Our chicken keeping FAQ

This chicken keeping FAQ page is full of little snippets of useful chicken information. It will keep growing so keep checking back.

Here we go.

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Q: How easy is it to look after chicks?

A: Chicks are really easy to look after. If you would like to buy chicks from us, all our chicks are sent to you with a fully comprehensive care sheet to assist you. If you have any difficulties along the way, we are only a phone call or email away. We can hire out a fully equipped brooder if you don’t want to invest in anything yourself. Check out our hire equipment pages here

Q: What is a broody chicken

A: A broody chicken is one that has decided that she wants to hatch some chicks of her own.

Q: What is a hybrid chicken

A: A hybrid is a commercial standard chicken, that has a specific “recipe” which the breeders follow to create a “super chicken”. The hybrid breeds often are trademarked and have names such as Hyline Brown, Lohmann Brown, Warren, Babcock, Bovans and several others. A hybrid mated to a hybrid does not produce another hybrid of the same type. Most hybrids are based on Leghorn, Rhode Island Red (or white) or Sussex.

Q: What is a crossbreed

A: Crossbreeds are usually happy accidents. Or experimental crossings of a male and a female chicken. Crossbreeds do not breed true, much like hybrids don’t. It takes many generations for the genes to fix and eventually they may breed true and perhaps become a breed in their own right. Hedgerow Henporium crosses are this kind of pairings. Our resident cockerels get to mate with our laying flock. Our laying flock are all good layers so the resultant crosses usually follow suit.

Q: What is a pure breed.

A: A pure breed, breeds true. They often have a Poultry Club of Great Britain “standard” and a dedicated club. The standard dictates the breed characteristics from the head down to the toes. This is where the beauty pageant comes in. The shows test whether a particular entrant conforms to the exact “standard” of the breed in question. Most of the pure breeds have dedicated bands of breeders who preserve the breed in its correct form for generations to come. As there is a heavy bias on the visual aspect of the breed for showing purposes, several breeds are now a shadow of their former selves in terms of egg laying ability. A pure breed, bred to the same pure breed, will produce another copy of the pure breed. This means it breeds true.

Q: What is a landrace breed

A: Technically not a breed at all. Landrace means that the characteristics of a certain bird from a geographical area over many generations of chance interbreeding will eventually conform to a style. A Swedish Flower Hen is one such example. They are so rare in their native country of Sweden, that any breeders in other countries have agreed to preserve the breed exactly the way it is, and most of all that no trait selection should take place. There should be no breeding to capitalise on certain characteristics over others or selecting for colour etc. The random nature of the breed is the reason it is so beautiful.

Q: Do I have to vaccinate my chickens

A: If you imagine that some of the massive breeders of commercial types of chickens raise them in a warehouse or huge barn conditions. There may be thousands of birds in this situation. If one bird gets sick then lots of birds get sick. It spreads like wildfire to the point where losses can be catastrophic economically. These types of breeders cannot afford for any birds to fall ill. Vaccination in this situation is imperative. It’s not for the end users benefit entirely. It is economic suicide for the breeder if they don’t. Vaccinations have been given at strict intervals, rather like human baby immunisation schedules.  Boosters also need to be given at the prescribed intervals. Vaccinations against many illnesses are available for the most part in vials of 1000 doses. Several different vaccines have to be given in order to protect the business of the breeder.

Having a small flock means you can avoid the need for vaccinations because the level of risk is minimal Small breeders don’t vaccinate because it is not required and because it would hike the cost of their chickens for sale massively.  Small numbers of birds don’t have the same risk of illness. They are less likely to be exposed to illnesses. Vaccinations do not guarantee healthy birds as not all vaccinations are done correctly. Vaccinated birds can shed the strain of the illness for several months afterwards and put non-vaccinated birds at greater risk of exposure to undesirable pathogens.  Good animal husbandry is the key to healthy birds. Most vets won’t even entertain vaccinating a chicken.

Q: What is female chicken called?

A: A pullet is a female chicken in her first year. After a year old she is then called a hen.

Q: What is a male chicken called?

A: A young male chicken, less than a year old is called a cockerel, over a year old he is known as a cock bird. Americans tend to call their male chickens by the name of rooster or roo for short.

Q: Can I feed my kitchen scraps to my chickens?

A: In short the answer is no. Unless you are a totally vegan household, no food which has passed through a domestic or commercial kitchen is allowed to be given to chickens. Chickens are classed as livestock and come under the DEFRA/Animal Health rules, even if they are pets.

Saying that in days gone by that chickens were given all sorts of waste food is no excuse. Food never used to be adulterated with chemicals and artificial additives as it is today. Food was simply not in the same league as it is today. Keeping livestock (chickens are classed as livestock) has certain responsibilities that have to be followed.

The reason behind a seemingly ridiculous rule is simple. Pathogens from one species should not find its way into the food of another species. If it came about that an illness that was in chickens could by way of mutation, cross the species barrier, then there is a far greater chance of that pathogen being able to jump species to the human population.  Feeding of any produce that contains the remains of different animals, however accidental that exposure is, is not allowed. It is to protect the human population from pathogens that our immune systems do not know how to fight. Bird flu (Avian Influenza) is one such risk.

Q: Can I feed mealworms to my chickens?

A: Fresh live mealworms that have been bred in this country – yes. Dried mealworms are a definite no-no. DEFRA won’t allow it. This helpful article from the British Hen Welfare Trust explains it fully.

Q: Can I feed human treats to my chickens

A: People just love their chickens and treat them as members of the family. Chickens love this. However, it is important to remember that chickens have specific nutritional requirements in order to safely deliver an egg.  Unless you are well versed in nutrition and specifically bird nutrition then don’t be tempted to offer treats of human food to the girls. It’s strictly not allowed by DEFRA/Animal Health anyway.

The digestive system of a bird is completely different to a human. They cannot tolerate a great deal of what we eat. Much of it is happily eaten, but it can cause lots of hidden internal damage. Please remember that chickens are birds, and not little people with feathers on. If you really want to offer treats, then a handful of scratch corn in the afternoon on a cold day to warm them up from the inside, is more useful. Hemp seeds are full of protein and are also a useful occasional treat

Q: Why do some chickens stop laying in the Autumn?

A: Chickens are creatures that are ruled by the seasons. Their hormones are driven by how much daylight there is. As the nights draw in towards Winter and the days get shorter, the chicken’s egg-laying hormones start to shut down.

In response to this, a chicken that is in her 2nd calendar year will start to moult. During a moult, a chicken will lose all her feathers in sequence until she has replaced them all. This is a very untidy time for her. She will look very bedraggled and become covered in pin or blood feathers. These are newly emerging quills that are nourishing the new feathers growing inside. They will look blue but the quills are actually full of blood.

A chicken will lose her status in the flock and become very nervous during this time and will choose to hide and not be as friendly as she was previously. The pin feathers are very easy to damage and can bleed profusely if broken. Her comb will shrivel and become pink rather than red.

She will stop laying. Eggs production requires high amounts of protein. Feather production also requires high amounts of protein. A chicken cannot eat enough protein to service both feather and egg production so something has to be sacrificed. A stop in egg production will also give the hen a much-needed break from the rigours of egg-laying so she can recover her energies. A full moult can take 8 weeks or more depending on the age of the hen. Younger hens tend to recover from a moult much easier.

Keep your hens on layers pellets during the moult as the calcium will help top up her depleted reserves and the additional protein it contains will be beneficial for the feather production.

Q: Why does my chicken look like she is covered in dandruff?

A: A feather is produced by a chicken in the following manner. Firstly a shaft or pin feather emerges from the skin. It fills with blood. The vanes of the feathers are nourished inside this protective coating. The shaft grows longer to accommodate the length of the new feather. When the feather is ready to emerge it starts to appear out of the end of the shaft. The shaft of the pin feather is now not needed. The blood supply shrinks away and is sealed off. The outer layer which is keratin is now dry and it flakes or is preened away so that the feather can unfurl. This dry keratin is what appears to be dandruff.

Q: Do chickens need heat over the winter?

A: The short answer is no. They are covered in their own feather duvets so don’t need any additional heat. A handful of mixed corn before roosting will heat them up from inside overnight if they need any extra oomph.  If it is below freezing, then breeds with large facial floppiness (combs and wattles) will benefit from a rub with vaseline to stop frostbite in extremes of cold weather. Don’t be tempted to cover ventilation as it’s still important that they have a flow of air through the coop to dissipate dust and ammonia. Make sure that water is kept ice-free too.

Q: Why do you quarantine new additions to your flock?

A: 3 reasons. 1: To make sure that the new additions are not bringing anything unhealthy into your birds. 2: To ensure that the new birds have a chance to take on the new and therefore foreign bugs on board from your environment without the stress of a trial-by-chicken. 3: To ensure that your chickens can take on the new incoming bugs on board without the stress of a trial-by-chicken.

Stress for chickens is created by any changes. This can be caused by any change in the environment, change in the number of chickens, and the need to sort out a new pecking order. Stress can lower the immune response in all birds to virtually zero.

Quarantine duration should be for three weeks and be in the vicinity of each other. This means they can get used to seeing each other around without roosting together. When they finally mingle if they all still appear healthy, any squabbles tend to be short-lived because they have had the chance to “chat” to each other from their respective areas.

Q: What is the pecking order?

A: You may think that the pecking order is a fable, but it is a very real thing. Chickens live by strict rules in their flocks. There is a strong etiquette and woe betide any chicken that oversteps her boundaries.  Each flock has a head chicken and a number two chicken and a number three chicken right down to the last bird who is at the bottom of the pecking order. She will not be allowed to eat or drink or dust bathe in the favourite spots until the higher ranking girls allow it. If she tries to muscle in, she will be chastised and it can very severe. It is interesting to note that a cockerel is not the head chicken. His function is to protect the flock, mate, and find food for his ladies.