Backyard Chickens, Fresh Eggs, Pecking Order, Uncategorized

4 Important Things to Consider when Ordering your First Chickens

In addition to looking forward to scrumptious and beautiful eggs, as backyard chicken keepers, we also hope that our feathered, breakfast-making ladies will be our pets too. As you prepare to get chickens for your coop and backyard, there are a few important things to consider in order to foster a flock that is healthy, happy with each other, and happy with us. (Note: this will certainly make for the-most-delicious-tasting eggs.)

  1. Choose wisely when deciding on the number of chickens you’ll get. First, check with your city ordinances to find out if there is a limit to the number of chickens you can keep. Next, determine the maximum number of chickens you can keep based on the size of your chicken coop. Chickens, like most living beings, need personal space and some freedom to move about. If you pack too many hens into a small area, you’re asking for heavy cleaning and loads of bickering (or worse), somewhat like taking kids for a long car ride! You can generally assume that about 10 square feet per chicken should be sufficient, less if you plan to free range them outside the coop. Lastly, determine how many eggs your household will reasonably use, sell, barter, or give away. On average, a good laying hen will give you 5 eggs per week.
  2. Keep pullets around the same age or size. We recommend keeping adolescent pullets within a couple months of age of each. If you’re starting with baby chicks, keep them all within a few weeks of each other – they will need much different heat requirements if they’re too far apart in age. If you’re starting with mature hens – they’ll all be the same size and the age does not matter. It may seem like a great idea to get some chickens that are ready to lay to appease our excitement to harvest fresh eggs, and some chickens that are small and fluffy that we can bond with. Unfortunately, putting together a group of chickens of wildly different ages can be really tough on the little ones, and its never okay to put baby chicks together with adolescents or adults who are not currently broody and ready to be mothers. Younger chickens in a flock of older birds will often get ostracized from the group, kept away from the food and water, and subjected to a much tougher and lengthy pecking order. Baby chicks will not survive the cold or the pecking order, and getting just one baby chick for your brooder will make it lonely, stressed, and cause other health problems.
  3. Avoid including just one chicken who looks different from the rest. Surely you’ve heard the saying “Birds of a feather flock together,” and it’s true: chickens seem to know when they look like each other. They’ll pair up or stay in groups that look alike and the one chicken that doesn’t look like anyone else will get left out. Our favorite recommendation is to get all different breeds. Chickens become like pets and will probably all get names, and this makes it easy to tell them apart. You could also get all the same breeds, get pairs or multiples of different breeds, or make sure there are at least 2 chickens that look different from the rest.
  4. Integrate chickens as few times as possible. It may seem like a good idea at the time to start with a couple, and get more as you go but the pecking order can be a nasty score to settle for some chickens. This is not to say it isn’t possible or it’s too hard, but it’s not pleasant and it can be quite a bit of work.  Unless you’re absolutely not prepare to bring your ideal number of chickens in all at once, or your heart is set on breeds who will hatch in different times of the year we recommend getting everyone at once.

For more helpful information on getting started with chickens, purchase tickets to our Backyard Chickens Classes or browse our free Care Guide!

by: Megan Raff

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Backyard Chickens, Chicken Behaviors, Pecking Order

The Pecking Order: Why Becky head-butted Sophie?

It’s exceptionally difficult for humans to watch the transitional period of the pecking order in a group of chickens. This must be primarily because we love our pets and want them to get along; but also because we would never greet a new friend by head-butting them, forcing them to stand in the corner of the room, or taking their lunch. But chickens can’t say, “Hi, I’m Becky. Let me show you around!” So instead they use dominance to create a social hierarchy that establishes how the flock operates: who is the boss, where the cool kids hang out, who is dismissed for lunch first, and so on.

If the flock contains a rooster, he will generally make his way to the top of the pecking order as he matures. Without a rooster, a dominant hen will establish her place at the top of the pecking order and function much like the dominant rooster. The chicken at the top of the pecking order is charged with protecting the flock. They will keep an eye to the sky and to their surroundings and make a sound to warn the flock of incoming predators or unknown objects. In the case of a shortage of food, a rooster will often prove chivalrous enough to find food for the hens, and allow them to eat what’s available before he eats anything. A dominant hen on the other hand, may lay claim to the last morsels of food if resources are running low. Those at the bottom of the pecking order are mostly required to stay out of the way of more dominant chickens, and are often bullied away from the feed and water until the dominant chickens are finished.

 

Changing the makeup of the flock – adding new chickens, removing chickens, or mixing different flocks – causes uproar in the pecking order. A new order must be established by pecking, bullying, and fighting. New chickens in the flock will mostly end up at the bottom of the order as the established chickens peck at them. When a chicken stops looking at a dominant chicken, keeps its head low, or moves to a different area, they are signaling that they accept their less dominant position in the pecking order. Although the majority of the bullying and fighting happens immediately, it can take around two weeks for the flock to truly finalize their pecking order.

 

Chickens simply intend to show dominance to establish their place in the pecking order, but some chickens are stronger and rougher than others. Although it doesn’t happen often, a chicken will occasionally get injured by a larger or more aggressive hen. If a chicken is injured during the squabble and her wound bleeds, it can cause other chickens to peck at the injury. The saddest thing about the nature of chickens is learning they are cannibals. A bleeding chicken may be pecked to death if it is not separated from the rest of the chickens and treated. For this reason, it is always best to supervise when adding new chickens to your flock. If you’re looking for some tricks to make it easier on you and the new chicks, check out our article on Tips forIntegrating Chickens.

 

If your chicken is wounded, check out our ChickenFirst Aid! But first, get that chicken out of the coop. You can apply a topical antiseptic called Blu-Kote that also acts as a dye to cover up the color of blood. Be careful not to get this on your hands, clothes, or furniture as it stains! You can also use a triple antibiotic such as Neosporin to help the wound heal quickly – just make sure it does not contain “Added Pain Relief”.

 

Remember that the hardest thing about the pecking order is watching it. Most of the time, the order is established smoothly without any injuries. And if someone does get bullied a bit much, you might notice they’re simply more inclined to be loved on by their human mamas and papas, which you will surely enjoy. Just have a back-up plan ready in case things do head south: a spare dog kennel, a separate coop, or simply dividing the coop to create a safe space for injured or bullied chickens will work perfectly.