Backyard Chickens: 5 Things I Didn’t Know

by Ivory Soap

chickenIs that not one of the grossest things you’ve ever seen?  GOSH, molting is nasty looking.  And, all of them are molting at once, which means every morning it looks like a chicken exploded in my back yard.  The first time I thought one got eaten!

Anyway, at over a 18 months of chicken ownership, I have some things to share that I didn’t know going in:

1.  Baby chicks can eat the same food as grown up chicks and will try.  HOWEVER, like human babies, they don’t have enough sense not to eat food pieces that are too large for them.  The best thing about chick starter is the SIZE.  You can grind up regular chicken food and feed it to your chicks, BUT do not leave any big pieces in there.  THEY WILL CHOKE.  (Notice I haven’t mentioned my guinea’s lately?)

2.  Chickens go through a massive molt at 18 months old.  After a month or two, they start laying again and the eggs are BIGGER.  They may not lay every day anymore, but they lay larger.

3.  Chickens can and will eat almost anything.  If you have chickens, there’s really no need for a bokashi composter.  They eat it all.  I don’t feed them CHICKEN, cause that’s gross to me, but they get everything else.  I wanted vegetarian chickens, but that’s not possible if they have access to pasture.  They eat every bug, worm, and dead thing they find.  So, ya get over it.  (*Note:  do not feed chickens homemade playdoh.  They WILL die.  Ask TL’s sister-in-law.)

4. You do not need processing devices to eat chicken.  You only need an old lady.  I was at the neighborhood association meeting on Saturday and they said something about boiling water and I tuned out, but I know that they can turn your chickens into dinner.  I could probably never kill chickens unless my children were in danger of starving (I’m a big baby), but if the old farm gals in the cove will do it for me, I might try my hand at broilers.  (*Note: never let your children name anything that you’ll be eating, unless it’s Dinner.)

5.  Collecting poo for compost is hard if your chicks are pastured.  Don’t even try.  You’d need a tablespoon and someone else’s back.  It’s ridiculous.  Not that I’m into the poo collection, per se, but having pastured chicks, I can tell you it would be like dropping tablespoons of thick pancake batter all over the yard and picking it back up when it dries.  If cooped, however, you just need a shovel.


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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Bethany James November 13, 2009 at 7:01 am

Interesting chicken post! These are some things they don’t put in the books.

My husband named the pullets this year, and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to butcher them when the time comes in a couple of years, that’s for sure. Though the araucana is annoying enough that maybe there won’t be much remorse there. 🙂

Maria inCT November 13, 2009 at 7:32 am

We are in the molting season now too. Feathers, everywhere! And no eggs……

Vonnie November 13, 2009 at 8:34 am

Good advice! I find that the hay from the coop is full of poo and makes great compost. Our chickens also scratch the hay all around the scraps of food they’re eating and that goes into the compost, too.

MsRobyn November 13, 2009 at 8:37 am

Oh what an interesting post today! My parents had chickens on their “ranch” years ago, they are interesting, yet nasty animals. I remember the day came for butchering, I wanted to run, but I seen sights I wouldn’t have believed unless I had seen it with my own eyes. I was only a feather plucker though, none of the other jobs fit me! I come from a large family and we lived the simple life, (still do) so it wasn’t uncommon for us to partake in things like this. I DO agree with you about naming animals. My parents had a heck of a time getting anyone to eat the pig we named Ralph! Thank you for the post, I REALLY enjoy all of your posts and everyone’s comments.

Summer November 13, 2009 at 8:47 am

Thank you for this! We don’t have chickens, our landlord says no, but I’m hoping to have some soon.

Simple Mama November 13, 2009 at 11:03 am

You know how I know I’m not a chicken keeper? I couldn’t tell what was wrong with the picture. LOL. I’ve been working on my husband for over a year, but he’s pretty adamant about having chicken “friends” and not keeping them in our own back yard. 🙂

Andrew Odom November 13, 2009 at 12:10 pm

Great post. I have been an owner now for 22 months and I have learned some of the same lessons as you have. ‘Cept ours are not pastured so poop collection involves a scraper, a shovel and about 9 minutes a day of our time.

We have two molting right now and yes, it is kind of ugly and not appetizing at all.

We haven’t named any of ours for the Dinner purposes exactly. I could never eat my friend and with a name they would quickly become my friend(s).

Karen November 13, 2009 at 12:13 pm

I’ve got quite a few nekkid chickens at the moment and only an occasional egg from the ones already finished with their molt. Oh, and as for chickens eating just about anything, they’ll also eat mice and snakes.

Kathy Murphy November 13, 2009 at 1:52 pm

We sectioned off a part of our yard just for the chickens. Every so often I rake up all the litter and poo in their yard and take it to the mulch pile. If I let them out, they eat all the seedlings, plants and anything else, throw all the wood chips everywhere, and poo all over the patio. When we mow I give them the clippings, and every kitchen scrap except coffee grounds. people at work donote their leftovers and chicken food items to me.

In the winter I spread an entire bale of straw in their area at least twice, otherwise it is a huge mud hole. They scratch through it and eat seeds and bugs, and it keeps their feet semi-dry. We also put a lightbulb in their coop for extra light early morning and evening to keeps the eggs coming. When it gets really cold, I leave the bulb on all night for heat. My girls won’t get cold!

Granola Girl November 13, 2009 at 1:55 pm

I grew up helping my grandparents kill their chickens in the backyard and eat them later in the year at holidays and such. So did my father. As a result, I don’t think I could ever see a chicken as a friend or pet. The killing/eating is just as odd to you as the idea of friend/pet is to me. I never thought of it that way before.

Our five year old decided that if we had chickens we were going to eat, he was going to name them Fajita, Soup, and Casserole.

ranch101 November 13, 2009 at 2:58 pm

Chickens (birds in general) are the modern relatives of dinosaurs. I truly came to believe that the day we were mucking out a pen and found a nest of rat pinkies, watching the chickens and ducks seriously fighting for those tasty morsels.

I used to have 250 birds molting over a 2 month period. Yeah, rather disturbing, but they look so nice with their fresh feathers afterwards.

The feathers are great in the compost as well. And the poop (=green) and straw (=brown) make a lovely compost just on their own. (Of course, my birds produced more than most household flocks would, so my compost piles really were mostly that or similar mix from the sheep pen.) If your birds are nice enough to distribute it for you, don’t worry about it. Just water it in and let the bacteria do the rest.

I miss my farm. Thanks for sharing your adventures. It brings back such nice memories and helps me think of little things that I can do where I live now (just realized that it’s about half the size of just the fenced in barnyard at the old place…).

ranch101 November 13, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Oh, yeah, and I second what you said about not naming them. I made the mistake of actually writing their names on the freezer wrap the first time we butchered any of our flock. We wound up giving that meat away.

krista November 13, 2009 at 8:07 pm

When my mother was growing up their chickens ate spaghetti (My grandparents were Italian immigrants).

Kat November 13, 2009 at 8:34 pm

I’d also add that chickens have remarkable abilities to heal from drastic injuries. I’ve been amazed at what some of our hens have lived through. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for one of our gals right now, after a St. Bernard leaned over our fence and chewed off her hind end. She’s railing, though, and continues to improve every day.

JavaLady November 13, 2009 at 11:07 pm

I agree with the needing a scoop for the poop ! For some odd reason, my flock of 5 has decided that the upper landing in thier coop is the perfect bathroom site, rather than outside in the chicken run or on the main floor of the coop. I don’t get it ? But it does make clean up quick and easy since I have a hatch door for that landing. I planned it to be where the nest boxes would be but the hens would not take to that, they prefer the front corner of the coop infront of the window. I always thought they laid eggs in the darkest corner or in a nest box, bit I guess that isn’t always the case. I am glad one of you ladies that commented here mentioned the light bulb to help the hens keep laying. Maybe I need to try that? I am only getting two brown eggs per day; no white ones and no green ones. I was getting 4 every day from my flock of 5. We kinda figure one of them isn’t a hen… aauurggh! My hens are only 8 months old.

Dove November 13, 2009 at 11:08 pm

My leghorns should be molting, they just turned a year old. Yes, I was crazy enough to hatch eggs last November, but now I know better! They lived in the bath tub for a month and a half before I let them out side. Anyone who really likes animals isn’t going to like butchering, but we have only done roosters, the extra ones we don’t intend to keep, and it’s really a blessing for the hens, because they will abuse the hens if you don’t have enough. Oh, and yes they are so much like dinosaurs –I watched some RIRs shread a mouse once…. I’m really glad we are bigger than they are!


Elizabeth November 14, 2009 at 5:46 am

My chickens had a good treat this week: old bread soaked in bacon grease and topped with leftover risotto rice pudding with cranberries. Talk about a chicken riot! My hubby remarked that he hopes he never has a stroke or some such, and falls over in the chicken pen with no one to rescue him!

Michelle November 14, 2009 at 10:57 am

you are so stinkin’ funny…I’m cracking up about the exploded chicken! My girls haven’t molted yet…they’re just 6 months old or so. And thank you for sharing about the chicks and eating…I hadn’t thought about that. I thought the starter had different vitamins and such in it..good to know.

mila November 14, 2009 at 3:58 pm

My six year old came running up to me frantically asking “What’s wrong? Who attacked the chickens?” I ran to look at them and said “No, no, Honey. This time of year they lose their summer feathers to make room for the warm, winter feathers.” She was so relieved! 🙂

Also – under my roosting bar I have 2 of the under-the-bed Rubbermaid storage containers (they are rather shallow but long and wide). I put and inch or two of shavings and empty it now and then. This has definitely been the easiest way to keep the coop cleaner! They certainly do most of their pooping from the roost!

withajoyfulheart November 16, 2009 at 3:32 am

Ha! Great post. We spent the summer on a hobby farm and raised 30 broilers. They did not live long enough for a first molt, but if it is anything like losing their baby fuzz and going to feather…peeyou they were ugly!!

As soon as they were old enough, they alternated between coop and outdoor pen. I used wood shavings on the floor and just kept adding layers between stirrings…it sure does compost fast with their humidity. I also raised mealworms in a larger tupperwear with the chick starter feed. Mmmmm did they love all the life stages of this amazing little creature. Added bonus is the food for ds leopard gecko 😉

We did not name them…I had been well warned against this, but I did call them my babies and they would all run outside each time they heard my voice. I would take my camp chair into the pen or coop and sit and read with these handsome boys camped out at my feet. There were a couple I wished I could have kept. It really is amazing that they do have different characters.

The day of, my son and I gathered them into borrowed cages, and then he went off to school and they went off to the abbatoir. I miss them when I drive in….and I wasn’t sure I was actually going to enjoy our supper the other night, but, then the familiar smells came from the kitchen, and even my pet loving son enjoyed supper. So I guess there is a bit of farmer in us after all.

lisa mertins November 16, 2009 at 8:57 am

hi, a word about broilers; we once got one by mistake and were really grossed out by how enormous it got compared to the other chicks — a frankenchicken! she gorged herself so completely she got too heavy to walk until we separated her from the others. and because they’re meant to be eaten at the pullet stage and we don’t kill ours, she became sickly as she reached hen age. very unpleasant!

Maven Koesler January 2, 2010 at 12:23 pm

I found that once the chicken is dispatched, I can view it as food rather than on of my birds. It makes a difference. I make my husband do the killing, then I can pluck, clean, and cook the chicken without survivor’s guilt. My goal is to one day take responsibility for my food from cradle to plate, but it’s tough to off a critter you’ve raised. Heck, it’s tough to off any animal that isn’t currently trying to eat one of my goats or chickens.

Maven Koesler January 2, 2010 at 12:27 pm

One recommendation if you do decide to raise broilers. Go with the Red Broilers or Black Broilers rather than standard White Cornish x Rocks. They are the same type of birds, but the colored fowl seem to be way hardier than the whites. I get mine from Ideal Hatchery in Tx. The whites can drop dead at the surprise of a sonic boom or a door slamming. My Reds ALL reached maturity, and I currently have one Red rooster left who is fast approaching 2yrs old. He’s fast, and my egg hens seem more fond of him than their Black Jersey Giant roo.

Oatbucket January 3, 2010 at 9:04 pm

We have 10 backyard chickens and they do eat everything. However instead of having a seperate compost pile, the large chicken pen IS the compost area. We dump everything from food scraps to goat shed bedding, to leaves, to end of the season garden plants in there. Nothing will keep your compost turned like chickens and they LOVE to scratch through it all. Then come spring, we have some of the loveliest, black soil to dig out of the chicken pen and use in the various gardens.

Mamma Mayhem February 25, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Instead of a traditional coop, a friend of mine built a “chicken tractor.” Essectially, it is a mobile coop with the idea of the chicken clearing a garden plot for you. They eat the pests, till and fertilize. You rotate the tractor and they do it all again for the next garden plot. Healthiest veggies you’ve ever seen!

Tracy June 4, 2012 at 5:15 am

I live in Portugal, most of the house owners keep chickens. It is lovely hearing chickens and cocks chirping and crowing respectively. However, my parents came to stay and said they are allergic to next doors birds. Is this possible? We have wooden floors, bedding changed frequently, floors mopped dayly with no feathers in our garden. The birds are kept in a coop and there is a 12 foot high glass concervitory with a roof between our two properties. Yes we can hear them, but we can’t smell them or see feathers. Is it possible they are allergic or is this my mothers way of getting out of flying, she hates flying. My father. Loves his. Isits but this visit he was unwell. Old age or the birds? This is the first visit in our house, before we were in an apartment and my mother didn’t like being high up and is afraid of elevators. Is there any way to measure the dander in the air outside in our garden? Thanks for your help

Daisy June 4, 2012 at 6:37 am

Tracy–First, let me say that you sound like a very thoughtful daughter. That said, I’ve been able to find there are home test kits for air quality, but they seem to test for a limited number of “common” allergens–dust, certain types of grass pollens, dust mites and cats, etc., not domestic fowl in particular. They aren’t cheap, either. Even if you were somehow able to measure the level of chicken dander in the air, it would be difficult to establish a baseline for the exact level which might prove harmful to your parents. Had they ever mentioned before that they were tested and discovered they both shared an allergy to chickens? I’m sorry your father was unwell. I hope he is better now.

Tracy June 5, 2012 at 1:28 am

Thank you for your information, it is appreciated. My father suffers with asthma and is allergic to dogs, duck feathers and dust mite. That said, in their home they have carpets and they have a caravan in Cornwall which is next to a duck pond and they spend hours watching the swans and ducks there. They even feed them.
My children, aged 12 and 14 have been asking for a dog for years. My daughter even researched the most hipper allergenic breeds. We were hoping that as it is a warm country and there is a big stone outbuilding with a partitioned section of garden that it would be possible to keep a dog outside. Now I don’t know what to do.
I love living here and it is so nice to hear chickens I think it is much better than car pollution.
Thanks for you kind words.

Daisy June 5, 2012 at 6:00 am

Tracy–While I know you want to make the environment conducive to hosting your parents when they do visit, I imagine they are only there a small part of the year. I personally wouldn’t consider having a allergy-friendly pooch to be an offense against that. In my experience, people make a way to do what they really want to do and think is right, and that goes for all parties considered. Your home sounds idyllic. I’d come and visit!

Sophiathebackyardfarmer August 12, 2012 at 6:09 pm

I have a compost right next to my coop so that whenever their roost needs cleaning, i just get a dust pan and dump it all in the compost along with table scraps the chickens have already polished off (watermelon rinds, peach pits, etc.)

Sophiathebackyardfarmer August 12, 2012 at 6:16 pm

I remember when we got a bale of hay too big for the pen and when we tried taking it out of the indoor chicken pen it fell apart all over the outdoor yard and then our chickens got killed by a bobcat (that has been a terror to all the backyard chickens in the area. We even call it THE Bobcat) and it started raining so the chicken yard got turned into a literal compost! (We then got more chickens later and cleaned up all the half rotting hay)

Pam May 16, 2013 at 8:43 pm

I had 30+ hens on a mountain property in Colorado. I repurposed a tool shed into the perfect coop! We popped in 2 small vented windows on both sides of the standard entry door, a solar tube on top, an electric outlet plug (for a radiant heater on sub zero nights) and a doggie door on the back side of the shed that led to their enclosed aviary. Everything we used was salvaged from someplace else. We kept a single bulb light on at night to help keep egg production up during the winter months. Diatomaceous Earth is the best and only way to keep the coop mite free and smell free (plus keeps the hens healthy when they eat it). In their yard we had a shallow pond, tire swing, roosts and lots of dirt for dusting plus an occasional head of cabbage on a string to keep them amused. Construction mesh fencing was secured tightly all across the top of their yard to keep out raccoons, fox and mountain lions. Never lost a girl to a predator. They always came inside the coop at dusk to roost and we would just close the doggie door at night to keep out other critters. Raising organic hens and chicks was the most rewarding and fun hobby! Now that I’m in Michigan I can’t wait to start all over again!

Lynda August 27, 2016 at 12:14 pm

We named our 6 “City Chick” Hens … Teriaki, BBQ (Copper Marans) Fried, Curry (ISA Browns), Almond & Alfredo (Silver Americaunas) so when the children ask, “What’s for dinner tonight?” and I answer “Fried Chicken”, they run out to the coop to count the hens! It’s just a joke, and great conversation piece at potluck suppers, we aren’t really going to eat these girls 🙂

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