Poultry Questions & Answers
Q – Does it require a rooster to have eggs?
A – Absolutely not, unless you want fertilized eggs for baby chicks.
Q – Do hens crow?
A – Nope, although they may cackle happily for up to 1 minute after they lay a particularly nice egg. However, this is only during daylight hours, and is generally much quieter than the average crow, Canada goose, or duck flying by.
Q – How many eggs do hens lay, and for how long do they continue laying?
A – An average hen will lay 2 eggs every 3 days, although some hens lay more. If they are laying less, you might check to make sure you’re feeding them enough (this is pretty easy as they eat everything!). Hens begin laying at around 20 weeks of age, although this varies by breed, and will continue laying for a few years (180-250 eggs a year!) until they begin to taper off.
Q – What do we do with our hen Betty once she is no longer laying eggs?
A – Craigslist and Freecycle are good places to find new homes for hens that are no longer productive, if you are so inclined and are not desperately attached to your peaceful pet. They are also good places to dispose of baby chicks that turn out to be baby roosters.
Q – Should we let our hens free-range in our yard?
A – In our opinion, this is a bad idea. Hens are basically homebodies although they will occasionally forage wider if they are in hot pursuit of a tasty bug. Keeping your hens in a safe coop, enclosed henyard, or portable chicken “tractor” (or as they are known in the UK, a “chicken ark”) is good poultry management. Birds can be prey animals to larger predators like dogs or hawks. Just like you would do with your pet dog or cat, keep them safe and at home!
Q – Are hens expensive to feed?
A – Absolutely not! Hens are omnivores… they eat anything! Every bug you can imagine, from grasshoppers to flies, wasps to slugs, grubs, “June bugs”, ants, spiders, crickets… They will eat your kitchen scraps, even (gulp) cooked eggs and bits of cooked chicken. They eat the crusts off your children’s sandwiches, leftover Brussels sprouts, crumbs from the bottom of the package of… whatever. They love fresh grass clippings, although you should not feed them clippings from grass that has been treated with pesticides or herbicides (weed & feed). In addition to this, you want to feed them a balanced “Laying” ration from your local feed store.
Q – Can chickens fly?
A – Some do. Smaller, lightweight breeds like the bantams can fly for short distances, up to say 25’. Larger laying breeds do not fly. A simple, painless clipping of wing flight feathers can prevent flying attempts.
Q – How big are chickens?
A – Standard-sized hens are between 4-7 pounds (lighter than an average sized cat) and bantam breeds are 1-2 pounds.
Q – How long do pet chickens live?
A – On average about 8-10 years, although some may live longer.
Q – What do you do with chicken waste?
A – Unlike other backyard pets such as dogs and cats, chickens are wonderful fertilizer producers. Their waste (including bedding such as many types of wood shavings, newspaper, straw, etc) can be safely and simply composted in a home composting operation. If you don’t compost, ask around, see if your gardening friends would like it! Post on Craigslist for free fertilizer product. Look for a Community Garden in your area that might like your fertilizer (do ask first, rather than just showing up with a bucket full!).
Q – What potential problems can we experience with henkeeping?
A – As with any pet, you want to keep an eye on your hens and make sure they are free from any parasites… if they do have a problem, poultry health supplies are in general much less expensive (and available at many feed and agriculture supply stores locally) than those for cats and dogs. Hens will bathe themselves in “dust baths” which you can prepare with Sevin dust or the like, once a month or so. Keep wild birds away from your flock, the use of simple bird netting over the top of a hen yard is a great idea, or you can keep them entirely enclosed in a heavier-duty coop. Teach children to be gentle with the birds and they will find a friendly, interesting pet that comes running when they show up, hoping for a bug or snack handout. Teach your dogs that hens are family friends and off limits. If you’re going on vacation or will be camping etc for the weekend, be sure to have someone check on the flock to make sure they’re safe and have plenty of food and water, just as you would with any other pet.