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Hens Protecting Your Backyard Birds raising happy, healthy chickens Roosters

How Many Hens Should You have per Rooster

Since this blog’s inception, I’ve brought up ratios of hens to roosters many times. But depending on which website you visit, and whether you’re wanting chicks, there are conflicting proportions. So today, I’ll officially answer how many hens should you have per rooster. Further, we’ll also explore chicken mating, and possible problems associated with it.

I’ve seen ratios anywhere from 6 hens per rooster to double digits. Plus, the literature indicates some breeds mate more aggressively than others. However, when I tried to find out which breeds exactly, only aggressive chicken breeds showed up; not aggressive mating chicken breeds.

How Many Hens Should You have per Rooster

The smallest proportion I read of implied that you could safely have one rooster with 2 to 3 hens, if you so choose. Although the quotation specifically highlighted that the birds were adults, not juveniles.

Though I disagree with this quota for a few reasons:

  • First, chickens are considered adolescents until they reach ~ 17 weeks.

It’s at this point that backyard birds become sexually mature, which means they can breed, start to lay eggs if hens, or fertilize them if roosters.

mixed flock of ducks and chickens outside
Bakugo is the white duck making a b-line to Megatron. She always finds a way to spend time with him.

I have had 5 real roosters, since the first 9 didn’t count. And all of them, including the adult males, tread hard on the gals until the boys are around 3 or 4 years old.

For instance, Casanova, our first real roo, just started to be gentle before he died at ~ 3 years old. I imagine he was gentle because he was older and lighter; not because he was an adult. (He was the smallest rooster, and probably chicken, we had.)

And now my current senior rooster, Megatron, has slowed down considerably since I first got him. He is now over 5 years old, and in the past couple of years, he has become a more gentle lover to his girls.

But it’s at this specific age that a rooster’s chances of fertility decreases.

black Ameraucana rooster in the wind outside
This is Tiny Nuts; he’s a cool rooster. At least he thinks he is.
  • And lastly, I have over 30 adult hens, ~ 8 juvenile hens, and 2 adult roosters, one whom I informed you has slowed down.

So Megatron’s son, Tiny Nuts, who is around 1 – 2 years old is the main roo servicing the gals. And he has currently torn up maybe 10 hens’ backs; all in different conditions. Some with a few feathers out, some with a lot of feathers out. And some hens with back and head feathers out. All by himself, while he has mostly 30 hens to himself. And we’re supposed to believe that this adult is considered gentle? Yeah, I’m not buying it either.

Chicken Romance

Before I answer the main question, I’m going to dissect the courtship of chicken romance. It’s certainly different than human romance.

Cockerels first ready to mate are all over the place, running hither and yon from one hen to the next, all because they’re trying to sneak some nookie in behind the boss’s back. And they’re uncoordinated, rough, and generally look like they don’t know what they’re doing. Plus, the girls are all taken by surprise. And some of the hens are older than those boys and don’t want to be ridden by another roo.

However, as the cockerels mature into adults, they pick up some tricks to wooing the hens. They include

This is where the rooster will find a treat and make the look, look, look noise to attract a hen, all in the hopes of garnering her favor.

  • and dancing

Most people are familiar with the rooster dance. And it’s where the rooster drops one wing to the ground as he shuffles around the hen whom he’s interested in. Typically at the end of the dance he’ll try to mate with her.

Although some roosters aren’t interested in performing any tricks to woo the hens. They’re all business and just take charge. Casanova was really good about wooing the hens; I like to think it was because he was so small, and so needed to make a good impression. And Tiny Nuts is good about wooing. But that could be due to him being the bottom roo. On the other hand, Megatron could care less about that kind of stuff. He’s the boss.

Chicken Mating

2 chickens mating on grass outside
Baby Nay caught in the act.

Consider this a biology lesson in chicken procreation. But I’m sure it’s nothing you’ve never seen before. And generally chicken sex is fast, lasting no longer than a few seconds.

Typically, in a willing partner, the rooster will go up to the hen, and she will squat for him. Then he will grasp her neck feathers with his beak as he climbs onto her back, balancing himself with his feet. This act is referred to as treading. Roosters have no outward appendages; everything is internal. So both of their cloacas must touch in order for him to transfer his sperm, in what is known as the cloacal kiss. And once they are finished, both shake themselves. Plus, he doesn’t thank her for her time, give her a kiss, or even a backward glance before he’s on toward the next possible hen.

In addition, rooster’s sperm can last about 2 weeks inside of one hen. And if she’s a healthy hen that lays daily, that should equal about 14 fertilized eggs. But it takes about 25 hours for the sperm to fertilize the next egg in the hen’s body. Also, interestingly enough, hens can store sperm from more than one rooster at a time. And a single rooster can mate up to 30x a day, producing as much as 35,000 sperm every second of his life, which is 40x more sperm than a human male.

Potential Problems with Chicken Mating

purple stain on laceration on black chicken's back
Baby Nay did this to his favorite hen when we had him. Well, she ended up going broody, and we locked him in rooster jail; so she was able to heal perfectly without any more assault.

I already explained what it looks like with sexually mature cockerels. But if you have several, it will look like chicken gang rape, I kid you not. And the boss rooster won’t be able to control it. He may even join in to show his dominance, however the gals are the ones to suffer. That’s what Casanova did with every one of his 7 sons the first time we incubated eggs. I guess, he decided, if he couldn’t beat them, he’d join them.

Other signs of mating issues include

  • missing back feathers on hens’ backs
  • missing neck feathers from hens’ necks
  • skin lacerations where feathers are missing
  • and fights consistently breaking out between roosters

If you see any of the above, then it’s time to do something about your chicken mating situation.

Ok, So, How Many Hens Should You have per Rooster

mixed flock of domestic birds under a shade tree with kiddie pools

All right, so having only 2 to 3 hens per rooster is not feasible, because we learned that even though roosters are considered adults after their first molt (~ 1 year old), they don’t settle down until they’re around 2 or 3 years old. That’s when they mellow with the ladies and start treating them right. At least that’s been my observation with all of my roosters: a small Cream Legbar and all of my Ameraucana and Easter Egger roosters, all of whom are considered docile.

Therefore, if you’re seeing any issues with your hens then

  • put a limit on the number of roosters

Roosters are highly virulent until they reach ~ 3 to 5 years of age, which means they may mate aggressively until they start to slow down. They don’t even have to be an aggressive breed: case in point, my roosters. None of mine are considered aggressive breeds. Yet they still tear up my hens, no matter how many I have available for them.

So what’s the magical number? I personally think 6 is too small. Your hens will get damaged with 1 rooster per 6 hens apiece. Therefore, the more the merrier, if you can spare them. However, if you’re wanting to specifically breed your birds, then it’s recommended to have 10 hens per rooster, in order to maintain fertility.

  • separate the injured hens

Any hens with lacerations should be kept out of the breeding pool until they have healed. And apply Vetericyn or Gentian Violet Spray .5% daily. Plus, once they’re better, and feathers have started to grow, place a chicken saddle on their backs to prevent any more issues.

Many sites recommend putting the saddles on before the hens have healed. Though I noticed the feathers on our hens never grew back unless and until the saddles were off. Thus, the separation of the rooster(s) and injured hen(s).

  • isolate the roosters until needed for breeding

If you’re wanting fertilized eggs, or to breed your flock, keep your roosters separate from your hens in a distinct enclosure. In this way your hens won’t be misused.

To Summarize

one spotted olive egger rooster and one black Ameraucana rooster fighting outside

We learned that roosters are highly virulent, and therefore, mate aggressively until they’re about 3 years old. And because of that, it’s best to have at least 10 hens per rooster if you’re breeding them. Less than that, the roosters will definitely injure your hens with feathers torn out and back lacerations. Furthermore, we learned all about chicken romance and mating. And also that if there aren’t enough hens per rooster, not only will the hens be at risk for injury, but the roosters will constantly fight.

How many hens do you have for your roosters? And how do they get along? Your comments are appreciated.

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Chicks Hens Protecting Your Backyard Birds raising happy, healthy chickens Roosters

Chicken First Aid Kit Contents

I’ve been an animal lover for 4 decades. But it wasn’t until 2015, or since chickens, that we started collecting what would be considered animal first aid items. If you have backyard birds long enough, sooner later, something will pop up, requiring you to have a few essentials. Thus, I thought it would be helpful to share some basic chicken first aid kit contents.

From the moment we’ve had dogs and cats, we’ve never had to perform any type of first aid on them. On the other hand, our fur babies have a veterinarian, whereas our feather babies do not. And unfortunately a lot of the advice online can be contradictory. Plus, some issues necessitate quick action. Therefore, we’ve had to learn how to take care of our birds ourselves. In addition, when we started out, we had a small flock. So, little by little, we began adding items to what became our chicken first aid kit.

Chicken First Aid Kit: The Container

chicken first aid kit with assortment of bandaids, scissors, electrolytes, etc, in a blue and clear plastic box

When we first started making our kit, little did we know that’s what we were doing. Hence, ours was in our medicine cabinet, until one day it was gigantic and no longer fit. Now we have everything in a tackle box that’s easy to locate and move. So get a caboodle, makeup box, or a tackle box. But make sure it’s

  • Portable
  • Within easy reach
  • And easy to carry

Chicken First Aid Kit: Chicken Hospital

black metal pet crate with old towel on top of it

Since most injuries and illnesses require separating the chicken from the flock, this is where you will house them until they are well enough to mingle back with the flock. Ideally you need

  • A pet crate or carrier

If possible, make sure the chicken hospital is big enough for the patient to be comfortable during their stay.

  • And old towels

Towels you no longer use are to help make the patient comfortable.

Some injuries aren’t serious enough to warrant total isolation from the flock. For example, if you have a hen with sores on her back from an overeager rooster, then she can stay in the the safety of the crate while still in the coop. That way she won’t worry about pecking order issues.

But more concerning problems of contagious illnesses demand the chicken be separated to prevent spreading the illness. Further, urgent medical issues require the bird to be isolated to help calm them down.

Online discrepancies abound, regarding whether to leave the chicken patient in the coop or isolate them. And both have valid reasons for their points. Personally, I’ve done both, depending on the nature and/or seriousness of the issue. But all the times I’ve kept my chicken patients away from the flock, they’ve been calm, and they didn’t seem lonely. In addition, my reasons were justified for keeping them isolated.

Chicken First Aid Kit: Disposables

baggie of cotton 2x2s, Coban, bandaids, and popsicle stick

When I made this list, I really wasn’t sure how to itemize it. As you’ll notice, some of these things can go in multiple categories. Plus, you potentially have some materials in your house now, which can also be taken from your own first aid kit; just be sure to replace anything you swipe from your personal kit. However, for the disposables, you need

  • Q-tips
  • Non-stick gauze
  • Disposable gloves
  • Coban or vet-wrap
  • Bandaids
  • And popsicle sticks for splints

Chicken First Aid Kit: Dealing with beaks, nails, and spurs

black and white battery-powered nail file and tube of superglue

Rather than putting these few items in their prospective categories, I just made their own section. Further, they all use the same supplies, such as

  • Dremel tool or other battery-powered tool
  • Superglue
  • And styptic powder or alum

Chicken First Aid Kit: Tools or Instruments

box of assorted sutures, hemostats, scissors, and surgical forceps

Once again, some of these you should have in your medicine cabinet. Although, with the rest of these items, we collected from various trips to the emergency room for sutures. And since hospitals just throw suture kits away after using them, we asked if we could keep ours. The rest I ordered. Therefore, in your kit you should have

  • Tweezers
  • Scissors or surgical grade scissors
  • LED headlamp
  • Surgical forceps
  • Hemostats and resorbable sutures
  • And disposable scalpels

Chicken First Aid Kit: Antiseptics

assortment of antiseptics and poultry first aid care

With the exception of rubbing alcohol, I had to order all of the items in this section, at one time or another. So make sure you have

  • Rubbing alcohol (to sanitize instruments)
  • Gentian violet .5%
  • Iodine
  • Sterile saline (for washing wounds)
  • and Vetericyn

Chicken First Aid Kit: Anti-inflammatories and Salves

big bag of epson salt, almost empty bottle of astroglide, and tube of hydrocortisone

From having a hen who’s egg-bound to having one with sour crop to having another one with vent prolapse, the following is what you’ll need in your chicken first aid kit.

  • Salve or Vaseline (for mites or frostbite in the winter)
  • Epson salt (has many uses)
  • 1% hydrocortisone (for vent prolapse)
  • and a Water-based lubricant

Chicken First Aid Kit: Medicine, Vitamins, Electrolytes, and Pain Relief

assortment of poultry medicine and vitamins for illness and injury
  • Neosporin
  • Enfamil poly-vi-sol infant multi-vits (without iron)
  • Medicine dropper
  • Electrolytes
  • Probiotics
  • Vet-Rx (for respiratory issues)
  • Fishbiotics (which is amoxil 500mg, for surgical procedures like impacted crop)
  • **And topical anesthetic spray, like hospital formula benzocaine (also for the above mentioned surgery)

**There is some mis-information, and thus confusion on multiple sites as to whether you can give any anesthetic to chickens. For example, multiple sites claim you can’t give anything to chickens if it has caine on or in it. And that’s not true. In fact, I watched a Dr perform a surgery on a chicken, after he injected it with anesthetic. And as far as I know, all anesthetics contain caines. Further, the chicken did not die; she survived the surgery and the anesthetic.

However, the real issue is epinephrine, which is added to local anesthetics to prolong local anesthesia and prevent additional blood loss. Thus, in someone who might have heart issues, or a small animal, it could present problems. But because benzocaine is only a topical, it is clearly the better option for backyard chickens. You can read more about it here.

Chicken First Aid Kit: Advice

advice lettering text on black background
Photo by Anna Tarazevich on Pexels.com

The items you see in bold are some of the first, and only, items we used while first involved with chickens. Though now it has definitely grown and evolved. You too may also already have some things you use on and for your birds. So the materials in bold are a suggestion only, to have on-hand what you will eventually need.

My last bit of advice is when Googling your bird problems, read at least 3 other suggestions, and not necessarily the top 3. They might not be right. And after you’ve received 3 suggestions from Google, cross reference them. For instance, if I read that something won’t work or is harmful, I Google why that something won’t work, like what will happen, especially if there isn’t a link to the original article. You’ll be surprised by how many answers you get that will contradict what you were just advised.

Lastly, taking care of injured or sick chickens is just like anything else: it isn’t cookie cutter perfect. Nobody knows your birds better than you. You will have to adjust and use your intuition based on your understanding of your flock. These are all suggestions according to my experience with my flock. And it has worked for us. But I Google several sources, and not the most popular ones either, and adjust the care instructions to gear them toward my flock.

Have you made a chicken first aid kit? Or have you had to use first aid on a chicken? Your comments are appreciated.

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Chicks ducks Extras Hens Protecting Your Backyard Birds raising happy, healthy chickens Roosters

Can You Mix Ducks with Chickens

Chickens are often the first bird homesteaders will tackle before raising other livestock. They cite practical reasons: food, composting, and pest control. Since ducks are some of the smartest and hardiest, they debut on the farm after chickens. But before getting any birds, I’ll answer the question Can you mix ducks with chickens.

You can, in fact, raise chickens and ducks together. However, there are some slight differences with both kinds of birds. And, with careful consideration, you should have no problem mixing both. So, whether or not you’ve purchased any ducks, just continue reading.

Brooding Facts for Both Ducklings and Chicks

Recently I wrote an in-depth article explaining how to raise ducklings and chicks together. So I’m only going to list the main points.

  • Provide the same feed for both
chick feed in a shallow dish with chicks in a brooder

Contrary to popular belief, you can give medicated feed to ducklings, as I explained a short while ago. But no matter what, by the 3rd week, make sure the protein is no more than 18%, or your ducklings will be at risk for something called Angel’s Wing. And provide niacin in the form of brewer’s yeast, so the ducklings can thrive. (This needs to be provided lifelong in the duck’s diet.)

Also, regular chick fountains and nipple waterers work well with ducklings. However, shallow pans for feed are ideal due to their bills.

  • Similar brooder temperature for both

There is only a 5° difference between both birds when starting the brooding process. Therefore, just observe them to see whether they are cold or hot. If they huddle together, they’re cold. And if they move as far away as they can from the heat, then they are hot. And adjust accordingly.

  • Clean brooder daily

Both ducklings (and ducks) drink as they eat to prevent choking. And this causes a big mess in the brooder that needs to be cleaned on a daily, sometimes several times a day, basis.

  • Harassment
digital art of brown duck making fun of dark brown chicken on black background
Digital Art, Courtesy of Sarah Smith

Depending on the number and breed of chicks and ducklings you have, could determine who does the bullying and who gets bullied. In my experience, our chicks have always done the bullying until they were juveniles. But by then, the ducks were much larger, thus the roles were reversed.

It’s definitely simpler to raise chickens and ducks on their own. However it’s not unrealistic to raise them together.

Teenager Ducks and Chickens

juvenile mixed flock of ducks and chickens

At this stage of development, your ducks and chickens are going through puberty. You know, their voices crack and they look fugly. In addition, you might notice your ducks bullying the chickens they once hung out with. But by the time they’re all adults, this behavior generally stops.

The 3 ducks we recently raised with our juvenile chickens bullied their brooder buddies. And they even tried to bully one of our cats. But that only lasted until the 2 juvie drakes were sold to someone in need of them, so the lone female no longer feels the need to bully. Thus, it’s the other way around again. Plus, when we raised Squirt, the boss drake, he was raised alone by me. Therefore, he really didn’t bully anyone, and no one bullied him. I’m still constantly learning about ducks. And I know I don’t know all there is to know about them.

Advice for Smooth Desegregation

Depending on the time of year and temperature will determine when you move your newbies outside. For instance, if it’s spring and still chilly out, then wait till the chicks are ~ 5-6 weeks old. However, if it’s summer and hot in the evenings, like it’s been lately, you don’t necessarily need a heat lamp. But still wait for the chicks to get to 5-6 weeks old for size. Then you need to

  • Check your coop space

Ducks need twice as much space as chickens do. And if your chickens use a ramp to get in the coop, you might need to come up with something so the ducks can get in too.

Also, ducks don’t use nesting boxes. Therefore, just put some straw on the floor of the coop, and they’re fine.

  • Circulate the air in the coop

You likely already have your coop well ventilated with your existing flock. However, since ducks emit ~ 90% moisture, there needs to be adequate circulation in the form of predator-proof windows and air exhaust vents on the roof.

  • Gradually mix your new ducks and chickens with the established flock

Put your juvenile mixed birds in a pen where they and your primary flock can see each other without aggression for a few days to a week.

  • Provide water
kiddie pool with ice in the shade
This picture shows ice in the pool; and that’s due to the triple digit heat lately.

This source of water is different from the drinking water. Though you will see both the chickens and ducks drinking from it. But if you don’t provide this water source for the ducks to bathe and preen their feathers, they can develop wet feather.

Mixing Adult Ducks and Chickens

Up to this point I’ve covered the basics from brooding ducklings and chicks together to integrating the juveniles with the adults. From the time the ducks are adults, they no longer hang out with the chickens they were raised with. Unless they happen to be eating, sharing snacks, or drinking together. Or unless you have a species-confused duck, like me.

Now it’s time to go over some final important details.

  • Continue to supply the same type of feed for ALL backyard birds

Once the ducks and chickens you raised are adults, they can eat layer feed like everyone else. And continue adding 1 TBSP brewer’s yeast to 1 cup of feed.

  • Carry on with same feeders and waterers

Since your duck-raised chickens are used to eating out of a shallow pan, continue that with the newbies. However, with your established flock, you can try keeping the technique you’ve been using. Though, if they start eating the newbies’ food, you may need to just switch everyone to the new method. And the same goes for their waterers.

  • Provide a watering hole
a couple of chickens and ducks mixed in with kiddie pools outside under a big shade tree

This is one of the most important points, because ducks not only love water, they need it. And not just drinking water either. They need access to a source of water to swim and bathe in. But again, it doesn’t need to be custom. You can just purchase a kiddie pool, and they will be content.

Also, when ducks swim, they poo; and they drink from this water source as well. And the chickens might too. So it needs to be changed at least twice daily.

At about this point, you might be wondering if chickens will drown in the kiddie pool. And the answer is debatable. Sure, chickens can’t swim like ducks. Plus, their feathers aren’t waterproof, and they lack webbed feet. But since they don’t like water the way ducks do, they usually only approach the watering hole to drink. From the time we’ve had our ducks and kiddie pool, no chickens have drowned. Though chicks should definitely be monitored.

Can You Mix Roosters and Drakes

black rooster stops by mixed mallard drake outside by a tree
In this picture, it looks like the 2 males are sharing a moment.

Given both roosters and drakes can be territorial, it’s only natural to wonder if you can have both at the same time. I usually only keep 2 adult roosters at any time. And they’ve never had a problem with the drake, whichever one I had, even when it was the sex-crazed Kirishima.

But it’s true that drakes might try to mate with hens. And this is usually the case when there aren’t enough females for the drakes. Just as there is a proper ratio for hens to roosters, there’s a proper ratio for ducks to drakes. Proper in this sense maintains harmony in the flock.

Therefore, to prevent abuse to your hens and ducks, and any fighting between roosters and drakes, provide enough females for both. You will find various recommendations on this subject. But I advise you to err on the side of caution, especially regarding mating season and drakes. Each rooster needs ~ 10-12 hens, while drakes require ~ 3-6 ducks each. You know what they say? The more the merrier.

What About Flock Dynamics

mixed flock of ducks and chickens outside near 2 kiddie pools under shade tree

Now that you’ve hypothetically (or realistically) integrated ducks into your flock, has the pecking order changed? Did you notice whether the ducklings, then juvenile ducks had a hierarchy remotely similar to the chickens?

Most duck lovers agree, me included, that ducks have a pecking order. Though it’s way laid back compared to chickens: they may chase, peck at (in their own way), or quack at someone. But usually the group doesn’t gang up on that someone, like chickens do.

In addition, the boss in each group is the male. But if there are 2 roosters, it is generally the senior rooster, unless he is weaker or has been challenged and fallen from grace. Drakes are different. The senior drake is more concerned with mating, from what I’ve observed, and so that influences most things. We had 2 juvenile drakes recently and Squirt ignored them; he’s only interested in the females. However, I’m happy to report, he hasn’t killed any ducks, unlike his predecessor. And the juvenile drakes, from what I observed, were just living life, being kids.

6 different types of ducks under a tree near a fence

Also, my roosters stay away from Squirt, although I’m not sure why. But then, they stay away from the ducks altogether; almost pretend like they’re not there. On the other hand, Squirt will get in Megatron’s face and yell at him only when Bakugo is flirting with him. Thankfully they haven’t come to blows yet.

So, Can You Mix Ducks with Chickens

While raising chicks and ducklings together can be difficult, it’s not theoretical. Plus, they form a unit until they become adults. And at that time they tend to stay with their own kind. Once adults, they might ignore one another, but they don’t squabble or fight each other. Furthermore, males of both groups are boss of the yard. However, if there was ever any contest, the drake would be the clear winner. Though it’s the duck’s callous disregard of the pecking order that makes one think they don’t even have one. But they do, in their own duck-ish way.

I sincerely hope I’ve answered any questions you might have had about mixing ducks with chickens. Do you currently have any ducks? Or are you thinking about adding any? Your comments are appreciated.

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Chicks Hens Protecting Your Backyard Birds raising happy, healthy chickens Roosters

How Many Chickens Should I Have

Possibly you’ve seen the memes related to backyard chicken owners, with laughable signs of poultry addiction. They’re pretty funny and can be spot on. We were like that in the beginning too: Buying chicks, adolescent hens and roos, and always keeping our eyes open for more. But how do you know when you have enough? Or is it something you should figure out in advance? Well, I’m going to help answer the question, how many chickens should I have?

Assuming you’re not a commercial chicken breeder, and you already have birds, you likely know the legal situation of owning them where you live, whether in the city or suburbs. I live in the country on only an acre. And there are no limits like they have in the cities.

woman standing in the backyard grazing chickens
Photo by Константин Поляков on Pexels.com

But if you’re interested in getting into chicken-keeping and you live in the city, a lot of cities are now embracing raising chickens. However most don’t allow roosters due to crowing. Plus, there are limits to how many birds you can keep. So, if you live in an area with restrictions, that answers the question about the number of birds you can have.

Although, if you live on acreage, you have more freedom in the amount of birds you can own. In addition, it will affect whether or not you’ll keep roosters, because then it’s solely your decision. And since space won’t be an issue, collecting too many birds will be a temptation. Trust me.

How to Decide Chicken Numbers

Before answering our question, I’m going to present some facts that influence chicken-keeping. And, in effect, they will help determine how many birds you should have.

Decide the Amount of Birds Based on Purpose:

3 black and white Polish chickens
  • Layers
  • Or show chickens

So the first way to come up with how many chickens you should have, is knowing your reason for having them. Are you getting chickens to sell eggs? Or do you want show birds for competitions?

Solution to Choosing Birds Based on Purpose:

digital art of white Silkie receiving an award
Digital Art, Courtesy of Sarah Smith

If you’re getting layers, settle on how many eggs you want a week. Also, do you have a family? And are you going to try to sell eggs? Some breeds produce more eggs, and some less.

However, if you’re only getting chickens for personal use, then starting out with 3 to 4 hens will yield ~ dozen eggs weekly.

Similarly, for show birds, think about how many birds you need to enter competitions. But if you’re new to showing chickens, starting out with 3 birds is fine, as long as they’re all hens.

Decide on Number of Chickens by Your Space:

chickens on a grassy field
Photo by Styves Exantus on Pexels.com
  • Calculate how much space you have for any and all chickens
  • And if you already have a coop with run, then measure its dimensions to determine how many chickens you can fit in it

Most experts agree that each chicken needs ~ 3 to 4 square feet in the coop. That’s where the hens lay eggs and the birds shelter at night. And if there are predators, your birds will go there to hide.

In addition, figure another 5-10 square feet per bird in the run. The purpose of the run is managed safety for the birds to get exercise and daylight. But it’s not ideal for chickens to stay in confined space. They do best when they can forage and have free access to the whole yard. However, if you decide to keep your birds confined all the time, then calculate at least 10 square feet per bird.

  • And for pasture-raised or free-range chickens, plan on 250-300 square feet per bird
coyote loping on dead grass and snow in winter
Photo by Chris LeBoutillier on Pexels.com

If you choose to have pasture-raised chickens, account for predators. So you’ll need a fence with hardware cloth to keep your chickens in and predators out. Living where we do, on only 1 acre, we don’t have that many. But we have neighbors with 5 acres who suffer coyote attacks, as well as other predator depredations to their flocks.

Determine Amount of Birds by Cost:

  • Financial commitment

Initial expenses are higher the more birds you have: if you don’t have a coop, you either need to build one yourself. Or you’ll have to buy one, or hire someone to build one. Plus, your monthly expenses on feed and bedding will be more. We spend ~ $200 a month on feed. And you’ll have added vet bills with more chickens. Not to mention, if you have electricity to your coop, that’s another expense that’s increased the more birds you have.

  • Can be labor intensive
man sweats as he's touching his head
Photo by Fabio Pelegrino on Pexels.com

Regardless of who makes the coop, they need one. Besides that and as a result of them eating, chickens poop a lot. So the more you have, the more poop you’ll have to clean out of their coop and run. Even if you clean in the recommended way, if you have 30 birds, it’s still a lot of work. Although, if you have a tractor coop and run, cleaning it won’t be as much of an issue, as I bring up here.

My 20-year-old daughter thinks we have too many birds. But I’m not there yet. Yes, we have over 30 chickens and several chicks. But some of our birds are close to retirement age with signs of a decrease in egg production, which is why I have chicks now. I’m preparing for the future.

So, How Many Chickens Should I Have

3 brown red Ameraucana hens by a wooden fence outside
From center going clockwise, Davis, Bumblecade, and Smiley.

To recap, if you live in the city or suburbs, check with your municipalities to find out their regulations. And that will give you the information you need. Though, if you live in the country, determining numbers really comes down to how many you can manage, financial and otherwise.

However, 3-5 hens is a great start to chicken-keeping no matter where you live. It’s kinda like just getting your feet wet. But the one hard and fast rule is that there has to be a ratio of no less than 10 hens to every rooster. Or else your hens will get abused by too much attention. I’ve seen it, and it isn’t pretty. Therefore, just make sure you get all girls.

If you have chickens already, how many do you have? And are you happy with that amount? Also, how did you decide on your chicken numbers? Your comments are appreciated.


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Chicks Hens Protecting Your Backyard Birds raising happy, healthy chickens Roosters

How to Take Care of Chickens in Hot Weather

Last month several cities from Texas to California experienced triple digit temperatures. And the heat was made worse some places by humidity. Plus, due to La Niña, the heat’s to last for many areas. Further, we all know how important heat safety is for people. But what about animals? For instance, do you know how to take care of chickens in hot weather?

digital art of a brown chicken sweating
Digital Art, Courtesy of Sarah Smith

I’m sure everyone’s heard or read the story of the recent heat that killed the ~ 2000 head of Kansas cattle. Although cattle can sweat to some degree, chickens can’t. Therefore, they rely on us to make sure they don’t overheat.

Most poultry people say that chickens will pant in 80° weather. However I think that can depend on where you live. If you live further north, your birds will be used to temperatures there, not where I live. And vice versa. So you see, birds can acclimate to the weather.

For example, I have a flock comprised of mostly Ameraucana chickens, and they don’t start panting until the temperature gets to the 90s. However, the juvenile birds aren’t used to the temperatures. Thus, they look more bothered by the heat than the adults. Also, if the weather were to spike suddenly, then that could be an issue for all of them.

Additionally, chickens normally lose heat through their combs, wattles, and other non-feathered areas. But once the temperatures rise, heat loss changes to evaporative, which causes water loss. And a lot of water loss causes changes in electrolyte balance.

Signs of Light and Moderate Heat Stress

  • Chickens may pant, but otherwise still run around normal
  • And they may hold their wings away from their bodies

Solution for Light to Moderate Heat Stress

kiddie pool filled with ice water in the shade
  • Provide fresh clean water in waterers
  • Add ice to water
  • Cool down the run with hose
  • And provide icy treats

Dangerous Signs of Heat Exhaustion

sketch of a limp and lethargic chicken
Sketch, Courtesy of Paul Smith
  • Panting heavily
  • Wings held away from body
  • Pale comb
  • Or lethargic, limp, or unconscious

Solution for Heat Exhaustion

If you have a chicken in the above conditions, act quickly, because they are in danger of dying. The most important thing is they need to be cooled quickly.

  • Submerge them (to their necks) in cool water, NOT ice water.
  • And then move them indoors until they recover.
  • Also, provide them with electrolyte water in a medicine dropper, careful not to aspirate them.

Preventing Heat Stress and Exhaustion

It’s much easier to prevent a problem than trying to fix one when it occurs. Since we already know it’s going to be a hot summer, especially in the Midwest, let’s plan on an ounce of prevention.

Shade

mixed flock of chickens and ducks under oak tree
  • Trees in the yard

This is more of a longterm project. But when we moved into our house over 7 years ago, there were only 2 decent sized trees and a few small trees. Since living here, we’ve added several fruit trees and pruned the others. Now the birds have a choice of where to sit in the heat of the day.

  • Tarps or cloths on the run

If your run doesn’t have a roof, or it gets full sun, then add some type of shade for your birds.

Cooling Down the Coop and Run

person spraying chicken coop down with a hose
  • Misters

For evaporative cooling, this is an inexpensive solution. However, if, like us, you have well water, then you’d have to add a salt system to your outside water. Then that would require a whole-house water filtration system. And it could be cost prohibitive. So…

  • Hose the run

Spray down the dirt in the run with the trusty hose. So long as you don’t make it muddy, it will cool it down for the birds. You can also spray the outside of the coop for added benefit.

Ventilation

Likely your run will have enough ventilation. But coops are usually smaller. So install

  • Roof vents
  • Predator-proof windows to increase airflow
  • And if you have electricity to your coop, then add a fan for increased circulation. But be sure it and any cords are out of the birds’ reach.

Water

electrolyte solution for chickens
  • Provide multiple sources of fresh, clean, cool water
  • Locate them ideally in shady spots
  • When it starts heating up, add ice, ice blocks, or frozen water bottles to cool the water
  • Also, you can add electrolyte solution to the water
  • And since chickens won’t get in a kiddie pool, provide shallow pans of water for them to wade in

Feed

Given that digestion increases body temperature, birds won’t eat as much during hot weather. And you may notice egg production decrease as well. Therefore,

  • Feed your birds early morning or later in the day when it’s not as hot
  • Limit scratch
  • And provide frozen treats

Suggestions for Frozen Treats

cut up pieces of watermelon wrapped in Saran Wrap
whole kernel corn in muffin tins
  • Freeze 2 halves of a watermelon; then put them in the shade for your chickens to nibble on. It provides them with cool, refreshing water and ice. And it keeps them cool.
  • With 2 cans of whole kernel corn, fill each cup of a 12-cup muffin tin ~1/2 to 3/4 full and freeze. Then serve to your chickens in the shade.

Chicken Ice Cream

plate of blueberries mixed with plain yogurt
  • 1-2 c of plain non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 frozen banana, thawed slightly; then sliced
  • 2 c frozen blueberries

In a large plate or medium bowl, mix all of the ingredients together. Then serve to your birds in the shade.

I have been making the above treats for my chickens since we started our real flock. And at first, they would react strongly to the frozen blueberries. However, now they’re all very used to them and welcome the cold treats. Plus, it’s funny to see them get brain freeze. They just shake it off and grab some more.

With the heat we’ve had, and are expected to have this summer, I have a list of things I’d like for our birds. Space is already at a maximum, so I want to increase the size of our coop, to make room for the newbies. Some of our hens and our senior rooster are in their older years. No telling how much longer they’ll be around.

Also, my husband needs to cut out a couple decent sized windows on their coop for air flow; then predator-proof them. And I would love to get an automatic waterer for them. But the only source of water is on the opposite end of our acre. We built their coop where there is more shade. So in order to supply them with an automatic waterer, we’d have to dig a trench and add pipe. My husband is going to look into it. With the amount of birds we have, it’s definitely worth it to me.

What do you do for your birds when it’s hot? Have you ever had one suffer heat exhaustion? What did you do? Your comments are appreciated.

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Hens Protecting Your Backyard Birds raising happy, healthy chickens Roosters

How to Clip a Chicken’s Wings

Recently I wrote a post about certain breeds of chickens that could fly. And in it I mentioned three ways to prevent your birds from taking flight. Today we’re going to look more closely at wing clipping. Because, if you’ve never done it, it can seem daunting. Also, I’ll explain how to clip a chicken’s wings. However, first, let’s find out whether or not you should clip their wings.

Reasons to Clip a Chicken’s Wings

If you have pasture raised chickens, then you probably don’t have them penned in an enclosure all day. Which means you likely have fence line separating your property from your neighbor’s. And if you have one of those flighty breeds, they possibly frequent your neighbor’s yard. Therefore, the main reason to clip your birds’ wings is to keep them in their yard and on your property. And the other reasons to clip your chickens wings include:

mixed flock of chicks around raised garden bed with coop in the distance
This was our first raised garden bed, before we built the 4 1/2 foot fence dividing the yard. The chickens easily destroyed the garden, even with the chicken wire.
  • To restrict your chickens from destroying your garden, if you have one
  • In addition, to keep them from getting mauled by a predator
  • And lastly, to prevent them from getting run over by any vehicles, if you happen to live close to any roads

On the other hand, if you keep your birds in the run, then you don’t need to worry about clipping any wings. But just having a fence won’t deter a determined bird. Because, as I mentioned in my last article, some breeds can fly over 10 feet!

Pros and Cons to Clipping a Chicken’s Wings

person holding out freshly clipped wing feathers of a Black Ameraucana hen
We had to clip this hen’s wings after administering first aid; she flew into a neighbor’s yard, and my husband rescued her from being nipped by their dogs. Thankfully they weren’t big dogs, or the damage would’ve been worse.

A couple of the advantages of wing clipping are that

  • It’s safe and painless if done correctly.

Compare it to a dog getting its claws trimmed; but NOT to declawing a cat. Or it can even be compared to a human getting a haircut.

  • In addition, your chickens will re-learn behavior.

If you’re new to this, you might be scratching your head, saying, What? But it’s true, chickens can be motivated and taught certain behaviors. I’ve witnessed it in my own birds. With each bird that needs and gets its wings clipped, they no longer need to be re-clipped, because they’ve learned not to cross those forbidden boundaries.

  • And wing clipping is temporary, since chickens molt.

Thus, new feathers come in.

The disadvantages to clipping chickens’ wings include

  • If done improperly, it can cause bleeding
  • Also, if birds are in open pastures, roaming at will, then wing clipping limits their ability to get away from predators
  • And finally, some people think it makes the birds look less attractive

When to Clip and When NOT to Clip

Believe it or not, there are actually better times and situations in which to clip your chickens’ wings, if that’s something you’re considering.

mixed flock of mostly black juvenile chicks
  • First off, don’t clip any chickens’ wings unless they have their adult feathers.

Chicks go through several molts before they’re finally considered adults themselves. And if you clip their wings while they’re juvenile, you’ll just have to do it again. And again. Also, when feathers are growing, there will be blood in the shafts.

Growing feathers are dark or black, while fully formed ones appear clear or white.

you can clip as soon as the birds have all their adult feathers and it becomes necessary. (Emphasis mine)

Therefore, if your birds aren’t showing signs that they’re flying over any fences, then there’s no need to do any wing clipping.

  • And lastly, I already pointed out that birds in open pastures, roaming at will, would be hindered if their wings were clipped.

The BEST time to clip your chickens’ wings is when you have adult backyard birds that are repeatedly being a nuisance, getting into the neighbor’s yard, your garden, a busy road, or trying to get mauled by some animal. And most, if not all, sites recommend you first catching your birds. Forget that. Who wants to chase around a bunch of chickens all day?

Rather, here’s the alternative: Before letting them out in the morning one day, have someone help you clip their wings, one bird at a time.

mixed flock of black chickens in yard divided by wooden and wire fence

Materials Needed to Clip a Chicken’s Wings

  • Partner to help you

Having someone assist you with clipping your birds’ wings will make the job easier and go faster.

  • Good pair of scissors

You need sharp scissors to cut through the shafts; alternatively, you also could use sharp wire cutters

  • And styptic powder or alum

In the event you cut too short, and a feather starts to bleed, dip the feather in some styptic powder or alum, until it’s coated.

Instructions for Clipping a Chicken’s Wings

  • Get your partner and supplies; and without letting any birds out, (if that’s possible) set-up shop for wing-clipping

Since we can stand up normal in our run without trouble, that’s where we usually take care of things, like wing clipping. However, your coop and run may be different. If it’s smaller, you’ll have to get creative.

person in pink shirt holding Black Ameraucana rooster with one wing outstretched
Tiny Nuts already had his wings clipped, as you can see by the straight edges.
  • One person needs to hold the bird firmly, making sure one chicken wing is held securely against the chicken, so there’s no flapping, while the other person will clip the free wing
  • Next, have the person with the scissors locate the primary feathers; are the shafts dark or clear? If they’re clear, then they’re safe to trim
  • With a steady hand, only trim back the 10 primary feathers about 50% of the way; (unless you know your bird is a flyer, start small)
Notice the primary feathers.

Now, it’s at this point that a lot of sites suggest you’d be finished, because supposedly having one clipped wing would unbalance a chicken. And I also tried that approach my first experience with wing clipping. However, all of my Ameraucana chickens can fly with this unbalanced design. Hence, we clipped more. And when that didn’t work, we clipped more, and jaggedly.

  • Thus, you can trim only one side, but if you have one of the flighty breeds, like me, you just might have to go back and trim more than just the primaries and make it look ugly; remember to check the shafts, and if they’re clear, you can trim them
digital art of a chicken's wing
Digital Art, Courtesy of Sarah Smith

Again, most sites adamantly advise against trimming the secondary feathers. But obviously they’ve never had Ameraucanas; otherwise they’d never suggest such a thing. Though there are a couple of sites that are familiar with the more determined flyers. So, if you have birds like I do, and you want to protect them, then you need to clip more than the primaries. It’s that, or risk them getting into trouble.

Conclusion

Wing clipping, if done correctly, is a safe and painless way to prevent your chickens from flying from the safety of their enclosures. Whether a few chickens or the whole flock like to get out, clipping wings can offer some respite.

Clipping a chicken’s wings is only temporary, and many sites suggest repeating the procedure annually. However, I disagree. Just like waiting to see if wing clipping is even needed, wait and see if repeating the process is necessary.

Black Ameraucana hen in front of brick wall
We’ve only had to re-clip this hen’s wings one other time after her molt; she learned her lesson after that.

For example, I have only had to repeat the procedure on one hen after her molt. The whole idea for me is to re-teach my birds, because they are teachable, contrary to what anyone might think. When their wings are clipped, they’re grounded for that time frame. So when their molt is ended, and their wings are in and they’re free again, hopefully they’ve learned not to go where we don’t want them to go. And that’s just what I’ve personally discovered happens with my own birds.

What do you think about wing clipping chickens? Have you ever done it?

Thanks for reading this post. Your comments are appreciated. If you liked this, please like, share, and please don’t forget to follow!

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All animals Extras Protecting Your Backyard Birds raising happy, healthy chickens

Best Dog Breeds for Chickens

If you have a backyard flock and have had trouble with the occasional predator, you might want to know the best dog breeds for chickens. There are some that will guard your flock, keeping away danger. And then there are breeds that don’t necessarily do much guarding, per se; they just get along with and won’t actively attack your birds. However, if the dog lives outside, it could be enough of a deterrent to predators.

kestrel on tree stump
Photo by Sachin Nihcas on Pexels.com

Some of you know we got an Australian Shepherd puppy several months ago. And if you follow this blog, you’re also aware I have chickens and ducks. Additionally, if you know anything about Aussies, you’ll know they have a strong prey drive. Which doesn’t make them exactly ideal for chicken people.

Australian Shepherd sitting on a couch next to a book

Prey drive is what affects whether dogs will or won’t attack other animals, including chickens. So dogs with a strong or high prey drive have a hereditary desire to chase, hunt, and sometimes even kill other animals. However, dogs can be trained. Just because you get a dog that’s ‘good’ with chickens doesn’t mean it won’t need to be trained as well.

Best Dog Breeds for Chickens:

White Great Pyrenees dog on grass outside
Photo by Hannah Grapp on Pexels.com

The Great Pyrenees is a great dog, does well with families, but needs a firm hand in training. Also, it prefers cool climates, not making it suitable for the Southern U.S.

This next dog is also a good option, as it is calm and chill with other animals while also fearless when facing threats. However, the Pyrenean Mastiff requires firm training due to its stubbornness at times. And it prefers the great outdoors and doesn’t tolerate heat and humidity.

Kangal Shepherd dog
Photo by Jozef Fehér on Pexels.com

This next option I have for you is the Kangal Shepherd dog, which also needs broad spaces and a firm hand. It’s a loyal dog who will protect both the family and flock, but without clear boundaries, it can stray and attack others, including people and pets. Also, this was the only dog so far that I found that can tolerate the heat we get.

Finally, the Anatolian Shepherd is more business than cuddly fun, but it’s a fiercely loyal dog. Although training and early socialization are a definite must for this pooch. Again, this dog requires space and plenty of it outdoors. And did I mention training?

This list isn’t exhaustive; there are 4 other dog breeds usually included: the Komondor, Akbash, and Kuvasz. And all of the dog breeds are part of Livestock Guardian Dogs.

Some Caveats about Getting a Dog for the Chickens:

adorable puppies with hens on soft wool in farmyard
Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com
  • Don’t just get a dog and expect it to know what it’s supposed to do.
  • Having a dog takes training, especially one destined to guard the chickens. Ideally, get a puppy and train it to be around your flock, and the flock to be around the puppy, so they are familiar with each other.
  • Bring your dog around as you feed, water, and take care of your backyard birds, because this will teach your dog that the birds are to be protected.
  • Additionally, introduce your flock and dog slowly, preferably with treats once everyone is calm, since most animals love a good treat. So that in time, as you continue to bring your dog around your backyard birds, and proceed to hand out treats for good behavior, they will associate good things with each other.
head shot of sable and white Shetland Sheepdog

When we first got our birds, we had a Shetland Sheepdog who would try to herd the birds when they strayed from their yard. Thus, he listened to us to keep them safe. We had Moses for many years by this point, he was highly intelligent, and obedient.

However, when we first got Sophie, our Aussie, she killed one of our ducks; it looked like she was ‘playing’ with it in her energetic enthusiasm. Though, with diligence, we’ve trained her that the birds are not for touching, molesting, eating, playing, etc. Although it didn’t really take her long to pick up on what we wanted. And now she completely ignores them.

Except now I’m on phase two of bringing her into their yard so she can know they’re part of the family and to protect them.

Other Dog Breeds as Options

man wearing black and brown fur hoodie jacket and blue pants holding dog leash beside white short coat dog
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Even though the Livestock Guardian Dogs are the best when it comes to guarding your chickens, with hard work and diligence, you can train other dog breeds to guard them too. Or at least to be a predator deterrent, like our dog Moses was. And how we’re working on Sophie currently.

Since most of the ‘chicken dogs’ have thicker coats and require cooler temperatures, that makes them unsuitable for the Southern half of the United States.

Although, herding dogs or shepherd dogs, if trained consistently, could at least deter predators, if not actively guard your chickens. Some breed examples include:

border collie in the countryside
Photo by Los Muertos Crew on Pexels.com
  • Shetland Sheepdog
  • Border Collie
  • Australian Shepherd
  • and Collie

Keeping chickens attracts predators, especially living on acreage. And you want to protect your birds, your investment, and the eggs they produce. I hope I gave you some ideas on what dog breeds work the best with backyard birds. But the most important thing to know and remember is to train your dog to think of your chickens as part of the pack.

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Protecting Your Backyard Birds raising happy, healthy chickens

Best Way to Clean the Chicken Coop

Having backyard birds is fun most of the time. However, very little in life, in any part of our lives, doesn’t require some type of maintenance. And that includes backyard chickens. So, in this post, I’m going to go over the best way to clean the chicken coop.

If you have chickens, or have had chickens for quite a while, by now you’re aware that waiting for the muck to pile up isn’t the ideal way to scrub down a chicken coop. It’s an easier job on us, and healthier for the birds, if we tidy up regularly. Thus, this will be divided into daily, weekly, and monthly duties. Also, it’s important for you to wear a mask while dealing with the dust this can produce.

collection of chicken eggs

Best Way to Daily Clean the Chicken Coop

  • At the end of each day, remove any leftover or remaining food in the feed dishes or feeders.

Allowing any remaining food to sit overnight can attract predators. Or pests and rodents. So, protect your flock, and don’t entice bugs or rodents by leaving food out. Empty out the feeders when your birds go in at night. And refill the feeders and waterers in the morning with fresh food and water.

  • Toward the end of the day, before the birds settle in, scrape off the feces from the chicken coop.

Bird poop, including that of your backyard chickens, has bacteria. So each day it needs to be cleared off, with a trowel or putty knife, from dropping boards and roosts. And then it can be added to your compost, if you have one.

  • Also, be sure to collect eggs.

If you have a lot of backyard chickens, this will need to be done a couple of times a day. Because if you don’t gather the eggs, they’re liable to break and make a big sticky mess when they pile up. Also, if the eggs break, the hens might eat the eggs. And then they might start breaking eggs on purpose, which is a bad habit to break.

putty knife used to scrape chicken coop

Best Way to Weekly Clean the Chicken Coop

  • Change out the nesting materials.

Whatever nesting material you use for your birds collects bacteria and ammonia. Thus, it needs to be refreshed weekly, otherwise, it could lead to health issues for your chickens.

  • Disinfect waterers and feeders.

You can make a DIY solution of equal parts vinegar and water to kill bacteria. And then scrub the waterers and feeders. Though, if you have a lot of birds, you might need to do this twice a week.

  • Wipe down walls and ceilings of the coop.

Spiderwebs/cobwebs and dust accumulate if not cleared away on a regular basis.

vinegar for cleaning chicken coop

Best Way to Monthly Clean the Chicken Coop

If you remember to stay on top of the daily and weekly jobs of cleaning the coop, then the monthly tasks won’t be as difficult to handle.

  • Scrub the chicken coop.

Clean the walls, doors, and ceiling with the vinegar solution. And if you have windows, use a nontoxic glass spray.

  • Scrape the roosts.

Use a trowel or putty knife to scrape the excess droppings that have built up; and then disinfect with the vinegar solution.

person using a hose, spraying water
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Twice Yearly

This is a more in-depth, deep cleaning that only has to be done bi-annually. And ideally you should schedule it in the spring and fall.

  • Remove old nesting material, feathers, and droppings.

Use shovels, brooms, trowels, and a putty knife to accomplish this. Once done, add what you’ve collected to your compost.

  • Remove any remaining dust.

Using a hose, rinse down the coop.

  • Next, wash all the surfaces.

Use a brush and your vinegar solution to cleanse and disinfect the chicken coop. Make sure you clean the nesting boxes too! Afterward, give everything a thorough rinse with the hose.

  • Dry out the coop.

Try to get out as much excess water as you can. And then keep the doors (& windows, if you have them) open in order to dry out the chicken coop. If you have portable nesting boxes, put those and the feeders in the sun to dry faster.

  • Spread more nesting materials in coop.

After everything is fully dried, put more nesting material in the coop and nesting boxes. Wallow out depressions in the boxes where the hens will lay, because otherwise, the hens will scratch out the material.

kn95 or n95 masks for cleaning a chicken coop
Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

Things to Consider When Cleaning the Coop

I already mentioned wearing a mask when cleaning the chicken coop. This is very important, because birds carry diseases, some you’ve never even heard of. Also, you might think of wearing gloves and only shoes for out in the chicken yard. This is so you don’t bring anything into your home from the birds.

Only use natural cleaners like vinegar. And avoid anything that contains bleach, since that can be harmful to backyard chickens. Also, while you’re out cleaning their home, check to see if anything needs to be repaired. If there are sharp edges, a bird can get hurt. Or if there’s a hole in the wire, a predator could slip in.

If you have any questions or anything to add, I’d love to hear from you!

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Hens Protecting Your Backyard Birds raising happy, healthy chickens

Why is My Chicken Losing Feathers on Her Back

Chickens can, and do, lose feathers from time to time. And most of the time it’s nothing to worry about. However, it’s always a good idea to inspect your flock to determine where the feather loss is coming from. Are all of the birds affected? Is it general feather loss? Or is it only in one spot on a few birds? We’ll cover all of these questions why chickens are losing feathers.

Chickens Losing Feathers Due to Molting

juvenile chickens missing feathers due to molting

In another post I covered the topic of molting in detail. But I’ll go over some quick points. If your backyard flock is molting, it typically affects all of the birds. It also can affect any part of their bodies. Some chickens completely lose all of their feathers, while others might only lose the ones around their faces and tails.

Also, molting usually occurs in late fall and lasts about 3 months. There are some breeds that can molt in the spring as well. However, it isn’t as drastic as the fall molt. So, if your birds are losing feathers at some other time, chances are good that it isn’t molting causing the feather loss.

If your backyard birds are molting, the most important things you can do for them are

  • to feed them a higher protein feed with 20% protein.
  • don’t handle them much, because they are sensitive due to feather loss and new growth.
  • keep the stress low and don’t add new birds during this time.
  • and be sure to have plenty of clean, fresh water daily and proper air ventilation in the coop.

Feather Loss on a Chicken Because of a Broody Hen

broody hens with chicks

Another common reason for feather loss is when you have a broody hen or hens. A broody hen is a hen that stops laying eggs, and instead stays on a nest of eggs all day, several days to weeks long until she hatches some chicks.

With a broody hen you will not see a lot of feathers all over your yard. Because it’s restricted only to that one hen. Or hens, if you have more than one broody hen. The feather loss will also be confined to the coop, since the broody hen won’t leave her eggs. And the feathers will usually be missing from the hen’s chest, where she plucked them out herself, to make a proper nest for her clutch.

If you have a broody hen, and don’t want to break the broodiness, the most important things you can do are to

  • separate her from the rest of the flock by putting a partition wall made of chicken wire in the nesting box she has chosen.
  • provide fresh, clean water and food daily.
  • and give her access to frequent bathroom breaks.

If you don’t want your hen to be broody, then you can break it by completely separating her from the flock. You don’t want her to be able to see them, or vice versa. And try to keep her in a room or area that is well lit.

Chickens Losing Feathers Because of Parasites, like Mites or Lice

red insect on green leaf
Photo by Egor Kamelev on Pexels.com

Another cause of feather loss in chickens is from external parasites like mites or lice. Usually it presents on the bird’s back where they have been over-preening and plucking in order to get relief. There will be other symptoms if mites or lice is the cause of feather loss, like reduction in egg production. And the birds will also have pale combs and wattles.

If you suspect that external parasites are the culprit, you can check the bird’s vent area for scabs or signs of inflammation. Many people claim that you can’t see mites. However, that’s not entirely true. Sometimes you can see them on the feather shafts or on the undersides of where your birds roost at night.

Lice also can typically be seen on feather shafts. However, they also migrate toward the vent area as well. If you pull back your bird’s feathers from her vent, often lice will be seen, trying to hide.

If you have verified that you have a bird with lice or mites, then the most important things you can do are to

  • treat your whole flock immediately or as soon as possible with Ivermectin. (0.2 – 0.4 mg per kg topically at their shoulders where they can’t reach and once more in 2 weeks.)
  • you can also use petroleum jelly on your birds’ legs to smother leg mites and prevent eggs from hatching. However, this will need to be done a few times to make sure the parasites are all gone.
  • finally, you can prevent external parasites by keeping the coop and run clean and by providing your birds areas where they can dust bathe. We also add food grade diatomaceous earth to the coop and dust bathing spots.

Predator Attacks that are Causing Feather Loss

feather loss on a bird's back due to a predator attack

Sometimes predator attacks will leave no evidence of the crime. And others will leave behind feathers. At times that might be all you see. In one of my other posts I described how one of our Ameraucana hens was attacked by a hawk. More often the hawk doesn’t leave behind its prey. Although, in this particular case, the hawk dropped our hen.

Another time our neighbor’s dog got one of our broilers. We didn’t have feathers in our yard; they were scattered all over his. If you suspect an animal attack, first inspect your birds for missing feathers on their backs or tails. They will act scared and could be in their coop hiding, if there was a predator attack. Also, check for any injuries and open wounds.

Once you’ve determined that your bird was attacked by a predator, and it’s still alive, the most important things you can do are to

  • separate her from the rest of the flock in a safe and comfortable environment with fresh, clean water and food.
  • keep stress to a minimum, because she is scared or even possibly in shock.
  • clean the wound by flushing with warm sterile salt water or 0.05% chlorhexidine.
  • and, if your bird was bitten by a predator, call a veterinarian to get an antibiotic.

Feather Loss Due to Over-mating, or an Aggressive Rooster

feather loss and injury on a hen due to a rooster

The final cause of chickens losing feathers is due to aggressive, or over mating, by a rooster. Thus, you will not see feather loss in roosters if indeed mating is the cause. Because only the roosters get on the hens in order to mate.

Sometimes this type of feather loss can start out in a small patch near the tail feathers. However, if left untreated, the spot will only grow. It can get so bad that the rooster pulls the hen’s skin, and then the hen is in danger of infection.

Most of the time, when I’ve considered this type of feather loss in our flock, it has usually been the hens on the bottom of the pecking order. Not always, but most of the time. And then there are the times when the roosters will have a favorite hen. And consequently, she will get entirely too much notice.

You can determine if over breeding is the reason for the feather loss just by whether or not you have any roosters. And if you do, then observe your backyard flock. Or, more specifically, your rooster. Watch how he interacts with the hens. Does he have a favorite? Is he rough? Does it always seem like one hen is getting way more physical attention than the rest?

If you have a hen with feather loss on her back caused by over mating, the most important things you can do are to

  • examine your hen for broken skin. And, if there isn’t any, you can invest in saddles for your hens or make some yourself.
  • if your hen has broken skin, clean the area with warm sterile, salt water, and add either Battles Gentian Violet spray or Blu-Kote to the wound. Both treatments look similar when applied.
  • assuming the wound is large and in danger of infection, rather than using Blu-Kote or Battles Gentian Violet spray, you need something stronger. Povidone-iodine is an over the counter, broad spectrum anti-microbial that’s recommended in these cases. Which you can find at WalMart or on Amazon.
  • in case you have to treat your hen for a wound that requires an anti-microbial due to broken skin, you need to keep the rooster away from that hen. You can accomplish this by keeping her in a separate spot, not entirely isolated from the flock. But possibly where you keep your broody hens. This way she can heal without continually getting re-injured.
  • monitor her progress and call a vet if she doesn’t show signs of improvement.
  • to prevent feather loss on your chicken’s back due to over-mating, make sure you have the proper hen to rooster ratio. Most people agree that no less than 10 hens per rooster should be the absolute minimum.
  • and, safely trim or file your rooster’s claws.
chicken saddle on a chicken to prevent chicken from losing feathers on her back
Hen with a saddle on.

Sometimes you will have the proper ratio of hens to roosters, and still one of your hens might get feather loss on her back. We currently have 27 hens with 2 adult roosters. And 7 juvenile chickens with 3 juvenile roos, which are not mating yet, thankfully.

Our second rooster has now chosen a couple of senior Ameraucana hens and a couple of Easter Eggers as his favorites. And the EEs backs are torn up. Thus, we’ve locked him in chicken jail so the girls’ backs can heal.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Please feel free to comment or ask questions!

Categories
Chicks Hens Protecting Your Backyard Birds raising happy, healthy chickens Roosters

Pecking Order Behavior In Chickens

What is typical pecking order behavior in chickens? And how do you know if your birds have a successful social order? If you have a backyard flock or are even fairly new to this, then you most likely have seen this behavior. Where the birds will chest bump each other, flap their wings, puff themselves up in order to look bigger, and often times pull feathers out as they peck one or several birds.

If you’ve observed this in your birds, where they seemingly pick on each other for no cause, they aren’t necessarily being mean. Because they aren’t like us. They don’t understand between good and evil, right and wrong. But the chances are high that they are displaying what is called the pecking order.

2 roosters fighting for dominance

SO WHAT IS THE PECKING ORDER IN CHICKENS?

The earliest use of pecking order referred to chickens displaying their supremacy over each other. It includes pecking and was used in the 1920s by a Norwegian zoologist to describe their behavior.

Pecking is just one aspect of it. However, it does certainly capture the essence of the phrase. Because, the birds in charge, or ahead in the hierarchy, will peck the ones lower down the totem pole to keep everyone in line.

The behavior isn’t just limited to pecking though. Or to adults. If you have an established flock, you might not see a lot of aggression. At least not any more. Because they’ve settled their class structure for the time being. But if you add new members, or get chicks, then you tend to see more activity that we would consider ‘mean‘ but are perfectly acceptable to chickens.

As I mentioned earlier, they can puff themselves out and chest thump each other. Typically this occurs with birds of similar rank and size. An adolescent rooster, who just got introduced to the flock, won’t necessarily challenge the established rooster for dominance of the flock. He doesn’t even have his spurs yet. No, he will wait submissively until he’s bigger and thinks he has a chance against the bigger roo.

The same goes for hens. The more accepted, older hens will put the younger, newer ones in their places quickly. And those hens will, likewise, work out the hierarchy between themselves. Depending upon the breeds you have can determine if they will ascend to top dog position; some birds aspire to rule, it seems, while nobody wants to be on the bottom.

dominant hen in social order
The hen eating is more dominant than the others waiting around.

WHY IS THE CHICKEN PECKING ORDER IMPORTANT?

The purpose of the pecking order for chickens is simply to keep order. If they didn’t have a class system, it would be chaotic in the backyard. So, if you only have one chicken, you aren’t going to have a pecking order. Or see much pecking order activity. Although, once you get more birds, they will quickly establish their social order. And normally it’s the most socially dominant hen in charge, unless you have a rooster.

If there is just one rooster, he’s in charge. And then the most socially dominant hens, working out their own class system between themselves. Though, if you have two roosters, it’s usually the most aggressive one who’s boss, unless one of them is young. And then the young rooster is somewhere in the mix; he can be just below the boss rooster or even under the oldest hens. We still only have two roosters, and they are still the ones in charge. But, after them, it’s the most dominant hen or hens.

When Cass, our first real rooster, died, and Megatron became the boss, he was very eager to do his duty. Although, our two boss hens, Fives and Echo, had a thing or two they wanted to teach him before they would allow him to take over.

They were never mean to him before; they never had a reason to prior to this. However, when he assumed a new position, and a very important one at that, I can well imagine that the two sisters had some very momentous things they wanted Megatron to understand. He was maybe only a year old, and they were old hands at this, raising chicks and wayward roosters. They were better suited to protect the flock than the last rooster, and they knew it. So they weren’t about to let some upstart waltz in their flock, acting like he knew what he was doing, when he didn’t.

It was actually quite interesting to watch how they interacted with him. I’m not kidding you, those two old hens tackled my 1 year old rooster. And at first, he fought back, but then, I think he began to understand that he was not the boss . . . yet. It was a demonstration in front of the whole flock. After a while their abuse ceased. And over the next few days the girls eased up on him, possibly giving him instructions on how to take care of his harem, before they too submitted themselves to him.

chickens in established pecking order
A harmonious flock where every member knows their place in the social order.

WHAT HAPPENS IN THE CHICKEN PECKING ORDER?

I’ve already mentioned that there will be pecking in a backyard flock. And for an established flock, it’s limited to mostly pecking. In a new or young flock, or one where new members are being added, you will see more serious attacks between members. Although, that isn’t all that it’s about. The pecking order determines when the birds eat, drink, lay eggs, dust bathe, and where they sleep. And in the case of roosters, when they can crow and mate. So the birds at the top of the hierarchy get first and best dibs, while those on the bottom get the leftovers.

If a chicken steps out of line, metaphorically, and eats before they’re supposed to, or is laying an egg when the boss hen wants to, then the boss hen, (or the hen who’s in a better position on the social ladder), will peck the hen who usurped her place and the hen with the lower social standing will get in trouble. I have seen hens drag other hens away from the feed dish or nesting box. They are that serious about their pecking order. And the hen who got pecked usually doesn’t retaliate even if she’s ten times bigger and could crush the other bird.

Currently we only have our rooster as the boss. And since Echo and Fives died, no other hens have risen to the challenge to take their places in guiding the flock. I shouldn’t be surprised, since most of our birds are docile. They’re content with their positions, so long as they’re not on the bottom. You can read about them here.

You know your backyard flock has a successful social order when the boss maintains the peace. Usually that position is reserved mostly for roosters, however a good hen can do this as well. Sometimes a hen or a rooster will step out of line and disturb the homeostasis for only a moment. In which case, the boss will soon take care of it.

If there are 2 roosters, and the younger one upsets that balance, he might end up challenging the boss rooster. That’s what happened in the picture below. Since Megatron still has his spurs and was much bigger, Baby Nay lost the fight. Normally Baby Nay would run from confrontations with his dad. But not that day. For whatever reason, he decided it was time to take the risk.

2 roosters establish pecking order

HOW TO TELL IF IT’S NORMAL PECKING ORDER BEHAVIOR INSTEAD BULLYING

How can you know if your birds are displaying normal social order activity? I mean, it sort of looks like they’re all bullies, right? I admit, for a long time it bothered me how my backyard flock treated each other. But especially how the adults would treat the younger birds.

When we have adolescent chickens, and Megatron gets around them, he makes a special point of pecking them. And it appears really hard. But that might be due to his larger beak.

It wasn’t until quite recently that I realized he’s most likely using his authority as the boss to teach and keep the youngsters in line. And not really being mean and wanting to eat his kids.

When you introduce new members to your existing flock, it will inevitably look like abuse. But especially if you do it too fast, only introduce one new member, or one of the chickens gets an injury or has an abnormality. Make no mistake, the chickens will abuse that bird. And it won’t be just one mean hen. In general, even your sweetest hens will join in the abuse. And you will have absolutely no doubts.

flock of hens on green field
Photo by Alexas Fotos on Pexels.com

WHAT TO DO IF A BIRD GETS TOO BULLIED

It does happen with the backyard flock; you will inevitably get a chicken who will be the bully. Or you will get a hen who will be the one who gets bullied. We have had both kinds of birds, and both can be frustrating. I want all of our birds to get along. However, that’s not how they are built. They are built to eat, drink, sleep, have chicks, and survive. If there’s a member of the flock who is weaker, they automatically pick on that one. Maybe they’re trying to beat the weakness out of that particular member, but I don’t really think so.

They certainly don’t have human emotions; our complex emotions like feeling sorry or sorrow for something that is weaker, hurt, or sick. They want it far from them. It could be instinctual, because they’re preventing the spread of disease. The time we had Kix, the Wyandotte mixed hen we incubated, (who had a leg that didn’t develop completely), the flock abused her. Though, she learned to hide from the rest of the birds. And eventually the abuse stopped, perhaps because they figured she knew her place.

The times when we’ve had a relentlessly abusive hen, we’ve separated her from the flock. Because the birds like to stay together. And they have their social order established, so if you separate them, totally away from each other, even for a day, sometimes they have to start all over. Which means the offending bird will stop behaving badly, at least for a time.

Another option, which we’ve tried, is Pinless Peepers or Blinders, by attaching them to the hen’s nostrils. They make it difficult for the disagreeable hen to see very much, so that she can’t abuse anymore. Pinless Peepers are also a good preventative for egg-eating and cannibalism. The hens don’t like them obviously, and they can be difficult to put on. Although, once they’re on, they help a ton.

For more information on the chicken pecking order, click here.