Chicken Keeping FAQ

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Our Chicken Keeping FAQs

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

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

Chicks require very specific care. They require heat in the early days till they have more complete feather coverage. More info here

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), Sussex or Plymouth Rocks. Crossbreeds are not hybrids.

Crossbreeds are usually happy accidents or experimental crossings of a male and a female chicken. No crossbreeds  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. A crossbreed has what is known as hybrid vigour which means due to the extra genetic input then they are stronger and healthier. They often have better egg output therefore than the breeds that went into their makeup.

A pure breed, breeds true. This mean a pure breed, bred to the same type of pure breed, will produce another copy of the pure breed. They often have a Poultry Club of Great Britain “standard” and a dedicated club which dictates the correct breed characteristics. These enable the breed to be preserved for generations to come. The poultry shows test whether a particular entrant conforms to the exacting “standard” of the breed in question. As there is a heavy bias on the visual aspect of the breed for showing purposes, several breeds are therefore now a shadow of their former selves in terms of egg laying ability.

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.

If you imagine that some of the massive breeders of commercial types of chickens raise them in warehouse or huge barn conditions. There may be thousands of birds under one roof. If one bird gets sick then lots of birds get sick. Disease can therefore spread 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. The mass poultry breeders risk economic suicide if they don’t vaccinate.

A small flock has much less risk of illness as they have less stresses. Vaccinations do not guarantee healthy birds as not all vaccinations are done correctly. Birds that are vaccinated 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. For a small breeder to buy in the raw materials to vaccinate to the same degree as the commercial hybrids would cost in the region of £700 which for small flocks is just not needed or affordable.

A pullet is a female chicken in her first year. Female chickens older than a year are called hens.

A young male chicken, less than a year old is called a cockerel, however, 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.

This FAQ creates mixed feelings in most people as they do not understand the reasons behind a “so called SILLY rule”. 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 this DEFRA/Animal Health rules, EVEN IF THEY ARE PETS.

The usual reason that people give to flout the rules are these. During and after WW2 chickens were given all sorts of waste food however, food never used to be adulterated with chemicals and artificial additives as it is today. Meat was also in very short supply because it was heavily rationed during this time. Food was simply not in the same league as it is now. Keeping livestock (chickens are classed as livestock) has certain responsibilities that have to be followed.

The reason behind a seemingly ridiculous rule is really simple. Pathogens from one species should not find its way into the food of another species. If it came about that an illness that occurred 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. This is especially risky as much of what a chicken eats finds its way into the egg that we eat. 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, vCJD is another. Google the phrase “how to kill prions” to see what the rules are there to protect us from.

Covid 19 is currently teaching the world a horrible lesson about the dangers and folly of allowing pathogens to cross the species barrier. Monkeypox is another happily crossing the species barrier in the news at the moment. Humans have little or no defence with new diseases of animal origin.

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 which explains it fully.

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

Daylight length dictates how active the chicken’s hormones are. As the nights draw in towards Winter and the days get shorter, the chicken’s egg-laying hormones start to shut down. See our post here for more information.

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 which nourishes the newly forming feather vanes. 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 and the blood supply shrinks away and seals off. This outer keratin layer dries and it flakes or is preened away so that the feather can unfurl. Flaked keratin is what appears to be dandruff.

The short answer is no. Chickens are very well insulated from the cold with their feather duvets. A handful of mixed corn before roosting will heat them up from inside overnight if they need any extra oomph. See our post on the subject

3 reasons.

    1. To make sure that the new additions are not bringing anything unhealthy into your birds.
    2. Ensuring 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 existing chickens can take on the new incoming bugs on board without the stress of a trial-by-chicken.

Quarantine for about 3 weeks because this will safeguard both sets of chickens. Ignore the quarantine at your peril. Any obvious ill health issues will show up during this period.

You may think that the pecking order is a fable, but it is a very real thing. Chickens live by strict rules of etiquette in their flocks so 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.

Do Chickens suffer from pests?

Chickens can be affected by a number of pests.

Good animal husbandry is the key to recognise and keep on top of any potential issues caused by these pests. We cover this in great depth in our Chicken Keeping course

Layers mash is exactly the same as layers pellets. Layers mash is pelleted to form pellets. Layers mash is fed dry. It can be useful to keep chickens busier during the day as it takes longer for them to fill up.

Despite what it is called, mixed poultry corn is actually a mix of wheat and crushed maize. It is junk food for chickens. It makes them fat and has little nutritional benefit. It is also very heating so should not be fed in hot weather. It can also be known as scratch or scratch corn.

You may read loads on social media about feeding additional protein during the annual moult. Feeding cat food or dog food or tinned fish is not helpful. It will not only hurt your pocket but will hurt your chicken internally. Invisible liver damage due to additional fats is a long term health condition due to birds being fed a poor diet rich in fats. Fatty liver disease in birds is becoming all too common due to well meaning but misguided chicken keepers. Read more on the moult here

ABSOLUTELY NOT. Chickens should not eat salt, sugar or excess fats because their digestive systems are not the same as humans. This may seem like a joke but we have actually been asked this question.

A cockerels purpose is to find food, protect his flock and mate with the hens. He is on high alert and if you inadvertently challenge him he will respond.

Bread is very poor quality feed. In order to lay eggs, chickens need to have a properly formulated diet designed for laying hens. Bread just gums them up and could result in crop issues

A broiler is the name given to birds which are bred specifically for meat.

Dual purpose chickens are good for both egg production and make good meat birds

We always recommend adding more than one bird at a time to an existing flock so they have a buddy to help them with the pecking order challenge

Total myth. Chickens are not forced to lay. They are bred to lay as many as they are able. Egg numbers are breed determined. Good nutritionally balanced food gives the chicken everything it needs to safely deliver an egg. Poor nutrition harms the bird and egg production will stop as a result.

A columbian colouration is a pattern which has a black neck hackle and a black tip to the tail and wing tips. This is also seen as a lavender colour or white or even cream. The rest of the body will be a different colour. See Light Sussex for an example

Point of lay is a term used for a chicken that is close to laying her first egg. Some breeders will call chickens as young as 12 weeks a POL. These are nowhere near point of laying. A chicken at POL will have a nice red face and red comb.

A chicken has a comb on the top of their head, wattles which dangle underneath and ear lobes which are just below their ears. The size and shape of these features is different in each breed.

The short answer is you can’t. Full vaccination involves several types of disease vaccines given at specific intervals up until the chicken is 16 weeks old. Nobody can claim full vaccination until that age. The breeder should be able to give you proof of vaccination status if you ask them. If they don’t know then we recommend you avoid them.

Not every chicken is capable of laying every single day. Even chickens that do lay almost every day have days off.

Chickens have voices like almost all creatures. They communicate different sounds for different things. Chickens do not make random noise like people do. They do make a short lived cackle to announce the laying of an egg, but then you would too wouldn’t you? We cover this in detail on our course.

Once a chicken learns where it lives, then no, it will not run away. This is achieved by restricting the roaming space until the chicken goes to bed in the same place each night. They are then imprinted on their territory.

Not necessarily. It depends on how careful they were vaccinated. Not all vaccines “take”. Shedding of some vaccines means they are a risk to non-vaccinated hens.

It depends on how long ago the vaccines were done. Shedding can continue for a considerable time. It is best to stick to all vaccinated or all non-vaccinated.

You cannot bury or burn them as they are considered livestock. As unpleasant as it sounds, you should either contact a fallen stock contractor, hunt kennels or maggot farm or it is allowed to double bag and bin. Some vets will offer a clinical incineration disposal service also. Do a Google search for “Fallen Stock Services” or NFSCO

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