For most homesteaders, chickens are a huge part of what they do and what they believe in. They were the second animal we purchased when we started out homestead and I wish I do way more research before we got started. I wrote this article hoping that people could learn from our chicken keeping mistakes so they can get started on a successful homestead today.
Chickens are a great source of natural food for you and your family. They produce eggs while they are young and can be harvested for meat when they are full grown, or after they stop producing viable eggs.
They key is to keep them healthy, happy, and alive as a relatively low cost. If it costs you more to get the eggs on your own than it does to buy organic eggs are the store then you need to change something.
We feed our chickens a large variety of foods that we source on our homestead for free, but have made many chicken keeping mistakes along the way that I hope to help you avoid.
They key to chicken farming, and homesteading in general, is to learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others. You should always be looking for ways to improve and don’t be too big to admit that you made a mistake. Don’t be so afraid to make mistakes that you never start homesteading in the first place!
I ware my mistakes like a badge of honor when it comes to homesteading. The more mistakes I have made, the more experience I have to share with others. This list of chicken keeping mistakes is just a small example of all the things that I know not to do next time!
1. Stressing Out About GMO or Non-GMO Foods
When we purchased our first chickens, I went through the same moral dilemma that many of you will about whether to use standard or non-GMO feed for my birds.
Most articles you read will tell you that feed you aren’t raising chickens naturally unless you feed them non-GMO feed. While I agree that this is the absolute healthiest way to go, the fact that there is an argument that one factory produced chicken feed is natural and the other isn’t is ridiculous. The fact chickens naturally eat bugs and whatever else they can get their hands on, don’t forget that.
I think it is more important to make sure that your chickens have plenty of good quality food, whether you can afford the non-GMO or not. I found myself being stingy with the more expensive food and that wasn’t fair to the chickens, so we stopped.
Now we give them fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen, mealworms that my husband and sons produce, along with standard chicken feed to ensure they are getting all the right nutrients.
When I go outside they come up to me and look happy and healthy. I have found that is the most important thing for me, not what the label on the food says.
2. You Don’t Need A Rooster
Your hens don’t need a rooster to produce eggs. Hens will produce eggs with or without a rooster, the difference is whether or not that are fertilized eggs.
Many beginners believe that they need to keep at least one rooster even though they never plan to hatch any of the eggs. I want to debunk that myth right now and save you a whole slew of headaches.
I have had very few roosters here on our homestead and most were a complete pain in my butt. Save yourself from feeding your hens with a trash can lid in your off hand for pretection!
3. Don’t Underestimate Your Local Predators
In our first chicken coop, we seriously underestimated the raccoon population and lost all but one bird. In fact, I didn’t even know there was a raccoon population in the area until after the attack!
This is one of the biggest beginner mistakes, and its heartbreaking to see. There is nothing worse than hearing the horror stories of homesteaders going out to feed the chickens and walking into a murder scene.
You would be surprised at how crafty predators can be when they see a free meal that can’t escape them.
Even if you don’t think that you have predators in your area, do yourself a favor and make sure that you coop is secure from them, especially at night. One of our chickens biggest predators are our own barn cats, so you can never be sure that they are safe unless you secure them well.
4. Don’t Assume Your Chickens Will Stay Healthy and Fend For Themselves
You can’t just leave your hens to free range and expect them to produce the 300 eggs a year you read they should. That is one of those chicken keeping mistakes that some people have to learn the hard way
Most new chicken owners, including me back in the day, have no idea that diet plays a huge role in your hen’s egg production. If you just leave them to fend for themselves as free ranged birds, they might do a great job at keeping themselves alive. But if you don’t ensure that they have all the vitamins and nutrients they need, you are not going to get any eggs.
Remember that keeping chicken “naturally” doesn’t mean you can just throw them in the back yard and collect the eggs every morning. That is the biggest mistake I see from new chicken farmers that have read the books on how to raise chicken naturally.
5. Know The Difference Between Oyster Shells and Grit
After reading the books on natural chicken keeping, I came to the conclusion, like many others, that I should provide oyster shells and grit anytime I had any egg related issues. Most people figure they might as well cover all the bases because they aren’t sure which is the right answer.
The problem with that theory is that they both serve completely different purposes, and too much of either is not a good thing.
Oyster shells are used as a calcium supplement to help your hens produce health shells that are hard and well shaped. Without calcium, your hens might lay soft eggs or abnormally shaped eggs. If they get low enough on calcium, they can even draw calcium from their bones to help egg production, causing them to be weak.
On the other hand, grit is used to help improve your hens digestion of food. Without it, they can develop sour crop and become very unhealthy.
Both of these methods are used to help with two completely different issues. Don’t make the mistake of combining them into one fix-all combo pack.
6. Don’t Use Vinegar to Clean Wounds
You can listen to the books on natural chicken care if you want to, but this is just plain bad advice.
Vinegar is a great natural cleaning solution and I actually use it often under more appropriate circumstances. Cleaning a chicken’s wounds, or any animals wounds for that matter, is not one of those circumstances.
Vinegar simply does not have the bacteria-killing capabilities of hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, for example. It might help clean the wound so it looks better, but it cannot kill all of the harmful bacteria and will cause problems in the long run.
Don’t make your chickens suffer over something so trival.
7. Learn About Common Illnesses and Treatments
When we got our first chickens, we were still reading about how to care for them and I will admit we were kind of “winging it”. That caused us to take an abundance of trips to the vet and made owning our chickens rather expensive.
Since your average vet bill is more expensive than a new chicken, you want to learn as much as you can about how to identify illnesses and what you can do to treat them. This is a lesson we learned the expensive way, but we knew that was better than letting any of our birds suffer because we were clueless.
There are several common illnesses that you are almost guaranteed to see while owning you chickens and you should know how to identify and cure them at the very least. Learn from out chicken keeping mistakes and save yourself some money!
What do you think?
I would love some feedback and to know if you have anything you want to add. Leave a comment below and let me know how feel about this article!