Cornish Cross backyard chickens

The Chickens Have Large Talons — 20 Facts You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Raising Chickens

Do the chickens have large talons?

First of all, I know I’m showing my age by referencing Napoleon Dynamite. Second, this article is not intended to share expertise in raising backyard chickens. There are plenty of highly informative chicken articles out there written by folks with far more experience.

However, if you’ve ever wondered what goes on in your neighbor’s coop and are too shy to ask, or if you’re still not clear on the difference between roosters, hens, and chickens after watching this Seinfeld clip, or if you just want to know if the damn birds have large talons, then read on, my friend.

My experience raising chickens

Jason and I just finished raising meat birds, also called poultry birds or broilers, for the first time. We’ve each done this at separate farms before we met. However, those instances involved teams of farmers who knew what they were doing. This was the first time we raised poultry from chick to freezer on our own.

We’ve also had layers (hens that lay eggs) for about two years. We adopted the layers from neighbors who moved away. Last year, we let the layers hatch chicks and raise them naturally.

After a couple years of sharing stories about my various flocks with friends and on Instagram, I’ve received tons of questions about raising chickens. While the fact that I’m not an expert bears repeating, I’d love to share some things I’ve learned throughout the process.

20 Things you never knew you needed to know about raising chickens

1. Laying birds and meat birds are all chickens, they’re just raised differently

Meat birds are bred to eat a lot and grow quickly. Their typical lifespan is 6-8 weeks. They grow so fast, ours had bald spots as their bodies grew beyond their baby chick fluff before their feathers came in.

2. Most meat birds that people raised on homesteads and small farms are the same breed

They’re called Cornish Cross, and they look like Foghorn Leghorn.

Cornish Cross backyard chickens
Meat birds free-ranging on the farm

Every article I read used the Cornish Cross breed. After raising them myself, I question how “natural” it is to breed chickens for gluttony and growth potential. These birds are obsessed with food and water. In fact, you have to remove their feeder for at least 12 hours a day to prevent them from overeating. This is not an issue with layers.

3. Yes, the chickens have large talons

This was proven by the scratches that covered my forearms during chicken-raising season. The birds would swarm me whenever I refilled their food and water. After they were about a month old, they were big enough to perch on my arm, and many of them did!

4. Chickens are absolutely related to dinosaurs

No question. They are tiny velociraptors.

Not only do the meat birds showcase this with their ravenous behavior, but my old rooster, Terrence (may his valiant soul rest in peace) used to make screeching noises that scared the bejeezus out of me.

Terrence, the most handsome, kind, and courageous rooster-raptor I’ve ever met

5. Chickens have an extraordinary ability to heal themselves

I learned this by witnessing it firsthand. While moving the chicken tractor (kind of like a mobile coop) one of the meat birds got their leg trapped beneath a heavy piece of wood. The leg swelled up and turned purple, and I thought the chick was a goner. It hardly moved.

I put the chick in a small box with food and water to keep the other birds from trampling it. While it could hardly stand up when I put it in there, less than three hours later, it was trying to jump out. I determined the chick would likely live, and set out to buy supplies for a homemade chicken splint.

With its leg splinted, the little guy took off, hopping on one foot like nothing had happened. I changed the dressing every day, and was amazed by how quickly it healed. By the end of the week, the bruising and swelling had gone away, and the bird was almost walking normally.

6. Meat birds can (theoretically) be kept as pets

Over the course of nursing the chick mentioned above back to health, I got attached. Though he was healing quickly, he was about half the size of the other birds. I think it was because his injury prevented him from pushing his way to the feeder during their frenzied eating.

Considering his size and his limp, I started calling the injured bird Tiny Tim. This was before I knew he was, in fact, a rooster (see next point for clarification on this).

After bonding with and naming him, I decided I wanted to keep Tim as a pet. A quick google search revealed that some people do keep meat birds as pets.

Sadly, my hopes for keeping Tim vanished when I tried introducing him to my laying flock. Not only did he try to eat alllllll their food, but he wasn’t made welcome in the coop. (See my later point on how chickens are bullies.) Anyway, he caught up to the others in size by the time we were ready to process them, and I couldn’t pick him out from the rest of the flock.

7. Roosters are male chickens

Young roosters are called cockerels, though I prefer “little roos.” Hens are female chickens. To answer Frank Constanza’s question, the rooster (there’s usually only one) has sex with all the hens. All the birds are chickens.

8. Crazy chicken lady is the new crazy cat lady

I love my chickens.

My hens are my girls. I can often be found “talking” to them, and my favorite bird, Brenda, lets me pet her. Even after they stop laying eggs, I’ll keep them as pets.

Terrence, my rooster who passed away over the winter, was brought indoors for three days to transition in peace and comfort. Now, he’s buried in a place of honor in the garden, covered by calendula and a tombstone.

While I might sound like a savage for processing a chicken I named and cared for, I actually have a tender heart for all my birds. I think it’s important to really understand where your food comes from. When it comes to poultry, I know I can give my birds a better quality of life and more humane end than any factory farm ever will.

9. Chicken feet are good for you and your fur babies

One of the best parts of raising your own meat birds is you get to keep the feet! Chicken feet aren’t as popular in the USA as in other parts of the world, so they’re not easy to come by here. However, if you have a dog, you may know these babies sell for $10 apiece in pet stores!

Chicken feet are rich in collagen, the protein that keeps your skin firm and joints healthy. Dehydrated chicken feet make excellent natural joint health treats for older dogs!

Humans can eat chicken feet, too. I have no idea how to prepare them for human consumption aside from putting them in broth — which would be very good!

10. Hen’s don’t need a rooster to lay eggs

Roosters do have sex with hens, but this step isn’t necessary for egg production. We haven’t replaced our rooster since Terrence’s passing, and we’re still getting lots of eggs!

11. Roosters are good for other things

A rooster crows for many reasons, but primarily as a warning to the hens is they sense danger — like the great ball of fire that rises in the east every morning.

Not only do they crow, but a good rooster protects his flock. He’ll fight off intruders and potential egg-thieves, and generally try to keep the hens away from threatening situations.

One time, Jason and I forgot to close the little coop door at night. When Jason went out around 3 am to shut it, he found Terrence laying in front of the door, blocking the entrance with his body. What a good rooster!

12. Still, there’s a reason many farmers cull their roosters

Roosters can be violent toward each other and other animals, especially males. This is why cock fighting is a thing. If you try to disrupt a rooster from doing something you don’t want him to do, he may attack you.

If you have more than one rooster, they’ll probably fight. It can get ugly. They’ll likely fight to the death.

Roosters can also be overly randy with the hens. A horny rooster among too-few hens is a bad thing for the health of your flock.

When a rooster wants to mate, he makes it happen. Roosters don’t care about consent. He’ll chase the hen, dig his talons into her back, bite her head to keep her still, and have his way. (Note, Terrence was never like this, but he was also 8-years-old when I adopted him.)

It’s disturbing to watch. This is why I ultimately made the call to cull the three roosters we hatched last summer.

When a hen does want to mate, she walks in front of the rooster, bows down, and lets him mount her. This was how Terrence mated with our hens, so I was horrified to see the way the younger roosters did it.

If you decide to keep multiple roosters, make sure you have lots of space and plenty of hens.

Rehoming unwanted roosters is another option. We did this with one rooster. However, if the fighting and raping gets to be too much, culling them may be the most ethical approach.

13. Just because an egg is fresh from the hen doesn’t guarantee it’s safe to eat

You have to check each egg with the “water test” before eating. If the egg sinks to the bottom of a bowl of water, it’s good to eat. Eggs that stand upright should be boiled, and those that float to the top are compost.

After you water test an egg, or rinse it, you wash off the protective cuticle that surrounds it. Because of this, rinsed eggs must go in the refrigerator.

People have asked about whether it’s okay to eat fertilized eggs. My answer — if you’re collecting eggs daily, the fertilized one wouldn’t have had a chance to develop an embryo. If you crack the egg into a pan, it’ll look and taste exactly like all other eggs.

If a chicken has been sitting on an egg for several days, it’s probably not good to eat anymore — fertilized or not.

15. “Like a chicken with its head cut off” is a saying for a reason

Chickens spasm hard when they die.

The best way to go about it, in my opinion, is to use a restraining cone. That’s an affiliate link, and I honestly recommend this product if you’re planning on slaughtering a chicken for any reason. Please don’t try to do this without a cone. Just… trust me.

16. Chickens are great at managing pests

Chickens serve as natural pest abatement! We keep ours near the house because they love eating ticks. They also eat beetles, snails, and slugs I pull off my plants in the garden. Win-win!

17. Chickens can be cannibalistic

I haven’t seen this, but I read about it. To avoid cannibalism in your flock, it’s crucial to make sure the chickens have access to plenty of protein-rich food. This is especially true in the winter, when they might be cooped up.

One thing I have seen is my layers eating their eggs. After the chicks hatched last year, the hens ate all the eggs that didn’t hatch. They also ate the shells from the baby chicks.

18. They’re also bullies

Chickens are hierarchical. They have a “pecking order.” This usually comes into play around access to resources like food and water. One hen might peck another to get her to back off the feed.

They can also be straight-up mean girls for no clear reason.

This brings us back to the story about Brenda bullying Tiny Tim when I tried introducing him to the laying flock. I didn’t just toss him in there and walk away. I left him in the layer’s foraging area in an enclosed cage for three days so they could get familiar with one another. Still, bullying is to be expected.

Brenda has been the victim of bullying herself. Hurt birds hurt birds, right?

Fortunately for us, the problem bird was picked off by a hawk shortly thereafter. Nature works itself out.

19. Chickens bathe in dirt

It’s true. Dust baths are a crucial part of good bird hygiene. Chickens sit in a pile of dry, powdery dirt and kick dust all over themselves to stay clean. If you keep chickens, it’s important to provide them with a place to dust bathe.

20. And, finally, chickens are racist

You know how they say, birds of a feather flock together? It’s because chickens are racist.

My original flock

In the above photo, you can see the original flock we adopted. There’s five silkies, one big hen (I don’t know her breed!), and Terrence, the noble rooster. As you can see, there’s one black silkie and three white ones (only two remain). the red silkie is Brenda, and the red-gold big bird is Honey.

These guys basically separated themselves into two smaller flocks. All the red birds (Brenda, Honey, and Terrence) hung out together, while the black and white birds formed their own clique. Among the silkies, Brenda was always picked on, and I think it’s because she’s not black or white. Fortunately, she’s besties with Honey, who rules the roost due to her large size.

I hope you found this post helpful in deciding whether or not to pursue raising backyard chickens. Even if you’re not interested in getting a flock of your own, I hope you learned something new!

6 thoughts on “The Chickens Have Large Talons — 20 Facts You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Raising Chickens”

  1. This post was so interesting and entertaining! I loved it all! I have never seen a black silkie before. Nifty! 🙂 The self-healing aspect was intriguing to me. Thanks! 🙂

    1. I’m so glad you liked it. Thank you 😊
      It just occurred to me that the high amount of collagen in the legs might have something to do with the rapid healing ❤️‍🩹 🐓

  2. I know the deal with them and their heads cut off…crazy, huh? Gross! And in my squeamish girly voice, YOU do the killing? I would never be successful at farming. Not for survival anyways. Informative post delivered with the right amount of humor. Well done.

    1. It’s a team effort 😆 Jason does the killing and plucking and I do the cleaning/field dressing. I have never killed an animal and don’t think I could do it properly. To ensure the least suffering, it’s best to use one strong, swift stroke.

      I think each of us prefers our own job and neither envies the other 😝

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