farm life

Chicken Facts!

I was having lunch with a friend the other day and she was asking me questions about my chickens. Many of them were things I now am not sure where I learned, but certainly didn’t know prior to starting my homesteading journey. I thought they might be of interest to others so I decided to document them here.

Do chickens need a rooster to lay eggs?

No, chickens don’t need a rooster to lay eggs. They will do it no matter what, they do need a rooster for those eggs to develop into chicks though.

I do have a rooster though, he was a freebie that came with the others.  Note: many areas prohibit having roosters, so if you don’t live in an agriculture area you might want to take that into account.

Biff the Rooster
Biff the Rooster

Can you eat fertilized eggs?

Yes and generally you wouldn’t find a partially developed chick inside or anything like that. I think of eggs as being in a kind of suspended animation until they are put in an incubator or the hen sits on them.

When do chickens start laying eggs?

This can really vary by type of bird, season and individual hen. Some of ours have started laying just recently at 6 months old. It is the middle of winter so this surprised us! Generally, chickens need about 12 hours of light to lay eggs. Some people add lights to the coop to keep them laying through the winter.

How many eggs does a chicken lay?

This is another one of those questions where it really depends on the time of year, the type of chicken and the individual bird. Generally a breed known for eggs with lay roughly 250-300 eggs a year during peak egg laying age. As they get older they start to slow down and lay less eggs.

What do chickens eat?

Chickens are omnivores. When I see eggs at the supermarket that say “vegetarian diet” I giggle a little bit to myself. My chickens free-range in the yard and eat all sorts of things from bugs to grass. Chickens can even eat mice and snakes, though I haven’t witnessed that myself yet. The majority of my chickens’ diet is actually layer feed, which is a formulated food for chickens. Since it is winter there is not as much for them to forage. Coming into spring I’ll start giving them things from my garden and there will be more bugs and other stuff around to eat as well. I’ve been researching techniques to cut my chicken feed bill from Justin Rhodes of Abundant Permaculture.

Why did you pick the types of chickens you have?

Most of my chickens are dual purpose heritage breed chickens, Austrolorps and Buff Orpingtons. What that means is they are both good for eggs and meat as well as are an older breed. The reason I picked these out is they are more resilient to free-range and grow slowly so they tend to have fewer health issues.  This is probably an entire blog post in itself but chickens used to be a special occasion food rather than the primary meat it is for many people in the US today. Not only was taste sacrificed to create super fast growing birds but also the health of the animals. Heritage breeds have not been bred in this way.

I also got Ameraucana chickens which are sometimes called Easter Eggers because they lay blueish eggs which seemed fun!

Biff the Rooster is a Polish Chicken. He isn’t necessarily a chicken I would have picked because the feathers on his head restrict his vision, not ideal for watching out for predators.

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Bluish Egg

Where did you get your chickens?

I ordered my chickens online and had them shipped to me. The post office ships birds all over the US. At my post office and most others, they’ll call you to pick-up the birds, even before they are open.

Funny thing about hatcheries is some will ask you if you want a free chicken. I checked the box and said “yes”, that is how I got Biff!

 

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Some of my Buff Orpingtons

 

I’m certainly not a chicken expert, but the fun thing about chickens is you don’t really need to be. If you have the room I recommend trying it!

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