Frequently asked questions about raising chickens in your backyard
What is the average life span of a chicken? 6 - 8 years. In rare occasions you will have one that will make it up to 10 years. Egg production slows as they get older.
How long does it take for a chick to hatch? About 21 days.
What is the difference between white and brown eggs? The color is the only difference. There is no other difference as far as taste or quality. The care and feed of chickens is what makes a difference. Some say that the darker the yolk, the better the taste and healthiness. I haven’t noticed a difference.
Will chickens come back to their coop at night? Yes, chickens will always come home to roost.
Are chickens noisy? Hens are actually pretty quiet. They do make noise when they have laid an egg. They also get noisy when they are alarmed or being attacked, but roosters can be very noisy. If you have close neighbors, a rooster will probably be quite annoying.
What type of danger do other animals pose to chickens? The main issues will come from raccoons, dogs, foxes, and coyotes, cats, hawks, and people looking for food if the economy gets any worse. Any of these animals will make a meal of your chickens if they get the chance. It is always a good idea to shut up your coop at night to prevent your chickens from being attacked.
Do I need a rooster for hens to lay eggs? No. The hens will lay eggs, but they won’t be fertile.
Are chickens dirty animals? Do they smell?
That will depend on the caretaker. Just like any other pet or animal, they need care--cleaning out the dirty bedding in the coop, keeping it dry and having a clean/dry area of sand or dirt for the birds to take dust bathes in. These practices will all help to keep your birds happy, healthy and odor free.
How many eggs will a hen lay in a week/year? When do they start to lay eggs?
A typical hen will start to lay eggs at about 6 months of age. The eggs will start out small, and then get increasingly larger. During the first year of laying, the hen (if she is a good egg producer) will lay one egg, almost every day. The birds will then go through a "molt" in the late fall/ winter months and stop laying. Then they will start again in the early spring. You can encourage egg laying through the colder months by keeping a light on, inside the chicken coop. As the birds get older, they will start to lay fewer and fewer eggs. I had a chicken that was at least 5 years old, and she would give me 1 or 2 really big eggs a week.
How long do they live?
Well I guess that depends on who you talk to--Most farmers who are in the egg producing business will say 2 years. Those who are in the meat producing business will say 6 months--Those who keep birds as pets (with names) or who are not interested in maximum production of eggs, will find that chickens can live up to 8 or 10 years. It is your choice whether you want to keep a bird that long, and if not, there are local farmers willing to take in older birds (or there is always the "stew pot").
Do they need a lot of space?
Poultry Coops can fit into just about any size backyard. For 4 hens, a 3'x4' Coop plus a "run" (a place for them to scratch around) that is roughly 3'x8' is more than adequate. Most commercial birds are placed in cages (6-8 to a cage) where they can not turn around. You, on the other hand, will have very happy birds. "Chicken Tractors" are another option. They are portable coops that can be moved over the yard or garden plots, to give birds fresh bugs and greens--this also is a great way to mow the lawn!
Can I use the chicken manure in my garden?
Chicken manure is high in nitrogen, so it is considered "hot". It will need to be composted before putting it directly onto your garden. Once it has broken down, it then becomes perfect food for the garden.
What do you do with them in the winter?
I live in Florida and they are happy all year. Sometimes I worry about the heat but they find shade and take dirt baths. They can live quite happily, through the coldest winter, if they have an insulated coop or a light inside their coop. The smaller the coop, the easier it is for them to keep it warm. Birds can get frostbite. Birds with large combs tend to be more susceptible. Also, some breeds are just hardier than others.