it to be harder to clean on a daily basis. If I had free-range chickens who were only inside to roost I'd probably consider it, but I have "cooped" chickens who are in and out all day, so I feel the need to scoop the poop every day. The smaller woodchips compost better than the larger, but we've had too much sneezing with the smaller ones. It's all about the chickens!!!
Thanks for your input! It definitely does come down to personal preference.
-Staci

Cheryl @ The Farmer's Daughter said...

Hi, I came over from Verde Farms. I've enjoyed this post. I've been trying to talk hubby into getting some chickens to put somewhere on our 6 acres, but no such luck yet. But I know where to go if I need some good info on them! I'll be your newest follower, because I will love to come back and read more. Have a good weekend! ~Cheryl

Dorth said...

I started raising chickens about 2 years ago and I enjoy them also. They are easy to raise. I use hay or straw in the coop because it composts easily and is very absorbant. We live in Michigan, so we have cold weather and snow. The composting straw adds heat to the coop. I leave all the matter in there and throw fresh straw over the top. We only have 2 birds right now. We did have 3.

I spoke with several local farmers and their advice was to clean the coop in spring and fall which is what I did. I did have to clean it a little early in the spring because of the ammonia in the coop and then more thoroughly in spring when the weather broke. My coop does not smell. What I take out is partially composted already. I throw fresh straw on top of the old stuff. I found this advice in books I read as well. So far, so good.

The girls also have a garden in addition to their coop. They are partially protected by fences and the shrubs overhead. They love the garden except they won't go out in the snow. In snowy weather they keep themselves "cooped up".

I have not had any illness yet. Did have an attack by a wild animal who got our favorite girl- so sad. I plan to get pullets this spring.

flowerweaver said...

I found you on Farm Friend Friday, and I raise rare breed chickens. I would agree on most of your points especially about the vets and antibiotics when needed. Our two coops are so large we only clean them twice a month, and that's about when the smell begins. Always go with your nose! We start with chicks because we work with them from day one and they become very tame. I'm trying to gentle down a couple of new, grown roosters I got for my breeding program and it's been a challenge! I hope you will stop by for a 'visit'!

Cindy Irene said...

Wonderful article. I'm so excited to become an Urban Chicken Farmer this Spring. Though once I read they can come with lice, that kind of freaked me out. :( Any more tips on that part of it? How do you treat it? Thanks again for sharing your experience. I've pinned you. :D

Angie... by the said...

Loved reading this article and I'm so glad to find your delightful blog! I have 11 adorable baby chicks growing faster than lightening in my kitchen as we speak. lol. I'm so in love with them, and they call for me all day to come hold them. :) We're half way thru with our coop. Went a little overboard with the design, but think we'll have 11 very happy girls when it's finished. Not a big farm here, just a city lot that we call Juniper Hill Farm...I've wanted chickens forever so I'm thrilled it finally happened. ♥

Anonymous said...

Just read your very informative blog re: building your chix house. My question is; why do you put wood ash in the dusting "bin"?
Thanks, Shirley, Joplin, MO

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Shirley - thank you so much for the comment! Regarding the wood ash, yes, we put it in the dusting bin mixed with sand. Wood ash is supposed to help relieve lice and other creepy crawlies from the chickens.
Hope this helps!
Staci

Birgit said...

Love all the photos you enclose on your blog. I am in the midst of building a 8 x 6 (have insulated floor done) coop and I've picked up some additional ideas. Thanks for sharing.
My husband doesn't know I'm building a chicken coop as he would axe the project, once it's done I'll have to ask for forgiveness.

Thanks for sharing, hope to be clucking by the fall ��

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Birgit that is too funny! I can't believe your husband has no idea you're building the coop. You're right though, sometimes it's better to just do what will upset them and ask for forgiveness. :) I wish you the best!

Deanna Porter said...

Thank you for sharing such wonderful information. On Friday I purchase 6 chicks from my local farm store for egg laying purposes as well as pets. They were very helpful also. They are currently in a baby pool in my enclosed back porch while I clean and repair the previous owners coop. I will be adding a door to the hole that allows them access to the outdoor run thanks to your blog as well as many other suggestions. As a new chicken owner I will frequent your post for advice. I have parrot experience so I'm hoping that will help in raising my chicks; raised babies at one point also. Very appreciated, Deanna.