Advice for newbie ordering first flock?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by jhinshaw, Nov 15, 2015.

  1. jhinshaw

    jhinshaw New Egg

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    I'm in the process of putting together my first coop this winter. I think it will be finished around March and I'm going to be using one of the coop plans listed on this website for a guide. The coop should house around 8-10 hens which is what I figured would be best for our property based on egg needs.

    After doing a bit of reading I settled on Barred Plymouth Rock** hens because they were described to be friendly, good layers. Just what I need! I just can't decide on a few other items and the more I read about each topic, the more complex the answer so I thought I would just ask.

    1.) Roosters. Should I wait on getting a rooster until I am more experienced with chickens? I do have a lot of natural predators (coyotes, foxes, hunting dogs) around and have been hoping to let the girls free range on about 2 acres. My neighbors have roosters and don't mind the sound of one but I'm concerned about the tales of meanness and frankly, I can't find any information online about exactly how much a rooster would increase the size of my flock each year with chicks!

    I don't think I could bring myself to cull a chicken. I know that is part of the process in flock management but I'm mostly vegetarian and can't really see myself killing a hen. I bring that up because if my flock became too large, I really can't say how I would go about shrinking it. Which brings me to...

    2.) Aging Hens. As my hens age, I would not necessarily mind a decrease in eggs while I was waiting for younger hens to lay (assuming I did not have a rooster and ordered new chicks to refresh the flock) but again I wouldn't want to cull the hens so is there some natural way to handle this situation? My coop is ideal for only 8-10 chickens after all.

    I imagine this is how many of us end up with giant coop arrangements. In my head I can see losing hens anyhow as a result of foxes and coyotes since I will be allowing them to free range so maybe I wouldn't be the one doing the culling but I tend to really attach to animals and insects (love my bees) so I would really make an effort to protect them from predators in spite of needing to shrink the size of the flock.

    3. Guineas and Chickens. I am considering having guinea hens free ranging on my property as well for pest management. This isn't set in stone but I have a grasshopper problem in a big way and need help with population control. My concerns are about how a chicken flock and guinea flock would interact and especially how guineas would handle a rooster. I wouldn't coop them together most likely but they would free range together.


    Of course I have a million other questions but as I plan for ordering in the spring these are the most important to me so far because they will determine what kind of flock I keep. Thank you in advance for taking the time to read and respond!

    ** Edited because I named the breed incorrectly in the original post.
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2015
  2. oldhenlikesdogs

    oldhenlikesdogs Lots of Chickens Premium Member

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    Roosters can be nice to have if you know how to properly read them, and raise them, most will say don't get one until you know what you are doing better, and that's probably good advice, if you decide to get one, leave it alone, ignore it except picking it up occasionally and moving it, don't pet it don't tame it, let it be slightly fearful of you.

    I let most of my chickens live out their lives, about half will pass from something by age 4, the others will make it until 6-10. Most stop laying by 5-6 years.

    Your chickens won't reproduce unless you want them to, either a broody hen or an incubator will be needed, so don't worry about population control.

    I would get a few replacements chicks every few years to replace lost members or to have fresh layers.

    I've never had guineas so I can't say anything about them, I have a few muscovy ducks with my chickens, those mostly get along with occasional goosing of each other.

    You will come to a point where someone will need culling, you'll have to figure it out, or find a vet to put them to sleep, never let animals suffer if there's nothing that can be done for them.
     
  3. QueenMisha

    QueenMisha Queen of the Coop


    0. Just so you know, the correct name is "Barred Plymouth Rock". The variety (color) is Barred, and the breed is Plymouth Rock. Same way that Orpingtons are a breed, and Buff is a variety of Orpington, i.e. Buff Orpington. Most people will know what you're talking about regardless, but it helps to know.

    1. A good rooster can be a really beneficial addition to a flock, whereas a bad rooster can be a really negative one. I personally recommend a rooster for any flock that can have one, especially free range flocks, provided the owner is able to accept that they may have to try more than once to get a good rooster. A good rooster will watch over the hens, warn of predators, break up fights, keep young, rowdy cockerels in check, and of course allow you to hatch your own chicks. A bad rooster may be human aggressive, overmate the hens, be difficult to handle, or may even be a chick-killer. There are certain breeds you can choose to minimize your chances of acquiring a mean cock (Brahma, Cochin, Silkie, Oriental Gamefowl of most types) and certain high-risk breeds you can avoid (Rhode Island Red, Polish), but this will not guarantee your rooster will not become aggressive. If you are not willing to remove a bad rooster from your flock, you shouldn't even risk getting a rooster at all. If you can pick a calm breed and hope for the best, but are willing to take that step if necessary, then I would highly recommend a rooster for your flock.

    Just having a rooster does not mean your flock will produce chicks. Fertilized eggs do not spontaneously begin to develop. You can leave a fertilized egg in a room for 10 years and it will not hatch unless that room happens to be 99.5 degrees with 50% humidity and also has a lockdown mode. Theoretically, your flock could produce 0 chicks per year, or it could produce 100, depending on whether or not your hens go broody and you allow them eggs, and if you have an incubator to place eggs in should you wish to do so.

    2. Hens die 1 of 4 ways: Predation, Injury/Disease, Old Age, and Culling. 2 of those would be your "natural" way out. One defeats the purpose of the question, and is a practice most of us in the chicken community call "retirement". The last is practiced by many of those who keep larger flocks but a few backyard keepers as well. If you're free ranging you will almost invariably see predation; it is almost inevitable. Disease is preventable if you practice careful biosecurity (Quarantine! Quaratine! Quaratine!), but injury presents more often, whether it is in the form of a broken leg or a prolapse. Some injuries and treatable and some are not. Death due to predation and death due to incurable injury will be the most common causes of death in your flock of you do not practice culling. That said, how much of the flock succumbs to this will be variable. You may only
    have 1 or 2 deaths a year due to bad circunstances. Some lucky people can go 5 years without a predator attack and some may go just as long without having to deal with a fatal injury.

    Have you considered what you will be doing if a hen is injured and needs to be euthanized? What will you be doing with excess cockerels should you choose to hatch your own chicks? What will you do if your predator attacks don't happen or are few and far between, and you find yourself with just a handful of fresh 1 year old pullets and a big flock of 7 year old hens who are producing two eggs per week? If you keep chickens long enough, culling will probably be an inevitability.

    3. Guineas are one of the species (besides waterfowl and pigeons) that can be kept in proximity chickens without disease concerns. They cohabitate well but you may see some feather-pulling by the guineas, especially guinea cocks. This is easily solved by the application of peepers, and certainly will be far less of an issue in free range. Guineas and roosters rarely fight, and when it happens its not much different from a barnyard rooster fight.
     
    1 person likes this.
  4. allpeepedout

    allpeepedout Chillin' With My Peeps

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    A vegetarian and general animal softie, I had many of the same concerns as you.

    1) Roosters - I started with a small flock 5 years ago, including some Barred Rock. I got a BR roo by accident, and came to appreciate him, despite some aggression which was be addressed by training and my wearing consistent footwear! Once he passed through randy adolescence, the hens came to like him. I think they are happier and feel safer with him around.

    I now have my second accidental rooster. He is a much "flightier" breed and I don't think I'll have any aggression issues at all. He's too scared of me.

    The roosters are quite beautiful and add to the aesthetics of the experience. I like the crowing, and so does my neighborhood. It takes some experience and confidence to learn to handle an aggressive one, as they can indeed hurt you. But so can an intact dog, stallion, etc. Many people seem to have roos that are gentle and people-respectful from day one.

    2) Aging flock - Mine have a pension, and yes, it's a worry. Free ranging can help with feed bill and sadly, reducing numbers due to predation. I think choosing a heritage breed like the Barred Rock is smart. My hens just finished their fifth laying season, producing about 4 eggs per day out of 6 hens. They do molt earlier and much longer each season as they age, taking the entire fall off. I have just added my second flock, so I'm staggering out the newbies by several years, hoping natural death will eventually kick in.

    You might research other breeds reputed to lay longer. There are some discussions in the breed forum about a rare breed called the "Deathlayer," supposed to keep laying until they die. Some other breeds are reputed to lay their entire lives, like the Hamburg. Some people say their leghorns have continued producing for years and years.

    Given this conundrum, my strategy has been to switch to layer breeds -- smaller birds who lay more and eat less throughout their lifetimes, as well as being great free rangers. My new flock includes Leghorns, Blue Andalusians, and Welsummer. I also added a Dominique, and you might want to consider this breed, which is smaller than the Barred Rocks, friendly, super sweet, winter hardy, great foragers. They may not be as good a layer as the BR, unless you get them from someone breeding for production. I have been pleasantly surprised -- some of my new so-called flighty layer birds, including the Exchequer Leghorns and Partridge Penedesenca, are calmer and friendlier than my Barred Rock were. I've put quite a bit of time into socializing, admittedly.

    3) Guineas - Now I know these have many wonderful qualities and fans, but if you have any close neighbors, please consider them. Think of the sound of a rusty gate or a machine gun, at 100+ decibels, going off at every little event all day. Yes, they make a great alarm system and pest control. My grandmother had them and got rid of them because of the noise. I also had a neighbor who had them and thankfully, moved them along. I could no longer take a peaceful walk on my property due to the birds "going off."
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2015
  5. N F C

    N F C dem crazy bones Premium Member

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    You've already received some excellent advice. Here are my thoughts:
    1.) Roosters don't guarantee you won't have a problem with predators. They will help protect the hens but a roo is no match against some animals. If you aren't sure what to do with fertile eggs that result in cockerels, I'd wait to get a rooster.
    2.) By the time your original flock is old enough to produce few eggs, you'll probably have lost some of them by then (due to illness, injury or predation) so you should be able to keep a fairly steady count of 8-10. Or you could find out you enjoy the birds so much, you'll want more (chicken math is a real 'thing').
    3.) I've never had guineas but if you have questions about them, check with the members on the guinea forum to get their input of the pros/cons.
     
  6. Egghead_Jr

    Egghead_Jr Overrun With Chickens

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    To get as close to free ranging but not lose any chickens to ground predators I seriously suggest an electric poultry net. I purchased one this spring and love it. Built the layer coop on runners so it can be towed along by riding lawnmower so move the fencing and coop every two to three weeks. Takes me alone about hour and a half and that's if I'm going around trees. With nothing in the way of moving fencing it only takes 45 minutes. Premier fencing is a great source and sell fencing in kits to give extra and stronger corner posts. Sell chargers in kits so you have all the connections and ground rod needed. And they sell hotgate which is great way to get in and out with just one hand free, worth the $60. My birds will have a winter run with roof so the fencing is only for spring to late fall, if you plan to use it year round look into the pos/neg fencing- wont ground out as easily and usable in winter. Premier has excellent customer service and will readily answer questions. The 164' X 4' high netting kit with hotgate and .5 joule battery/plugin charger kit put me back $380.

    Here's a movable coop I built this fall based on the Purina Chicken Hutch design:

    https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/1036728/my-4x7-weasel-proof-moveable-coop-for-about-300
     
  7. jhinshaw

    jhinshaw New Egg

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    0. I changed the name on the OP so thanks for letting me know!

    1. I think based on this recommendation I will probably wait on adding a rooster for the first season. I think the learning curve for me will be pretty steep with just hens given that I have never kept chickens and didn't grow up around them to even have base knowledge about care. As you say I am also not in a good position to remove a bad rooster if I were to have one so I agree that waiting would probably be best.

    2. I have considered what I may do if a hen is injured or ill and needs to be euthanized. I could allow the vet to do it if I am able to do it myself, which may be likely for a while. I am interested in humane methods of killing an animal if it is necessary so if anyone here has great insight on that matter I am all ears! Or eyes, in this case.


    Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my post and with such thought! I really appreciate it. I spent all morning reading the responses but didn't have the opportunity to respond until now.
     
  8. jhinshaw

    jhinshaw New Egg

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    I definitely believe I will want more LOL but I just haven't found any good coop designs that house more than 10 birds and aren't barns! My neighbor keeps chickens and when I told him I was only looking at having around 10 he looked at me like I was crazy haha.
     
  9. jhinshaw

    jhinshaw New Egg

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    Thank you so much for the breed recommendations! I will absolutely check out these other breeds. I'll admit I had picked the barred rocks because one of the books I picked up picked them as great layers with a friendly disposition...and they are very pretty. I hadn't considered picking a breed as a strategy for long term flock management so this is very helpful!

    As for the guineas I think that although my neighbors are fine with them since we live in a rural area with a lot of snakes I will probably not get them for the reasons you described. My husband likes their noises but I'm a big fan of QUIET lol.
     
  10. allpeepedout

    allpeepedout Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I started with BR because of a friend's recommendation, as she had many breeds and they were her favorites. They can be very sweet, are excellent layers of large eggs, and good winter layers, so don't let me talk you out of them. Mine just happened to be a bit more aggressive, I think, than is typical, and they are large birds. I may be feeding those big bodies long after they stop laying.

    I had been wary of layers because of reports of flightiness and fear of frostbite on the combs. But I have been astounded in particular at the Exchequer Leghorns and especially the Dominique from Meyer. My goodness, what sweet, inquisitive, gentle birds -- and eye candy, too. I can't believe these breeds aren't more popular. The Welsummer is also a very personable and calm breed. However, I think the Blue Andalusian may be a bird for someone with more experience, and the Penedesenca was supposed to be very wild. Mine wasn't. Easter Eggers also are smaller birds that are decent layers and the colored eggs are so much fun. I do have a cellar also to house birds during severe cold. Frostbite is an issue with these breeds -- but not with the Dominique. Honestly, don't know how you could go wrong with a flock of them. Good luck.
     

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