Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How to Raise Chickens

I asked Colin to give me brief instructions on how to raise chickens.  Well, lets just say they were a little too brief.  I'll try to give some more information here, trying to cover questions that I had before.

First of all, of course is to decide on what breed you want.  Whether you want regular 'run of the mill' layers that are available every spring from your local feed mill.  Or do you want fancy, heirloom, rare chickens.  Or chickens some where in between.

We did a bit of research and after losing our Banty hen to the cold last winter, we decided to go with Chantecler chickens.  I was very interested to get an actual Canadian chicken, especially since they have very small wattles and combs and are quite tolerant of the cold.  We weren't planning on keeping the chickens outside all the time, but I wanted to them to be fairly worry free.  It was hard finding a breeder, especially since last year seemed to be a very bad breeding year - Colin said it was because it was so cold and dim, nothing wanted to grow not even baby chicks.  We finally found some just outside of Fergus so we girls headed off on a road-trip. 

Our little chickies were only a day old and so adorable.  They went peep peep peep the whole way home.  We kept the chicks in a large Rubbermaid storage box (about the size of a horse trough).  Wood shavings in the bottom with a large shallow bowl of water and a dish for feed.  You can see the why mesh on top, you would be surprised how far these little guys can jump and flutter.  I know there are a lot of recipes out there for homemade chick feed, but we buy ours at the local feed mill.  I would think the TSC stores would carry it too.  Colin says it's better just to buy the starter feed instead of dealing with chick death.  The price we paid for these chicks I wasn't going to risk them unnecessarily.   We buy unmedicated feed because it's not necessary to medicate healthy chicks.  Colin only fed one bag then switched to corn.  Being still rather cool, we also had a heat lamp hanging over the box, but not too close.


A few weeks later they got moved out to the barn.  Colin had to put up some smaller fencing in the old chicken coop or they would have escaped.  They were very happy to get to the bigger coop, they are growing very quickly.  Although the pigs give off quite a bit of heat, we still had a heat-lamp in the coop for the little ones.
This is our 'little chickes' now.  They are so big and sturdy looking.  I love the brown ones.  The hens are all quite shy.  We have 3 roosters, they are not shy!  We can hear the crowing across the yard.  The one rooster is really trying to get himself into hot water -literally!  The one rooster is very aggressive.  So much so, that I can't gather eggs any more.  Only Colin goes in.  Now that the chickens are bigger we don't buy feed.  Colin feeds them our corn, usually he grinds it a bit so they can eat it easier.  He says cracked corn can be purchased from your local feed mill, if you don't grow your own.  He also feeds the chickens oyster shells.  This keeps them from breaking eggs and keeps the egg shells nice and sturdy so I don't break them. 

The barn has lights, and we leave a light on for the chickens so we have eggs all year round -don't want to buy year old stuff from the store.  This summer (after cropping) I hope to get Colin to build a door in the wall and an outdoor run for the chickens.  I'm not turning them loose because I don't want to feed the raccoons, coyotes, skunks, and all the other predators!

Oh yeah, just in case you don't know: you don't have to have roosters in order to have eggs.  If you don't have a rooster you really don't have to be concerned with little blood spots, I just scoop that spot out and use the egg.  But, if you have roosters and it's getting towards spring and the hens are going broody, you must must must be sure to gather the eggs every day (not a worry in winter).  Colin was busy for a couple days and I got a rather unpleasant surprise when I went to use those eggs.  I threw out nearly a dozen!  Now I candle the eggs before using.  But that is just a spring time problem.

Hope this answers any questions you might have.  If I left anything out, just ask and I'll find the answers.

1 comment:

Kimberly said...

This is great! I sure wish we could have chickens, the city allows it, the landlord doesn't, which is really stinky considering he's a farmer! Do you wash the eggs when collected? If you had extras, how long do you keep them in the frig (days?)? How quickly must the eggs be collected and stored after they've been laid? If we are buying "organic" or "natural" eggs from the store and they have a blood spot, can that be picked out and the egg saved, or only when you know the source? (City girl, I've tossed a fair number of eggs with blood spots)