Category Archives: Chickens

From Peepers to Laying Hens – Right On Track

When we got our new chicks this past April I estimated it would be some time in August that they would start laying eggs. My estimate was based on our previous experience with Buff Orpingtons; they have pretty consistently started laying eggs at around 18 weeks of age.

Yesterday when my husband gave me the eggs he had collected I was thrilled to discover that the young ones (or at least one of them) had began laying.

If you are not familiar with raising chickens, you may be wondering how I concluded that the young ones were laying by just seeing the eggs. Nope – hens do not sign their eggs or even leave a trade mark. Without monitoring the nest boxes all day long we have no way of knowing who lays what eggs. (We don’t watch the nest boxes all day.)

But…

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when a hen first starts laying she lays mini-eggs, eggs that are much smaller than normal. In the photo above the smallest egg is from one peepers turned laying hen.

I suspect that it is one of our Buff Orpingtons who gave us this egg, because it is much like the mini eggs we have gotten from Buffs in the past, but the truth is we have never raised Austrolorps before so I am uncertain how soon to expect them to start laying or what their eggs will look like. Some of the other breeds we have raised have produced mini eggs that are much smaller than this one and when opened they only have a small dot of yolk while the rest is egg white. When opened this egg contained both yolk and white that were proportionate to a regular egg.

Today my husband brought home a second mini egg which makes me wonder if a second hen started laying or the same hen gave us small eggs two days in a row. I expect over the next few weeks we will have several mini eggs as all of the girls become regular with their laying.

It’s exciting that our “peepers” are growing up as we are counting on them to keep us in fresh eggs through the winter. 🙂

Thanks for reading. Until next time – be well.

Chickens Come Home To Roost

The idiom “chickens come home to roost”  may be difficult to understand. It is used to relate the fact that actions will always have a consequence and normally applied in a negative way. https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/chickens+come+home+to+roost Making a connection between chickens roosting and consequences to your actions can be quite a stretch. In order to make this connection there is one thing that you need to realize – chickens always come home to roost.

I admit this was one of my fears when we first started raising chickens – how are we going to get all on those chickens in the coop every night? Well it really doesn’t take much training for the chickens to learn that the coop is their nighttime home.  If chicks are raised by a hen then the hens does all of the training. When we raise chicks this is what we do – we introduce the chicks to the coop at the farm once they have feathered out, usually around four to six weeks. We set up a small pen near the coop where the chicks can spend their days.   You can read about that here. At night we can then gather them up to put them in the coop. The young chicks huddle together at night usually in one of the nest boxes. We continue this routine for about 5-7 days or until the chicks learn to get into the coop on their own. After that when darkness falls the chicks will naturally go to the coop each night. It will become their safe space.

Eventually they will outgrow the nest box, and the need to huddle together at night, and will spend their nights sleeping perched on a roost within the coop. Our coop has roosts at various heights and the chickens tend to seek out the higher roosts. It is a chicken’s instinct to roost high up at night.

We have been raising chickens on the farm for five years and it has been our experience that with few exceptions the chickens always come home to roost. Exceptions – every rule seems to have them so let me share the exceptions that we have found for this rule.

Why The Chickens Don’t Come Home To Roost:

Each night we do a head (beak) count to assure that all of the chickens have returned and are safely inside the coop. If any are missing we do a search. Occasionally we have discovered that a hen has fallen prey to a wild predator and we have found either a headless body or a pile of feathers.

On other occasions we have found that one or more hen(s) have gotten into one of our fenced garden areas because someone, either intentionally or (oops) unintentionally, left the gate open. If given enough time they will usually find their way back to the gate and out of the garden, but when darkness is closing in their instinct is to head in the direction of their coop (the gate is in the opposite direction) and they keep running into the fence trying to get home. (You may have heard that chickens are stupid.)

One other thing that we have experienced, that is really only a partial exception, is when the a hen decides that rather go into the coop she would rather roost in one of the trees outside the coop for the night. The reason that this is only a partial exception is that we have never had a hen try to roost in a tree elsewhere on the farm. They first return to the coop area, then fly up onto what ever tree branch they can get to. Possibly because the branches are higher than the roosts inside the coop, they think this is a good option. It is not! Some nighttime predators can climb trees and we have lost a couple of hens when we have allowed them to roost in a tree at night.

There is one other scenario that, although we have not experienced it, I think is worth mentioning. It is a broody hen. A hen may lay several (or even a whole bunch of) eggs in a secluded area and when she thinks the time is right will begin to brood (sit on the eggs). She will not leave the nest at night to return to the coop. I have read stories of hens disappearing and then showing up three weeks later with a bunch of chicks. What a surprise that would be.

Now if you were thinking about raising free range chickens but worried about having to play chicken rodeo every night, do not fear – chickens come home to roost.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

 

 

 

 

What I Have Learned About Raising Chickens – Peep, Peep, Peep-Peep

If you walk into the local farm store this time of year you can generally hear them before you see them. Peep, Peep, Peep-peep, peep, peep-peep…………………………………It’s such a precious sound you can’t help but go take a look. If you are not in the market for chicks taking a look might not be a good idea because when you see how cute they are you will certainly want to take one or a dozen home.

Buying chicks from the farm store was actually what my husband planned when he went there on Tuesday. After some debate we decided to replace part of the flock we  lost. Even though the remaining flock is currently giving us between 8 and 12 eggs a day, far more than we need for our own use, most of the hens that remain are between 3 and 5 years old. The main reason we did decide to get more is because for about 6 to 8 weeks during the winter egg production slows down substantially. This past winter we observed that it was primarily our first year layers that were still laying eggs. During that time period they continued to give us enough eggs to meet our needs.  In looking ahead to next winter we decided that getting more chicks now was a good move.

He had to go to two different stores in order to find the breed(s) we wanted.

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Our first choice was Buff Orpingtons. Of the four breeds that we have raised so far these are our favorite. In addition to being a hardy breed, good layers and good foragers, they are docile and friendly.

They can be quite entertaining when we opt for an evening of chicken TV.

We also decided on a second breed that we have never raised before.IMG_3856Black Australorps. This breed is supposed to be much like the Orpington except harder to spell. Just kidding, they supposedly lay more eggs than the Orpington. They certainly are adorable chicks.

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Peep, peep, peep-peep, peep,peep, peep-peep, peep……………………………………

Acting as surrogate parents we got out a galvanized stock tank that works well as a brooder for the first couple of weeks. We used wood shavings for bedding and gave them food and water. I dipped each beak in the water because I was not certain if they had learned to drink yet. We use a heat lamp clamped to the stock tank to keep the chicks warm enough. I also checked each chick’s butt to see if they had poop on it. This is a condition called pasty butt, and if the poop blocks the chicks vent it can cause death. I did find two of the buffs with this condition, so I used a warm wet washcloth to soften the dried poop and remove it.

My husband always likes to make the chicks a little playhouse out of a Silk carton. He cuts a hole in a side so the chicks can go in and out. So far this group seems more fascinated by pecking at it. It’s pretty amazing how much noise those little beaks can make when they are pecking on something hard. It can actually sound like someone knocking on the door. They have started to hop on top of the carton, and I’m sure it won’t be long before the venture inside. It’s surprising how many of them can cuddle up inside that carton.

In about 2 weeks I expect we will see the peepers craning their necks trying to see the world beyond the stock tank. They will also have a lot of their feathers and be discovering their wings. They will be able to get on top of the container that holds their water and attempt to fly out of the brooder. Some might succeed. At this time we will have to move them to what I’ll refer to as our second stage brooder. I don’t have any pictures of this so I will give you an update with pictures when the move occurs.

Things I Have Learned About Raising Chickens – Don’t Put All of Your Eggs In One Basket

Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Metaphorically I think this is great advice. I believe it is very important to have several ways to meet our needs and accomplish tasks or goals. When you hear this phrase you might immediately think of financial investing, but I don’t think the implications should be limited to saving or making money. This should also include things like heating the house, cooking a meal, and transportation; the list is endless.

On the other hand I am not convinced that this is always a best practice when going to the coop to collect eggs. While it makes sense that if you happen to drop one basket with all the eggs you stand to lose them all, carrying more than one basket with a couple eggs each seems like it could be even more risky. For example if you have the eggs split between two or more baskets when you return to the house and have to open the door you will probably try holding both or all of baskets with one hand. Now how safe are those eggs?

When we collect eggs we actually put them in more than one basket. Our egg basket(s) looks like this.

 

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The reasons for the two baskets like this is the basket with the handle is easy to carry but we often have just a few eggs to collect and they roll around in the bottom of the larger basket. In the smaller basket with less room to roll the eggs are better protected. Crazy as it may seem, it works for us.

Whether you use one basket, several baskets or a basket inside of a basket, the important thing to remember is to use a basket. DON”T PUT EGGS IN YOUR POCKET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thanks for reading.

 

Things I Have Learned About Raising Chickens – Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?

Let me start by saying that I am no authority on chickens (or anything else for that matter). When writing these posts I am simply sharing what I have learned through experience.

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All joking aside – Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?  I find the answer to this dilemma to be nearly as simple as the lame joke that’s been told over and over throughout the decades. The answer is the chicken crossed the road because it could. Chickens have absolutely no natural boundaries, left on their own they just wander aimlessly and tirelessly scratching and pecking. The world, as much as they can access, is their playground and their dinner table. Chickens are not trainable, they are not obedient, and they have seemingly short attention spans so giving them something to entice them to stay where you want them will only work for a short time.

If there is somewhere you don’t want the chickens to go you must set up a boundary.

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In our case crossing the road is not the worst case scenario. Our neighbors haven’t complained about the chickens foraging in their yard, and drivers who encounter the chickens crossing tend to yield the right of way to our girls. There are, however, some things the chickens find especially enticing, such as freshly worked soil, wood mulch, and straw, and these things can become a problem. Chickens are quick to wander into the freshly planted garden and scratch up all of our hard work. They will dine on the grass seed we just planted, and rearranging the flower bed while digging through a fresh layer of mulch is something a chicken can not resist. It doesn’t take long at all for chickens to destroy all of that hard work.

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In 2012 when we began planning to raise chickens on our farm we first built the chicken yard. Our chicken yard is what I consider prime real-estate as it is built in a grove of beautiful mature Shagbark Hickory trees. The dimensions are 90 ft. by 45 ft. so the chickens have plenty of room to roam. The four foot high welded wire fence is generally sufficient to keep the chickens  in, although we do have an occasional escapee. In addition to the shade provided by the Hickory trees the chicken yard also had a wide swath of shrubs that not only offers shade from the sun and protection from the wind, it helps to protect them from overhead predators.  Even with all these amenities our chicken yard is not perfect. It does not have the assortment of grasses, clover, plantain and other plants that are found elsewhere on our farm. Thus as much as possible we allow our chickens to roam the farm and forage for their food. We have fence around all of our garden areas that keeps the chickens out but to be fair the fence serves to keep deer out as well.

We have accepted the fact that the mulch in the prayer garden may not always stay pretty and neat, and that we will inevitably find ourselves herding chickens back to our side of the road, but the lower feed costs, the delicious and nutritious eggs, and the insect control provided by our free range chickens https://www.healthambition.com/caged-versus-free-range-eggs-nutritionally/  are certainly worth it.

Thanks for reading and follow along so you don’t miss future posts is this series – “Don’t Put All Of You Eggs In One Basket” and “Chickens Come Home To Roost”.