Five things I wish I had known before I had chickens. Well, there could be about a thousand…but here are my top five. Which may or may not be useful to you if you’re embarking on a chicken rearing adventure. Lots of people have lots to say about the right and wrong way to raise or keep chickens. In my opinion, well, a lot of them are just as full of fertilizer as the chickens themselves.
- Chickens will eat anything. Including chicken. Yes, chickens are omnivores. Meaning they will eat whatever is opportune. Including, but not limited to, chicken feed, any other feed known to man, (except rabbit pellets, oddly enough), any kitchen scraps, grass, bugs, worms, eggs, fruit, veggies, weeds, seeds, nuts, berries, other birds, each other, your shoelaces, and should you fall down in the coop and not move for an extended period, even you. I used to feel like I was promoting cannibalism or turning my flock into little Dahmer chickens by giving them leftover nuggets. Not anymore. Last year, I caught my sweet birdies rather effectively dispatching a sparrow that had inadvertently flown into the coop and couldn’t find his way out. After they fought over bits of him for a while, I figured my fears were probably unfounded. There is no such thing as mad chicken disease. Unless you live in the UK, in which case you guys have a weird law that says you can’t give your own kitchen scraps to your own chickens. However, I do stick with chick starter for my wee ones. They’re too cute to turn into cannibals yet.
2. You DO NOT NEED TEN NEST BOXES. Unless you have literally, dozens of hens. We have one coop that has twenty hens and a bank of ten nest boxes. They will fight each other dizzy over the same one or two, maximum, every single day. Not always the same ones, but each day there is one or two primary targets for egg dropping. Never mind that there are eight with fresh shavings and not a hen in sight, they want the one that is currently full of someone’s feathered butt, and no other will do. Apparently it is the first hen to decide she’s ready to commence clucking out an egg that makes the decision on exactly which box will be fought over today. And there is no word on what, exactly qualifies that first box, but suddenly it is to all the other hens what Louis Vuitton is to ladies shoes. So when the nice feed store guy tells you you need a full bank of ten nest boxes for your dozen hens, he’s lying, because it’s his job to sell you bigger, more expensive crap than you really need. As a matter of fact, one of our coops has an old tire for a nest box, and one has a dog kennel cab that lost its door. The one we’re building has repurposed cut down 5 gal. buckets for nest boxes. Anything you can put bedding in, that has a lip to insure the eggs don’t roll out…POOF! It’s a nest box.
3. Your rooster is, at some point, going to act like a rooster. I know, I know… you have raised him from hatch, he rides on your shoulder and gives kisses and understands 47 human words and phrases by your count. I’ve been there. Give your precious boy some time…and some hens. At some point, he will commence crowing. No matter how friendly he is, at some point he will feel the need to assert himself, especially in the presence of other chickens. Do not be as surprised as I was when your precious hatchling suddenly fires all 12 pounds of his substantial feathered mass directly at your face when all you’re trying to do is fill the waterer. The good news is, no one in history has ever been killed by a chicken under normal circumstances. One idiot in 2011 apparently bled out after having an artery severed by his fighting rooster, who had a blade attached to his leg for the purposes of the illegal cockfight, but that’s pure Darwinism if you ask me.
4.Yes, you DO need a rooster. If you can have one. This only applies to folks like me, who do not reside in suburbia or in a neighborhood that has kindly agreed to allow you to keep 6 hens, no roosters, etc. Now a hen will lay eggs in exactly the same manner without one, they just won’t be fertile. If you live in a rural or “country” area…I highly recommend a rooster or several. Unless your coop is the chicken equivalent of Fort Knox, you will, at some point, have a predator try and scope it out for a free meal. Now, while a rooster may not discourage something larger and more determined, like a coyote or fox (or your neighbor’s beagle) I have seen them run off things that will make an easy meal of eggs, young birds or even full grown hens. (Opossum, Raccoon, even RATS, feral cats, snakes, etc. ) This isn’t a guarantee, your rooster may turn out to be a total bag of apathy or just decide to save his own skin…but it sure helps.
5.Roosters only crow in the morning. Erm…no. False. Lies. They will crow at dawn, midnight, noon, 3 AM, 8 PM, or, in short, whenever they flipping feel like it. Sometimes they crow just to hear themselves do it. Additionally, for you folks with the anti-rooster HOA or community laws or regulations here’s a cool factoid. Some hens crow, too. Yep, transgender chickens. Sometimes, due to either a hormonal imbalance or in a flock lacking a rooster, a hen will sometimes take on the role of a rooster. She will crow, keep watch, assume the role of protector, and may even go as far as to occasionally try to mate with her fellow hens.
All in all, there’s only so much research a person can do. Chickens are fun. They make eggs, and when they stop making eggs they make pot pies and soup if you’re not anti-meat. They’re entertaining and they can all have individual personalities. You’re probably overthinking the whole chicken raising thing, because in all honesty, if you open the door to the coop right now, they will walk right out and survive quite well of their own volition until they drop dead of natural causes or are eaten by something higher up the food chain, whichever comes first.
The chickens are probably taking themselves far less seriously than we are.