Common Chicken Keeping Questions

Each week I answer a readers question in this space. Sometimes I try to thoroughly answer a question a lot of people are asking. This week I’m going to answer a number of questions asked by many of you. The answers don’t require too much explanation. Maybe you’ll find something in here that you’ve been wondering…

“Can hens lay eggs without a rooster?”

Yes, the hen will ovulate with or without a rooster. A rooster is only necessary if you want to have fertile eggs and hatch chicks.

“How many eggs does a hen lay at one time?”

A hen will only lay one egg at a time. When she first starts laying, she may give you a double yoked egg but this is her body getting used to the process of laying. Depending on the breed and age of the hen, she may be able to lay every 24 to 36 hours.

“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

The chicken came first.

“Are brown eggs more nutritious than white eggs?”

There is no nutritional difference between brown and white eggs, or blue eggs for that matter.

“At what age does a hen start to lay?”

Again this depends on the breed but also on the living conditions. Most breeds will start to lay somewhere between 18 and 26 weeks.

However, if you’ve just brought your girls home, expect they’ll need some adjustment time. Chickens are very susceptible to stress. You’ll see the stress by an early molt, a reduction in egg output from a mature hen, or a delay in the onset of laying in a pullet.

“At what age should you butcher for the most tender meat?”

Butcher between 8 and 12 weeks to be cooked as a broiler or fryer. From 12 weeks to 6 months, cook as a roaster. After 6 months the meat will be awfully tough, these birds are best use a stew birds.

“How many hens should I have for each rooster?”

Younger roosters can handle more hens but a good ratio is 6-8 hens per rooster.

“How can you tell the difference between a hen and a rooster?”

It is very difficult at hatch to tell the difference between a hen and a rooster. If it is a feather sexed breed, meaning you can tell from the length of the primary feathers, the determination can be made at 3-4 days. Female primary feathers are longer than male primary feathers.

In adult chickens, the roosters are larger. They have larger combs and longer wattles.

“How big does my coop need to be?”

If you free range your chickens, plan on at least 4 square feet per bird. If they are confined to a run, you’ll need a minimum of 5-8 square feet per bird in the coop. The run space should provide at least 8-12 square feet for each chicken.

Crowding is stressful on chickens; give them as much space as you are able. Also keep in mind that the desire to add to your flock seems to strike most everyone, so build with that in mind.”

“I live in ________, where is the best place to buy my chickens?”

It’s impossible for me to answer this question for any place other than my own community. However, if I wanted to know where to buy chickens in another community, I’d start asking people who keep chickens there. Here’s my point, it is very important to use a reputable supplier but the only way you’re going to find out who that is in your community is to start asking questions.

We have farming/livestock clubs here for children. If I needed a supplier, I could always call one of the chicken project leaders and ask if they had any recommendations. I know other people, who keep chickens, their recommendations would be very important to me. A phone call to the local veterinarian could provide me with information.

I could start calling suppliers directly. Make sure they take the time to thoroughly and professionally answer any questions you have. Do they seem to be open to answering all your questions?

If you are buying fertile eggs, be sure they answer questions you have about the care of the hens and their diet. If you are buying chicks, feel free to ask to see their brooder box. Check out the parents if you’d like. If you are buying older birds, you have a right to see their living conditions. If you are met with resistance in any of these areas, find another supplier.

Never buy birds from someone who seems to have something to hide.
I hope this was helpful to the many of you who are just starting out and maybe those of you who’ve been at it for awhile found something useful too.

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