What should you expect from your chicken?

Chickens can make great pets as they have personalities that endear them to owners. They are generally docile but can, however, become more aggressive during breeding times. Their lifespan averages 7 years, but can be up to 10-11 years. The average hen will lay for about 4-5 years; however, she will typically lay best within the first 2 years. The average laying cycle is approximately 24 hours. A laying hen will commonly lay about 200-240 eggs/year.

Where should I get my chicken?

Purchasing a chick from a reputable breeder or farm that is registered with the Natural Poultry Improvement Program is recommended. This program is designed to test and monitor for several diseases in poultry, including Salmonella typhoid, Salmonella enteritidis, Mycoplasma gallisepticum, Mycoplasma synoviae, Mycoplasma meleagridis, and avian influenza. For more information visit:

What should my chicken eat?

Many disorders of captive poultry are commonly related to malnutrition. As is true for other birds, all-seed diets are not balanced, nor is feeding just chicken scratch or corn. Commercial formulated diets are recommended for adult chickens. Be sure to choose the proper diet based on the type of production (i.e. layer or meat chicken). Homemade diets are not recommended as they are more likely to result in nutritional imbalances. Chickens not allowed to free range should also have access to grit. Grit should be changed regularly and consist of various sizes. Scratch grains (cracked or whole grains) can be offered, but should comprise no more than 10% of the daily ration. Laying hens should also have access to free choice, supplemental calcium (i.e. ground oyster shells, limestone, etc.) if not on a laying diet. Fresh green plants can also add nutritional diversity to the diet. As occasional treats mealworms or earthworms can be offered. Fresh, clean water should be available at all times.

Chicks should be fed a special chick feed provided in special chick feeders for the first 6 weeks. Do not feed layer food to chicks as the extra calcium can predispose to certain disease conditions (such as kidney disease). At 8 weeks of age they can be gradually transitioned to a growing ration (or 16% protein) until they are 18 weeks of age. Shallow dishes for water should be used so the small chicks don't drown in large water containers.

How should chickens be housed?

All chickens should be provided with a warm, dry, and safe environment. Chickens are most commonly housed in outdoor groups. Chicken coops should be constructed of strong, easily cleanable materials. A well-ventilated coop is very important as poor ventilation can predispose birds to many diseases. Laying hens will need a minimum of approximately 1.5 square feet/bird for an inside run. Coops should also prevent access by predators (foxes, raccoons, skunks, coyotes, feral domestic animals, etc.). Indoor substrates include shavings, sawdust, straw, or recycled paper pellets to a depth of approximately 6-8 inches. Substrates should be changed routinely. Nest boxes should also be provided for laying hens with bedding of straw or shavings. One box per 4 hens is appropriate with each box measuring 12x12x12 inches. All chickens also need an elevated roosting site within the coop. Each bird should be provided with a 6-7 inch roosting site and a minimum of 2inch diameter perches. Chickens should also be allowed an outdoor run or free ranging during the day for foraging. Baby chicks should be housed separately with a supplemental heat source until they are 10 weeks old.

Access to electricity is also recommended for chicken coops to provide supplemental lighting during winter months. To maintain year round egg production, 14-16 hours of light is needed.


The state of Wisconsin has required all livestock premises to be registered since 2004. Premises include farms, both hobby and commercial. Backyard poultry flocks fall under this regulation. This means even in residential areas your pet/backyard chickens need to be registered. This allows the state better access for disease outbreak notification and monitoring. For further information and registration please consult:

Local laws and city codes vary and may regulate the number of chickens, roosters, and animals on a given amount of land. Please consult your local government for its laws

Does my chicken need vaccines?

It is recommended to purchase chicks that have been vaccinated for Mareks Disease. These are most commonly attained from reputable breeders or hatcheries. Vaccines in adult chickens for backyard or pet usage are not routinely performed.

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