5 Common Mistakes First-Time Chicken Keepers Make

The journey from picking up your day-old chicks at the feed store or post office until you collect your first egg can be filled with joy and wonderment ... or fraught with anguish.

Over the years, I've noticed that there seems to be a pattern to the common mistakes that first-time chicken keepers make. I wanted to share them with you to help you avoid some oft-repeated missteps - and help you prevent heartache of your own.

I have gotten literally hundreds of email from readers letting me revel in their joy by sharing photos and relating stories of how much their family is enjoying their new-found passion, but I also get those messages I dread, the pleas for help or cries of heartache after readers have lost chicks or laying hens to predators or even a massacre by the family dog. 

So here we go with the Five Most Common Mistakes First-Time Chicken Keepers Make:

1. Underestimating Predators

Hawks, eagles, raccoons, foxes and everything in between, including your neighbor's dog and maybe even your own family dog is going to try and kill your chickens ...and will succeed in doing so unless you lock them up securely in a coop at night.

During the day you'll need to either keep them in a covered, enclosed pen by day or do some serious research into LGDs (livestock guard dogs) or other methods of safely free ranging them.

Trust me on this.

2. Not Assembling a First Aid Kit in Advance

When something bad does happen, whether its an illness or injury, too many times a chicken keeper doesn't have any medical supplies on hand.

And since we all know that accidents always happen on the Sunday of a holiday weekend or during a blizzard when everything is closed, it's a really good idea to assemble a first aid kit NOW...before you need it. Hopefully you will never need it, but at least you're ready.

And even better, the one we recommend is all natural.

3. Introducing New Flock Members Too Quickly

Nothing is more heartbreaking than finding that your flock has turned on the new pullets you couldn't resist adding to your flock and killed them.

For quarantine, as well as safety reasons, new flock members need to be segregated and then introduced slowly. Very slowly. Chickens take their pecking order very seriously and when you mess with it abruptly, things generally end badly. 

4. Building Too Small a Coop 

No one has ever said, "I wish I didn't have so many chickens" or "I wish I had a smaller coop". As you will find out once you start raising chickens, they are like potato chips and you can't just have one... or two....or even six.  It's far easier to buy more chickens to fill a too-big coop than to build a larger coop your flock has outgrown, so build your coop from the start for the number of chickens you eventually think you'll have. Again, trust us on this one.

5. Not Checking Zoning Laws 

Before you step into that feed store or start browsing hatchery catalogs, find out what your town or municipality zoning laws are regarding chickens - and then follow them.

I hear time and time again of readers having to give up their chickens because they didn't check the regulations and a neighbor filed a complaint. Sometimes they are successful in getting the laws changed, sometimes they aren't, but either way they end up losing the chickens their entire family has become so attached to.

Even if they are allowed to start over again, they are having to start over. Save yourself the heartache and check first.

Just because WE believe everyone has the Constitutional right to raise chickens (that whole 'pursuit of happiness thing'), doesn't mean that everyone does. So check first.

Raising a backyard flock should be a joyous experience, and by keeping these five common mistakes in mind, hopefully you can avoid the most common pitfalls from chick to collecting your first eggs...and beyond!

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  1. I did 3 months of research before we ever got chicks. Backyardchickens.com was a huge resource for me. Our coop evolved, mostly to make it easier to clean. We never lost any chicks. Sadly some people rush out to get something cute and don't bother to do the research. Like how many cubic feet of air per birds do your chickens need in a coop? Lots of things to know....

    1. Agreed. I am amazed how many raise all types of animals without doing some research using reputable sources ie, books written by experts, trade magazines etc.

  2. Our daughter did build a coop for her 10 birds that she bought for me! Then I bought 10 more so my hubby had room to build an addition. #2 and #3 were my learnings. It was a good thing I has some betadine, not organic, but did the trick, dressings and tape. Now I will buy those needed supplies. Thank you for all your help and for that video on Bubblefoot. Couldn't have done it without you!!

  3. This is so true. We were actually guilty of #5. We ordered our chicks before checking the city ordinances, and come to find out, we couldn't have chickens. I tried to cancel the order, but we were too late and the chicks were coming. So we just tried to keep them quiet as best as we could! Haha. It was tough when they started laying and singing their egg songs. Eventually we knew the country was where we needed to be, so the girls just gave us the push we needed to move from the city out to the country. I'm so glad that we weren't able to cancel our order for chicks, because if we did who knows where we'd be right now!

    1. That's an awesome way to deal with not being allowed chickens! And I agree, it was all meant to be.

  4. Thank you for this article it is great for new folks. I am less than a year a chicken keeper, as I began this adventure I read everything I could find in my efforts to be a good protector of my flock. So far so good. I live on 60 acres full of critters that would love to eat my feathered friends, to date all have been happy healthy and the 2 oldest have started laying pretty (although small) tasty eggs. My 2 German Shepherds and 100 pound English black lab watch over them through hardware mesh. My barn kitten likes to make flying leaps at the mesh like spiderman (folks watch out for those cats). I have mesh buried a 1 1/2 feet all around the perimeter and across the top as a roof under tarp for rain and shade. Thanks to articles like yours things have been and are going great. Keep up the good word :)

  5. My friend got chickens this last summer. Left a heat lamp on overnight because it was going to be chilly, the whole coop went up in flames. I guess they were just old enough to be left out in the coop. So, my question is, how do you keep young chickens (pullets?) warm at night if it's going to be cold? The zoning law in her area says she can only have 3 chickens and they were all the same age.

    1. You can use a heat lamp, but yes there is the chance of fire. Starting your chicks in the spring works best, timing it so by the time they are too big to be indoors, its warm enough that they can be outside without any heat. If you do use a heat lamp, it needs to be secured for sure.

  6. I always learn from you! Thank you for sharing at the Thursday Favorite Things hop ♥

  7. I followed all the introduction tips I could find when I added to my flock of 4. We spent 3 months slowly getting our seniors used to the 3 "babies". They are 5 1/2 months old now and the pecking and torturing has not let up! I have a feeling if the babies weren't being constantly harassed they might be friendlier to me, they are extremely shy. I can't give them all treats at the same time. The "biddies", as we've been forced to call them, circle around (not eating) the treats and won't let the babies eat any of it. I have to now resort to what I call the "chicken dance" when I put them in the coop at night. The biddies won't even let the babies roost, they crouch together in the nest boxes in fear. It doesn't help that my 2 year olds have all stopped laying!

  8. Hi Lisa. Loved this blog. I picked it as my fav on Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop this week -http://farmgirl-unleashed.com/2013/10/farmgirl-friday-blog-hop-128/ Thanks for posting and sharing it!

  9. I'd like to interject another lesson. I did all kinds of research and when I got my first flock I kept them penned up. I made my pen and coop predator proof. (Still is 2 years later). I put a sand floor in the pen. You may know where this is going...I had 5 Hen's die in the first 6 months. They were just dropping like flies. I finally did more reading and found that by keeping them penned up for fear of predators...and no dirt...they're immune systems were failing. So. I let them out!!!! I let them free range all year and in the mean time I've added more girls to my flock. I've not lost another one. But....I worried to death about predators so my husband and I built a large covered pen to keep them in. We will be adding grass screens later in the spring. I am also getting ready to add more girls...I love my chickens. They are happy and healthy thanks to Lisa at Fresh Eggs Daily and other articles and blogs.