Saturday, April 6, 2013 / 28 Comments / ,

All about raising chickens and eggs

Our furry-footed gal, Sprinkles. 

I often get questions about raising chickens, so I thought I would create a post to point people to. We love having chickens. They are very sweet and friendly companions, and easier to care for than most other pets. Adult hens need only a few things: food, water, and shelter. Not only is raising chickens fun and rewarding, it's a kinder way of getting eggs than buying them from traditional chicken farms where you don't know how the chickens are treated. 

More about raising chickens after the break! 


How to care for baby chicks: 
Most backyard chicken owners buy chicks from feed stores or have them shipped to their home. Be sure you have a space all set up for the chicks before you get them. Plan on staying home to care for the chicks the day they arrive. Chicks are usually shipped just after hatching and bump around in a box on a truck for a day or two usually without any food or water. They are very fragile and many don't survive this transport. You will need to help the babies drink water by dipping the tip of their beaks in their water. Chicks cannot regulate their body temperature - they're meant to have a momma hen sitting on them! You will also need to have a special heat lamp keeping the air temperature 95 degrees F for the first week, 90 degrees the second, and so on, reducing by 5 degrees each week by pulling the lamp farther away from the chicks. 


Supplies you will need for baby chicks: 
You should be able to find these supplies at your local feed store. 
  • chick waterer 
  • chick feeder 
  • chick starter feed 
  • brooder: a large box or tub to keep chicks in (you will quickly need to increase the size as chicks grow) 
  • proper absorbent bedding. 1" of pine shavings is recommended
  • heat lamp 
  • thermometer that won't melt (been there) 
  • chicken coop for when they are ready to go outside 
What if I don't want to raise chicks and want adult hens? 
Some chicken farmers will sell older chickens that can go right into a coop. We have done this when we wanted to add more hens to our group but didn't want to have the hassle of having chicks residing in our guest bedroom again. If you're in the central/southern California region try Dare 2 Dream Farm - they even deliver! 

When do chickens start laying eggs? 
At around 6 months of age. The girls don't always know they are supposed to lay in their nesting boxes. We found our first egg in the front yard under a bush! Placing a fake egg in nesting boxes helps the hens figure it out. Don't use a real egg, or the chickens may eat it and then start eating their own eggs. 

Do you need a rooster to lay eggs? 
No, like other animals (including humans) female chickens, called hens, produce eggs regardless of a male. Without a rooster fertilizing the eggs, the eggs will never hatch chicks, but mature hens usually lay about 1 egg per day. Roosters are not allowed in most cities and are quite noisy. They don't just cock-a-doodle-do in the morning, they do it all. day. long. 

Do fresh eggs have to be refrigerated? 
No! We keep our eggs in a basket on the counter for a week + and they have been great. 

Should chickens be kept in a pen all day or free range? 
Watching backyard chickens run, play, and peck at seeds and worms makes you realize these birds are not meant for small cages. They love being outside their coop. When we first had chickens we let them stay outside all day, and before dusk they would go into the coop themselves or follow us when we called them in for the night. After losing chickens to predators, we decided they could only be outside with supervision, which makes us sad, but keeps the hens safe. 

What about predators? 
Chickens are defenseless and need to be protected, or they will be eaten. Raccoons, coyotes, foxes, and bobcats all take chickens. Hawks and owls will get smaller chickens. This bobcat was on our back patio. We don't live out in the country. Now that bobcats know we have chickens they come looking for them daily. 

Where do I get a chicken coop? 
There are some coops available online. Many I don't recommend as they are small and dark. Chickens need sunlight and room to move around, in my opinion. My husband built our coop from a plan he found online, but if I were to buy one, I would get this one with a run from Williams-Sonoma. 

What's the deal with egg yolk color? 
Yolk color depends on the chickens' diets. When our chickens are allowed to free range and eat a variety of things their egg yolks are darker orange. 

How to easily boil and peel an egg: 
If eggs are refrigerated, bring them out of the fridge to come to room temperature, which will help prevent cracking. You can bring them to room temp faster by placing them in a bowl of warm water. Bring a large pot of enough water to cover the eggs to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon baking soda, which is thought to help lower the pH and make eggs easier to peel. Gently lower eggs into the water with a slotted spoon. Boil 8 minutes and remove from the water. Place eggs into a bowl of ice water until cool enough to handle. The ice bath will help the egg shrink away from the shell. Peel under cool running water. 
 

What kind of chickens do you recommend? 
We love love love our Cochin chickens. They have "furry feet" and are gentle giants. I also love Ameraucana chickens, or "Easter Eggers", for their beautiful blue-green eggs.  




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