Frequently Asked Questions
Though keeping chickens is a wonderful and rewarding past time, there are a few things you need to know. It’s important to know the warning signs of a sick chicken and how to cure him, who the most likely predators are in your area and how to keep them away, and other useful tips and tricks in keeping your chickens safe. Here are the answers to some FAQ.
Keeping chickens isn’t terribly hard, but occasionally there will be daunting health problems you might need to deal with. It’s important to know how to properly handle these some common issues.
Strategically placing windows in the south wall of your backyard coop will provide natural sunlight, ventilation during the warm months, and add warmth during the cool months. You’ll also want to consider soft lighting, such as a bulb suspended above your chickens’ feeding and watering area, during the shorter fall and winter months. Our solar option will provide light when electricity is not available.
- Line your nests with soft padding to decrease the likelihood of an egg breaking. The habit often starts when an egg cracks accidentally and the chickens start pecking at the broken egg. Also, limit nests to one nest per every 4 (or less) hens to prevent crowding; eggs are more likely to get trampled.
- Sometimes the habit can be traced to a nutritional deficiency. Make sure you are feeding your chickens a proper diet.
- Egg eating can also occur when the light is too bright, nests are on the floor, or there is insufficient nest litter.
- Don’t throw cracked eggs on the floor for chickens to eat.
- When an egg breaks, clean it up as quickly and thoroughly as possible to prevent the chickens from tasting the egg.
- Place two golf balls in each nesting box
Roost mites are tiny bugs that suck your chickens’ blood. They can cause illness and death if left uncontrolled. Look out for tiny red spots on the eggs, which indicate mites’ presence. Inspect the underside of the roosts if you notice chickens will refusing to lay in nest boxes: This behavior is a warning sign that the nests might be infested.
There are many ways to treat a bad infestation of mites. You may use an insecticide such as permethrin on your chickens, or wood ashes and nontoxic enzyme-based lice and mite sprays like Poultry Protector. Keeping the chicken coop clean will help prevent mites and adding diatomaceous earth can be used to combat mites as well.
Lice are between 1 to 4mm long and can be found crawling on the bird at the base of the feathers. They are very speedy and quickly move out of the light when the feathers are parted. Usually they spread from bird to bird by direct contact and clumps of eggs, but occasionally via the hen house or through litter. Lice can only survive for a few days off of the bird. Most chickens will have a few lice on them from time to time and won’t be particularly bothered by them but it’s important not to let the numbers get out of control.
Signs of Lice
- 1 to 4mm fast moving lice at the base of the feathers.
- A drop in the number of eggs laid.
- Irritation, scratching.
- Over preening, feather loss, broken feathers, red, bare bottoms.
Preventing Lice Chickens will treat themselves through dust baths and preening. If you add diatomaceous earth to their nests, this will add extra effectiveness to the dust bath which will help. However it is important to make sure it isn’t too dusty since chickens are prone to respiratory problems.
To ensure that your roost avoids contact with birds that have lice, you should check all newcomers to the flock and dust with a louse powder as a precaution before introducing them to the flock.
To “break up” a broody hen, remove her from the rest of the flock and keep her isolated with food and water and do not allow access to nesting boxes. A technique to try is to put ice cubes under her instead of the eggs.
Combs are a great indication to the heath of birds. A bright rich red comb usually indicates good health. A pink looking comb indicates decent health. A comb with a bluish tinge indicates poor blood circulation and should be treated with caution. Combs that are excessively scabbed probably mean a bird has been fighting.
Feathers, Vent, and Legs
Inspect under feathers for parasites, especially under wings and around the vent. Comb through their feathers to inspect for lice, and be on the lookout for scaly legs (a common indicator of leg mites). Birds that are dirty, scruffy or have an excess of muck on their feathers around the vent area can be a sign of problems. Some of the more fluffy breeds will get some muck on their feathers but in general should keep themselves fairly clean.
Eyes and Nose
Your birds eyes should be clear, clean, and bright. Bubbles or fluid around the corners of the eyes and/or fluid around the nostrils can indicate respiratory infections. This is common in chickens and a quick listen to your birds breathing and inspection inside the beak can also tell you if there are problems in the upper respiratory tract. Listen for rattles or wheezing during breathing.
Beak, and Toes
The upper and lower beak should meet in the middle and should not be crossed over; toes should be straight. Bent toes are an inherited deformity, and while these are good pet pets, you shouldn’t breed these birds.
Knowing what might prey on your chickens and how they attack is the best way to stop or prevent them. Here are some critters who might be culprits.
To prevent this type of attack, avoid having your coop too close to trees or fence posts- basically any place where predatory birds like to roost, or could land before flying in to scoop up your chickens.
Sometimes, you have to protect your chickens from your pets. Usually dogs are not interested in eating the birds- dogs prefer to hunt for sport. Generally, the a dog will stop attacking once the bird stops moving, and then leave the bird alone (however, the chicken usually dies from injuries). Unfortunately for you and the flock, dogs who kill for sport often attack large numbers of birds at once.
A dog will rarely eat the chicken. You can differentiate a dog attack from a cat attack because a dog doesn’t eat the feet and head. Usually, a cat will leave the wings. Cats and dogs are messy eaters and will leave clumps of feathers in the wake of their attack. Normally, cats kill chicks or small chickens, but they do have the ability to decimate a full grown chicken.
If you live in a more secluded area, you might have to worry about wolves, coyotes, and foxes. It is still unlikely that they will come into your backyard, but if they do, this is what you need to know. Coyotes and foxes attack alone or with one partner and will hunt at either dusk or dawn. Wolves will do the same, but as a pack. Make sure to have a fence that goes deep into the ground to stop these predators- they usually break in by digging under the fence to get under it or by biting through the fence and climbing through the resulting hole. A fox attack is slightly different because foxes will generally leave a smaller hole, and they have the ability to climb over fences.
Be wary of letting your chickens roam in a pasture. All three animals prey on the old, young, and weakest of the flock and will grab a chicken from the field.
Most of the time, these are clean abductions with no trace of the bird left behind. Otherwise, like any animal that kills to eat, there will be puncture marks from teeth in the carcass, and as little of the chicken left as possible.
Opossums, raccoons, and skunks are nocturnal, which means they hunt at night. However, these animals have different hunting methods and eating habits, so it’s fairly easy to tell who attacked your flock.
Raccoons will hunt either alone or with their family. If they get in the coop by prying apart any non-secured wire mesh, they will kill more than one chicken. Raccoons prefer to just eat the guts, the crop, and part of the chest and then leave the remains on the ground. More than likely, they will take some eggs with them when they leave. Raccoons also have the ability to stick their skinny arms through mesh wire and grab parts of a chicken before running away.
Opossums hunt by themselves and mainly attack chicks or small chickens, but will occasionally kill a bigger bird. Their attacks are very similar to that of a raccoon, but opossums kill by biting the neck of their prey and will sometimes drink blood. Like raccoons, opossums can stick an arm through wire mesh and pull out parts of the chicken to eat.
Skunks are egg thieves and will generally burrow underneath fencing to get to your chickens’ eggs. However, other members of the weasel family are a lot more brutal. Weasels may hunt with their families and will get in to your coop through any small hole. Weasel attacks differ from that of an opossum or a raccoon in that weasels kill by biting at the base of the chicken’s skull, and weasels will often pile the corpses of their prey.
Protect your chickens from raccoons, opossums, and skunks by never leaving food out overnight, being wary when there are pools of water on your grounds during an arid season, and be vigilant about the wiring on your coop- do not use chicken wire! Chicken wire will not protect your flock.
Snakes are not as considerate and will eat chicks and eggs without leaving any sort of sign that they were there at all.
Now that you know about some of the difficulties of keeping chickens, here are some ways to protect your flock.
The first step in protecting your flock from pests and predators is to be careful with your food storage. Mice and rats can chew through plastic, so keep chicken feed and birdseed in metal containers. Without a source of food, your coop will no longer be an attractive place for rats and mice to nest and breed. This eliminates some parasites as well as stops gruesome rat attacks.
All predators will be drawn to your yard if you leave food out. This includes any cat and dog food that you might leave out to feed your pets. There is no such thing as being too careful when trying to protect your chickens from predators. Always be on the lookout for fallen fruit, plant vegetable gardens far from your coop, and even keep bird feeders away from your chicken area.
It is absolutely imperative to have a good fence. Not only to keep predators out, but to keep your chickens in. We recommend a wire or electric netted mesh fence about 5 feet high. We cannot stress enough the importance of not using chicken wire- it’s too soft, breakable, and easily rusted. Bury your fence at least 6 inches into the ground (a full foot would be better) to best defend against predators like wolves and skunks, and any other animal who can break in by burrowing. Bending the fence outward will give it stronger support.
Another way to safeguard against flying predators is to keep coops out in the open away from trees or fence posts- anything that birds can land on before flying into the coop. Protect against wild animals by building your coops as far away from woodlands. Doing this will decrease the likelihood of predator attacks. It’s best to keep the coops close to your house, preferably in eye distance, to keep watch over things.
Our coops are amazing and very safe, but good upkeep and proper installation is important. It is best to have a raised coop off of the ground by at least a foot. Mice and rats would feel too exposed to nest under there. If your coop must sit on the ground, put hardware cloth or strong netting underneath the structure as a shield against burrowing predators. Hardware cloth is a great tool for sealing up any openings or cracks within the structure as well.
After you’ve put up proper fencing and made your coops as impenetrable as possible, there are some simple tricks you can do to stop predators from coming into your yard. One way is to confuse predators- try changing the layout of your yard every so often and it will disorient any potential attacks. Protect your chickens from birds of prey by netting wire mesh on top of the fence (like a cage). If your chicken area is too big to do this, or if you are also using the area for other things, put shiny distracting objects throughout the yard. If you plant things like pinwheels or hang old cds from a wire, the resulting twirling and twinkling will scare away owls, hawks, and eagles. Keep other potential attackers away by getting a nighttime LED light, which looks will look like watchful eyes in the dark. Installing a bright security light or motion-activated light aimed at the coop is also pretty effective for scaring away any threats.
Traps are perhaps not the best method. Using bait like cat meat will draw the animals to the traps, but many of the creatures that you catch and relocate (skunks, raccoons, weasels, opossums) are good trackers and very territorial and will find their way back home. It’s also a very futile method, as most of these predators have large families in the area, which means you probably won’t be able to catch them all. There is the added danger of the bait attracting animals that are too large to catch, and more threatening to humans than the smaller, trappable predators.
It’s a good idea to have a guard dog or two, one that will bark at any intruder into your coop’s territory. However, there is the added problem with a dog who is good at hunting and killing is that he may prey upon your flock. This is why training is very important and it’s smart to go to a professional dog trainer. As with any bad behavior, you have to discipline your dog if he attacks, as well as reinforce good behavior.
If you are hesitant about getting a dog to guard your chickens, definitely get a rooster. Even if you do not intend to breed your chickens, roosters are extremely useful to your flock. They will come to the hens’ aid at any sign of attack and protect the hens by confronting and fighting intruders. Everyone knows that roosters can be loud, and they will use their squack to alert you to any incoming threat.
Roosters also act as a shepherd for your chickens. They will keep the hens organized and alert, which will also keep the chickens from danger.