Avoid These 10 New Chicken Keeper Mistakes
Yay! You finally have backyard chickens! We love our feathered family and know that you will love keeping chickens too.
But keeping chickens isn't as easy as just letting them roam and throwing out some corn from time to time. There is a lot to learn if you want to keep healthy, happy hens that produce lots of nutritious eggs.
Learn from our 10+ years of keeping backyard chickens and working with chicken keepers! The problems we help new chicken keepers solve are almost always the same. But there is an easier way - learn from us!
Make chicken keeping easier. Avoid these 10 common mistakes for happier, healthier and more productive hens.
10 Mistakes to Avoid When Keeping Chickens
1. Scratch Grain
Chicken scratch looks good. And it's great for chickens, right? After all, it's in the name!
Wrong. Scratch grain is about the worst possible feed for laying hens. While the variety of grains looks appealing, the result is that chickens eat what they like and waste the rest. They scratch the grain around, hence the name, causing waste, mess and contamination. Not only does spilled and wasted feed attract rats, this means your chickens are not getting a balanced diet.
Avoid nutritional deficiencies that cause poor health and decreased egg production. Choose a complete pellet feed (or mash) to ensure your chickens are getting a balanced diet.
2. Skimping on feed
Chicken keepers often try to save money by skimping on chicken feed.
Plenty of irresponsible websites recommend limiting access to feed, bulking out chicken feed with cheaper grains or making homemade feed with bargain ingredients. This is terrible advice!
Without an optimal diet, chickens lay fewer eggs and are more susceptible to many common parasites and diseases. Commercial feed contains exactly what laying hens need. Even a small change, such as supplementing the feed with cheaper grains, throws this delicate balance out.
It may seem counter intuitive, but limiting feed in any way will actually cost you money in the long run, as your chickens will lay fewer eggs and suffer more from parasites and diseases.
3. Too many scraps and treats
As nice as it is to see kitchen scraps turned into fresh eggs, giving your chickens a lot of scraps every day is another common mistake made by new chicken keepers.
Diet is easily the most important thing for keeping productive hens. For the best health, the overwhelming majority of a hen’s diet should be a complete layer feed. Anything that replaces that feed, such as scraps, dilutes the nutrients in the feed and contributes to deficiencies.
Avoid deficiencies, obesity and ill-health by limiting scraps to no more than 10 % of your chickens’ diet. Only feed your birds healthy scraps like fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
4. Round roosts
Chickens evolved to sleep up in trees, so they like to roost at night. But new chicken keepers often equip their coop with round roosts, like broomsticks. While chickens will use these roosts if they are the only option, small round roosts are actually bad for chickens’ feet.
Chickens aren’t like parrots – if given a choice, they will choose a thicker branch to roost, so that their feet sit mostly flat with the toes just curling around the edges of the roost. Broomsticks are too thin even for bantams!
Equip your coop with solid, flat-topped roosts. 2x4s or thick tree branches are great options that will be more comfortable for your chickens and prevent foot, leg and bone issues in the long term.
5. Keeping multiple roosters
Many new chicken keepers start out with day-old chicks. These chicks grow up and if you haven't gotten sexed chicks, and sometimes even if you have, you end up with multiple roosters!
Keeping one rooster is fine, but keeping multiple roosters isn't. It is usually stressful for the hens and the chicken keeper! While multiple roosters in a flock can be managed in some circumstances, it is not something we ever recommend to new chicken keepers.
So while it may be hard to say goodbye to chicks you raised by hand, you should act early to re-home roosters if you have more than one. Your hens, and the roosters, will thank you!
6. Forgetting the shell grit
Shell grit is essential for healthy hens. The grit aids digestion, while the calcium content is needed for egg shell production. Calcium deficiencies can build up over time in laying hens, leading to bone damage and other issues.
Once your chickens reach point-of-lay, provide free access to shell grit at all times but never mix the shell grit with feed. Don’t worry if your chickens don’t seem to be eating much shell grit – they know how much they need to stay healthy!
7. Cleaning a dry coop without a mask
You’d be amazed how many bird owners and chicken keepers clean up dry poop without a mask!
You are unlikely to catch an illness from your chickens, if you practice good hygiene like washing your hands after handling your birds. But it is not just about what is on your hands! Dry bird droppings tend to be dusty, and this dust can cause disease if you inhale it.
Chicken coops are dusty anyway, and dust is never good for your lungs. So we recommend wetting down the coop before cleaning – damp bedding is better for composting anyway! – and wearing a mask.
8. Dirty feed and water
We have all seen chicken keepers scattering grain or scraps on the ground. Chickens are also guilty of raking and scratching feed out of poorly-designed feeders.
Parasites and diseases are transmitted through bird poop and can also be present in the soil. Dirty feed and water are the most common way that chickens in backyard flocks get diseases and parasites.
Keep your chickens healthy with clean feed and water. Invest in a feeder that keeps feed clean and off the ground, and always use a clean dish for any scraps or treats. Waterers should be enclosed, with a Nipple or Cup opening that prevents chickens from pooping in the water.
A Dine a Chook Feeder and Waterer kit is the easiest way to set up a new chicken coop with clean feed and water.
9. Leaving feed on the floor
Despite what people say, chickens and rodents don’t have to go together. If you deal with rodents when you see the signs, you can keep chickens for many years without any rodent problems at all!
The problem is that most chicken keepers are not thinking about rodents when they start out, and so they make mistakes that attract rats and mice to their chicken coop. And once rodents find an easy, reliable food source, they are much more difficult to get rid of.
Feed on the floor is by far the most common reason why rats and mice are attracted to the chicken coop in the first place. This might be spilled feed from a poorly-designed feeder, the wasted ingredients from a grain mix or uneaten scraps.
If there is never feed on the floor, especially overnight, rodents are far less likely to find your chicken coop an attractive place to live.
Avoid rodent problems by starting out with good habits. Never feed your chickens on the floor, always clean up uneaten scraps and any spilled feed. Avoid grain mixes that encourage waste and invest in a feeder that actually does the job of keeping the feed inside. Dine a Chook Feeders have a specially-designed, patented feeding bay system for just this purpose!
10. Not quarantining new birds
When you get your first chickens, you obviously don’t need to quarantine them. But many chicken keepers forget to quarantine new birds as they begin to add to their flock (chicken math is real!).
Once you have chickens, any new bird poses the risk of introducing disease into your flock. Disease outbreaks can cause the death of your birds, as well as decreasing production.
The best way to protect your flock is by quarantining any new birds for a minimum of 2 weeks (a month is better) prior to introducing them to your flock. While maintaining a separated quarantine pen can be a pain, and impossible in some backyards, it is worth it. It is always heart-breaking when a new chicken keeper adds to their flock, only to lose birds because they didn’t quarantine!
For more information for new chicken keepers, visit these handy blog posts:
Happy chicken keeping!
Rachael at Dine a Chook