Recently, someone my husband and I know made a huge newbie chicken raising mistake: He added pullets (teen age hens) to his existing flock of adult hens. The next day, he discovered every single one of the pullets dead - killed by his grown hens. It's a terrible story - but just one of hundreds I've heard or witnessed that involved a perfectly preventable chicken keeping mistake. Here are the mistakes I see most often - and how you can prevent them in your flock.
Mistake #1: Not reading up. Almost every chicken raising mistake can be avoided if you just do a little reading. You'll save yourself tons of time, money, and aggravation - not to mention suffering on the part of your chickens - if you read up on caring for them before you bring them home. Internet sources are useful (see my Chickens 101 posts, for example), but I recommend reading at least one book on chicken care before you buy chickens. Better yet, read a few! If money is tight, look to the local library. Or buy used books for cheap off Amazon. (Spending a little money on books will save you money in the long run, friends.)
Mistake #2: Not having everything ready for the chickens before you buy them. It's tempting to pick up chicks and think, "I'll worry about their coop (or their feeders, or whatever) later." But the truth is, those chicks have immediate and important needs right now - and before you know it, they'll be needing a coop and run, too. Prepare for the chickens before you bring them home, and you'll ensure the animals stay healthy and happy.
|Have all supplies ready before you buy chicks.|
Mistake #3: Trying to skimp on supplies. Frugality and homesteading go hand in hand; however, there are some things you really can't skimp on. For example, all chicks require a heating lamp and chick waterers and feeders. Trying to use, say, a bowl as a waterer will result in disaster. (Chicks drown in water bowls.)
Mistake #4: Not knowing how to introduce new birds. You cannot just throw chickens into a new flock and expect anything less than blood. New birds should, first of all, be kept in quarantine for 4 weeks, to ensure they are not contagious. Ignoring this rule may kill your entire flock. Then, new birds should be kept in a caged area immediately next to the old birds; this allows the animals to get to know each other without letting them kill each other. Don't co-mingle the birds until they've had at least a week to get to know each other through the fencing. And while you're at it, don't add a single hen to any flock. She will be mercilessly attacked, possibly killed, and at the very least, ostracized. P.S. Chicks should be kept separate from the flock until they are almost grown. Put them in an attached but separate run when they are pullets. For more advice on adding new chickens to a flock, click here.
|New chickens should be separated by a fence. Courtesy |
Mistake #5: Allowing chickens to free range. At least without understanding the consequences. Free range chickens scratch at everything. They will destroy your lawn and gardens, and poop everywhere. If you're fine with that, then by all means let your birds free range. Otherwise, let go of the idea of true free ranging, and consider a chicken tractor, a rotating run, or a permanent run.
Mistake #6: Not feeding your birds. Some people think they can let their chickens free range and not give them poultry feed. But even if you have excellent forage in your yard, all chickens should be given feed, too. They will lay more consistently, have stronger egg shells, and will generally be healthier hens.
|Free range chickens are a handful. Courtesy |
Mistake #7: Not keeping chickens safe. All chickens require a predator proof coop they get locked into every night. When outside the coop, it's a good idea to protect chickens from predators, too, especially hawks and other big birds. This means covering the chicken run or having the run where there is plenty of tree cover.
Mistake #8: Getting too many chickens. Don't overcrowd your birds. This will make them fight, and will make them more prone to disease. At bare minimum, chickens require 3 square feet of indoor space (including 1 foot of roosting space) in the coop, and 10 square feet of outdoor space. But more space is better!