Agricultural Issues - Raising Chickens

Basically, there are three different types of chicken:

  • Light birds: white leghorns and their various crosses and hybrids. These 3-to-4 pound birds lay white eggs and give a fresh egg more cheaply than other chickens. But they are excitable and flighty and tend to need more attention than small flock owners can give.
  • Medium weight chickens: Rhode Island and New Hampshire Reds and Black Sex links (the males have a white spot on their head when hatched). These birds reach 4-to-6 pounds when mature, lay brown eggs and make good eating when they stop laying.They aren't as machine-like as the Leghorn about laying but they do lay well. They are also easy to get along with and don't require as much attention as the Leghorn.
  • Heavy birds: Most of these are various White Rock crosses. These are the poultry meat birds, the broilers and roasters. As egg layers, they are horrible.

So you need to decide what kind of chicken ranch you want to run. Then you need to decide if you want to raise them from chicks or do you want to buy starter pullets (young birds ready to start laying). With starter pullets, you'll know their sex before you start so you don't get too many roosters. Try to buy your birds locally so that they are healthy and are not in shock from shipping and climate changes.

If you start with chicks, start them with a starter ration. After 4-to-6 weeks, you'll change them over to a growing feed and then when they start laying eggs, switch them again to a laying feed. Give them plenty of water and give them scratch grain in the winter.

Each chicken needs 3-to-4 square feet of floor space, plus space for feeders, nests and roosts. A 10x10 foot square building is enough room for 25 layers. Insulate the walls and ceiling. A concrete floor with dry shavings or sawdust on it makes cleaning and sanitizing easier. And you'll want 2 or 3 small windows for light and ventilation.

Provide one nest for each 4 birds, about 2-to-3 feet above the floor. Use several inches of wood shavings, hay or straw for nesting material and put some kind of perch outside each nesting box. A 4-foot tube type feeder will take care of 25 birds. In the winter, you'll want to hang a 60 watt light bulb from the ceiling and make sure the hens get the 14 hours of light they need to keep laying in the winter.

Pure free range chickens are one thing but I'd fence a 1000 square foot area for 25 birds just so I can find the eggs. And woe to any beetle, grub or ant inside that fence.

It takes 5 months for a layer to get started laying eggs. In her first year after that she should put out 18 to 20 dozen eggs. After that, it'll be several dozen less per year. Most eggs will be laid in the morning but you'll need to do egg patrol morning and afternoon anyway. While doing egg patrol, check their water and feed and hang out with them a bit, they'll reward you for the time spent. Use this time also to look for problems, and deal with problems quickly before they get out of hand. Keep the eggs cool until you eat them.

Sometimes an egg will accidentally break and a hen will discover that it's good to eat. Before this behavior spreads through your flock, invite that egg eater to a chicken dinner in the house. Chickens are naturally cannibalistic and they peck at each other. Once a bird starts bleeding they all jump in and may kill her. To save her, you'll have to separate her until she heals. The only way to prevent this is to debeak the birds before they start laying. You debeak them by cutting off the tip of the upper beak, leaving the lower beak protruding. They can still eat and drink just fine this way but they can't fight.

Coccidiosis is the most common damaging disease among chickens. The symptoms include standing still (often on one leg) with their feathers ruffled up, wet feathers around their vents, and watery white or yellow manure. To treat this, put a coccidiostat in their drinking water or mix it with their feed. You'll have less trouble with this if the henhouse floor has enough litter to stay dry at all times and you clean and sanitize the place regularly.

Keeping chickens is easier and less time consuming than keeping a dog. Once you have it sorted out, 15 to 20 minutes a day should take care of everything. The job is pretty much just watering, feeding and picking up and caring for the eggs. logo
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