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So You Want To Raise Backyard Chickens: 5 of a 5 Part Series

Well the flock will be one year old in June.  We have survived our first Northeast Winter and we just just hatched our own eggs.  I think it is now time that I write the final chapter in my guide to raising chickens. I've touched upon these topics now and then with some of the blogs over the past few months.  For some of these topics, I am going to refer to previous posts as added references for you.  I am by no means an expert in keeping chickens.  I am also positive that I am not going to cover all the ins and outs of keeping backyard chickens.  However, I do know what I have discovered along our journeys and I am happy to share them with you.

EGG LAYING

Most pullets will begin laying eggs around 20 weeks.  However, don't be surprised if you are waiting until 6 months of age for your first egg.  Larger breeds take longer to get there.  Remember, you will need one nesting box per four chickens.  Often, one box turns out to be everyone's favorite.  It is not uncommon that I find two chickens in the same box laying eggs, while the other boxes remain empty!

Once chickens reach 20 weeks of age, make sure that you have plenty of calcium available to your flock.  This will help the chickens create nice strong eggshells.  Some individuals even refeed the chickens' egg shells back to them.  Spread the egg shells on a baking sheet.  In an oven on low, dry the egg shells to remove the moisture.  Once removed from the oven and cooled, gently crush the egg shells into small unrecognizable pieces.  These can now be re-fed to the chickens.

Sometimes, though rare, you will find that one of your girls becomes egg bound. This can happen for a number of reasons. The egg becomes stuck in the vent and you will need to assist the egg out of the chicken.  If you can visualize the egg, you can help.  Wrap your chicken's head and body in a towel, keeping the back end exposed.  I find this keeps the chicken calm.  With some Vaseline, gently lubricate the egg and try to coax it out of the vent, taking great care not to break it.  There are techniques available as well if you cannot visualize the egg.   After success, you will see that the vent area will have pink tissue exposed.  The vent is prolapsed.  Apply some Neosporin and if severe, Preparation H to the vent area and place the chicken in a dark (does not stimulate egg laying) warm place to rest. Be sure to provide food and water.  After a day or so, return her to her flock.  Hopefully, the next egg she lays will be easier for her to pass.

CHICKEN DIET

You will find that your chickens love to eat kitchen scraps as well as tasty findings around the yard that they discover on their journeys.  Once pullets reach egg laying age, they should be eating layer grade food.  Roosters are fine to eat layer pellets.  It does not harm them in any way. 

Chickens love to eat apples, berries, breads, broccoli, corn, cucumbers, lettuces and greens, melons, oatmeal, rice, squash, zucchini, grapes tomatoes and pumpkins. Chickens should NOT EAT salt, citrus, processed foods from the kitchen, potato peels, avocados, sodas/carbonated beverages, chocolate, coffee/coffee grounds, garlic and onions.  They should also avoid greasy foods as well.  Kitchen scraps should always be fed in moderation.  The chickens will lay best if they primarily eat their layer pellets.  Here is a more thorough list.

I also supplement my flock's diet with food grade diatomaceous earth and I put apple cider vinegar with the mother in it in their water, 1 tablespoon per gallon, as well as electrolytes and vitamins during times of stress.  In addition, once a week, I give them organic plain yogurt. In my experience, it does not give my chickens diarrhea. It helps with preventing egg eating and also acts as another calcium source.

PREDATORS

Depending on where you live, there are many predators that would like to have your flock for their next meal.  If you are a responsible flock owner and you take proper precautions, the risk of losing one of your beloved chickens to a predator can be minimized.  Potential predators include fox, coyotes, bob cats, fisher cats, raccoons, weasels, rats, snakes and hawks.  Here are some helpful tips:

1. Use predator proof locks on all your coop’s and run’s doors.

2. Use only ½ inch hardware cloth on your coop and run. Do not use chicken wire.

3. Bury the hardware cloth 18 inches around the perimeter of your run and coop, bending the bottom portion of the buried wire out a couple of inches. This will help deter digging predators.

4. Remember to lock up your flock every night in the coop.

5. Install motion activated lighting near your coop.

4. Remember to lock up your flock every night in the coop.

5. Install motion activated lighting near your coop.

KEEPING ROOSTERS

We never intended on having a rooster.  However, because Sikie Bantams are difficult to sex, we ended up with two roosters.  Unfortunately Peanut was rehomed and Chocolate was too.   If you decide to keep a rooster,  you will need to take a few more steps to be sure that he does not become a nuisance to those around you.  I would also recommend that you check with your local laws and verify that you can keep a rooster.

Roosters are noisy and do not crow only during the daylight hours. Roosters will crow at any time of the day, even in the middle of the night. They crow for several reasons, not only due to light exposure. They crow to assert their territory, ward off danger and to alert the flock.  When keeping a rooster, you need to be respectful of your neighbor's rights. Like barking dogs, rooster can become annoying to those within earshot.
1. Keep your rooster in the coop during evening and early morning hours.

2. If your rooster crows for more than 5 minutes consistently, investigate the cause.

3. Provide distractions to help with crowing, such as treats and scratch.

4. Discuss the rooster with your neighbors. Consider sharing your eggs with them. A dozen eggs can create an amicable relationship with your neighbors.

5. Welcome neighbors to stop in and visit your flock. The chickens might enjoy your neighbors bringing them treats like celery and lettuce.

6. Re-home aggressive roosters.

BROODY HENS

I have now been through 2 broody episodes with Dolly and now it appears that Autumn has gone broody too.  I have blogged an awful lot about broody hens these past few months!   Hens go broody when they seek to hatch some babies of their own.  Often you will know that a hen has gone broody, because she sits on the nest even when it is empty.  Broodiness, if let to run it's course, lasts about 20 days.  While she is broody, she will briefly come off the nest one or two times per day to eat, drink and poop.  There are techniques that you can try to break a hen of it's broodiness.  In my opinion, they are cruel.  I prefer to let nature run it's course. It is a good habit to harvest the eggs from the nesting boxes a few times per day.   This helps to decrease broodiness.  Be sure to keep a fresh supply of water and food close too.  She will not venture too far away from her nest, eggs or no eggs.



HATCHING EGGS

If you have a broody hen and a rooster, you can try hatching some of your eggs.  A hen will sit on any fertilized eggs.  You can even purchase eggs from a hatchery, if you have a broody hen.  You can also incubate eggs on your own with an incubator. 

Either way, it takes any where from 19-21 days to hatch eggs.  We just hatched our own Silkie eggs with Dolly and Chocolate.  If you are hatching eggs the natural way, you will need to create a brooder and a safe haven for the mother hen to be!  Also, it is a good idea to set up visitation of the broody hen with her original flock.  This way they remember each other.  It will be easier to reintroduce them with minimal disturbance of the pecking order and avoid you having to deal with broody poop!

Be sure to candle your eggs at about one week and then at 14 days to determine that they remain viable.  Eggs that are not fertilized or no longer have developing fetuses within them will turn rotten.  They can emit harmful gases and can even explode!  It is best to remove them as soon as possible.

ILLNESSES

At some point sooner or later, one of your chickens will be under the weather.  It is best to remove that chicken from the rest of the flock.  Some people will cull their chickens once they appear ill.  I take mine to a veterinarian that specializes in birds/chickens.  There have been two instances where the vet has helped restore my chickens' health.  Although there is a lot of information on the internet about dealing with sick chickens, it is my opinion that they should only serves as guides.  It is always best, when available in your area, to see the chicken vet.  They are the experts.  They had many years of schooling regarding avian illnesses and they cannot be replaced by the internet.

Raising chickens has been a very easy experience.  I would highly recommend it to everyone that is interested.  It is addictive and provides fresh eggs for you and your family as well as many other life lessons.  Spring time is here and so are the chicks at your local feed and grain stores.

14 comments:

  1. What a great blog you have here! I'm so glad to have found you. You photos are wonderful and all the information you provide is fantastic. Keep up the good work. I'll be checking back in tomorrow.
    the wanna be country girl - Caroline
    love your site so much, I added it to my blogroll on my blog!

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  2. Welcome Caroline and thank you for your kind words! I am so glad you are part of Tilly's Nest.

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  3. I have your blog in my favorites- your photos are BEAUTIFUL and inspirational. And your tips on chicken- raisin' are very helpful. thanks for all your advice and wonderful portrayal of living with and appreciating nature.

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  4. I'm so glad to have discovered your blog. Some very valuable advice in this series of posts, I'm sure it will be very useful to me in the next few weeks :)

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    1. Thank you so much Krystle! I am so happy that I am able to help you. Good luck with your new little ones.

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  5. oh my word GREAT BLOG! we are dealing with some stressed chickens here as it is -40C here on the Canadian Prairies and the chickens have not been out for a long time...you mention vitamins and electrolytes- in what form? Can you provide some specifics including where you purchase these (i.e reg farm supply or...?)

    THANK YOU for the great posts!

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    1. Thank you for your sweet comment. Brrrrr.....how cold are you?! Vitamins and electrolytes can be purchased at local feed/farm supply stores. They come in a powder form and are added to the drinking water. Be sure to follow the mixing amt per gallon and that you purchase ones specifically for poultry.

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  6. The chicks are so cute!!!!!!

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  7. Your site is very helpful. I have a chicken that wondered off to the neighbors cow pasture. I found her three weeks after her disappearance. She is very thin and her feathers around her vent are wet and missing. Her vent is also swollen and protruding. I have her separate from the other hens, but not sure what I should do to help her. Do you have any suggestions?

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    1. Poor girl! I am so glad you found her. If she were my chicken, I would bring her inside, warm her up and give her a bath. Get her all nice and clean. (How to Bathe a Chicken: http://www.tillysnest.com/2011/07/how-to-give-chicken-bath.html) Then I would be sure she has plenty to eat and drink. You can try putting some Hydrocortisone cream 1% to her vent area twice a day until it returns to normal. It sounds prolapsed to me. She could also have vent gleet. Try adding some probiotics, vitamins and electrolytes to her water too. I hope she gets better and please come back and give us an update.

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  8. I have a question about possibly adding a couple of new baby chicks to a newly born clutch of 2. Our broody hen, Pumpkin, just hatched 2 out of 5 eggs and I want to add a couple more chicks. Is it possible to buy 2 more chicks the same age and see if she will take them in as her own? Is it just hit and miss? do you have any tips on this?

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    1. Yes, she very well could take the the chicks. Just be sure you monitor her closely to be sure no one gets harmed.

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  9. My hen has laid 9eggs, 6 have hatched. She now refuses to sit on the other 3. Will they hatch on their own or will they rot? I figure if she does not want to sit on them she knows they will not hatch? What do you think?

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Thank you so much for your comments. I love hearing from you!