Although many of us think about keeping chickens for only their eggs and meat, they also make great companion animals! Some use their chickens for sport. Have you ever tried to catch a chicken? It can be quite hard. They make for great runners and good for short distance flight, depending on the type of chicken you get.
Chickens have slowly but surely become a popular backyard pet, and it’s important to know how to properly take care of them. They are the type of animals that one doesn’t need to constantly keep an eye on, especially since they are free fed, but because of this there may be some interesting activity going on with your chickens that you don’t know about. Here are 8 surprising facts that you may not have known about keeping chickens.
Fact #1: Baby Chicks Have A Tooth
Granted, it does fall off after a day or so after they have hatched, but it’s pretty cool. As baby chicks develop, they grow a tooth on the upper jaw beak. This, as you’ve probably guessed, is to help the chick break out of its shell when it’s finally ready. This means that you do not have to help them get out of their shell as they are fully equipped to get the job done. Remember, chicks are precocial which means they are relatively mature from the moment they hatch, so they know basic living instincts.
Fact #2: Chicks Don’t Eat the First Few Days
Now, this isn’t exactly true. What happens, is that when the chick is still inside the egg developing, it absorbs the yolk and it can live off of just that the first couple days after it hatches. It’s meant as a safeguard in case the chick can’t find food at first and it doesn’t die. This means that you don’t have to provide it with food or water for a few days which makes it possible for chicks to be shipped out to other locations safely.
Some people think it’s cruel to do this to chicks, but it is completely safe to do so. Although, when chicks first hatch, they can’t regulate their own temperature yet, so make sure they have a heat source. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t feed your chicks; if you have food, you should be feeding them, they just may not eat, so don’t be alarmed.
Fact #3: Chickens Eat Rocks
Since chickens don’t have any teeth, they can’t chew their food, so they swallow it whole. What chickens do in order to grind up their feed, is eat rocks. Chickens have an organ called the gizzard and this is where the rocks sit. It is entirely normal to see your chickens eat rocks.
Now you might think, wouldn’t the rocks also tear through its organs? The gizzard actually secretes a lining that protects it from getting torn up. It’s similar to fingernails. You can also choose to feed your chickens oyster shells or limestone to provide calcium.
Fact #4: Eggs can Get Stuck Inside a Chicken
This is called egg binding or hypocalcemia. Eggs get stuck along their reproductive tract because they don’t have enough calcium. This is why you might opt out of feeding them rocks and instead oyster shells/limestone. This is an essential part of their diet, especially if you choose to get the type of chickens that lay lots of eggs because calcium helps them make the eggshells.
This can potentially lead to death if unattended, so make sure they are getting all the necessary nutrients they need as it can easily be prevented. If this does happen, it can easily be treated with some supplement calcium and a warm bath. If all fails, go to a veterinarian immediately.
Fact #5: Chickens can Become Paralyzed
Marek’s Disease is very common in chickens. This affects the chicken’s neck, wings, and legs. It’s a viral disease which means that antibiotics unfortunately won’t help. Marek’s is also highly contagious, so if one of your chickens gets it, they all will.
Thankfully, there is a vaccine that you can, and should, get for your chickens because it can be fatal. Chicks can be vaccinated a day or so after they hatch. The sooner you vaccinate, the better because it is such a common disease.
Fact #6: Chickens Hide Their Illness
This is true for all birds. In the wild, birds are constantly faced with predators, and predators target the weak. It’s a matter of self-preservation, but because of this it’s hard to tell when your chickens are sick until it gets really bad. If you notice or think your chicken is sick, never wait for it to get worse and get them to a veterinarian immediately. A disease to look out for is avian influenza.
Some signs that your chickens are sick:
- Weight loss
- Change in droppings
- Fluffed feathers
- Breathing (listen at night)
Fact #7: Chickens Eat Their Droppings
First rocks, now their droppings? Chickens eat a lot of weird things, but there is always a reason behind it. Chickens have an organ called the ceca. What this organ does is break down fiber into nutrients the chicken can use. The fiber that is not broken-down passes through the chicken and into the droppings. The chickens then peck at their droppings trying to eat that unprocessed fiber.
Although it can be beneficial, you should not let your chickens do this. The nutrients in their droppings can help with making eggshells but there are more negatives. Chickens can get sick from eating their or other animal droppings. One common parasite is coccidiosis that gets passed through feces. Make sure to keep your chicken’s coop clean so that they don’t do this.
Fact #8: Chickens only Breed during the Summer
This means that you’ll only get eggs from April to around July. There is a way around this! Chickens are what is called ‘long day’ breeders. This means they only produce eggs when the days are longer. You can trick the chickens into thinking the days are longer by providing them artificial light in their coops. This will ensure that your chickens lay eggs for you year-round.
Another interesting detail about chicken laying eggs is that they don’t incubate until they’ve laid all their eggs. She does this so that all the eggs hatch at the same time. Make sure to collect all your eggs every morning.
Chickens are actually very interesting animals with a lot of unknown facts about them. If you have children, it may also be fun to have colored chicks! Just punch a little whole in the eggshell right before they’re about to hatch and put some food coloring inside. This is safe to do and won’t harm the chicks. Once the chicks start growing feathers, they’ll lose the color. Keep in mind it is illegal to sell colored chicks.
Hopefully you learned something new about keeping chickens so you can better take care of yours, in order for them to live long happy lives and lay plenty of eggs for you. With the proper care, chickens can be a relatively easy animal to keep.
Guest Author Bio
Chris has been raising backyard chickens for over 20 years and is the poultry expert at Chickens And More. She has a flock of 11 chickens (including 3 Silkies) and is currently teaching people all around the world how to care for healthy chickens.