Basic Chicken Questions and Answers
Although I grew up in rural America and knew dozens of people with backyard chickens, there were a lot of questions I only thought to ask once I got my own flock. Unfortunately, I felt foolish for not fully understanding basic chicken anatomy, egg production, and poultry care.
However, asking questions is the only way to learn! So here are the top eight questions all new chicken owners are probably asking themselves.
Do all chickens lay eggs?
Yes, all female chickens (hens) have the ability to lay eggs at some point in their life (and they don’t need a rooster to do it).
What chicken breeds lay eggs?
Certain breeds of chickens lay more frequently and are best for egg production. Breeds with high egg yield are called “layers” meaning they lay eggs frequently. Some of the most popular laying breeds are Leghorn, Rhode Island Red, Plymouth Rock, and Orpington. Other breeds are more useful for meat production. These are called “broiler” or “meat” chickens that grow to a large size in a fairly short period. Broiler chickens can and will lay eggs when they reach about four months of age. Typically though, broiler chickens have already been processed into the meat by that age. Know Your Chickens is a great book to purchase if you are looking for more information about chicken breeds and their qualities.
What age does a chicken lay eggs?
Chickens lay eggs from around 4 months of age to 2+ years. Depending on the breed, peek production at different ages ranges.
Do chickens lay eggs year-round?
Chickens lay fewer eggs in the winter months due to the reduction in daylight hours. Like most animals, chickens take a bit of a break in the colder months. Some flocks will stop laying altogether while others will simply reduce output for a few months. Some homesteaders add artificial coop lights to keep their egg production up in the winter.
Do all eggs turn into chicks?
No, not all chicken eggs have the potential to turn into chicks. A female chicken (a hen) will lay eggs without the presence of the male rooster. If there are no roosters in the coop, the laid eggs will not be fertilized and cannot result in a live chick. Once a rooster is introduced into the flock, there is a chance for baby chicks to develop. To have chicks one of two things needs to happen:
-You need a “broody” hen. Broody hens are hens that intentionally try to hatch chicks by sitting on their eggs. Just because you have fertilized eggs does not mean you will have a broody hen. Sometimes you may want to entice a hen to go broody and other times you may want to discourage it (depending on your needs). Broody hens are focused on sitting on eggs for about 21 days, hopefully, resulting in a nice clutch of baby chicks being born the traditional way.
-You can also incubate eggs indoors using a special electric incubator that maintains steady heat and humidity for optimal chick growth and development. For more info about incubating eggs check out this post from The Happy Chicken Coop Blog.
Should I have a rooster?
Having a rooster is a choice that you will need to make for yourself and your backyard flock. Roosters are great to have if you hope to have fertile eggs that will result in new baby chicks. However, roosters are not a necessity to have eggs for eating. Roosters fertilize the hens’ eggs by mating with the hen, called treading.
Roosters sometimes get a bad rap for being aggressive. However, that is not always the case and certain breeds of roosters are known to be docile.
Too many roosters with too few hens can leave the hens a bit worn out from excessive mating. It is suggested that a 1:5 ratio of roosters to hens is ideal.
What do chickens eat? Are chickens vegetarians?
Chickens are omnivores, which means they eat plants and animals. Chickens will enjoy grass just as much as they will enjoy worms, bugs, and meat scraps. With a large enough area to roam, chickens can live off of the plants, worms, and bugs they forage. However, most chicken owners supplement feed with corn-based grain. If your flock will be confined to a small space you should consider adding additional supplements to their diet such as mealworms, grit, and oyster shells. Worms provide lots of protein, grit aids in digestion, and oyster shells for calcium. Since chickens are natural foragers, their bodies are made to take in a certain amount of dirt and pebbles– this as necessary for their digestive systems to function correctly!
Chickens are great composters. Chickens will enjoy nearly every leftover scrap of food from your kitchen (much like pigs). They are also great weed eliminators and if fenced into a weeded area will make quick work of removal. You can also feed your chickens lawn pickings and weeds from vegetable/flower beds (ensure they are chemical-free).
Can chickens fly?
Yes, chickens can fly. Certain breeds fly more skillfully, but they can indeed soar over a 4-5’ fence with no problem. One way to combat this is by clipping one of their wings (but not both). By clipping the flight feathers on one side only, the chicken is off balance when airborne, drastically affecting its ability to fly. If done properly, cutting the flight feathers does not harm or hurt the bird in any way. How to cut chicken’s flight feathers.