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Backyard Chicken Facts - 5 Things No One Told Us

8/19/2011 5:22:18 PM

Tags: chicken facts, chicken keeping, poultry facts, laying chickens, owning chickens, raising chickens, backyard chicken, Victoria Gazeley

 Our backyard chickens are now 12 weeks old and are well on their way to being full fledged layers.  We're still a ways from collecting fresh eggs every morning, but they look happy and healthy and, well, just 'right' wandering around the yard.  Now it feels like a real homestead!

But there have been a few surprises along the way - some of them pleasant, some not so much.  Here are a few things we've learned that might help you as you decide whether or not to get chickens for your backyard.

#1.  Backyard Chickens are Poop Machines

 OK, I knew chickens produced a lot of manure, but I really didn't realize how much.  Apparently, it's about 45 pounds per hen, per year.  So for us, that's 45 lb x 15 hens = 675 pounds of poop.  Pardon me, but holy cr*p! 

Now that our 15 girls are out ranging in the yard most of the day, it's not so much of an issue.  Except that we can't walk outside barefoot anymore (not that we really did anyway).  But much of that ends up in the coop, as they spend upwards of 12 hours a day there, and will be more as the days get shorter.  So what to do with all that high-nitrogen manure?  Put it this way - I'm building a new composter!  You can also make something called manure tea - you can find chicken manure tea instructions here.  Essentially, you can take care of a good chunk of your vegetable garden's nitrogen requirements with your chickens' well-composted manure.  Pretty efficient, huh? 

I've heard from others about the fact that their chickens pooped all over everything - furniture, vehicles, porches... you name it.  So far, we're working on 'aversion training' to try to teach them what's off limits for perching and pooping, and we have no manure on anything other than the ground.  I know some of you are probably rolling on the floor laughing right now, but I'm sticking to the plan.  I'll let you know how it goes...

#2.  They Come Running When They Think You Have Yummies

I have to admit, I never really thought of chickens as pets but livestock.  But when they all come running when I walk outside, it's pretty darned cute.  Of course, it could have something to do with the fact that they associate my presence with yummy snacks like canteloupe and fresh lettuce.  But still...

#3. They Put Themselves to Bed at Night

This one really surprised me.  I thought we'd have to be rounding them up at night if they were out ranging during the day, but that shows how much I knew about chickens!  Turns out the term 'return to the roost' is actually a real thing.  Come a certain light level, the chicks turn tail and trot on into the coop to settle in for the night.  Who knew?  Well, lots of people, but it was a really pleasant surprise to me.  You gotta like pets that that walk themselves, put themselves to bed AND provide you with breakfast.

#4.  They're Intensely Curious

I'm amazed daily by the hens' curiosity at just about everything in their environment.  Watching them hop up and down to pick huckleberries, listening to them peck at various materials for the sounds they make (like the downspouts on the house - ladies, there are no bugs there), and seeing them explore various ground textures and materials.  They really are quite fascinating to watch.  But of course, this can work to your detriment, particularly if your hens are restrained in a small run or tractor.  When bored and unable to access a varied environment, chickens can begin a slow slide into anti-social behaviour: pecking at each other, fighting... you get the picture.  Something like siblings stuck in a long car trip.  Just transfer, 'Mom, Maya hit me again!' to poultry and you'll get the picture, but with blood.  If your hens do need to be cooped up, one of our Facebook friends, Evy, has some super ideas to help keep them occupied: 

  • Dissolve unflavored gelatin in warm water in a pie pan or plastic container according to the package directions, place a length of string long enough to dangle out and be tied to something, then fill with molasses, grains, cracked corn, sunflower seeds, etc.  Finally, pour in the gelatin (making sure the string reaches out of the container), cover it with cellophane (pull string through the center) and put it in the fridge to set.  Once it's read, pop it out and watch the show!
  • Attach frozen bagels or firm boiled noodles on string and hang them from the coop or run ceiling at hen-head height.
  • Popsicles work great as a diversion, especially in the hot weather.  They love it!

The key is to ensure they don't get bored and start to turn on each other.  Chicken psychology - fascinating...

#5.  They Like Lullabies

We have this one hen (her name happens to be 'Lucky', thanks to my son), who falls asleep at the hum of a lullaby.  So cute, and quite interesting.  Singing to chickens - how can it get any better than that?  Of course, I just heard that chickens will fall asleep if you put them on their backs, and Lucky is just tame enough to let him do it.  Should I tell him?

The Wrap-Up

So far, our chicken raising adventure has been pretty uneventful.  Alongside our chicken co-parents, we've raised them from day-old chicks to the young ladies I see running around the yard today.  Their voices have just changed, and they no longer sound like chicks, but full fledged hens.  They seem happy and healthy, curious and balanced.  The things we've learned that no one told us have all been really pleasant revelations, actually, but it does go to show that there is no learning like practical experience.

That said, I'm sure I'll be able to write another 'things no one told us' when they start laying!

Do you have any chicken tips or factoids you can share?  If so, please do so in the comments below!



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Post a comment below.

 

cindy.maier
6/8/2013 2:48:44 PM

I had chickens for years and absolutely LOVED them.  I miss them, but thank goodness, I am moving soon to a place where I can have them again.  Did you know that chickens will stop laying in the winter because of shorter days?  The remedy is to put a (red heat lamp) light out at their coop that comes on in the evenings.  It will trick them into thinking it's still laying season.  Just wanted to share that tip, in case you didn' know.  


DEB FITZGERALD
10/2/2012 12:29:55 AM
One thing I'm learning with my 24 week old rhode island reds is that they don't all start laying eggs at one time! I get 1 egg daily from one hen, another egg every other day from another and just recently a 3rd hen started laying just not predicatably!! I thought if they were all hatched at the same time they would all lay at once... but I guess not... still it's fun to find any amount of eggs!!!

Jen Whitham
9/29/2012 10:49:34 AM
I have 3 pet girls and I put ground protection down which is from the scrap yard a 2meter square of chain fencing and pieces of plastic lattice. I find that I can plant in these, the girls do a daily bug wander and don't scratch up the vegies. When the patch is finished up comes the ground protection and they till the soil for me. They have their own tomatoes etc that they can eat and they just de-bug mine. They are also toilet trained - yes really!! Just keep in mind that the tummy to outlet is a direct root with very quick results, so I have old towels I put down for them and there is a great fluffle of feathers and a mad dash and very few misses. Have also found that they are a great alarm system alerting me of anyone new entering or anything strange... fire, water leaks etc. Can fully recommend them as a pet that gives something back! (the breeds I have is a Rhode Is cross, a DUccle bantum cross and a bitsa)

KORRINA
9/26/2012 11:23:55 PM
Cayenne might not work.... It's actually added to songbird suet & some bird seed blends to 'squirrel-proof' them because birds can't taste hot peppers. (I don't know if chickens are different than small birds in this respect) Also. be careful putting cayenne on ANY pet or livestock, as it gets stuck on moist tissue, like eyes and noses. Have you ever got hot pepper juice on yourself during cooking? Now imagine being a critter that can't blow it's nose (when it sniffs the powder) or get something out of it's eyes.... So please be careful, as the active ingredient in HOT PEPPERS CAN CAUSE CHEMICAL BURNS if not washed off... ( Although I do use this trick to keep destructive squirrels/chipmunks from digging up flower bulbs)

JOYCE MEYER
9/26/2012 9:49:33 PM
Something else you may not have ever heard: We had "gentlemen" Roosters. Not only were they gentle, they would locate the good edibles and then make a fuss about it ..scratching and calling all the hens. Then either of them would stand back and let the girls eat their fill. Samson (Buff Orpington) was like that and so was Big Red (Amerucana). Samson also took on a fox...twice. And after my husband dispatched the fox (long story) Samson got up next to it, scratched and scuffed up dirt on it, gave a little crow and fluttered his wings. We only ever had one "bad" rooster...he was just mean...a Silver Spangled Hamburg. Max would p.o. the hens and Samson would go and whoop on him. Max also tried to run up behind me and spur my legs. I heard all this rucous behind me and Samson was up on top of Max. Max was sent to a new home. (No, I don't mean heaven...he was just given to a friend that didn't have critters that Max would bother.) I was very proud of "my boys" and I sure do miss them!

Silk
11/15/2011 1:41:45 AM
Try shaking some cayenne pepper on the chicken who gets attacked. The bad taste may keep the other hens away from her. I've heard that works with your dogs and barn cats, too. None of them like the taste of that hot pepper, and it does not harm the bird! I have not personally tried this, but it's worth a shot! Good luck!

Jo Leach
10/20/2011 2:33:53 PM
I have been thinking about getting chickens just for the poop. My husband wants the eggs, and maybe a couple of fryers. As long as he is cleaning them, ok by me. lol Would an area 30' by 30' under the big old pine tree be ok? It would be mostly shaded and it is next to my garden so it would be easy for me to toss things into the pen. I was thinking a rooster and 4 hens. Can anyone give me some advice on this? I live in southern Ohio, so we do freeze in the winter, but summers can hit 90 frequently.

Vikki Walton
9/30/2011 2:23:20 PM
Our friendlier chickens are those we've raised from chicks. They let us pet them, they come up to us, they read us the riot act when we make them get out of the coop if they're broody. The ones we got that are older are more skittish. So if you want layers quickly get the older ones, but if you want to bond more, get the chicks and get them used to you picking them up, etc.

Vikki Walton
9/30/2011 2:18:59 PM
Agree with Mary. However, chickens are very much a group animal. I suggest you put in at least one or two that don't attack her so that they can snuggle together. Then when they all go together she has a "back-up" team. We had a chick once that was like that and it ended up dying when we placed it apart from the others. It had the same light, warmth, food and water.

Vikki Walton
9/30/2011 2:15:31 PM
We can't keep roosters in the city. And even though I have chickens I wouldn't want a rooster. We purchased a few Ameracuna's recently and they had the bare backs from too many roosters. We took their first batch of eggs and marked them. Since we had a few broody hens we allowed them to sit on them. In a month, six chicks of which four survived. That's the best way to get chicks for me.

ANN CARLISLE
9/30/2011 12:51:47 PM
Paul, if you free range, you can forget about your lawn...your flower beds...your garden... I've given up keeping the mulch in the flower beds and can only hope that the dust bowls in the yard kinda repair themselves this winter!

PAUL BLIER
9/30/2011 2:07:23 AM
The chicken tractor is something I'm very interested in. I am however concerned with an increase in weeds on the lawn. Can you wiser folks advise me on this? I really take pride in my lawn.

Jim Morris
9/29/2011 1:37:37 PM
Careful with the strings. We had one of our orpingtons swallow 30" of a 36" shoe lace. We managed to carefully pull out all but the last 6 -8 inches before we hit resistance - we cut the string off at that point and the girl did fine - may have been able to pass the entire string but . . . .

Mary Everette La Rue
9/29/2011 8:16:25 AM
Try putting her in with the other chickens after they have gone to roost. If they wake up with her they are less likely to turn on her. If that doesn't work try putting her in the pen with a fence between them and after a few days put her on the roost with them.

RANDY BAKER
9/29/2011 5:01:05 AM
I live in semi-rural San Diego and lot's of folks have chickens. It's beautiful when done right. I have one crazy neighbor that just let his chickens roost in a tree at night. I don't know what was worse ... hearing the sounds of coyotes tearing the hens up in the middle of the night or their rooster crowing at every little peep and headlight. Rocky, a Rhode Island Red Roosted high in the tree and eventually turned everyone nearby into sleep deprived zombies. He'd crow about 40 times an hour from sundown to sunset. The county came out and measured the cumulative noise from him at, and I quote, "freeway equivalent". Something like 75 decibels. His crows were much louder than that ... that was just the average noise with the periods of quiet averaged in. I likened it to water drip torture. Just when you were getting off to sleep he'd go off. Long story short, the owner got arrested and paid lots of $$$ in legal fees. The DA dropped the charges at my suggestion when he agreed to build them a secure coop. Which I'd offered to do for him at the git go. Silly prideful man. So not so much an animal problem as it was a human problem. Did I mention Rocky used to have his way with all their ducks too and they were none too happy about it. Rocky has since passed and I miss him ... once he got a coop he was fine. Moral: rooster need a place to crash too.

Marcie W
9/29/2011 2:06:50 AM
Another note - since Bea has a raised comb, we will have to put petroleum jelly (Vaseline) on it when the weather changes and we get a freeze but Rosie's comb is flat so she is probably safe. We get a lot of advice from reading different things online and one of the best is from mypetchicken.com I am fascinated at how the chickens know the safety thing, it's bred into them I guess, like how young birds know where to migrate south to find their winter shelter when their parents have already left. Instinct, that's got to be it.

Sharon Sinclair
9/28/2011 11:49:52 PM
Great article. I did not know about the hens going to sleep when you turn them on there back. However I did notice that when I catch a hen for some reason or other . I found they just lay still when you have them on there back. No trying to escape. I have the issue with them being bored and pecking each other. So I have been removing the victims till they heal. The problem is how to re introduce them to the rest of the ladies. I tried and they just zeroed in on her to start pecking her. Last time they had pecked her whole backend to a bloody nub. It is all better with some TLC on our part and the feathers have grown back and she looks good. So how to get her back and then see if she will start laying eggs again.

Mary Burch
9/28/2011 9:54:52 PM
Some other things you may not have been told-- Hens sing when they are happy. It is a very different sound from announcing an egg, or following someone after food. I find it a very calming sound. Also, they like to lay eggs where others lay. That is why the old timers used to put a wooden egg or two in a nest box. It encourages them to lay there. It is a big help when you have one of those hens who moves her nest every time the eggs are collected. When you want to put new chickens in an established flock, do it at night. If the chickens wake up together, they all get along. But if you put some in during the day, they are liable to get pecked to death. So keep them caged until everyone goes to bed, then set the newcomers on the roost with the others.

Robert Lee
9/28/2011 8:37:26 PM
I, too, was pleased to see the birds go up at night. However, if you want to get them up before they are ready, I've discovered a pretty neat and easy trick. You can herd chickens with a squirt gun! All you have to do is get on one side of the flock, they are usually together, and start squirting near them and they start moving. Walk slowly toward the hen house or enclosed area squirting to either side of them as they go to guide them in. After doing this a few times now all i have to do is start pumping up the squirt gun and they start heading that way. Very easy.

Carol Haney
9/28/2011 6:26:59 PM
We live so far back in the woods we can not even see another house. We have chickens, guineas and ducks along with a few kittys and dogs. We like watching "chicken football" my husband calls it. One bird be they large or small will find a grub or a small snake to big to gobble up quickly. They run with it in order to have it for themselves but there is a herd of birds on their tail. Another bird will grab it and run the other way and so on.. Hillarious.

Holly Buker
9/28/2011 5:49:16 PM
I've had chickens for 5 years now, and they never cease to entertain me! Had I known how comical they were, I would have had them years ago when I lived in a suburban area, to heck with the city ordanances! (just kidding) To really increase the entertainment factor, add a rooster to the flock. Not only are they a much happier & busy flock, but they are much more protected as well. I live in a very rural area – bears, fishercats, foxes & coyotes abound. Neighbors loose hens all the time – in broad daylight. They don’t have a rooster because they don’t like the rooster “bothering” the girls. Fact is, roosters do much to protect the flock. My hens scratch out areas in the dirt in some shady spot during the day. While they snooze, the rooster stays alert and warns of anything nearby. While neighbors loose entire flocks within weeks, I loose an occasional hen a couple of times a year. Roosters will also scratch up worms, bugs, etc., call for the girls, rarely eating it himself. They’ll rush to eat whatever he has found, although admittedly, this is often when he chooses to “jump” one of them. If they were that bothered by it, I doubt they’d come running every time he calls.

Ann Carlisle
9/28/2011 3:58:31 PM
Very nice article. We learned some of this as we went along, too. I've got 3 girls who have special places to lay in our garage; the other 15 lay in the nesting boxes in the barn. Don't expect them to change their habits once they decide where to lay! If they can't get to their favorite place, they will drop their egg as close to it as they can get. When they start to lay, be sure to give them plenty of privacy. We found out they don't really like us watching them.

RODNEY BOYETTE
9/28/2011 3:09:26 PM
Great article and I enjoyed it very very much. It was both educational and entertaining. Just what I was looking for.

Maddy
9/28/2011 2:19:35 PM
Loved the article - very cute. Makes me think I could raise a couple/three chickens someday. I had a friend that raised a chick as a pet. It would come when you called and loved to have its head scratched and would pop up to sit in her lap. Adorable! I think I'm on my way to becoming a vegetarian.

Victoria Gazeley
8/25/2011 2:32:43 PM
Elda, I love your hydroponics set-up. That's a ways off for us, but it's on my list of projects for next spring. And, Marian, as for having a rooster, I love your testimonial! Definitely on the books for next spring... Thanks for stopping by and sharing your stories - I always learn something BIG!! :)

Elda
8/24/2011 6:12:49 PM
I have set up a green house with raised beds for hydroponics. I use chicken manure tea that I heat to 165 degrees in the water that is circulated through the grow beds. The water never touches the leaves it stays about a inch below the rock level. It is like a jungle now. I am hoping I can keep greens growing through winter. I have squash just starting to make flowers and some little squash. I think if I keep the compost under the grow beds they will keep them warm in winter. I only circulate the water while the sun is up and hope to convert that system to solar this winter.

Marian
8/20/2011 3:56:30 PM
Like you I noted a couple weeks ago, when my hens turned appx. 12 weeks, the new tone to thier "voices". I also noted their waddles on their necks getting longer. Soooo close to morning fresh eggs! This is my second flock and they only number three. (plenty for us to be sure) But next year I plan to add one more hen and, a rooster. I really miss a rooster, although I know I don't need him for the girls! I just want to be able to get some chicks and give the girls a bit more protection if they are away from the coop. My last rooster never lost a hen! He came out of the egg a pro, pecking at every intrusion! Saved them more than once from racoons and 'possums. Such a brave bird! I will be having some extra special chicken stories next spring then. Trying to almalgamate new chicks to the existing connections of these three special ladies!










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