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Backyard Chicken Facts – 5 Things No One Told Us

by Victoria Gazeley

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Our backyard chickens are now 12 weeks old and are well on their way to being full fledged layers.  We’re still a ways from collecting fresh eggs every morning, but they look happy and healthy and, well, just ‘right’ wandering around the yard.  Now it feels like a real homestead!

But there have been a few surprises along the way – some of them pleasant, some not so much.  Here are a few things we’ve learned that might help you as you decide whether or not to get chickens for your backyard.

#1.  Backyard Chickens are Poop Machines

OK, I knew chickens produced a lot of manure, but I really didn’t realize how much.  Apparently, it’s about 45 pounds per hen, per year.  So for us, that’s 45 lb x 15 hens = 675 pounds of poop.  Pardon me, but holy cr*p!

Now that our 15 girls are out ranging in the yard most of the day, it’s not so much of an issue.  Except that we can’t walk outside barefoot anymore (not that we really did anyway).  But much of that ends up in the coop, as they spend upwards of 12 hours a day there, and will be more as the days get shorter.  So what to do with all that high-nitrogen manure?  Put it this way – I’m building a new composter!  You can also make something called manure tea – you can find chicken manure tea instructions here.  Essentially, you can take care of a good chunk of your vegetable garden’s nitrogen requirements with your chickens’ well-composted manure.  Pretty efficient, huh?

I’ve heard from others about the fact that their chickens pooped all over everything – furniture, vehicles, porches… you name it.  So far, we’re working on ‘aversion training’ to try to teach them what’s off limits for perching and pooping, and we have no manure on anything other than the ground.  I know some of you are probably rolling on the floor laughing right now, but I’m sticking to the plan.  I’ll let you know how it goes…

#2.  They Come Running When They Think You Have Yummies

I have to admit, I never really thought of chickens as pets but livestock.  But when they all come running when I walk outside, it’s pretty darned cute.  Of course, it could have something to do with the fact that they associate my presence with yummy snacks like canteloupe and fresh lettuce.  But still…

#3. They Put Themselves to Bed at Night

This one really surprised me.  I thought we’d have to be rounding them up at night if they were out ranging during the day, but that shows how much I knew about chickens!  Turns out the term ‘return to the roost’ is actually a real thing.  Come a certain light level, the chicks turn tail and trot on into the coop to settle in for the night.  Who knew?  Well, lots of people, but it was a really pleasant surprise to me.  You gotta like pets that walk themselves, put themselves to bed AND provide you with breakfast.

#4.  They’re Intensely Curious

I’m amazed daily by the hens’ curiosity at just about everything in their environment.  Watching them hop up and down to pick huckleberries, listening to them peck at various materials for the sounds they make (like the downspouts on the house – ladies, there are no bugs there), and seeing them explore various ground textures and materials.  They really are quite fascinating to watch.  But of course, this can work to your detriment, particularly if your hens are restrained in a small run or tractor.  When bored and unable to access a varied environment, chickens can begin a slow slide into anti-social behaviour: pecking at each other, fighting… you get the picture.  Something like siblings stuck in a long car trip.  Just transfer, ‘Mom, Maya hit me again!’ to poultry and you’ll get the picture, but with blood.  If your hens do need to be cooped up, one of our Facebook friends, Evy, has some super ideas to help keep them occupied:

  • Dissolve unflavored gelatin in warm water in a pie pan or plastic container according to the package directions, place a length of string long enough to dangle out and be tied to something, then fill with molasses, grains, cracked corn, sunflower seeds, etc.  Finally, pour in the gelatin (making sure the string reaches out of the container), cover it with cellophane (pull string through the center) and put it in the fridge to set.  Once it’s ready, pop it out and watch the show!
  • Attach frozen bagels or firm boiled noodles on string and hang them from the coop or run ceiling at hen-head height.
  • Popsicles work great as a diversion, especially in the hot weather.  They love it!

The key is to ensure they don’t get bored and start to turn on each other.  Chicken psychology – fascinating…

#5.  They Like Lullabies

We have this one hen (her name happens to be ‘Lucky’, thanks to my son), who falls asleep at the hum of a lullaby.  So cute, and quite interesting.  Singing to chickens – how can it get any better than that?  Of course, I just heard that chickens will fall asleep if you put them on their backs, and Lucky is just tame enough to let him do it.  Should I tell him?

The Wrap-Up

So far, our chicken raising adventure has been pretty uneventful.  Alongside our chicken co-parents, we’ve raised them from day-old chicks to the young ladies I see running around the yard today.  Their voices have just changed, and they no longer sound like chicks, but full fledged hens.  They seem happy and healthy, curious and balanced.  The things we’ve learned that no one told us have all been really pleasant revelations, actually, but it does go to show that there is no learning like practical experience.

That said, I’m sure I’ll be able to write another ‘things no one told us’ when they start laying!

Do you have any chicken tips or factoids you can share?  If so, please do so in the comments below!

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Revised on June 28, 2012

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous August 19, 2011 at 5:35 am

Just reading about your chickens makes me crave fresh eggs…amazing! Great article as always!

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Michelle DeMarco August 19, 2011 at 6:28 am

I wish I lived in an area where I could have chickens and other animals too!  We can’t because of HOA rules, but I love reading your stories.  I have a friend that has chickens and she brings me eggs once in a while.  Wow what a difference a real egg makes!  Awesome article.

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Amity Hook-Sopko August 19, 2011 at 1:36 pm

This brings back so many memories of having chickens when I was a kid :)  And now my boys go to school on a farm and get to feed the chickens and sheep.

Do they roost head-tail-head-tail?  Ours always did.  We thought of them as pets too.  Enjoy them!

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Robert Seth August 19, 2011 at 5:37 pm

It’s funny Victoria…this article starts with “Chickens running around the yard” and as soon as I read that, even before the comment about poop machines” that’s what I was thinking.  You should try geese if you think chickens poop a lot.  I really enjoyed reading this article.  We also have chickens running around all over the place and I love just hanging out and watching them.  The ones that are hand raised are incredibly friendly. 

Do you have any roosters?  If you want to hear interesting and entertaining voice changes, you should get a couple of those.  As they mature and their voices change, it’s hysterical listening to them learn to crow.  Of course, once they learn, you may have some unhappy neighbors.  We have some that are kind of confused and have started crowing as early as 2am.  They are prime candidates for the stew pot!

Thanks for sharing this charming article!

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Lori Thayer August 19, 2011 at 6:23 pm

Great article. So many people are starting to have backyard hens, very helpful.

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Elvie Look August 19, 2011 at 7:11 pm

You made me laugh out loud today. What a great article, and I love love your sense of humour. You made me want to go get some chickens. I can hardly wait for another article on “things no one told you.”

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Michelle Wilson August 19, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Keeping their wings clipped will keep them from being able to get up on a good number of things.  They can’t fly, but their wings (if allowed to grow out) can still provide enough lift to get them up onto something taller.  Also, a ‘chicken trick’ – chickens go to sleep if held on their backs.  We used to do this with our pet banties – pick one up, hold it like a baby and it would fall asleep.  Kind of similar to sharks, oddly enough, who do the same when they’re held in an upside-down position.  And finally a confession… when I was young, about your son’s age, I used to chase my gramma’s chickens because they looked soooo funny when they ran and my gramma would always give me a hollering for scaring them – she claimed they wouldn’t lay eggs because of scaring them.  And still we always had eggs …. hmmm

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Carol Rosenberg Giambri August 20, 2011 at 12:47 am

Very informative and cute article Victoria.  I don’t watch the chickens down the block but I bet chickens are chickens so they all have the same traits.  Interesting about Lucky loving lullabies.  Still a city girl at heart but transplanted to the land of horses, chickens, llamas, donkeys, etc.  ….

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Wil August 22, 2011 at 3:41 pm

I remember seeing Martha Stewart’s red hens years ago on her program. I don’t think I could ever be an egg farmer, not that the town would allow me to have chickens here! But it must be wonderful to have fresh eggs around for breakfast or baking!
Thanks for the interesting article!

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Victoria Gazeley August 23, 2011 at 1:52 am

No eggs yet, but soon!

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Victoria Gazeley August 23, 2011 at 1:53 am

Well, welcome aboard! I’m so happy you found us, and hope we’re able to provide some information you can use in your journey to rural living. It’s a fun community, with lots of sharing and humour. I look forward to getting to know you here!

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Victoria Gazeley August 23, 2011 at 1:53 am

Thanks, Rachelle – it is pretty funny!

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Victoria Gazeley August 23, 2011 at 1:54 am

Great points, Leonamc! We were fortunate in finding a good hatchery, but I can see how that might not always be the case. Thanks so much for sharing this – you might save someone from making a heartbreaking mistake…

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Robin August 26, 2011 at 12:00 am

Ha.  We’ve been learning many of these same things.   Our chickens have just hit 20 weeks so we’re expecting eggs any day now.  I’m excited!

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Victoria Gazeley August 26, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Exciting! Funny, aren’t they? Ah, the joys of country living… :) Thanks so much for stopping by!

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Victoria Gazeley August 26, 2011 at 9:58 pm

Thanks, Maura. I am intrigued by this idea, and tried it for a month, but the smell got so overwhelming (even with the windows open and putting new bedding down a couple times a week) that we finally had to clean it out the other day and start fresh. I love the idea of the deep bedding method, but it didn’t appear to be working – or maybe I wasn’t doing it right? Hmmm…

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Victoria Gazeley September 13, 2011 at 4:39 pm

No – that would be a bit stinky! I think I’ll keep it… :) Thanks for stopping by!

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Bkolodge627 December 1, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Funny article and every word is true!!  I have 5 hens and a rooster that free range in the summer. You have to watch where you walk, but I don’t mind.  I love it when I come out of the house and they come running to see what I might be bringing them. There is no substitute for fresh eggs.  I’m loving it!

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ChrisSavant67 . August 29, 2013 at 11:29 pm

True stuff, another one I would add, can go with #1, after they start laying eggs, there poo size is MUCH bigger!!

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Victoria Gazeley October 29, 2013 at 8:03 pm

:) I never noticed, but you’re probably right!!

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Edward Osheskie September 24, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Hey, what does the cost of satellite internet run you (with setup cost?)? Thanks! I wonder if it would be better for me to simply get an antennae and put it up high in a tree, since I nearly get cellular coverage in my area (then I can pay only 10 dollars a month for internet!).

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