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Where Do You Turn For Chicken-Raising Advice?

"button button" by trillium~mama on Flickr


Shawna wrote me with a couple of questions I can’t answer about raising chickens. She wondered if either I could answer them, or I could ask you all for your wisdom…


Hi Melinda!


I have a question for you… or really, maybe for your readers. It has been your building community posts that has given me the courage to go ahead and ask this here.


In July 2007 we decided to begin raising hens as a way to begin becoming more sustainable, to help educate our children in the land to table concepts, and for the sheer pleasure of doing it and enjoying the eggs.


Here is our question: four of our ten hens died and we would like to add more to our flock. However hens can be quite mean to one another and peck each other to death, especially if you are not one of their “own.” Does anyone know how to go about adding new hens to the flock? Can I add pullets? Or do I need a rooster to fertilize some of the eggs and let them hatch and be raised?


Also, is it common for a hen to simply never lay? Only four of my six lay eggs; could two simply not be ready–they are over a year old?


Any information would be greatly appreciated.


So, for those of you who are raising chickens (and I hope to someday), where do you find chicken advice? I have no idea!


Please help Shawna with your own experiences, or help point her to the resources she needs. Thanks!


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26 comments to Where Do You Turn For Chicken-Raising Advice?

  • This is the best place I have found so far (non-book-related):

    http://www.backyardchickens.com/

    http://www.backyardchickens.com/forum/

    I have other links, too, but that one is the best.

  • One place I would begin is the Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery. The Ninth Edition should have some updated bibliographic references. I mention it because it’s a pretty good basic read on everything else as well, from how to choose good land to cutting trees to large animal management to baking bread to veggie raising to carpentry to plumbing … you get the idea. Whatever you might need to know, you get an intro on it, then a list of in-depth resources. And the drawings are so sweet!

    We got our first copy, of one of the early mimeographed editions, in the seventies. And we met Carla, too, and helped collate chapters of that edition with her for two whole hours in a storefront in Kendrick, Idaho. Inspirational, that was.

    risa b

  • I agree – http://www.backyardchickens.com/ is the best site.

    You’re better off adding pullets than chicks. In general, the closer in size the new chickens are to your existing flock, the more likely they are to be accepted. I haven’t had to do this yet, but the consensus among the chicken experts I’ve talked to is to get your new pullets and keep them in a box or something (with food and water, of course) until nightfall. When all the chickens (existing flock and new pullets) are asleep, carry the pullets and place them on the roost next to your existing hens.

    Chickens are not overly bright, evidently, and will wake in the morning and think “Gee, I don’t remember you, but I didn’t see you arrive, so you must be part of the gang.” They swear by this method!

    Another person I spoke to says you can arrange a new pen next to your existing pen so the hens and pullets can see each other and get used to each other without contact. Since I let mine free range and don’t have a pen, I’m inclined to go the sneaky nighttime route when I need to add more to my flock.

    Sorry, I don’t know why some aren’t laying. Are you giving them “laying” mash or pellets? That has the nutrients that a laying hen needs to support herself and produce an egg every day. Also, laying hens need 2 – 4 cups of water a day each, depending on the temperature.

    Hope this helps!

  • tom

    the classic place is Countryside and small stock journal. It was formed my the merger of a chicken raising journal and ? (i can’t remember). In any case their web page is http://www.countrysidemag.com/ but you’ll need to subscription to take advantage of it. a subscrition to that and/or mother earth news is the place to look.

  • My parents were thinking of getting a couple of chickens just before I left (fresh eggs mmm!), so I’m definitely going to pass on some of these links for getting started, at least.

  • Laura

    I just signed in to post about http://www.backyardchickens.com/ but looks like I was beat to it! More chicken info than you could ever read in the forums. Great place to read about all aspects of chicken raising.

    If you are having trouble introducing new pullets, take the meanest ones out and give them a break for a few days away from the rest of the flock while the newbies get comfortable. I have found when you reintroduce the meanies after a few days, they have quite a bit of edge taken off their nastiness and don’t feel so confident. This is one of the reasons it is is nice to have “alternative” chicken housing, and a great excuse to build a chicken tractor.

    Also, if you can introduce more pullets than the number of hens you already have, it helps disperse the hostility. Please if you raise up chicks, let them get nice and close to the size of the hens also before putting them in with the flock so they can take care of themselves.

    I have a hens that is two years old and does not lay. It is not common, but it happens. Try adding more protien for a while to your hens food and see if that kicks them into gear. Also, not laying at a year is not unheard of for some slow maturing breeds.

    Enjoy chickens!

  • Dont know about cluckers- I would call the feed store(Hayes feed here in burien) and ask them since that is where I would buy chicks and pullets

  • There’s still a feed store in Burien???? I though Kirk’s Feed went bye-bye a long time ago.

  • Genny Rogers

    Hi! I found your blog a few weeks ago and have been lurking ever since. I wanted to comment on the chicken post!

    We’ve had chickens for almost four years now and have a few tips. First off, Countryside Magazine and Backyard Poultry are invaluable resources. I’ve kept all my old paper copies for years for reference!

    When we get new chicks (which we have right now) we keep them near the house for app. 2 weeks so they get used to us and to being held. Then they go into the coop in a section that’s blocked off by chicken wire. In this way, they can see the ‘ladies’ and the ‘ladies’ can see them. When they’re the same size as the hens, we take down the barrier and put them on the roosts in the dark of night. There will always be a time of pecking, but that’s the way they work to establish the pecking order.

    Four deaths in one year is odd. I would wonder if she was keeping her water container clean. A friend’s ducks died and the vet guessed it was because she never cleaned their water container (bacteria was growing). I clean ours every few weeks, though some folks recommend weekly cleaning. (Just did mine this morning!)

    If she has birds that aren’t laying, I would wonder if she was feeding them layer food.

    It’s usually not recommended to add older birds (pullets) to an already existing flock. They come from someone else’s farm with the other farm’s possible bacteria, illnesses, etc. Best to start out with chicks.

    If I had so many problems from one batch of chicks, I’d probably find a new hatchery to order from. I’ve always gotten my birds from Murray McMurray hatchery, and I’ve not had any problems.

    Lastly, I’d say, ‘Keep trying!’ As you’ve probably already seen, chicken raising is such a satisfying occupation. Make some changes; regroup; reevaluate what you’re doing; try again!! Best of luck! Gen–IL Homesteader

  • Water cleaned every day and water bowl scrubbed with a brush, laying pellets when they became big enough 17% protein… one died after being pecked to death. She got trapped head down and they pecked her until she was bloody. I separated her to nurse her to health and she teetered back and forth and eventually succumbed fly larva in the wounds. One was a sudden death of a healthy chicken that we wondered about a spider bite, the other two showed signs of being what looked like drunk chickens for a day or two and then they died.

    They have a large pen that is open to sun and dirt and hay, with a roost in the back that is covered and condos for laying… we are rural with coyotes, possums and hawks and have to protect the chickens.

    Thanks for all of the great advice and suggested reading. The feed store and place in which we bought the pullets said that some hens simply do not lay… in the commercial market they are eliminated, but my son has made pets of them: Lily and June.

  • monica

    urbanhennery.com is a wonderful site. (sorry i don’t do the hypertext stuff–just too technical–I have to read instructions)

    that is where i learned about “this” site. They have lots of garden tips too.

    Our coop plans are resubmitted to the zoning board, so i am still learning too.

  • I’ve kept chickens for 20 years, I’m sure I can help Shawna.

    Yes, it would be best to add pullets. I have never read this anywhere but through my own experience I know that chickens take to their own colour best. So if you have black chickens, buy black pullets, etc. Place the new chickens where the older ones can see them but not touch them. Keep them separate for 2 or 3 days. New chickens need to be confined in the area where they will live for a while before you allow them to free range, if you do. Confining them teaches them where ‘home’ is.

    When you allow the chickens to mix, they will still fight. It is natural chicken behaviour to establish pecking order and they will do that almost every time there is a change in their flock. Never introduce a chicken that has an obvious injuries, especially with blood showing, as the others will peck it. Take that bird away until it recovers.

    You don’t need a rooster.

    Chickens should start laying around the 20-22 week stage. You will see that they are ready to lay by their combs and wattles. They will start growing and become red as the chicken gets closer to laying. Chickens need high protein food to help them lay. If they are to produce a few eggs per week, they need to replace the protein needed to do that. Buy laying pellets or supplement a natural grain diet with a high protein supplement. That could be something as simple as a bowl of oats made with milk powder and water. They will love to eat this and see it as a treat, but it will boost their protein supplies and might kick start them into laying, or help them lay over winter, when they use their energy stores to keep warm and put on new feathers.

    We have a chicken here that’s never laid. That’s fairly common but I would try yours on the oats and milk and see if that makes a difference. You can also give them other high protein food like meat scraps, worm, bugs etc.

    I hope that helps. I have a post on my blog about raising chickens in the backyard, but I think I’ve answered what you asked. Good luck with your girls. Keeping chickens is a wonderful skill to have.

  • Wow, I cannot wait to live in a place where we can have chickens and ducks. I’m so excited! And you all are full of excellent information – thank you, thank you, thank you everyone! I hope this has helped you, too, Shawna!

    LatigoLiz, Thanks for the great links.

    Risa B, We have this book on our shelves as well – loads of good info.

    Sonnjea, I had no idea some of you were raising chickens – this is great!

    Tom, Thanks for your comment!

    Stephanie, The excitement in these comments is contagious… I can’t wait for fresh eggs either!

    Laura, Thanks for your info! Is there a thread going at Backyard Chickens? If so, maybe someone can leave the link here so that others can follow it? Thanks!

    Rob, You know those “cluckers” are legal to keep in our backyards here! Thinking about it?

    Genny, Thank you for commenting for the first time! Please feel free to do so any time – great info!

    Monica, I’m waiting anxiously for your zoning board to make their decision already – sheesh! Laura from (Not So) Urban Hennery commented above – I’m sure she’s flattered you’ve listed her site!! : )

    {At least I think it was Laura… though she didn’t leave a link to her site…}

    Rhonda Jean, I was hoping you might stop by – thank you for your great information. As always!!

    Shawna, Make sure to come back and update us all on how it goes with the gals!!

  • EJ

    Try Storeys guide to raising chickens. They have guides to raising almost all farm animals and they are great books. The library might have the book, but I would suggest buying your own copy so you can read, reread and underline and consult in case of emergency- the library copy might be checked out when you need it most.

    Clean water container daily (with dedicated brush), give them lots of fresh straw and clean out coop at least twice a year – don’t make your animals live filthy lives.

    Start chickens on grower mash and move them to layer mash.
    Give them some fresh greens daily. Keep them out of drafts and they can take the cold.

  • Laura

    Oh! I posted above and recommended backyardchickens.com, I think that someone thought I was the author of urbanhennery, but not so. I went there and see we have the same name!

    I am just a blogless chicken raiser in Iowa! But Urban Hennery looks cool, so I am off to check it out.

    Here is a link direct to the chicken behavior forum on backyard chickens, there are lots and lots of threads on chickens and what they do. http://www.backyardchickens.com/forum/viewforum.php?id=18

  • Oooh, sorry, Laura – that was me! : ) Thanks for the link!

  • Genny Rogers

    It sounds like you did everything right, you just had a bunch of strange problems all in one batch. As long as the non-layers are wanted, keeping them as pets is a great idea. Good luck with future batches! Genny

  • I have found that any ages can be mixed but it is best when the ages are closer like someone said above. Almost any expert will tell you to put them together at night. Usually they wake up in the morning and appear to think they were always together.

    They do still need to determine the pecking order so there is some poking and jabbing but they don’t usually kill each other or cause real harm. If they appear to do this, then they must be separated, but don’t unless it gets really aggressive. This does work better the more room they have.

    I do make sure the younger ones are at least a couple to three months old before putting in with big ones unless a hen broods them right in with bigger ones. Do it at a time when you are going to be around the next day to sort of keep an eye on em,, just in case.

    Also mentioned above is the fact about water and food for chickens and getting them to lay. They are like the contented cow gives more milk. They need clean fresh water and plenty of food. I personally hate pelleted food as I have experienced cannibalism a few times and always with pelleted food. Throwing a little scratch feed on the floor gives them something to do as they dig it out of the litter.

    The also should have 14 – 16 hours of daylight. Mites and lice can also keep them from laying. They draw nutrients from the hen that would go to eggs.

  • Kelly, Thanks for your thoughtful, informative comment! FYI, everyone – Kelly’s site is full of chicken-raising advice.

  • thanks for your great post
    I am completely in love with chickens . But I realize that marriage between man and chickens is considered weird, so I will just keep
    raising them on my backyard :-)

  • Sabrina

    I had red star hens for two years, all of a sudden they started killing each other, i originally had ten, two were left, a friend gave me, four of her brown leghorns, to replace some of the flock, they were ok for a few months ,then the killing started again, i tried the ad at night method, tried everything, to no avail, they recently killed two new pullets, then, I was given two more full grown, brown leghorns and found one brutally injured the next day.
    Finally, I called a friend and said, take them, do what you want with them, keep them cook them, i dont care, so now, ile buy my eggs in the grocery without all the bother. If i ever hear any animal activists talk about battery cages and chickens, ile have a few things to tell them, the only chicken I want to see after this experience is in my pot or oven!.

  • [...] Hi Monica, A while back Shawna wrote asking a very similar question.  While I didn’t know the answer, several experienced readers did – please check out this post as well as the great comments from readers below the post:  Where Do You Turn For Chicken-Raising Advice? [...]

  • Hi Shawna !

    For your new chicks feed them with chic starter crumble. Feed them within 3-5 hours after they had their first drink. Be sure to sprinkle the chick starter on the paper towels. This will help them find feed and learn to peck. Also have it available for them in a shallow lid or tray.

    When you first put your chicks into their new home, be sure to dip each chick’s beak into the water source and make sure it swallows before releasing.

    When they first arrive keep the brooder lit for the first 48 hours. This helps them orient themselves to find their feed and water.

    Light affects the growth rate of chicks so never keep them in the dark. After the first two days, if your brooder gets natural sunlight you can turn the lights off.

  • Hi all, I received an email from a woman in Germany who had some advice.

    German message:

    Hallo Melinda,

    bestimmt bin ich kein Fachmann für Hühner. Ich kann nur über meine eigenen Erfahrungen schreiben. Shawna schreibt, ihre Hühner bringen sich gegenseitig um. Wir hatten einmal so eine Rasse – es waren für Hühnerkämpfe gezüchtete. Natürlich hatten wir so etwas nicht im Sinn. Wir bekamen sie geschenkt, bauten ihnen einen Stall und dachten, für sie so optimal gesorgt zu haben.

    Nach einiger Zeit fingen die Hennen an zu brüten und wir freuten uns. Dann waren die ersten Küken da. Einen Morgen danach lagen sie tot, ohne Kopf im Hühnerstall. Wo mein Mann noch so stolz war, ihn ein- und ausbruchsicher gemacht zu haben. Danach legten wir uns auf die Lauer und sahen, daß die Hennen die Küken der anderen Henne töteten. Wir haben diese Tiere den Leuten wiedergegeben, die sie uns geschenkt haben.

    Jetzt haben wir seit Jahren ganz normale Hühner und keinerlei Probleme. Sammelt eine Henne Eier und legt sich zum Brüten nieder, dann nehmen wir sie abends im Finsteren aus dem gemeinsamen Hühnerstall und bringen sie separat unter. Da legt sich dann keine andere Henne dazu, die auch legt. Das ist wichtig, denn das frische Ei der anderen Henne wird dann ja zu einem späteren Zeitpunkt ausgebrütet. Und eine Henne steht auf, sobald die meisten ihrer Küken geschlüpft sind. Bei Nachzüglern besteht die Gefahr, daß das Ei kalt wird und das Küken dann im Ei stirbt.

    Wenn die Küken mit ihrer Henne laufen, geben wir ihnen hartgekochte, ganz klein gehackte Eier, Grieß oder Bulgur
    (grob gemahlener Weizen) und achten darauf, daß der Wasserbehälter ziemlich flach ist, damit kein Küken ertrinken kann.

    Hoffentlich habe ich damit etwas helfen können.

    ——

    Google Translation to English:

    Hi Melinda,

    certainly I am not an expert in chickens. I can only write about my own experiences. Shawna writes, their chickens kill each other. We once had such a race – they were bred for fighting chicken. Of course we had no such thing in mind. We had given them, they built a barn and thought to have caused her so perfectly.

    After some time the hens began to breed and we were pleased. Then the first chicks were there. One morning, after they were dead, headless chickens in the coop. Where my husband was so proud to have made him one-and escape-proof. Then we lay in wait and saw that the hens killed the chicks of the other hen. We have shown these animals to people, they have given us.

    Now we have for years all normal chickens and no problems. Collecting a hen eggs and lies down to breed, then we take them at night in the dark from the common chicken coop and bring them under separately. Since then no other places to hen that lays well. This is important because the fresh eggs of the other hen is then yes hatched at a later date. And a hen gets up when most of their chicks have hatched. For latecomers there is a risk that the egg is cold and then the chick in the egg dies.

    When the chicks run with her hen we give them hard-boiled, chopped very small eggs, grits, or bulgur
    (Coarsely ground wheat) and make sure that the water is fairly flat, so that no chicks can drown.

    Hopefully I have something that can help.

    Kind regards, Ursula

  • Raising day old chicks to marketable sizes needs great care from giving feeds, light, protecting them from predators and illness. Here a nice post that can help a little in poultry raising: http://entrebankph.com/poultry-raising-business-guide-for-start-up-entrepreneur/

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