Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Chickies 101

So an old friend (who abandoned me to move to a little piece of land in Oklahoma...sniff) asked about our chickens. We haven't even had them for a year and we're definitely not experts, but our little flock of 5 has provided us with 5 tasty eggs a day during the summer, so I suppose we've done okay. Josh wrote the following chickie primer (b/c he handles chicken care around here) and I edited and added a few extra tips. I also added a list of tag links over on the side so you can click "chickens" and see all the blog posts (with pictures) I made as we went along.

To raise a chicken.

Remember at all times, this is a chicken. There are people that keep chickens as pets, have diapers for them, and let them roam the house. I am not those people.

1)Get your chickies. The feed store probably has the chickies you want for $2-3 dollars each. You will want female chickies only, known as hens or pullets. Do not get “straight run” chickies or roosters. If you get sex-link chickens, you are able to tell if they are male or female while they are still chicks, just from their coloring. We have golden sex-link and black sex-link birds. Both lay brown eggs.
2) You will need something to feed your new found source of entertainment. They will need starter food for the first 8-10 weeks, then grower food for 5-10 weeks and when they lay the first egg change to layer food. All the feed will come either medicated (Amprolium) or not. It is up to you which to use. We use non-medicated. At the same time you get your feed you need to get a feeder and waterer for the chicks. Both are very inexpensive but will only be used with chicks because once the birds get big enough they will need a larger feeder and waterer.
3)Now you need someplace to house your small bundles of fluff. A large Rubbermaid container works well for up to about 7 chicks. Lay a towel on the bottom so they don’t slip on the plastic (If you put the chicks on dirt or pine shavings from day 1, they will eat the shavings or dirt and not realize where their actual feed is, not good). Hang a 100 watt bulb over and close to the bottom of the bin. Don’t put it so close that the chicks can peck at it. You will leave this light on 24/7 for the next few weeks. It is there to provide warmth. Technically, the temp should be 95F for the first week and decrease 5F each week until you don’t need it (ie. reach room temp). Reality, watch your chicks – if they huddle under the light all in a ball, its too cold – if they are all at the edges of the bin panting, its too hot. They should be evenly spread out with warm areas and cool areas.
4)Once you introduce the chicks to there new home you need to physically take each chick and dip its beak into the water. This lets the chick know where water is. Remember, it’s a chicken, sometimes they are not very smart.
5)At this point you just change the water and feed every day and at 1 week old or so you can change out the towel for pine shavings or just regular dirt. When using pine shavings, DO NOT get cedar shavings. This causes severe respiratory distress and the chicks will die within hours to days. If you can smell cedar in the shavings it is to much.
6)Now is the time to start building their outside enclosure, whether it be a coop, tractor, pen or a run. There are benefits to all of them. You have to decide which is right for you and yours. We made a small chicken tractor type enclosure---it is 10'x5' at the bottom and triangle shaped. We used all scrap lumber we had around or got from a construction site (next time you see some people working on a house, ask if you can go through their leftovers). Chicken wire strung around the whole thing and corrugated metal roofing on the top. There is a closed in area on one end at the top and a ramp going up to it. There is a door on the inside (for the chickens to go through) with a rope attached so we can open and close the door from the outside. On the outside edge, there is another door and that's what we open to get the eggs (so we don't have to go through the coop to get them). We added a nesting box for them, but they never used it and seem quite content to lay in their coop (we were getting one egg a day from each chickie when the days were long, which is as good as it gets, so they must've been happy). There are wheels on one end and we drag the whole contraption to a new place every 3 or 4 days. This gives the chickies the “free range” access to grass and bugs, but keeps them safe (we had a huge hawk watching them this weekend!!)
7)Our chickies started laying eggs just about 4 months after we got them. It took them a while to ramp up to full production. After the initial starting costs (under $50, I'd say), we've spent about $9 for feed every 2 or 3 months (they get about 2.5-3 cups of feed a day--remember, they have access to the yard; if you keep the chickens in a non-movable coop, you'll need more feed--we pay $8.85 for 50 pounds of feed). I had no trouble selling eggs when we were getting nearly 3 dozen a week and they've “paid back” their debt at this point. They were in full production all of July, August and September. They started slowing down somewhere near early/mid-October and we get 3 eggs a day right now. By weight, we had “medium” eggs at first and “large” eggs by September.

This should get you started but more info is readily accessible on the internet.
Some links to help out:
backyardchickens.com - very helpful forum, lots of info.
ideal-poultry.com -right here in central texas

1 comment:

One Acre Homestead said...

JUST what I needed! Thank you, dearie!

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