Chicken Keeping FAQ

(some of these Q&A are taken from MyPetChicken.com)

Do you need roosters for hens to lay eggs?
How often do chickens lay eggs?
Will owning pet chickens put me in violation of town ordinance?
Why do chickens lay different colored eggs?
Are brown eggs healthier than white eggs?
Will the eggs my chickens lay taste better than store-bought?
Will I save money by having chickens?
Can chickens fly?
Do chickens really “come home to roost”?
Will my neighbors be able to hear my chickens?
Will my neighbors be able to smell my chickens?
How big are chickens?
Is there really such a thing as a “pecking order”?
Can I have just one chicken?
What if one of my chickens gets sick or injured?
Do cats attack chickens?
Do you have to give chickens baths?
How long do chickens live?

Q: Do you need roosters for hens to lay eggs?
A: No. This is one of the most common misconceptions about chickens. Hens will lay eggs just as well in the absence of roosters. If roosters are present, however, the eggs may be fertilized!

Q: How often do chickens lay eggs?
A: That depends on three main factors:

  1. The breed of chicken. Some chickens are bred for meat production and lay few eggs; some are bred for egg production and can lay as often as once a day; some are bred as “dual purpose” and are good for both egg-laying and meat, although not optimal for either.
  2. The hen’s age. Hens start to lay at 4-5 months of age, and lay best during their first year. Each year after that their production decreases.
  3. The season. In the winter (with fewer daylight hours), egg production drastically decreases. High laying season is summer.

A healthy, young hen bred for egg-laying can lay almost an egg a day, and even our 3-year-old ladies still average that in the spring and summer.

Q: Will owning pet chickens put me in violation of town ordinance?
A: Maybe. Some municipalities allow residents to keep poultry and some don’t. The best thing to do is check with your local municipal, zoning, and health boards.
Q: How much care do pet chickens require?
A: They’re much easier than dogs: no walking, no twice-daily feeding, no baths, no grooming. With the proper housing they’re a very low-maintenance pet:

  • Daily: a “checking on”, refill waterer and feeder, egg collection, and closing the coop if you’ve let them out.
  • Monthly: Refresh pine shavings in nest boxes and add old shavings to coop floor; Scrub waterers
  • As needed (for my large coop only in the spring): Shovel out the coop and add the fertilizer to the garden

Q: Why do chickens lay different colored eggs?
A: They just do! Different breeds lay different-colored eggs. Eggs come in many different colors – light brown, deep chocolate brown, white, off-white, pinkish and even green and blue! Some also lay speckled eggs.

A couple of key facts:

An individual bird’s eggs will remain basically the same color all the time.

There can be variation in the shade of egg colors amongst individuals within a breed, but not the base color (brown, white, blue etc.).

One way to tell what color egg a chicken will lay is to look at her earlobe! A hen with a white earlobe will always lay white eggs, whereas hens with red earlobes can lay brown, blue or green eggs.

Araucana and Ameraucana breeds, also known as the “Easter Egg Chickens”, famously lay varying shades of green and blue eggs

Q: Are brown eggs healthier than white eggs?
A: No, the color of the egg has no effect on how healthy it is. However, how chickens are kept DOES have an effect on how healthy the eggs are! See the next question for more on this topic.

Q: Will the eggs my chickens lay taste better than store-bought?
A: Without a doubt. The chickens in your backyard will lay eggs unlike any you’ve tried before. A good rule of thumb: the more orange the egg yolk, the more healthy and better-tasting the egg is. Plus, research shows that if you allow your chickens to roam your yard freely (which we highly recommend you do) your eggs will be higher in Omega-3 fatty acids and lower in cholesterol, among other health benefits.

Q: Will I save money by having chickens?
A: No more so than a gardener would growing tomatoes. If you’re currently buying cage-free organic eggs, you may be able to break even by having your own chickens. There are lots of great reasons to have your own chickens, but saving money is not one of them.

Q: Can chickens fly?
A: Sort of. Smaller (lighter) breeds, and “bantams” — which are the same as “standard” breeds but about 1/4 the size — can fly 25-50 feet and will roost in trees if allowed to. Heavier breeds have much more limited flight.

Q: Do chickens really “come home to roost”?
A: Yes! Chickens will come back to the same place to sleep every night — so you can let your chickens roam your yard during the day and when it gets dark they will return to their coop. (A “roost” is a pole they perch on, which they much prefer to sleeping on the ground.)

Q: Will my neighbors be able to hear my chickens?
A: Roosters are VERY noisy, and contrary to popular belief, they don’t just crow in the morning. They crow all day long, and often during the night. Hens are much quieter — you basically won’t hear them unless they’ve just laid an egg, or if they’re threatened.

Q: Will my neighbors be able to smell my chickens?
A: Unless you have 50 chickens confined in a very small space, no! I use the “deep litter” method, meaning I typically only shovel out my large coop once a year. I just throw a few pine shavings down when I freshen up the nest boxes, and with minimal care there’s no odor at all.

Q: How big are chickens?
A: “Standard” chickens weigh 4-7 pounds depending on the breed and the sex (roosters weigh more than hens). “Bantam” chickens — which are the same as standard chickens, only smaller — weigh 1-2 pounds.

Q: Is there really such a thing as a “pecking order”?
A: Yes. This is a very real phenomenon. All chicken flocks have a well-defined pecking order. It’s their way of preventing mayhem.

The lucky chicken at the top of the pecking order basically gets to push everyone around. She gets first access to food, water, prime roosting spots and so on. If she doesn’t like what anyone else is doing she has full pecking rights. She gets to tell any other chicken to bug off. The poor chicken at the bottom of the pecking order is in the exact opposite situation: everyone in the flock can peck her, and she has last rights to food and other resources. The other chickens in a flock fall somewhere between these two extremes. The #2 chicken can only be bullied by the #1 chicken and can bully everyone else in turn, and so on and so on.

Pecking order is established at a very early age and usually remains unchallenged until death.

Q: Can I have just one chicken?
A: You shouldn’t. Chickens are social creatures and they will not do well alone. You need at least two, but three is better so you have an extra in case one starts crowing.

Q: What if one of my chickens gets sick or injured?
A: You can find countless online forums about treating injuries and illnesses yourself, or you can take it to a veterinarian that specializes in avian medicine or farm animals.

Q: Do cats attack chickens?
A: Most cats are more intimidated by grown chickens than chickens are of them. My cat once pounced on a hen and pulled out a single tail feather, but was so traumatized by the resulting racket that she never went after them again. Baby chicks are a different story though, some cats are okay with them but I wouldn’t trust my own.

Q: Do you have to give chickens baths?
A: No! Chickens take dust baths that keep them clean and free of pests.

Q: How long do chickens live?
A: It’s common to hear of a chicken living eight to ten years, particularly when they’re kept in low-stress environments with natural lighting (some people use artificial lighting to increase production in the winter; I don’t).

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