Chicken Consultant: Top 10 FAQs February 11, 2016

You may be new to chicken keeping or an old pro but beginners and experts alike all end up having a question at some point. Hi there, my name is Shannon, and I’m a professional chicken consultant. *Waves* Yup, chicken consultant. That would be me.

feather legged chicken bowing to chicken consultant

How-dee-doo, chicken consultant

You may be wondering how much my services cost. The answer is: ZERO. I and my colleagues will answer your chicken questions for free. My job is to pick up the phone 50 times a day to help chicken people from all walks of life, and that are at all levels of ability when it comes to keeping their beloved poultry. I am a chicken consultant just chicken consultant -ing around. It’s a dream job, right?

When I say “How can I help you?” the questions come pouring in. I’ve been talking “pet chicken” with people across this country for nearly five years now, and I still hear some never-before-asked questions that can stump me. However, there are also the top questions that, as a chicken consultant, I hear daily.

Many are beginner questions, but they are GOOD questions—that’s why they get asked so often! They are things you should know if you keep chickens, so I’m happy to hear people ask them.  That means, don’t call me and say “I know this sounds stupid, but…” because it’s NOT stupid. It’s something you want to know, and we agree you should know it! This is why you called the professional chicken consultant, right?

Here are the top ten most frequently asked questions I receive regularly as a professional chicken consultant, and the answers I hope you’ll find enlightening!

Top 10 FAQs for a Chicken Consultant

1. Can you sex a chick while its still in the egg?

The short answer is no. There are a lot of old wives’ tales out there about telling the sex of a chick in the egg, but none have been proved true. We sure wish we could! I’d expect all hatcheries feel the same.

2. My pet chicken has been acting ill and won’t get off her nest. Could she be broody?

Depending on her breed, it’s possible–even likely. Broodiness is common for many different breeds. If she’s broody, it won’t hurt your bird, though she may be acting odd and possessive of her nest. Other times it may seem like she’s in a trance. Nature has made their bodies to handle this period of broodiness with great success. If you’re worried that she’s sick rather than broody, I can also share a list of signs to look out for.

3. Do I need a rooster for eggs?

Nope. Quite simply, your hens will produce eggs just fine without a male in their lives.

chicken archer

Illustration by Ray Yang for My Pet Chicken

They will lay eggs just the same as if there was a rooster around, although the eggs they lay will not be fertile.

4. Are fertilized eggs okay to eat?

This is one we My Pet Chicken consultants  get quite frequently. And the answer is that of course fertile eggs are good to eat! Some people even believe they are healthier for you, although we’ve never seen any data showing that. The actual difference between a freshly laid fertile egg and a freshly laid infertile egg is miniscule.

Fertile versus infertile yolk

Illustration by Ray Yang for My Pet Chicken

It’s true that your backyard eggs are far healthier than store eggs in general, although that doesn’t have anything to do with whether they are fertile or not. It has to do with how your chickens are raised, and whether they have access to pasture/yard, because they put all that extra nutrition into their eggs.

compare yolks

Organic store-bought egg on the left; organic, pasture-raised pet chicken egg on the right.

If  you collect your eggs daily, you will never find an embryo in a fertilized egg. NEVER. It takes 21 days for a chick to hatch, and at least three before you can really see anything developing. After three days it is slightly larger than a pin-head. PLUS, an embryo only develops if it is incubated at 99.5 degrees or so–not if it’s just sitting in a nest, and not at any other temperature. No worries, really. Just gather your eggs regularly every day!

 

5. Why can you ship chicks when they’re 1 day old, but not when they’re 2 weeks old?

As a professional chickens consultant, I think this is an especially astute question. It doesn’t make sense, at first, does it? So let me explain why My Pet Chicken’s hatchery, just like other hatcheries, can only safely ship chicks when they are one day old.

Day old chicks have just accomplished a lot on the first day of life. They’ve just escaped their confinement and have absorbed the remainder of the yolk. That yolk actually sustains them for three days without having to eat or drink. Why? Well, it’s not because Mother Nature decided to give hatcheries a shipping window. However it IS something we can take advantage of to get them safely to you.

The reason we have the three day window is because when a chicken hatches her eggs naturally, mother hen will stay on the nest until all her eggs are hatched out–all that are going to, anyway. So if there are early hatchers and late hatchers, the early peepers need to be able to wait under momma until everyone is safely out. Mother Hen can’t get up and take the chicks away from the unhatched egg at the last critical moments, or those eggs wouldn’t hatch. The first three days is a perfect time for baby chicks to rest with full bellies. So when day old baby chicks are on the way to you, they won’t need to eat or drink before they get to you. It’s just nature.

6. Should I heat my coop in the winter?

The short and long of it is no, it’s almost always a bad idea to heat your coop. Heating your coop can be a fire danger, and it can also keep your chickens from acclimating to the cold. Chickens acclimate to the weather gradually, and a heater can just throw them off. There are a lot of things NOT to do when preparing your chickens for cold weather. DO make sure your coop is draft free since drafts and moisture can be the most likely issues to cause your chickens problems in the winter, and DO have a coop that is not so large that your flock’s body heat won’t keep the chill out.  A radiant heat system such as a sweeter heater would be your safest bet for a microflock or for a far northern climate, if you insist on a heating option.  It can also be a good idea to offer some fatty or high in protein treats to give them the extra calories and body fat to get them through the winter.

7. My pullets are now 6 months old and they’re not laying. Is something wrong, or can I do something to make them lay?

You’ve been told that your chickens should start laying at five or six months, and they’re not–so what gives? Well, five to six months old is only a general estimate of when it’s common for chickens to begin laying. It’s like knowing that children usually speak their first words around six months. If it’s been six months and two days or two weeks, it’s not that they’re making you wait on purpose! Six months is just not a hard deadline your children (or chickens) will understand.

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I do what I want!

Many chicken breeds mature over a wider average window—some sooner, some later. Time of year affects maturity as much as physical age does, too. As a chicken consultant, there are a few things I ask clients to keep in mind: what season they are going through currently? How’s the weather been? Have they been stressed recently? Have you changed their diet? Could they be laying somewhere other than the nest box? And so on.

Don’t worry too much, a hen will lay when her body is ready. There is nothing you can do for her other than making sure she is healthy.

8. Why can’t I just have one chicken?

Flock animals, such as chickens are, have a distinct social network. It’s not unlike Facebook, where we want to make connections and be social 75% of the day (admit it!). But people don’t NEED Facebook or Twitter the way chickens need a flock.

Chickens must have a source of constant connection, like-mindedness, and structure! Who wants to be alone when you can have a friend who speaks the same language? Human friends don’t fill the void for them; chickens need another chicken by their side–preferably at least two.

Why? Chickens complicate their social network by having a hierarchy, or “pecking order,” which is linear. This means only one chicken can be in the top rank, followed in line by another, all the way down to the bottom of the order. The first chicken in the pecking order is first in line for everything, and the last is last for everything. This order can change when news birds are added or lost over time. It sounds awful to humans; you’re never really upwardly mobile as a chicken! But that natural flock structure, that pecking order, makes chickns comfortable and happy. Just so long as you provide plenty of food, water, and shelter for everyone, they really don’t mind waiting in line, if they have to. What they do mind? Being the ONLY chicken.

9. If I get new birds can I put them in with my flock right away?

No. Actually, even if you have just one chicken through some tragic turn, you can’t just plop new chickens into the coop and run and expect everyone to be friends. Introducing new chickens to an existing flock requires a lot of careful thought and planning, and is one of the most difficult tasks you’ll have as a chicken keeper. My number one concern will always be BIO-SECURITY. It’s a very serious issue, and knowing about it can save you a world of hurt!

Bringing new birds in will happen.  Some time in your chicken keeping, you will learn more birds MUST join your flock. Sometimes accidentally or fortuitously. Sometimes accidentally on purpose.(We call it chicken math.) But as a professional chicken consultant, I must insist you keep any new birds segregated from your current flock for a minimum of 30 days to ensure everyone is healthy and you’re not bringing in an new illness or parasite.

Please go over our wonderful list of suggestions for biosecurity. You want some chicken consultant technique? I personally keep a quarantine pen for hurt birds, new birds coming in, broody hens, or to use as a grow out for new chicks. That small extra pen for emergencies has been an absolute blessing! For new baby chicks, they will be in their separate brooder for that length of time. But for older birds, if you don’t have a hospital or quarantine coop, I’d suggest something simple, and inexpensive like the Clubhouse Coop.

10. What does “Straight Run” mean?

Simply put, getting “straight run chicks” means you are choosing your chicks to “come as they are.” They will not be sexed by our staff. Chicks hatch, and then get packed directly off to you. You’ll have no idea if you’ll be receiving males or females, or both, or in what quantities—and neither will we! If you order 20 birds, you could get a 50/50 mix, or 20/80… or anything really. It’s a flip of the coin. Are you a gambler? Do you have good plans for what to do if you lose your bet?

You’ll have to wait some time before you can sex your chickens yourself. (Believe it or not, how to tell male from female baby chicks is a highly specialized skill that takes many years to learn properly.) As a professional chicken consultant, I personally think it’s worth the small extra cost to get my chicks sexed at hatch! The percentage of possible mistakes is small enough to offset my costs. Though there are still suggestions to “feather sex” your chicks at hatch, be aware that you can’t do this at home, either. You can read about this on my previous post about “Why feather sexing doesn’t work“.

That is my Top Ten list of the MOST frequently asked questions I get as a professional chicken consultant. You may have already known the answers, or you might have been thinking of these questions yourself!

These are important things to have answered for anyone keeping chickens, and I’m so glad I have the opportunity to help people with these issues every day.

Do you have an important question I missed?

 

11 Comments
mandy schneider March 4th, 2016

Hi!!! I think I talked to you bright and early this morning! phenomenal customer service!!!!! I am a new chicken mom, so new I haven’t even received them yet LOL! but I already screwed up (like a new mom) 😉 and you made me feel so much better about the choices I made and that it wasn’t a screw up 🙂 I will be putting your number in my contacts and now I won’t hesitate to call if it’s something Google can’t answer 🙂 I’m already in love with this company! customer service goes a long way nowadays 🙂 keep it up 🙂
Samantha Schneider

Shannon March 4th, 2016

Thanks Samantha! Our Customers and the chickens sure make us love what we do.

Angela Honaker June 3rd, 2016

OK I have a silly question. From reading others comments I can only find chickens leaving the yard, flying over fences etc… I have 1/4th acre with 3 coops which I contain my birds in only at night due to preditors. My flock is let out at daylight, and they put themselves up at dark. My problem is they will not leave the yard….. We have 100 acres all of which is abundant in pretty much everything a chicken would love. My flock will not go out of the sight of the house, and stay in the yard or around the porches. If I go outside 1 time a day or 100 times a day the entire flock comes rushing to me wanting food…. Now I give them a little laying mash, and cracked corn mornings and night to keep them tame. But they now expect to get fed, and the little hummers want forage…. What can I do short of cutting the feeding?

Shannon June 4th, 2016

Hi Angela, Its a good question actually. Being most chicken breeds are domesticated they come home for safety and for the food of their humans. Its a good life! No wonder they won’t leave. Venturing further then they feel safe can also be an issue. They may actually sense or know of a predator in the vast landscape surrounding them. Essentially chickens are ‘chicken’. As they feel more bold, they may venture further. Good luck.

Ruth July 17th, 2016

Hi Shannon, I wonder if you can give me some advise…..I have 3 polish frizzles, all hens. The have all lived happily until this past week…..one of them has started to attack the one she has always been the closest to, she jumps on her back and starts to peck her…the other one that’s always been a bit of a loner, she doesn’t attack her…..the one that is attacking her name is Lola, she is normally so placid, they all are……..I have had to separate Lola. After so many years them all living happy together, I can’t for the life of me think why Lola in this past week has started doing this….do you have any idea, or can you recommend what I can do? Kind regards ruth

Shannon July 19th, 2016

Hi Ruth,
This is a difficult questions because the circumstances for this behavior are hard to pin point. Generally, there is a pecking order in your flock and for some reason the girls are no longer content with it. There are plenty of reasons you can look into such as broodiness, sickness and especially stress. Here is a link to more information to get an idea of what to look for: http://www.mypetchicken.com/backyard-chickens/chicken-help/My-flock-is-pecking-one-another-What-should-I-do-H89.aspx I hope this helps and everyone settles down into their old routine again!

Sandy October 30th, 2016

Some of my chicks lay eggs that have brown spots on yolks. Should I be concerned? Are these eggs ok to eat?

Shannon October 31st, 2016

Hi Sandy! This is actually a common question. They are called meat or blood spots, and are completely harmless. They’re just unattractive to see in a fresh egg. I find them to be the most common in my darkest egg layers. We have some fabulous information on how these form and why on our website. Please feel free to find a more indepth explanation here: http://www.mypetchicken.com/backyard-chickens/chicken-help/I-just-found-a-little-dark-spot-in-my-hens-egg–H83.aspx

Jeff February 7th, 2017

I have a question for you…. I have a flock of 25 pullets and one rooster all the same age (11 months). All of the hens are good layers.
The roo is a white leghorn; I have 7 white leghorn hens and the others are all different breeds. Do you have any idea why the roo will not mount the white leghorn hens? He’ll mount just about anything else that moves, just not the white hens. Any ideas?

Shannon February 9th, 2017

Hi Jeff,

It could be that he is mounting your Leghorn females when you don’t notice. The best way to be 100% sure is to crack open your leghorn hen’s eggs and look for a tiny bulls-eye on the egg’s yolk. This will let you know if your eggs from your leghorns are fertile or not.

Good luck!

robin Cameronq June 5th, 2017

I have a question about putting two larger hens with two smaller hens. I had four the same size and two of my leghorns got killed. I found to brown hens to go with the other two red sex hens but when we arrived to purchase them I didn’t realize they are quite a bit larger. They peck at the smaller ones and run them off from the food. They all free range I’m just worried the smaller ones wont get enough food. What do you think I should do?

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