Just getting into chickens

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by bruceha2000, Apr 21, 2012.

  1. bruceha2000

    bruceha2000 Overrun With Chickens

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    Hi all,
    We have acquired a small "used to be" farm. Seems reasonable to have some chickens. But never having raised chickens before, I'm wondering just how deep to dive right off. We have enough space for many hundreds of chickens if we wanted (which we don't!!). I would expect them to be free ranged to at least some degree. It would be nice to let them out all day, but from reading here, that could end up with us having zero chickens. We had a fox in the field last week and I know there are hawks around. Plus some neighbor's cat was wandering around the pasture near the barn yesterday. Thus the hens might have to be in a large run except when someone is willing to hang out with them to play guard dog.

    If you could please comment on:
    1) Is there any "economy of scale" starting with, say 20 or 30 pullets vs 5 to 10 and getting more each year? No meat birds or roosters for our house unless my daughter's medical issues can be fixed and she goes off to college. Starting bigger would yield more than enough eggs for us so I could sell some to friends or whoever sees the "eggs for sale" sign at the road :)
    2) Are we getting into trouble beginning with a fairly large "starter" flock since we have zero experience (though the web sure makes everything easier to learn than it was 30 years ago!)?
    3) Say a guy has an unused fiberglass tub in a bathroom off the mudroom. Would it be usable for a brooder for the chicks when they arrive? Easier to keep an area in one small room at 95F than a box out in the barn. Of course the 3 house cats would go NUTS listening to all the peeping on the other side of the door :)
    4) Since they don't lay for many months after they are born, if we get them now, they will start laying about the time they slow down for the winter. Would it make sense to order chicks that would arrive, say, in August, so they start laying in the Spring? It is also a lot warmer in August so the brooding would be less expensive, heat lamp wise.
    5) I happened across a Craig's list ad for a free hen from our old neighborhood. They have ~15 chickens and apparently this one likes to peck at people. Not good since several of the families that went in on the venture have young kids. If the bird is still available once we get started, would it be a problem introducing all little ones (when they are ready) to a flock of 1? She's < 1 year old now. I wouldn't mind giving her a home but not if she's going to beat up all the little ones

    Thanks,
    Bruce
     
  2. leirob007

    leirob007 Chillin' With My Peeps

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  3. DianeS

    DianeS Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Hi there, and welcome! Here's my take on your questions.

    1 - No, there is no real economy of scale unless you are SURE you can sell the eggs for a decent amount. Some people do get stuck with a lot of eggs and either no way to sell them, or eggs are so cheap where they live that they can't sell them for what they cost. Keep in mind that if you get a good egg laying breed (like RIR or Leghorns), each hen will give you 5-7 eggs a week. So 6 hens will give you approximately 3 dozen eggs a week. Compare that to how many eggs you will actually use and how many you think you can actually sell.

    2 - If you have the money (start up costs add up) and the time, then I don't see a problem with a large number vs a small number. Regardless of how many chickens you have, you still have to go out about twice a day to care for them, buy huge bags of food and carry them to storage, muck the coop out and deal with the droppings, schlep the water out to them even in the rain and snow, etc. It's just a difference of volume. One possible thing I'll point out is that of coop security. That's one thing you have to get right *the first time*. It is hard enough to loose your flock of 5, I can't imagine losing a flock of 30.

    3 - The tub sounds like a decent idea. You will need a heat lamp, so check your electrical ability in that room. And the brooder will need cleaned regularly, so whatever you put in the tub for bedding is easy to remove. And chicks slide around easily, so put something down on the very bottom that isn't slippy at all, and cover it thickly like the previous poster mentioned.

    4 - Chickens don't slow down for the winter during their first winter. They don't slow down until their first molt, which happens the fall/winter after their first birthday. So whether your chicks are spring or fall chicks, they will lay a year, then in the fall they'll molt and either slow down or take the whole winter off. So staggering chicks by 6 months won't help. But getting a few new ones every year WILL help, so your winter slowdown isn't a complete shutdown since the newest ones will keep laying.

    5 - I would not start out my chicken raising adventures with a not-nice chicken. You'll get tired of being pecked REALLY quickly. It hurts. Hesitating before you reach in to fill a feeder or waterer gets old. Starting with adults is fine, but make sure they're nice ones.

    One thing I didn't see you mention - what is your plan for when the chickens get older and stop laying altogether? Most chickens either stop laying or significantly decrease their laying (read: lay one egg per week) around age 4 or 5, yet they can live for 8-10 years. Will you keep the non-layers as yard pets? Or will you butcher them for eating? Or give them away on Craigslist? You need to have a plan. There is always the chance you'll get an accidental rooster in with your pullets, too. What will you do with him?

    Hope this helps!
     
  4. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Overrun With Chickens

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    Really, I think I would start with a dozen chickens, see how it goes, get some experience under your belt. The thing with a larger flock, is that is going to be a lot more feed, a lot more hauling of water, a lot more waste and bedding to manage, and a lot of eggs once they get started laying. Unless you are in this commercially, it is hard to sell eggs for the cost of producing eggs on a regular basis. A dozen hens will give your family a nice amount of eggs, and still have enough to give or sell occasionally. I have 7 laying hens right now, and I give eggs away fairly often in the spring and summer, just my husband and me. People at work if I owe a favor too, love them.

    If you can get point of lay hens, I would go with that, they are a little sturdier, giving you time to get some experience and they lay quicker. However, I have started a flock with chicks too. It is a long 5 months, till they lay, and sometimes, baby chicks die, and sometimes you get a lot of roosters, even if you buy pullets, cause they can get mixed up at the feed store.

    The tub will work with bedding, but they create a lot of dust, and you won't be able to keep 30 chicks in there for very long. Chicks grow fast. You also want to set up the heat lamp so that chicks can move under it to warm up, and out of it to cool off. Getting chicks outside and in bigger spaces is healthier, and decreases flock problems of them picking on each other. So I am thinking by the end of 2 weeks, maybe sooner, depending on how many you get, they would need to get out of the tub. Too tight of a confinement can cause a lot of flock problems and health issues.

    You said it was an old farm, so if you have a chicken house and coup, your start up costs might not be too bad. That will be a big help.

    If you free range, you probably are going to lose some hens occasionally. Imho you need a good coop/run set up, cause their will be times that you want to have them secure. I free range nearly every day. However, if I get to losing birds, I keep them locked up for a couple of days, til the predators moves on. I also don't follow a rigid schedule of letting them out at the same time each day. Even with free ranging, you have to provide feed. Only in July, when the bugs are at their biggest populations, do my hens cut back a great deal on feed use. I do have a mature rooster. Roosters are tricky, and if you read here very much you will see why. Since he has been 14 months old, I have not lost a chicken to day time predators. However, getting a rooster to the mature age, is dicey. Some get VERY MEAN, as in dangerous especially to small children. Some are perfect gentlemen, and some go from sweathearts to demons in an instant.

    If you have seen predators, then there are more predators there. I tried many different coop/run arrangements. I now have fort Knox, my coop is inside a totally enclosed as in over the top, run. The outside wire is sturdy fence material, and the inside is chicken wire. Chicken wire will not keep out predators at night. and many animals will easily scale the side of the fence, and get into your coop. Roosters are no protection from nighttime predators.

    The point about what to do with old chickens is a valid one, and one that few people think about until later, sometimes too much later. I do not go with the pet notion of chickens, I like having a flock. I don't feel guilty when I clean out the fridge, I love getting eggs, and I like to watch them, sometimes. With flock management, the trick is to have some chickens going out of the flock and some going into the flock each year. Your younger hens will give you eggs through the winter, the older chicken will give you larger eggs. I am trying a 3 year rotation. I am praying for a broodyhen right now, I currently have one 3 year old chicken, 1 two year old chicken, and 6 one year old chicken. I do different breeds different years, so that helps keep it straight.

    Mrs.K
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2012
  5. bruceha2000

    bruceha2000 Overrun With Chickens

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    With regard to what we would do with the hens when they stop laying - referencing #1 - they will hang out with the flock until they naturally go to the big coop in the sky. My daughter is a vegetarian - I call her an emotional vegetarian. She insists ants and spiders be put outside and won't eat the eggs we get from a guy at work (only summer, I guess he doesn't have much for winter layers) because he has a rooster and the eggs MIGHT be fertile. You can imagine that if she doesn't want the spiders (which she HATES) killed, she sure wouldn't go for "not producing, into the stew pot".
    Thus, if we ended up with a rooster, it would be a lonely bird unless someone wanted it for breeding or as a pet, not food. I suspect neither is probable.

    Unfortunately while we THOUGHT there was a good chicken area (roughly 10x15 with nesting boxes and perches) in the shed of the small bank barn, once we took possession we found that the metal roof is WAY worse than a few loose sheets and foundation? what foundation? We knew the barns weren't in great shape but they had so much stuff in them that the issues weren't obvious on cursory review. So the coop would have to be one of the stalls of the big barn, presuming I predator proof it. I'm sure a fox or weasel would be able to get into barn if it tried just a bit. Otherwise I would have to make a purpose built coop and now we're getting into money.

    So OK, I'll talk to the wife and see about maybe a dozen birds of various breeds. So many neat ones to choose from. Certainly some Easter Eggers. Gotta have those cool green and blue eggs :) And she may have thoughts on using the tub as a brooder for a couple of weeks. They may not be the same thoughts as *I* have ;)

    Bruce
     
  6. Kaitie09

    Kaitie09 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    If it were me, I would start with 4-6, then add 4-6 the next year or year after, and so on... If you are planning on keeping all your birds until they die, you will become with overrun chickens. I have a few hens that are 8 years old, but we staggered so even though we have 4 not laying, we are still getting 12-16 eggs a day. Their ages range from 2 years to 8, and and finally the old girls are dying off, so we will be getting some new hens this year. We always have enough eggs plus some to sell, but we don't have to kill off the old gals because the younger ones are paying for them.
     
  7. bruceha2000

    bruceha2000 Overrun With Chickens

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    Thanks for the suggestion Katie. I guess your chickens work on the Social Security model :)
     
  8. bruceha2000

    bruceha2000 Overrun With Chickens

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    Does that mean I can let the adults out (daytime) in a fenced pasture as long as it is "ground predator" proof? There is a fenced area behind the barn. It is probably around 5,000 sq ft including the 20x50 pond. Assuming chickens are smart enough to not drown in the pond, this would be a very convenient "run".

    Thanks,
    Bruce
     
  9. leirob007

    leirob007 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    The gates are open on my coup as we speak and they are everywhere from the woods to the goat feeders
     
  10. bruceha2000

    bruceha2000 Overrun With Chickens

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    Status update:
    I ordered 12 chicks from Ideal; 2 each of 6 breeds. They should arrive 6/14-15. When they start laying, I should have white from 2, blue/green from 2 and various shades of cream/brown from the rest. Some will lay medium eggs (don't tell my wife!) so hopefully I will be able to figure out which are laying and which are not.

    I have ordered a remote sensing thermostat (Zoo Med ReptiTemp 500R) so I don't have to worry about the lamp being too close or too far. Once I get a stable 95 degrees before the chicks arrive, it should deal with the weekly temp drop with small adjustments.

    We have a lot of cardboard boxes, I plan to cut some up to fill the bottom of the tub for 'traction'. Can I just shred the newspaper and (non plastic) junk mail to use for bedding as leirob007 suggested? That would be cheaper than buying shavings. Are there down sides to doing this? I'm all for doing things inexpensively but not if the result is harming the chicks or buying things 3 times as often and costing twice as much in the long run.

    When they outgrow the tub (might be only 2 or 3 weeks from pictures I've seen!), I'll need to have the barn stall converted to a coop. I might need to box off a corner to act as a 'warm room' so the lamp can hold proper temp but that can just be a quick cardboard or plywood design. Good thing I don't have anything else to do ;)

    It is early for this question but everything takes time:
    How high does a fence need to be so the birds won't fly out when they get bigger? The fence around the barn yard is about 3'.

    Thanks,
    Bruce
     

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