This is Shannon from Oakland writing. I have two chicken questions for you. One is about evil, aggressive chicken behavior. My barred rocks and the darker mystery chicken (not sure if you remember that one) have been ganging up on and attacking one of my rhode island reds. I separated them, and all is peaceful with my 3 “sweet” hens but the two trouble makers are pissed off and on a time out in the tractor on the lawn. Any advice? Also, I have been letting them free range and wanted to know if I should be worried about them eating any potentially toxic plants. The Bio Fuel Oasis in Berkeley had a printout of all these toxic plants, and I am sure we have many of them. Are chickens smart enough not to eat the bad stuff? Thanks so much, and I hope all is well. - – Shannon
Hey Shannon -
Let’s start with the toxic plant issue first. I wouldn’t worry about it at all. Just like animals that live in the wild around many toxic things, your chickens won’t eat things that could kill them. Never say never, but the chances of it happening are very small, so I wouldn’t worry about it. As for your evil chickens, keep in mind that your chickens will establish a pecking order, the the chicken on the top will peck the others. This is normal as long as it doesn’t get really nasty to the point that the chickens start to bleed. The chicken at the bottom has a rough life, and will get picked on quite a bit. It’s hard to know if what you are experiencing is normal or not without seeing it. I wouldn’t worry about it unless it gets to the point of blood or they are preventing the chicken from eating food. Let me know if that helps and if you have any more questions. Thanks again for being a customer, and good luck!
Q: Is it better to do 12″ high or 24″ raised garden beds for my plants. What are the advantage and disadvantages?
A: It depends on what you are planning on growing. Smaller plants will do great in 12″ of soil; salad greens, strawberries, herbs, etc. For the larger plants like tomatoes and melons you should do beds that are at least 18″ deep, and 24″ would be great. If you are placing them in an area where the soil underneath is good quality soil that the plant can grow down into the garden beds can be a little shorter. Having enough soil area for plants is more important than we think, and will make a big difference on the health and yield of your plants.
Q: I purchased three day-old chicks on May 4th. I also ordered a fourth chick which was supposed to arrive on the 9th. Unfortunately, the chick didn’t arrive until this Monday. I was hoping I could put this tiny chick in with the older ones (guess they’d be almost two weeks old now), but one of them started pecking her so I had to divide my brooder with a screen. Now my poor little day-old chick is all alone on one side of the screen and she seems lonely. Do you have any suggestions for when it will be safe to put her in with the others? Should I consider getting another very young chick in the next day or two so she will have a friend to play with?
A: A small friend wouldn’t hurt, but if you keep them separated by a wire wall for about 2 weeks they should be fine. Make sure you give them plenty of space when you put them back together. When you do, I would watch them for a little while. The smaller one will probably start getting pecked, which is normal. Just make sure the other chickens don’t start attacking her. A good general rule is that as long as the chick doesn’t start bleeding she should be fine. The amount of pecking should also start to decrease. If the chick gets pecked to the point of bleeding or the other chickens relentlessly attack her, even when they have ample space, they need to be separated longer.
This is a guest post by Nadja from the San Fran area. She E-mailed me this and I think she shares some good advice. Thanks Nadja!
Please remind people to always provide laying hens with free choice oyster shell and a source of grit and to not give more treats than they can easily clean up in fifteen minute. I am involved with the chicken community in the SF Bay Area since moving down here, and most of the problems people have seem to be related to having seen too many movies where all the chickens were fed was scratch. Not only do excessive grain treats cause obesity, they imbalance the ration and can cause deficiencies. Obesity is linked to egg binding and other problems. I have seen hens driven to premature molt by well-intentioned owners who didn’t provide layer feed and provided scratch as the sole diet on the assumption that “free range” in the backyard would fulfill most of the poor biddies nutritional needs. A suggestion you could make is growing a little kale and chard for the girls as treat material; they like it, and in moderate amounts (that fifteen minutes or less to eat it), it is a good dietary addition.
Q: What are your thoughts on breeds to buy for our needs and environment. We want about 4 hens. Maybe 1 rooster. Only interested in eggs to eat. Live in Jamestown,Calif. Temps range from night time winter lows in the 20′s to 100 daytime in summer. Rare to get much snow . elevation is 1400′ We are in a rural area and are somewhat new at this.
A: Most of the standard backyard breeds will work just fine. I would go with a dual purpose breed, which means they are good for eggs and the butcher block. The best, in my mind, are Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks. They can handle temperatures down into the teens without any external heating. They are also great layers, you should get 5 – 6 eggs per chicken per week. As for the heat just make sure they have access to shade, and that they have plenty of fresh water. Also, chickens are easier than you might think. I hope that helps and let me know if you have any additional questions. Thank you for your interest, and good luck!
Q: I have a chicken (grey and black plymouth rock) she’s loosing feathers more than usual, and especially around the neck area. Any ideas why? I have a total of three chickens, they all seem to be in good health except the one loosing the feathers.
A: This time of year many chickens moult. This is a process where their old feathers fall out and they will eventually grow new feather. This is extremely common and is nothing to be worried about. They will look scraggly and beat up for a while, but once their new feathers grow in they will look beautiful once again.
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Considering that most people who have chickens, see them as pets, we get overly worried about them like any other pet. Most chickens do quite well in cold weather, and depending on how cold it gets where you live might not, need supplemental heat. Chickens can handle temperatures down into the teens, especially if they are fully grown and have some coop mates to huddle with during the night. If you live in an area where the temperature makes it into the single digits I would supply some supplemental heat. One question that seems to always come up it how high above chickens should the heat lamp be. Unlike when the chickens are young chicks, I would not point it right at the chickens. Instead, point it in a corner or somewhere else not directly at them, the heat should radiate and supply enough additional heat. If you do use a heat lamp be extremely careful, I have know a few people who burnt down there coop because of a heat lamp accident. The main thing that will help keep you chickens healthy in the winter is keeping them relatively dry, making sure they have access to clean drinking water. When the temperature drops the water will freeze so remember to bring lukewarm water to them twice a day. An old trick that helps is to feed them some cracked corn a little bit before the sun goes down. It is a fatty treat packed with carbs that will keep there metabolism going into the night, giving them internal heat.
Q: I have to bring my hen and chicks indoors for the winter. I’m a new “mother” so I’m not sure how to treat them. I placed them near a window for as much light as possible, otherwise I don’t know what else to do to make them comfortable. I wonder about water, how much and when.
A: You might not need to bring them in for the winter. It depends on how young your chicks are, and how cold it gets where you live. Once chicks are 8 weeks old they have adult feathers and can stay fairly warm on there own. You want to make sure they stay dry. Once chickens are fully grown they can deal with temperatures down into the teens without any supplemental heat. Something that helps is to give them some cracked corn right before they turn in for the night. It has a lot of carbs and fat which keep their metabolism going through the night giving them a little extra internal heat. As for water, they should always have access to clean water, which is the biggest problem in the winter because it can freeze. I hope that helps, and feel free to ask any additional questions.
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Ben, i have a question, my 4 chickens the wyandotte, they are not allowing the road island red into their clan, they are pretty mean, they have taken her down and continue to do so, and the beat the heck out of her. i know about the pecking order, but this is a little much, and they chase her around the yard if she even gets close to them, my poor little red! i am putting them out to pasture and giving my red the whole coop, i don’t like them being mean like that, so i would not make a very good chicken farmer. i only have the one road island red the other one was a rooster and i got rid of him, and so red is all alone. So if you have an idea would you let me know!
Integrating chickens can be hard. The first thing to share is that chickens are not racist, even if it seems like they are. The Rhode Island is getting picked on for a different reason. She is weaker, or smaller, or not as aggressive. Something besides the fact that she is a different breed or color. Where to go from here. They need to keep spending time together and they should work it out. When they are together give them lots of room. At night chickens normally are just trying to sleep and won’t bother each other, so they should be able to share the coop when they are sleeping. One thing to keep an eye on is, make sure the RIR is not bleeding. Chickens are like bulls, and when they see blood they go after it until they have pecked a chicken to death. You can pick up a special anti-septic spray at any feed store that sprays purple, like a anti-septic spray paint. Use this is you ever see any blood. Otherwise just give them space and let them sort it out, I know it can be hard but pecking each other is normal, and if there is no blood it shouldn’t be too much of a concern. Unless she is loosing feathers at an alarming rate. I hope that helps, and let me know how it goes, and feel free to keep the questions coming.
I just read an article that blows me away. The Oregon Legislature voted today to increase the minimum space requirements for egg laying hens. The new law, to be phased in over the next 15 year, requires that the hens get at least 116 square inches of space. To put that in perspective that is roughly 10 inches by 12 inches. It makes you wonder how much space they currently get. The new requirement is not much larger than a piece of printer paper. I still can’t believe it! Just another reason why you should get your own backyard flock.