Learn Shop Notes on Raising Chickens
by Cheyenne Olson
Learn Shops, July 2017
Cheyenne Olson with Thimble Brain, Einstein and Amelia
199 Adams Street
Berea, KY 40403
Do you really want backyard chickens?
good water supply,
plenty of space,
overall comfortable living environment -- might need to get chickens that are adapted to the climate. Some like hot weather and some do better in cold temperatures
Keeping chickens from boredom
Your consistent time and attention
What chickens give to you:
Eggs-- if you want to sell eggs do a monkey survey of your target market to see what people want to buy. Some people want multiple colors in their eggs, not the generic brown eggs.
City Ordinances for urban chickens (the Berea ordinance)
Keeping neighbors happy
Give away eggs, let the neighborhood children meet the chickens and teach them about chicken care
Six ways to get chickens:
Mail order hatchery
Put fertile egg in an incubator -- lots of choices here for incubators. Can purchase ready made or make your own (go to Mother Earth News, “Which incubator is the best for you? a two part series by Gail Damerow)
Local farm store
From a friend
Place fertile eggs under a hen that has “gone broody” (usually in spring)
(Raising your own chickens with a broody hen is the best. Hens will forage, keep chicks warm and safe from predators)
Select a breed for your situation
This is a good article on picking chickens: https://www.backyardchickens.com/articles/pickin-the-right-frickin-chicken-guide-to-picking-backyard-chicken-breeds.64518/
Rhode Island Red: classic dual-purpose bird that are easy going, curious, friedly, and consistently lay good sized brown eggs.
Austorlorpe: high egg production and calm temperament for cold or hot weather
Buff Orphington: calm, inquisitive, high egg production
(Livestockconservancy.org has charts with information on dozens of breeds)
If you want a pet, get a chicken with docile temperament
If you want an egg layer, get something that will lay lots of eggs
If you want a meat chicken there are those that are good for production
Females lay eggs regardless of having a rooster
Do you want a rooster?
Males act as a protector for the flock
They are noisy
They can sometimes be honery
They are beautiful and have a lot of character
You would only want one, because two will fight
Ratio of 1 male to 6 - 8 females if you want fertile eggs.
Housing -- the coop
All nighttime creatures
Get a dog and train it to keep the perimeter safe from predators
Use electric fencing
We have three layers of safety and use night lights -- red eyes
Nest boxes: must be in a quiet, private place and fluffy. Chickens do not like to have other chickens or people watch them when they lay eggs
Area for roosting: chickens sleep on their roost and often sit for naps during the day on their roost. We have designed our roosts so poop doesn’t get on anything it shouldn’t -- like nest boxes or food.
Space for stretching the wings and legs! There are many configurations for chicken runs with a wide variety of fencing options. Happy chickens are chickens that get to run around. Best environment is totally free range. Next best is extended runs that can be moved around the yard. Chickens were not made to be cooped up 24/7. They are happiest when roaming about the finding worms, bugs, greens.
Space for housing: Very important to not have your chickens “cooped up” in a crowded situation. They will be stressed, not lay eggs regularly and will begin to peck each other out of overcrowding and boredom. The reason commercial hatcheries chop off beaks is to prevent chickens from injuring each other. This does not eliminate the pecking problem because hatcheries with hundreds of thousands of birds are just egg producing mills and they don’t care about the chickens quality of life. As a backyard chicken owner, you can give your birds a happy and healthy environment and they will reward you with eggs and entertainment!
the brooder for early days
Brooder (see handout and see my brooder set up in the office area)
Temperature -- need to keep baby chicks warm for the first 10 days
Food -- baby chicks: ground corn, soybean, vitamins and calcium
Socializing -- play with your birds, handle them, get them used to you if your chickens will play the role of egg production AND pets. (Mind are terribly spoiled but lay an egg each day!)
The Teen years: flying the coop, roosting in trees, on the roof, very curious and wandering
Food and laying eggs -- Hens will start laying anywhere from 16 to 24 weeks One of mine started on exactly 90 days. (show booklet of egg laying) Exactly 2 weeks later my second hen started laying.
Laying hens need calcium so have oyster shells available in a separate container. Sometimes I grind up egg shells and feed that to my chickens.
Look for food that has all the minerals, vitamins and protein that the hens need.
Table snacks: what is good for you is good for them. 90 to 10 ratio.
GO EASY on the dairy because it may cause diarrhea
Molting mine are just now molting for the first time and they are 2 years and 4 months old. Chickens generally molt in the fall. People say they will stop laying when molting. Feed cat food for high protein -- needed when feathers are growing back in.
The aging years: we are there now -- and the issue becomes how to add to the flock?
Adding to your flock: Cannot put younger, smaller chickens in with older larger chickens.
Chickens do not know age, but they do know size. Bigger ones will eat the smaller ones. Some say this is not so. Stay tuned...as I try to enlarge my flock. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Vaccinations: Various places on the internet. I have never vaccinated.
Health and medical “kit” (have a resource handout. Page in backyard poultry book)
Worms: Natural preventatives are pumpkin seeds and garlic a few times per year
Any squash, melon or cucumber seeds are also natural wormers to feed year around
Laying chickens with worms will lay eggs that have poop on them.
(I have never had worms in my chickens)
Chickens in the garden
Three most important tips:
Separate chickens from desirable vegetables.
Allow plants to grow tall before allowing chickens in, so they can only be eaten around ground level
Concentrate on the plants that the chickens don’t find very tasty.
Plant new plants in the ground after the chickens have been put up for the night. Then protect for a few weeks with a cage. Chickens are curious. They will want to see what you are doing and get in on the fun
Chickens do best with heavily planted landscapes. The vertical layers of the gardens allow them secure locations when they can hide from predators, get protection from the elements and forage for food. Nix the bigger areas that are free of vegetation. Go for smaller areas that have trees, short shrubs, trailing flowers.
Herbs are good to stimulate egg production and act as a natural de-wormer.
Catnip, fennel, feverfew, lavender and rosemary can act as natural insect repellent, Chickens can eat them and rub against them. Nasturtiums have antibiotic and antiseptic properties and serve as a natural de-wormer for chickens
Mulch in the yard is good for chickens. They amuse themselves with the scratching and uncover worms.
Not all plants are foraged by chickens. Ground covers such as juniper, mint, roses and sweet woodruff can grow dense enough to keep chickens from scratching through the soil. Many types of fruit, from those that grow on trees to squashes then have tough skins are not accessible to the chicken.
BUT greens are right at chicken beak level. These will probably have to be fenced.
Greens that resemble weeds include chickweed, dandelions, plantains, purslane and thistle and are often readily snacked on by chickens.
Chickens can clean up the garden after production is over
A few sources of information
Meyer Hatchery: www.meyerhatchery.com
The Chicken Encyclopedia, an illustrated reference, Gail Damerow., also author of Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens
You Tube: Becky’s Homestead (beckyshomestead.com)
Backyard Poultry: www.countrysidenetwork.com
Nite Guard Solar-Powered Night Predator Light, model # 001.
(another source for nite guard)
Murray McMurray Hatchery www.mcmurrayhatchery.com
Harvey Ussery, The small-Scale Poultry Flock (everything you will ever need to know to raise your own chickens)
Mother Earth News: www.motherearthnews.com
Chicken Fencing: www.premier1supplies.com
GRIT, Celebrating rural America Since 1882 . www.Grit.com
Online source of hatcheries: www.MotherEarthNews.com/hatchery-Directory