Chicken Care

Moulting -Now you see them now you don’t

What is a Moult?

Moulting is an annual phenomenon that begins at approx 18 months and older hens. In reality, she will experience her first full moult in her second Autumn, and then every year after that.

What happens?

Bam! At a time when you think that hens actually need a good feather covering, almost overnight, the coop looks like an explosion in a pillow factory. The girls drop feathers like it’s a drunken pool party in Ibiza. They also renew the scales on their legs too. It can be quite upsetting for people who have not kept hens before, to see how sad they look when they are stripped of their finery. Hens can look like a badly stuffed pillow, really unkempt and un-cared for when this happens. The reverse is true, as they are provided with more protein and are not handled too much to avoid pressing the newly forming quills back into their skin. This is the reality of keeping hens.

The process of creating feathers

Once the feathers start to regrow, the hen will look like a pincushion. The incoming feather shafts are called pin or blood feathers. They are dark and look almost blue. In reality, they are filled with blood which is nourishing the newly forming feathers within the shafts. The pin feathers are very easy to damage and can bleed profusely if broken. Once the feather has finished being created inside its sheath, then the blood supply is no longer needed. The blood is shut off and the sheath begins to flake away. It is made of keratin and will look like dandruff as the hen preens the dried casing to reveal a beautiful new feather.

Other physical changes during the moult

Her comb will shrivel and become pink instead of red. Her face will also go less red than normal. This is in response to the reduction in hormones.

A moulting hen will lose condition, she will look quite dejected if she finds herself at the bottom of the pecking order. Other changes in her body will occur such as reversal of the bleaching phenomenon which removed the colour from legs, skin, and vent areas. Legs, skin and vent will return to the original colour as occurs in a non-laying hen. This is particularly noticeable on yellow skinned and yellow legged birds. The birds legs will return to yellow as the bleaching fades.

Does this affect the pecking order?

When a hen moults, her status within the flock plummets, and hens who were once high up in the pecking order will find themselves struggling to find any peace. They are often in hiding places and are unable to eat when they want. This becomes an ideal opportunity for a lower ranking hen who may not yet be moulting, to triumphantly seize power. Sometimes these once meek hens, turn into little monsters and can really give the shrinking ex-head chickens a really hard time.

In the normal ranking or pecking order the head chicken (always a girl by the way) eats first, then number 2, then number 3 etc. The lowest ranking hens must wait until all the others have eaten and even then must be given permission by those of a higher rank. Such is the life of a lowly hen.

Why do my hens stop laying in winter?

A moulting hen needs good quality protein in her food as protein is the building block of feathers. Egg production also uses a lot of protein, therefore, no eggs will be laid for the duration of the moult. Something has to give, as all the protein has to be diverted to their feathering needs. A full moult can last 8 weeks with some hens taking much longer. The moult coincides with the shortening of days which in itself can trigger a shut-off of the egg-laying hormones. These will normally be reactivated once the days start to lengthen again after Christmas. Lack of eggs seems like a sort of curse for the chicken keeper, but it is a good thing. It gives the hens a well-deserved break from the rigours of laying for a few weeks.

Another reason why it is good for chickens to have a break from laying

Oestrogen during a laying cycle prevents calcium depositing into the fabric of the bones so chickens cannot make new bone while laying. During lay the calcium is deposited into medullary bone material which is constantly mobilised in shell formation. Chickens that never stop laying cannot restock and make new bone which can result in osteoporosis or fragile bones. Another good reason for chickens to take a break.

What is the best food for moulting chickens?

You may hear stories of what to feed your hens while they are moulting. All sorts of codswallop is spouted. Some advocate using growers pellets. Most growers pellets are lower in protein so this is a bad move. It also does not contain calcium. Hens use calcium when they are not laying to strengthen their bones so growers pellets is again a bad move. Yet other people advocate dog or cat food, pilchards, anchovies, and other fishy confections. Upsetting the delicate balance of nutrition is a bad move. Hens need all the help they can get at moulting time.

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. If you must feed random junk to your hens then just feed a handful of hemp seeds. This is high protein and has a good nutritional profile.

Moulting at other times

A mini or partial moult, which is usually a neck moult or a chest moult, can occur due to stress. Stress can be anything from a predator fright, or extremes in the weather, too hot, very wet, very windy. Fireworks, loud banging, DIY, lawn-mowing, dogs, or cats will take their toll. They can feel stress by you wearing the wrong wellies, or any change in the environment or habits. Getting the picture? Chickens are stressy creatures. Stress can depress their immune response and egg laying can also be interrupted or erratic for a while.

Heat stress in Chickens

Heat Stress…Is it a thing?

Heat stress is one of the major factors in illness, death and egg production failures. Chickens can cope very well in temperatures just over zero degrees centigrade, however, adding chickens to heat is a whole new ball game.

Why is a bit of heat a problem?

  • Chickens are covered in their own feather duvet
  • Their natural temperature is 41 degrees C
  • They cannot sweat to cool down

Heat stress can result in collapse, lack of eggs, stress related moult, neurological issues, organ failure, and death. It can happen suddenly which leaves you the keeper wondering why on earth it has happened.

Symptoms of heat stress

The danger period happens once the temperature rises to about 22 degrees C and above. It is worse on days when there is no wind. If you spot any of the symptoms below then you need to act very quickly

  • The birds will start to seek out shade.
  • They will start to hold their wings away from their bodies if they are too hot to lose heat
  • Chickens will start to pant.
  • Slow panting at first, followed by quick panting and throat fluttering as the risk increases.
  • Chickens may start to show neurological symptoms such as throwing their heads back or circling
  • They could go off their legs all of a sudden
  • Egg production will reduce or cease entirely

Fast panting sets off a dangerous chain reaction. It changes the chemical composition in the body and respiratory system which in turn puts pressure on organs such as the brain and kidneys.

The Solution to heat stress in chickens

Electrolytes are extremely important to supplement in the water when the temperature gets over 22C to assist the birds with replacing lost vital salts. A poultry supplement such as “Solulyte” which is designed to combat heat stress is essential. It is wise to have this on standby for the summer. I have linked to a website, but there are many suppliers who do the same product with varying sizes etc. Supplementing with Solulyte will save the life and health of your chickens during prolonged heatwave situations. Alternatively you can Google a recipe for poultry electrolytes for a home-made fix. You may need to keep the bird cool and encourage them to drink by dipping their beak. Neurological or collapse symptoms will mean they are confused and maybe unresponsive so they need assistance to drink.

Homemade Electrolyte Recipe for chickens

  • 4.5 Litres of water (1 gallon)
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda/bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 teaspoon of salt (sea salt preferably)
  • Splash of orange juice (optional for vitamin C or crush a vitamin C tablet)

Mix together and serve to your chickens.

Warning

Don’t use this if there is no danger of heat stress. Chickens will pant when they are heat stressed. Chickens should not have salt or sugar in their water under normal conditions.

Mud Management

Man rolling in mud

Mud Management for chickens

Mud Mud Glorious Mud as the song goes is something that a lot of chicken keepers end up with. The problem with chickens is that they are the worlds most committed excavators. They will dig and scrape looking for tasty morsels in the ground. If you have some precious plants, or that lovely rose that dear departed Auntie May gave you, then you will need to protect the roots from the attentions of your chickens. Chickens will uproot almost everything they find, apart from nettles and brambles annoyingly. Such is their dedication to extreme garden remodelling.

It’s not all bad

The ground your chickens’ run sits on will become a moonscape of barren earth in a short space of time. They quickly create dust-bathing pot-holes and they fervently dig for insects, worms and other goodies. However, there is a plus side. If you have some ground you need clearing, veg plot, allotment, jungle, greenhouse, then team chicken are the ones to call. Add chickens to any unruly wilderness and you will have ground clearance par excellance. Sit back with your cup of tea and watch diligence in motion.

Why does it turn into mud and why is it a problem?

Chickens’ feet are also great at padding the ground and compacting it despite not being very heavy creatures. The combination of compaction, and lack of greenery means the soil now won’t be able to soak up any water without a bit of help. Surface water creates mud, thick, gooey, welly sucking mud. Mud is great at growing nasty bacteria and other pathogens as pathogens just love moisture. Pathogens make smells to add insult to injury.

So now we have a job description of chicken destruction, we now need to find a solution.

One Solution

So how do you stop mud in a chicken run? You could do some sort of rain dance but this will certainly entertain your neighbours. The top and bottom of it is your run or the chicken area needs to remain dry. Dry earth is less likely to harbour or grow nasties that will harm the health of your chickens. Compacted earth doesn’t allow the rain to soak in so digging the area over will keep the drainage good. It also gives the microbes in the soil some much needed air. Microbes in the soil are your friends, so keep them alive. This in combination with a roof covering is going to make it a winner all round.

If you tackle the mud issue then you will have a nicer area for everyone. No smells, no disease and no slipping in mud.

Voila!

So there we have it!!! Microbes are your friend and chickens will uproot anything that is remotely green, even poisonous plants. Who’da thought it? It didn’t take us long to realise that the chickens had to have their own area, so segregate them. You get your own garden and the chickens can have theirs. That is where sanity lives but because I am a chicken nut our human area is very small because the girls just gotta have fun.

We have much more information on this very topic on our online course and also many more useful nuggets of useful info if you wish to know more

Incubator Hire News

Brahma

An incubator hire story

Early in March 2019 we had an incubator hired out at Wirral Hospice St John’s in Bebington. I was a bit apprehensive to take it to somewhere that I felt might be quite a gloomy place given the massive healthcare issues the patients face. I could not have been more wrong. It is fair to say that they became ever so excited to witness the hatching of their eggs. Work stopped in favour of egg watching, you can feel the excitement in the air. The hot topic amongst patients and staff alike is not medical – it’s eggs and it’s chicks. The last thing on the patients’ minds was medical matters. They definitely are in the grips of chicken fever.

Hatching begins

On Monday 12th March the 21st day of the incubator hire period, the first chicks emerged to greet the world. But the rest are still to hatch so the incubator must remain closed to make sure that the humidity remains constant.

Conserving humidity

The way an egg incubator works is you need to wait until all the eggs have hatched before you can open it up to get at the chicks because otherwise you lose the humidity. Chicks need the humidity to keep their shell membranes soft so they can break through them. Moisture laden air also assists the chick so it is able to spin inside the egg to unzip the top by creating a crack all the way round to make an escape hatch. Any remaining egg yolk is absorbed by the chick into its body before hatching and they live off it for the first 48 hours. The early birds are safe to remain in the incubator until the rest of the batch of eggs catches up.

And there’s more!

A day later passes and another 4 chicks have hatched. The brooder has been delivered and installed and there was a rush of staff to the incubation site so they could get their first experience of handling a bundle of cute fluffiness. There is much distraction around, staff making excuses to just have a peek on their way to another task. Patients with families and friends ogling the little tweeting fluffballs and a real sense of pride that they have produced their own little creatures. The incubator hire was a winner in more ways than one.

Therapeutic benefits of chickens

From what I have seen in care situations, chicks bring a sense of new beginnings. This is true for the elderly or the lonely or those who are very sick or dementia sufferers. They bring a real joy to those who witness it. It is something that I never tire of. It is no wonder that care institutions are bringing hens in as therapy. They are a source of chatter, where once there was none, and a thrill of excitement where there was numbness or loneliness. A humble chicken can provide a sense of being needed and of purpose. This is the superpower of a creature that seems to know exactly the right things to say to make all other problems seem to melt into the background. Chickens bring a feeling of well-being, cooperation and togetherness to all those involved in their care – such is their magic.

If you need convincing watch this video by equalarts.co.uk View our incubator hire packages here

The Hen Men from Equal Arts on Vimeo.

Coops for the less mobile

We have just started to stock these coops called Henlays Chicken Coops. They are easy to clean because there is no stooping or bending needed to make sure they are clean. We think they suit the needs of a care/medical/support organisation more than any other coop we have yet seen. Check this page for more info or view the specifics on our shop page

Spread the love

If you know of someone or somewhere that can benefit from the therapeutic benefits of these bridge-building creatures please ask us to see if we can assist you get up and running via our contact page. They don’t call them a gateway livestock for nothing.

Feather Pecking

Cockerel with feather pecking damage
Example of signs of feather pecking behaviour

Feather pecking is a potentially serious issue in chickens. At best it can look rather scruffy, but at worst it can result in chicken death. Take a look at Peter Pecker in the photo. Notice his cream coloured feathers (his saddle) have v-shaped tips. This is classic feather pecking behaviour. The feather pattern of plucking is known as barbering.

The hens in his flock are being over attentive and because he is a kindly cockerel, he is letting them do it. He sees it as a mutual preening exercise which is a normal type of behaviour in birds. They often preen each other as it cements their bonds, however this can continue to a destructive level. Eventually the barbering gets closer and closer to the skin and if it does not stop then it becomes a feather pecking habit. Chickens will then start to attack the pin or blood feathers as they are starting to poke through the skin. This will draw blood and blood is bad. Chickens then begin to actively hunt feathers especially those of chickens that are lower down the pecking order. They do not know when to stop when they start to draw blood and it can turn fatal.

The reasons behind feather pecking are complex and not well understood. Some people believe that the hens realise they have a deficiency in protein and eat feathers to make up the deficit. Others think it is a boredom or a stress response. In parrots that is surely the reason but is it still the case for chickens? There could be a similarity for sure. Allo preening (bird mutual preening) is a bonding and very natural behaviour so we may be just guessing. It is all too easy to attach human emotions and reasons behind animal behaviour. At the end of the day we can only make assumptions but not know for sure.

One thing is for sure, when the birds are in a moulting period and every bird is in the same state of undress then they actually (mostly) leave each other alone and stop the feather pecking to allow the feathers to re-grow. Maybe it is more to do with the heightened stress of hormone surges during the peak laying and fertility periods of spring and summer.

Day-old Chicks

Newly hatched chicks

Day old chicks need special care

Looking after day-old chicks is a rewarding experience for everyone, no matter their age. However, there are some things that needs to be in place before you contemplate looking after dayold chicks in your home.

The list below is considerations that need to be addressed BEFORE embarking on this exciting adventure.

  • Day old chicks are delicate and can easily die
  • Young chicks need a heat source in their first weeks
  • Day-old chicks can drown in a water source
  • Chicks need to be kept indoors for at least 3 weeks in summer
  • They must be indoors for longer when the weather is cold
  • Chicks need cleaning out regularly otherwise they will smell
  • Raising young chicks indoors creates massive amounts of heavy dust from their feathers. This can cause breathing issues in sensitive individuals
  • Most non-hybrid dayold chicks cannot be sexed accurately until they are 6-8 weeks old
  • Unsexed means there is a risk that you will get cockerels which can cause neighbour issues
  • Most important if we have sold them unsexed we cannot take the boys back due to a biosecurity risk for our stock.

All our day-old chicks get sent to their new homes with a full care sheet. The minimum needs are listed below.

  1. Brooder to contain the dayolds. Rabbit or hamster cage. They must NOT go outside in a coop till they are at least 3 weeks old in warm weather. This will be longer in cold weather.
  2. Water dish or drinker, which should be shallow initially
  3. Food dish or specific feeder with chick crumb constantly available
  4. Warmth minimum 28C for the first week which can be reduced as they feather up. Suitable heat sources are electric hens, reptile heat mats or heat lamps. Bear in mind a possible fire risk from unsuitable equipment
  5. Safety from other animals including and especially other chickens
  6. Companion of other day old chicks because a solitary chick is very noisy indeed

Finally please don’t ask us for young chicks if you have no equipment ready we will not sell them to you.

Warning!!!

Don’t expect that a broody hen will take on the day-old chicks you present her with. Always have a backup plan. Broodies can be remarkably fickle, moody and dangerous. Unless a hen is showing clear signs of being very broody then she will NOT look after chicks. She will more than likely try to kill them. If she has not looked after young chicks before then please supervise any introductions and be prepared to intervene quickly if she decides to attack the chicks. A swift angry peck to the head of the chick can render them unconscious or severely bruised. A normal broody/chick communication is a gentle tap to the head. This is the broody telling the chick to pay attention to what she is telling it. If she sounds angry then she is so watch very carefully. More info on broody hens here

Fox Proofing

Wiley Fox

Fox Proofing to protect your chickens

Fox proofing MUST be your primary focus when you design your chicken accommodation. You must learn how to protect your chickens from foxes.

Foxes have a very bad press, but it’s well deserved. They are are probably quite misunderstood. We are not fans of foxes except they are beautiful creatures and have a purpose in the great scheme of nature to keep the balance right as a top predator.

With this in mind, the first thing you should do beyond all else is foxproofing, foxproofing, foxproofing. If you don’t attend to this then your beloved chickens will be on the take-away menu of any resident fox in your area. It upsets us enormously when we hear that chickens have been taken due to foxproofing errors.

Please know that foxes will prowl at all hours of the day and night. They can also snatch your birds at a moment’s notice, even if you are around.

Foxes are indiscriminate killers aren’t they?

Foxes are actually misunderstood. Most people are of the opinion that foxes kill for fun. The reason they think this is that when a fox attacks, he will kill everything living in sight. Foxes like all other creatures only kill for survival. Yes it appears indiscriminate, but they do have a cunning plan.

Whenever we humans think the shops are shut we will tend to fill our freezers, fridges and cupboards almost like the world is coming to an end. The fox has the same mentality. When food is plentiful, ie you have presented your lovely chickens to the fox on a plate then he is thinking that “I don’t know when I am going to get the opportunity to eat again so I will stockpile or cache the goods”. The equivalent of us going to do our Christmas shopping. We don’t need the amount of food we buy, but we buy it just in case we get a mountain of visitors or a two day holocaust. While food is easily available, he is going to fill his cache with goodies.

A fox only has one mouth and he can only carry one at a time. By which time we have discovered his fowl deed (pun intended) and have gotten rather upset and therefore have tidied up. Mr Renard is fully expecting to keep coming back and bury your unfortunate chickens for lean times ahead.

Any hens that have been fortunate enough to escape the jaws of death, will be severely traumatised, or severely mauled. The blood-curdling screams of panicking hens when faced with a predator is not a sound you will forget in a hurry.

So how do you fox-proof?

Any physical barriers you can place in the way for fox proofing the better. Firstly CHICKEN WIRE OR RABBIT WIRE IS NOT FOX-PROOF. Even if you double it up. It is only chicken-proof and is intended to keep chickens in. Chicken wire is defeated by a fox like a hot knife through butter.

Bury the wire at least 1 foot deep into the ground and also splay it out at right angles to your run sides along the ground the make a physical barrier to exclude Mr Fox. Paving slabs can be placed round the edge to make another no dig zone. Don’t forget the doorway or the roof. The more barriers you have, the better.

Make sure your nest box lids are well attached and securely bolted. Don’t neglect the underside of your coop or nestbox which is often used as an access point. These are rarely screwed securely. Slide out droppings trays are also an easy target for a hungry predator. Rooves should be well fitting and secure. Mesh should cover any ventilation points to exclude vermin. Most cheap wooden coops are not fox-proof or badger proof. Coops can easily tip over. Mr Fox knows this. He is wiley, strong and very persistent. Mr badger is immensely strong and can rip the side off a thin wooden coop like it was tin foil.

Always close your coop at night. Get an automatic door on your coop if you are leaving it open to avoid the need for an early morning visit. Leaving the chicken coop door open is not worth the risk. Chickenguards are worth their weight in gold and we sell these in our shop.

Materials used in fox-proofing

Weld-mesh with a minimum gauge of 16 and a small aperture. Two inch by two inch is not good enough. Foxes can get their mouths into that space and use it to overcome the barrier. A 1 inch mesh or smaller is better. Rats can get through 1 inch square mesh so a smaller space will exclude rats, and mink, stoat, pine marten, badgers and weasels also. These predators are all partial to a bit of takeaway chicken too. Weld-mesh is measured in gauges. The larger the gauge number the thinner the wire. 16g is better and stronger than 19g. It is also more expensive, but the alternative is also an expensive lesson to learn. It is expensive in money terms, and emotional terms so why allow it to happen?

An excellent preventative obstacle is an electric chicken fence. The fencer or energiser (the thing that supplies the electric current) has to be powerful enough to zap any vegetation. Vegetation can weaken the current the fencer is supplying and make the difference between a startling jolt and a slight tickle for a resourceful hungry fox especially one with a load of cubs to feed in spring. A guide for installing an electric fence for chickens is here. If you want information on what electric fence to choose, there is a complete guide here

What to guard against

Foxes can climb trees. They are excellent jumpers, easily clearing a 6 foot fence. Foxes and badgers are formidable diggers so don’t assume you are safe if you have not made the perimeter fox-proof and secure. Please remember that the fox or badger only has to be lucky once, and that you have to be lucky every time. In the picture below, this fox visits every day.

Chicken Keeping FAQ

Metallic FAQ icon

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.

Use the site search facility on the top menu to hunt down your chosen chicken keeping FAQ topic

Click on the question and it will expand with the answer.

These FAQs are a teeny tiny fraction of what we teach on our course. Join our ONLINE course today by clicking this link

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.

Want to know more?

Our chicken keeping courses page has masses more information about the FAQ subjects above and much much more.

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