Chickens Questions and Answers

How do I raise chickens?

Q. Which came first- the chicken or the egg?

A. The chicken. See Genesis chapter 1.

Q. Is there a minimum purchase required?

A. In Luke 22:25-26, we read that the Lord Jesus Christ told his disciples, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them [that is, their subjects], and those who exercise authority over them are called benefactors. But not so among you.’ It seems that Jesus was not pleased with government abuse of authority in his day; today, we might well ask: What has changed? The state declares that young poultry under eight weeks of age must be sold a minimum of two at a time. Actually, the statute also applies to rabbits and turtles, and it further prohibits any of these from being raffled, displayed or even gifted fewer than two at a time when under eight weeks of age. Please give your legislator a call and thank him or her for this wise and beneficent leadership, because society is so much better off as a result of their wise shepherding of us hapless adults who would otherwise behave irresponsibly in the matter of free market negotiation between buyer and seller- you don’t really know what’s best, do ya? Anyway, poultry eight weeks or older can legally be purchased singly, and we sell poultry at every age, as they mature.

Q. How do I buy chicks, chickens and other poultry?

A. Before you come, feel free to call ahead to confirm that the poultry you seek is in fact available. You do not have to call, but spontaneity does come with some avoidable risk. We sell poultry during our advertised store hours. Poultry older than one month old are harder to catch spontaneously, so a phone call ahead often helps us to plan for your arrival; that way, we can have poultry already caught and waiting your approval.

Q. How do I transport poultry?

A. Come with an appropriate carrier: a cardboard box, a cat or dog carrier, a lidded tub, regular poultry crates or whatever. Please do not attempt to transport poultry under four weeks old in anything drafty, overly roomy or chilly (please see the next answer for more details). Poultry of all kinds will be upset by being caught, boxed and driven home, because of course they have no idea that they have been specially selected for relocation to Cluckingham Palace, there to be feted and spoiled by their new servants owners. For this reason, it is wise to arrange to have them travel best in darkness, as this settles them down. A closed cardboard box accomplishes this well, and you can plan to drape a cloth over a crate to accomplish the same thing. Often we do have extra boxes on hand for transport, at no additional cost.

Q. Do you guarantee survival?

A. No. Our policy is ‘All Sales Final.’  We offer healthy poultry, and there is a lot of risk, especially with baby poultry within the first three weeks of age.  Most of the risk is from chilling due to drafts and also basic inadequate warmth.  If you do not transport day old chicks home with proper warmth and coziness, they may easily become chilled and sicken and die. If you place your brooder in a garage that will be opened and closed for the car, that may be enough to cause chick death. Likewise, a drafty shed is a recipe for brooder disaster.  Young poultry must be continuously brooded (that is, kept warm and cozy until they feather out enough to maintain body heat without external assistance) in a draft-free environment with a portion of the brooder offering adequate warmth (95-100 F).  Our Sweeter Heater is the ideal heat source for brooding chicks, and poultry generally. Children frequently handling young birds is also risky, unless you are vigilant about returning the handled poultry to warmth as soon as the little birds show discomfort or cry out in distress. Please see our next response for transport details.

Q. What about winter Hardiness?

A. We consider three factors when evaluating winter hardiness in poultry. Larger-bodied fowl, on average, have more thermal mass to help them maintain body temperature in cold weather; tight feathering is usually more insulating than loose; and, a low profile comb poses less frostbite risk that an upright comb, that is similar to an ungloved hand in terms of exposure risk. For health, longevity and feed economy, we recommend that you plan to provide radiant heat whenever temperatures drop below freezing. And by doing so, you receive the added benefit of pretty well being able to pick from the widest possible range of breeds. If you won’t be providing some winter warmth during chilly northern nights, then we suggest you consider sticking with Brahmas, Wyandottes, Dominiques and the like, that exhibit all three hardiness traits.

Q. How should I prepare before I show up to get my new little chicks?

A. For about the first few weeks of their lives, poultry have a hard time keeping warm. This is a critical problem that must be solved, so that you can avoid unintended loss (sickness and death) of your young poultry. When buying chicks at this young age, please bring a small box (perhaps a shoe box) just large enough for your purchase.  Ideally, this box should contain one or more heat pads placed under a non-terry cloth (terry can snare little toes) or some paper towels. For day old chicks in their first week of life, consider bringing an extra cloth to roll up and position to take up any extra space so the chicks can better conserve body heat on the trip home. Once you buy these little ones, they are yours to steward carefully! Good stewardship starts with a good brooder. Our Sweeter Heater is the ideal heat source for brooding chicks, and poultry generally.

Q. How should I brood my new little baby chicks? How do I raise baby chicks? Don’t they need heat? Don’t I need a thermometer?

A. We sell the Sweeter Heater: The ideal heat source for brooding chicks, and poultry generally. The Sweeter Heater, is a long-lasting radiant heater for brooding chicks, and we sell them at a great price. But whether or not you buy your heat source from us, it is best for your brooder to be set up and fully warm by the time you are ready to fill it with chicks, ducklings, goslings or poults. So please get your brooder warming up hours ahead!

God made the hen with an infrared-radiant warm abdomen. By lifting her abdominal feathers up and holding her wings slightly apart from her body, she allows her chicks to snuggle in and bathe in the invisible warmth radiating from her abdomen. The man-made brooder that comes closest to imitating this arrangement will work best. If you don’t provide optimal radiant heat and if you allow drafts to chill your young chicks, they will quickly sicken and die. Many folks use a heat lamp and do well, but these are hard to work with and every year we hear about PROPERTY DAMAGE DUE TO FIRE from using these things. Also, there is the Goldilocks problem: the center under the lamp is way too hot and not too far away, it is too cold. The lamp will have to be adjusted frequently so you don’t have roast or chilled chicken, and you have to be very careful to fasten is well or you risk a fire when it drops into the brooder. Finally, the light can annoy the chicks and even tamper with their pituitary gland function, possibly throwing off their mature egg production. And who wants to sleep with a light always on? Consider using a safer and more effective alternative: a radiant heater such as the hanging Sweeter Heater, the Brinsea stand alone heater or some other brand. You could also invest in a full scale metal brooder such as is made by GQF or Brower.  These are all safer and more effective than a heat lamp, and they provide more even heat of the kind chicks prefer. You can make a plywood box cave ‘Mamma Hen’ with the heater inside, and you can add a wall to serve as a courtyard, keeping their food and water in the courtyard. The chicks can stay in the courtyard and eat, drink and scratch around, and then head back to ‘Mamma’ to warm up. At our farm store, we sell the long lasting Sweeter Heater in three sizes, and at nice low prices. Drop by to see and purchase a quality heater, or call for more info.

Q. We want to be sure of the sex of the poultry we buy. What assurance can you give us?

A. We will tell you about the sex of each bird you buy.  Most of our poultry are professionally sexed as female (pullet) or male (cockerel). For most of our poultry, we pay to have professionals perform the sexing; in the case of hybrid Sex Links the error rate is essentially zero; for most breeds the error rate averages better than 95%, but for a few notoriously tough-to-accurately-sex breeds (e.g. Easter Eggers and Olive Eggers) the accuracy rate can sometimes be as poor as 80%, and some of these males can look ‘female’ until four or five months of age! Given all these factors, our sex guarantee is as follows: If you purchase a bird that we declare to be sexed (as opposed to ‘straight run, or unsexed) and we are in error, then upon proof of purchase and proof of our error (e.g. your photos of the bird himself) you may purchase a one-for-one replacement of the same or similar breed at half price For biosecurity reasons, we do not reintegrate poultry into our flocks, so while we do not swap, we will supply a replacement for a sex error for any bird we sell from ten weeks of age and up; since we are dealing with live poultry, the replacement will be

Q. Do you raise your own birds?

A. We buy in poultry as day-olds, from respected hatcheries. We then raise them up, selling them essentially first-come-first-served. We try to have a variety of breeds and ages available year ’round. This way, you can buy just as many as you need at the age you want. We try to offer a wide variety of hardy breeds suitable for Maine.

Q. Are your poultry hardy for Maine?

A. Some more than others. There are many factors. Some breeds are more consistently hardy than others. We don’t sell poultry that are simply unsuitable for a northern climate, but how you plan to house and care for them, as well as your goals in general, factor into this. Ask for details.

Q. Why are Buff Orpingtons so popular?

A. Most chickens are a lot more like each other than the internet would lead you to believe. Get the breeds that you think will meet your goals and don’t worry about the latest trend- unless, of course, having a trendy flock is you goal. Buff Orpington hens tend to be heavy and not particularly wary, making them slower and less responsive when predators come to dine… and these traits are often mistaken for friendliness. Many other popular breeds are this way as well, but for some reason Buff Orpingtons are ‘in’ these days. Don’t let what we say about Buff Orpingtons deter you- they are nice chickens for the backyard flock. The roosters are generally regal, masculine, ready to lay down their lives for their girls. Compared to less heavy breeds, a Buff Orpington hen may well eat more every day, the eggs will not be as large as you think a girl that size ought to lay, she will go broody frustratingly often, she will tend to disproportionately turn shockingly aggressive toward newcomers (a tendancy also observed in Wyandottes) and she will be devoid of personality or brains… but those deficits may not matter to you.

Q. What makes one breed of chicken more friendly than another?

A. What we see as friendliness is often more accurately described as a less than full complement of intelligence. But in truth, various breeds tend to exhibit different combinations of trait: independent, high-strung and energetic, calm, docile, aloof, skittish, intelligent etc. Most chickens can be convinced to let you close, if you are consistent, attentive, never frightening and offer the right treats (such as mealworms) regularly. In our experience, the Black Sumatra is the one breed of chicken that combines very high intelligence with a very sweet and friendly personality. When considering personality, seems that there is much to be said for breed genetics.

Q. How about brooding my little chicks in my home?

A. Pro: Nice stable household temperature, no significant drafts, easy to monitor and tend them, better family experience and peeping sounds nice. Con: Fire risk if using a heat lamp (possibly NOT covered by your homeowners insurance), and dust from their droppings, chick down, feathers and skin gets everywhere in your home. Your choice.

Q. I want friendly chickens. Does it help to get them younger to get them used to me?

A. No. Most chickens, of any age, can be bribed to be your best friends- use tasty food treats daily. Be sure to use treats that they find tasty (but don’t go heavy on starch with chickens that are laying a lot, since that could compromise their higher nutritional needs). By giving them desirable food treats they will have you you will have them wrapped around their beaks around your finger. We don’t see any advantage in getting them younger, except for those of you who want to make the extra effort of cuddling chickens daily to make them superpets or for training experiments.

Q. Can I have a flock with a mix of breeds, ages or sizes?

A. Sure. Once they form a flock, they will be a stable group. It does seem that birds of the same breed can initially get along more easily, but almost any mix of breeds and ages can form a stable flock.

Q. Why do chickens sometimes pick at each other?

A. Chickens pick at each other for four reasons: to assert and establish dominance, in response to environmental stress, and as a lingering bad habit. The chicken motto seems to be ‘Peck a sister when she’s down’. Chickens tend to peck each other when there is fear, injury or sickness. Environmental stress, if there is too much light, improper nutrition, overcrowding, temperature problems or periglacial congeliturbation in the coop substratum (Okay, that last point was just for fun, but you can look it up and see a fascinating geologic phenomenon you didn’t previously know, but you may have casually observed). Bad habits picked up from past stresses can be retained, such as feather picking or egg eating. If blood is drawn, that will stimulate more picking because the offender will like the taste of that blood. Consider keeping pine tar, grafting asphalt or anti-pick ointment (from your local feed store) on hand for immediate application on the fresh wound; this will harmlessly taste terribly to the offending fowl, and she will likely not do it again.

Q. How do I integrate new chickens into my existing flock?

A. A generally effective method is to place new birds in a separate compartment inside the coop, with old and new birds separated by a wire screen, and fed and watered separately. This way they can see each other and settle down for the necessary time (generally two to five days) this process takes. This should be done inside the coop because the new birds need to adjust to the coop itself and not just the older flock. When you think they have had enough time for fear to be dispelled (fear promotes fighting that can lead to death) wait until evening when your older birds have gone to their evening roost; then place the new birds up there with them. Perhaps they will start the morning as if it has always been this way. Of course it is wise to get up early and check on them, and provide some distracting treats in case of trouble. We also suggest that you not let the flock out to roam freely until a few more days have passed, until you are sure that the new birds have been properly accepted and view the coop itself as ‘home’.

Q. How many chickens are best?

A. When the group is too large (more than a few dozen) they can’t really get to know one another, and it won’t really become a cohesive flock. Too few and they tend to be excessively nervous, because individuals in the flock will spend their day taking turn, every few seconds, alternately looking out for danger; that means too few birds and not enough lookouts, and then everyone is on edge; this is why chickens prefer flocks of a dozen or more, and the fewer they are, the more nervous they will be. Having at least one rooster with the flock also helps a lot to calm down the hens, because he will spend most of his time on lookout. But the best size flock is the one that suits you most!

Q. Should I have a rooster?

A. If you like the sound of crowing and if you can get yourself a specimen with appropriate manners, yes. Hens are not nearly as relaxed when there is no rooster to watch over them. A rooster will find food for his girls and then watch for danger while they eat. He will run in between his hens and possible danger. He will sometimes lay down his life for his hens. And if you plan to range your flock widely, the hens are benefited by the presence of the watch care of large, zealous and aggressive roosters.  But if you just cannot have a rooster due to local code, neighbor relations or what have you, that’s okay too. They will lay just fine and get along a bit less comfortably without a rooster. On the other hand, a rooster will give attention to the hens and this will result in some cosmetic impact of the favored hens: beak scarring on their combs and feather damage to their lower backs. To minimize these impacts, try to keep the hen:rooster ratio at least 10-15:1. For those of you who desire to add a rooster to your flock, we sell cockerels (young roosters) from breeds known to produce family friendly males.

Q. What kind of treats are best?

A. A poultry nutritionist might tell you to stick with the formulated complete feed. But who can resist feeding treats? We carry a high quality dried, bagged mealworm that makes an excellent training treat. We urge you to avoid loading them with empty starch/junk food, such as corn or scratch feed- especially with the high-performance breeds such as Sex Links and White Leghorns; laying all those eggs for months on end is very taxing and requires the highest quality nutrition.  Would you expect long life out of your Maserati if you put 87 in the fuel tank? Of course not. So put premium into the higher performing breeds and get a longer and more productive life from them. That said, chickens need animal protein and they love your kitchen scraps.

Q. Can my flock be a mix of different species of poultry?

A. Sure. Many folks do this. Sometimes there can be problems with disease being spread from one species to another, but only if the disease is there in the first place.

Q. What is better: free range or confined?

A. Here are some things to consider. We do not advocate for one way or another, because with each option, there are pros and cons. Free range pros: Better quality eggs, happier and less bored chickens, scenic enjoyment, reduced insect population, less manure to clean up, fertility added to your lawn.  Free range cons: Say goodbye to the mulch around your bushes as well as any tender tasty thing you planted and didn’t fence. In addition to this, eventually your free rangin’ poultry will likely succumb to predators (including the neighbor’s dog or the family dog), be hit by a passing car… or, they will pick up a pathogen compliments of a wild bird, and some parasite lurking in that tasty earthworm, snail or ant. Your porch will become a place for them to defecate. They will loaf under your forsythia or lilac and make dust baths under there, possibly exposing roots. If you let them out too early each day, they will laying eggs where you aren’t likely to find them (but predators will). Chickens do not need to free-range, and especially if they are fed some sort of greens as a supplement, they can actually be healthier and longer lived and produce fabulous eggs if they are confined in a dry, well ventilated but draft free and spacious home with zero access to the soil (that is, no ‘run’ attached to the coop). But for insect and tick control and simply the pleasure of it, many will choose to free-range their flocks. At the farm, our laying flock is fed a specially formulated pellet that contains some dried, omega-3 rich alfalfa, so all year ’round, it is as if they are grazing nutritious greens, with the result that their eggs are remarkably richer and more flavorful that otherwise, even though they are not allowed to roam outside their 1/3 acre enclosure; with our system, even in the middle of winter, our chickens are laying eggs full of free and fresh range flavor!

Q. I want to reduce ticks on my property. What breed is best?

A. Choose the more aggressive foragers if this is a top priority. Some options for the more aggressive foragers for removing ticks on more than one acre or so: White Leghorns, Blue Andalusians, Hamburgs, Sebright bantams, Appenzellers and Egyptian Fayoumis. If you want to remove ticks on less than one acre on average, then most any breed of chicken will do. You do not need Guinea Fowl to de-tick your property!

Q. What bedding is better: pine shavings, sawdust, hay, straw, fancy stuff in a bag (such as Koop Clean) or nothing?

A. Litter on the floor is important to absorb moisture and reduce odor. Unless you use a nest pad (a very economical solution that we sell, and strongly recommend), you will want some kind of litter in the nest, to help keep that area dry, clean and soft. Sawdust is best. Pine shavings are second best are easier to buy, and almost as effective as sawdust. Unchopped hay and straw are worse than useless because they have much less absorptive capacity and they quickly mat when soiled with manure or a broken egg, so you will work much harder when it comes time to clean out. We do sell a chopped hay/straw mix containing a natural deodorizing mineral, and this is a nice product too. In very dry conditions (usually not the northeastern U.S.) you can be fine with no litter at all.

Q. Why didn’t my chicken lay any eggs? She sure is old enough.

A. Is she a heavy-laying type? Perhaps she was exposed to inappropriate levels of artificial lights, and now her internal signals are scrambled. Also, ss with any domestic animal, sometimes there are internal problems that aren’t evident at first. Is she a rare breed or an ornamental type chicken? These typically only lay April through mid-late summer, and some of these breeds can into laying age while day length is declining and hold off laying until  the following spring.

Q. Why did my chickens stop laying?

A. Older chickens lay fewer -and poorer quality- eggs each year, and eventually decline to zero egg production. Ornamental breeds generally lay only in spring, or spring into summer. Even heavy-layer types will pause laying to molt (a few weeks or months of recuperation, with time to grow replacement feathers). If you want a steady egg supply, you can check out the answer to the next question.

Q. Should I use lights to keep my girls laying?

A. Your choice. Your chicken’s pituitary gland is monitoring day length, and with declining day length there is eventually a signal given to stop laying, and enter a period of molt for R & R. If you use lights, you’ll get more eggs from your older chickens, because they won’t molt but instead keep on truckin’ through the reduced light period of winter. Here is how to use lights effectively: in your coop, set up a low wattage white light bulb on a timer set to keep the light on fourteen hours ending just before dusk (before, so that the light does not switch off after dusk, which would leave your chickens in sudden darkness, frightened and unable to find their roost, etc.). Using lights will somewhat stress your chickens and perhaps shorten their lives, but you will get a steady egg supply. Another way to get a steady egg supply is to integrate new, young layer-type chickens into your flock each year; since these pullets will usually lay straight through the winter in their first year, this will keep you in eggs all winter (while your older hens molt and recover) and this will also rejuvenate your flock.

Q. Do ducks lay edible eggs?

A. Yes! Larger and richer with a white part that is superior for baking, some productive duck breeds can outlay many chickens.

Q. Do turkeys lay edible eggs?

A. Yes! Larger and richer than a chicken egg, it seems that the colonists had many recipes built around turkey eggs. Productive turkey hens can lay more days than not April – August, starting their second year. Very pretty eggs too.

Q. What’s up with all the lingo?

A. Here is a select lexicon of poultry terms. Now you too can speak like a poultry pro.

Standard A regular size breed of chicken

Bantam A miniature size breed of chicken

Baby chick That’s redundant. ‘Chick’ means a baby chicken.

Pullet Female chicken not yet one year old

Hen Female chicken one year old or older

Cockerel Male chicken not yet one year old

Rooster Male chicken one year old or older

Poult Baby turkey

Jenny Female turkey not yet one year old

Hen Female turkey one year old or older

Jake Male turkey not yet one year old

Tom Male turkey one year old or older

Duck Female duck

Drake Male duck

Gosling Baby goose

Gander Mature male goose