Thursday, February 18, 2016

Backyard Chickens 101

Backyard Chicken Farming:  

Do you all know anyone who owns chickens?  Have they tried to get you interested in having a chicken or three of your own?   Did you know that backyard chickens are becoming a really popular pet/pass time/hobby?   

I am not going to lie, I love my chickens.  Not only that but I am not the only person I know with chickens.  In fact, in my small group of friends in the Dallas area, I know of at least 3 other people directly who raise chickens and a few other people who raise them through friends of friends.  That's a lot of chickens folks, and I am in a large suburban area.   


When you start raising chickens there are a few things you should understand.  I am going to list them in no particular order.   

By the way,  the photos in this blog are just a few of my chickens.   Aren't they cute?   The Silkie above is named Silkie, original huh?  The little White Americauna at the top of the Blog is named Laurel after my niece.   They all have names but with 30 chickens it is a test for me to remember them day to day.   The hen below is Pocahauntis, below that is either Winnie or Dottie but I can't tell the difference because they look alike followed by Rex, the Roo, El Chappo the little Roo, our only surviving white leg horn Trip, Charlie the Roo, Red,  and in the egg box is Cinnderella.  Woohoo!  I managed to get all those right!   It's actually harder than you imagine telling chickens apart! 

Okay, so all you need to know about chickens you learn from a blog?  Not even close!  I will give you a brief overview but trust me, I read about them all the time.  No, really.  
Winnie or Dottie I am not sure

First things first, before you buy chicks you have to have a place for them, water and food dispensers and a plan for when they are ready to go out into the world.  Are you going to free range or will you give them limited and protected space to range?   If it's the later you will have to build them some sort of enclosed space.  

Next, when you buy babies you have to raise them in a brooder with a heat lamp for about the first 6 weeks to forever or whenever they get fully feathered.   Now, if you are lucky enough to plan this chick raising for summer and you live somewhere where it is hot, like say, Texas,  you can actually raise the babies outside without the aid of a heat lamp because there is this thing called the sun.  However, make sure you have a really safe, predator free place to raise your chicks because all kinds of animals are going to see them as food from birds to dogs and cats to things that go bump in the night.   Know the difference between straight runs and pullets before you buy chickens or you may end up with roosters you don't want.   Most breeds are available in straight runs (where they sexed the hens) but certain breeds aren't ao you take your chances.  For the record, I love my roosters.   They are protective of my hens and they are fun.   If you live in an area where the noise is a problem however, you may have to adopt them out and that can be a problem.  Unfortunately,  they end up too often on someone's table.  (Rex doesn't approve.) 


Make sure to put your chicks on a medicated chick food.  They need it to prevent disease.  

El Chapo

Realize no matter what you do, you are going to lose some.  This little leghorn who is now named Trip was originally one of 3.  The other two we lost, one to a freak accident and one to a predator.   It's the hazard of letting them roam free range and be chickens.   She is still just a baby, by the way.   


Speaking of that,  know that you are going to be raising them for at least 6 months before you get eggs.   I would guess it goes without saying but you never know, roosters don't lay eggs.   Some of the smaller breeds like the Silkies may not lay for 12 months or more.   Some breeds lay better than others but no chicken lays every day.  The best layers average about 270 days a year.   Pretty much we are averaging 12 eggs a day with 30 chickens, 3 of which are roosters and probably 3 more of which are not yet laying.   


Watch your chickens.  Learn their personalities.   They have them.  Because we spent several days a week last summer watching our chickens after work, I became very familiar with my chickens personalities which has allowed me to key in when three of them were just not right.   That has caused me to isolate them early and prevent not only them from dying but also my flock from contracting Fowl Pox, a highly contagious disease.  I took steps to boost their immune system ASAP and they are all super healthy, thank heavens.  

Red (It might be Ruby)

Prepare your yard:
You are going to lose plants.  Some they will eat.  Some they will just perch in like the bush below which is a favorite.   Your garden may become their garden.   We had to put a barrier up around our tomato plants last summer.   My begonias were goners once the chickens found them.   There are flowers that are safe but you will have to research and test what works best in your area Even with chicken safe flowers, my flower beds look like little mini-bombs went off.  Chickens dust as a way to keep mites off and they burrow into the beds doing it.  It is just part of their charm. 

Keep in mind that after a while you are going to have hens sitting in egg boxes like ours. 


And a refrigerator full of these beauties:

About  2 1/2 days worth
There is a lot that goes in to raising chickens and I would highly suggest that before you commit you read some blogs, follow some pages on Facebook and, of course, feel free to ask me or anyone else who has chickens.  I was lucky, my husband has raised them for years.  That said, even he wasn't aware of some of the things we encountered, like Fowl Pox.  In fact, that was something a friend spotted from a picture I posted of my sick chicken on Facebook.  He had a good eye because even after I read up on the illness, I wasn't sure how he knew.  She had only one tiny black spot on her waddle.  Luckily, I was able to hand feed and water her and she is good as new and running around the back yard and laying eggs again like a champ.  The moral of the story, with chickens, you are always learning.

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