See an old layer being bled out, scalded, plucked, and butchered. Thank you to Mark for the expert butchering.
See how to build an overhead chicken waterer for $15 in 5 minutes.
Take a tour of my permaculture site. See swales, bees, chickens, a pond, spillway, food and farm forestry, and my zone 1 garden.
One of our chickens has been terribly broody over the past week. When a chicken goes broody her pituitary gland releases a hormone that causes her to stop laying. Her motherly instinct spurred by the increased day length will cause her to sit on eggs until she has chicks. Sometimes, you can kick her out of the nest, and she will get the point and stop being broody. I’ve been kicking our chicken out of the nest daily, but she was still broody. The problem with letting her continue her broodiness is that she won’t lay, she won’t eat, and she’ll take up valuable nesting box space. This problem has resulted in chickens laying on the floor of the coop. You can also keep her out of the nest, move her to different housing, and try not to let eggs accumulate in the nests. If none of these options work, there is one more invasive option.
We were forced to move the hen away from the flock into a rabbit hutch. A rabbit hutch is a perfect broody box. It is the opposite of what she would want for her next. It has air flow underneath and no bedding. Did I say no bedding? Yes it is important to have a wire floor up high so air flow can be underneath. Also, make sure she has feed and water. This option will usually break her of her broodiness in 1-3 days depending how long she had been broody. The longer she had been, the longer it takes. A very determined hen may starve to death rather than stop her broodiness.
Reference: Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, Gail Damerow
If you are planning to start a flock of chickens or add to an existing flock, it is a good idea to do this earlier rather than later, as many hatcheries will sell out of certain breeds by spring time. If you are planning to order day old chicks, there are a few things that you should know about. First when you order chicks, you will typically have a choice to order all females, all males, or a straight run.
All Females- When you are ordering egg layers, all female chicks is what you would want to order. When you order all female chicks you will typically get 9 hens and 1 rooster per 10 chicks. This could be a problem, if you can’t have a rooster crowing, or you don’t want to have to put down an aggressive rooster. If you want to be 100% sure to get all hens, order a sex-linked breed. These would be red star or black star. These breeds are docile and fantastic brown egg layers.
Straight Run- A straight run means that the chickens will not be gender identified. You will just get what you get. So if you order 10 chickens, you might get 10 roosters and no hens, or 10 hens and no roosters, or something in between. Basically, you have a 50/50 chance of getting a hen or a rooster. This might be a nice option if you want dual purpose birds, and you are planning to butcher the roosters and keep the hens for eggs.
All Males- If you are buying a meat bird such as a Cornish X then all male chicks are actually slightly more expensive. Male meat birds get bigger than their female counterpart. They both taste the same, but don’t let either get too old as the meat will get tough. Most meat birds are butchered between 50-80 days of life.
Second, it is important to know that most hatcheries require that you order at least 25 chicks. This is because they need enough body heat, so they don’t die during shipping. They are typically inexpensive at around $3 a chick, but I don’t know too many people outside of farmers that are going to be ordering that many chicks. There are ways to get around this. McMurray Hatchery will allow you to order 15 chicks, if your ship date is after April 1st. If fifteen is too many, My Pet Chicken will send as few as two. They send the chicks with a heater element that keeps them warm in their package. Another option is to just go to a farm store such as Tractor Supply and pick up whatever amount of chicks you need. The bad thing about buying from a farm store is that usually your breed options are limited. The good thing is you can tell right away whether they are healthy or not. Don’t pick a lethargic chick. Pick the most rambunctious chick.
Third, it is a good idea to know a little about some of the different breeds in general.
Heavy Breeds- These are full-size chickens that are larger obviously, but also don’t typically fly well. They are usually better suited for colder climates.
Bantam Breeds- These chickens are much smaller than the heavy breed. They tend to be friendlier and fly much higher than heavy breeds. Their eggs are smaller as well.
Brown Egg Layers vs. White Egg Layers- Brown egg layers are typically heavy breeds that do better in cold climates and are poor fliers. White egg layers are lighter breeds that do better in warm climates, and are better fliers.
Meat Birds or Broilers- These are breeds such as a Cornish X or a Red Ranger that are best suited for meat.
Crested Breeds- These breeds are different in that they have a crest of feathers on top of their heads. They are typically docile quiet birds.
Cochins- Originating in China, these massive chickens have feathers covering their legs and feet. They are not typically good layers, but they do go broody often, and make good mothers.
Learn how to butcher a chicken. Special thanks to Mark for teaching me and demonstrating for the camera.
Comments Off on How to Treat an Egg Bound Chicken
I had a problem with one of my laying hens the other day. Denise noticed that she was sitting and looked lethargic, with her eyes slowly opening and closing. Normally, the hens are very active, scratching and pecking anything that moves. When I came over to look at her, she looked like she was trying to lay. Her tail feathers were going up and down like she was trying to get it out, then she would sit frequently on the ground like she would if she were trying to lay an egg. She was walking kind of gingerly, like she was in pain, and waddling a little bit like a penguin. She was also not interested in eating or drinking. That is always a very bad sign.
She was exhibiting all the classic signs of an egg bound chicken. An egg bound chicken will die in 48 hours if she can’t pass the egg. This can happen so fast, so you must be observant if you are going to help her.
My first thought was, what caused this? Some common causes are:
-A calcium deficiency
-Parasites (Usually a problem if you do not have enough space for the chickens to forage)
-Large or poorly shaped egg
-Egg retention (this can happen if a hen is handled roughly, if it is scared, or if there is not enough nesting space.)
-Certain breeds are more susceptible than others
I don’t know, but I suspect this breed, “Red Star”, is susceptible to egg binding, because they are so productive, and they lay enormous eggs. I can’t shut the large egg cartons we use, because the eggs don’t fit.
My next logical thought was, what should I do about it, if anything? If you do nothing, she may pass the egg on her own, but then again she may not. After losing her sister to egg binding a few months ago, I was not about to do nothing this time. I got a bucket of warm water and filled it up. I then took the bucket to her, and picked her up and placed her in the bucket so her vent was well into the water. Her neck and head were out of course. She was really good about it. She didn’t fight or peck me. I did have to gently hold her in the water. I kept her in there for about five minutes.
At this point, I let her out of the bucket, and I went back to work, I was weeding at the time. Then I heard her squawk and I looked over, and the other hens were trying to peck her vent. I ran over, protected her, and checked her out. She was bleeding from her vent, and the hens were going crazy trying to peck at her. I picked her up and moved her to another paddock, so she could try to pass the egg in peace. Shortly after I moved her, she relaxed and passed the egg. The egg shell was soft, and she proceeded to immediately eat it. Yeah, it was gross, but that’s what they do with the bad eggs. Denise cleaned up her feathers, and we gave her some feed and water. I waited until dark to put her back with the others, because I knew they wouldn’t peck her once they were going to sleep. Also, I figured her feathers would fully dry overnight covering any blood that might be around her vent.
If the warm water trick doesn’t work, you can gently apply some KY jelly around the vent. I would definitely use a latex glove for that. If that still doesn’t work, you are not in a good position, because the remaining options may kill the chicken through infection. I personally would not go any further at this point, but you can try to pull the egg out or even break it, and pull it out. If you break it, do not leave any pieces of egg or shell inside her vent, as it will cause infection. I would personally be too afraid of killing her with infection to try to pull the egg out by hand or break it.
I am happy to say that after finally passing the egg, she is doing much better! Crisis averted.
Comments Off on Chicken Paddock Shift Video
See my chicken paddock shift system.
Comments Off on Chick Problems (Toe Picking & Pasting Up)
I’ve had 16 baby chicks for about a week now, and while they are a lot of fun, they are not without their problems. There is no mother hen around to show them the world and how things work, so you have to play that role to a certain extent.
When you first bring home a day old chick, it is very important to dip their beaks in their water, so they learn how to drink and where it is. It is also important that they have access to their feed. Make sure they are all eating and drinking. We have a crested breed that has a big head, that couldn’t fit her head through the window to get to the feeding troughs. Denise noticed it, so I had to adjust the windows, but she went almost a day without eating or drinking much. She is doing much better now.
One very common issue that we’ve been dealing with is pasting up. This is where their manure sticks to their down feathers eventually sealing their vent, and not allowing them to release their manure. This is actually very serious and can cause death. It is a good idea to take a cloth wet with warm water, and wipe the area clean. This may need to be done multiple times over a period of time until they grow out of it. It also helps if they drink a lot of water, so make sure they have good access to clean water. I’ve noticed that the two chicks that have had this problem are the broilers that I ordered. These chickens eat a lot of feed to grow quickly, so I bet they are not drinking enough.
We have also had some problems with toe picking. This is where a chick will literally peck at the other chick’s toes. Our Partridge Rock was the worst offender of this. She would not only peck at toes, but she would grab and pull legs as well, causing her poor victims to cry out in distress. I had to quarantine her until I figured out what to do, because it was a real nuisance to the others. I used some cardboard to make an area in the brooder just for her. She had access to feed and water, but she was not happy. She was peeping constantly and trying to jump out over and over again. I thought she was crazy! What concerned me was that she would not eat. For whatever reason, she could not figure out that the feed was food. I think she picked up the toe picking when she was in the box in the mail. Chicks will typically toe pick if they are hungry, overcrowded, bored, or in harsh light. I think she was having trouble figuring out what to eat. I ended up adding some purple clover, lambsquarters, wheat, and alfalfa for them to play with, and that seemed to help. I added a little feed on top of the plant matter, and she finally figured out what is food. She is now eating from the trough like everyone else, and the toe picking has subsided. Good thing for her, because I was planning to feed her to one of the cats out in the pasture.