Many questions about raising chicks!

Discussion in 'Raising Baby Chicks' started by BeccaNoble, Oct 8, 2015.

  1. BeccaNoble

    BeccaNoble Out Of The Brooder

    Jul 4, 2015
    Nova Scotia, Canada
    Hello all! We have a flock of 12 laying hens. Or so we thought. 6 reds are definitely all hens, but 5 babies we bought are coming on 6 months old and 3 are starting to look... Roo like [​IMG] I have witnessed one mount one of the older girls, and one is gigantic, already much larger than the 6 adults, and "her" tail is breathtakingly beautiful and growing longer, all three have beautiful long feathers growing out in a mane around their necks... I don't know a thing about roosters, but my roo-dar is going off strong [​IMG]

    So now we're toying with the idea of keeping them and trying for chicks! So of course I have a million and three questions:

    These three potential roosters all grew up together and seem to have their own pecking order sorted. Can we keep all three, or will they get too aggressive?

    I live in Nova Scotia, long and cold winters. The roosters will reach 6 months in November or December (so we were told, I'm thinking they're about there now) if they start trying for babies right away is that a bad time for chicks? Please excuse my ignorance, I have a lot to learn!

    We have our chickens in a coop with an attached run, too many foxes and coyotes around to free range. Will the chicks be safe in the coop with all the other chickens and roosters, or do they need to be separated?

    If we do go the route of chicks we want to do it all as natural as possible, we want the chickens to tell us when it's time basically. So do we wait for a chicken to get broody to let us know her eggs are fertilized and she's ready to be a mama? If she does get broody do we need a heat lamp? Will she start to sit on her eggs then suddenly stop after some time or will she continue all the way through?

    Stupid question: if eggs are fertilized but there's no broody chickens to sit on them, are they still okay to eat? So far we're eating them all within 24 hours of them being laid.

    What happens after the chicks hatch, will I need a heat lamp or will mama hen take care of them? Again do I need to separate them or will they be taken care of? What do I need to feed them? Will the baby chicken feed from the store do or do they need something else?

    Sorry for the million questions, I started googling but figured it was smarter to put it forth to you good folks [​IMG]
  2. Egghead_Jr

    Egghead_Jr Overrun With Chickens

    Oct 16, 2010
    NEK, VT
    Without a broody hen you wont get chicks naturally. Production red chickens will rarely if ever go broody. Spring is the most apt time for it to occur. Eggs take almost 24 hours of 100F to start developing. There is no chance of you cracking open a egg that has started to develop.

    Three cockerels to fifteen pullets might work out for you. Inviting one to a nice dinner and keeping two would be a better fit. That way you've a back up bird in case something happens to one and the two boys have plenty of girls to play with so little fear of bare backs due to over mating.

    In the scenario of needing to purchase an incubator to hatch chicks next spring (I'd not do it at this late date and Northern climate this year) you'll need to put together a brooder with heat source. Depending how many you choose to hatch there is likely no need to have an actual heat lamp. In a very large plastic tote I've used a 100W incandescent bulb suspended on one end, a smaller brooder would require less. Heat only one side of brooder so the chicks can move to the temperature they want. Once they start to stay away from the heated area raise the light or reduce the wattage. Your aiming for 90F the first week under light and 80-85F after two weeks. After three weeks I start turning the light off period of day and if still inside after 4 weeks stop using the light all together.

    Without a broody hen to brood and raise the chicks for you you'll need to build a grow out pen/coop for the birds until they are of good size (12+ weeks) to introduce to the flock. Know that you'll not be able to introduce any cockerels to an existing harem with cock birds.
  3. Egghead_Jr

    Egghead_Jr Overrun With Chickens

    Oct 16, 2010
    NEK, VT
    Oh and as to the question of having cockerels (young males), yes. Google hackle feathers and then google sickle feathers, and while your at it look at their backs to see how the saddle feathers are coming along. All male only feathering.

    Correction, both sexes have hackle feathers but the males are long and pointed. Females normal length and rounded.
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2015
  4. BeccaNoble

    BeccaNoble Out Of The Brooder

    Jul 4, 2015
    Nova Scotia, Canada

    Thank you so much!! That was all so helpful [​IMG] Another question: roughly how much space does a chicken need? The coop and run are both pretty big, I would say the coop is easily 10 by 15 feet, the run about three times as long. We have twelve chickens now, could that space handle more chickens?
  5. rebrascora

    rebrascora Overrun With Chickens

    Feb 14, 2014
    Consett Co.Durham. UK
    Of course if you still want to go with the idea of raising chicks naturally you could add a couple of broody hens to your flock... either proven broodies, if you can find someone who will part with them, or a breed that is known for broodiness like silkies or cochins or maybe some easter eggers which are also good layers. My broodies raise their chicks within the flock so there is no problem about integrating them later, as the broody keeps them safe until they learn to fend for themselves and get out of the way of the bossy hens. My cockerels don't bother my chicks. Broody hens will only go broody in their own time though or maybe even not at all. There is no guarantee. If they do go broody, sometimes they do abandon their eggs after incubating them for a while (for a variety of reasons) but usually if they are happy and healthy, they will sit tight for 21days or more until the eggs hatch.
    No, with a broody, you don't need a heat lamp,
    No fertile eggs don't taste any different.

    You do have to realise that in raising chicks you will need to dispose of the excess cockerels that result (usually a least 50%) and the male chicks are almost always the friendly ones that steal you heart, so it's not easy.

    Also, 3 cockerels with the number of hens you have now is too many, especially in an enclosure as there will not be enough room for them to keep out of each others space and although they get on at the moment, that isn't likely to continue as their hormones kick in. You will also find they start forcibly mating the hens sometimes repeatedly until the hens lives are a misery and their backs and necks are featherless and raw. Once you start to witness it, you will know it's time to deal with them for the sake of your hens' welfare.

    Hens usually go broody in spring and summer when conditions are best for raising chicks. Mother nature is pretty clever about such thing and a joy to watch when it comes to a mother hen and her chicks!

    Good luck with them whatever you decide

  6. azygous

    azygous Flock Master

    Dec 11, 2009
    Colorado Rockies
    You had a slew of questions and some were only partially addressed or not addressed at all.

    You wish to raise chicks "naturally". That would involve avoiding artificial incubation or indoor brooding should a broody hen not materialize. And usually they aren't around when you really want one. So the next best thing would be the MHP system of incubation and brooding. See "Mama Heating Pad in the Brooder" thread on this forum. One of the contributors has used this system to incubate eggs as well as brood hatched chicks because it very closely replicates a broody hen's body warmth. The only inconvenient thing about hatching eggs under a heating pad would be turning them regularly and making sure there's plenty of humidity.

    After the chicks hatch, it's a breeze from then on. They are good about scurrying under the heating pad when they need to warm up, just as they would a broody hen. The beauty of this system is that the chicks are raised right out in the coop or run along with the rest of the flock, making integration a very easy thing.

    As far as selecting eggs for hatching, what I do is save eggs from the hens whose breed I would love to have more of. I usually keep the roosters separate from the hens during this period and I put the rooster of the same breed as the hen in with her prior to her laying her eggs so I know who the daddy will be. Then when she lays her egg later, I save it stored in a cool place until I have the number I desire for hatching. The eggs should all be around two weeks old or less when you begin hatching them.

    After the chicks hatch you will want to provide a secure pen apart from the adult flock so the chicks aren't endangered. If you manage to have a broody hen hatch the chicks for you, yes, chick starter is a good feed for both the chicks and the broody hen for the first six weeks or until you run out.
    1 person likes this.
  7. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    A lot of good questions. I’m going to assign some homework.

    First check out this thread about a broody hatch in Michigan in winter. It’s long but shows you some of the things you need to address. Winter hatches are possible but are more risky.

    I hatch in an incubator in the house and brood chicks in the coop in winter. My hens don’t go broody in winter or I’d let them do more of the work. My overnight lows occasionally get below zero Fahrenheit (-18 C) but cannot compare to yours. You can hatch and brood chicks in winter but it is harder with more risks. I’d suggest you wait until later for an additional reason. You can hatch the small pullet eggs, but I get better hatch rates and better chick survival if I wait until the pullets have been laying a while. When pullets first start to lay they sometimes don’t get everything just right for a chick to develop and hatch, plus the pullet eggs are tiny. There is not enough nutrients in those tiny eggs for big strong healthy chicks to develop. I do hatch pullet eggs and sometimes do pretty well, but sometimes the results are really discouraging. If you can it’s best to wait.

    As far as how much room you need, follow the link in my signature. I don’t give magic numbers, how much room you need is really variable depending on our own unique situation. But with your climate, your plan for broody hens, multiple roosters, and integration, more is definitely better. All those factors scream for more room.

    Roosters are always a big question mark. People do keep multiple roosters with flocks the size you are talking about. There are no magic numbers as to hen-rooster ratio either. People with one rooster to over 20 hens ratio have the same problems as flocks with much worse ratios and numbers as far as fighting, over-breeding, bare backed hens, and all the potential problems. I find room has a lot to do with success and your room is tight for that, especially in your climate. It varies a lot by the rooster and the hens, but one young vigorous rooster should have no problems keeping 15 hens fertile. Some roosters have trouble keeping three or four hens fertile. You are dealing with individuals and they don’t come with guarantees. I always suggest you keep as few roosters as possible and still meet your goals. That’s not because you are guaranteed more problems with more roosters, you are not, but because the potential for problems goes up with each rooster. If I were in your situation I’d go with one rooster but there is something to be said for having a back-up. Just be prepared to make management decisions if it shows it is not working out. Have a plan.

    Broody hens have been hatching and raising chicks with the flock for thousands of years without the help of humans, even before they were domesticated. They did not go extinct. Bad things can happen if they incubate and hatch with the flock. Bad things can happen if you isolate them. When you are dealing with living animals bad things can happen no matter what you do.

    I’ve never had an adult rooster threaten a chick in any way. I have seen the dominant rooster help Mama take care of her babies, but not all roosters do that. Normally the other hens leave the chicks alone unless that chick leaves Mama’s protection and intrudes on the other adult hen’s personal space. One peck usually sends the chick running back to Mama, with the chick maybe learning that it is bad chicken etiquette to intrude on your betters. Mama generally ignores this. But if the hen starts to follow the chick or otherwise threaten it, Mama politely whips butt. I’ve never lost a chick to another flock member but I know other people have. Each chicken has its own personality, each flock its own dynamics. We can tell you what normally happens but there will be exceptions.

    Whether the eggs are fertile or whether there is a rooster around has nothing to do with a hen going broody. Broody is a hormonal thing. Some hens are a lot more likely to go broody than others. Many never will. You certainly cannot control the timing of when a hen goes broody. If you want to control hatching eggs, get an incubator.

    Most broody hens, once they kick into full broody mode, are in it for the long term. Sometimes hens will pretend to go broody but not really kick into full broody mode. Occasionally you will get one that quits before the eggs hatch but that is fairly rare. They are living animals, what can I say?

    We all go about this differently. We all have unique set-ups, goals, and experiences. With this kind of stuff there is almost never one right way to do something where every other way is wrong. There are just a lot of different ways to be successful.
    1 person likes this.
  8. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Flock Master

    Nov 7, 2012
    3 roos may be a bit much. Even if they don't get aggressive, they LOVE to breed, sometimes, you can watch them breed every 10 minutes! They're worse than rabbits. All of that romance is hard on the hens and can wear the feathers off their backs. In a flock of your size, I'd recommend that you keep the rooster who demonstrates the best manners towards people and hens. My roo happily covered 16 gals his first season, and he still wore some of them out! He now has 24 girls to keep track of.

    Your roosters are already trying for babies. If they're mounting the hens, they're most likely fertilizing eggs. But they don't associate that with "making babies" they just like to do it! I would recommend that you wait till spring to hatch some eggs.

    Some folks do ok letting Mama hatch her chicks in the coop without any special accommodations. It depends on her social order in the flock. If she's not top dog, or aggressive, other hens may crowd her out of her nest. They'll certainly sneak eggs into her nest when she's not looking. They may also climb on top of her to lay an egg, and break some of hers in the process. You want a broody hen to start setting on eggs so that they are all the same "incubation age" and due to hatch on the same day. Sometimes, a broody gets confused and goes back to the wrong nest, leaving her clutch of eggs to get cold. And sometimes when the eggs hatch, the other flock mates see those baby chicks and treat them like they would a mouse: FOOD! For those reasons, I gave my broody a secure "cage" in the coop, and let her out daily for some exercise, always making sure that her nest wasn't invaded and that she made it safely back. She was low gal in the pecking order. Also, b/c she was low gal, she and her chicks needed a bit of TLC protection for a few weeks. Mama broody, if she's a good Mama will take care of her chick's heat needs. Sometimes a Mama will set on her eggs for a couple of weeks, then she'll move on to more interesting things. Or she may set on eggs until they start hatching, and then she'll be spooked by strange little creatures appearing under her butt, and abandon the nest, or even attack those creatures. For that reason, I recommend having a back up incubator and knowing how to use it!

    When the chicks hatch, give them chick starter. When I have chicks, the whole flock eats starter or multi-flock.

    Fertilized eggs look and taste exactly like unfertilized eggs. Unless you are trained in what to look for, you'll not know the difference.

    Please go to the learning center and read up on : Brooding chicks, raising chicks, incubation, dry incubation, and brooding with a heating pad as mentioned by Azygous!

    Enjoy. If you take time this fall and winter to read up on all the options available to you for producing your own chicks, you'll be well prepared in the spring!!
    1 person likes this.
  9. BeccaNoble

    BeccaNoble Out Of The Brooder

    Jul 4, 2015
    Nova Scotia, Canada
    Wow thank you all so much!! I see a lot of studying in my future this fall [​IMG]

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