7 things you didn't know about raising guinea fowl

Way back when I first started raising guinea fowl there wasn't too much information available about them, except for exactly 1 book. I had to learn as I went. As I learned more about guinea hens, there were a lot of things that surprised me along the way. People always say that guineas are great watchdogs, their eggs are delicious and they eat ticks like crazy. 

That is all true.

There are a few other things that people don't talk about though, which is weird because they're not all bad! It's just surprising because you assume that other than the noise, guineas would be the same as chickens. They're not!

Chicken breeds for beginners

Normally I write a lot of "how I do things" sort of posts but this one is going to be different. This is about how I wish I had done things when I first started raising chickens. Or more specifically, which breeds I wish I would have started with for my first flock. Some chicken breeds are just friendlier, lay more eggs, or are easier to handle. 

Cochins for first chickens

Unfortunately I did not take that into consideration with most of my flock choices! So while I picked my first flock by looks and availability, here's how I wish I would have picked my flock. 

One of the most important things for beginning chicken keepers is friendly chickens. As you're raising your first flock you will be handling them a lot. This can be intimidating if it's your first time doing all this stuff and your chickens are skittish and flighty! It's much easier to hold a calm chicken.

Another important thing (obviously) is egg production. Some hens lay a lot more eggs than other breeds do. When deciding how many hens to get for egg laying you also need to consider how many eggs each hen will lay. Some breeds lay almost every day, others go broody so often they hardly lay at all. Some hens quit laying the second the weather turns cold and others will lay regularly all winter long.

Related reading: Chicken breeds to raise for pretty egg colors

Treating pendulous crop in chickens

Today I want to talk about an issue that I have been dealing with in one of my hens. I noticed one day that this hens crop was much larger than usual and it seemed full even early in the morning. This is a condition called pendulous crop and it the sooner it is treated, the easier it is to treat.

chicken with pendulous crop

The crop is the portion of a chickens digestive tract that holds their food before it moves down to the proventriculus and gizzard. As they eat during the day, the crop fills up. By bedtime the crop is pretty full. In fact, it is visible on most chickens at this point. Overnight as the food digests, the crop slowly empties. By morning the crop should be completely flat and undetectable under the feathers.

Pendulous crop can be identified by the crop not fully emptying as the chicken sleeps at night. In the morning the crop looks just as full as it does at night. Pendulous crop is not painful for the chicken, but is causing damage to the muscles so it needs cared for as soon as possible.

Tracking egg production in hens

I keep track of all the eggs my chickens lay. I started several years back when I was hatching almost every egg they laid and I've done it ever since because I find it fascinating. It's interesting to me how daylight and age affects their laying and sometimes the weather does too. I started keeping tracking on a big whiteboard in my brooder room, but now I use a printable record sheet.

Chart for tracking how many eggs chickens lay each month.

I wish I could say I use some fancy high tech spreadsheet, but I couldn't make a spreadsheet if you paid me! lol No, I prefer to write my egg total in by hand every day. I also find it quicker than turning on a computer just to write in an egg number.

Though I still log my information the old fashioned way, I find there is a lot you can learn from keeping track of how many eggs your hens lay each day....and I like the way I can shuffle between the papers to compare numbers. 

The egg production sheet I use is for a whole year. Once you start keeping track this way you can compare months on a more equal basis. For instance comparing October of this year with October of last year will give you a better view than comparing this October with this June.

Everything you need to know about nest boxes

One of the most important features in a chicken coop is the nest boxes. Since then hens use the nest boxes almost every day you need to make sure the nest boxes you choose meet a few criteria. They need to be big enough for the hens, but not too big that several try to cram in at once. They need to be comfortable for the hens, afford them some privacy to lay their eggs, yet still be easy to access. 

Nest box with hen in it

Nest boxes also need to be up off the ground, but not too high and definitely not directly under a roost! Plus you need to have enough so hens can spread out.

Wow, that makes nest boxes sound so complicated! They're really not, in fact they're not even totally necessary. Chickens will lay their eggs on the floor in the corner if that is their only option. The problem though is that there's a lot of poop on the floor of a chicken coop, and it will end up on the eggs. 

Plus chickens like to scratch around in their bedding for pieces of feed they might have missed, and any eggs on the floor could get broken. You definitely want to invest in some nest boxes.

Chicken nest boxes

Whether you make or buy your nest boxes (and I've done both) they need to fill a few criteria for the whole flock to use them effectively. So how do you decide which nest boxes to get, how many you need and where to put them? Well...let's figure it all out starting with how many you need.

Plastic nest box on wall of chicken coop

How many nest boxes do you need? 

The 'general rule of thumb' is one nest box for every 4 laying hens. With an answer like that you'd think that would be the end of it. It's just a simple math equation right? I've got 12 hens, get 3 nest boxes. 15 hens? Get 5 nest boxes to be on the safe side.

Except....hens don't exactly play by the rules when it comes to nest boxes. Sometimes they all want to lay their egg in the same nest box. Other times they don't want to use any nest boxes. *sigh*

So it's often difficult to figure out how many nest boxes to put in a chicken coop because you don't want to waste time and money on nest boxes that won't be used, or have the hens overcrowded in the nest boxes if several want to lay at once.

Overcrowding is bad because when 2 or more hens try to cram into a nest box, they don't exactly fit. This can cause the eggs to get broken or create hairline cracks can lead to egg eating. Cracked eggs ooze and once the hens realize there's food in those eggs, it could be hard to get them to stop eating them.

How big should nest boxes be?

For a standard sized hen, a nest box should be around 12" X 12" or slightly larger. This is sitting space obviously. Some nest boxes have open tops and other are enclosed. I tend to like them taller than most but I don't think my chickens care at all. 

Does the nest box need a perch?

When a hen enters the nest box she needs to fly up from the coop floor. It's easier for her to enter and exit the nest box if she can step onto a perch first. It can be difficult for her to land perfectly on the lip of a nest box as chickens aren't the most adept at flying. 

It can be as simple as a thick wooden dowel mounted a few inches out from the front of the nest box. Some premade nest boxes come with perches in front of them.

Why you need a sloped roof on nest boxes:

You want to choose or build nest boxes with a sloped roof. This prevents sleeping on top of the nest boxes. Our first bank of nest boxes had a flat roof and the chickens slept of top of it all the time. Drove me batty! lol 

It didn't help that it was made of wood which is harder to keep clean than metal or plastic. Definitely go for metal or plastic nest boxes if you can. They are much easier to clean! 

You could also choose nest boxes without a solid top. These types of nest boxes don't always need a perch in front of them as it's easier for the hens to land on and jump down from them when there's no roof.

Where to mount nest boxes:

Some hens like more privacy than others. I personally have found that the nest boxes that have more privacy get more use. Try to situate the nest boxes in a quieter area, or out of direct line of the door if possible.

For instance I have 4 nest boxes in one of my coops. Two of them are mounted right across from the main door, the other two are on the same wall as the door but back towards the corner. Obviously those second two are more private. I find eggs in those 2 daily and only rarely in the ones across from the door. 

Both sets of nest boxes are mounted exactly the same, equal heights and all. The girls just prefer those 2 to lay in, though if I ever catch a chicken sleeping in the nest boxes, it's the ones facing the door.

Hang nest boxes lower than roost

Make sure the lowest roost is higher up then the highest nest box, or lower the nest boxes. Chickens love to sleep up high and unfortunately if the nest box is higher then the roosts they'll choose to sleep there. 

Always make sure the roosts are higher than the nest boxes and that there is enough room for all the chickens to roost at once. This helps to keep the nest boxes clean inside, since chickens tend to poop in their sleep.

Nest box bedding: 

When the nest box is full of straw or shavings the eggs have a lower chance of breaking on the bottom or sides of the nest box. It's also more comfortable for the hen. Make sure each nest has a few inches of clean bedding.

I take a peek into the nest box each time I collect eggs and make sure there is plenty of soft bedding inside. Hens tend to kick some out as they get comfortable, so you'll lose some daily. Lots of soft bedding keeps the eggs from rolling around on the hard bottom of the nest box and possibly cracking into each other. 

I keep a bucket of fresh bedding in the coop to add more as needed. I prefer wood shavings or straw for nest box filler. These two are the most absorbent choices, and straw can be matted down so it's harder to kick out.

Collect eggs often: 

Collecting eggs at least once a day and sometimes more often (depending on season) keeps the nest box less cluttered. When a hen sits down to lay an egg she shifts around the other eggs to get comfortable. Most hens are gentle, but some bang the eggs together enough to cause hairline cracks.

Cracked and seeping eggs make a mess contributing to the dirty eggs problem and can even cause egg eating to start!

To recap, nest boxes should be:

  • 12" X 12" minimum size.
  • At least 1 for every 4 hens.
  • Hang the nest boxes lower than roosts.
  • Place them in a location with privacy.
  • Sloped roof and a perch on nest box.
  • Keep filled with soft bedding.
  • Collect eggs daily.

If you get new nest boxes it can sometimes take a few days for hens to start using them, but once they do it's usually a monkey-see monkey-do situation. Once the first hen gets the nerve to try them out, they all will! 

Want to know more about choosing or building your first chicken coop? Check out Chicken coops and bedding how to's.


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