Thinking of getting some chickens?
Sweet! I started almost 20 years ago and love it.
One of the great things about chickens is that, in one way, they are like robots. Their behavior is totally predictable. Which means that if you understand their behavior and what they need, your experience should be as happy as mine.
That said, chickens will not change their behavior. For anything. So read this carefully and if what I describe doesn’t sound like something you are in to, maybe they aren’t for you.
Scratch, Eat, Poop, Lay, Sleep, Repeat
These are the core chicken behaviors. Here’s what you need to know about each.
Chickens are obsessed with scratching the ground. If they are awake, they are likely scratching. It makes them happy and it’s one of my favorite things to watch them do.
Chickens scratch to find bugs and seeds to eat, and they mean business. Which means that they will scratch out anything in their way, including your lawn grass, flowers, garden veggies, anything. I have personally watched my flock obliterate an entire quarter-acre site of grass in my back yard. Down to dirt.
This means that you must give your chickens a place to scratch that you do not mind getting beat up. If you have an enormous yard—an acre or more—and you have less than 15 chickens, you are probably okay (but they will still destroy your flower beds).
However, most people don’t have that much space, which means you must sacrifice some turf grass to your birds and let them scratch the heck out of it.
Chickens scratch for another reason – to “dust bathe.” They will dig a hole a few inches deep, lay down sideways in the hole, and throw dirt all over themselves. It looks like they are dying, but don’t worry, it keeps them healthy.
The dust they throw on themselves removes a lot of pests that bother your birds, like mites and lice. In fact, in the nearly 20 years we have had chickens, I’ve only had to treat my flock for bugs once. If they have plenty of loose dirt to dig in, they’ll take care of the rest.
Here’s what it looks like:
There are three types of food that chickens eat:
- Starter crumbles
- Layer pellets
- Just about any other vegetable substance
Starter crumbles are for baby chicks. They have the right mix of protein, carbs, and vitamins to get them started. They are also in little pieces, “crumbles.” Chicks eat these from the day they are hatched to about four weeks old. Then they move to layer pellets.
Layer pellets are just that – pelletized food for adolescent and adult chickens. The commercial feeds are mixed with the right levels of good stuff to help make healthy birds. They eat pellets starting about four week through the rest of their lives.
*Note: There are lots of layer pellet brands out there, from standard commercial to all-natural to organic. We like the all-natural variety and so do our chickens.
Crumbles and pellets are everyday food for your birds. Just keep a feeder full of it in a dry place (we hang ours from the ceiling of our coop) and they will eat when they want.
In addition to crumbles and pellets, chickens will eat almost any vegetable substance from your kitchen. Lettuce, carrots, melons, citrus, beans, turnips, you name it. They are better than goats. Supplementing your chickens’ diet with kitchen scraps is a great way to recycle the scraps and also make healthier chickens and eggs.
Watering is probably the easiest part, but super important. Chickens don’t drink in big gulps like humans and dogs. They drink in little sips all through the day. So, you must keep a vessel full of fresh where they can get to it at all times. We use a stainless steel automatic dog waterer. Works like a charm.
Chickens eat constantly, drink constantly, and poop constantly. They also poop whenever and wherever they feel the urge, even when they sleep. This means that anywhere a chicken can walk or roost, there will be poop.
If you walk in your chicken yard, you will get poop on your shoes. Most experienced chicken raisers keep a pair of rubber boots or clogs by the back door that they slip into before going to the chicken yard.
“Doesn’t that mean my whole chicken yard will stink?” Actually, no. The average chicken yard is remarkably stink free, and because chicken poop is small (as opposed to, say, a dog) it breaks down into your yard quickly.
The one exception is your coop, where the chickens sleep. Unless you clean it regularly, poop will accumulate and smell. One solution to this is to have a dirt floor under the roosts in your coop. The poop falls into the dirt and decomposes. Really cuts down the smell.
The average healthy laying hen in her prime will drop about five eggs per week. She needs a small, dark, quiet place to lay them that has soft nesting material. A dedicated space just to lay eggs.
Nesting material can be hay, pine straw, dry leaves, anything that mimics leaf litter on a forest floor. We use shredded paper from the office.
Chickens wake and sleep with the sun, no matter how long your day is. In the winter, when days are shorter, chickens sleep more. In summer, less.
They also want to sleep in exactly the same place every night. They are super habitual about this. Once they find their sleeping spot, they stick with it.
Another thing about chicken sleep – they are almost completely night blind, which means they are most vulnerable to predators at night. You must have your chickens locked in a safe place when the sun goes down or they are in danger.
That is the life of a chicken. If that sounds like something you can live with and accommodate, get some!
For more great chicken tips, look at my chicken page.