Chickens are a challenge.
Learning as you go...
This has been one fun and amazing learning experience so far for our family. We began our farm with 1 horse 7 ducks and 15 Rhode Island Reds. It's quite a process of Biology, that for someone who's just starting out as a farmer may not be ready for. We decided to start with the Reds last Sept. because of their reputation as layers and meat, and also they were the first ones we came across locally. We made the decision that if we could make it through the winter with this small flock we would expand. The mallards we bought fell victim to owls, 4 to be exact. The three we have left roam our pond in the safe areas now. We lost 1 chicken. He escaped from the 10'x6'x6' kennel they were staying in. Houdini that chicken was, he escaped in the middle of the night never to be seen again.
The farm we bought had an old henhouse attached to it that I renovated back to a more suitable environment for our new birds. It was an Amish barn with simplicity in mind when built, 2x6 floor boards that were rotting away with a huge bee nest under it that had to be removed several times. I tore out the boards and dug the floor out and refilled it with sawdust. We live across the street from a sawmill that allows us some free sawdust for keeping an eye on their place at night. After buying half a dozen books on farming and raising chickens and talking to local farmers and researching the internet, I came upon a roosting sytem that caught 90% of their droppings, nesting shelves they would actually lay in, lighting conditions that kept them laying throught the winter and water that never froze.
None of this was easy.
We ended up with 4 roosters who all thought they were the king of the hill, 11 hens and only 4 that would lay. Security was never really an issue, they were locked up tight at night and stuck close to the barn during the day. We remedied the fighting roosters and beaten up hens by removing 2 of the roosters and putting them aside to butcher. I culled the flock into laying and non-laying flocks, using a empty horse stall beside it to accomodate the non-layers, 1 rooster for each flock. Still with only 4 layers the flock was laying 5 eggs a day to the 1 egg in the non-layer flock. The head rooster found his way into the non-layer house and almost killed the other rooster. I had to butcher the beaten rooster, remove the mean one and replace him with one of the kinder ones I had put aside. That solved the violence in the barnyard. Next I constructed new straight open 8" nesting shelves closer to the ground, but the chickens kept scratching the hay off them. So I took long, short peices of plywood (2'x8')and leaned it up against the wall making a lean-to on the shelves. This provided the privacy they needed to start laying. I went from 3 dozen eggs a week to 7-8 dozen I also included one 60 watt light bulb connected to a timer to simulate summer months. So I turned the non-laying flock into a laying flock. That problem was finally solved. When the temperatures started getting down below freezing and into the negative degrees I upped the wattage of the light bulb (100 watts). Then added a waterer heater base (it only activates when below freezing) and extra feed at night to keep them warm. We noticed at zero degrees they would eat like crazy to maintain their internal furnaces.
We have only butchered one chicken so far and it was delicious I must admit. I'm not a petsy type of person as far as these particular chickens are concerned, I like to watch them but I don't take any special interest in their individual personalities. I know why I bought them, for eggs and meat so I keep that in my mind when caring for them. I did order a particular breed I would like to show, Golden Sebrights and some Cuckoo Marans. I thoroughly enjoy reading everyones stories about their chickens and how they manage them. It can give you alot of insight into your own husbandry practices. We bought 200 chicks and an incubator to begin our own hatchery and egg farm.
I built a cockerel house to keep the roosters from beating up the hens and 6 more hen houses to keep all our new chicks comfortable. We put aside 1/2 an acre of our horse pasture to free range them in the warmer months. The chicks we bought and the ones we hatched are quite a challenge in itself. I built a 8'x2'x2.5' brooder with .25 inch wire mesh flooring, open top with three 250 watt red heat lamps. By day four the birds began pecking each other to death (we lost 3 Araucanas) under the white 250 watt heat lamps, but after a suggestion from my local Co-op, switching to red lamps stopped the pecking. It seems to much white light can make them a little on the crazy and agitated side. I haven't had a single pecking episode since. But until I was able to get the red lamps I added a large handful of hay to the brooder for them to peck at and began shutting off the light more frequently. It all worked. I hope some of this helps somebody and I'll try to keep updates going on. I keep pics of our chickens on www.F-7Farm.com . I hope you all enjoyed.