When it comes to chicken keeping mistakes, we’re quite experienced. With any new homesteading venture comes problems and mistakes, it’s only human nature. When we’re talking about raising chickens, boy have we made a lot of mistakes!
While we haven’t made all the mistakes on this list, we certainly know people who have, and who’ve had to pay the price. These mistakes can lead you to lose money, lose your chickens, and lose your head. Make sure you avoid these common chicken keeping mistakes if you want your flock to be happy and healthy, and you want to keep your sanity in the process!
1. Building a too-small coop
Whenever newbie chicken keepers ask use how big to build their coop, we tell them, as big as possible! Chicken math is real, ya’ll, and you’re almost guaranteed to end up with more chickens than you plan for. Packing extra chickens into a too-small coop means stress and misery for your birds. Start off on the right foot with a chicken coop big enough to accommodate extra hens!
2. Providing too much or not enough heat for chicks
Chicks need just the right amount of heat to really thrive. Too much heat will lead to dehydration and lots of pasty butt. You’ll be spending morning, noon, and night cleaning little chick bums if you make their brooder too hot. Making it too cold is even worse though, as chicks that get a chill can get sick and die quite quickly. We like to use an infrared thermometer to keep track of the temperature in the brooder, and we follow this guide to heating the brooder to a T.
3. Not cuddling your chickens while they’re young
Want friendly pet chickens? It’s essential to get them used to handling and cuddles while they’re little. While some breeds are naturally friendly and craving cuddles, most chickens need to get accustomed to your love. Handle your chicks every day while they’re little babies and they’ll grow up to be affectionate hens!
4. Keeping too many roosters
Roosters can be great. They protect the flock, look gorgeous, and fertilize eggs all the doo daw day. But, as great as roosters are, it’s too easy to get over run by roos. You know how it happens, you hatch out a bunch of chicks and half of them end up as roosters, or your acquaintance pushes her rooster onto you because you love chickens so much.
The general rule of thumb for keeping roosters is one rooster for every 10 hens. If this equation is off, your hens will suffer and your roosters will fight, causing misery for your whole flock. Too many roosters means, quite frankly, too much mating for your hens, which will result in feather loss and stress for your birds.
5. Wrong location for dust bath or not providing one at all!
Chickens get clean by getting dirty. They like to take a dust bath at least once a day, and sometimes more! Dust bathing helps chickens get rid of pests like mites and lice, helps to shed loose feathers and dry skin, and helps them to cool down in the summer heat. Chickens need a dust bathing area available to them at all times to be truly happy and healthy.
Our dust bath consists of 1/3 Potting soill, 1/3 Diatomaceous Earth, and 1/3 Play Sand all mixed together in a shallow tub. We keep it in the chicken run under the roof and the chickens enjoy it all year long!
If you do decide to make a dust bath for your birds, try to avoid keeping it in the coop. The constant dust swirling through the air isn’t good for your chickens lungs. Keep it outside in the fresh air!
6. Keeping roosts or nesting boxes next to a drafty window or door
This big mistake is most relevant in the winter, when the cold and snow pose a danger to your flock. A draft constantly blowing on your chickens puts them at risk for hypothermia and death. Be sure to keep doors and windows closed at night in the coop, or situate roosts and nesting boxes away from draft sources.
7. Putting sweaters on your chickens
Chicken sweaters are super cute, we all know it, we can all admit it. Even so, chicken sweaters are a big mistake. Unless you’re simply looking to make your chicken look fashionable, chicken sweaters are a big winter no-no. As we said in our winter tips and tricks post, the way that chickens warm up in winter is by fluffing up their feathers to create a warm pocket of air between their skin and feathers. Putting a sweater on your birds doesn’t allow them to do this very important warming technique, which can give them a chill and cause them some serious misery.
8. Leaving the coop door or windows open at night
Hey, I know… we’ve all done it from time to time. You open the window to the coop to let some fresh air in, or you prop open the coop door to let your ladies out for a romp in the yard… and then you forget to close them back up before dark.
This is one of the most deadly mistakes you can make with your flock. Sure, you might get lucky a few times, but eventually, when you least suspect it, a predator will get in.
Night time is one of the best hunting times for many predators such as owls, raccoons, and coyotes. These critters will take full advantage of an open coop. Even if you’ve never seen any of these animals in your area, you can bet they’ve noticed your chickens, and given half a chance, they’ll invite themselves right into your chicken coop.
Avoid this mistake at all costs by getting into the habit of checking the coop before nightfall. Make sure all doors and windows are shut tight and your birds are safe inside.
9. Not giving your chickens outdoors time
Every creature needs fresh air and sunshine, and as much of it as possible. We’re big believers in free ranging our chicken flock, but we also have a chicken run for them to enjoy when we’re not home or can’t sit outside with them. The chicken run is attached to the coop, and the door to the run is open all day long for the chickens to head outside whenever they like. One of the biggest mistakes we see chicken keepers make is not providing any time outside for their flock. Your chickens truly need outdoors time in order to thrive and truly be happy.
10. Feeding pests
Right about now, you might be thinking to yourself, “How silly! I’m not feeding the mice!” But let me tell you, if you have rodents in your chicken coop, you’re certainly feeding them. You might not want to feed the mice, but if they’re hanging around, there’s a reason, and that reason is food.
Rodents are bad news for your chickens. Not only are they eating into your wallet by eating the food you bought for your chickens, they’re also carriers of disease and are extremely destructive to structures such as the chicken coop. Even worse, if one of your neighbors, or maybe even you, set out poison to kill the rodents, they could die in the coop, get eaten by your chickens, and end up poisoning your birds as well.
You can avoid this chicken keeping mistake by either using a rodent proof chicken feeder, or feeding your chickens only as much as they can eat each morning, so there’s no food sitting around after dark, when mice and rats are most active.
11. Being neglectful with heat lamps
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. Heat lamps are extremely dangerous and unpredictable. We recommend avoiding heat lamps completely, but if you do need to use one, make sure you don’t make the same mistakes that we have.
Our biggest mistake with heat lamps was believing that the clamp was trustworthy. The clamps that come on heat lamps are known to fail, putting your whole flock at risk if you’re not careful. Don’t make the mistake of trusting the clamp all on its own, secure it at least three ways.
In my early chicken keeping days I provided heat in the chicken coop in the winter (I didn’t know any better) and several times found the heat lamp dangling inches above the coop floor as it had been knocked down by flying chickens. No matter how much I tried to secure that lamp, the birds knocked it down day after day. I eventually gave up and removed the lamp. I found that the birds were no worse off, and they were considerably safer without the lamp.
Coop fires are no joke, do everything in your power to avoid them!
12. Raising the wrong breeds for your needs
This right here is one of the biggest chicken keeping mistakes we see. Choosing the right chicken breed for your specific needs is one of the most important decisions you can make as a new chicken keeper. There are so many things to consider when choosing a chicken breed.
If you live in an area that sees brutal winters, you’ll need a cold hardy chicken breed, and just the same if you live somewhere super hot, you’ll need the right breeds that can thrive in sweltering summers. If you’re looking for years of fresh eggs, you certainly don’t want to get a batch of meat chickens.
Getting the proper chicken breed for your exact needs is going to save you a lot of headache down the road.
Lucky for you, we have several guides to help you find the perfect chicken breed for your situation!
13. Naming the chickens that you intend to eat
If you’re raising meat chickens or even dual purpose breeds with the intent to make them into soup someday, definitely, absolutely, don’t name them. It’s hard enough remaining unattached to those cute little feathery faces chock full of personality, but if you take it so far as naming them, you can bet that slaughter day will be mighty heart wrenching.
14. Using the wrong litter
We are big proponents of using the deep litter method in the chicken coop, and each and every time we talk about this method someone always asks, “wait… you want me to put cat litter in the chicken coop?” To which we respond, oh hell no…
When we talk about litter, we’re referring to whatever substance you happen to put on the floor of the coop or brooder for your chickens to poop on and walk around on. Most chicken keepers use straw or pine shavings, some use more pricey alternatives such as hemp bedding or recycled paper pellets.
While there are plenty of options for healthy and absorbent litter, there are several things that you should never use as litter in the chicken coop.
Bad choices for chicken bedding:
Cedar shavings– These are too aromatic for chickens delicate respiratory systems and can cause a myriad of illnesses and issues
Cat litter– Let’s keep the kitty litter in the cat box, okay? Cat litter is not a good choice for the coop.
Newspaper- Flat newspaper or shredded newspaper are both bad choices for the coop. Newspaper in general is not very absorbent, and flat newspaper will be too slippery for your chickens feet, which can lead to toe and leg abnormalities.
I hope this post has proved to be helpful for you and your flock. If you did happen to find out you were making some common chicken keeping mistakes, don’t panic! Just get them fixed ASAP and spread the word so your fellow chicken loving friends know not to do the same.
Happy chicken keeping friends!