50 Things to Know Backyard Chickens

50 Things to Know Backyard Chickens

Methods for Keeping Your Flock Happy, Healthy, and Productive

By Anna R. Albright

BOOK DESCRIPTION

Do you want to raise a happy, healthy flock of hens
to produce eggs?

Are you unsure what to feed your chickens?

Did you impulsively buy some fluffy chicks
at the feed store and now have no idea how to care for
them?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then
this book is for you...

50 Things to Know About Raising Backyard
Chickens by author Anna R. Albright offers a fact-
based, realistic approach to raising chickens at home.
Most books on raising backyard chickens tell you a
bunch of information without really explaining why it’s
important. Although there's nothing wrong with that, 50
Things to Know About Raising Backyard Chickens is a
refreshing crash-course on how to successfully raise
your own flock of happy, healthy chickens from
incubation to adulthood. Based on knowledge from the
world's leading experts in poultry production, 50
Things to Know About Raising Backyard Chickens
takes Science, Passion, and Education and combines
them together to make a brilliant, interesting, and
humorous read that will teach you all you need to know
about raising chickens.

In these pages you'll discover how to raise calm,
friendly hens, how to breed for color-tinted eggs,
common chicken conundrums, as well as first-aid, pest
control, and how to prevent diseases. This book will
help you to owning a successful flock of egg-producing
hens in just 20 weeks.

By the time you finish this book, you will know
insider tricks for raising productive chickens, how to
build a coop, and so much more, so grab YOUR copy
today. You'll be glad you did.

INTRODUCTION

“People who count their chickens
before they are hatched act very
wisely, because chickens run about so
absurdly that it is impossible to count
them accurately.” – Oscar Wilde

I was not always a fan of chickens.

During my animal science lab in at Sam Houston
State, we had the opportunity to visit some of the prison
farms in the surrounding areas to observe methods used
for mass production of pork, prison horses, and
chickens for meat and eggs.

We were brought to their facilities that housed over
100,000 birds in one building, and to say that the smell
was offensive was a massive understatement. You just
can’t forget it. During the tour, our guide had a bit of a
nasty sense of humor, (this particular trustee wasn’t
quite interesting to listen to, but overcompensated in the
uncomfortable joke department) noted that one of his
favorite things to do was to turn on the industrial belt
that administered chicken feed without dispensing the
feed on the belt. “Creatures of habit”, he said, as he
clicked the switch. The empty belt trundled through the
massive building with a loud clicking noise, usually
signaling for the chickens to come to the front of their
cages to eat.

When the birds realized there was no food on the
belt, 100,000 chickens turned to face us at the end of
the building. That many birds looking at you hungrily is
enough to make any person tremble.

“They sure do like their food,” the trustee chortled.
I never doubted their ancestral prehistoric link to the
Tyrannosaurus rex ever again.

After that particularly fear-inspiring experience, I
kept my involvement with chickens as minimal as
possible, considering them nothing more than simplistic
creatures that lived to eat and stare at humans hungrily.
My avoidance continued when I took a sabbatical from
teaching and found work elsewhere, but after a few
years outside of the classroom, I was called to teach
again. My first year back as an agricultural science
teacher, I had the opportunity to incubate eggs in the
classroom, and during the process, I fell in love with the
beautiful intricacies of the incubation and was
heartbroken when the majority of the eggs didn’t hatch.
I took it upon myself to bring in “foster chicks” from a
local store, raised them in the room with the students,
and was amazed at their personalities, their intelligence,
and trainability.

One chick, dubbed “Toot” by the students, was
particularly amusing, simply because she would climb
on her siblings to be able to find the highest point of the
enclosure to be able to watch my every move. She
would observe my actions with intelligence, and when I
would move too far from her during a lesson, she would
loudly proclaim her disapproval on my movement.
Eventually, I fashioned a miniature perch for her on my
desk from a supply organizer, and she was dubbed
“Toot king of the castle” because of her haughty
observance of her siblings. When the chicks went home
with students at the end of the school year, I was sad to
see her go. As I continued teaching, I learned how to
successfully incubate chicks based on thorough
research and was successful in raising several groups.
Chick incubation was, and continues to be, one of my
favorite activities with my students throughout the year.
I am still amazed at the individuality of each bird,
and find that their mannerisms are unique across the
board. My Buff Polish (and husband’s favorite) Tilly, is
an incredibly intent listener. I know that she knows
what her name is, and she knows when she is being
spoken to. She will make eye contact and tilt her head
back and forth when she’s listening, and I swear,
sometimes, she understands the gist of what I’m saying.
Chickens can be incredibly rewarding animals to work
with, provide a method for homegrown and naturally
produced meals, and can instill a sense of responsibility
in young minds. Most of all, my birds bring me joy, and
I hope that this book will give some insight into all it
takes to be able to successfully raise your own flock.

Sections:
Section 1: Fertilization and Incubation

  • Egg Before the Chicken Or the Chicken Before
    the Egg?
  • Egg Myths: The Full Truth and Nothing But
    The Truth
  • Major Steps in Incubation

Section 2: Growth and Development

  • Incubator Lockdown
  • Hatchling Care
  • Do’s and Don’ts of Caring for Hatchlings
  • Identifying Gender of Chicks

Section 3: Nutrition and Adolescence

  • Digestive System of the Chicken
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Free Range vs. Chicken Feed
  • Additives: Grits and Oyster Shells
  • Treats and Gardening for Chickens

Section 4: Maturity and Adulthood

  • Raising Calm, Friendly Chickens
  • First-Time Egg Laying
  • Collecting Eggs
  • Broody Hens
  • Pros and Cons of Owning a Rooster

Section 5: Diseases and Pest Management

  • Common Chicken Diseases and Causes
  • First Aid Procedures for Chickens
  • Salmonella: Why You Should Be Concerned
    About It
  • Culling Hens
  • Preventative Measures for Diseases
  • Common Pests
  • Pest Prevention

Section 6: Common Care Procedures

  • Caring for Chickens Throughout the Year
  • Needs of Adult Chickens
  • Lighting and Seasonality Behaviors
  • A Laying Hen’s Timeline of Egg Production
  • Why Do They Do That? Common Chicken
    Conundrums

Section 7: Breeding and Husbandry

  • The Birds, Minus the Bees: Breeding Chickens
    At Home
  • Maintaining a Breeding Flock
  • Rooster Care
  • Best Breeds for Backyard Flocks
  • How to Breed for Eggcellent Egg Color

Section 8: Best Practices for Maintaining a Flock

  • Free Range Chickens vs. Cooped Chickens
  • Basic Needs for a Flock
  • Keeping Chickens Happy
  • Signs of Stress in Chickens
  • Health Maintenance Recommendations

Section 9: Egg and Meat Production

  • Egg Development: A Hen’s Perspective
  • Feeding Organic Pros and Cons
  • How to Prepare a Chicken for Consumption
  • After Productivity Ends: Care of Elderly Hens
  • The Rainbow Bridge: Humane Euthanasia

Section 10: Housing and Enrichment

  • Housing Needs of a Flock
  • General Building Considerations
  • Warm Season Enrichment Activities
  • Cool Season Enrichment Activities
  • DIY Chicken Toys
  • Chicken Breed Cheat Sheet

SECTION ONE: FERTILIZATION AND INCUBATION

1. EGG BEFORE THE CHICKEN
OR THE CHICKEN BEFORE THE EGG?

First, let me state the obvious: chickens lay eggs
with or without a rooster present. Therefore, the
necessity of the rooster in the cyclical argument is
deemed invalid. Now, travel with me back in time to
your most recent health-education class and if you can,
try to remember what your teacher (should have) said:
female ovulation cycles happen regardless if a male is,
or is not, present.

So, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. No, unless the
hens in a coop are exposed to a rooster, the eggs will
not have an embryo inside them. Whew. Isn’t that a
relief?

Now, to answer the age-old question: Which came
first, the chicken, or the egg?
This question has been in human debates for
centuries, dating back to B.C. times. Aristotle even
avoided the argument himself by simply stating that
both the egg and the chicken had to have existed in
order for the growth of these birds into what we know
today as the modern chicken.

Other arguments include Stephen Hawking, arguably
one of the most famous astrophysicists of our time,
concluding that the egg came before the chicken. The
Bible, conversely, states “And God blessed them,
saying, be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the water in
the seas, and let fowl multiply the earth.”

Religiously, that would put the chickens first, right?
Argument over? Unfortunately, no.
230 million years ago, the would-be chickens of
today were called theropods. These two groups were
made up of the Ceratosauria and Tetanurae, both
originating in the late Triassic period. Between these
changes in species, the chicken (and Tyrannosaurus
Rex) stemmed from a creature that was about four
meters tall (for the Western readers: this equates to
roughly thirteen feet tall!). Thank goodness for
evolution, right? I, for one, could not be certain that a
couple of my hens would not Jurassic Park-style-take-
on-the-world if they were that size (looking at you,
Janice).

Relation of the domestic chicken to the T. Rex is
credited to Paleontologist Jack Horner in 2003 when he
and his team discovered a viable blood sample from a
fossil found in Montana. Thanks to science and our
knowledge of DNA, the link to dinosaurs and domestic
chickens was discovered. Interestingly enough, the
DNA sequences also matched uniquely with frogs and
newts. This relation is supported by several other
studies in recent history that link the Rex genetically
closer to ostriches and chickens rather than modern
alligators and crocodiles. My humorous mind often
replaces the Jurassic roar of the T. Rex with whistles,
chirps, and cawing of hens and roosters, because
science is wonderful.

Why bring up the dinosaurs? I’m glad you asked.
Studying the dinosaurs and all the current creatures
we know to be in existence on our planet gives us
insight into where we were at one point in time and
how we got here. Historically, we know that there are
certain creatures that have evolved into the animals we
know and recognize today, just as we know that there
are ancestors of every individual on this planet. The
likelihood of the relation from one being to another
comes down to genetics. Say, for instance, we consider
the genetics of a dog and a wolf. Physically, there are
more similarities than there are differences. We can all
agree that they both have fur, have superior hearing and
smelling instincts, and to some extent, enjoy
membership within a pack, be it with other wolves or
with humans and other dogs or animals. We can go
back in history and find that over time, the dog was
related to the prehistoric whale, and that, as mammals,
there is no question in how the first prehistoric wolves
came to be in existence. Therefore, prehistoric
knowledge gives us no question of the ancestors of our
beloved pooches, as well as critical insight into their
behaviors.

The chicken’s story is a bit more complicated.
Historically, we know that the dino-version of the
chicken was a massive creature that had feathers and
laid eggs. We also know that if a creature has offspring,
there will be some form of genetic mutation of the
genes over time, using the process of natural selection
and survival of the fittest. Considering these facts, one
could also argue that there was no “first” chicken,
rather, that there was a “proto” chicken that bred to
another proto-chicken that happened to lay a mutated
egg, thereby creating the ancestor of the domestic
chicken as we know it. In this argument, the egg came
before the chicken.

Finally, in July 2010, a team of British scientists
used a supercomputer claimed to have come up with the
definitive answer to the argument of the chicken-or-
egg-first dilemma. Upon identification of the protein
ovocleidin-17 (found in ovulating hens), it was
discovered that without this particular protein, an egg
would not be produced.

While science is hard to argue or disagree with, I
still struggle with this undeniable fact. Sure, an egg
cannot be laid without a chicken that has the ability to
lay the egg. So then, my mind demands, where on earth
did the first chicken come from, in order to have the
needed proteins to be able to produce the egg, and for
that matter, shouldn’t there have been a rooster to be
able to impregnate said chicken in order to create a
fertile egg? What about the needs of the eggs for the
first hen and rooster? Who incubated them? Who turned
their eggs? Who encouraged them to hatch?

I like to think that if I ever met the maker of the
universe that I would ask the obvious questions: if there
is or isn’t life after death, what is the meaning of life,
and why things are the way they are. If I know myself
though, I wouldn’t be able to resist, and I hope, much to
the humor of whomever I was speaking, I would
demand to know: How did the never-ending cycle of
the dangblasted chicken start? Only then, would my
thirst for the true, undeniable answer to this maddening
question be quenched.

Regardless of the chicken-or-egg-first statement,
raising backyard chickens yields many truths, including
the following:

  • Chickens lay eggs once they are sexually
    mature, which happens at about five to
    six months of age for most hens
  • An egg is laid almost daily for most
    breeds
  • Eggs must be kept at a consistent
    temperature and humidity to be able to
    hatch
  • An egg laid without a rooster will not
    hatch under any circumstances
  • Hens exposed to roosters might lay eggs
    that are not fertilized

2. EGG MYTHS: THE FULL
TRUTH AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH

I’ll say it again for those that might not have read
through any other section of the book: No Rooster, No
Chicks.

Myth Busted #1: No Rooster = No embryos, and
no hatching, ever.

Eggs laid without a rooster around will not hatch at
any time, whatsoever. It is scientifically impossible.
Take another trip in time with me, this time, to your
most recent biology class. Remember the teacher
talking about zygotes? No? A zygote is a sex cell that
has been fertilized, and under the right circumstances,
will turn into an embryo, then after twenty-one days, a
lovely little chick. Before the creation of the zygote,
however, a sex cell is just a haploid, only half of the
cells needed to create an embryo in any species. (Of
course, some reptilian and fish species have been
known to asexually reproduce, but luckily, chickens are
neither fish nor reptiles, we’re in the clear on this one!)
All eggs laid by chickens will just be a haploid,
containing only half of the cells needed to create an
embryo. So order those delicious Sunny-side-up eggs as
a side for your breakfast at your favorite restaurant. No
chicken embryos, no problems, right?

Myth Busted #2: Eggs containing an embryo are
more nutritious than others.

Say you’ve decided to purchase some eggs that have
been exposed to a rooster and the possibility of an
embryo doesn’t bother you. Great! Will the zygote egg
be more nutritious than a non-zygote egg? If you get
down to the nitty-gritty details, while there is a minute
additional amount of cholesterol contained within eggs
that have been fertilized, it’s not enough to make a
monumental difference. So for the most part, there is
not a significant difference in nutritional value.

Myth Busted #3: Brown eggs come from brown
chickens.

If only the color of the chicken was guaranteed to
deliver matching egg color! Can you imagine a
naturally rusty-red egg? What about a black one? How
cool would that be? Here’s the truth: in purebred
chickens, egg color is guaranteed to be uniform
between hens. My ladies are all purebred because we
don’t have a rooster, but assuming that I had a purebred
rooster, all of the potential offspring would be
crossbred. In my crossbred hens, I could expect to have
surprises in the colors of the egg between each chicken,
but not from the same hen. Crossbreeding will not
guarantee egg color, because in the wonderful world of
genetics, there are traits that are dominant and others
that are recessive. Dominant colors would show in a
crossbred egg. Interestingly enough, all eggs begin with
white, and the colors develop throughout the growth of
the egg inside the hen. Some colorful egg-laying breeds
are:

  • Blue shades: Ameraucanas, Araucanas, Cream
    Legbars, Whiting True Blues, Easter Eggers
  • Green shades: Whiting True Greens and Olive
    Eggers
  • Cream Shades: Faverolles, Egyptian Fayoumis,
    Yokohamas, and Dorkings
  • Brown Shades: Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rocks,
    Dominiques, Jersey Giants, Golden Comets, Cohins,
    Brahmas, Chanteclers, Javas, New Hampshire Reds,
    Buckeyes, and Delawares

Myth Busted #3: Brown eggs are less nutritious
than white eggs.

Simply put: Eggs are going to have the same
nutrition inside regardless of their color. The only
things that might change the nutritional value of the egg
would be the nutrition of the hen producing the egg or
the way the eggs are prepared during the cooking
process. All eggs contain valuable nutrients for human
nutrition like vitamin A, complex B vitamins, and
vitamin E as well as calcium, copper, iron. Magnesium,
manganese, phosphorus, selenium, sodium, and zinc.
Eggs also contain protein, lutein, and zeaxanthin,
important for eye health, and some contain fatty acids
comparable to fish oil and omega-3 rich foods.

Myth Busted #4: Washing dirty eggs makes them
safe to use for food.

Unfortunately, this is not true. In the surface of the
shell, eggs are microscopically porous, which means
that eggs are like a sponge, especially when wet. While
it can seem like a good idea to wash eggs like other
types of produce, washed eggs will actually absorb
whatever may be on the surface of the shell. This could
be as organic as fecal matter or dirt, or as dangerous as
salmonella bacterium. For best practices with your
hens, as much as it’s not ideal to chuck a dirty egg into
the trash, it’s better for your, and your family’s health
and safety. If you really truly don’t want to toss the egg,
then just crack the egg, discard the contents, and
compost the shells. This will add calcium to your
compost and is great for the soil!

Myth Busted #5: The yolk is the unhatched chick.
Remember how I said that without exposure to a
rooster, the eggs will be infertile? This is still true. So
no, the yolk is not the unhatched little chick: it is what
the chick would have absorbed as food while inside the
egg. The color of the yolk also doesn’t affect the
nutritional value of the egg itself, instead, the color is
impacted by the diet of the hen while developing the
egg. If a hen’s diet contains foods that have heavy
pigmentation of orange or yellow, she will lay eggs
with a more vibrant yolk color. Some chefs, farmers,
and home cooks swear by the vibrancy and flavor
though, stating that the more vibrant the yolk color, the
more flavorful the egg. If you’re wondering where the
haploid cells of the once-possible chick are, they’re in a
miniscule white speck on the outside of the yolk.

Read all 50 Tips in the book
50 Things to Know About Asthma
available at Amazon.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anna Albright began her life enamored with all
things animals. She remembers staying home from
school to watch National Geographic documentaries on
wildlife as a child. As she grew, she bred and raised a
flock of parakeets from her home before she reached
eleven years old. The first paper she ever wrote was an
argumentative essay attempting to convince her parents
to allow her to adopt a dog. She was an active FFA
member in high school and rode horses competitively,
and then attended Sam Houston State University and
earned a degree in Interdisciplinary Agriculture with a
double minor in Agricultural Education and Equine
Science. She has been an Agricultural Education
teacher in Fort Bend ISD for four years as well as an
FFA Advisor, which requires her to oversee student
livestock projects in her program. She also owns and
operates her freelance writing business, AA Freelance
Writing Co.

She is currently managing her business day to day,
teaching agriculture to her students, advising her FFA
program, and thoroughly enjoying her flock of
backyard chickens. Albright regularly enjoys
gardening, fishing, traipsing through Texas on vacation,
binge-watching Game of Thrones, cooking, writing,
time with her husband, David, and her menagerie of
animals at the house: Tucker the Australian Shepherd,
Molly the Catahoula, Shiner the Blue Heeler, Newt the
Boston Terrier, Juneau the Russian Blue, Ruby the
Orange Tabby, and all the fish named Bob in her
freshwater fish tank. Her family and friends mean the
world to her, as well as her students, past, present, and
future.

Her hens are named Tilly, Gertrude, Jade, Betty,
Bea, Alice, Daisy Mae, Janice, Mabel, and Rebel
Wilson.

Where to find Albright on Social Media:

Website: www.annarosealbright.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/aafreelancewriter

Twitter: @AnnaRAlbright

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