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Frequently Asked Chicken Keeping Questions

Here are some of the most frequently asked chicken keeping questions I've gotten over the years from my fans and followers.

I've been answering questions about chicken keeping for more than a decade now. Many right on my social media platforms, many via email or direct messages, and some through my column in Chickens Magazine.

I've put together some of the most common here in once place for you.

Frequently Asked Chicken Keeping Questions

All answers are based on my own personal experience and learning from my readers experiences, as well as my conversations with poultry scientists and avian vets.

There may be more than one "right" answer, but I always prefer to just tell you what I find to work.

Chick Questions

Q: I will be driving an hour and a half to the hatchery to pick up and drive my 10 chicks home. Should I provide a heat pack(s) to them for the trip home?

A: It usually is a good idea to plan for some sort of warmth for baby chicks for a long drive. You can use the floor heaters in the car to keep the box of chicks warm, or you can microwave one of those eye pillows filled with rice or flax seed and bring it with you to the post office when you pick up shipped chicks to put in the box with them. Fortunately, that time of year the chicks won't get too cold regardless.

If you have a short drive to the post office, your chicks should be fine for the ride in the box the hatchery has them packed in. Be sure and turn on the heat lamp in the brooder though before you leave the house so its nice and warm when you get them home.

Q: Should I provide shipped chicks a drink of water before or during our trip home?

A: I like to bring a small container of room temperature sugar water to give each chick a sip at the post office before I start the ride home. And when you get home with them, dip each beak into some room temperature water you set in the brooder, so they know where their water is.

Q: When using a heat lamp in the brooder, do you prefer to start with red or clear bulbs? (I know they say red reduces picking when there is an open sore on a chick, but is is best to start off with red even if there are no sores?) 

A: You should use the red light at night. It's a stronger bulb so I am more confident that they will stay warm as the temperature in the house or garage drops.

You can use the white light during the day because its not as strong as the red bulb and with the sunlight coming in the windows, I feel its a more natural light.

I have never had a problem with chicks picking (although the red light will reduce the chances), but I do keep them occupied with the hanging lettuce baskets, lots of weeds and clumps of dirt, a dust bath and little roosts, so they don't pick at each other out of boredom.

Q: I am getting a Vital Pack along with the chicks. Is using Grogel B and/or Save a Chick along with that Vital Pack overkill?

A: I think one is enough. I have used Sav-a-Chick in the past in their water for the first few days, but sugar water seems to do the trick as well.

Q: Does anything interfere with medicated chick feed (besides the vaccine)? Probiotics, DE, etc?

A: Only the Coccidiosis vaccine interferes with the medicated feed, but most chicks are vaccinated for Marek's, which is a completely different disease. So medicated feed can be used for chicks who have been vaccinated for Marek's.

As for Probiotics and DE, both are completely natural so neither will interfere with medicated feed.  I personally don't use medicated feed nor vaccinate my chicks. I work on building strong immune systems in them instead using garlic, apple cider vinegar, etc.

Medical/Health Questions

Q: Are there any types of meds/preventative products in your first aid kit you have listed on your blog that shouldn't be used on chicks? Any additional chick specific medications/preventative products to keep on hand? 

A: Any of the first aid kits items can be used on a chick if needed. I would think other than Blu-Kote for pecking, and q-tips and some vegetable oil for pasty butt, and maybe some vet wrap/ medical tape for spraddle leg, that would be all you might need for chicks. 

Possibly a good idea to get some Kochi Free if you aren't going to feed medicated feed, just in case they come down with coccidiosis.

Q: At what age should you begin screening dropping samples for worms? (I read that you should always test before you treat, and never treat unless you have to. Is that good advice?) 

A: Yes, you are correct, I don't believe that any treating for worms should be done unless/until you have a vet diagnosis so you know what you're dealing with.  Different wormers treat different types of worms.

I do recommend having your vet test for worms, maybe annually. Also, keep an eye on their poop - some worms are evident, some aren't - but a good diet and adding garlic, pumpkin seeds and apple cider vinegar to the feed and water really should keep worms at bay.

It is very good advice to never treat unless worms have been confirmed, preemptive worming isn't something I would advise ever.

Q: Reading about D.E. is confusing me. I've seen labels for Red Lake Earth, Perma Guard Fossil Shell Flour, Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth, Diatomaceous Earth...what's the difference, besides price? Is one type or brand preferable to another? (for feeding and dusting)

A: I believe that the different brands are all basically the same. The important thing is that it is "food-grade".

Q: Do you have a vet for your chicken? Do you make routine visits or just for emergencies, fecal tests, etc?

A: In my experience, most vets don't treat chickens, even some avian vets don't because chickens makeup and illnesses are very different even from other birds. I finally did find a vet about an hour away that treats chickens but have only used him once (sadly had to have a chicken put down due to neurological problems).

It's a good idea to locate a vet in case of emergency and keep their contact information on hand. Any vet should be able to take a fecal sample, you don't need a chicken vet specifically for that.

Q: Are there any commercial cleaning products that are unsafe to use around chickens? (Clorox wipes, Windex,etc)

A: I don't use any commercial cleaning products around the chickens. They have extremely delicate respiratory systems, so you definitely don't want to spray anything potentially dangerous around the run or coop. 

Bleach is an especially bad idea because when it mixes with the ammonia fumes in chicken manure, it can create noxious fumes. White vinegar, Dawn dishwashing detergent, water and sunlight, or my special natural coop cleaners are all that I use to clean the coop, water tubs and food dishes.

Q: Does anyone use Copper Sulfate? Do you feel its more effective than other products? 

A: I have never used Copper Sulfate. I have never had to treat thrush and I believe that Copper Sulfate can be toxic in high doses.

Feed Questions

Q: With your feed recipe, what exactly does a "part" mean? What unit of measure do I follow to get the recipe right? 

A: One part can be anything you want to use. I use a large plastic jug, but I'm mixing up feed for 26 hungry mouths. Your 'part' can be one cup or a half a cup, just be consistent with all the measurements of the different ingredients.

Q: Before the girls are able to eat the recipe mix, should I introduce any probiotics or D.E. to their medicated feed? If so, at what age and amount? 

A: I do sprinkle a bit of probiotic powder on the chicks feed from day one. Not necessary, but it builds good, beneficial bacteria (they aren't born with any probiotics in their system) so they can ward off any potential diarrhea or other intestinal issues in the chicks. 

I don't add DE mainly because the chances of them getting worms while in the brooder is practically nil.

Q: Do you store your D.E. and Probiotics in any certain way to keep them fresh?

A: Food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE) is crushed prehistoric fossil shells, so "freshness" really isn't much of an issue! I keep both the DE and Probiotics in covered plastic containers. As long as they stay dry and in a cool place they will last just fine until used.

Q: At what age, amount and frequency should I introduce ACV? 

A: I start adding ACV (apple cider vineger) to chicks' water right from the start. It has great health benefits that I feel chicks really can use and they seem to love the taste. 

The regular ration for grown hens is 1Tablespoon/Gallon of water, but I just splash a tiny bit into the chicks' water.

Q: When you supplement with oatmeal, is that straight from a Quaker oats type canister? 

I buy organic rolled oats in bulk to mix into my feed, but any type of rolled oats is fine.

Q: Is there a certain protein % I should look for in cat food that I would offer for protein booster? 

A: I don't recommend feeding your chickens cat food. I have never fed cat food to my chickens. I feel since its formulated for cats not hens, it's not really a good idea. 

Better sources of protein during the molting season are regular canned fish such as sardines or mackerel, mealworms or grubs, chopped meat, meat or fish scraps and scrambled eggs.

Q: Do you add electrolytes during times of stress or extreme heat only or do you add them regularly? 

A: I keep plain Pedialyte and the powdered Vitamins & Electrolytes on hand and add one or the other to the water only when it's hot and the chickens start panting, or if I have a sick or injured hen. You can also mix up your own electrolytes. Here are some more tips for beating the heat.

Q: Can mixing multiple things into their water be bad/interact? (electrolytes, ACV, "water protector", copper sulfate, etc) 

A: I would stay away from the copper sulfate, as mentioned above. I have tried the Manna Pro Water Protector, but find it redundant to the apple cider vinegar and believe more in the health benefits of ACV, so I don't recommend the Water Protector either. 

You likely wouldn't be adding electrolytes and ACV to water at the same time, since the electrolytes are only during times of extreme heat. If you're adding electrolytes, skip the ACV.

Q: I have well water. Hard well water, with a decently high iron content. That would be bad for the chickens, right?

A: We have well water also. I guess too much iron could be bad, but what is your alternative, giving them bottled water ? From what I have read, you can shock your well to reduce the iron. Also adding the ACV to the water will help, or you could put a water softener into the water.

Q: At what age do you start introducing treats and scraps (fruit/veggie, seeds, greens, etc)? Are their any things that should be avoided when they are young?

A: Chicks' main diet should be their chick starter feed since it is nutritionally complete, but they will enjoy bugs, worms, weeds such as clover, chickweed and dandelion greens, clumps of grass, scrambled eggs and oatmeal. 

That's pretty much what I limit my chicks to until they join the laying hens in the run. Although I do get them started on my natural poultry supplements at an early age. Probiotics, brewers yeast, garlic and sea kelp are all super nutritious for them.

Q: What supplements do you give your chickens? I've read to provide grit, oyster shells, phosphorus and trace minerals/kelp. 

A: Chickens need grit to help them digest their food. I have never given them any commercial grit. They find enough small pebbles around the run in the dirt or around our property during free range time. 

I do crush up all their eggshells and keep a small dispenser full in the coop. Oyster shell can be used instead. I don't give any phosphorus. I do add kelp to my chickens' daily diet.

Q: I know there is specific chick starter grit. At what age do you start to introduce the other supplements? 

A: If you feed your chicks anything other than starter chick feed, they need grit to help them digest their food. I have never given them any chick-sized grit. 

Instead I give them clumps of grass with the dirt attached and also fill a small container with coarse dirt for them to dust bathe in, which they end up eating most of.

Q: Besides grit, what supplements do you provide your chickens at all times? At what age do you introduce them?

I mix up a special feed mix for my chickens with my line of all natural poultry feed supplements. Other than that, I don't provide any other supplements other than crushed eggshell.

Eggs and Laying Questions

Q: At what age do they begin to show interest in nest boxes? At what age should I introduce them? We had planned on installing them right away. Any reason we shouldn't? 

A: I have found that shortly before laying their first egg, the pullets will 'scope out' the boxes. There is no reason not to install them right away though. They are built into most coops so as soon as the pullets are sleeping in the coop, they will be exposed to them.

Q: Does providing nest boxes too early cause any problems? (encouraging potential broodiness?) 

A: I have never read that nesting box exposure can lead to broodiness. The only issue I've experienced is the young chickens sometimes try to sleep in the boxes, but making sure your roosts are higher than the boxes should eliminate that problem.

Q: I've seen a lot of mock eggs in catalogs. Some ceramic, some porcelain, some wood. Do you think these are good to put out before the girls start to lay to show them where to go? Would setting them out encourage broodiness?

A: I did set out fake eggs in the nesting boxes with my first batch of chicks. Now the younger ones just watch the older hens. However, when I set up a new nesting area, I still do put the eggs in until they get the hang of it. 

See above, this will not encourage broodiness. What it will encourage is the hens laying in the right place !

Q: What is the purpose of nest box curtains? To keep the chickens out of the nest during the night? To block light and darken the laying area to improve conditions? 

A: The nesting box curtains can discourage egg eating since they block the hen's view of laid eggs. They also can make a broody hen feel more secure and safe in the nest.

Dust Bath Questions

Q: What size dust bath should be used for standard size chickens? 

There is no standard size dust bath. In my experience, no matter where you want them to bathe or what you set up for them, they will bathe exactly where THEY want. They do seem to enjoy communal bathing areas. 

I just go with the flow and sprinkle fireplace ash and DE in the areas they seem to favor to bathe in.  You can fill a kiddie pool or rubber tub for them, or encircle a spot in their run with stones or logs and fill it with some dry dirt, sand and ash, etc.

Miscellaneous Questions

Q: When using the deep litter method, do you apply any of the powders advertised to reduce odors, etc? 

A: I use DE or Coop Recuperate on the floor of the coop and nesting boxes after I clean out the coop each time, whether I am using the deep litter method (in the winter) or not.

I hope this has answered some of your questions, but if you have any specific additional questions that haven't been answered here, please feel free to email them to: 

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