Your Guide to Chicken Fact or Fiction | Living the Country Life
More
Close

Your Guide to Chicken Fact or Fiction

Do you believe chicken fact or chicken poop? In his new book, Andy Schneider digs through poultry advice to dismiss common myths.
  • Chicken Fact or Chicken Poop?

    It can be hard to tell fact from fiction when it comes to poultry-care advice on the internet. "Chicken Whisperer" Andy Schneider gives a guide to what's true and false in his new book, Chicken Fact or Chicken Poop.

    Schneider says he wrote a book calling out misinformation "because there is so much bad information out there, something had to be done." Learn more in the next slides as Schneider checks some common chicken advice. Are you following the facts, or falling for fiction? 

    Date Published: January 8, 2018
    Date Updated: January 8, 2018
  • Shutterstock

    Fact or Fiction: Adding red pepper flakes to your chickens' feed will increase egg production.

    Feed is necessary for laying hens to provide energy for growth, feather production, and egg production. Only sexually mature hens can produce eggs. Furthermore, changes in lighting exposure, intensity, and health can moderately to severely affect egg production. 

    Birds in lay need a calcium-rich diet with a relatively high level of energy. Because eggs intuitively take a significant amount of energy to make and calcium carbonate is the omst common nutrient in eggshells, the nutritional need for energy and calcium should make sense. Though science has well-defined desired calium levels, energy requirements can vary based on genetics, temperature, and percentage of feather cover. 

    With respect to red pepper flakes, we're including dried chilies, serrano, jalapeno, ancho, and bell peppers. Spiciness equates to the concentration of the cemical compound capsaicin. This active chemical produces the heat sensation on our taste buds. However, birds do not have receptors for capsaicin. When birds consume peppers, the seeds pass through the gut undigested and are deposited later. 

    The verdict

    This fact is, actually, fictionBased on the above and a thorough review of scientific literature, there is no mode of action that peppers would supply to birds to increase egg production - either size or rate. 

    Date Published: January 8, 2018
    Date Updated: January 8, 2018
  • Shutterstock

    Fact or Fiction: Sand is a great surface for both runs and coops.

    Sand has always been a good bedding material. But brooding temperatures, weight, nutrient buildup, bacterial loads, and cost all remain factors to think about when comparing sand to pine shavings. 

    Brooding becomes a concern when putting down new sand or pine shavings. New sand is about 10°F cooler at maximum brooding temperature than pine shavings. Chilled chicks do not do well and may not develop as well as their counterparts kept at warmer temperatures. 

    Nutrients build up over time for all used litter, regardles of material. However, sand does not retain them as well. If you're spreading composted or used litter on the ground later, this may not be the right substrate for your soil. 

    Sand inside the coop is not advised as it can provide a rough landing surface for the chickens when jumping down from a perch. In warmer and more humid climates, ammonia levels over time could creep higher with sand bedding than with wood shavings. 

    Finally, because sand or pine shavings will be the landing pad for fecal material from your flock, it's important to know that sand is the clear winner with regard to bacteria retention. Researchers found that sand had lower water activity, bacterial counts, and moisture levels. 

    The verdict

    Mostly fiction. Just for the brooding period, you may consider pine shavings over sand if you have a suboptimal brooding environment. However, used sand, with organic waste material mixed in, does not stay cold. If you are brooding chicks on sand that has had enough time to rest before the next batch of chicks is placed on it, temperature does not differ from used pine shavings. In the run, tamp down sand to create an even surface; in the coop, create a barrier between the wooden floor and the sand. With regard to bacteria, sand is the best bet. 

    Date Published: January 8, 2018
    Date Updated: January 8, 2018
  • Fact or Fiction: Eggs produced at home are actually more expensive than those at the store.

    The season, age of the flock, price of gasoline to transport eggs, and number of laying chickens available all govern the affordability of eggs in the grocery store. The overhead costs for commercial poultry producers means that they pay for the land, building, and labor for the flock. This is not unlike what you, the small flock owner, does when starting your flock; everything you do costs time and money. These costs need to be factored into the price of your eggs. Let's say, for example, that the initial cost of your time and license will be $35.

    The cost of the chicks themselves depends on the number you get. If you get six birds and each chick costs $5, that covers the cost of vaccinations, shipping, and the chick itself. You now have $30 invested in your chicks. 

    Brooding will run you approximately $50 if you clean regularly and if you include the cost of electricity and your labor in caring for the chicks. This includes new equipment and a medicated starter diet for your chicks.

    Then the cost of supplies for building the coop or buying a preconstructed one. An estimate for a flock of six chickens is $1,500 for a prefabricated coop, plus $350 for wood, wire, renting a trencher, and hardware. Add more cost for labor and time.

    Another pricey portion of chicken-keeping is is feeding and care. Six chickens will go through a 50-pound bag of feed every month, which will likely cost $13 to $19. A worthy waterer investment will run about $80. Chickens will also consume more at the growing stage. 

    Bedding - bales of pine shavings - will run about $6.50 each. If the bedding is removed and replaced monthly, the cost would be $78 for a year's time. 

    Clearly, starting a flock can be costly if you add in all the startup costs and the costs of maintinging a flock for a year after they have started laying. Your grand total is $2,380. If your average hen lays well in its first year and you get 250 eggs, you'd be pleased. Multiply that by six hens and you will have 1,500 eggs in a year. Each egg will cost $1.59 if you divide your costs by number of eggs. Your dozen eggs from home will cost you $19.08. The average price for a dozen eggs at the grocery store is from $2 to $4.

    The verdict

    Fact. The fact that eggs are so affordable at the grocery store means that a nutritious source of protein is available to more people whose income may not allow them to raise their own flock. 

    Date Published: January 8, 2018
    Date Updated: January 8, 2018
  • Fact or Fiction: Clean the manure every day from your coop.

    How often should you be picking up your chickens' droppings? Let's start with the brooder. Depending on how many chicks you're brooding, you can go a couple of weeks before cleaning. If you have a larger group (ten or more chicks), then you'll need to clean that brooder out weekly. 

    For the rest of your flock's lifetime, you can either pick up dropings daily off a droppings board under the roost or do a full litter cleanout weekly. 

    The average large fowl hen will produce about 130 pounds of manure in a year. Multiply that by the number of hens that you have in your flock to see a large sum of manure over time. Whether you are picking wet or dry manure, most flock owners that use droppings boards say they like to sprinkle sawdust over the surface to make cleaning go faster. The sawdust keeps a small layer between the board and the droppings so they won't stick. Sand is also an easy litter, but is heavy and not a good choice for brooding chicks. 

    The verdict

    Mainly fiction. There is not a lot of information out there regarding deep litter and scientific research. One of the concerns is if a bevy of bacteria develop within the deep litter that affect the overall health of your flock and the safety of the eggs. In such a case, owners would need to consider switching out of the low-input deep litter method to one mentioned above. In any case, pick up items that begin to decompose. 

    Ultimately, you should use whatever cleaning regimen keeps your personal flock their healthiest without driving you crazy!

    Date Published: January 8, 2018
    Date Updated: January 8, 2018
  • Shutterstock

    Fact or Fiction: I need a rooster to get eggs from my hens.

    Hens will lay eggs daily regardless of whether a rooster is present. This goes back to basic biology. Females lay eggs on a regular or seasonal basis as determined by their species. Chickens release eggs daily when day lengths exceed fourteen hours. All female birds respond to longer days, and their gonads grow to prepare for egg laying. 

    Given this fact, why do hens continue laying throughout winter? We've selected them for egg production, and domesticated chickens. They may lay well through their first winter, but you can expect a slowdown or stop in egg production in the following winters - that is, unless you provide supplemental light for the hens in fall and winter. If you are providing supplemental light, then they will continue to lay in those seasons. 

    The verdict

    Fiction. This is quite the common misconception. You do not need a rooster to get eggs from a hen, but light. In short, it is a biology and seasonal thing, not a rooster thing. 

    Date Published: January 8, 2018
    Date Updated: January 8, 2018
  • Shutterstock

    Fact or Fiction: Apple cider vinegar in chickens' drinking water makes stronger eggshells.

    Factors that contribute to shell damage include the birds' genetics, health, nutritional status, and the environment and management in which they are raised, as well as the mechanics of collecting, washing, packing, and transporting the eggs.

    With respect to nutrition, assuming a hen eats properly, dietary levels of calcium, phosporus, vitamin D3, manganese, and copper are crucial for eggshell quality. For adequate calcium, the dietary level, source, particle size, and feeding time can all impact eggshell quality. 

    These factors affect backyard chickens. You may have noticed that as your hens age, their eggs generally get bigger. Even so, a small egg and a jumbo egg receive the same calcium deposits. Therefore, a jumbo egg has a thinner shell, which is consequently more likely to crack. To provide for optimal egg-production conditions, use a reputable commercial feed and provide a quality environment for hens.

    The verdict

    Fiction. Eggshells are made of two ingredients: approximately 98 percent calcium carbonate and 2 percent magnesium carbonate. Apple cider vinegar has zero calcium and zero magnesium per 1 tablespoon serving. In short, it does not contribute at all to shell strength. 

    Date Published: January 8, 2018
    Date Updated: January 8, 2018
  • Shutterstock

    Fact or Fiction: Provide quality grit, and there's no need to worm your chickens.

    Grit are small stones consumed by chickens. Found in the gizzard and, along with the gizzard's strong lining, help grind up seeds and grains eaten by the chicken. This process increases the animals' surface area inside the gizzard where grains may be crushed and broken down before passing into the small intestine for absorption. Grit eventually wears down, so birds need to consume stones regularly. 

    Grit, when it reaches the small intestine, is very small. It does not push out intestinal parasites. Research has proven that chickens fed grit did not have any more or fewer roundworms than chickens fed a diet without grit. 

    Since worms are not removed physically by things consumed by the bird, scientists have found alternatives. The over-the-counter product Wazine helps remove internal parasites. Other worming products do exist but require a veterinarian's prescription and oversight since their use is considered an extra-label use. 

    The verdict

    Fiction. Grit will not remove internal parasites from the gastrointestinal tract of a chicken. 

    Date Published: January 8, 2018
    Date Updated: January 8, 2018
  • Shutterstock

    Fact or Fiction: Chicken coops need heat.

    Chickens are designed for fairly warm climates. They have strategies for both keeping warm and expelling heat. However, humans have breeded chickens to be very adaptable. Does a cold coop pose a problem for a chicken?

    Chickens lose heat through their combs. Any exposed flesh is prone to frostbite at night, when temperatures are at their coldest. Toes can also get frostbite. Chickens like to pull their toes up under the feathers on their breast, and the shape of the roost can help or hinder this process. A wider, flatter roost will allow birds to tuck up their toes. 

    Critical temperatures for frostbite is anything below freezing. When the temperature in the coop drops below 55°F, hens start to slow in the egg-making process. 

    The verdict

    Fact and fiction. You may find providing heat to be out of the question on your farm. Luckily you have other options, like good insulation and winterization. Stacking hay bales around the wals or putting insulation on the roof and walls can help, as well as wrapping drafty portions of the coop with thick plastic.

    If you rely on the eggs from your flock, provide supplemental heat when temperatures reach freezing. Warmth can be provided via heat lamp, but the light provided may disturb laying patterns. A Sweeter Heater can be hung over the toosts to turn on and run onlly when the cold is of concern to your flock, or plugged into a light timer. 

    Long story short: if you expect eggs from your hens, be prepared to provide a form of heat. 

    Date Published: January 8, 2018
    Date Updated: January 8, 2018
  • Fact or Fiction: Round roosts are better than flat roosts.

    Perching is a learned behavior; chickens do not hatch out of their eggs already knowing how to perch. Yet, they still have a preference for roosting perch size. Chickens with no prior experience roosting preferred round roosts to square, peaked or flat roosts. They also preferred a larger diameter roost of almost 2 inches. It's far easier for chickens to keep their balance on larger perches. Keel bone deformations are fewer in chickens kept on flatter perches compared to those that are circular.

    Grip strength is also important to perch type. Slightly rough surfaces help chickens get a good grip, so wood is preferred over metal or plastic. 

    Finally, poultry protect their toes from frostbite during roosting by lifting up their breast feathers and setting them down over their toes on the roost. A roost small in diameter may not allow the bird to entirely cover its toes with feathers. 

    The verdict

    Fact. The size, shape, and material of a roost matter - and chickens do have preferences. They seem to want round roosts, larger than 2 inches in diameter. Larger perches with only a slightly rough surface allowed them to keep their balance better and get a stronger grip. In a ddition, a poorly designed roost can have long-term effects on the overall health of the hen. Many hours are spent daily resting the keel bone on the roost, so deformaties are possible with a bad design. 
     

    Date Published: January 8, 2018
    Date Updated: January 8, 2018
  • Shutterstock

    Fact or Fiction: Chicks raised outdoors won't have diseases as they age.

    The "hygeine hypothesis" suggests that one explanation for the increase in allergic diseases in modern times is the lack of exposure to infectious agents in young children. This suggests that in order for the immune system to develop appropriately, it needs to come into contact with a variety of microorganisms during infancy. 

    In chickens, scientific support exists for exposing birds to microorganisms, including low loads of some disease-causing agents. However, larger loads of disease agents are still considered detrimental. The idea that healthy, outdoor soil offers absolute protection against all disease-causing agents in poultry is unfortunately not true. 

    The verdict

    Fiction. Given the hygeine hypothesis and the accurate notion that exposture to low levels of some pathogens and other microorganisms can be beneficial, it is easy to see why people might believe that birds raised outdoors won't get sick as easily. Unfortunately, that is not true. Older birds raised outdoors do get disease. However, as all birds age, they are less likely to have disease; both those raised indoors and outdoors.

    Date Published: January 8, 2018
    Date Updated: January 8, 2018
  • Shutterstock

    Fact or Fiction: Keep vitamins and electrolytes in water for stronger immune systems.

    In general, vitamins and electrolytes play a significant role in the metabolic functions of poultry. It's suggested that poultry get fourteen amino acids, twelve minerals, thirteen vitamins, and one fatty acid. When it comes to nutrition for backyard chickens, keep it simple. Use a commercial feed that is appropriate for your flock. Only consider changes or additions when a problem arises. Feed already includes vitamins and drinking water naturally has electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and chloride. 

    Many commercial producers do, however, add vitamin and electrolyte premixes to their poultry diet. The only thing you should worry about is if you have well water: get it tested for bacteria and heavy metals like lead and mercury. 

    The verdict

    Fiction. Unless there is a problem, stick with normal cool and clean water provided every twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Only consider adjusting when necessary. 

    Date Published: January 8, 2018
    Date Updated: January 8, 2018

Latest Blogs

Betsy's Backyard |
5/25/18 | 11:05 AM
My daughter, Caroline, said she missed my blog, so I'm going to download a few ...read more
Betsy's Backyard |
3/12/18 | 1:18 PM
The Living the Country Life Spring/Summer 2018 issue comes out this month. I loved the...read more

Add Your Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login