Everything I Wanted to Know About Chickens But Was Afraid to Ask

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Everything I Wanted to Know about Chickens...but was afraid to askThis June will mark the one year anniversary of our life with chickens. 

It has been such a rewarding experience that in  two weeks we will be receiving our second batch of day old chicks including a young roo. 

If I have learned anything about chickens in this past  year it is this: chickens are not complicated.  They are the easy-to-grow perennials of farm animals.  Give them what they need, set them out, and they will flourish for months and years to come.

In my initial research a few years ago however, I  would repeatedly come across a series of terms, tips, and suggestions that came from sources assuming I knew what they were.  I didn’t. 

I also had questions about some of the very basics about raising chickens. Basics like, what should they eat?  and how do I get them into the coop? 

All of this info was so elementary, but to someone who had never seen a chicken up close and personal, it was info about which I had no idea.  And I was too embarrassed, too afraid to speak up and ask.  

So, if you are in the same boat and considering chickens for the very first time, here are just a few of those very basic things I would have found helpful to know: 

What is a Pullet?

I saw this term frequently in books, magazines, catalogs, blogs and websites. This one is simple: A pullet is a young female chicken.  Some sources say she is less than a year old, some say a young female who has yet to go through her first molting phase. The important thing to remember though is young and female.

What Does Straight Run Mean?

This was a term I saw a lot when looking at hatcheries online.   A straight run is a mix of male and female hatched birds.  Unless you are an expert at sexing chickens, there is no way to tell which is which until the birds begin to feather out and the roosters start to crow.  If you have no preference as to hens or roosters a straight run should suit just fine.  If you just want to start with female birds, order or ask for “pullets”.

What is a Meat Bird?

I thought a chicken was a chicken.  I quickly learned that there are laying breeds, meat breeds, and dual-purpose breeds that can be used for meat after they have slowed down in laying. 

The meat birds however are typically a hybrid bred specifically for the purpose of eating.  We are just trying our first batch this spring so I cannot speak directly from experience but from what I understand: the hybrid meat bird is a different breed altogether.  They don’t roost, they don’t really scratch and peck; they eat.  And when they are done eating, they’ll eat some more.  They fatten up quickly and are processed at eight weeks. 

If you choose to raise a dual purpose breed, don’t think that you can butcher a hen in the morning and enjoy a tender roast bird for dinner.  While she may be nice and fat, the older the bird, the tougher the meat.  We have yet to cull our hens but from what I have learned in visiting with other homesteaders, these are the birds you want to prepare in a pressure cooker and serve in a pie or as a stew. 

What do i feed my chicks?

Young chicks, like human infants, cannot process “adult” bird food.  I use Scratch and Peck products that I purchase through Azure Standard.  For about the first eight weeks we use a starter feed, then graduate them to a grower feed formulated for birds at that age. When they get to be about twenty weeks old(ish) and approach laying, they can be switched to a layer feed.  I will also only offer snacks such as scratch and meal worms in moderation.

How Do I Move Them To the Coop?

The “when” was pretty obvious.  At four weeks they had feathered out and outgrown their brooder; but I wasn’t sure how to do it.  After reading, deliberating, agonizing, and visiting with my chicken keeping friends it was simple.  We just took them out to the coop one evening and popped them in.  They were fine.  They didn’t seem to want to roost right away, but they stayed in the coop and learned that it was home.

chickens coop at night

Until I was comfortable allowing the girls to completely free-range, we housed them in a tractor outside or in the protection of a fenced in chicken yard.  At “bedtime”  I would frantically try to round them up or retrieve them  and physically put them in the coop.  One night, while they were ranging in their yard, I didn’t have the time to get them right at “bedtime”.  When I went out, I discovered they had marched in at sundown completely on their own.  They know on their own when the day is over and it is time to head for home. 

Do you have chickens?  What advice would you give to a newbie?

 

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Everything I Wanted to Know About Chickens But Was Afraid to Ask — 10 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for this great information. We just moved to a new home and our neighbors behind us have chickens and the nursery/farmers market about 10 mins down the road sells baby chicks (which we stopped in to recently). My niece in Montana also has chickens and knows quite a bit as we are thinking about getting some ourselves but want to do some research before we leap right into it as we have a bunch of projects we want to work on first with our home. Owning chickens has been something I have been thinking about for the last couple of years.

      • Another thing your WILL learn is chicken math…..so build a coop way bigger than for the chicks you are planning to get.. if you are going to get 4….build one big enough for 8, etc. because next spring, you will be wanting a “few” more maybe of different kinds…..and for heavens sake….build the coop first…..remember the roosts, nesting boxes, decisions on bedding, ventilation, predator proofing, ….and have fun.

  2. What a great post! We can easily forget what it’s like to be a newbie. I love your illustrations.

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  4. Great post. I think my biggest unanswered question is about the culling. I haven’t been able to find anyone near me who does processing and I’m trying to jump into this on my own with a suburban background and no one near me with info – My husband is hesitating on getting into it until we know what we’re supposed to do with the chickens when it’s time to put them down. I know nothing about the slaughter or preparation (“plucking” has been part of my vocabulary forever but it’s such an abstract idea!) and it’s *not* easy information to find. if you do a follow up to this post, I’d suggest putting something about there about the gross and dirty parts (cleaning the coop, sick chickens, etc…) that seems to be so difficult to find information on!

    • checkout featherman,net and their videos on youtube. They also have a list of people in your area (hopefully) that are willing to rent equipment.

  5. I would like to add, that if you just want a chicken for eggs. You won’t need a rooster. Also look into the different breeds of chickens a well. Some are frequent layers while others aren’t. There are Sex-Link varieties that lay everyday as that is what they were bred for.
    If you like different looking, check out a photo of Turkens a.k.a. Naked Neck. They have no feathers on their neck.

    We have children and they love the hens. We have 2 mini Bantams, one large Bantam, a regular size black hen and two big red ones. Know that they won’t always get along together just as siblings, but they will be ok.
    Plus always make sure your coops and tractors are predator proof. Raccoons, Opossums, Hawks and the occasional cat are all sure to try their hand at getting one a taste.

    One more thing is they do have individual personalities which makes it fun to watch and listen. We love our girls. I grew up with chickens as a child, but never cared much until now I have our own as an adult and parent.