Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Chickens

Dear friends,

It looks as though my husband and I are soon going to venture into raising chickens in our back yard. The chickens will be intended only for eggs and not for meat. Since we are real novices in this area, I thought I'd share some of our questions and concerns here, in the hope that some of you who are experienced in raising chickens can give us a bit of advice. We have already read through Rhonda's excellent guide for raising chickens, but there are still some questions left.

A little note about the climate in our area: it's generally pretty warm here in Israel, but some winter days it can be as low as 0 degrees Celsius and that must be taken into account.

Nests. How do we arrange nests for chickens and make sure they lay their eggs there and not all over the place? There is one guy in our area who has chickens, and every morning he combs his entire yard, collecting the eggs. We would like to avoid that if at all possible.

We would like to get our chickens as young as possible, but we want only hens. How old must the chicks be before you can tell the hens from the roosters?

How do we make sure we avoid salmonella?

Frugal feeding. Any tips? How should the chickens' diet change, and at which stage, as they approach laying age?

Which breeds are the most reasonable to have in your back yard? I mean taking everything into account - a reasonably large number of eggs (doesn't have to be too many, but preferably not too little), friendliness, ability to get along with each other and with children, neighbors and other animals.

Do chickens like to eat ants, and if yes, which breeds prefer ants and other insects? We have repeated infestations of ants all over our yard no matter what we do.

We haven't got a chicken coop yet, but our back yard is very small so we think we'll get something of about 120X60 cm (that's about 4X2 feet), which should house a small flock of about 3-4 birds. Do you think that should be enough? What about the height? Should 80 cm be enough? We intend to let them roam around the yard during the day.

Predators. We have plenty of foxes in our area; is there a way to guard the chickens from the foxes without having to lock them in the coop every night? Sounds tricky, I know. Or will we have to lock them in every time we go to sleep? My husband came up with the idea of perhaps lifting the coop up from the ground and installing ladders, or maybe placing something that will ward the foxes off but I'm not sure it can work.

What do we do if we need to be away for a few days?

Are there plants or any kinds of food that are harmful to the chickens and should be kept away from them?

I think that's about all for now. I might come up with more questions as we embark on our chicken adventure. Thanks in advance for sharing your experience!

34 comments:

Nadja said...

My grandma has chickens.
As for nesting, she'd put some hay in one place and then placed an egg there. She claims that this works and that chickens recognise it as their own nest. I wouldn't know if that actually works but she managed to get the eggs without going all over the place! If it's warm, you need to pick eggs every day and refrigerate them. To check if egg hasn't gone bad yet, my dad puts in the glass of water. If it sinks, it's okay to use it, if it swims, then it's bad.

As far as predators go, she locks them in every evening. No other way around that it seems, at least here.

Feeding. Well our chickens are fed with corn (we have to buy that) and leftovers from the garden (lettuce etc.). When we use eggs, we save the egg shell and feed it back to them. It helps with their calcium levels and ability to form new shells. (that's what my father claims;)).

I have no idea about breeds since we did have all sorts of chickens through the years. Most eggs are not as big as those bought in the stores.

Most chickens get along with children. Our chickens would never let us touch or 'pet' them but they also never attacked.

Anyhow, that's my two cents and just about everything I know about this topic!

Redneck Mommy Of 2 said...

Chickens will eat just about anything, scraps from the kitchen, fruit rinds, old bread, just about anything you throw to them.

Ghost said...

My cousins, who raise chickens, made nest boxes for them, each with some straw, and then they put golf balls in the nests. Apparently the chickens think the golf balls are eggs and this gets them to lay eggs in the nest boxes, rather than all over the yard.

Kaleanani said...

We want chickens too - they're even legal here - but my husband is afraid of the neighbors being too close and being bothered. Also, we have foxes and snakes and although plenty of people keep chickens here, it's not on a small city lot like ours. =(

That Married Couple said...

Oh, I think raising chickens is so neat! I've not done it myself, but I recently read about another woman doing it: http://mommyerin.blogspot.com/2009/09/we-have-chickens.html She's in the US. What I find interesting is that they made a rolling cage, so it can be moved all over the yard. They did have a dog attack later and have to strengthen the cage, but I think it's gone well for them other than that.
Best wishes on your endeavor!

Anonymous said...

Anna, We've had chickens and enjoyed them but the cost of feed was probably costing as much as it would to buy the eggs, I think. Foxes will definitely kill chickens - you must protect them at night and also from any dogs by day - my little dog ran after one and plopped down on top of it, "capturing" but not hurting the chicken. It was so funny, but not to the chicken, I'm sure. (Some dogs will kill them.) They keep each other warm by huddling together and fluffing up their feathers. You cannot introduce "new" chickens to a different group of established ones or they will fight. If you feed them the egg shells for calcium, you should first boil the shells and crush them up or they will learn to eat their own eggs - not nice! Make sure the place you keep them at night is big enough that they can escape to the middle or have a way to avoid a foxes reach. A nesting box is great but it does need regular changing of the straw as chickens make a mess in it. Wipe eggs off with a damp cloth but do not wash them in water unless you're ready to use them b/c the shell looses its ability to keep out bacteria if washed. To avoid salmanella just make sure the eggs are cooked completely - no soft yolks. Your little one is probably ready to eat boiled egg yolk, but probably not the white of the egg yet. I can't remember what age little ones can eat the white - you probably learned that in school. Roosters can be mean, mean, mean or nice. :-) I don't trust them! Look online for the best laying hens. You probably have different breeds than we have here. There is a great book, Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens by Damerow which would be very helpful if you want to get serious about this. We also had ducks once and their eggs were great. The problem was when they got the urge to migrate and they flew away. Chickens can be very messy so don't get too many. They will eat every speck of grass you have and your garden too. Then they'll eat the neighbor's gardens. You'll want to confine them somewhat. The quality of the eggs will also depend on their food. We were getting some free white bread for awhile and when we gave them that their egg production went way down, dramatically. That's a lesson in human nutrition too, isn't it? Okay. 'nuf said for now. :-) Sometime I should tell you about the very fun time we had with game hens. They were a lot of fun and very entertaining but they will NOT be caged.
Mrs. L.

Anonymous said...

We ventured into hen-keeping back in May and I'm very glad we did. We live in a residential neighborhood where it's unheard of to keep chickens but not against the law. We have a fenced yard but wanted to be sure they wouldn't fly over the fence so we clipped their wings, it was very easy and did not cause any pain. We bought four large breed hens who were about 11 months old and already laying well. They had been raised from chicks as a fun project by a Grandmother and her little grandson so they were very tame and didn't mind being picked up and handled at all. We have three Buff Orpingtons and one Black Australorp. They lay huge brown eggs, comparable to the x-tra lg. jumbo size in the store. I've heard that smaller breeds can be more skittish/non friendly. Big fat hens do better in cold weather than small hens. The other factor is that if you get at least 4 they can huddle together for warmth. They roost to sleep so having a roost made of wood instead of metal will keep their feet from frostbite. They like to lay their eggs in a dark private place, so we built a nest box about 18" off the floor in the coop in a dark corner. It is a cozy little nook filled with bedding (soft wood chips). The first egg was layed on the floor of the coop and I promptly moved it to the nest box. A few hours later I had four eggs in the nest box and they never looked back. They eat "laying mash" from a hardware/farm supply store, the name makes it sound wet but it is just like cornmeal texture, dry. There is also "laying pellets". They can eat almost all kitchen scraps with a few exceptions that would be dangerous. You can google that short list easily. I don't feed them eggs or chicken meat bc I've heard that may cause them to peck at eachother or eat their own eggs. They love yogurt. There is one disadvantage to friendly hens, they can be under foot too much looking for treats when you are trying to enjoy your yard. They will leave droppings on the patio, etc. Forget an outdoor picnic, they will swarm you. So it is nice to have a way to lock them in an area for a bit, or in the coop. I would suggest locking the coop every night at dusk, but you won't have to collect the hens, they put themselves to bed every night as soon as the shadows grow long. It's very cute. There are some great websites, www.backyardchickens.com is one. For learning about breeds, try www.mcmurrayhatcher.com. Good luck!

Beth

Persuaded said...

My daughter Louisa, who I believe you are acquainted with, keeps chickens for eggs, and she is a veritable fount of information about all things animal. I'll send her over here to share her thoughts:)

Blessings to you this morning my dear friend.

Roberta said...

Hi,
We have chickens. They are really very easy, since they require very little tending to. We go away for days and leave them in their coop. Ours is a little playhouse with a fence all around it. It has wooden floors and they can come out into their yard. I do let them free-range in the day, but they MUST be safe at night, as I have lost many to predators. Now even in the day the coyotes/foxes come around, so be prepared for that. Even chicken hawks and raccoons will come after them. I recommend a portable cage if you want them to have fresh grass daily. MaryJane'sFarm.com had great ideas a few months ago for portable coops. They must be safe at night. When it is cold, a heating lamp in their coop keeps them warm. We also install heated water bowls, as it is a pain to change frozen water everyday.I recommend getting large enough feeders/waterers so you can fill them and leave for a few days. As for eating ants/ bugs, guinea hens are GREAT for that, they eat all bugs but they are the noisiest things you have ever heard! Worse than a rooster as they never stop!Chickens naturally will go in their coop at night and roost, you don't have to gather them in. I always know what time it is by when the chickens start heading for their bed! Chickens will lay their eggs anywhere, no matter what. We have six beautiful nesting boxes for them, and they still lay them under something! It is tough to get just hens if you get babies, since you don't know until they are older. I recommend buying laying hens, then there is no doubt. I started out the same way as you, knowing almost nothing and with a lot of questions and it has now been three years and I love my chickens! Good luck!

Mommy-moto said...

Unfortunately, you will have to coop them at night. That's real easy though; just turn on a light in the coop and they will pretty much head strait for it (you may have to chase a few, but no one ever accused chickens of being smart) since they cannot see in the dark, but they can see the light.
Think of the coop like the chickens bedroom. It's for their own safety.

Chickens will eat anything, so any table scraps, like squash, fruit, other veggies are perfect for you little egg laying buddies.

Good luck with your chicks!

Laura Spilde said...

I raised chickens on my parents farm when I was younger.

things I can remember:

Chickens do not like extreme heat or extreme cold. We lost many at one time because of this.

Put the chickens inside a shelter at night to help keep predators away.

Having basic commercial feed available will help alleviate the worries about chickens not having enough feed available. Most types of chickens/poultry like corn.

Michelle said...

Not knowing how raising chicks is handled in Israel, some of this advice might be moot, but I'll give you advice based on my experience and knowledge

Climate - depending on the breed, they should be fine at that temp. As long as they have a coop to hide in and cuddle up when it gets cold. If you're really concerned about it getting too cold, you can buy a heat lamp to turn on temporarily - I turn mine on when it gets below 20 degrees or so (F). You'll need one anyway if you're raising chicks from day-old.

Nests - I'm still trying to figure that out myself. Mine will be laying any day now and I'm having a really hard time keeping them from kicking straw out of the nesting boxes. They all like to cram themselves on top of it too- they don't perch like they're supposed to.

Its extremely difficult to tell between male and female chicks until they're nearly full-grown. If you order from a hatchery here, you have the option to order roosters, straight run (mixed gender) or pullets only. Some hatcheries are better than others at sending you what you order. You might end up with a rooster or 2 if you order pullets. I ordered from Mt. Healthy hatcheries out of Ohio and they had the best reviews that I found.
Avoiding salmonella - just cook the eggs well. There's no real difference between store eggs and fresh - just store them properly and don't wash them until you're ready to use them.

Chicks get chick starter for the first 18 weeks of life. They have to have a supplement in their water called quick-chick to help with electrolyte balance. They can also have corn grit for the first few weeks. After that, they get hen feed, black sunflower seeds, any kitchen scraps, grass and bugs.

Personally I have brown leghorns - they're good egg-layers. I had one incident when they were very young and running out of room in their kitchen bin where they started picking on the tail feathers of 2 in-particular, but that can be treated with blood-stop powder and temporary isolation. That is also when I added a higher-protein food to their diet (that's where the black sunflower seeds come in) and added apple cider vinegar to their water. Sometimes roosters can get aggressive, but if you don't plan to keep any...that's not a problem.

S'far as I know, chickens will eat any bugs - its protein. They should be able to take care of your ant problem.

Each chicken will need 1.5-2 square feet of space. I have 13 chickens so I really need to get on expanding their indoor space. The outdoor run I have set up for them has 2X4" welded wire fencing around it and I have lashed black plastic netting over the top to keep predators out (we have foxes, coyotes, mtn. lions, bears, hawks and other birds of prey...)

Once the chickens get used to a routine, they should start putting themselves to bed at night so you don't have to chase them in - mine go into their indoor coop and settle down about an hour until sunset and so I just shut the door on them and throw them some food. It is important to lock them in at night. Predators will have a hey-day trying to get at them if you leave them out at night.

If you go away for a few days, I would arrange for someone to come and give them clean water every other day or so - because they poop. Alot. You can load them up on food and they'd be fine with that. They can tolerate being locked in the coop for a few days as long as there's sufficient food and water.

I don't know about poisonous plants. I know chickens shouldn't have un-cooked potatoes. Can't think of anything else off the top of my head.

Feel free to email me w/ more questions. I have several friends who I can tap their knowledge on chickens if need be - some of them have been doing chickens for a dozen years or so.

Christina said...

We have chickens. And yeah, they should have a coop to go into a night, then they will know that is where they lay their eggs. We've lost chickens to foxes, owls etc... so if you have a problem with foxes in the area, you will definitely have to lock them up somewhere that no critter can get into, or else you won't have chickens very long. :P We feed our chickens Chick starter when they are very little, the Chicken Grower when they are bigger (as in feathered out) and the Layer Mash once they are full grown. We get our feed from a local organic feed store.

Chickens know what to eat or what not to eat. And they can eat pretty much anything.

Chickens like to eat bugs and insects, I've never paid attention to whether they eat ants or not.

I'm not sure what breeds of layers you have over there. Here the most natural breeds are the Rhode Island Reds or the Plymouth Barred Rocks. We have either/or. As for getting along with eachother, they should do fine, unless you have more than one rooster. If all you're getting is hens, then there shouldn't be anything to worry about them not getting along.

You can't tell the roosters from the hens once they are hatched until they feather out. Unless you ask for only hens when you order them, but that depends on if you are getting them from a hatchery or from a friend. Because when you are picking out eggs for hatching, if you want only hens you take the eggs that are round. The ones that are longer are always roosters. :)If they are round you have a pretty good chance of the majority of them being hens. I'm not sure how to describe it. But I think you are dealing with getting them already hatched so that wouldn't mean much.

We've never had a problem with salmonella.

They should have a shelter from storms and cold. If it gets to zero has you said, they won't lay.

Original L said...

Chicks! So much fun, they are so adorable when they are babies. :-) We've had quite a few "batches" of chickens in my life - as far as nests, chickens automatically roost in their house at dusk every night if they are provided one, and they seem to instinctively recognize a nice, dark, bedded space as a nest without any work on our part. You might have occasional eggs laid elsewhere, but as long as there is enough nest space per bird, they will generally put all their eggs in there.

For sexing, any hatchery in the US will do that for you at under a day old (after that age, it is impossible to tell for months until they start crowing). Just order a "run of pullets" (don't know the term in your language) and they should all be hens.

Salmonella is not really such a big deal to worry about in small farms. Large farms have tons of trouble with superbugs because everything is so completely unnatural, but we are all exposed to salmonella many times a day and have it in our digestive systems most of the time, too... Don't eat a suspicious egg and you'll be fine.

The high egg laying breeds like Leghorns are shy and spooky and might fight with each other some, but the hens are OK with people. Meat breeds are quite friendly and calm, but lay a lot fewer eggs.

Not sure about the ants.... You could try sprinkling syrup to attract the ants and see if the chickens hang around and eat all the ants that come.

The house size sounds good, but you will need a nesting box attached to that too. It should also be tall enough that you can put a roost in for them to sleep on. If you look up "chicken tractor" there are all kinds of free plans you can get.

Predators - yup, lock them up. Sorry! They will go in by themselves, though, so no work of herding them in, just close the door.

Diet - If you want the best results and healthy hens, esepcially as you have a small yard, I would buy feed for them, and add scraps and bugs and plants to that. Laying hens are like nursing mothers and need good food and constant access to water.


One thing I will tell you is that hens can live about 15 to 20 years but really are only productive maybe the first 3 or 4 years. After the first year or two most places start over with another batch because they stop laying enough eggs.... Just FYI.


Hope this helps!

Kristin-Homemaker@Heart said...

Sorry, I can't help you here. I've always wanted to have chickens. I think it would be neat but we've never done it.

Steve and Paula said...

www.backyardchickens.com.
There is a message board where you can read and ask questions and answers about everything chicken.
The raised coop is an excellent idea, but foxes can climb ladders just fine.
And, the chickens will likely just try and roost on the ladders for the night.
We do our very best to let ours free range, adn then the only feed they get is Barley with fish meal.
We refuse to feed them soy, and anything genetically modified.
God did not creat chickens to eat only grains.
They require greens, bugs and dirt/sand/gravel, every day.

Never feed them milk, as they will stop laying.

And no need to give them a heated coop. It will mess up the molt cycle if its heated.
Just a draft free one, that has good vetilation at the roof line.
Basically, have the roost in the back wall of the coop.
At the foreward area of the side walls, have their little door at the bottom, and then a ventilation hole at the top on the other side.

Save all the manure for a garden. Let it age for a number of months before working it in to the soil.

You should be able to order "sexed" chicks rather then straight run. This way you can get all hens.
The other option is to get Sexlinks. The males and females are different colors.

We love our Cochins, but they also do nto lay eggs until they are 9 months old, compared to most other breeds who start at 4-5 months.

Michelle said...

Nadja seems to have it covered. Growing up, I don't remember ever NOT having chickens...but we had to look for the eggs every day because we didn't coop them. If they do run free range and lay, they will make a nest and go there every day, so finding the eggs was easy. We just had to return to the same spot every day for the eggs.

We supplemented our chickens free range diet with "chicken feed" which was just cracked corn.

We always raised hens and rooster's so I don't remember how young you can tell them apart. My mom decided one time to slaughter the roosters when they became too many. No one would eat the chicken though, lol. It was like eating a pet to us.

We always had problems with predators...even when we tried cooping the chickens. We had snakes that would get in the coops and eat the eggs...and sometimes a small chicken. When they ran free, we had problems with "chicken hawks" mostly, but not exclusively.

I have read that you can "train" your chickens to come into their coop at night, and release them during the day:) Seems like Motherearth News had an article on that.

SandyK said...

Here's a website that I found when we got our chickens. It has so much information and wonderful people to help with all our questions.

http://www.backyardchickens.com/forum/index.php

Bobbi said...

www.backyardchickens.com was a site I know my friend who raises chickens used. Of course, her's were mostly all eaten by raccoons...so don't know how helpful it was on the predator front...

Rachel said...

Anna, I live in Oklahoma, USA. It actually get a little bit cooler here in the winter, but I'm not sure about how the heat compares...it gets well over 100F here sometimes in the hottest part of the summer.

We raise chickens. Since you are dealing with a smaller area than what we have (we have 10 acres), I'd suggest a chicken "tractor", which if you do a websearch, is effectively a mobile coop. You *can* build these at home, they are easy and pretty simple, if you plan properly. We scavanged and reused materials from elsewhere on our place to build parts of them...so they don't have to be expensive...

We have Buff Orpingtons, Black Australorps, Black Stars, and a silver laced Wyandotte (you can go to my blog and check out some of our recent pictures--we just had a little chick hatch out this weekend). We had more birds last year, but we've gotten winnowed down to only 6 (not counting the chick). I highly recommend those breeds. Especially if you are not planning on roosters (who tend to be more aggressive in general), although I would recommend a single rooster, to eventually replace your hens (as their productivity will slow down over a year or two, and eventually, cease).

We free range our birds, as well (we have ten acres, though), and offer them egg layer feed in a feeder in their coop, as well as water all the time. They definitely keep the bugs down, but I'm not sure about the ants. Sorry. They will take care of anything and everything else they can catch though. Small amphibians are not offlimits for them, if they can be caught.

We give our birds scraps, as Nadja mentioned, as well as the feed. Corn, grains in general are fine, as well as fruits, veggies soft enough for them to get their beaks into...

Yes, you will need to put them up at night. Here we have foxes, raccoons, possums, coyotes, snakes, you name it. So I understand the need for protection for them. However, that is *not* that difficult. Usually, they will go in before sunset, and you won't have to do much of anything but count beaks and shut/latch the door. Just once they are big enough to be outside by themselves, I'd put them into the coop for several days. Let them get used to it, feed/water them, move the tractor as needed (just drag it, it doesn't have to go up very far). They will accept it as "home", and will come back to it every evening. Nesting boxes can be built into the tractor. Nesting spots are best if they are dark, close, and relatively private. Keep that in mind when building. Make sure to put plenty of soft bedding material in there (straw and such) for them to settle into as they work on laying those eggs. And definitely put a roost set up in there, for them to roost on to sleep at night. They don't care to sleep on the ground once they are big enough to fly up to the roosting bar.

Handling chicks early enough, frequently, will make them more friendly and personable. I had one that was just a little lovey. She'd follow me around like I was her mother, and she always got first dibs on everything I tossed out for them (she'd TAKE first dibs, lol).

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask. I've btdt with the bitty birds, and it is always fun. :-) Keep in mind, that unless your birds are full grown, or nearly so, they will take a good 4-6mos to start laying. The light requirements are a concern for us in more northern climes, but I would think that in Israel, you wouldn't have the same concerns, so year round laying may be standard there.

Oh--chickens like sunflower seeds. And pumpkins/squash. Marigolds. Maybe you can plant some of those next year, and get those growing under some shelter (so the chickens don't eat them before they get big enough to be out of reach), then the plants can drop seeds as they reach maturity. And if you have strawberries--or other low fruits, you'll be needing to cover/fence them off.

Anyway, sorry for the long post...
I do hope it helped!

Joie said...

If no one else has mentioned this, look up building plans for a chicken ark. I have friends who made one of these and it has been great for their chickens.

You must lock them up from the foxes EVERY night.

may said...

My friend's mother raised chickens years ago but gave up because of the rats. She thought that rats were inevitable if you raise chickens. This was long before I knew them so I can't say what they did, or whether there was anything else they could have done to prevent or reduce rat infestations.

Apparently they either go for the chickenfeed, or the eggs, so you should factor in how you're going to keep the rats out, given that with a small child and the chickens you may not wish to lay down poison.

She raised goats for milk for a while too, so she had quite a smallholding. It all seems like a lot of hard work to me.

Anonymous said...

We raise chickens. We use metal nesting boxes that we obtained used. My husband made a coop that allows us to collect the eggs from outside. We do not free range the chickens, but the coop is open. It has a floor, back that has solid doors that open(where the nesting boxes are), and roof. In the winter we cover most, but not all of the sides. We have fox/fox family behind our house. They will dine on your hen if they are out and about in the evening. We did have an unfortunate hen roost too near the wire and didn't make it, but we were never sure if it was the fox. A fox will eagerly dig under a fence for the egg or hen, so I would not recommend a dirt floor. Overall, we do not have a problem with the fox family and enjoy seeing kits play in the back fields in the spring. They are usually more interested in the chipmunks, voles, and mice.

When we buy chicks we buy straight run.

The best layers are light weight breeds. The most prolific layers are Leghorns; they lay white eggs. We find them to be a bit "jumpy." Over the years we have tried Barred Rocks, Araucanas (they lay colored eggs) Golden Orpingtons (brown eggs), and Rhode Island Reds (brown eggs). Through trial and error, our preference is the Golden Comet. They are calm birds, and lay huge eggs with dark yolks.

Chickens will eat just about anything, including their eggs and each other. When they pick on one hen too much, and we have caught it in time, we spray a blue clotting spray on it. They don't like the taste and usually leave the wounded alone. We also might isolate the hen. I am not certain about their preference for ants, but they do love insects in general. They love most of the table scraps.

No Idle Hands

BettySue said...

We are just finishing up our first half a year of chickens. We are wondering why we never raised them before! Their fun:-)

Nests: My research says that you make the boxes (or in our case, one big long box) clean and put plenty of straw in them, plus add a golf ball or two to give them the idea. Lock the chickens up overnight and don’t let them out until late (10 ish?). Most of the time they lay in the morning.

You can buy day-olds that are supposed to be all female. They are pretty accurate.

Basic hygiene will prevent food poisoning. If your hens free-range and you keep the coop clean, they will most likely not be carriers.

We began giving them table scrapes at about three months. They now eat mostly leftovers with free feed of a laying ration. They eat literally anything.

We bought Orpington. Big breeds are more gentle and less energetic, making them better for children and neighbors. They are also easier to fence once they are grown as their wings are not big enough to lift them.

We were told to roughly expect 2 eggs every three days per bird, or five eggs per week.

Ours love bugs of all types. I think this is universal for chickens.

Our coop is about 8’x8’ (hubby didn’t want to cut the wood panels!) and we have 12 hens. They all sleep crowded up together. We were told to give two feet of perch space to each bird. As far as the height, I would be most concerned with your comfort for cleaning and collecting eggs. That should be plenty for the birds (3 feet with a perch should be fine.)

As I mentioned, we just lock ours up after supper every night. Determined predators will get in to most anything, but with the coyotes and stray dogs, snakes and rats here, they just have a better chance locked in the coop. We do have a dog to guard, but unfortunately, he like the taste of chicken, so he isn’t much help.

For vacation, we left them locked in the coop with plenty of water and feed. When we were gone more than two days, we had my mom come check on them. They were fine. A little annoyed, but fine.

Anonymous said...

My mother's 'pet' project when the children were older than 4-5 yrs was coordinating a chicken-laying venture. (The roosters can be irascible and mothers do not want to ever see a small child chased by a rooster!) She purchased the fertilized eggs from a chicken farmer and we incubated them until hatchlings, then they grew into chickens!

The coop built by my brothers was a small building, with a locking door that went up a few steps into an area with nesting boxes for 8-12 chickens. A chickenwire fence surrounded an area for the chicken to emerge from the coop to run about.

We kids took turns cleaning the chicken coop, hosing it and freshening the hay every Sat. morning.

Chickens need fresh water and chicken feed every single day. Some days we'd bring in handfuls of chickweed or purslane as a treat for the chickens.

We always had several dozen extra eggs stored in the refrigerator, and so it was nice to bring to the neighbors until we figured out the right amount of chickens for our family of 10.

The project lasted several summers, until we wanted to go on a family trip. Then, the chickens went on the chopping block. I don't think I ever ate any of those chickens or the rabbits that were raised for human consumption. But, there's not too much that can mimic the rich orangey-yellow fresh yolks of Rhode Island, or New Hampshire Red or Wyandotte hens.

Good luck, and my advice is to wait until Shira is old enough to run faster than the rooster.

Mrs. R said...

Hi Anna!
What an exciting adventure to embark upon!!

First, a chicken egg naturally has a coating on it that protects it from spoilage. As long as you do not wash that coating off you can keep the eggs safely on the counter! I have been doing this myself and it's wonderful to have freed up that amount of refrigerator space. You must wash each egg prior to use though. I also give each egg a little sniff before putting it into whatever I am making. I have yet to find any bad eggs and my eggs have ONLY been on the counter top! Store bought eggs have already been washed, but you could simulate the natural chicken coating by coating a store bought egg with vasoline.

It is also important for chickens to have access to "the yard", which you are already planning on letting them do. The love to eat bugs! I am not sure about ants, but I hope they become big "anteaters"!! lol

Do you have a neighbor who could babysit your chickens if you needed to be gone for a couple of days?

At one large chicken farming operation near me they have the old time displays and they show wooden eggs in the nest to encourage the chickens to lay their eggs there.

One chicken raising friend of mine has 9 chickens. They all lay all their eggs in the same nest, though there are 9 different nests available in her coop!

You will need to lock those little beauties up at night for protection form predators. Otherwise your yard will become the next drive through restaurant! Those little foxes will send out the invitation to all their little buddies... "psst, there's chicken to be had at Mrs. Anna T's place!! Come on fellas, lets go chow down!! Pass the word..."

Family friends who also are on a small working farm, also live near a river here in the Pacific Northwest. Eagles also like living near water... Frequently they find just the feathers left of poor ol henny. Easy pickins! They have even watched the eagles carrying off one of their layers... mmmm, tasty!

Many Blessings to you!!
~Mrs. R

LeAnna said...

I think everyone has given you really good advice thus far. I didn't read all of the comments, so forgive me if I double up on what another person says.

I personally love having my own hens. Feed does get high, but the eggs taste so much better. I feed mine every bit of left over scraps. Chickens need animal protein, so I have no problem tossing them leftover meat. They will actually eat small rodents and frogs if given the chance.

As for ants, I'm afraid chickens don't find them near as delectable as a guinea fowl will. If you can get a few guinea fowl they will eat nearly every pesky insect in sight. They are, however, extremely obnoxious and loud. I'm sure chickens will eat some ants, but doubtfully will they control an infestation.

Proper cleaning and handling of eggs, and you don't really need to worry about salmonella. Keep your nests clean. I would definitely reccomend making them nesting boxes. Other wise they will hide their eggs, and you may find them eating them.

In my opinion, chicks are extremely difficult to sex. Professionals at the hatchery can do it at hatch, but be prepared to pay a little more for an all female run. I will tell you, if you take your chances with a straight run (50/50) you will receive a large number of roosters. :) Happens to me every time! Pay the extra and buy pullets only. Or, as one reader suggested, go with a Sexlink- which can be sexed by color.

Hawks are also predators of chickens, and a large one will carry off a hen with no problem. Unless you have trees for your hens to roost, put them up at night. You can easily train them to go to the coop at dusk, just latch the door and you'll be set.

I personally have a variety of hens. I prefer the brown egg laying varieties, but you will get higher yield with a white egg layer, such as the Leghorn. I have a few Cuckoo Maran's, Welsummers, Buff Orpingtons, and White Rocks along with a hodge podge of other breeds.

Start out with 2 or 3 hens, and add more as you go along. The chick stage is very messy, and they require a lot of attention. It's worth it, though, to end up with very personable birds. Ours will eat out of our hands, etc.

Definitely check out backyardchickens.com - there is a wealth of information on there, and a great forum with a plethora of chicken fanatics who would be really interested in assisting you!

Clare said...

Just a quick note: A local farmer uses an old travel trailer for a chicken coop - he gutted it and fitted it with wooden shelves and nesting boxes. With its metal outside structure, louvered windows, and locking doors, it is completely predator-proof, and he can hitch it to his tractor and move it to whatever part of his property he wants the chickens to graze in (and eat the slugs and bugs off his plants). Brilliant!

Jo said...

Your temperature is similar to ours in Australia and we do get very hot summers and mild winters (occasionally down to zero) - as children we kept the chickens in a run (fenced area safe from foxes) and have a house for them to lay their eggs and sleep at night. It was built near a tree to offer shade in summer. Make sure their run doesn't get muddy as that isn't any good for their feet. Chickens love kitchen scraps as well as grain. Watch out for mice (that like the grain.

Happy chicken keeping and eggs from home are far better than the store eggs - much more yellow and tastier.

Jo

Mrs. Anna T said...

Ladies, thank you for your highly informative comments! I'm about to go over all of them again with a notepad in hand. I will definitely follow the useful links you left for me.

Just as a sidenote, we don't intend to keep a rooster, I expect that would be too much for the neighbors. They can't say no to a couple of hens though. Not after Mr. Duck has demolished half our yard and pooped all over our front steps.

Anonymous said...

Looks like you have all the information you need! My new hens aren't laying yet, and our "old ladies" aren't producing much anymore so I have to buy store bought , I do know I can not stand store bought anymore, I just crack one of each in a bowl together even if one of them is a store bought organic free range egg... they look totally different. Look to see if you have any animal auctions in your area we went last weekend and young hens just beginning to lay went for $1, each.

Anonymous said...

I see you have some conflicting opinions/experiences here, it just goes to show that like people, animals are individuals and you can't always count on a certain kind of experience from them.......I had to adjust my expectations when we first got our hens and not catagorize them as "pets" really bc of the chance of something going wrong, etc. You are wise to gather info., but to a certain extent trial and error will be your teacher so you can expect some of that as well. Take care!

Beth

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna, this is Brenda's son Ben.
We have chickens and have a lot of fun. Here are some things that work well for us.
We put roosts in front of the nesting boxes so that they will recognize that is where they should lay. I put a 1 inch layer of straw in each one. I also put a couple fake eggs in some to encourage them to lay in the boxes. When we get our eggs, every so often I crush them and mix in with feed for strong eggshells. Chickens will need 13-14 hours of daylight for regular egg laying. Putting a light in there and turning it on in the morning and off at night works well for me. You can also hook a timer to it if you don't want to do what I do. We have 22 hens and 1 rooster(which was a mistake by our hatchery). You will be able to recognize that you have a rooster at about 2-3 months when you notice a bigger wattle and comb. Also you might notice that he runs after the hens and puffs up his feathers. I heard our rooster crow for the first time at about 3.5 months. We live in Minnesota and have temps in winter at about -20. If you are worried about them getting to cold you can put some layers of cardboard for good insulation. Chickens are more susceptible to die from too hot of temps than too cold. Some chickens have been bred for warmer weather and the same for cold. At about 3.5-4 months you should switch them to a layer diet mash. You will expect eggs at about 4 months but will only lay once and awhile. At about 4.5-5 is when our chickens layed on a regular basis. I have Gold Stars which are very amazing layers as well as easy to work with for beginners. If you let your chickens roam the yard they will forage and find bugs and plants and they will be happier. Giving them treats now and then is also good for them as it will keep them occupied for awhile. If you still have chicks and go away for awhile check how much they eat and drink each day as this will help you see how much they will need for the certain # of days gone. When they are chicks they are more vulnerable and you might want a friend to check on them while gone. If a chicken pecks at an egg and get to like the tasting you can try blowing out an egg and putting mustard in it. Having chickens is a lot of fun and you become to like them a lot. Good luck.

Ben

Frequently Asked Questions about Raising Chickens said...

Chickens will eat just about anything, infact it's actually a good thing to mix house hold scrapes with the dietary needs.