For folks buying chicks for the first time: free advice! (Many of them opinions, but based on 21 years of backyard chickens). Worth what you paid, and your mileage may vary.
1.) Bantams are adorable but can fly, are attractive to hawks, and like to sleep in trees.
2.) Many young birds can fly, at least short distances or up and over fences, but heavy bodied breeds are pretty earthbound by the time they are grown.
3.) Cats and hawks will generally leave larger hens alone. Very young birds or small breeds are more vulnerable. The family dog usually “gets” that these are family, but a neighbor’s dog can wipe out your flock in one run through the yard.
4.) Read breed descriptions at a website like Meyer or McMurray Hatchery. “Active” usually means hyper, squawky and flighty. Quieter birds are good with kids — our barred rocks, cochins and brahmas would tolerate being hauled around by kids.
5.) Some breeds are known to be aggressive, and roosters can be dangerous to kids, pets and others. Game breeds, Cornish, any rooster ever bred for fighting.
6.) The more “commercialized” breeds, (ie: white production chickens, incubator raised for factory farms for too many generations) have no maternal instincts left. They don’t know what an egg when it falls out of their butt, and won’t sit on them or raise chicks. Heirloom breeds — some of them endangered or on the watch list — can be excellent mothers, forage well for greens and bugs, teach chicks to watch for hawks and generally act like smart chickens.
7.) Your biggest enemies are raccoons and ‘possums. Both will enter a coop left open after dark, pull a sleepy hen off the perch and eat it (sometimes alive.) Always close your coop after dark. My hens free range in the yard but will put themselves to bed before dusk — we just have to go out there and close the door.
8.) Baby chicks are very entertaining to watch! We get ours early in the spring, modify a big guinea pig/rabbit cage with newspapers and straw on the floor, and a heat light in one corner — and they live where we can watch them, in a warm room or on the basement landing. You learn to hear their “tone” of peeping if they are chilly, hungry or unhappy. Fuzzy peepers are fun to have inside.
9.) Soon, though, they become feathered poopers. They generate “white dust” and can cause some folks breathing trouble. They will need a place outside, but with heat lights, protection and attention unless the weather has warmed day and night.
10.) If something happens to a hen — it is attacked, injured, sick or dying and it needs to be put out of its misery, this is what I have learned to do: Dig a hole in your yard. Gently lay the bird in the hole (I speak calmly, offer soft words.) A quick chop with a shovel will separate head from body, and you can fill the hole.
One last thing — I really value biodiversity and like to have an assortment of breeds, pretty birds, historically interesting birds — but I try not to buy breeds that were developed in warm regions and won’t winter over well in Michigan/Ohio. Big floppy combs get frostbitten, heat loving hens don’t lay in the cold, and I like to find breeds that won’t be miserable when it’s snowy outside.
OK! That’s my little song and dance. Let me know if you have questions — or feel free to point out that your experience has been the opposite! It’s all good! lol