City Chick goes Country

Homesteading on a 0.18 acre suburban lot in rural Arkansas

Tag: Chickens

In the Garden with Chickens: The Lazy Gardener

I am by nature a lazy gardener. The one garden task that gets neglected more often than not is weeding. I hate weeding. If I could get away with never doing it, I’d be the happiest gardener in the world. But, every year grass and other weeds invade my garden beds. These unwelcome guests must go. I have several choices for weed control; a Weed Dragon, various hoes and cultivators, pulling by hand, and chickens. That’s right—I embrace having chickens in my garden.

 

Chickens in the garden

Chickens are my favorite method of weed control. If you give them some time, they will eliminate all weed, weed seeds, bugs and grubs from the garden bed. Right now, they are working the future tomato bed. I just pulled the garlic and before I plant again, I’ll let the girls have a romp through the garden bed. They will remove any cutworms, weeds, and bugs. As a bonus, their scratching around tills the bed. I am left with the task of planting, adding mulch, and tomato cages. Nothing else needs to be done.

 

My girls need supervision in this particular garden bed. It is outside of the garden area where they are allowed to roam free. If left unsupervised, I would have chickens everywhere. It would not be a good situation. They could get into the neighbors’ backyards. With two hours a day of supervised time, 15 hens stripped the bed clean in two days. They get tasty plants and high quality protein from bugs and grubs. I get a weed and pest free garden bed, healthier eggs, and spend less money on chicken feed.

 

There is a down side to allowing chickens to do your garden bed preparation. Unlike ducks, chickens will devour your favorite plants. According to my chickens, anything green or wiggling through the ground must be eaten. They do not make the distinction between the gardens you want them to be in and the gardens full of your favorite plants and veggies. Chickens prefer the latter. If you want to be able to keep your garden alive and well, a barrier of some form is necessary. I use several different methods with varying success. Expect plant casualties. It is inevitable.

 

— till next time

Lynda

Ten things I wish someone told me about chickens

Experience is what we get when things don’t go as planned. I was raised in one of the largest cities in New York. Growing up, I had a dog and a parakeet for pets. Even cats were foreign to me. This city chick is learning the hard way that raising chickens is not as easy as most backyard chicken blogs make it out to be. Here are ten things that I wish I knew before I bought my first chick.

1) I will never process chickens during the summer again—not ever. The heat and flies were unbearable. Processing chickens will take place in the fall through late spring. I’ll have to plan my egg purchases accordingly.

 

2) Broiler chickens have no tolerance for heat. Temps above 80 really start to stress out the adults. Arkansas heat is too much for them. I will have to make sure that the last broiler adults are processed in late spring and the next set of chicks will have to be ready in early fall.

 

3) Ear color is not an accurate way to determine what color eggs a hen will lay. Both of my white-eared hens lay colored eggs. Chicken books say that white-eared hens usually lay white eggs.

 

4) Australorp and Barred-rock pullets and cockerels can fly. It is not until they reach adulthood does the ability to fly diminish.

 

5) Hens from Easter-egger and other breeds that lay different colored eggs will only lay one color. If you want a basket full of different colored eggs, you need multiple hens.

 

6) Hens will never lay eggs where you want them to. They lay eggs where they want to.

 

7) Never trust an employee from a farm-supply store about the gender of chickens. I purchased 23 pullets. Twelve of them turned out to be cockerels. Next time I will hatch my own eggs. It is cheaper and I’ll get the same gender breakdown.

 

8) If you purchase chicks instead of adult chickens, expect to get some cockerels (young roosters.) If zoning in your area does not allow roosters, this is a problem. Most breeds will start to crow at about 8-10 weeks. You cannot sell roosters, many times you cannot give them away. No one wants roosters. Keep this in mind if you plan to order straight run or hatch eggs.

 

9) Chickens love shiny objects—this includes shiny nail polish. If you love long nails with metallic polish, expect your chickens to come after your fingers.

 

10) Chickens LOVE mealworms. If you ever need to divert your chickens’ attention away from something, mealworms will always work.

Meat and eggs on 1/5 of an acre

Part of homesteading should include producing meat and eggs (unless you are a vegetarian—I’m not.) Attempting to do this on a meager 1/5 acre in a subdivision is not easy. Zoning regulations aside, there is space—or lack thereof—to consider. My family is now eating fresh eggs and semi-free range chicken, courtesy of our little homestead.

 

Eggs

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My new hens are laying beautiful colored eggs. Copyright Lynda Altman 2014. All rights reserved.

My initial goal was to purchase chicks and raise them, with egg production starting toward the end of summer. An opportunity came up for me to buy seven adult hens with unknown egg production. I figured this would fill in the gap between now and when the pullets would start laying. After a quarantine period, we merged the adult hens with the pullets. Egg production started out okay—averaging two eggs per day. My family uses more eggs than that, but it is a start.

 

I was trying to figure out which hens were laying. Three were identified, but I was pretty sure there was a fourth, based on egg color and the time when I found the eggs. On Monday, my hens proved that there are indeed at least four laying hens. It was the first ever four-egg day! My ladies gifted me with eggs in shades of pink, tans, and green. Today was a repeat performance.

 

Egg count from 6/14 to 7/1:   29

Meat

Meat production is something that most chicken blogs do not discuss. Well, this former City Chick raises both laying hens and chickens for meat. Is this cruel? No, my chickens live a good life with access to fresh air, sunshine, supervised free-range time, and healthy food. For years I have been very vocal about how large-scale confined chicken farming is inhumane. I own my home, so it is possible for me to raise chickens for meat.

 

Broilers and dual purpose chickens

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One of our broiler chickens. Copyright 2014 Lynda Altman and City Chick goes Country

 

I started my venture into chicken raising Cornish-cross chicks. This would be the acid test to see if raising chickens was something I wanted to do. After 12 weeks, the birds would be processed and I would know if my venture into chickendom was successful.

 

Turns out, chickens are not that difficult to care for. We built a large chicken run which housed both the broilers and the pullets. Turns out, some of the pullets were cockerels–that’s a problem.

 

After 15 weeks, we processed four, very large broilers. They dressed out between 8.5 and 9 pounds. It is hard to say how much money this saved us. You cannot find chickens that large in the grocery store—especially ones that are semi-free range and free from added hormones and antibiotics.

 

Meat production so far

We have harvested 26 ½ pounds of chicken:

One 9 pound roast chicken.

7 ½ pounds of boneless skinless chicken breast.

6 pounds of chicken leg quarters.

4 pounds of backs and wings for chicken stock.

 

So far I am pleased with the returns I am getting from my little homestead. My new adult layers are starting to produce better than expected and we are enjoying fresh peas from the garden to eat with our chicken. Soon, there will be squash, sweet potatoes, plenty of tomatoes, and fresh herbs.

How chicken eggs get their color

My quest to figure out which of my seven hens were laying eggs led me to start researching egg color. Trying to determine which of my hens were producing blue/green eggs was becoming difficult. One of my hens looks like some form of Auraucana cross, maybe and Easter-Egger or Olive-Egger. My unanswered question was “would a single hen lay eggs of different colors?” Off to the search engines I went.

He says, she says

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My new hens are laying beautiful colored eggs. Copyright Lynda Altman 2014. All rights reserved.

The internet is full of contradicting information. Some say of course Easter-Eggers and chickens in that class lay multiple colored eggs. Others said, no, just one color per hen. Additional responses claimed hens can lay different shades of eggs in the same color family. Finally, I found my answer thanks to a research paper titled “An EAV-HP Insertion in 5′ Flanking Region of SLCO1B3 Causes Blue Eggshell in the Chicken.” Exactly what I was looking for—a peer reviewed paper on chicken egg color. It is a very interesting read, especially if the genetic origin of the Auraucana and blue chicken eggs piques your interest.

It’s in the genes

Hens that lay white eggs, will always lay white eggs. Hens that lay brown eggs can lay eggs in shades of browns, ranging from dark brown to almost light pink. Those that lay blue or green eggs will only lay eggs in shades of blues and greens. Even the blue/green eggs of the Auraucana are different than truly blue eggs.

 

All eggs start out white. Hens that lay white eggs lack the genes which produce colored eggs. A hen that lays white eggs will never start to lay colored eggs—not even very light colors.

 

Brown eggs are caused by the pigment protoporphyrin, which adds the color at the end of the shell development process. Break open a brown egg and remove any membrane from the inside of a shell fragment and you will notice that the inside of the shell is white. The brown coloring on the outside of the shell can be rubbed off. A hen that lays brown eggs, no matter what breed, will only lay eggs in shades of brown to pink. The shade of brown will vary due to breed, temperature, stress, age, health, and diet.

 

Blue and green eggs are a unique situation. The eggs are colored by the pigment oocyanin, which adds the color during the early formation of the shell. Break open a blue or green egg and look at the inside of the shell–it will be blue. Green eggs are caused by the hen being able to produce both pigments—blue and brown. Genetics dictates whether a hen will lay truly blue eggs or green/blue eggs. Blue eggers lay eggs in shades of blue. Green eggers lay in shades of green. Stress, breed, environmental factors, health, and age all play a part in how dark or light the shade is.

 

Will a single hen lay multiple colored eggs?

This takes us back to my original question. The answer is no—genetics dictates the color she is able to lay. There may be subtle shading within her color range. Weather, especially temperature, can impact egg color. Young hens who are just beginning to lay may have eggs that darken over time. Older hens approaching the end of their laying days will gradually have smaller eggs that lighten in color.

 

Did this post help you? Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear about your flock.

 

–Lynda, a city chick gone country.

Who is laying eggs?

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This little red and black hen lays perfect tan eggs. Copyright Lynda Altman 2014. All Rights reserved.

 

Forget Where’s Waldo. Who’s laying is way more challenging. I have seven hens. They were purchased at a livestock auction on June 14th. One of the hens was laying, as she left an egg in the cage at the auction. I am positive that at least four of the ladies are gifting me with eggs. It could be more. The hens are of different breeds and they make a pretty little flock. Over the past 11 days they have given me a total of 13 eggs. Not bad when you consider the stress of being sold at auction, quarantine, and integration into a flock of pullets.

 

 

 

 

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My new hens are laying beautiful colored eggs. Copyright Lynda Altman 2014. All rights reserved.

 

Eggs, glorious eggs

The seven hens are of different breeds. It appears that I have a Barred Rock, a Black Australorp, two that could be Rhode Island Reds or Red sex-linked or Production Reds, one Easter-Egger or Ameraucana, and the other two are most likely mixed breeds of some sort.

 

I am thrilled that they are laying this well. In the back of my mind, I reconciled the fact that these hens were at auction because their egg laying days were over. The Barred Rock is older, you can tell by her legs, but she is a gorgeous bird.

 

Egg color tells me that I have at least two different layers. I am getting eggs in shades of browns/pink and eggs in shades of blues/greens. All of the eggs are about the same size. When compared to commercial large white eggs, they are slightly smaller, but not by much. I’ll call them medium/large.

 

Detective work

The pullets are only 10 weeks old. They are not laying so I can remove them from the “who is laying” equation. A little detective work leads me to the conclusion that at least four hens are laying. While checking to make sure the chooks were going to be safe and dry from an approaching storm, I noticed one of the hens going in and out of the nest box. She was very protective over it. At the time, the nest box was empty. I sat and watched her. It was raining, but I wanted to see if she would lay, so in the rain I sat. My efforts paid off. She rewarded me with a blue egg.

 

A similar situation happened a few days later. This time there was already an egg in the nest box. I noticed the Australorp exhibiting the same behavior as the hen who laid the blue egg for me. The brown egg was removed from the nest box and I continued to watch the Australorp. After an hour had passed, I decided to give up. As I started to walk away, the hen came out of the nest box and there was another egg. Happy dance time—for me and my hen. She struts around the run singing after she lays. Nice to know that she sings, it will alert me to check the nest box.

 

Today, I watched my little red and black hen sit in the nest box. Even when I offered treats to the others, she refused to leave. She emerged about 45 minutes later, leaving behind a medium tan egg.  This is layer number three.

 

There is a fourth layer—my mystery hen. She lays medium tan eggs, but based on the fact that chickens have a cycle of at least 26 hours, it is unlikely that all of the tan eggs have come from either the red and black hen or the Australorp. I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of when I find the eggs and their colors. Now that I have confirmed egg times for three of the hens, there has to be at least one more hen laying tan/brown eggs.

 

This confirms at least four layers. Three are laying brown eggs and one is laying a blue egg. I hope that continuing to observe my hen will lead me to figure out their laying cycles and finally determine who is laying and when.

Roo is not a lady

Copyright Lynda Altman 2014. All rights reserved.

Our first ever little Cornish Cross chicks.

Back in April, I purchased 24 chicks from Tractor Supply. The salesperson swore up and down that the chicks were pullets even though one of the price tags said straight run. FYI – pullets are baby hens, cockerels are baby roosters, and straight run chicks are supposed to be a 50/50 mix of pullets to cockerels. Based on the information from the salesperson, I purchased 24 chicks: 8 Australorp, 8 Barred Rock, and 8 Ameraucana. One chick died within a day—things happen—leaving me with 23 chicks that were supposed to be all female. So imagine my surprise when some of the ladies started developing crowns and wattles.

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Black Australorp Cockerel. Copyright Lynda Altman 2014. All rights reserved.

Dude is not a lady

Barred Rocks and Australorp roosters and hens both have combs and wattles, the roos have larger ones, but I am new to this chicken thing. Giving the salesperson the benefit of the doubt, I figured that maybe the few that were lacking were just slower to develop. WRONG! Last week, the first of the ladies started to crow. Dude is definitely not a lady. This morning, there was a cacophony of crowing. No only am I worried about neighbors complaining, but roosters are not allowed inside city limits. It is only a matter of time before zoning or animal control shows up at my door. So the boys have got to go—ASAP.

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Barred rock and Ameraucana cockerels–young roosters. Copyright Lynda Altman 2014. All rights reserved.

Tough Choices

In my naiveté I assumed it would be fairly simple to sell off the roosters. Once again, I am wrong. Everyone wants hens. My cockerels are not as marketable as I had assumed. They are beautiful, constantly looking for trouble, and loud. They are also big enough to dress out as meat birds. My research has given me the option of driving an hour and a half each way to the livestock auction in Marble, Ark. or to use the cockerels as meat birds. The boys will not bring enough at auction to warrant an entire day in Marble. While it is a wonderful little town, there is very little to do while waiting hours for the auction to begin. I have made the decision to process them when I process my broilers.

Tractor Supply’s helpful sales force

I understand that everyone makes mistakes. But I asked more than once for clarification about the gender of the chicks before I bought them. I was assured that they were pullets. Being naïve about chicks and chickens, I assumed if the salesperson was wrong, I would be able to process the roosters before they became sexually mature enough to make noise. Again, inexperience got the best of me. Apparently, roosters mature faster than hens. The Hens won’t start to lay before 20 weeks. Our boys are about eight weeks old.

 

The hen to rooster count to date is as follows:

12 roosters, 7 hens, and four undetermined. If the four undetermined turn out to be roos, as I suspect (based on coloration) then my ratio is 70/30, roosters to hens. If the four remaining surprise me, then I end up better than expected.

Lessons learned

Unless I am buying Cornish Cross broilers, buying straight run chicks is not an option for me. I have learned not to rely on the inexperience of store clerks. If I am unsure of a chick’s gender, I will pass on the purchase. Next time, it is either livestock auctions or buying direct from the hatchery. An incubator purchase is in my future. Hatching eggs are the most cost effective way to raise poultry. Stay tuned to see how this all works out.

The Chicken Tractor

I could not stand having the little pullets indoors anymore. They were getting too big for their tubs. I was changing the shavings out several times a day because they kept knocking over their waterer. Because they were cramped for space, they were very noisy. Time for the to go outdoors but there was one problem…there was no place for them to go. Solution to the problem—a chicken tractor.

The Chicken Tractor

My husband and youngest son created this amazing chicken tractor. They spent the better part of Mother’s Day afternoon building it. It looks great, it’s functional, and it gets those sweet pullets out of my house. Here are some pictures of the pullets in their new home.

City Chick goes Country's chicken tractor.

The pullets really love their new chicken tractor.

 

 

 

 

 

City Chick goes Country's new chicken tractor.

Another view of the pullets in the chicken tractor. It may take them a while to get used to this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

City Chick goes Country's chicken tractor.

The chicken tractor will be the new home for our pullets until their permanent enclosure is ready.

 

Good thing we bought a tarp to cover the chicks up at night. It’s raining hard—we could see up to four inches before this is over. The chicks have been under the tarp for most of the day.

I was more than ready for those chicks to go outdoors. Finally, I have a normal living room—with 3 college/teenage boys and 4 dogs.

—Lynda; a city chick gone country

Chicks and the Greenhouse

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The chicken greenhouse and yard. Copyright City Chick goes Country

The Cornish Cross chicks are full grown chickens now. We have moved them into a portable greenhouse and let have supervised outdoor time. The greenhouse makes for a decent temporary chicken coop, but there are some drawbacks to it which I will elaborate on later. This will be the last time we purchase Cornish Crosses.

 

Why a greenhouse

Part of homesteading is using what you have on hand. The chicks quickly got too big for that little 40 gallon tub. To the great pleasure of my son, we moved them outdoors. The greenhouse made sense. It would keep the chicks warm and secure. Doors could be opened completely to give plenty of air and sunshine until we could build secure fencing for them.

 

The greenhouse is a Flower House Pop-up types that easily fold into a storage bag when not in use. It has a few poles, stakes, and cord to tie it down. I added more stakes and ropes. We live in tornado country and there are days on end where the wind blows at 20-30 miles an hour for the better part of the day.

 

 

Inside the greenhouse we put up a chicken wire pen. We added a cardboard box for the chooks to feel secure in at night. Food, water, grit and dried mealworms are put up on cinderblocks. The floor is a thick layer of pine shavings. This gave the 9 chicks a 6 x 5 foot enclosure. Every couple of days, I turn over the shavings, remove any that are really wet, and then add another bag of shavings if necessary.

 

Why I like this greenhouse:

  • It protects the chickens from the weather. Rain cannot get in unless the doors are open. The chickens are also out of the wind.
  • There is no floor so I can use a deep litter method of keeping the chickens.
  • Hawks and other birds of prey cannot get to the chickens.
  • I can easily control the temperature by adjusting the doors and the two small openings for cords and hoses.
  • I already had this so it made for a quick and easy chicken house.
  • When the chicks were smaller, the greenhouse was able to keep them safe and warm.
  • In my particular situation, the greenhouse is predator proof.

 

Downside to the greenhouse:

  • It can get very warm quickly. If the doors are not open and the greenhouse is in direct sun, chickens can overheat. I found this out first-hand when I lost 3 of my Cornish Cross chickens to heat stroke.
  • If you have a large number of chickens, this particular setup is too small.
  • The greenhouse holds moisture, so if water spills you have to ventilate it well.
  • Purchasing one can be expensive.

 

 

We have 4 hens and one rooster remaining. They will be ready for processing in about two weeks. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

 

Hope you enjoyed this

 

—Lynda

A city chick gone country.

Of Dogs and Chicks

I live with four dogs. Three of the four are mine, the fourth belongs to my son. My three dogs are all rescues. Izzy the coonhound,  is the matriarch of the bunch. She came with us from North Carolina. Next is Sophie, a Chinese Shar-Pei. Finally, there is Romeo, a pedigreed Bedlington Terrier.  My son’s dog is a Brittany Spaniel mix–not the smartest dog I ever met, but he tries to be a good dog.

Chicks

We purchased 10 Cornish Cross chicks from our local Tractor Supply. Unfortunately one chick did not make it. The remaining nine are doing well and growing faster than anything I have ever seen. They spend their days eating and drinking and messing their litter.

History

Let me backtrack a bit. There is a reason that I am raising chickens. I personally feel that the commercial chicken industry is inhumane. For years I have mouthed off about this. Now that I own my home, I can do something about it. By raising chickens for meat and eggs, I am in control of how the animals are treated and I have total control over their care and feeding. This is where as a consumer, I can vote with my dollars. In my case, I am putting my meat and egg dollars into animals I raise in my backyard.

 Dogs

Copyright Lynda Altman 2014. All rights reserved.

Romeo with chicks. Copyright Lynda Altman

Now back to the dogs and chickens… I was surprised that my Romeo has self-appointed himself as keep of the flock. He will not allow the other dogs near the chicks. Romeo rarely leaves the side of the chick’s crate. He only leaves them to use the outdoors, to eat, and to visit with us when the chicks are quiet.

 

 

 

Back to chicks

Copyright Lynda Altman 2014. All rights reserved.

The chicks arrive! 

The chicks reside in a large plastic tub. The floor is covered in pine shavings. I have a food dish set up on stacked 2×4 scraps to keep them from pooping in it. The waterer hangs from a scrap of wood that is set across the top of the tub. For heat, I went high end and I am glad I did. We decided to purchase an EcoGlow 20 from Brinsea. This heater uses only 1/10 of the electricity of a standard heat lamp. Every year houses and sheds catch fire or burn down. The cause of the fires is heat lamps used in a brooder.

So this is the start of our adventure with dogs and chicks. I’ll keep you posted.

 

–Lynda, the City Chick gone Country.