Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Your Own Chicken Outfit

Starting a flock of chickens sounds easy right? Well, yes and no. There are many things to consider. Where will you put 20 to 50 chicks, and ultimately chickens? We’ve been in the egg business on a small scale for several years. We’ve done, or seen, it all. Consider first where you’ll put your chicks. Depending on the time of year and your locale, you may want them inside. We live in the Southwest so other than about 3 months out of the year we can keep chicks outside. When you first receive your chicks, or hatch them, they must be kept warm, dry, fed and watered. The reason hatcheries can send chicks in the mail is that when chicks are hatched, they have in them the yolk that sustains them for about 2 days. They ship soon after hatching in a controlled environment. If you get your chicks via mail you can use the shipping box to house the birds 2-3 weeks until they get their feathers. A 40w light bulb above their box or cage will supply enough warmth to keep them alive and happy in cool to moderate temperature. If your outside temperature is below 40 degrees, keep your chicks indoors. Another box, turned upside down in their cage with a small door will shield them from wind and keep their body heat from escaping thus generating heat. Make sure your light bulb is a safe distance away from chicks and combustibles. We have a friend who housed his chickens in a rabbit cage with a light. The problem was, the light shorted on the cage and electrified it. The amperage was not enough to kill the birds, but did administer electrolysis on the birds tail feathers! The birds did live and prosper, but our friend had some pretty bald birds! Our friend was just glad he didn’t have fried chicken.
While you’re waiting for them to grow feathers, plan out your coop. The coop should be water tight, have good ventilation and should also be predator proof. The latter point is accomplished by chicken wire on windows and vents and any other area that a small animal could wiggle through. Windows and doors that close securely will also keep out pests (raccoons are very resourceful). There are many designs out there and you can look at what others have done. There are also books that can help. Find a design that will work for your setup and is easiest for you. If you’re raising chickens for eggs you’ll want electricity nearby for a light during those winter months. Hens require about 13 hours of light to lay consistently, so a light on a timer can make up for those lost hours that Winter brings. It would also be nice to have access to the laying boxes from the outside of the coop. It’s much easier to collect the eggs.
After the coop you must decide to either fence your chickens in a yard or free range them. Ours are a happy medium. We have 2 large yards that we can rotate our chickens through. When one gets eaten down, the other can be used. We like the security and cleanliness of fencing our flock, but you can save on feed costs by letting them free range. The chickens will come back to the coop to roost for the night and to lay eggs.
Where you get your chicks makes quite a difference. There are many good hatcheries. Find one close to your home if possible. You can also hatch your chicks yourself. You must have access to fertile eggs to do this. The equipment is relatively low cost and can be obtained through the internet or local feed and ranch supply stores.
You do not need a rooster but we’ve found that the hens lay better with one, plus you’ll get fertile eggs. You’re bound to get a rooster or two. If you buy from a hatchery ask for pullets, these are sexed hens with a 90-95% accuracy. Chances are, you’ll get just what you need. You can fatten up the roosters you don’t want and harvest them for meat.
There are several books we recommend on raising chickens. We recommend: Chickens In Your Backyard@ by Rick and Gail Luttman, Rodale Press. ABC of Poultry Raising@ by J. H. Florea, Dover Publications. Also, there are a few Web-sites that can give you a lot of information too. We recommend two. The Chicken Coop@ and The Chicken Page@
With a little knowledge and some determination your flock of chickens can serve you for a long time. Remember also, this is not even close to everything you’ll need to know, but only an article to motivate and whet your appetite. Fresh eggs and home-grown chicken taste many times better than processed items from the store, and we believe you can produce healthier food yourselves.

Semper Paratus
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