36 inherited chickens - need help with a few basics!

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by JenJuhasz, Oct 1, 2011.

  1. JenJuhasz

    JenJuhasz Out Of The Brooder

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    Hi,

    I've only posted once or twice on here... To recap - when we bought our house and moved in, in June, the prior owners left us their 19 chickens - who promptly reproduced and gave me another 20. Since then, we've lost a few (due to my inexperience and predators) and we're at 36 birds.

    The chicks are still separated from the adults, though I'm hoping to combine the populations next month before the snows hit. We built the adult birds a gigantic duplex giving each half 8'x10' (we separated the chicks from the adults when it became obvious many of the hens had murderous tendencies towards chicks not their own).

    So, I have a few questions for folks on here (my mother swears by this forum for great advice):

    1) Our adult birds weren't laying when we moved in. We have 5 adult roosters and 13 adult hens. Following the advice of our feed store folks, I've managed to bring them back up to as healthy as I imagine this flock will ever get. They were severely malnourished and dehydrated when I arrived, living in tiny coops with itsy bitsy runs, and mostly wading around on a few feet of poop and muck. The new coops are airy, clean, and the birds have probably 1500 sq ft of run outside their coop. The most we've received from them was 11 eggs per day. We are now waivering around 6-8 eggs per day. Questions:
    a) How can I figure out who is laying and who isn't, short of setting up some kind of wireless bird web cam? We have a few tiny little hens who brood all day whether there are eggs or not, and I suspect they steal the eggs from the other hens. They seem perfectly healthy (if cranky when I pop them outside for light and air and food), but I don't know for certain where our eggs are coming from.
    b) I suspect the current egg numbers are due to the declining weather - it's colder, the days are shorter, it's starting to rain more. We did outfit each coop with power and have lights on timers down there, but it doesn't seem to be helping the decline of our eggs. Is there some other way I can increase production?
    c) For the first time, we're getting broken eggs. Not sure why. Any suggestions as to why the hens might suddenly be getting clumsy? Each coop has 10 nest boxes, nicely fitted out with tons of hay (my mother suggested putting a more obvious lip on them to make them feel cozier to the hens).

    2) We're planning to cull the roosters down to 1 silky (I just like him - no good reason beyond that). The chicks have at least 3, but I suspect 5 new roosters among them, and the old flock was so sick and malnourished, I am not convinced we've erradicated all the various issues (mites, lice, etc - when I first moved here, just being around the birds meant walking away covered in little nits - freaked me out like crazy). The roosters appear to be the worst with their flaky scaly legs. Any suggestions for easy 'culling' and cleaning of the birds?
    3) Any suggestions for deciding which adult hens should go?
    4) Suggestions as to when/how I should integrate the flocks so the chicks end up safe and warm in the new coops (I scrubbed out the nicer of the old coops with bleach and set it up for the chicks - but they won't last much longer in those tight quarters)?

    Thanks in advance for any and all advice!!

    Jen
     
  2. Impress

    Impress Chillin' With My Peeps

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    There is a thread on trap nesting, where when the chicken enters the nest it closes her in, and you can check and see who is in there and who laid eggs or not, that might be worth a shot.

    Giving them light is the best way to improve egg production in winter, I prefer to let my girls rest and molt and recover from their summer frenzy of egg insanity myself.

    Egg eaters? You may check for egg eaters, and if you have one, she or he will quickly teach the others that nutritious delicious food is shooting out of their rear ends, turns their egg songs into dinner bells.

    Go to the meat birds forum, you will find every way under the sun to dispatch and fix those roos up real nice for dinner.

    If you can trap nest, take food dye and use a different color every day, a squirt on each hen that is found with an egg. Whoever isn't rainbow colored in a week or so, eat.

    Make sure the chicks have a way and place to escape those adults, plastic bins with tiny holes they can fit through but the big girls can't work best for me. Or some brush or an old tree that they can run under and hide out.
     
  3. UncleTommy

    UncleTommy Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Sanger, CA
    1) Our adult birds weren't laying when we moved in. We have 5 adult roosters and 13 adult hens. Following the advice of our feed store folks, I've managed to bring them back up to as healthy as I imagine this flock will ever get. They were severely malnourished and dehydrated when I arrived, living in tiny coops with itsy bitsy runs, and mostly wading around on a few feet of poop and muck. The new coops are airy, clean, and the birds have probably 1500 sq ft of run outside their coop. The most we've received from them was 11 eggs per day. We are now waivering around 6-8 eggs per day. Questions:
    a) How can I figure out who is laying and who isn't, short of setting up some kind of wireless bird web cam? We have a few tiny little hens who brood all day whether there are eggs or not, and I suspect they steal the eggs from the other hens. They seem perfectly healthy (if cranky when I pop them outside for light and air and food), but I don't know for certain where our eggs are coming from.
    Trap nesting is the only way for sure to know who is laying what. I've never done it myself and it sounds like a pain, but other than just being there when they drop, its the only way to know.
    b) I suspect the current egg numbers are due to the declining weather - it's colder, the days are shorter, it's starting to rain more. We did outfit each coop with power and have lights on timers down there, but it doesn't seem to be helping the decline of our eggs. Is there some other way I can increase production? How old are they? Its all down hill after they hit 2, right now i have 6 hens that are 4 years old (bought them from a nice lady on craigslist, yeah i'm a sucker), they only lay about 3 eggs a week each...needless to say, the least productive will be phased out when my pullets start laying and when the chicks get there, the rest will follow. Another thing might be their feed, not sure what you're feeding them, but layer pellets are they way to go for eggs, my nice CL lady was feeding them scratch when i got them....no no.
    c) For the first time, we're getting broken eggs. Not sure why. Any suggestions as to why the hens might suddenly be getting clumsy? Each coop has 10 nest boxes, nicely fitted out with tons of hay (my mother suggested putting a more obvious lip on them to make them feel cozier to the hens). Are you finding them out of the nesting box? if you are, a bigger lip would probably be better. I also stapled some foam cushioning from an old couch into the bottom of the nesting boxes, gives it a nice bounce. Another thing might be the thickness of the shells, if they are too thing the layer pellets should help, they have calcium which they need to produce eggs. Just remember, layer pellets are not for chicks younger than 16 weeks, its dangerous to them, too much calcium interferes with their bone development.

    2) We're planning to cull the roosters down to 1 silky (I just like him - no good reason beyond that). The chicks have at least 3, but I suspect 5 new roosters among them, and the old flock was so sick and malnourished, I am not convinced we've erradicated all the various issues (mites, lice, etc - when I first moved here, just being around the birds meant walking away covered in little nits - freaked me out like crazy). The roosters appear to be the worst with their flaky scaly legs. Any suggestions for easy 'culling' and cleaning of the birds? This guy knows what he is talking about: http://www.butcherachicken.blogspot.com/ Important things to remember are to scald the birds at between 150 to 155 degrees, then when you cut above the vent to gut them, use a small cut then tear it open, that way you don't slice the guts open. Oh, and don't break the galbladder, if you have to trim more of the liver away, do so.

    3) Any suggestions for deciding which adult hens should go? First, keep any favorites you might have, i have a wyandotte that that will probably stay, we call her Bonita(means pretty). Next, get rid of the troublemakers, you know what i mean, I got rid of this scrappy production hen that layed awful eggs, they were watery and weird looking. From what you have left, if its still too much go by egg production, if they had a bad week, then they're really gonna have a bad week.

    4) Suggestions as to when/how I should integrate the flocks so the chicks end up safe and warm in the new coops (I scrubbed out the nicer of the old coops with bleach and set it up for the chicks - but they won't last much longer in those tight quarters)? This I haven't done yet, but I will be in a few weeks, from what i've read its best to have them in runs next to each other for a couple of days. weeks would be better. When you finally put them together, have some hideyholes for the chicks to get away from the big girls. I've heard that bushes and even large rubbermaid containers with holes cut out work too. If you happen to pick up any pointers from when you do this, let me know, i'm integrating in about 5-6 weeks.
     
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2011
  4. zzGypsy

    zzGypsy Chillin' With My Peeps

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    who's laying? if nest trapping is out, try separating out a couple of birds into a separate pen for a few days... after 3-4 days you'll know if you've got the layers, or the non-layers, or a mix, by the number of eggs. you can use some food coloring in the vent of each of the hens in the separate coop to see who's laying what - different color for each hen. you could do this without separating them by just picking 5 or 6 to mark with different colors, and when you don't get any more colored eggs (because they've run out of vent die), re-using the same color set on the next group of 5 or 6 hens. just depends on how many food colors you've got in your kit.

    egg breakage? how are the shells? thick or thin? first thing I'd look at is feed. if they're on layer ration, you're probably fine, but if they're not getting enough calcium, you can offer free choice oyster shell. next thing would be worms... if they're wormy, you're feeding parasites instead of chickens. considering that they were in such poor conditions, if you haven't wormed them, it's a good bet they're full of worms. search here on "worming" or "wazine" or "ivermectin" and you'll find lots of threads that talk about worming. if they're heavily infested the natural methods won't be enough to get them right, so go with a chemical wormer. some folks like wazine followed by one of the other wormers because you run less risk of massive worm die-offs that can kill the bird doing it that way. third thought, especially if the shells are thick - egg breaker - someone's figured out they're tasty... if you're finding broken and eaten eggs, and the shells aren't particularly thin, this is possible... a separate holding pen may help you narrow down the likely suspects... provided they're not all in on it.

    keepers? the ones that lay and/or have interesting personalities. I don't want to feed a lot of pet chickens, but occasionally one endears themselves by some interesting behavior. for the rest, production, civil behavior, and general health are the deciding factors for me.

    good luck with your inheritance!
     
  5. ozark_chickies

    ozark_chickies Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Your hens maybe stressed because, of too many roosters. Stressed hens = less eggs.They maybe spending time and energy running from your roosters, and not eating enough. Also the ones staying in the nest boxes, could be doing it to stay away from the roosters.I think you will see a big change in your flock, when you cull down to one roo.
     
  6. Carolyn

    Carolyn Chillin' With My Peeps

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    What breeds of chickens do you have other than silkies? Rarely do chickens lay 1 egg/day and none of them do it every day all year. Some are poor layers because they were bred for other purposes (ornamental). Broody hens quit laying, hide eggs (not just their own) and take a period of time before going back to laying. Changes in weather and season makes a difference also; only a few breeds continue to lay well year round. As someone else said, age makes a difference. Also if they have been caged and now have more freedom could they have found some other nesting sites? Another consideration is chickens don't like change; they may still be adjusting to their new living arrangement.

    You could have egg eaters in the bunch but since you just changed the nesting boxes that might be the problem also. If you are finding cracked eggs it doesn't sound likely to me that they are egg eating. First of all in the condition you got them in they would have not been reproducing much. Secondly when I had egg eaters I found empty shells at best. I don't see a bunch of egg eaters passing up a cracked egg.

    Good luck, you got quite a flock and it sounds like they are lots better off with you. You might look on line for Henderson's chicken chart that tells you about the breeds including laying frequency. Before you butcher your culls you might want to look and see what kind of meat and skins to expect, for instance silkies are very dark meated. You also might want to consider how you are going to cook them because you aren't likely to be getting tender, meaty birds. As to which hens to cull, are these a breed that you can raise and sell or want to raise and eat? If not it sounds like you have too many broody hens.
     
  7. JenJuhasz

    JenJuhasz Out Of The Brooder

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    Wow! What excellent replies - thank you. I'll read up on trap nesting and coloring the birds.

    If we have an egg eater among the bunch...why would she only break in one nest box? There are always eggs in the other boxes.

    I'm not sure how to give the chicks their own private run...the coops are a significant distance apart, and the new big coop and run are massive - and already have adult birds nesting in them. I'll do the bushes/hidey holes suggestions instead. The chicken yard could use with some more vegetation and we have tons of branches and trees I can drag in there to create little safe spots for the smaller guys.

    The hens are on layer pellets...but I'm a sucker for sharing scratch out. I'll lessen that and instead just keep tossing them their layer pellets.

    Our chicks are 8 weeks now. We were hoping to integrate them in November, but that would make keeping their foods separate, impossible. [​IMG] Crud. I wonder...do you think it's possible after culling the roosters and the non-laying sick girls, I can force the remaining adult populations to share one half of the duplex, and place the chicks into the other half of the duplex? I might be able to run some temporary fencing around the chick-half to keep them apart through the winter... I'll study the logistics of that tonight.
    Funny side note - when we built the new coop, my husband growled as we finished it up that "he doesn't want to hear the words 'honey, the chickens need' for at least six months!" LOL...at least I've kept my promise for, err, four weeks or so!

    I don't have any way to know the age of these birds. Clearly they're not super old, as they definitely are laying despite being neglected for a period of time.

    Take care!

    Jen
     
  8. hallerlake

    hallerlake Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Quote:I have chickens of various ages all sharing the same food. I give an all purpose food, and offer oyster shell for those that need it.
     
  9. Judy

    Judy Moderator Staff Member

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    I have chickens of various ages all sharing the same food. I give an all purpose food, and offer oyster shell for those that need it.

    Yup, this makes life so much easier. I just use grower feed because it's easy to find locally. You can even feed laying hens medicated grower (if it's medicated with amprolium) and eat the eggs. Actually they will often get a little more protein if fed grower, which is good. Solve the lower calcium level by offering oyster shell separately; the chicks won't bother it, a small bag is only a few bucks, and it takes mine (14 hens) months to go through a bag. Flock raiser is another all purpose feed for all chickens.

    I've read of people using the food coloring on the vent method quite successfully. BTW, if you find the roos just too hard to eat (they certainly don't taste like store bought chicken,) they make fine treats for dogs, cats... and chickens. The traditional recipe for coq au vin called for a two year old rooster.​
     
  10. UncleTommy

    UncleTommy Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Quote:I was about to suggest the same thing. When i get the chicks in there, well, actually before since they are almost out of layer pellets, all of them will be eathing 20% starter/grower. The extra protein won't hurt the hens, heck it might help.
     

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