So You Wanna Buy A Chicken, Part 3

You’ve went thru your options, thought, possibly flipped a coin and chose the breeds you want to fill your coop and yard with. Now the big day, your chicky chicks are here. So what do you do with them?

Your chicks will either be picked up from a store or directly from the hatchery by you. If you don’t live close to reputable place to buy chicks, they may be shipped in the mail to you.  Once chicks arrive they need to be placed in a brooder to stay warm.

What’s a brooder? A brooder is a small pen to house your chicks during one of their most crucial periods. Babies have to stay warm. You are their mother hen, congratulations! You do not need to buy a fancy brooder from a hatchery. Espically if you are only planning on doing a group of chicks here and there. Don’t get me wrong, you can, they work and they’re fairly expensive. We have a homemade brooder. It’s real fancy…

New chicks checking out their warm brooder.

New chicks checking out their warm brooder.

Emma holding a little fluff ball.

Emma holding a little fluff ball.

Our brooder is a water steel water tub. I told you, fancy. But it’s effective. We simply bed with pine shavings and then add a feeder, water source, heat lamps, thermometer and of course fluffy chicks! While we live in an old farm house, we’re fortunate to have a heated garage. This helps maintain a nice temp for our fluffy friends. If you’re not sure what to use for a brooder, there are many plans you can find online. Let’s dissect what makes a successful brooder. You don’t want to buy your chicks, only to lose them to some preventable tragedy.

Heat Source

It is crucial to your chicks survival that they stay warm. Like I said earlier, you are their mother hen, which means you have to keep them warm. The first week of life chicks need to stay a constant 95 degrees (F). As each week passes you can back them down about 5 degrees. Ex. 2 weeks in age 90 degrees, 3 weeks in age 85 degrees. This is done by raising and lowering your heat lamps. A thermometer is a helpful tool so your chicks are comfortable.

Food

A chick needs to eat! I prefer trough feeders. They need to be changed frequently to stay free of bedding and poo. In all honesty any tray will do. If your little balls of fluff or going to be layers once they grow up, a 18-20 percent protein chick starter is sufficient. If they are going to become nuggets you may want to look at a 20-22 percent protein starter to have a little higher growth rate.

Most chick feed is medicated to prevent coccidiosis. This is a good thing. We dealt with this in our last batch of chicks. You know what’s not fun? Wiping, yes I said wiping, 30 little chicken butts.

Water

Chicks need plenty of fresh, clean water. Chicks can drowned easily. It’s important to either buy chick sized waterers or add marbles or rocks to a large water so they can only dip their beaks. Adding an electrolyte supplements is always a good idea to give your babies a little extra boost.

Heat

We’ve always used heat lamps in ours. Your temp can be adjusted by raising and lowering your lamps. This is where a thermometer is crucial if you have a homemade brooder. It’s also not a bad idea if you splurged on one from the hatchery. That way you can double check. Better to be safe than sorry.

So how do you know if your chicks are too hot or too cold? Happy chicks are chatty, but not frantic. Cold chicks will huddle under lamps and be noisy. Hot chicks will be loud, frantic and spaced out. Save yourself the worry and buy a thermometer.

At 5-6 weeks of age we evict our little ones from our garage. They move to the coop. It’s still outfitted with lights and we have it sectioned off to give them more space as they continue to grow. Chicks still need it to stay around 70 degrees to be happy and growing. By this point in time they have some feathers and need more space than the brooder can provide.

Babies in their coop.

Babies in their coop.

Next post we’ll cover “pullet-hood”, or the teenage years, until maturity. You know what happens with maturity? EGGS!

Here’s links to the first two blog posts in this series:

Post 1: https://ofkidsandcows.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/so-you-wanna-buy-a-chicken/

Post 2: https://ofkidsandcows.wordpress.com/2015/03/15/so-you-want-to-buy-a-chicken-part-2/

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So You Want to Buy a Chicken, Part 2

One of the biggest decisions you will make about your flock is your choice of chicken breeds. When choosing a breed, first things first, what are you going to use your chicken for? Chickens generally have two purposes in life. Laying eggs or being eaten.

Personally, our flock is mainly comprised of dual purpose breeds. What is a dual purpose breed you may be wondering. They are capable of fulfilling both roles. They take longer to feed out than a strictly meat chicken, however they are just as tasty! Also these girls can lay eggs just as well as any layer.

The first category we’ll tackle is meat chickens. The most popular breed of meat chicken is a White Cornish or a white Cornish hybrid. They are a rapid growing breed with wide breasts and a heavy build. Broilers (meat chickens) generally take 7-10 weeks to reach appropriate weight to butcher.

White Cornish chicks. Photo courtesy of Chick Chick Chicken

White Cornish chicks. Photo courtesy of Chick Chick Chicken

A young broiler. Photo courtesy of Chick Chick Chicken

A young broiler. Photo courtesy of Chick Chick Chicken

When you enter the world of laying hens, the flood gate of breeds opens. Chickens and eggs come in every color of the rainbow! Before you get carried away picking breeds it is always important to make sure you have a breed that is going to do well in your environment. Some varieties are more cold or heat tolerant than others. Also temperament is important if you will be having kids help you tend your flock. Example: while a leghorn will lay piles of eggs for you, she is also flighty, loud and generally none to friendly. But red sex-link love attention, are very docile and have very comparable egg production.

Here are some great dual purpose breeds I would recommend for a flock:

Plymouth Barred Rock

These gals have characteristic black and white stripes. They are a calm, friendly breed that has good egg production (3-5 eggs per week). A Plymouth Barred Rock will lay large brown eggs. It is also a cold hardy breed that will have little problems in the winter. Barred rocks are on the larger side, as most dual purpose, with a mature hen weighing 7-8 pounds.

This is a barred rock pullet (young hen). Her comb is not developed yet.

This is a barred rock pullet (young hen). Her comb is not developed yet.

Rhode Island Red

Rhode Island’s are a very popular breed amongst backyard chicken raisers. They are excellent egg layers, laying 5-7 very large brown eggs per week. Hens are a dark red color. Rhode Island Reds can be a little flightier than some breeds, however they are generally not hard to work with. A mature hen will weigh 6-7 pounds.

The Rhode Island Red is the dark red hen looking out the door.

The Rhode Island Red is the dark red hen looking out the door.

Delaware

I must admit these ladies are one of my favorites. Our 3 simply LOVE being held. Now loving on a chicken may seem odd to you if you’re new at this, just wait. Back on topic…

Delaware’s are medium sized hens that weigh 6-7 pounds. They have white feathers with black ‘highlights’ on their neck and tails. Not only are they cold hardy, they also take the heat well. They are excellent egg layers, making 5-7 large brown eggs a week.

Although BooBoo (she had an incident with her comb) looks cross in the picture, I assure you she's not.

Although BooBoo (she had an incident with her comb) looks cross in the picture, I assure you she’s not.

New Hampshire

The New Hampshire’s are fairly similar to a Rhode Island, in my personal opinion. The only difference is they may be a little more relaxed. Hens weigh 6-7 pounds and will fill your nesting boxes with eggs. Unlike the hens listed previously, New Hampshire hens tend to lay a more medium sized egg. Like the Delaware’s they do well in the cold and heat.

Here's a quick glimpse of the pullets we raised last summer. The New Hampshire hens are the red ones. You can also see Delaware and Plymouth Barred Rock pullets.

Here’s a quick glimpse of the pullets we raised last summer. The New Hampshire hens are the red ones. You can also see Delaware and Plymouth Barred Rock pullets.

A few other dual purpose breeds to consider are Welsummer’s (the chicken kid and I have decided this is our next breed when our chick buying ban, enforced by her father, is lifted). Welsummer’s eggs are a very dark brown, almost red. Jersey Giants, Sussex and Australop’s also are nice dual purpose breeds to consider.

Now let’s talk girls who are only bred to be laying hens. A lot of these breeds are slightly smaller than a dual purpose breed, but they can pump out eggs.

Red Sex-Link

These are my favorite ladies! They go by a variety of names, golden buff, red star. But the hens are the same and you will LOVE them. These ladies are calm, easy going hens who will lay you buckets of very large, brown eggs almost, if not daily. The hens top out around 5 pounds but are very cold and heat hardy.

Here are 2 of ours out foraging. They weren't really supposed to be, but that didn't matter to them!

Here are 2 of ours out foraging. They weren’t really supposed to be, but that didn’t matter to them!

Easter Eggers

Kids love these hens! No two hens look the same and their eggs range from blue to green. They are basically ‘mutt’ hens that have become their own breed. They’re very similar to Ameracauna hens. Some interesting characteristics about their visual appearance is the hens have very small pea combs and puffy cheek feathers. They weigh around 5 pounds and excellent little egg makers. They’re very calm, also making them a great breed for young poultry lovers.

This is Snow White. She has a grey body and white head.

This is Snow White. She has a grey body and white head.

Amber is a beautiful,rich tan color.

Amber is a beautiful,rich tan color.

Some other layer breeds to look in to include Black Sex-Link and Marans (gorgeous, rich brown eggs).

If you’re still undecided consult with a hatchery. They can often steer you in the right direction. Hatchery websites also have great descriptions of breeds. If you have to order your chicks and you don’t live near a hatchery, they will ship them to you. We use Meyer Hatchery. Their website can be found at www.meyerhatchery.com

References:

Hobby Farms Chickens, 2nd edition, Sue Weaver, 2005.

 

 

So You Wanna Buy A Chicken

It’s that time of the year. Signs, flyers and advertisements are every where. Farm supply stores have tubs sectioned off with eager little eyes peering over the edges. Chick time.

Two years ago we made the plunge in to the chicken world. We went to our local Tractor Supply Store and left about $150 poorer and 50 chicks heavier.

You may be going, holy cow 50 chicks, I thought you were a cow person. Well I am, but we intended to eat some of these fluffy nuggets. Fifteen of the chicks were pullets (female). These were going to be our layers. The other thirty five were “straight run”, this means both male and female chicks are in the group. You just get what you get. We assumed the majority would be roosters which we would dine on when the time came. We all know what assuming does…. There were 6 roosters. Long story short we ate some of the hens. They were just as tasty as the roosters.

Fast forward two years, we have a coop full of 23 layers and crazy little blond girl who pampers them.

Emma and one of her Easter Eggers.

Emma and one of her Easter Eggers.

So how do you decide if you’re ready to enter the crazy world of chickens?

First thing’s first. If you live in a town or city ordinance, you need to check your local laws. Some places don’t allow chickens at all, some allow hens but no roosters and some only allow a certain number of birds on your property. Nothing would be as disappointing as getting your flock going only to discover that you can’t keep them.

Next you need to decide if you have the time to care for a flock. While chickens are not incredibly labor intensive, they do require some commitment. Chicks can be very intensive, depending on the time of year and age of chicks. As they age the require daily feeding and watering. Winter can be a chore depending on your climate. Do you want to be spending time taking care of your feathered ladies when it’s subzero?

Babies in their coop.

Babies in their coop.

How much room do you have? While chickens don’t require huge spaces they need some room to stretch those wings. Coop, free range, make shift pen, one of those snazzy little houses that are advertised on Facebook all the time? All these options can either limit or expand how many chicks you purchase.

Next come some choices that really shape the dynamic of your flock. Do you want laying hens? Meat birds? Or a nice dual purpose breed that you can either eat or collect eggs from. Our flock is made of layers as well as dual purpose.

A quick glimpse at our flock. Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshire Reds, Delawares, Barred Rocks, Easter Eggers and Red Sex Linked (Buffs).

A quick glimpse at our flock which is made of Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshire Reds, Delawares, Barred Rocks, Easter Eggers and Red Sex Linked (Buffs).

Finally you need to select breeds. This part is by far the most fun, especially with layers. Egg shells and chicken feathers come in all the colors of the rainbow! Have fun, get crazy. Believe me, if you get chickens the crazy comes with them.

A bounty of eggs!

A bounty of eggs!

Next blog we’ll get in to choosing breeds that work for you!

Big, Bad 4 Year Olds and Cow Cupcakes

It’s hard to believe that my favorite middle child became a big, bad 4 year old this week. Just ask him, he’ll tell you all about his new found maturity. It’s crazy to think only 4 years ago he looked so tiny and cute!

Taylor a few hours old. Nothing's cuter than chubby baby cheeks!

Taylor a few hours old. Nothing’s cuter than chubby baby cheeks!

I’ve acquired great knowledge of little boys since his birth. First and foremost they are dirty. I have never witnessed anything that has the ability to get dirty as fast as Taylor.

Nothing like doing burn outs on your bike in a mud puddle. No the stains did not come all the way out, if you were wondering..l

Nothing like doing burn outs on your bike in a mud puddle. No the stains did not come all the way out, if you were wondering..

A smile can be used for many things, like covering up a guilty conscience. Do something wrong? Bat those big eye lashes and shoot a grin at mom. Gets me every time.

So innocent looking. Makes one suspicious.

So innocent looking. Makes one suspicious.

He’s also a genuinely loving little fella. I’ve never watched him pass up a hug from anyone or anything!

Pony lovin'

Pony lovin’

Taylor also has a special place for our milk calves. He loves taking care of them and giving extra scratches and hugs.

Best little calf raiser I know!

Best little calf raiser I know!

Every once in a while we make him look presentable, clean and polished. Like school pictures. He looks so grown up!

Notice the hair gel. His sister may or may not have tried to cut his hair. No one wants bald spots for their pictures.

Notice the hair gel. His sister may or may not have tried to cut his hair. No one wants bald spots for their pictures.

For his special birthday snack at school he requested cow cupcakes. This was a stretch for someone with my baking skill set, or lack there of. BUT we got creative! Using white and chocolate box cake mixes I made marble cupcakes for the base.

Baking done, now to get creative!

Baking done, now to get creative!

After a good coating of cream cheese frosting we were ready to decorate. A mini Oreo for the nose, white gel frosting completed the look with “nostrils”. We then finished them off with black licorice ears, chocolate chip eyes and brown Reese pieces horns.

Finished product, viola!

Finished product, viola!

It’s crazy how fast time flies! May be we should party with cow cupcakes all the time!