Posts Tagged ‘layers’

It’s like Easter every day

August 26, 2009
Lula Mae's old nest

Lula Mae's old nest

We now have two pullets who are laying eggs. Holly laid her first egg Monday, though she spent at least a week getting ready. I have now learned how to tell when a pullet is getting ready to lay. First, they get noisy – lots of cackling and clucking. The wattles and combs will get bigger and redder when they are near laying. They also start nesting. That sounds a bit obvious, doesn’t it? But they will make a nest (assuming you don’t have nest boxes, that is), usually somewhere dark and covered. Lula Mae, the first pullet to start laying, picked a spot in a raised bed that has a pine tree and bush growing out of it, as well as other plants. She made a little hole in the bark in an area that was quite secluded. She laid there for a cople of weeks, then switched spots. She made such a nice nesting spot that the cats thought they would lie there. I suspect that is why she moved her nest. It took us a while to find the new nest, though we had an idea of where it was. It turns out it was in the back of our shed, in a place that only the kids can get to since it has a little doorway leading to it.

Doorway to Lula Mae's new nest

Doorway to Lula Mae's new nest

Holly decided the garage would be a good place to lay. She had beein going in there making a lot of noise for a few days. She even found a box that was perfect. The kids and I shredded some newspaper and put it in there, but then the kids (OK, Mo) decided to empty that box out and move it later that day. So we tried to make a different area for her and she seemed interested, but kept going back into the garage. Finally, Tim got that same box ready so that Holly could lay in there. That’s where she has laid her last (and first) two eggs.

Holly's nest box

Holly's nest box

The other 20 chickens, the Buff Orpingtons, have been out ranging for a week or so. There have been no major skirmishes between the two flocks. Anytime Chicken Joe goes near the other chickens, they scatter. Joe is very secure in his position as top rooster. I have noticed the Orpington roosters (3 so far, not sure about a couple of others) fighting a bit and doing the mating dance next to the pullets. The Orpingtons are now 16 weeks old.

So the question that keeps popping into my head is, “What are we going to do when we get 19 eggs a day?” It’s a question that gives me a slight panic. Not a real panic, more of a I-better-figure-this-out-soon kind of panic. Mo suggested we slaughter (her word, not mine!) some. But then the kids thought maybe we should sell them. We can do that, of course, but there are some restrictions about that. Maybe I can just sell them to family and friends? I told the kids it would be a family business. They think it’s fun to collect the eggs since the chickens are day-ranging and we do not have nest boxes. Aidan keeps saying it will be like Easter every day! And he is right.

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First egg

July 28, 2009

I found the first egg today. I am pretty sure it is the first one ever, but not 100% sure. I know that Lula Mae has been making noises for over a week now and that today she was sitting/squatting in the accidental garden, right next to the house. I went out to see what was up and possibly interrupted the egg laying process (is that possible to interrupt it in the same way that a woman’s labor can be interrupted by stress or danger?). All three chickens, including Chicken Joe the rooster, were making lots of noise. That was why I went out to see what was going on. I guess it was as big a deal to them as it was to me.

We also worked in the garden a bit today and picked a couple of tomatoes. One was eaten by the kiddos and one by the chickens when we left it unguarded. Silly chickens! Anyway, more tomatoes are turning red so that is great news. The sugar snap peas seem to be dying off int he heat, which I think is normal. The carrots are finally doing well, but Moira wants to pick one every time we go to the garden, so we don’t really have any to use in meals. I need to plant more carrots for fall and then remember to plant more next spring. The winter squash are taking over the area between the tilled area and the raised beds. I guess they didn’t get the memo that they were supposed to spread into the tilled area? Silly squash!

I will post some pictures tomorrow, as soon as I get them off of my camera. I also have a picture of a dead, half-eaten copperhead snake that Tim ran over with the mower. We left it out and something ate some of it last night. It’s a lovely picture and I know everyone will surely tune in to see it once it is posted. Right?

Pullets, all of ’em

June 4, 2009

The Buff Orpington chicks are now 4 weeks old. Just as I was thinking that some were getting combs faster than others and I would soon be able to tell which were cockerels and which were pullets, I read this post on Ang.’s blog. When I got them, Ang. said that the store told her they were straight run. However, she had also noticed that one had a mark on its head. I told Ang. that it would be nice if they were all pullets, but I didn’t really think they would be. It turns out that they are all pullets, as Ang. learned last week. This is good because it means lots of eggs and possibly selling some of them next spring. It also means we need a bigger coop than we were planning on. Since we haven’t really started the coop, that’s fine. Tim is going out of town next week so we will have to get busy building the coop after he gets back.

Anyway, I spent the night at my mom’s on Sunday and when I got back on Monday I thought the chicks looked really big. They are getting lots of feathers. When it’s warm enough, we take them outside in the brooder. The bottom of the brooder is hardware cloth, covered with bedding. On Wednesday it was warm and it was time to clean out the brooder, so we put the chicks in the movable coop, cleaned out the brooder, and put them back in it without the bedding so they could eat some grass. When it was time to put them in the garage, we added some bedding. I’m ready to have them outside more, but I don’t think they have quite enough feathers to be out at night, even with a heat lamp.

Now I am contemplating another order for some meat birds, but I’m not sure I’m ready for that. Maybe this fall will be a better time. If I did get meat birds, I would probably wait until the coop is done and the little chicks and big chickens are all together so that we could use the brooder again. But by then it will be getting hot and I’m not sure I want to deal with chicks in the middle of the summer. I have to think about it and what kind of chicks to get. I don’t really like the idea of the Cornish Cross birds. My reasons for that are probably enough for another post!

Chicken breeds

May 21, 2009

When I started this blog I had intended to write a whole lot more about the whole process of getting chickens. I had read so much, including lots of good blogs, books, magazines, websites, etc. One of the things I wanted to write about was the process of choosing which breed to get. We carefully thought about whether to start with pullets or chicks, when to get the chickens, how to get them, how to house them (which we are still debating about!) whether to get layers or fryers or both, etc. I even spent a bit of time trying to figure out which breed to get. Some breeds are really good layers, but they aren’t good at foraging. Some are good meat birds, but again, aren’t necessarily good at foraging.

One of the best resources I found was Chickens, which was a Hobby Farms publication. The chart in the magazine was based on Henderson’s Chicken Breed Chart. This chart is super useful in helping choose a chicken breed. Some people just want eggs, and lots of eggs, making the Leghorn a good choice since it has been bred to be a profuse layer (at least the production Leghorns). The chart indicates how big each breed gets, which makes it useful for those who just want meat. It includes a bit of history, the colors, whether the hens will sit on the eggs (broodiness), whether the breed does well in the heat or cold, and whether it is adaptable to confinement, free ranging, or could go either way. 

Some chickens are dual purpose, which means they can be used for eggs or meat. There are chicken breeds that have been bred specifically for laying (Leghorns are most commonly used in the United States) and meat (Cornish Cross). The reason they are popular is that they convert feed to eggs or meat very efficiently, so they are the cheapest breeds to use for those purposes. However, they are not good for every hobby farmer or backyard chicken keeper. 

My requirements for a chicken breed were:

  • a breed that is fairly friendly and docile so I don’t have to worry about them attacking the kids
  • a breed that is dual purpose in case we decide to let our flock grow and have some for meat and some for eggs
  • a breed that is somewhat broody for the same reason as above
  • a breed that is cold hardy as our winters can get pretty cold

I was also interested in chicken breeds that are rare or uncommon, as listed by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC). I was really interested in the Delaware, because it is rare and is very cold hardy. Delawares were commonly used for meat before Cornish Crosses became so popular. Getting Delawares is a problem because none of the stores sell them, which means you have to order them from a hatchery, which means a minimum order of 25. I was not ready to have 25 chicks when we started out. So, I was left with the choices at Farm King, which were not very good. Then Ang. recommended Farm and Home Supply in Keokuk (she’s also the person I bought the Buff Orpington chicks from). I called them up and they had much better choices. For some reason, though, the stores did not always have on hand what they said they would have. So when I went to Farm and Home Supply to buy chicks, but it turned out they did not have the breed I had decided on after my phone call. Fortunately I had my copy of Chickens and was able to pick out New Hampshire chickens. The New Hampshire is a great dual purpose breed. They are supposed to be good layers and adaptable to free range or confinement.

In hindsight, I think it worked out well that I didn’t get Delaware chicks since they are white. I would be much more worried about them getting eaten by hawks than I am about the New Hampshires. Our chickens have free ranged the last two days and have put themselves in their coop. I’m not too worried about them because it’s hard to spot the chickens ranging when the grass is tall (though it might be easier to see them from a hawk’s point of view). Even so I am sure they do not stick out as much as a white chicken would. I am still interested in the rare breeds, but am happy with the New Hampshires and the Buff Orpingtons.*

 

*New Hampshires are on the watch list and Buff Orpingtons are recovering, according to the ALBC website.

Why we want chickens

February 28, 2009

One reason we want chickens is because we want to move towards being self-sufficient. Having hens and our own eggs is one step in that direction. I think we will eventually have either a dairy cow or goats, and maybe some sheep or a pig or two. Who knows. I do know that of all the farm animals to choose from, chickens should be the easiest for us to learn about and take care of. So that is part of why we are getting chickens first.

After reading more about chickens, I also realize there are other benefits. They will often eat table scraps. This is a great way for us to deal with the issue of trash in the country (I might have to research and write about that at some point). Most of our food waste will be composted or will be eaten by the chickens. That is great! Right now we put all kinds of stuff on the compost pile that probably shouldn’t go and will eventually attract critters. Having chickens and outdoor cats to feed scraps to will help with the trash. Yet another benefit is that chicken poop makes great fertilizer.

The primary reason we want hens is for eggs. We eat a lot of eggs and it will be great to not go to the store to get them. It will also be cheaper because I usually spend around $3.50 per dozen of eggs because I get the organic or cage free eggs (Yes! I buy cage free eggs even though I know that cage free doesn’t mean what it should mean). Anyway, having eggs will save us money and trips to the store.

We have also talked about the possibility of getting some chickens for meat, but Tim seemed reluctant to do that. I think he is worried that we will become attached to them and not be able to eat them. I think that is a possibility, but from talking to Scott the Farmer, I think that what most people do is have their hens separate from their “fryers” as they are called. The fryers are in a movable coop all the time or are free ranging and then in a separate coop at night. Doing it that way seems like it will keep us from getting too attached.

I think, though, that we will start with 4 or 5 hens and just collect eggs for a while. Then we will figure out if we want to have some fryers. Our neighbor is going to get some hens, some fryers, and a hog. I think he built a movable coop for his fryers. We’ll have to go see it and talk to him. I am sure we will do things a bit differently, but it will also be interesting to learn from each other.

As far as whether to get chicks or hens, I am leaning towards chicks at the moment. The benefit of getting hens is that they are already laying eggs and are easier to take care of. There are lots of reasons to get chicks, though. One reason is that they are so darn cute. The kids will LOVE the chicks. I can just hear Moira saying how cute they are. The chicks will get used to us faster than hens would, too. That will be helpful when they are out roaming around and the kids come bursting out the door. I do remember reading (this article, again!) that if you want your chickens to forage for themselves, it is better to get chicks because they are smarter, or at least capable of learning. If we get hens and the hens have not had to forage, they won’t learn.

Chicks will require a bit more work, especially if we get them when the weather is still cool since we will have to keep them warm somehow. This article gives me some ideas. In fact, we have a guinea pig cage that my sister-in-law gave us that might work really well for a while. And the forums at Back Yard Chickens is really helpful, too. Of course, the best advice is to get the chicks in midsummer. I like that idea, but that’s so long to wait! I am impatient to get started with some chicks.

So right now I’m thinking we’ll get chicks. The next question is what kind and how and when to get them. That means more reading and talking, of course. I’ll have to talk to our neighbor and see where he is getting his – and when!