1. Too many (or too few) roosters.
It’s true that you don’t need a rooster to harvest eggs, but a gentleman tends to keep the ladies happier and helps to break up domestic squabbles between the hens. He’ll also alert them to good forage and save it for his ladies to win favor. That said, too many roosters can cause territory disputes and lead to abused hens. A good ratio is one rooster to every 8-12 hens.
2. Inadequate protection from predators.
They don’t say “smart as a fox” for nothing. Predators are intelligent, and if they’re not they don’t make it very long. Chicken owners need to plan in advance to protect their flock. Raccoons have been known to break through mesh chicken wire, or simply reach through and kill birds through the fence. Weasels, believe it or not, can slip through the small holes. Hardware cloth is better to use for a chicken’s overnight housing. They’ll also need protection from digging predators, such as foxes and coyotes, as well as climbing predators such as raccoons, that can carry a hen with them over the fence. Make sure the coop is fully protected top to bottom, and don’t underestimate your predators. If all else fails, a trusty .22 is usually plenty to deal with unwelcome guests.
3. No access to forage.
The healthiest eggs come from chickens allowed to access forage. Chickens, while they do love their greens, are not (by any means) vegetarians. Even a brain as simple as a chicken’s brain needs stimulation from finding and hunting for food, and bugs are excellent entertainment and nutrition. Chickens living on a diet of corn/soy mush from the feed store are a sure way to harvest the status quo boring egg you can buy at the grocery store. Let your chickens forage, and they’ll thank you for it with tastier and more nutritious eggs.
4. No retirement plan.
All too often, classified ads have listings for “free chickens, 3 years old, no longer laying regularly, to a good home only, not the stew pot.” If you’re going to own chickens and raise them for eggs, you need to be realistic about their productive life span.
Chickens produce best in the first three years of life, and after that their production drops off drastically. They generally live for 7-10 years, which is a long unproductive lifespan to feed your retirees. Trying to give away the problem to others and insisting that they go to a “happy farm” rather than the stew pot is unrealistic. If you want your chickens to live a long and happy life, you’ll have to support your pensioners yourself as pets, or know that their next best fate is the stew pot.
5. Too small of a coop.
You’ll need to plan a little extra space for chickens too young to lay while they grow into adults, but before you’ve retired out your older hens. If you retire your hens before the new batch comes in, you’ll have a long wait without eggs as the younger hens come of age. Planning for a coop that’s 1.5 to 2 times the size you expect to need is a great way to ensure that you can cycle your flock, and expand it without cost if your needs change later on.
6. Using recycled material.
While it may be tempting to hack together a nearly free structure from recycled materials, make sure you’re picky about what you use. Hens tend to peck loose or peeling paint, and those old recycled “free” boards covered in lead paint that you picked up beside the side of the road may come back to haunt your family in the form of lead poisoning. Be sure that any material you choose is free of chemical treatment, old lead paint, rusty nails, and ideally is smooth wood without splinters or rough edges, both for your safety and ease of cleaning and painting down the road.
7. Not counting your chickens.
Though they say you shouldn’t count your chickens before they’re hatched, after they’re hatched is a whole different story. Each night when your chickens are put in, they should be counted to make sure everyone has come in safely. One may have been picked off by a predator during the day, and you don’t want that to happen several days in a row before you notice.
8. Not checking local ordinances.
In most places in the country, backyard chickens are perfectly legal, but it never hurts to check your local ordinances. Many towns have rules against keeping roosters (as noise prevention) or keeping more than a very small number. To prevent fines and headaches later, check the rules, and if they don’t meet your needs, work with your town council to change them. Backyard chickens are becoming more accepted even in urban areas as people move toward self-sufficiency, and if your town doesn’t allow them, maybe it’s time for a change.
What are the biggest mistakes you have seen made with chickens? Share your thoughts in the section below: