Having introduced hundreds of families to the joys of keeping chickens I am regularly asked these top 5 backyard chicken FAQ’s.
1) Do chickens smell?
Chickens aren’t naturally smelly animals, however they and their enclosures will start to smell if the coop is left uncleaned, is wet for an extended period or you have too many chickens confined in a small area.
Chickens are no different to any other animal, so as long as their pen is kept dry and relatively clean (clean it once a week), then your chickens and their environment will be happy and odour free.
2) Do I have enough room? How many chickens can I get?
This mainly depends on how much space you have and how many eggs per day you need. Chickens don’t require half of your backyard, but they also don’t like to be cooped up!
The general rule is to give the chickens as large an area as you can afford to give them. It is better to enclose them rather than let them free range and an area of 3m x 3m would suit 3-4 chickens.
For a family of four, 2-3 chickens will provide enough eggs to feed the family. Remember you will receive about an egg per day from your chickens – so you’ll have a carton about every 4 days. The eggs will keep for a couple of weeks.
A couple of points to consider; you will need to clean the enclosure more often the more chickens you have, and more chickens means you are spending more money on chicken feed. To keep it economical, keep as many chickens as you need eggs a week (1 egg per chicken per day), otherwise you will be funding the eggs you give to friends and family (unless you sell the excess eggs).
3) I have a dog and a cat
It is important that your existing pets are alllowed to meet the new additions, however you will need give the chickens a couple of hours of alone time before trialling introductions. Your new chickens have just been introduced to unfamiliar surroundings and are likely to be easily spooked so give them a few hours to adjust.
After the initial introduction, your existing pets should get on fine with their new neighbours, and your chickens are likely to pay no attention to your other pets once they are settled in.
It will help if you have chosen a chicken breed that is confident rather than breeds that tend to be shy. Breeds such as ISA Brown are very confident and won’t be bothered once they work out that a barking dog can’t get to them from the other side of the enclosure. However other breeds can be very shy and panicky so do your research first.
Introductions are much easier if you buy pullets, which are birds at laying age (22 weeks old). If you get chicks day old to 16 weeks) the whole situation changes as chicks are likely to be a target for any dog and cat (plus birds such as crows). So the situation needs to be very carefully managed.
4) Are chickens good with kids?
Your children will love your chickens. Most chicken breeds don’t mind being picked up (do your research), however make sure younger children are supervised as chickens can get hurt by playful young ones. Chickens have very sharp claws that can inflict a decent scratch so ensure that children learn how to pick up chickens properly.
If young children are hand feeding chickens they may get a small fright if the chicken pecks their hand.
5) Do chickens attract mice and rats?
Pests such as mice and rats are attracted by food and not by the chickens. You have as much chance attracting mice as you do with other pets such as birds in an aviary or a bird feeder, rabbits, and guinea pigs.
Chickens are messy eaters so keeping wasted food to a minimum will help pests be less attracted to your chicken pen. Remove any treats or leftovers that the chickens didn’t eat.
Any mouse that comes in the vicinity of a chicken is likely to be eaten. Whole. Live. Rats on the other hand are too large and chickens will usually let them go about their business.