Keeping Geese in Winter: Top 3 Tips November 12, 2020 No Comments

Are your geese ready for winter? Geese are large, hardy birds that often thrive in cooler weather. But if you keep geese in an area with long, cold winters and plenty of snow, a few steps should be taken to make sure your birds are comfortable.

Geese and ducks play in the snow.
Geese often thrive in cooler weather

Prepping the coop for winter

Like most livestock, geese need a place to escape the worst of winter weather. A goose coop should offer about 8 square feet per bird, and ideally is not part of your chicken or duck coop. Geese should have their own space. Goose mating season begins in February and your birds will become more aggressive, which can result in hostility towards smaller birds. Geese can come and go freely from their coop during the day. Because they are messy water birds, I encourage folks to feed and water them outside in a yard or run. Then keep the coop for night shelter and in case of very severe weather. A coop should have good ventilation, plenty of bedding, and provide protection from wind and wet weather.

Geese can be kept with pine shavings, hay, straw, or peat moss. During the winter I recommend a thick base layer of shavings to stop any drafts and a top layer of straw for them to keep warm in. Whenever the weather is warm enough, I do a deep clean of the goose stall. I put a layer of diatomaceous earth down to help to ensure everything is sanitary and fresh.

If you are concerned about your coop being cold, you can consider a specific coop heater (especially if you have younger birds). I do not recommend a heat lamp or a heater not designed for a poultry coop which could be a fire hazard.

Feeding your geese in winter

Geese won’t be able to forage in winter, so you will notice an increase in how much feed they consume. You want to make sure that they are getting the right nutrients from their food. This can be provided by mixing your own feed or offering a winter or game bird specific grain

To make your feed go further in winter, you can mix in cracked corn, black oil sunflower seeds, oats, or wheat. These will not only be a tasty addition for the geese, but they will help provide a variety of nutrients. These treats will help keep your birds healthy all winter long.

Geese eating feed in a pasture.
A bucket of cold water is enjoyed by the flock of geese.


Since geese naturally eat leafy greens and fresh grass, supplementing some special treats is a great idea in winter. You can offer them a head of lettuce or cabbage, flakes of hay, and greens off root vegetables like beets and carrots. Stick to a goose’s natural diet, do not offer bread (empty calories), or sugary foods.


The amount of feed your geese consume will vary depending on the number of birds you have, and how severe winter is in your area (and therefore, how much your geese can forage). I feed free choice three times daily during our Maine winters. I may increase what I offer if the feed
bowls are turning up completely empty every time I go out. Or offer less if they are leaving grain.

Goose taking a bath in winter weather.
Snow baths are enjoyed by geese!

Water requirements for winter

Most important: water. Geese require water to keep the airways on their beaks clear, to drink, and to bathe. For fresh drinking water, I provide shallow rubber troughs near my geese’s feed. I use rubber troughs so that ice can easily be broken out of them. I do not heat these buckets.
The geese will fill them with feed and mess so quickly. They need to be emptied and refilled a few times a day regardless of the temperature. However, the geese also have a nearby livestock tank, a 15 or 30-gallon tank, which we keep thawed with a water heater and allows them swimming water. This one is only refilled once a day.

Because geese splash around so much, I find it very important to provide their water outside. They only get water inside in the worst weather, because they’ll spray it all over their coop and then the coop is covered in ice. This is not comfortable or good for them. In situations where they need water in the coop, I’ll use more limited-access waterers, so that they can’t splash it all around.

Geese love an cold swim

If this is your first winter with geese, you may be impressed with how much they enjoy the cold weather. With special blood circulation in their feet, they’ll often remain in a pond as the ice starts to cover it over (don’t worry —they know when they have to get out!). They enjoy being able to “bathe” in snowbanks, though you should keep an area cleared for their food and water. And by late February or early March, you may be seeing your first goose eggs — a sure sign that spring is on the way.

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is a farmer and author of the books The Modern Homesteader’s Guide to Keeping Geese and So You Want to Be a Modern Homesteader. She and her husband are restoring a farm in rural Maine, where they keep geese, chickens, goats, pigs, sheep, and more! Visit her on Instagram @hostilevalleyliving or online at www.hostilevalleyliving.com.

Chicken Pirates: what’s up with those shoulder birds? September 15, 2020 No Comments

Aargh! Are ye a chicken pirate? I kept chickens for over many years before I became a pirate. What took so long? Well, even though I’d had lots of chickens, none of them chose to be “shoulder birds,” until two of the birds from a 2016 batch of chicks from My Pet Chicken. “Brahma Mama,” my Buff Brahma Bantam, and “Piper,” my Barred Plymouth Rock, decided to jump on my shoulder when I would go into the run area and sit down. My “shoulder birds” made me a chicken pirate!

Barred Plymouth Rock and Buff Brahma Bantam on man's shoulder

Having chickens on your shoulder makes you feel super cool. I’m not sure why… Perhaps it’s the pirate mystique? Maybe it’s because you feel like they’re expressing their approval? “Hey, chicken-keeper person. You’re alright. I’m glad you’re around. Let me sit on your shoulder for a second to express my positive feelings about you.”

Maybe that last part is a little anthropocentric. I don’t know. But I do know having a “shoulder chicken,” makes you feel good. You other pirates know what I mean, right? You feel like that lady at the zoo that walks around with the snake draped around her neck like a shrug. She gets a lot of attention because there’s a cool critter hitching a ride; she’s a human Uber for a snake!

I know, a tiny bantam chicken is no boa constrictor, but shoulder birds still raise your coolness factor by a few degrees. At least I think so. But maybe I’m just a chicken nerd?

Man with toy duck on his head
Proof that I am a poultry nerd?

Having said that, this behavior does make me wonder: Why do chickens do this? Why do some birds have no reservations about hopping on your shoulder, while others won’t let you touch them?

It’s fascinating to me, and I’m going to list a few possible reasons below. But first, I have a warning:

Shoulder chickens can be dangerous!

I don’t want to disparage shoulder chickens, but I want you to know that having any animal that close to your face and ears means there is an element of danger involved. Your eyes and earrings may look like shiny beetles–animals that chickens love to eat. Trust me, you do NOT want a chicken pecking at your eyes! That could turn out badly. I mean, there’s a REASON pirates wear eye patches!

Chicken Pirate with a Barred Plymouth Rock chicken on his shoulder
Aargh, Matey! You got my ear!

Some people have had earrings forcibly removed from their ears, and not the fun way. I’m talking RIPPED OUT–ouch! I’ve also heard a story about a woman whose shoulder chicken pecked out AND SWALLOWED her earring. The woman searched the bird’s poop for a while (fun), but she never found the earring again. Is this how pirate chickens get their treasure?

So, having said that, PLEASE BE CAREFUL any time you have a chicken on your shoulder. Protect your ears, your eyes, your mouth, etc. You could get scratched, pecked, or seriously injured–okay? Maybe wear some eye protection and take out your earrings first. Or a full hazmat suit? Nah…that’s too much. If you have any other suggestions, please put them in the comments below.

Alright. Why do chickens do this? Here are some guesses:

  • Curiosity – If you have a flock, you know that chickens are very curious. Perpetual curiosity is essentially how they find food. It may be that some birds just want to know what’s up there on that tall person? Maybe he stores the mealworms on top of his head? That leads us to the next possibility:
  • Food – Here’s a story from one of our MPC peeps (that’s what we call our staff members): I had a chick a few years ago with a severe cross beak that I hand fed a lot. She would fly onto my shoulder whenever she saw me… I always assumed because she was hungry and knew food was coming.
Chicken Pirate with a bantam rooster on her shoulder.
A road trip with Monroe, the chicken
  • Seeking the highest/safest place to roost – One staff member shared this story about this behavior:

    I had a Blue Laced Red Wyandotte that would try to perch on my head any chance she got in the evening when I was closing the coop. She always does this right before bed when she’s looking to roost. I’m guessing it has something to do with the desire to roost high for safety…and maybe since I am her caregiver, I’m considered “safe.”
  • Comfort and/or Bonding – Perhaps some birds feel protected or more at peace when they’re close to you. Maybe they imprint on a particular person when they are young and they never really outgrew it. Here’s another staff member’s anecdote:

    Gracie always wanted to be on me, she would nibble, walk around, and settle down for a cuddle. I never encouraged it and could not stop her from doing this, either. She just liked it! However, she would not jump on other people, it had to be me.
  • Genetic Predisposition to Trust – Perhaps some birds are just wired this way. Each chicken has their own personality and some are more trusting than others. It could be they are just expressing a natural range of chicken personality characteristics.
  • Warmth in Winter? – This seems unlikely but it came to me in a brainstorming session. Who knows?
Chicken Pirate with a Blue Splash Marans on her shoulder.
A Blue Splash Marans with her Chicken Pirate

In summary:
Shoulder chickens are cool, but potentially dangerous. I don’t know exactly why they engage in this behavior, but I like it!

And finally, to all my fellow chicken pirates–AAARGH, mateys!

Do you have any shoulder chickens? Do you have any ideas about why some chickens like to sit on shoulders? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section.

Jules – The Special Duck September 9, 2020 No Comments

Do you have a “special” member in your flock? You know, that one chicken, duck, goose (or hey, any other member of the flock!) that you nursed and nurtured through thick and thin? The one you count heads for every day to be sure they are still there? Yeah, I thought you might! Today I want to share the story of Jules, my “special” duck. She is just that kind of gal, my baby, my darling, all the kid’s favorite sweetheart… And I almost lost her.

A flock of ducks on grass including Jules, the special duck
Jules, the “special” duck.

The story of Jules, the special duck…

See, Jules was one of 10 ducklings I ordered for this spring. I used to have ducks but sadly lost the flock to predators. So I was really excited about these babies! I ordered two each of the White Crested, Silver Appleyard, Blue & Black Swedish, and Caygua. Seriously, who wouldn’t be excited about ducklings (everyone say awwww…)? Let’s not forget about the eggs perfect for baking the most amazing cakes and breads imaginable?!

Okay, so the ducklings arrived and were great. Shipping was right on schedule. They arrived on day three right to my door (even though I had told the post office to hold them for pick up!). I peeked into the box and got a nibble on my nose for my curiosity! As soon as I pushed the lid back they were all clamoring to get out. It was adorable and of course, I was smitten!

a shipping box of ducks
The baby ducklings are here!!!!

Growing up

The babies grew as expected and by three weeks old I had to move them to a special outdoor brooder in my barn. They loved that, lots more room to play, and our barn cats actually kept them company. Then one day when I went out to sit with my babies I noticed one of the Black Swedish spinning in circles. I could only guess she must have gotten hurt somehow since she had been fine previously. After watching her respond (or not) to things around her I was able to tell she could not see in one eye. There was a little drainage but it was clear, like from an injury. Despite this, she would find the others by sound and follow them to food and water.

All was well enough and Jules grew. Albeit slower than the others and with some leg trouble from spinning in circles so often. They moved to the big pen once they were all feathered in and they loved the free access to bugs and grass.

An unplanned swim…

One morning I went out and found Jules in the rubber container the ducks would swim in. It’s about 12-inches high and Jules had never gotten in it. She couldn’t stand all that well and I never imagined she could climb in!

Jules was soaking wet, feathers water-logged and her back raw from the other ducks pulling at her feathers. She was barely keeping her head above water and shivering horribly. I got her out and dried off then put her in the warm sunshine to recover. Just two hours later when I went to check on her she was covered in horrible, flesh-eating, vicious ants! She had tried to crawl away but her legs were too weak and my heart just broke to think I had left her and she was suffering so.

Feather damage on the back of Jules, the special duck
Jules feather picked back

In an attempt to get the ants to stop biting her, I grabbed a bottle of veggie insecticide typically considered safe and dusted her with it. The ants fell off instantly and she lay there, barely any sign of life left. I admit I was not very hopeful. While crying, I put together a cage for her in one of the rabbit hutches we were no longer using. She would be dry, off the ground, and safe there. I tried to get her to eat some mash, mixing the feed with water, but she wouldn’t, she would barely even drink. I checked on her every couple of hours for days…

Black Swedish duck lays in her coop

Jules the special duck recovers!

About two weeks later when I went out, Jules had moved on her own! She had started eating a little each day but only if I hand fed her. I exercised her legs, moved her, cleaned the soft hay I was using as bedding, everything I could to help her regain feeling. To find she had moved on her own brightened my day and gave me hope.

Jules is feeling a little better!

Another week passed before I went out and, finally, found her standing! She quacked her happiness at seeing me and waggled her precious tail. I made her stay in the hutch a few more days before allowing her to go back with the flock. I was really worried, but she wanted to be with them so badly! When I put her in the rest of the other ducks ignored her but she was happy to just be near them.

Happiness on the green grass

Tonight I went out to put the flock to bed. I counted heads as usual… Jules was missing again. I went out and scoured the pasture calling her name as nearby I heard an owl calling. After some searching I saw a faint black shape in the grasses, a long head popping up out of the grass. It was Jules, taking her half-waddle-turn steps trying to find me in the near dark. I went over and scooped her up and she snuggled into my arms and chuckled at me, telling me she knew I would come looking for her. I admonished her for going so far from the shelter and water and food and carried her home to tuck her and the others in for the night amid the honking of the geese and quacking of the other ducks. As I shut the gate I smiled… my Jules had enjoyed another happy day on the green grass doing what she loved.

Jukes the special duck relaxing on grass
Jules happily relaxes in the grass.

Do you have a special needs duck or chicken in your flock? Comment below to share with us.

7 Baby Chick Care Mistakes to Avoid September 2, 2020 No Comments

As you begin your chick raising journey, you’ll be faced with a variety of common challenges and mistakes when it comes to baby chick care. A few of those challenges begin the moment you hit that lovely purchase button and submit your order. Even the most expert among us make mistakes sometimes (yes, that should make you feel better). The good news however is that those same mistakes can easily be avoided with preparation and a little forethought.

three baby chicks
Avoid baby chick care mistakes by being prepared!

Chick care… the beginning

Let me start at the very beginning… You’re a first-time chicken owner and have finally found the chicks you’ve always wanted and watched for, ever so faithfully. You quickly sneak them into your shopping basket and quite happily place your order. With a look of triumph, you march back to whatever it is you were doing before you began stalking our website… But then you suddenly realize you had been so focused on getting the chicks, you forgot one tiny detail… You haven’t planned for when they arrive. So what do you do?

If it’s any comfort at all, many new chicken owners have that same moment. It’s the moment when we get so far ahead of ourselves, we forget to plan the little things. Us humans tend to do that when we get really excited and absorbed in things. We miss the little details, the important and overlooked things.

As a customer service representative, I have helped many new chick owners and I’ve seen the same baby chick care mistakes repeated. They are not large mistakes, but they are mistakes that could be easily avoided in the future.

Wondering what exactly those are yet? I won’t keep you in suspense for too long, let’s roll right into it then!

1. Forgetting to purchase the brooder and coop BEFORE ordering chicks.

This is actually very common among new chick owners. Why? Because excitement rules! Tunnel vision takes over and we simply overlook the preparation phase of this. What happens is we order the chicks first and then realize we need a brooder… We quickly order the brooder and cross our fingers it arrives before the chicks. The downfall with that method is that now the brooder could arrive after the chicks. This also means your fluff balls will have no place to go until the brooder finally arrives.

baby chick care showing two chicks in a brooder with food and water
Don’t forget to set up the brooder BEFORE the chicks arrive.

Coops can be the exact same situation. Most coops could take a few months to arrive and boom, before you know it your chicks are ready to move out of the brooder.

By planning ahead, you can start your baby chick care off on the right foot and you eliminate the stress that comes with last-minute planning. Simply purchase your brooder and coop before you order the chicks you want and you’re off to a great start.

You’re also going to want to make sure the brooder is set up well before your little chickies arrive! That way, your chicks arrive at a warm and ready-made home.

2. Using the wrong bedding.

Now you’ve gotten your brooder set up and you’re researching the best and safest bedding option for your little ones. At MPC we recommend pine, aspen, or hardwood shavings. The most important bedding to stay away from is cedar shavings. The downfall is cedar shavings have an oil on them that is very harmful to their respiratory systems and can lead to illness (which none of us want!). Large Pine shavings are a much better option and work really great as bedding. The set up gets even better when you add paper towels on top to prevent the chicks from eating the bedding or slipping and getting splay leg (also something you don’t want).

baby care showing a chick on pine shavings
Pine shavings are a good bedding for the chick brooder.

3. Insufficient heat source.

Alright, you’ve gotten your brooder all set up, your bedding is in place, and you’ve turned your baby chick care focus to how you’re going to keep your precious fluff balls warm. The caregiver instinct may be to use a red heat lamp because why not, right? No go, don’t do that. Heat lamps are very similar to the weather, unpredictable. Plus, those things are a major fire hazard and that makes them very unappealing to use. Spare yourself a headache and get a heating plate or hanging heater instead. Not only will your chicks thank you for it, but it’ll also save you money in the long run. By not using a heat lamp, you’ll no longer have to purchase light bulbs for a fire hazard of a heat source.

baby chick care showing chicks keeping warm under a heating plate
Heating plates are a safe option for keeping chicks warm.

Another thing I’d like to mention is that chicks need a steady and constant temperature of 90-95 degrees for the first couple of weeks. A temperature-controlled garage or building is not sufficient in providing that warmth. Just keep that information in mind as you plan out your heat source.

4. Does shipping and delivery mean the same thing?

I have received this question many times from customers and the confusion is understandable. When you first placed your chick order, you got to choose a “preferred shipping date”. At first glance, you’d assume the shipping day is also when your chicks will arrive. Well, you’d be half right then. What that really means is that your chicks will ship on that date and then will arrive 1-3 days later. We can work some awesome magic at My Pet Chicken, but transporting chicks to everywhere within the U.S in the same day, sadly isn’t one of them.

baby chick peaking out of a delivery box ready to be cared for
Just arriving home!

5. Tracking “stalls” and you assume chicks are sent straight to your house.

Your chicks have now shipped and are on their way, woohoo! You get your tracking email with the handy dandy tracking link and you’re now super excited. Sitting at your laptop, you stare at that little transit bar for hours, but it doesn’t move…. Worry starts to seep in, wondering if your little ones are stuck somewhere in the heat or cold. Concerned about their safety, you decide to reach out to us for help. Before you have a panic attack, let me explain why this happens.

Tracking is very handy to get an estimated delivery date and time. The downfall is that the carriers are transporting lots of chicks, ducklings, goslings, etc. Meaning, they don’t always scan each and every package at each stop, resulting in that little bar never moving for hours or even days. The good news is that it’s completely normal and okay! The tracking will update the next time the package is scanned and in the meantime, your chicks will continue to travel as normal.

Do the chicks get delivered or do I pick them up?

Great, you now know why the tracking was stalled! Pondering further, you start to wonder if the chicks will be delivered to you or to your post office. Instead of assuming and getting it wrong, you decide to reach out to us for more help (we love you, so totally okay)!

This is where things get really cool. Some post offices do have the power to deliver to straight your house like a chariot carrying precious cargo. The sad part is that not all post offices have that ability and they may require you to pick your chicks up. The best way to find out what your local post office does is to give them a call and ask. They’ll be able to explain their policy on live animals and you’ll get peace of mind in return… Or at least a little because let’s be honest, waiting on chicks is very exciting and a bit tense!

6. Fixing “Hot head” chicks

One of the best things about cute little chicks is that they all have their own adorable little personalities… The fun part begins when you get a “hot head”. The hot heads or “aggressive” chicks tend to peck at the others and chase them down mercilessly. This can raise some concern because they could potentially hurt the others and you want to prevent that. A quick note on chicks, they like to admire themselves in the mirror (weird, right?).

chicks having a conversation to determine who the boss of the flock is.
Some chicks are naturally more bossy than others

Fixing that situation can be pretty simple. The hot head chick simply needs a distraction, giving them something to do other than attacking their helpless flockmates. A fantastic distraction is a mirror because like I said, chicks can be slightly prideful in that aspect. Another great distraction is going to bring out your artsy side… You get to draw something creative and very colorful on the inside of their brooder. Chicks like to peck anything and everything shiny or colorful, so they will be super happy to peck at your art for hours on end. The best part of drawing for them, is they won’t judge your art skills! Another way to keep your young flock busy is to provide them a chick jungle gym. This will provide them and you with endless entertainment as they learn to jump and fly.

7. Integrating and moving to the outside world

Sadly, chicks don’t stay chicks forever… Which means you’re going to have to put them in the coop at some point. Yes, you’re going to have to cut the apron strings, difficult as that may be. Once the chicks feather out and begin to get more bold, they can become quite the escape artists. While it may have been cute when they were chicks, it’s not so cute when your chickens start to run around the house making a mess. At this point, you may already be really willing to move them out to a coop because of just that. Either way, the culture shock can be a bit much for some chicks (depending on how much they’re spoiled). Lucky for you, there’s a fairly easy way to make that transition without causing too much of a fuss.

baby chick care showing chicks outdoors on grass for the first time
The chicks first trip outside.

The chicks are now teenagers and can become super moody (sound familiar?). Chances are, they probably won’t like the fact that you are kicking them out of the nest. You’re going to want to take them to their coop and just kind of show them around. They may be really reluctant to even go into the coop on their own, so you might have to physically put them in for the first couple of nights. It’s going to take some effort, but it’ll eventually click that they aren’t going back into the brooder. Repetition works best and is really awesome for this. Just do this cycle over and over again and before you know it, you won’t have to do anything. Before long, your chickens will go in and out of the coop on their own and will forget you even cuddled them as chicks at one point…

The good news is now you get your house back!

Raising chicks is a rewarding experience.

Raising chicks is such an awesome and rewarding experience. It’s very much worth the time and effort it takes to care for them along the way. Hopefully, these baby chick care tips and tricks on how to avoid common mistakes will aid in making that journey as stress and worry-free as possible. This is supposed to be fun, we aim to keep it that way!

Want eggs? 8 reasons to consider ducks. August 18, 2020 2 Comments

Doris is a bit full of herself, but she may have a point.

If you want to produce your own eggs, ducks may be just the ticket. While I wouldn’t echo Doris’s sentiments above (she’s rude), you’d be smart to carefully consider the benefits of adding ducks to your flock! Ducks are, without a doubt, my favorite backyard layer. Here are 8 reasons why:

1. Ducks are “cheep”

Cute but voracious.

Yes, they really are! Ducks can be a little pricier to start out, to be sure. Ducklings eat like, well… pigs. This is just in the early days, though, to maintain their exceptionally rapid growth.

In the long run, ducks actually eat less than chickens. This is because they’re excellent foragers and — you guessed it — foraging is free!

Ducks will eat a much wider array of bugs than chickens would deign to, including slugs, tomato hornworms and the dreaded Japanese beetle. Heck, ducks will even eagerly chase down dragon-flies and other such small pterodactyls. Far from squeamish, ducks will happily dig under decaying matter to snarf anything that moves.

They’ll also forage on soft grass and tender weeds through the summer, supplementing their grain intake more heavily than chickens.

Read the rest of this entry »

Can baby chicks get too much chick grit? August 11, 2020 2 Comments

One customer’s story of too much chick grit….

Too much chick grit can be harmful to your newly delivered flock. One of our customers, Cindy (not her real name) excitedly picked up her peeping balls of fluff from the post office. She quickly took them home and settled them in their new brooder. They all looked so healthy and happy as they excitedly peeped and pecked their way around.

Everything seemed to be going well, but by Saturday morning, one of her chicks had died.

What happened?

On Friday morning, one of her chicks showed signs of what she thought looked like pasty butt. It’s right side also appeared swollen. The chick was perfectly symmetrical when it arrived, but it was starting to look larger and out-of-balance on its right side.

Chick with swollen right side
Chick with swollen right side due to filled crop

After contacting My Pet Chicken, Cindy learned that baby chicks’ crops often enlarge after they eat. The crop swells when it fills with food. It then returns to normal size as the feed is moved to the gizzard for further processing. Based on this information, she wasn’t too concerned about the swollen crop…at least not at first.

Cindy also learned tips for helping her chick with pasty butt and what later appeared to be a prolapsed vent, and she began to heroically use that information to provide care for her beloved chick.

A heroic effort

Cindy soaked the chick’s vent area in warm water to relax it in an attempt to facilitate passing the obstruction. She gently dried her off with a hairdryer on the lowest setting so she didn’t get chilled. Cindy then began to carefully massage the baby chick. Interestingly, after a few attentive rubs, a little chick grit came out. Cindy kept tenderly massaging to see if the chick might have more grit obstructing its vent. After massaging a little more, a LOT of grit came out piece by piece, followed by some poop.

Chick with prolapsed vent
Baby chick with protruding, impacted vent

That seemed to do the trick! The chick perked up and became more chirpy and alert. Her vent was still swollen and her right side was still larger than the left, but it looked like–hopefully!–the little bird was out of the woods. Cindy checked on her chicks in the middle of the night on Saturday. She gave the chick a little olive oil for the potentially impacted crop. She also observed that the chick had still not eaten or drunk anything.

When the sun came up, Cindy checked on the chick again. Unfortunately, she was laying down struggling to breathe, and by 8:30 am, the chick had died.

With tears in her eyes, Cindy emailed My Pet Chicken to report the loss.

What went wrong?

Cindy was valiant in her effort to nurse this baby chick, but unfortunately, her efforts were not enough. It is impossible to know all the factors that might have played a role in the loss of the chick, but it appears that the most important contributing factor was the ingesting of too much chick grit. Sometimes, really young chicks may mistake grit for feed and consume too much, thinking that it’s actually food. When this happens, it can cause the crop to become impacted and keep the chick from being able to digest and pass feed normally. That seems to be what happened with Cindy’s chick.

Thankfully, this situation is preventable!

A beautiful, healthy young chick

Tips to keep your chicks from eating too much chick grit:

  • If chicks are eating only finely-milled feed, they do not usually need chick grit. Baby chick feed is water-soluble, so the chicks don’t need grit to help them digest it. If your chicks are only eating chick feed and never leave the brooder, then it is probably not necessary to give them grit. If your chicks are eating anything other than chick feed, including treats, plants, bugs, or worms, they will need chick grit.
  • Chicks may ingest small pieces of bedding. If this happens, they will need some grit to help digest it. It’s a good idea to mix 1-2 tablespoons of chick grit into 1 quart of feed. This allows chicks to ingest a little grit–but not too much–while they eat their feed. Another option would be to sprinkle a small amount of chick grit (a tablespoon or so, depending on the size of your brood) in a dish once a day and let the chicks enjoy. Be sure to watch them to make sure no one chick is eating too much grit.

Keep your new chicks safe

Over-consumption of chick grit contributes to untold numbers of chick losses each year. By following these suggestions, you can help keep your chicks safe during those first few days while they are figuring out what “food” is.

We hope this information will help save some chicks’ lives and allow more people to enjoy the fun of raising baby chicks! A special thank you to Cindy (not her real name) for letting us share her story in order to help provide more education about baby chick care.

For more information about chick care, visit our free Chicken Care Guide.

The Cross Beak Chronicles: Helen’s Story… July 30, 2020 No Comments


This is the story of Helen, my little cross beak Easter Egger. She is a survivor, to say the least, and has completely captured my heart. Helen was not expected to live very long, yet she is now three and a half years old already! She recently moved out of the main coop and is now a permanent resident of the back screen porch of our home. Helen’s home is nicely furnished. She has her very own coop, a patch of grass, and even a friend. I will explain who her friend is later on in the story!

Helen poses in her chicken tutu after getting a fresh manicure

How It All Started

I’ll begin with a little backstory, of how I got into chicken keeping. I have always loved chickens. I’m not sure why. I didn’t grow up on a farm. I didn’t even know anyone that had chickens. One day, out of the blue, my cousin said to me, “Why don’t you get some chickens?” And that was that.


I got my first 12 chicks from My Pet Chicken three years ago. I thought I’d get maybe 7 or 8 chicks and that would be great, plenty. Giving it a little more thought, I decided adding a few more chicks wouldn’t be a big deal. I ended up buying 12 chicks. I found out shortly thereafter, the local farm store had baby chicks for sale and buying another 5 or so should be fine. Ultimately I ended up with a total of about 20, maybe 22. I can’t actually remember. When you don’t know how many chickens you have, you are afflicted with Chicken Math. It’s a real thing in the chicken keeping world. In other words, who is really counting how many chickens you have?

Baby Helen

This Is Where Helen Comes In

We went to a local farm store to pick up a couple…well, lets say a few more baby chicks. On the way home, I peeked in the box to look a little more closely at who was doing all the fussing. I looked at one little chick in particular. I noticed something wrong with one of her eyes. It looked a little droopy, not quite normal and healthy like the others. I told my husband, “I think there might be something wrong with this one. Her eye is not right. Maybe we should turn around and take her back.” That said, my husband floored the gas pedal, as he had enough fun for the day already, and away we went, headed for home. There was no turning back.

Cross Beak! What Is That?

I didn’t think a lot about it at the time. Around a week later, I noticed her beak wasn’t aligning properly. It was starting to cross, or “scissor”. I had no idea what was going on. As a first-time chicken mom, I worried about what I was seeing. Immediately, I started to research and soon discovered what I was dealing with. I had a chick with a cross beak, also known as “scissor beak”. Most of the information I read, said to cull her, as most cross beaks would never be able to live a normal life of a chicken. I read articles saying it was never going to get better, it was only going to get worse, and was basically a death sentence for my little chick.

Nope, not acceptable; I knew I couldn’t cull her. So what was I going to do? After careful thought and consideration, I decided what would it hurt to see if she could live with it. We decided we would take care of her and love her no matter what.

Only The Strong Survive

The information I gathered was right about one thing. It definitely got worse! In fact, I can’t imagine her beak any worse than it is. She learned to eat with her tongue. She would stick her tongue into the feed, and the crumbles would stick to it. That is how she ate. She has never been able to pick anything up with her severely crossed beak. She prefers a trough feeder, as that is what she started out with. However, she can also eat from other sorts of dishes and a treadle feeder as well.

At some point last year, the tip of her tongue sort of, well….dried up and fell off. Let me tell you, that was a frightening discovery! My first thought was, You have got to be kidding me, now what!? My heart sank. I knew this was it. She would no way be able to survive now, with only half of a normal tongue, right? I tried feeding her a wet mash with a dropper, very unsuccessfully. Believe me I tried! What. A. Mess. I thought, how am I going to do this all the time? I mean, let’s be real. To everyone’s surprise, she made it work somehow and continued to live and seemingly thrive. Helen is surprisingly still able to eat her dry crumbles, on her own.

Cross Beak, The Struggle Is Real

Helen is at the very bottom of the pecking order. She’s lived a stressful three and a half years of life so far, avoiding continuous harassment of the other hens. I thought it was best to keep Helen with her flock mates, in the beginning. After three years of continuous harassment, I ultimately decided enough was enough.

She had all her tail and back feathers painfully plucked out. She was continuously trying to live a peaceful life. However she was just not able to, due to the other chickens. She was different, and chickens instinctively know it and act on it! I decided it was time to make a move. It was time for her to have some peace in her life. We discussed it, Helen and I, and she very gracefully accepted my offer of a new home, and took up residency in our back screen porch. She now has her very own coop and private space, all to herself. No one bothers her anymore, except me.

Home Sweet Home

Living The Good Life, With A Friend!

And so, her new life begins. She quickly grew her tail feathers back, along with lots of other feathers I didn’t even realize were missing! Helen can eat and drink in peace, without being chased away by the other chickens. She can sun bathe and simply relax. She has her very own coop, adorned with a wreath on the door, her name placard proudly hung and a “friend” that I felt she needed, to keep her company.


Helen truly loves her friend, who is a taxidermied chicken that I’ve had for years. Yes, let me repeat that. It is a real, professional taxidermied Black Australorp hen. It’s a long story that I won’t bore you with. In short, it has to do with a family owned gift shop, some very old hens that lived a full life and a taxidermist that let them “live on”. I have several of them and I chose one to live with Helen, so she wouldn’t be completely alone.

Helen and Company

She took to her immediately and loves being by her side. I decided to offer her another friend, since the first hen was so compatible. I gave her a beautiful taxidermied Welsummer rooster for her to flirt with. She actually lost her mind for a moment! She attacked that rooster with such vengeance, I thought she was going to seriously hurt herself. Never, did I ever think she had it in her to do something like that. However, it’s Helen we’re talking about. She was now queen of her castle and surely wasn’t about to let an old rooster rule her roost, no way! Here is a video of Helen, ruling her roost!

And The Cross Beak Story Continues

It was very important to share Helen’s story. Just because a chicken has a cross beak, there is still hope for them. There is a lot of hope, actually. It is not an automatic death sentence. I think the key is, do what works. There are no set guidelines, on how to care for a cross beak. It really is all about doing what works for both of you.


I am glad my husband had a lead foot that day and didn’t turn around. We enjoy Helen so much. She is a big part of our family. I enjoy caring for her and doing what I can to improve her life in every way possible, and really, it doesn’t take all that much effort. Okay, that’s not entirely true. However, it’s what you do when you love a chicken or any pet that needs a little extra care. I’ve enjoyed every minute of caring for her. She gives us so much back and she doesn’t even know it. Helen is one very special girl.

Helen, The Little Chicken That Could…And Does

Do you have any cross beak chickens in your flock? Share with us in the comments below.

Top 4 Compost Methods using Chicken Manure July 24, 2020 No Comments

Compost using chicken manure
An open-air compost pile using chicken manure

It’s time to clean the chicken coop again and we have 4 compost methods for using chicken manure in your garden. While coop cleaning is not the best part of owning chickens, it’s definitely necessary. You are left with a pile of bedding and droppings, also known as the second-best thing a chicken can give us other than fresh eggs! Yes, seriously. You’ve just collected some really good stuff there. That soiled bedding is now compost gold and perfect for feeding to your garden…almost.

See, Chicken manure is high in nitrogen and runs really ‘hot’ in a garden bed when it’s fresh. Adding to the garden straight out of the coop will cause your plant’s roots to ‘burn’. Essentially killing all your hard work in the garden beds. Even using pine shavings can be too acidic to add directly to soil as-is. Composting chicken droppings and soiled bedding is the correct way to get it ready to feed your garden.

Chickens hang out in play yard
The poop monsters at work producing chicken manure

4 Methods to compost chicken manure and bedding

Here are the 4 best methods of composting which incorporate chicken manure that the staff of My Pet Chicken prefers to use:

1. Set It and Forget It

This is the easiest compost method using chicken manure. Yes, you can dump your pile over in the unseen part of your yard, or along an area you don’t frequent. Just leave the pile to decompose in its own time with no intervention. I’ve done this and I find by the next season, everything on the bottom of that pile from a year ago is just right to add to my soil as-is now. It’s a long wait but worth it.

2. Open Air 3-Stage Composting

This is another easy method that is considered a traditional method of composting. You can create three separate piles for this composting method. One pile for new compost, one pile for “cooking” compost, and the third pile for the finished dirt that goes back to feed your garden.

Stage 1 includes collecting items like food scraps, paper, yard waste, and soiled chicken bedding. Add all these compost ingredients to a dedicated pile. This pile will get hot in the center, up to 104 degrees, and help cook the compost while allowing beneficial bacteria to thrive. This pile will then begin the 2nd stage process where the composted items break down into their smaller bits and “cook” just before becoming dirt. It’s recommended to turn the compost ingredients weekly using a pitchfork in order to help speed up the process by delivering oxygen where needed. Stage 3 – After 4-6 months, your scraps have now turned into beautiful compost ready to be added to your garden.

3. Compost Tumbler

This small tumbler is a rotating bin. These often come with two compartments. In one compartment, you will add fresh compost ingredients while the ingredients in the second compartment are left to “cook.” It’s important to turn the tumbler regularly. The time it takes depends on the moisture content and temperatures in the tumbler. It can be pretty fast at an average of fewer than 6 months. Adding a compost accelerator can speed this up even more.

Compost Tumbler
This compost tumbler helps make finished compost in a shorter amount of time

4. Bokashi Composting

This is really fermentation composting. The goal is to ferment your collected waste over a 2 week period, then bury the waste right into your garden bed where you want to use it. Within 2-4 weeks, the compost will be completely broken down into dark soil. Some tips for starting Bokashi composting are: You can begin with a starter kit, including inoculated spent grains or a compost accelerator. You will need a container you can seal to put your compostables and soiled litter in with the inoculated grains. Double stacked 5-gallon bins are a good and alternative choice for this method. Make sure the container also has good drainage on the bottom so ‘sludge’ doesn’t build it.

Use your flock to live a more sustainable lifestyle

A backyard chicken flock helps you have a more sustainable lifestyle since you have no waste actually leftover from your chicken keeping. They have gifted you with food and now with a healthy fertilizer for your garden. Whether you grow trees and bushes for shade, flowers for a beautiful landscape or fruits and veggies to eat… your chickens are there to help. What amazing little creatures! By implementing any of these compost methods using chicken manure, it will help you live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Scratch, Check, Peck, Repeat July 11, 2020 2 Comments

Scratch, check, peck, repeat
Through the winter cold, in the summer heat
Under spring rain, through the autumn leaves
Scratch, check, peck, repeat.

Mottled Cochin Bantam checking for bugs

Here you see a bug, there you see a seed
Keep your body moving, everything you need
Lies underneath those busy, busy feet
Scratch, check, peck, repeat

Cackle, cluck, purr, sing
Early in the morning, hear our egg song ring
Soothing little sounds chatting through the day
Talking to each other like the words people say

A broody Mottled Cochin Bantam

Sit, brood, push–an egg!
Listen to the human as she starts to beg
“Breakfast, please, my pretty pet hens!”
We’re working on it here, my impatient human friend!

Dig, huddle, kick some dirt
Underneath your feathers, so the mites won’t hurt
Pick, shake, nibble, preen,
Gotta keep the feathers looking nice and clean

Scratch, Check, Peck, Repeat

Rest, relax, soak some sun
Perfect definition of some chicken fun
Eat, drink, explore, rest
Chillin’ like a chicken, feelin’ fine, no stress

Light’s getting dim, climb into the coop
Getting kind-of tired, must be time to roost
Rest, relax, beak under the wing
Wake up with the sun, do the same things!

A White Silkie Bantam is feelin’ fine

Every single day, every single week
Scratch, check, peck, repeat
Happy little chickens, best you’ll ever meet
Scratch…
Check…
Peck…

Repeat.

A happy Speckled Sussex after a long day of scratching for bugs

Use First Saturday Lime for Chickens & Your Garden Will Thank You! March 27, 2020 10 Comments

First Saturday Lime & Chickens go together
First Saturday Lime is great for the garden and chicken coop!

One of my must-have supplies for backyard homesteading is First Saturday lime. Garden lime (no, not the citrus plant!) is a rock powder that is widely used in organic gardening.

Garden lime is alternately called limestone, agricultural lime, aglime, or just plain lime. It’s all-natural, safe for pets and kids, and it’s organic-compliant.

(You can use any brand of garden lime, but we really like First Saturday. They’re family-run and they source their product responsibly, in America. Plus, they’re the nicest people!)

First Saturday Lime for your chickens

Lime helps reduce bacteria and repel bugs
Use garden lime in the chicken coop and run to help keep it clean.

Lime is another best friend to chicken keepers.

  • It’s an insect repellent. Lime repels ants, fleas, ticks, lice, mites, aphids, and small hive beetles. Sprinkle some where your flock takes dust baths to prevent mite and lice infestation on your birds.
  • In water, it combats mosquitoes and prevents algae from growing. This is good to keep in mind for the warmer months. Just sprinkle some anywhere you have standing water, including your flock’s waterer.
  • It kills stink-causing bacteria to help keep your coop smelling sweet and clean! It’s odor- and moisture-absorbent and therefore helps counteract the effects of ammonia build-up from chicken poop in-between coop cleanings. I sprinkle it in my coop in between cleanings
  • Spread it around the footprint of your chicken coop to keep carpenter ants and termites at bay.
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