How I Know What I Know About Chickens

I’ve had chickens for over fifteen years, and yet they still confound me! I think I know what I’m doing, and then I get that one bird, doing that one, odd thing, and I scramble around for answers. Readers of this blog ask me for advice. I know the answers to some, but not all of your queries. When that happens, the first thing that I do is check my shelf of  chicken keeping books, which includes the standard by Gail Damerow, and new references by Christine Heinrichs and others (see my site for more details.) There isn’t one book that covers everything. I have a collection of vintage books, from a time when farmers kept free-range poultry of various breeds, and before the advent of miracle drugs. They often have the best information.

There are two new books on the market with similar titles – Raising Chickens For Dummies by Willis and Ludlow, and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Belanger. Belanger has been a self-sufficient farmer from way back. His book reflects his practical, lifelong knowledge. The perspective is from someone who raises chickens with a purpose. There’s an excellent section on culling and butchering. Ludlow’s book reflects the newer crop of chicken keepers. He writes about meat birds, but also about layers and hens as pets. I have some quibbles about the details in his book (for example, the section on lice is incomplete.) Neither address the issues of broodiness that we’ve been discussing on this blog. Neither have comprehensive illustrations. But, both books are useful. Of the two, Belanger’s book is a good starting point for the new chicken keeper.

After looking through my library, I’ll do a web search, with, as with all web searches, a hefty dose of skepticism. There are chicken forums on the web, like BYC. It’s a great community, and there’s some good advice, but there’s also a lot of guess work and erroneous information being dispensed. Some of the state agriculture commissions have useful information. On the other hand, some are geared to commercial farmers, and the advice is wrong for the backyard keeper. I’ve got an annotated list of some good sites on

Ultimately, I take what I’ve gathered and make my own conclusions. I keep chickens for eggs, but also for pets. My hens are individuals to me, and each one is valuable. I’m not breeding for show, and I’m not a farmer worried about one ill animal destroying a flock of 10,000. I don’t eat my birds (but would if I had a rooster to dispense.) In short, I have my own perspective. After years of being around these animals (and, going way back, to getting a BS in animal science from UNH) I have an ability to cut through the masses of information out there and find the bits that work for me and my hens.

I’ve learned so much from my readers! I learn from what you know and what you don’t. Asking me questions gets me to delve deeper into the resources I have, and to find more. It makes me more observant. One of the pleasures of backyard chicken keeping is getting to know the animals in my care. The more you ask, the more I see.

So, what question haven’t I answered yet?

(BTW, I’ve got FAQs here. I need to add to them. Broodiness is next! What else?)


  1. Terry, that is the best picture ever!! Is it Coco or Betsy Ross? Your notes on chicken “doctoring” brings to mind my Mom’s use of the old eye antibacterial treatment of her flock with Argyrol, which included a dose occasionally for me, since I spent most of my growing up days in the chicken yard…we all ran about with slightly brown tinted eyes until she judged us up to par. As me old Mum used to say: Judy was raised by Beagles and Chickens.

    • That’s Betsy Ross. She’s a hen who knows how to stare. BTW, of all of the breeds of dogs to be raised by, I’m not sure that Beagles would be on the top of my list. Nose-driven hunters? Hmmm…..

  2. Look at that face — what a shana punim!
    Okay, I have a question.
    One of the farm workers accidentally ran over a hen. After a few days of her living on my lap and being hand fed, the status quo presents as an inability to stand or lift up, severe bruising on one leg, and discomfort on the lower torso.
    This is very high maintainence and that’s okay. She’s in good spirits, lays an egg every day, but has to be picked up every couple hours to remove poop. So there are two questions:
    -Can you predict her future?
    -Is there a contraption like a toddler’s walker so there’s air under her body?

  3. Hylla – I don’t know enough Yiddish to know shana punim. Translate please!
    As far as the injured hen – chickens have a remarkable ability to heal. I’ve heard from people who’ve set broken legs with duct tape and popsicle sticks and had positive outcomes. If she’s laying, I bet she’ll pull through. I wouldn’t worry about air under her body. Buffy was paralyzed for months and didn’t walk around. I kept her on loose, soft shavings. Now she’s fine. Have her positioned so she can reach her water without standing up. Let her rest. Keep an eye on the manure production. If that’s fine, she’ll be fine. You might need to trim her nails – if she’s not scratching in the dirt they’ll get too long. Use a dog nail trimmer. Easy. Keep an eye out for parasites since she’s not dust bathing. Give her an outing everyday, in a nice, grassy yard that will encourage her to stand up and move. Good-luck!

    • I’d be tempted to try and get some anti-inflammatories down her too. Can you get Metacam over there? It’s the pet version of Meloxicam, an arthritis drug. Two or three drops twice a day on a treat, bread or inside a grape for instance (you have to suck the inside out of the grape first which I have become rather good at) will make her comfortable and reduce swelling almost miraculously, and act as pain relief. Hope she gets better!

      • Shana punim = pretty face (with love, a face grab and a kiss)
        Thanks for the outing and nail advice, Terry – will do. And Wendy, I’ll look for Metacam at the local well-stocked farm store. Thank you!
        We keep her hydrated with fresh fruit now so it can’t spill in front of her in her box and a couple raw eggs each day which she gobbles.
        If anyone thinks of other approaches, holler at me

  4. I don’t have questions yet, but once I’m in a place to have chickens, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of things to ask. In the meantime, I’m enjoying reading your and other blogs, whatever books & magazines I run across, and learning what I can about them before we set up the coop. I do appreciate your including the reality and not just the romance of chicken-keeping.

  5. I have a question- we recently got some Bantam chicks- and they were a straight run, so of course we now have one hen and all roosters. We live in New Hampshire, we brought them to a chicken swap and were laughed at and told no one will want our roosters. I have put an ad on craigslist and uncle henrys, but havent gotten anything from them. Any advice, I dont want them to go to a home where they will be killed, yet I understand that may happen! Please help!

    • Jessica- I have a long answer for you.

      The hard truth of using domestic farm animals to provide food is that one sex is usually not as productive and is used for meat. In order to get dairy, a female must be pregnant and then lactate. Her female calves can go into dairy production, too, but the boys have no use except for meat. That’s okay. If they live a good life out on pasture, and go to a local slaughterhouse, it’s not a bad existence (read Temple Grandin’s books.)

      If you eat eggs, then you are using only female chickens. Either the boy chicks are killed when they hatch, or they are “harvested” later for meat. You, personally might not eat meat, but if you eat eggs, you’re part of the system. Again, this isn’t a bad thing – as long as it’s done with respect and care. Most people with backyard flocks don’t want roosters – or only one. The rest, have no where to live out their lives, and, honestly, it doesn’t make sense to keep them around. Although my hens become pets, I wouldn’t willingly keep every rooster around. I believe in supporting farms that do right by their animals – and that means consuming meat.

      That said, I’ve been fortunate that the few roosters I’ve had, I’ve been able to find homes for, or give back to the breeder. I once lived with a family who had a turkey. When Thanksgiving came around, they traded their turkey with a neighbor’s. Both turkeys got consumed – but they didn’t personally know the one they were eating! I’d like to think that if I were in your situation, with a lot of roosters, that I would be able to eat them, but I might just trade them to someone else. We all have our own line that we can’t step over.

      Instead of being aghast and going vegan, I think that the thing to do is to become a thoughtful omnivore. I’d suggest that you find someone willing to eat your roosters – but that have experience doing quick slaughter, and who know how to make use of birds probably not bred for meat production (broth would be a perfect use.)

  6. Terry, Thank you for all your sharing, patience, insight, friendship and holding our “hands” when we have our adventures, learning experiences and emergencies. The good, the bad and the ugly. Its so nice to have a long distance pen pal that makes us feel comfortable about our pets decisions on their care. People tell us that they are “only” chickens but not for us; they are part of our family.

  7. Jessica – I agree with what Terry said. Also you might try inquiring at your local feed stores that sell chickens. When I got my bantam chicks I had to find homes for 4 roosters. I was fortunate that one of our farm stores was in contact with a rooster “broker” that finds nice farms/homes for roosters for breeding.
    Terry – I have a question. My Mille Fleur hen keeps crowing loudly like a rooster in the mornings and throughout the day. It doesn’t bother me except I don’t want my close neighbors to be bothered or think I have a rooster which are illegal in my city. Three of my 5 hens are broody and the behavior has seemed to worsen because of that. She doesn’t do it when I’m outside with her. I can hear her from inside start to whine and croak like she’s agitated or nervous and then the crowing starts. Do you think she is lonely because almost everyone is in the coop and she’s doing it because she feels vulnerable? Do you think there’s anything I can do to make her stop?

    • Jenny-A vulnerable hen is going to lay low and stay out of trouble – not challenge the others. A loner hen might be restless, but she won’t crow. However, perhaps what you hear as crowing is simply an especially noisy hen? Have you listened to Marge’s ringtone? That chicken was loud and it sounded like she had major announcements to make. Hens often make a lot of noise right after laying (Gail Damerow has a very interesting article about this in the recent issue of Backyard Poultry Magazine.)
      However, if a hen’s ovary is injured or has a tumor growing on it, her hormones get messed up and she can start exhibiting signs of male behavior such as crowing and aggression. If she’s truly crowing, then this is the problem. Is she laying?

  8. Yes Millie is laying and she’s also the head hen. Her egg announcing is different sounding. This is a very distinct Cock-A-Doodle-Do! It sounds just like a rooster. She usually just does it once and throws her head back like a rooster. Sometimes I’ve heard her do it 3 times consecutively. She will crow anywhere from 2 to 4 times throughout the course of the day. My ameraucana hen Petunia who is second in charge mounts the other hens and acts like they are mating. I have 2 confused hens!

  9. Thank you Terry for your time. I think you are right about eating the roosters, I do eat meat and understand the circle of life, but its still doesnt make it easier!!! We have 17 hens that we have had for a year- so this spring I wanted Bantams that I could show in the fair. I’m glad starting out we getting all roosters, I think I wouldnt have been able to get more! I love watch my chickens and enjoy your websit very much.
    I think I will try a little longer to find them “other homes”, they are Mille Fluer Duccles, to me they seem to pretty to just be thrown away! Thanks again for your help!

  10. Terry, if I may step in and offer a bit to Jenny. I have had hens that have crowed over the years but the good news is that it has never lasted very long. Terry is correct in that it is usally injury related.

  11. The only other rooster behavior I have seen hens display (that also crowed) was the rooster dance. They drag one wing and do the half circle thing in front of other hens. I have never seen another hen try to mount another hen.
    The injury can be from a fall or more likily another chicken jumping from the roost or nesting box on top of a hen damaging a hen’s ovaries. This information can from a old time vet I had in Illinois years ago.