10 Chicken Mistakes to Avoid (If You are a New Chicken Owner or Thinking About Getting Chickens, You Need to Read This)
Chickens are well-known for being the gateway animal on new homesteads. That's because chickens are awesome! They are easy to keep, fun to watch, and are seriously one of nature's best anti-depressants. Just go spend some time with them, and you'll see what I mean.
With that said, if you are new to keeping chickens, then you need to be aware of some common mistakes many people make with their chickens. How do I know what these are? Ahem. Keeping chickens, like any animal, does have a learning curve, but if you do a little research first, you'll be ahead of the game.
We are right smack dab in the process of moving from one small off-grid homestead to a larger one over a thousand miles away. Well, I talked Mr. V. into allowing me to keep eight of our hens (out of the total 20), so these lucky ladies moved with us.
In getting their chicken coop ready in this new area with unfamiliar predators and weather, I thought about all the mistakes I made in my early chicken keeping days and new mistakes I may still make by moving to a new area. I thought I'd share these ideas with you---whether you are a current chicken owner or brand new to chickens, these are mistakes to keep in mind in order to avoid them.
FTC Disclosure: There are affiliate links scattered throughout this article. If you click through and make any kind of purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you--Heidi (Full Disclosure Here)
Common Chicken-Keeping Mistakes to Avoid.
1) Not Being Completely Ready for Chicks
Oh, this chicken mistake is SO common. You know---you're at the feed store, and you see all those cute, fluffy baby chicks. How can you resist? So you bring a few home. Then you realize---they need stuff!
Basically, chicks need a source of warmth, water, special feed called chick starter, and bedding. They also need a container that's large enough for them to grow in for a little while, depending on how cold it is outside in your area. My personal rule of thumb is they need to have some feathers developing before they go outside---unless you are in a very warm area.
You can find out exactly what baby chicks need in this article: Bringing Home Chicks for the First Time: What You Need to Know.
2) Not Understanding How Chicks Grow to Adults
Chickens have different needs at different stages of their life. From chicks to poults, from poults to adults, through molting and other stages, you need to be familiar with their special needs. You can find out more in these articles: Help! My Chickens are Going Bald (Understanding Molting) and What is the Life Cycle of a Chicken (Common FAQ's).
3) Being Unprepared for Predators---Above, Below, and All Around
On the property we just moved from, we were fortunate to have a lot of trees and bushes right in the chicken run. This provided our girls with some natural cover. However, having natural vegetation for protection is not always possible in many areas.
On our new property (which we are waiting to move into), the chicken run area is very small, and we noticed that although it's run down, the previous owners had a cover of chicken wire over the top. So, as we were getting that old rundown coop ready, we made sure to secure it all the way around and on top too.
Common predators from above include birds such as hawks and owls and other animals that can climb over fencing like raccoons. Even coyotes or foxes have been known to get over a fence. Then there are the diggers---the predators that may dig right under the fencing to get to your precious birds.
Also---do you have a dog? Some dogs are really terrible with chickens, and you may have to train your dog not to go after them. In my experience with my own dogs, I was able to train them to leave them alone, and everyone gets along fine. However, our neighbor ended up giving us his chickens a few years ago because they got a dog that kept killing them. Just something to consider, friends.
Be sure you know what kind of predators are in your area before setting up your coop and plan accordingly.
4) Space Issues--The Ladies Need Some Room to Move!
Trust me on this. You start out with four or five chickens...and then you want more. Or people need to get rid of theirs for some reason, and they ask you to take them in. How can you say no?
Honestly, I'd err on the side of too much room than too little room. I like my girls to have a nice big run, and I'm a fan of free ranging during the day too. I know some people don't agree with me on this (predators again), but as long as they are safe and they're not in your garden, more room is better.
So how much room does a chicken need?
Really---it depends on how much you love your chickens. Happy hens like space. Chickens survive (barely) in the cramped quarters of commercial food operations, but they are miserable and stressed.
I've read different opinions on the space issue, and based on these as well as my own experiences, I believe about three square feet of indoor space per bird AND about 10 square feet, minimum, outdoor space per bird is fine.
With these numbers, you can see that with the small coops you usually find at the feed stores, you're looking at being able to comfortably keep about two chickens. So, when you are planning your coop and chicken run, plan for more space than you think you'll need. That way---everyone is happy.
5) Being Unprepared for Disease or Illness
Illness happens. Chickens can have health problems, just like us. Knowing what the common problems are can really help if something starts going wrong. Here is a great article by my friend, Kathryn over at Farming My Backyard on chicken diseases.
Other health issues include hens that become egg-bound, fly strike, and other problems that can occur. I can't list them all here, but with a basic understanding of some common potential problems, you can better be on the look out.
Spending time with your chickens and watching how they act is the best way to get to know how healthy they are. You'll be able to tell much easier when they act "off" if you are somewhat in touch with your girls.
6) Breaking the Laws in Your Area
One important item that's easy to overlook, especially if you are in a semi-rural or suburban neighborhood on a larger lot is to be sure to look into the laws for keeping chickens in your area.
Some laws are quite finicky---allowing for NO chickens at all. Other communities won't allow roosters, due to the noise. Some areas will allow chickens and other small livestock, but there are limits based on the property size.
Also---check in with your neighbors. If you are following the community ordinances properly, you're within your rights; however, you still want to keep the peace with neighbors.
When we raised turkeys on our small 2/3 acre in Southern Nevada, the toms made their loud gobbling noises---pretty much constantly. We were well within the legal boundaries of the county codes, but not all our neighbors appreciated the noises. Most were fine with it though, and even enjoyed listening to the animals.
(Which brings up a rhetorical question I've had for some time: Why on earth would someone move to a rural area or an area which allows livestock if they don't like animals? Hmmm? Just saying.)
7) Wasting Feed
This is EASY to do, my friends. If you keep your feed out in the open and you have other birds or rodents around....well, that feed you just spent your hard-earned money on is going to feed others besides your girls.
Plus, you do not want to encourage a rodent infestation. I like to keep a couple barn cats for this purpose, but still---be careful about how you are feeding your chickens and how much access other animals that love chicken feed have to the food.
8) Having an Unclean Coop
First off---dirty chicken coops stink. Yes, there will be poop in your coop; but a properly maintained chicken coop won't smell. Besides the unpleasant odor, unclean chicken coops can cause serious health issues in your chickens.
Think about the design of your chicken coop. If it is small and cramped, it may be next to impossible to keep clean. My favorite kind of coop is large enough to stand in and all areas should be accessible to clean. I'm just too old to be crawling around on my hands and knees in the coop.
One mention about keeping a chicken coop from smelling and creating some great compost at the same time: The Deep Litter Method. Basically, you just pile about six to eight inches of straw or other litter in the coop.
When it starts getting compacted and soiled, get a rake and turn it over a few times. Then pile more on top. This works especially well in the winter time and actually helps keep the coop warm! Every few months, just clean out the whole lot and compost. Start over. Easy Peasy.
My friend, Lisa at Murano Chicken Farm, has a great article on the deep litter method!
9) Watch Out for Debris!
On our smaller homestead, we were in an area with tremendous winds. We always had all kinds of stuff blowing into our yard. Even though we kept it picked up, once in awhile, something would end up out there that may just become unhealthy fodder for your ladies.
Here is something that happened with our Granny chicken. My grand daughter was hanging out with the chickens one day, and she came bursting through the door, "Grandma! Grandma! There's something wrong with Granny! She can't swallow!"
I ran out there to see what was going on, and yep---Granny had decided to snack on one of those strings that hold mylar balloons. It didn't help that it was green. She probably thought it was a luscious piece of grass.
Well, I started to pull it out, but it would only come out about two inches. I did this a few times, two inches at a time, and finally, I actually thought about cutting it. Boy---am I glad I didn't do that!
I ended up just patiently pulling and pulling and pulling.....stopping between each gentle tug so she could keep her innards in her---and finally I got the whole thing out. You guys! 18 inches worth of string was in her gullet!
I really hate litter. And I really hate mylar (or any) balloons that are allowed to be dispersed into the atmosphere.
Anyhow---be aware that debris can kill your ladies.
10) Pasty Butt: You Need to Check Your Chicks Often
You can read more about Pasty Butt and what it is and what to do about it in this article: Pasty Butt--How to Identify It, Treat It, and Prevent It. The first time we got chicks, I had one die on me after two days. I discovered that it passed from Pasty Butt.
If I had known to be checking for it, that baby would have made it, I'm sure. Essentially, Pasty Butt is a clogged vent, and if you are checking for it, it's easy to fix if you catch it early. It's terribly sad to lose chicks to this issue because it's pretty easy to prevent.
Final Thoughts on Common Mistakes Chicken Owners Make
This is sure not a comprehensive list, but these are all things I've dealt with and learned through experience. Keeping chickens in your backyard is so fun and there is nothing better than eating your own fresh eggs every day. It's worth what it takes!
With that said, there are mistakes that are common among new chicken owners, but they are easy to avoid if you know about them. Here's the thing, though: You will make mistakes. I did (and do) and we all do. Just learn from any mistakes you make.
What other mistakes have you encountered in your chicken keeping journey? Or maybe you have a question I didn't answer? Leave a comment in the comments section! :-)
Here are some other chicken resources you may enjoy, too: The Chicken Health Handbook, Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens, and How to Speak Chicken: Why Your Chickens Do What They Do and Say What They Say.
Hugs, Health, and Self-Reliance,
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