3 Frequently Asked Questions & Answers About Backyard Chickens

a women feeding her backyard chickens

A curious mind is such a blessing! If you are anything like me, you probably spend most of the time with your chickens laughing, observing, and saying, “I wonder why they are doing that” or “I wonder if I should…” We are here to help! Let’s take a deeper dive into the three most frequently asked questions when it comes to your backyard chickens.

How Do I Introduce New Birds to My Flock?

Introducing new birds into your flock is always a very exciting time. As a bird ages, it is very normal for her egg production to decrease. So, if you want a continuous supply of high-quality eggs, it is actually a good idea to consider adding new birds to your flock every few years. Plus, sometimes it is just too difficult to walk away from those cute baby chicks at your local animal feed store in the spring! If you find yourself with the need to add new birds to your flock, here are some great tips to help with the transition. First and foremost, you want to consider the health of your existing flock and the health of any new birds. Chickens live in a flock and a flock has a hierarchy – the pecking order. Any time you add new birds to the flock, they will need to establish a new pecking order. I find it much easier to add new birds to my flock when I start with baby chicks. That is, of course, if you have the space to rear them separately. Since adult layers and baby chicks have very different nutrient and management needs, it is best to rear them separately as long as possible - ideally until your new birds are ready to transition to layer feed. When my new pullets are about 12 weeks old, I will begin letting them free-range at the same time as my existing flock. I find this makes for a smooth, stress-free transition. I usually start in the evening and let both flocks out for a couple of hours to free-range. You will find that, for the most part, the two flocks will stay separated the first few days. Roosters are usually the first to introduce themselves – 1. To make sure the new birds are no threat to his existing flock and 2. because he is curious. The two groups will peck around together, aware of the other birds, but not too close to cause any ruffled feathers! I keep a close eye on them during the first couple of days. I also keep them housed separately at night during this time. I will slowly increase the time that I allow the new birds to free-range until we work our way up to the entire day. At this point, the two flocks (new and existing) have become accustomed to each other and the transition to shared housing gets a little easier. Once my new birds are ready to transition to layer feed, I will simply shut them out of their “teenager” home and send them to the main coop. There may be a small amount of fighting, but the new birds usually take their places at the bottom of the pecking order and the transition is pretty smooth. If you want to add ready-to-lay pullets or adult layers to your existing flock, there are few things to consider. First, you need to quarantine any new birds for at least 2-4 weeks. That way you can observe those birds and make sure they aren’t carrying any diseases or parasites that you could inadvertently introduce to your flock. New birds probably also have a hierarchy so a new pecking order will need to be established. Give the new and old birds a chance to see and hear each other without being able to touch. If you can divide your coop or run, that can definitely help. Introduce new birds at night. If you throw new birds into the flock during the day, the fighting and dominance can often be intense and that is stressful for all. Adding the new birds at night can help keep things calm. You also want to give plenty of space and areas for new birds to hide if they are getting picked on by a more-dominant hen – some cinder blocks to get behind, a high roost to seek respite, etc. It can take a few days for the pecking order to get re-established. Keep an eye on the birds often, treat any wounds, and make sure you don’t have one particular “mean girl.” She may need to go into her own quarantine until everyone else gets settled into one happy, healthy flock!

What Feed Can I Use for My Layers and Roosters?

If you peruse any chicken blogs, you have probably seen many poultry keepers ask about feeding layer feed to roosters. Years ago, our primary focus was always on feeding hens. Eggs were our #1 goal. Mr. Rooster was just along for the ride and any non-producing hens quickly found their way into the soup pot. Times they are a’changing and many backyard poultry keepers consider their birds to be very similar to pets. The health of that bird takes precedent over maximizing production. Most layer feeds provide wonderful nutrition for your laying hens but have higher calcium levels than a rooster needs. Digesting excess calcium can be taxing on the bird’s internal organs. So, many poultry keepers ask us about feed options when they have a mix of hens and roosters. If you love using a complete layer feed for your laying hens but you’re worried about feeding excess calcium, Henhouse Reserve is our #1 recommendation. Henhouse Reserve is different! It is a textured, complete layer feed loaded with real vegetables, grains, and seeds. The unique advantage of Henhouse Reserve is that it contains multiple, independent sources of calcium. This unique feeding strategy gives your hens all of the calcium they need to produce strong, delicious eggs while allowing your roosters to control how much calcium they consume. It’s a win-win for your whole flock! Another recommendation that we often make is to use our 20% Flock Maker or our 16% Flock Maintainer as your primary feed and provide a separate feeder that contains a calcium source for your layers. Limestone chips or oyster shells are excellent supplemental calcium sources for your layers. Whatever method that you choose, make sure you are providing a high-quality calcium source (ideally a complete layer feed) for your hens because they need that calcium to produce high quality eggs and stay healthy.

How Can I Keep My Chickens Healthy?

As I mentioned in the answer to the previous question, keeping your flock healthy has become the #1 priority for many poultry keepers. Poultry are generally very easy-keepers but there are a few things that we can do every day to ensure our birds stay healthy and live long, happy lives. A well-balanced, high-quality feed is so important to keeping your birds happy and healthy. Most backyard poultry should consume ¼ to ½ pound of complete feed per bird per day, depending on breed and pasture access. A complete feed is a feed that is formulated to contain all of the nutrients, in the proper proportions, that your birds need to stay healthy and perform at their peak potential. Keeping birds healthy is also the primary reason we developed LifeGuard™. LifeGuard™ is an all-natural, proprietary blend of prebiotics, probiotics, essential oils, and digestive enzymes specifically designed to support gut health, immune function, and the digestive system of poultry. We know gut health is so important to developing a strong, active immune system. We also know that a strong, active immune system is essential to keeping birds healthy. That is why most of the feeds in our Kalmbach poultry line are supplemented with LifeGuard™. The health of your birds is our #1 focus, and we are committed to producing the products you need to keep your birds healthy at all ages and in all stages. Stay tuned! Next week we will continue our celebration of the laying hen. I hope you guys have enjoyed the content so far. We have definitely enjoyed sharing with you! Keep sending pictures of your birds and don’t forget to enter our Layer Days™ Sweepstakes for a chance to win a prize valued at $1,000.

Nancy Jefferson, Ph.D.

Dr. Nancy Jefferson has been a member of the Nutrition and Technical Services team at Kalmbach Feeds since 2013. She received her Ph.D. from West Virginia University in 2008 and has worked in the feed industry for over 15 years. She lives on a farm in Crown City, OH with her husband, John, and their children. Dr. Jefferson is a passionate poultry enthusiast and loves her chickens! Together, she and her family raise beef cattle and she keeps an ever-growing flock of backyard chickens.