Keep Your Chicks Warm and Safe… Without Burning Down the House

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The smell of warm dry wood chips and the sound of calmly chirping chicks in their brooding area is one of my favorite parts of spring, but I’ll never forget the day I noticed smoke rolling into our laundry room curling from around the door to the garage and the sound of frantic chicks coming from our makeshift chick brooder. I rushed in to find the heat lamp had slipped from the board it was clipped to and the impact of the fall had caused the wire guard to also slip off. The light bulb was lying in smoldering wood chips. Thankfully, I arrived in time to douse the wood chips before they burst into flames. I also managed to ventilate the area before the chicks got sick.

chick brooder
That incident prompted me to seriously consider how to keep my chicks warm and safe without accidentally burning down the house. And a quick Google search reveals that homes and barns destroyed by heat lamp triggered fires are all too common.
Through a bit of research on the topic I found several safer brooding options:

1. Brinsea sells a line of “Ecoglow chick brooders” which provide radiant heat which the company says are safer and more efficient than conventional heat lamps since they use a 12 volt transformer. The company sells a 20 chick brooder for $94.99 and a model for up to 50 chicks for $189.99.

2. You can build an Ohio Chick Brooder. Though the concept was originally developed decades ago you can still get the directions published by the Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station in 1942. This roomy brooder will accommodate a good-sized flock, but I would definitely recommend adding a plexiglass viewing area in the top of the brooder so you can get a peek at your chicks without putting your head on the floor.

3. Set up a brooder in an insulated shed detached from your home. This proved to be a quick and easy option when I needed an immediate solution. I simply positioned my cardboard chick brooder border under a rafter. Then I used sturdy string to hang my head lamps from the rafter. This allowed me to tie the light up a little higher to keep the chicks from overheating  during warm weather. On cool spring days I could lower it to make the brooding area warmer.

With all of the above options it’s critical to provide a round border around the chick brooder area and monitor the chicks regularly. Many experienced chicken-keepers have learned the hard way that a variety of factors can cause temperature fluctuations in the brooder area. And if chicks begin to feel cool they will inevitably pile up in a corner to take advantage of the warmth of their fellow chicks’ body heat. Unfortunately those on the bottom of that heap can quickly suffocate.

Your chicks’ behavior will also tell you a lot about their comfort level. If they crowd together near the heat lamp or warmest point of another heat source it means they are a bit cold. Often a few will also be loudly chirping their displeasure with the accommodations. If they are pressing their bodies against the outer edge of the brooder area and are lying down, look a bit lethargic or are even panting they are dangerously warm and need the temperature reduced. A group of cozy happy chicks will usually be scattered throughout the chick brooder area with some eating and drinking, some running around chirping softly, and others content to doze off.

Do you have a chicken raising tip to share with our online community? We’d love to hear from you! Just send us an e-mail.

And remember, whether it’s time to build your first coop or upgrade to a new hen house we have high quality plans available in our book bundles. With every $29 purchase you get immediate access to a digital copy and if you choose the $49 (plus shipping) bundle we’ll also ship a hard copy to your home.

Chicken Coop Stories From Around the World

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Hey everyone! If you’ve ever emailed us with questions about building your chicken coop from the plans you purchased from us or general poultry raising questions you know we’re always happy to help.

We are so blessed to get the nicest people contacting us and we wanted to share some of the interesting notes we’ve recently received from our community. Our community ranges far and wide…

…like Emmie, who wrote to us from Australia, where she has a flock of Australorps:

“In addition to the wonderful eggs and entertainment benefit, I consider my chickens (“chooks” in Oz) an important part of home security.  I live on the edge of swampland and deal  with snakes every summer.  I discovered years ago that movement in and around the yard, animal or human, discourages them from coming too close.”

ByTeneche(, via Wikimedia Commons
ByTeneche(, via Wikimedia Commonsdiscourages them from coming too close.”

I think that’s an interesting observation she’s made.

Emmie goes on to say:

“Early in 2000 my chickens had a 4 ft tiger snake bailed up at the back door.  They were all pecking at it (must have thought they hit the worm jackpot!) and my husband dispatched it quickly.  It would have died from infection of the peck wounds, anyway. Go chooks!”

I can certainly imagine this (although I may have some nightmares from it).

More Readers From Afar

Continuing on with our customers from outside the U.S., Jill wrote us from Bermuda, excited to get her book of chicken coop plans:

“Yippee!!! So geeked right now, my family ran a dairy farm and when I was younger we used to supply the island with eggs. Government took back the land and there’s only one on island chicken farmer now… but it’s a new start!” We’re really hoping she’ll share more with us on how that goes.

Courtesy of Dawn Nurse
Courtesy of Dawn Nurse

Closer to home, and dealing with another pest issue (smaller than Emmie’s snakes), Dawn wrote and asked “I want to know if my hens can eat these caterpillars which are all over my cauliflower plants, I don’t want to give them as food if they may harm them but if I can would be a great source of food, hope you can help”. Our reply: Those are the caterpillars of the cabbage butterfly and they can be very destructive. Let the chickens eat as many as possible and good luck!

Courtesy of cskk via Flickr
Courtesy of cskk via Flickr

We also get a lot of questions about breeds. ModicaFarm asked us if Silkies and Rhode Island Reds were a good mix. Our response: “They should be. Both breeds have pretty docile personalities. There will be a good size difference between the two though which may cause some pecking order issues but if they’re all raised together from the start (and you don’t have roosters) you should have a pretty peaceful group.”

RI Reds seem to be pretty popular with our readers. Brian and his wife are raising chickens in the Detroit area:

“Read your article on RI Reds, very interesting and I’m glad we made the choice we did. I started reading through your site and I really enjoyed it. My wife and I have been looking for a home on some acreage to start a small ‘organic farm’. It’s been a little tough finding something but that’s our ultimate goal. Your site is right up our alley! “

Courtesy of Oregon Department of Agriculture via Flickr
Courtesy of Oregon Department of Agriculture via Flickr

Questions About Chicken Breeds

Toni is a frequent writer. She and her husband have some land in Virginia. They’ve raised cattle, Boer goats and hay. They’ve now got a good size flock of chickens, a horse Toni trained herself and rides, an orchard of fruit and nut trees and they sell their excess eggs. Although Toni claims to be “slowing down” due to her age (she’s 70; her husband is 79), we find it hard to believe! She wanted to know about frizzled cochins. We told her:

“It’s pretty interesting – on the Frizzles, their feathers curl forward instead of laying flat so they look curled! But their feathers don’t keep them as warm as other breeds. People say they’re a good choice if you are concerned about your birds flying over fences, since their feathers make flying difficult. Because they can’t fly though, it may be hard for them to roost. They have feathered legs and don’t lay a lot of eggs (only about 3 per week) but they make good mothers. Being banties, they’re going to stay small (males will weigh 30 oz and the females 26 ounces). According to the My Pet Chicken website, “Like Silkies, Frizzles are favorites of children and all others who are young at heart.”. 

You’re Never Too Old

Toni’s not our only reader who inspires us: Billie, age 83, had some questions about her flock: “I was thinking about increasing my flock of 5 to maybe 10 but I think I will remain happy with 5. My chicks were purchased in April and were old enough to already be getting little feathers. One out of 5 is now laying perfect but small brown eggs. The weather has been 100 + . They get the best food and I feed them twice a day and keep a good supply of fresh water. Any suggestions? If I turn them loose in my gardens, won’t they eat the plants?   I am also afraid they will fly over the 4 ft. fence and at 83, I can not chase chickens in the neighbor’s yard.”

We replied, “If the weather’s been over 100 degrees that would affect their laying. When it gets that hot, they’re gonna slow down. You could try giving them some cold pieces of melon (or even overgrown squashes) to peck at and see if that helps a bit. Do anything you can to cool down the coop. The breed you have will determine the size of the egg. As far as flying over the fence, that also depends on the breed. Plenty of mine wouldn’t even think of it (for a 3 foot garden fence) but my Dominiques and Rhode Island Reds sure would, if there was enough to tempt them”.

Some Sad News…

We get questions about other types of poultry as well. Sadly, Nanci wrote, asking about an issue with her Rouen duck, Squeeky. “About 6 days ago Squeeky started going off by himself. We were told he was depressed because mating season was over. Two days ago he started having problems walking. We were told to give him electrolytes which we give him thru a syringe. He is about 1 1/2 years old and when the girls come back to see him, he’s very alert. My ducks are free range.”

Courtesy of mikenan1 via Flickr
Courtesy of mikenan1 via Flickr

The most heartbreaking thing was not being able to help her or Squeeky, who died a few days later. If there’s anyone out there with experience with ducks who’s gone through something similar and can offer advice, please let us know. Meanwhile, we empathized with their family and their loss.

…And Some Good News

Steve wrote and told us, “My house is sort of like the old TV show Green Acres. My wife went to the feed store for pig food (we have a mini pot belly pig as a pet) and came home with the feed, and the chicks.  We have 5.  I am not sure if they are hens or roosters, but we will figure it out when they don’t lay eggs! I will send pictures when we are done with the coop!”

One Heart Wild is a nonprofit sanctuary in Washington that rescues hens and horses. They used our coop plans (The Mul-T Coop) to build a coop to house up to 20 hens and allow their clients (at risk kids) to visit with them, bringing healing and teaching empathy. According to Drea Bowen, the director, “the chickens are a huge hit with everyone”.

And Melissa made our day with her note: “I recently decided to start raising chickens in my yard so that my family always has access to fresh eggs (as a baker I go through a ton). My kids are super excited and have been helping me with research on raising chickens. We thought your page, had some really great info and we wanted to pass along a thank you. A big thanks from future chicken owners. Have a wonderful day!”

And we hope you all do too! Email us with your news, updates and questions – as you can tell, we enjoy hearing from everyone!

Helpful Resources

If you’re not familiar with what we have available for resources, please take a look here:

To find examples of customers’ coops built, using our plans: Success Stories

And, as always, never hesitate to contact us at

Pastured Chicken: Huge Potential for Your Meat Birds

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So this was “big news” – all over the Internet a few months ago. The story was picked up by news outlets worldwide. And it was a good story:  A 12 year old  4-H kid,  in Texas who raised this huge, 23 pound chicken. It made me curious – the stories claimed it might be the world’s largest chicken.

I wondered who held the record? What breed of chickens were these? What’s the story behind this? And when I began to dig into it a little more, it got even more interesting…at least for us chicken people.

It turns out, Dakota’s 23.47 pound chicken (named “Big Mac”) did not break the record. The record was considered to be held by “Big Boy”, weighing in at 24.18 pounds, raised by Sue and Don Ritter. It was mentioned they raised him as pastured poultry, on grass.

Now in case you aren’t familiar with it, pastured poultry is where your chickens are in movable cages and every day (or every few days) you move them to a fresh area of grass. This way, they’re raised eating the grass, weeds, bugs as well as their feed, which is generally organic. You can do this with chickens raised for meat or for eggs. There’s a lot of benefits to doing it this way:

  • Healthier birds
  • Healthier meat
  • It can be more cost effective
  • Cleaner
  • More environmentally sustainable and more natural for the birds
  • If you’re raising a hybrid meat bird, bred to gain weight quickly, they generally don’t do well free ranging. This is a great way to keep them safe and get them the fresh “pasture” to eat.

Now all of this stuff I find really interesting but it’ll take too long to go into it all here so we’ll have to save that for another blog post! This is something being used by farmers and backyard people because it makes a lot of sense.

But let’s move on to the record holding chicken, shall we? Sue and Don raise chickens for meat and eggs and have a thriving business. One unique aspect is they raise chickens for Thanksgiving instead of turkeys. They decided they liked the taste better (I’m in agreement here) so every year they raise some birds to a dressed weight (meaning what they weigh when you buy them) of 10 to 18 pounds, enough for the holiday dinner. Customers claim this is the sweetest, best tasting chicken they’re ever had.

Now this is not something your Perdues and Tysons can do. They’ve got a strict schedule in the factory: the birds reach a certain age, they should be within a weight range. They’re butchered. Done! Next batch, coming in! It’s an assembly line process because that’s the only way they can keep their profit margin high. And we’re talking thousands and thousands of birds at a time.

The Ritters weren’t trying to break any record. They noticed Big Boy was 18 or 19 pounds and they decided to see how large he’d get. The thing is with broiler type chickens, they generally are known for a lot of health issues. They gain so much weight, so fast they tend to have leg problems; they love to eat and can even die from overeating. People usually butcher them at 6-8 weeks of age when they’ll weigh out at about 5-7 pounds. These breeds aren’t meant to live long.

But obviously the Ritters are doing something right – and different. Their pasture has been free of pesticides and fertilizers for over 35 years. Their feed is certified organic with no animal by-products and the chickens have constant access to the earth, bugs and sunshine. No antibiotics are needed. Don is adamant that grass is the building block for food. Because of all of these factors, Big Boy lived until 18 months old and died when it got a bit too cold in Pennsylvania and the grass stopped growing.

12036394425_7145a69443_zDespite documenting Big Boy with photos and videos, he was sadly not accepted by the Guinness Book of World Records. They no longer keep records for livestock weight. But the Ritters have started their 2016 season.  And what about 12 year old Dakota and his chicken? Dakota’s Dad said he was probably giving up chickens, due to the early morning feeding. And they planned to use “Big Mac” in gumbo.



For more information on things mentioned in this post go to:
Sue & Don Ritter’s website:
Dakota’s “Big Mac”:
Pastured Poultry information:
Chicken photo courtesy of:
Gumbo photo courtesy of:


Roosters Crow In Pecking Order

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red jungle fowl crowing

Believe it or not, there’s still a lot we don’t know about roosters crowing even though, according to recorded history, they’ve been doing it since 2600 B.C.

We all know about the pecking order of our chickens – certain ones are the “top” in the group and tend to get to the food first or get to have the best roosting spot but according to a study published in Scientific Reports in July, the top ranked rooster is the first to crow every day.

Chickens are very social animals and the theory is crowing helps to announce their territory and avoid aggressive moves from other roosters.

Tsuyoshi Shimmura from Nagoya University in Japan studied groups of roosters and determined that the rooster highest in the pecking order determined when to begin the daily pre-dawn crowing with each rooster following after in order according to their rank. When the top rooster was removed from the group, the second in charge took over and filled his job, with each subordinate rooster, again in order, crowing next.

The timing of the crows is regulated by an internal biological clock, called the circadian clock. Although it can also be influenced by things like light and the crowing of other roosters, it’s mainly this 24 hour internal cycle that determines the time of the first crow each day. The scientists concluded that when in a group, roosters suppressed their own internal clock to accommodate the social rules of the group – in other words, the pecking order. So even though the second or third ranking rooster might feel inside “hey, it’s dawn and time to crow”, they won’t do it – not until the highest ranked has started the group off. The team also noticed that the highest ranked rooster crowed more often than the others.

Incubating and Hatching Chicks

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Incubating and hatching your own chicks is an interesting an educational journey, rewarding and beautiful. If you do not have a hen laying fertilized eggs, one can order fertilized eggs from a hatchery or purchase them locally from a farmer with a rooster (and, of course, a flock of hens).  Now that you have your eggs on the way, what next? Read on and discover the basics of incubating and hatching chicks.

The Importance of Incubation

Within 7-10 days after they are laid, fertilized eggs must be incubated in order for the chicks to develop and hatch. After 10 days, the likelihood that a chick will hatch quickly deteriorates. In this short period of time before incubation, such as when the eggs are shipped from the hatchery to your house, the eggs should be kept in a secure carton at 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit (with a range of 40 to 70 degrees). If the eggs must be stored for 3 or more days before incubation, rotate them daily. For best results, arrange for your eggs to arrive 1-2 days before incubation.

Choosing the Right Incubator

There are a wide variety of incubators for sale, both online and at your local farm supply store. If you have the time and some basic construction ability, you can also make your own incubator. A box, heat lamp, thermometer, and reflector shield are all you really need to make an incubator.

Buying your first incubator may lead to the most success, as your temperature gagues are already in place and there is less guess work. Your incubator will control humidity and will maintain the necessary temperature of 99-102 degrees Fahrenheit. Ventilation can be adjusted too.

The Incubation Process

Place your eggs into your incubator on their sides and turn them three times daily. The chicken incubation period lasts about 21 days. The last three days, the eggs won’t need turning.  It may be beneficial to place a cheesecloth under the eggs in the last few days before hatching to make cleanup easier. Once the chicks begin to hatch, wait until they have dried off and fluffed up before removing them from the incubator. Clean and sanitize your incubator completely before putting it away so it will be ready for your next hatching experience.

What Next?

Newly hatched chicks must be kept warm and safe. A cardboard box serves this purpose quite well. The chicks will need access to water, not too deep because they can drown, and food. A heat source is very important and a heat lamp and a thermometer will serve your purposes well. A light bulb works well too. For the first week, chicks need a constant temperature of  90-95 degrees Fahrenheit. Reduce the temperature by 5 degrees each week after that until your chicks thrive at room temperature.

During this time, keep your chicks warm and fed. Keep their water clean, keep away predators, and make sure that eager little hands don’t handle them too much. Keep out drafts. Clean their living area. After four weeks, your chicks shouldn’t need the heat lamp any more and may be ready to join your regular flock. Keep an eye out for your growing chickens, keep them safe, and watch them thrive.

Vaccinating Your Chicks Against Marek’s Disease

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Photo by: faungg’s photo

Marek’s disease is a highly contagious and frightening phenomenon, characterized by paralysis of the legs, wings, and neck, vision impairment, weight loss, and raised and roughened skin around feather follicles. This herpes virus infection shows up in various manifestations: neurological, visceral, and cutaneous. It is also highly fatal and if your chickens get the disease, there is no cure. What can one do to protect their flock against Marek’s Disease? Vaccinating your chicks against Marek’s Disease is a good place to start.

To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate

While it is common practice to vaccinate all newly hatched chicks in large factory farms, it is not always done in small flocks. Vaccination is an excellent way to prevent the adverse effect of diseases, but even greater is careful sanitation and effective flock management. Small backyard farmers may not vaccinate because they have never had a problem with disease in their flock. That is entirely possible and this is the case with many backyard chickens. Or perhaps they are not aware  disease is present, don’t know how to diagnose a disease or get the disease diagnosed, don’t know where to buy vaccines, or don’t know how to give a vaccine.

Introducing new birds into your flock greatly increases the risk that your birds will be introduced to a new disease as well. If you buy birds from an outside source, it’s a wise idea to vaccinate. If you take your birds to poultry shows or have had problems with disease in the past, it’s a great idea to get your chicks vaccinated.  While it is entirely up to you whether or not to vaccinate your birds, it can save you a whole lot of heartache and hassle later on.

When To Vaccinate Against Marek’s Disease

Chicks are generally vaccinated against Marek’s Disease on the day they hatch. This is done at the hatchery and is given subcutaneously at the back of the chick’s neck. If you order chicks from a hatchery, they should already be vaccinated for Marek’s Disease. Be sure to ask just in case!

Chicks between the age of 2-16 weeks are quite susceptible to Marek’s Disease, so if your chicks hatched at home or you purchased them from a supplier that did not vaccinate before delivery, consider vaccinating yourself. The vaccine can be purchased online from livestock supply companies such as Jeffers Livestock. Here is a link for Marek’s Disease vaccine for day old chicks: read more here.  Since it must be administered to day old-chicks, order before your chicks hatch. Your local farm supply store may also have the vaccine.

Common Egg Layer Health Problems

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Photo by: HA! Designs – Artbyheather

No one buys chickens imagining images of sick birds, death, and heartache. Yet this is a real risk involved in owning animals of any type. If you’re ever owned a pet, you know firsthand how traumatic it can be when your beloved friend becomes seriously ill and/ or passes away. Yet, don’t let the fear of sickness and losing birds keep you from keeping your own flock of chickens. Prepare yourself that things might happen and that a chicken death will happen eventually (even if it is just old age). Also, educate yourself about common chicken health problems and how you can avoid or alleviate these issues. There’s a good chance you’ll never run into chicken health problems of any kind. It’s still a great idea to be prepared. Here are a few common problems to get you started.

Egg-Bound Chickens

Sometimes, in humans, a baby grows too large to easily and naturally fit through the birth canal. Before the advent of modern medicine, this was often a fatal complication. A similar conundrum sometimes occurs in chickens. Sometimes, an egg becomes too large to fit through the chicken’s vent. A chicken who is egg bound will often be lethargic. She may be straining and doesn’t feel that great. If the bound egg is not removed, she will die. 48 hours is as long as you have. It’s time to act.

Fortunately, it’s not hard to help your hen out of this painful situation. Wearing a glove, lubricate your finger and gently insert it into the chicken’s vent, gently squeezing or massaging the hen’s abdomen with the other hand to help ease the egg out of the bird with slow and steady pressure. Be very careful not to damage your chicken’s insides! If at all possible, avoid breaking the egg. Egg material left inside your chicken can cause infection and/ or death.  If you have any questions or cannot help the egg dislodge, call your vet or an experienced chicken-raising friend.

Prolapse Vent

Sometimes, such as if a hen has laid an unusually large egg for example, the lower part of a hen’s oviduct turns inside out. It protrudes visibly through the chicken’s vent. A prolapsed vent is quite serious and likely to recur, but it is also quite treatable if treated immediately. Should the prolapsed vent be left out, it is possible that the chicken’s oviduct and/or intestines will be pulled out  or that it will become cut and infected. The chicken will die. Sorry for the graphic nature, but it is true. Exposed wounds simply ask for trouble; your other chickens will peck at her. Should you notice a protruding area of pink or red behind your chicken’s vent, manually push it back inside and apply hemorrhoid cream. Carefully watch for a reoccurrence and handle the issue immediately.

Respiratory Infections

Just like people, chickens can suffer from a wide range of respiratory infections. Severe respiratory infections can be fatal if not treated (others clear up on their own). Infectious bronchitis, fowl pox, avian influenza, infectious coryza, and swollen head syndrome are just a few of many examples. This is a great source of information about chicken respiratory infections and diseases: read more here.  The Poultry Guide also offers an excellent guide about common chicken diseases: Poultry Guide.

Interesting Facts About Chicken Eggs

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The egg is a pretty simple thing.  Full of protein and very inexpensive, the egg is part of human diets worldwide and has been for thousands of years. Its smooth and unassuming texture and taste lend it to usage in cooking styles of innumerable variety. Yet, have you ever sat and contemplated the egg? It may be more interesting than you think.

Why Do Some Chickens Lay White Eggs and Others Brown Eggs?

The color of the chicken, and specifically the color of the chicken’s earlobes, determines the color of the egg. Sounds strange, right? Yet, according to NPR, it is absolutely true ( According to the American Egg Board, feather color also determines egg color. If a chicken has white ear lobes, its eggs will be white. If it has brown or reddish ear lobes, its eggs will be brown. There are always exceptions to this rule, but in general the ear lobe rule works well. Egg color is a breed characteristic. Neither white nor brown eggs are healthier. An egg is an egg.

Egg size, just like color, is dependent on the breed of chicken. Egg size is also determined by the age and weight of the chicken.

Have Chicken Eggs Always Been About the Same Size?

If you read a recipe from Colonial America, one thing will stand out right away. They called for a ridiculous amount of eggs, such as 7-8 per recipe! Why? The eggs laid by the typical colonial backyard chicken were considerably smaller than the average supermarket egg of today. As chickens eggs entered the mass-produced, grocery-store market, consumers sought large, generally white, and uniform sized eggs in their prepackaged dozen. Breeds that produced these large, white eggs, such as the Leghorn, were chosen over traditional breeds. While many egg colors and sizes exist, the large, white Leghorn egg has become a standard in modern society.  If you have a variety of backyard birds, don’t expect your eggs to all be the same size and color. You’re sure to get a much more eclectic mix!

Did Sailors Really Bring Chickens on the Ships of Old?

Yes! It was extremely common to find small chicken coops on sailing ships throughout history. There was no better way to provide the crew with fresh eggs than to keep some low maintenance chickens on board. Other ships carried huge amounts of livestock to meet the needs of passengers. The Great Britain (1852-1876) carried 550 chickens on its 1861 voyage from Melbourne to England, as well as lambs, oxen, 30 pigs, 250 ducks, 55 turkeys, and 150 sheep. Now that’s one full ship (including, of course, the 750 passengers and 130 crew members) (

Egg-Laying Has Nothing to Do With A Rooster

One last egg-related thought for you: Do you have to have a rooster in order for your hens to lay eggs? No. Hens will lay eggs whether or not they have ever seen a rooster in their life. A rooster is not a necessary part of your flock if you want eggs. If you want fertilized eggs and thus chicks, a rooster is required.

Who knew eggs were so interesting?



A Guide to Feeding Chickens

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In order for them to live up to their full potential, your backyard chickens must eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet.  Layers need the right kind and amount of feed to lay quality eggs. Broilers need the right kind and amount of feed to gain weight in a healthy way.  This is slightly more complicated than merely picking up a bag of feed at your local farm supply store.  Chickens can benefit greatly from foraging as well as from some table scraps. Other table scraps are toxic to chickens and if your birds are given these common items with their daily meal, it’ll ruin your day. How can you know just what to feed your flock?

Type and Amount of Feed Changes Over Time

Chick starter feed, with a protein level of 20 to 22%, is required for chicks from hatching until they are 6 weeks old. After that, pullet grower feed is the way to go. This has 14-16% protein and you feed this to your layers until they are about 20 weeks old. After 20 weeks and for the duration of your chicken’s life, feed them layer feed. Grains like corn or barley can be substituted for part of your layer feed.

How much should you feed your birds? Resist the urge to feed too much. While some backyard farmers prefer to leave out a constant supply of food, this is really not the healthiest choice for your birds. Feed several times a day and not in between. This will also reduce the risk of attracting pests like rats and mice. Young chicks will eat about 2 to 2.9 lbs of chick starter feed for their first six weeks. For the entire pullet phase, your growing chicks will eat a total of 12-13 lbs of feed. Layers then consume 1.8 to 2.4 lbs of feed each week for the remainder of their lives. Like people, there will naturally be periods when your birds want to eat a bit more or a bit less.

Broilers are different. From hatching to six weeks, a growing broiler can be expected to consumer 30-50 lbs of broiler starter feed. Then, from six weeks until slaughter, they’ll consume another 16-20 lbs of broiler finish feed. Talk to knowledgeable staff at your local farm supply store to find just the right feed for your flock and for advice on feeding should you have any questions.

Scraps—To Feed or Not to Feed

Table scraps alone are not a well balanced diet for your chickens, but they can be a wonderful treat if fed in moderation. Many sources suggest waiting until your birds are 3-4 months old before you begin feeding them table scraps because before that they desperately need the high protein levels found in chicken feed in order to grow and develop properly. Most vegetables, both cooked or raw, are perfectly safe to feed your chickens and offer some great nutritional value too. Bread, grains, oatmeal, cooked meats, and most fruits are safe too. Chickens love table scraps!

Don’t throw your flock every single kitchen scrap you have, though. Raw potato skins are toxic to chickens. Avocado skins and pits can be fatal too, as can chocolate.  Garlic and onions won’t hurt your birds but can seriously affect the taste of your eggs. As a rule avoid giving your chickens processed foods, greasy foods, spoiled or rotten foods, or raw meat. Got it?

Foraging for Healthier Eggs and Meat

One great benefit that free-range chickens reap is the ability to forage for plants, insects, and worms. This means added nutrients. Birds allowed to forage are believed to produce healthier, better quality eggs and meat. Still, these birds require a healthy diet of chicken feed and can also benefit from scraps.  Foraging will probably have more benefits for your backyard than for your chickens, but it is still highly beneficial.

How To Keep Your Flock Happy

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You’ve finally set up the chicken coop of your dreams. Your chicks have arrived, your chicken run is clean and ready for action, and your mind is brimming with idealic thoughts of pecking backyard fowl dotting your perfect backyard. Likely your visions don’t include sickness and death, birds who will not eat or can’t stop fighting, or sneaky predators taking out your favorite birds. Yet these are dangers every backyard farmer faces. Here are a few handy hints to keep your flock happy and avert hen heartache.

Who Wants Chicken For Dinner?

Dogs love to chase chickens. Cats love to catch them too. Coyotes, raccoons, foxes, opossums, bears, weasels, hawks, owls, fishers, and snakes all enjoy a good chicken dinner too. Make sure that your property is securely fenced, if possible. Your chicken coop must be securely built to keep predators out. Holes invite snakes and rats inside. Poor fencing risks dead or injured fowl. If birds of prey are a threat, consider a covered chicken run. It’s highly beneficial for your chickens to have plenty of room to roam, but that area must be safe from animals and birds who wish to turn them into a tasty meal.

Plenty of Space Makes For Friendly Neighbors

Factory farms may keep their birds in tight, confined quarters, but this is terribly unhealthy. Give your flock plenty of living space. The bigger the better. Aim for at least 4 square feet in your chicken coop for each bird but if you can provide 8-10 square feet per bird, that’s even better. Provide each of your birds with a roost too. In addition to a spacious, ventilated coop which you’ll clean frequently  (of course), give your chickens a safe, enclosed chicken run so that they can walk about outdoors and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine. A chicken tractor is an excellent option; one can move the enclosure frequently to provide the chickens with fresh ground to peck and forage. Fresh bugs, anyone?

Good Food and Fresh Water Does a Body Good

Along with a clean, ventilated living area, some sunshine, and room to roam, chickens thrive when given good food and a constant supply of fresh water. High quality feed and good table scraps create a healthy bird. The statement “You are what you eat” can apply to your birds just as it applies to your family. Quality chicken feed and a variety of table scraps does well. Don’t over feed either. Too much food isn’t healthy for any species. Also avoid giving your chickens rotten food, raw potatoes and potato sprouts, chocolate, and raw meat. Keep their water container full of fresh water and make sure it doesn’t freeze in the winter. These simple steps will go a long way toward a happy, healthy flock of birds you’ll enjoy for years to come.