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June 18th, 2013 by Kira Foley

The First Things You Need to Know About Chickens

So it turns out that raising chickens can be both fulfilling and exhausting. There is much to learn about the over-fifty different breeds of chickens! Chickens are closely related to pheasants, both of which are in the scientific family: Phasianidae. Different breeds of chickens require different types of living environments, levels of human attention, and types of feed. They have unique personalities and egg laying abilities. Chicken breeds are usually split into two categories: “broiler-type chickens” or “meat-birds” who grow fast and require a lot of protein rich feed and then “pet or layer-type chickens” who require less feed and more social attention. The chickens I am raising are layer-type chickens who will serve as egg-layers but will also be quite socialized (although this can depend on the breed).

Our daily tasks as keepers of backyard chickens include:

  • Making sure chicks always have fresh, clean water and plenty of feed
  • Keeping tabs on their environment. This means checking the temperature, ensuring there is proper ventilation, and making sure litter is clean and dry. It is also advised to check frequently if the coop is secure and properly protecting chicks from predators (which there are many… even older chickens can pose a hazard).
  • Being aware of the flock’s appearance: Do all the chicks seem healthy? Are they warm enough? Are they eating? (If the chicks are not eating, this can be a sign that the coop is not warm enough or that the chicks are suffering from some kind of health issue. If your chicks are munching away, this is generally a sign they are doing fine and dandy!)
  • Gather and store the eggs!

Our 24 chicks at the Barred Owl Retreat are about 3 weeks old, not yet tween-agers. They are current living in a small brooder (an enclosed area with a source of warmth as well as a space for cooler air used to house baby chicks for the first 6 months of their life). The brooder was moved into the chicken coop where four adult lady chickens live. The goal is to gradually and safely integrate the chicks with the chickens. Chicks should not be put right in a coop with adult chickens, because the adult chickens tend to bully the chicks, pecking at them sometime so much that they can cause death. However, there are ways to help adult female chickens to nurture chicks that are not theirs.

One tip I have learned is: ALWAYS WASH YOUR HANDS AFTER TOUCHING ANYTHING THAT HAS TO DO WITH THE CHICKS/CHICKENS! There are many health risks when dealing with chickens.

Here are some new chicken terms I’ve learned:

  • hen = female chicken at least one year old
  • pullet = female chicken less than one year old
  • cock = male chicken or rooster at least one year old
  • rooster = male chicken at least one year old
  • cockerel = male chicken less than one year old
  • bantam = miniature version of a standard-size chicken breed
  • broody = a hen sitting on eggs to incubate
  • molt = period once a year when chickens lose, then regrow feathers
  • roost = perch where a chicken sleep
  • comb = red fleshy structure on top of a chicken’s head
  • spur = sharp nail on the back of a roosters leg
  • wattle = fleshy part under a chicken’s beak

That’s all for now! Much more to come as I learn more and more about everything chicken!

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