Frequently Asked Questions about Chickens

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Frequently Asked Questions about Chickens


Q: Do you need roosters for hens to lay eggs? 

A: No. This is one of the most common misconceptions about chickens. Hens will lay eggs just as well in the absence of roosters. If roosters are present, however, the eggs maybe fertilized!

Q: How often do chickens lay eggs?

A: That depends on three main factors:

  • The breed of chicken. Some chickens are bred for meat production and lay few eggs; some are bred for egg production and can lay as often as once a day; some are bred as "dual purpose" andare good for both egg-laying and meat, although not optimal for either.
  • The hen's age. Hens start to lay at 4-6 months of age, and lay best during their first year. Each year after that their production decreases.
  • The season. In the winter (with fewer daylight hours), egg production drastically decreases. High laying season is summer.

A healthy, young hen bred for egg-laying can lay almost an egg a day!

Q: Will owning pet chickens put me in violation of town ordinance?

A: Maybe. Some municipalities allow residents to keep poultry and some don't. The best thing to do is check with your local municipal, zoning, and health boards.

Q: How much care do pet chickens require?

A: They're much easier than dogs: no walking, no twice-daily feeding, no baths, no grooming. With the proper housing they're a very low-maintenance pet:

  • Daily: a "checking on", egg collection, and closing the coop if you've let them out.
  • As necessary: fill feed and water containers.
  • Monthly: change bedding and remove that free fertilizer (poo) so it can be put to good use!
  • Twice a year: a thorough cleaning and disinfecting of the coop.

Read more about the ongoing care chickens require in Chapter 6 of our free e-book, The My Pet Chicken Guide to Chicken Care.

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Q: Why do chickens lay different-colored eggs?

A: They just do! Different breeds lay different-colored eggs. Eggs come in many different colors - light brown, deep chocolate brown, white, off-white, pinkish and even green and blue! Some also lay speckled eggs.

A couple of key facts:

  • An individual bird's eggs will remain basically the same color all the time.
  • There can be variation in the shade of egg colors amongst individuals within a breed, but not the base color (brown, white, blue etc.).
  • One general way to tell what color egg a chicken will lay is to look at her earlobe! A hen with a white earlobe will always lay white eggs, whereas hens with red earlobes can lay brown, blue or green eggs. It's not perfect. You can read more here.
  • Araucana, Ameraucana and Easter Eggers, famously lay varying shades of green and blue eggs

For more on which breeds lay which color egg, see Chapter 3 of our free e-book, The My Pet Chicken Guide to Chicken Care, or give our Breed Finder Quiz a whirl!

Q: Are brown eggs healthier than white eggs?

A: No, the color of the egg has no effect on how healthy it is. However, how chickens are kept DOES have an effect on how healthy the eggs are! See the next question for more on this topic.

Q: Will the eggs my pet chickens lay taste better than store-bought?

A: Without a doubt. The chickens in your backyard will lay eggs unlike any you've tried before. A good rule of thumb: the more orange the egg yolk, the more healthy and better-tasting the egg is. Plus, research shows that if you allow your chickens to roam your yard freely (which we highly recommend you do) your eggs will be higher in Omega-3 fatty acids and lower in cholesterol, among other health benefits.

Q: How much do chickens cost?

A: Baby chicks cost $3-$25 each, depending on a variety of factors, including the sex (females are more expensive than males) and how rare the breed. Started pullets (young hens that have just started laying eggs) should cost $15-$50 each.

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Q: Will I save money by having chickens?

A: No more so than a gardener would growing tomatoes. If you're currently buying cage-free organic eggs, you may be able to break even by having your own chickens. There are lots of great reasons to have your own chickens, but saving money is not one of them.

Q: Where can I get pet chickens for myself?

A: You can get grown chickens from a local farmer or online, or you can get baby chicks from a hatchery, like My Pet Chicken.

Q: Can chickens fly?

A: Sort of. Smaller (lighter) breeds, and "bantams" -- which are the same as "standard" breeds but about 1/3-1/2 the size -- can fly 25-50 feet and will roost in trees if allowed to. Heavier breeds have much more limited flight.

Q: Do chickens really "come home to roost"?

A: Yes! Chickens will come back to the same place to sleep every night -- so you can let your chickens roam your yard during the day and when it gets dark they will return to their coop to catch up on their beauty rest. (A "roost" is a pole they perch on, which they much prefer to sleeping on the ground.)

Q: How noisy are chickens?

A: Roosters are VERY noisy, and contrary to popular belief, they don't just crow in the morning. They crow all day long.  Hens are much quieter -- you basically won't hear them until they've just laid an egg, or if they're threatened.

Q: How big are chickens?

A: "Standard" chickens weigh 4-7 pounds depending on the breed and the sex (roosters weigh more than hens). "Bantam" chickens -- which are the same as standard chickens, only smaller -- weigh 1-2 pounds.

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Q: Is there really such a thing as a "pecking order"?

A: Yes. This is a very real phenomenon. All chicken flocks have a well-defined pecking order. It's their way of preventing mayhem.

The lucky chicken at the top of the pecking order basically gets to push everyone around. She gets first access to food, water, prime roosting spots and so on. If she doesn't like what anyone else is doing she has full pecking rights. She gets to tell any other chicken to bug off. The poor baby at the bottom of the pecking order is in the exact opposite situation: everyone in the flock can peck her, and she has last rights to food and other resources. The other chickens in a flock fall somewhere between these two extremes. The #2 chicken can only be bullied by the #1 chicken and can bully everyone else in turn, and so on and so on.

Pecking order is established at a very early age and usually remains unchallenged until death.

Q: Can I have just one chicken?

A: You shouldn't. Chickens are social creatures and they will not do well alone. We advise a minimum of two.

Q: What if one of my pet chickens gets sick?

A: Take it to a veterinarian that specializes in avian medicine or farm animals.

Q: Do cats attack chickens?

A: In the vast majority of cases, no, but you do hear of this once in a while. Most cats are more intimidated by grown chickens than chickens are of them. Baby chicks are more at risk because they're helpless, but again, in our experience, cats aren't interested in them. Better to take precautions, though! (Dogs can also be a danger to chickens; watch this YouTube video with Cesar Milan to see how he socialized one dog with the family's chickens...)

Q: Do you have to give chickens baths?

A: No! Chickens take dust baths that keep them clean and free of pests. However, if you plan on showing your chickens in a Poultry Show, you'll want your bird looking her best, so you can wash them with a gentle cleanser and blow them dry.

Q: How long do chickens live?

A: It's common to hear of a pet chicken living eight to ten years. Once in a while you hear reports of 15 years or more! However, it is a rare bird indeed that can live that long.

Q: I have a beautiful Easter Egger, and I was wondering if she could be an Ameraucana because she looks like one. Does she meet the breed standard?

A: If you purchased your bird from a farm store or a major hatchery, your bird is most likely an Easter Egger unless explicitely certified as an Ameraucana. Ameraucanas only come in certain explicit colors, and in addition, have other standards they must meet such as a specific body size, a specific angle at which their tail must be held from their body, a specific color of their legs, length of neck, color of eye and so on. Even if an Easter Egger were to meet all these qualifications, she still wouldn't be a true Ameraucana, because her genetic make-up wouldn't allow her to breed true. That is, her children wouldn't look the same as she does or carry the same characteristics. She is not the Ameraucana breed-she just happens to be a beautiful mixed breed whose appearance is similar in some ways. You shouldn't enjoy her any less just because she is not an Ameraucana. Easter Eggers are great! However, if you purchased her from a hatchery that sold her to you under an incorrect name, we suggest you write them and urge them to correct their error.

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