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chickens

    “Chickens have Teenagers Too…

    Thank Goodness They Grow Up!”

    Baby Chickens are so cute and sweet and loveable…and then…they start looking gangly, getting too big for their small coop, start wrestling and fighting for dominance, stop behaving, eating you out of house and home….sound familiar? Yes, they are now teenagers. You have to find a bigger space for them and switch their food from chick food to grower/finisher food. They don’t need heat lamps because they are making their own heat and have lots of feathers to keep them warm.

    Chicken Teenagers

    As your Chicken Teens begin to age they love to check out grassy spaces, so we us like to use a chicken tractor. Chicken tractors are small coops with wheels, which make it easy to move around once they eat the grass underneath the coop.

    Chicken Tractor

    Its only 4-5 months from hatchlings to egg laying…so a proper coop should be researched during the teenage weeks. How big a coop depends on how many chickens you want to house. You will need one nest for every 4 hens. In our coop, we have 8 nests, so technically, we could house 32 hens, but we only have about 18-20.

    Our Stoney Creek Chicken Coop

    Chickens also need free range area or a fenced in yard to roam around in that is safe from predators. We have hawks which nest on our property, so we have a 6 ft. high fenced enclosure of 300 square feet with netting on top to prevent hawks or other predators (raccoons, mink, etc.) from entering.

    Nest boxes can be filled with hay, straw, indoor, outdoor carpet, and pine shavings, but my personal favorite is the plastic mats bought from any farm store or hatchery catalog (Murray McMurray is the one we use) that you simply spray off to clean. The mats last us about 5 years….very durable. The mats will keep eggs from breaking when multiple hens go in and out of the box laying and tends to keep the eggs somewhat cleaner too.

    Chicken Nesting Mat

    Now the Chickens Can Lay Eggs!

    So now you are ready for egg laying! Be sure to upgrade their food to layer feed, because it has extra ingredients to help with producing better egg shells. It also does not hurt to add some oyster shell to their diet, since that will make stronger egg shells. Some people put a fake egg in the box to encourage production at first…they swear it works. Some of their first eggs may be very small…that usually means there is no yolk…don’t worry that is normal. Some of the beginning eggs may be EXTRA LARGE…don’t worry, those are twin yolks.

    Now that you are an old hand at raising chickens and gathering all the eggs, you have to start thinking about the future… These hens will lay continuously for 50-60 weeks at full speed (260 – 280 eggs annually per chicken) and then they will go through what’s called “The Molt”. Molting begins at about 60 weeks of laying and the chickens will start losing their feathers (not all, just quite a few). Their bodies will start to make new pin feathers and will use all of their body energy to do that instead of laying eggs…so egg production goes down to about half speed. The Molt lasts about 4-6 weeks and by the end of it they will start laying better, but never at top speed again. This is usually the time period that are planning for by ordering new chicks which should be about ready to lay eggs by the time the molt happens. We then humanely slaughter the molting hens and rooster for the freezer. Since these are mainly egg laying chickens, they do not have a lot of meat, so we consider them stewing chickens for chicken and dumplings, soups and pot pies.

    So goes the sustainable circle of life for our chickens.

    If you would like to learn more about Farm Animals and Sustainable Farm Living, check out our book, “Dirt Rich” available on Amazon, Kindle and www.stoneycreek.farm

    Best Sustainable Farm Animal – Chickens

    We are now in week 6 of our 2017 Sustainable Living Topics and it’s time to start talking about farm animals.  Chickens are definitely one of my favorites and provide multiple resources for your (urban) farmstead at a minimal cost: 1. Eggs provide food high in protein 2. Chicken manure (properly composted) provides some of the best organic material for gardens 3. Chickens provide pest control by eating bugs from yards and gardens 4. Chicken meat is high in protein 5. Chicken eggs provide a source of income…everyone wants farm fresh eggs and don’t mind paying a premium for them 6. Chickens provide enjoyment…they are so fun to watch, pet and feed!

    So how do you get started?  That depends on the area you have available for your birds…  If you have a backyard in an HOA or live in the city, then you will need to make sure your HOA rules or city ordinances allow chickens (and how many).  None will allow roosters, because of the noise factor (crowing at 2 am).  Otherwise, you can have a rooster, but be aware that roosters really do crow at really weird hours and you don’t need a rooster unless you want to fertilize eggs for hatching baby chicks. We do not hatch our own eggs; we order our baby chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery (https://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com )…and have for years.  McMurray guarantees their baby chicks just in case something happens during shipment by the Post Office.  In all the many years that we have used McMurray, we have never had to use the guarantee policy until recently.  We ordered 30 chicks a few weeks ago and they must have gotten cold in delivery or jostled badly, because we had 7 that did not make it.  McMurray credited us for these poor baby chicks…no questions asked.  They have superior customer service, so as you can tell, we highly recommend them (and this is not a paid or solicited advertisement from them).  They are just good business folks. The chicks come in a well ventilated box marked ‘fragile’ and ‘this side up’ and are shipped overnight.  When we order the chicks we do order them to be vaccinated for coccidiosis because we continue to raise them in the same area year to year, but that is a personal preference.

    They keep each other warm with their body heat and they hatchery provides come gel food in the bottom of the box to sustain them until they make it to their new home. Once the chicks get to their new home, you will need to have a waterer, feeder and a heat lamp that will keep the chicks at least 95-100  degrees.  You can reduce the temperature by 5 degrees after the 1st week and thereafter.  It is extremely important that the new chicks are kept warm the first couple of weeks because they do not tolerate cold at all.

    If new chicks are stressed, occasionally, you will see something called ‘pasty butt’.  The vent (butt) will get clogged with poop, turn brown and cake on, which eventually doesn’t allow for little gal/guy to poop very well.  Just as you would clean your own baby’s bottom, you simply use a wet warm cloth to clean off the caked on poop, so that it doesn’t cause problems for the little one later on.  Be sure to be gentle…they are already stressed.  Afterwards, I hold them for a minute and stroke their back to make them feel safe, and put them under the lamp for their little butts to dry.  Ok, maybe I nurture a little too much…. Now, you just play with them and watch them grow.  The more time you can spend with them, the more gentle they will be.  I usually try to feed them out of my hand and hold them at least a few times a week.  If you have the time, it’s well worth the effort. There are many breeds to choose from and it depends on what the purpose is for the farmstead.  If you want to raise chickens solely for meat, there are meat birds like Jumbo Cornish X Rocks, or Red Ranger Broiler.  If you are wanting to raise them for eggs and meat (combination), then the Delaware breed may work for you.   For strictly egg layers you may want Rhode Island Reds or the Pearl White Leghorn. If you are like us and want to raise your farmstead birds for mainly eggs (and end of life stewing chickens) then we suggest a sex link breed called Red Star, which is considered the best brown egg layer of all the breeds.

    Red Star Hen

    A sex link chicken is one that can be identified when hatched whether it is a male or female bird.  For instance, the female Red Star has a reddish tint and the male is yellow/white.  This identification allows for an exact number of hens to be ordered rather than guessing whether it will be a rooster or hen.  On a typical order of Rhode Island Reds I would get at least 3 roosters, so we would have to either slaughter or give away the other 2 roosters…because you only need one for 20-30 hens.

    Next week we will cover more on their Life Cycle:  “Chickens have Teenagers Too…Thank Goodness They Grow Up!”

    If you would like to learn more about Farm Animals and Sustainable Farm Living, check out our book, “Dirt Rich”  available on Amazon, Kindle and www.stoneycreek.farm