Q&A with New Age Pet: 10 Questions About Backyard Chickens

Spring is here (well, almost!) and we’re getting flooded with questions about urban farming and raising backyard chickens. Raising urban chickens can be a hugely rewarding experience but it can also be confusing! Which bedding should I use? What is chicken scratch? How do you confine your chickens while you are away at work? How do you keep predators away? No question is a dumb question and we’re hoping you’ll find answers here! Below are the top ten most common questions we get about chickens.

#1: How long do chickens live?

The life expectancy for a chicken that’s protected from predators is usually 8 to 12 years. Some chickens have been reported to live up to 15 or 20 years, but that is pretty unusual.

#2: Do I need a rooster for my hens to lay eggs?

Absolutely NOT! A rooster is only needed if you want to fertilize an egg, otherwise a hen will lay an egg every 24-36 hours whether a rooster is in your flock or not. 

#3: So if I don’t need a rooster to get eggs, what’s the benefits of having a rooster?

Great question! It should be noted that most cities do not permit you to have roosters because of the aggressive nature and the noise, so check your city ordinances when considering getting backyard chickens. If your city is the exception, there are a few things to consider in regards to roosters.

  • Protection: roosters are primarily used as protection. They’ll do everything in their power to safeguard their hens from predators and humans alike, so roosters can get pretty aggressive at times. If you’re planning on letting your flock roam on a large piece of land during the day, a rooster is a natural way to provide protection to the group. If you’re not on a larger piece of land, a rooster may cause more grief than good.
  • Aggression: if you have other pets in the household, it’s probably best to not have a rooster as a part of your flock. Roosters will aggressive protect against even friendly household pets like dogs and cats.
  • Noise: most everyone knows the wake up call of a rooster; this can get pretty loud and annoying if that rooster is constantly crowing in your neighbor’s yard! Be mindful of the noise that a rooster can create, especially in the morning, before considering adding one to your flock.

#4: When do hens start laying eggs?

Typically hens will start producing eggs when they are 5-6 months old and will generate 200-300 eggs per year. Some breeds, such as Rhode Island Reds, Golden Sex Links, or White Leghorns are more prolific egg layers. Generally hens that are two years or older will produce less and less eggs. Eventually they’ll stop producing altogether.

#5: Can I have just one chicken?

We don’t recommend this. Chickens are social creatures and prefer to be in a flock, even if that’s a flock of 2 or 3.

#6: How much do chickens eat? And what do I feed them?

Let’s start with the last question first. Chickens typically eat “scratch” or “grain”, which can be found at any farmer’s supply store. There are many types of scratch, just as there are many types of dog or cat food, but they are generally about the same. Because of the amount of variables involved, it’s hard to answer to how much feed your chickens will need. The general answer is 4-6 ounces of scratch in the summer and 6-8 ounces in the winter. Chickens prefer to forage and much of their diet can come from eating pests, bugs, and other small insects that they find while free-ranging. Use your best judgement to determine how much scratch should be given, depending on the climate, the amount of time spent free-ranging, and the overall health condition of your flock. If you can’t allow  your chickens to free range, consider spreading the scratch throughout their enclosure several times a day. This promotes their natural instincts of foraging and provides stimulation and exercise!

#7: Since you mentioned free-range chickens, how do I let my chickens roam in my backyard while still protecting against predators?

Generally speaking, chickens are pretty smart at outrunning a predator. Chickens are surprisingly fast and agile and can even climb trees to escape predators on the ground! That being said, providing adequate predator protection is crucial in making sure your livestock is happy, healthy, and worry-free. Here are a few options to consider:

  • Enclosing your flock: you can easily get a fully enclosed pen. New Age Pet’s pen is a bottomless enclosure that provides an overhead enclosure, as well as fully surrounding the chickens in protective wiring. hosting information Hawks, owls, and other birds of prey commonly attack backyard chickens, so think about protecting the chickens from above as well as on all sides. Having the pen attach to the barn is especially helpful at night.
  • Providing adequate cover: if you decide not to enclose your flock, take a look around your yard and make sure there are plenty of places that a chicken can scurry under, around,on, or in between. Chickens will often run into brush, trees, bushes, or other dense greenery to escape a predator running after them. Providing those places of escape can mean the difference between life and death for your chicken!

#8: How do you get chickens back into their coop at night?

Chickens naturally crave protection at night, so you’ll notice that your chickens instinctively come back to their coop around dusk. Be sure to leave the coop door open, if you can, around that time. Generally speaking, your role is to close up the door at night and re-open the door in the morning. Forgetting to do this will result in predators in your coop or restless, angry chickens! 

#9: Speaking of chicken coops, how do I know which bedding to use?

The internet debate rages on about proper bedding for your chicken coop, but it comes down to how often you’re cleaning the coop and what resources are available to you. Below are a few options to consider:

  • Straw or hay: probably the most popular type of bedding used in a chicken coop, hay or straw is easy to purchase and can be used in your compost after coming out of your chicken coop. Generally speaking, hay or straw will not do a great job at soaking up urine, so you may find the odor smell to be pretty strong unless you wash our your coop often.
  • Shavings or chips: a costly, but effective method of soaking up urine and droppings, wood chips or shavings can be a great way to keep the odors at bay! Typically chips are denser and less comfortable for chickens that shavings, so consider this if your chickens will be nesting or laying.
  • Newspaper: a great way to save money and re-use old newspaper, but this can provide a serious of issues. Paper tends to be less absorbent than other types of bedding, which can cause molding issues and bacteria build up. Only consider newspaper if you’re willing to wash out your barn on a daily basis.

#10: Do you need to bathe chickens?

Nope! Chickens are virtually maintenance free. They’ll take “dust baths” that keep them clean and free of pests. Like other birds, they’ll groom themselves and other members of their flock to get rid of pests and fleas.

We hope we’ve answered most of your chicken questions, but please feel free to send more our way! Connect with us here on our blog or via our Facebook page!


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2 Responses to Q&A with New Age Pet: 10 Questions About Backyard Chickens

  1. Tammy March 26, 2015 at 3:16 am #

    Are there special vaccinations or worming or other needed preventatives that chickens need?

  2. Pet Odor Eliminatior April 7, 2015 at 5:48 pm #

    What about hard floors like lanolium?

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