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Puzzling out the mechanics and timing of introduction of new birds

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by gadus, Nov 30, 2016.

  1. gadus

    gadus Chillin' With My Peeps

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    This post could probably be in several categories so forgive me the wide-ranging quality of this...

    I plan to add approx. 12 more hens (plus one rooster) to my current flock of 18 (Buffs, Americauna, red and black stars) in the spring, when all can free-range and be out of each others' feathers. The reason for adding new birds is that I have found demand for my eggs to be high, with potential for more growth.

    I have a 8' X 8' coop which may end up being quite small for 30 birds; however, the run is more than big enough, with plans for expansion, plus they are free-ranged almost daily. I would definitely have to add more roost and consider building a kind of annex but would like as much as possible to make do with current footprint.

    As much as I love the variety, I am tempted to transition to a single-breed flock. Would gladly take suggestions for what that next breed should be; it should be dual purpose, with hopes that the resulting meat-at the two year mark-will be more broiler than stew-pot worthy.

    My current birds were bought in late April of this year and started laying in September. The plan is to add the new chicks next year, as early in the spring as possible (looks like this could be February if I go through an outfit like McMurray) and therefore have the whole flock of 30 producing eggs together for at least one whole year. The following year I would incubate a new batch also in the spring and cull the older birds as the new birds come into their first egg-laying month.

    I am also leaning towards buying eggs to incubate in the spring, vs. buying and would welcome comments about this side of the enterprise as well.

    I know this is a great deal of solicitation but I have to say, you folks have not let me down thus far and I imagine there's plenty of experience with this stuff out there.

    Grazie, mahalo, shukran and cheers to all.
     
  2. Pork Pie Ken

    Pork Pie Ken Monkey Business Premium Member

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    Your coop size is woefully inadequate for 30 birds. The general rule of thumb is 4sqft per bird and 1ft roost space per bird. There's very little to be done about that issue apart from some significant expansion. Even though your flock has a run, and will be out and about most of the time, things are likely to get a little hectic / stressful in there. Maybe adding the annex and housing your chicks there would ease things initially. What would also help is having part of the run covered and protected from the elements as this would reduce the likelihood of all 30 birds using the coop for shelter.

    You would also need to section off some of the run for the new chicks to provide a transition for the chicks (as well as power for brooding - if you are going to do that outdoors. Here's some links on integration:

    https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/1126547/topic-of-the-week-integrating-chicks-into-an-adult-flock

    https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/1069595/introducing-chicks-to-adults#post_16276224

    If you have a rooster, why buy eggs to incubate? If you are considering having eggs sent via mail its good to be aware that their viability can be a hit and miss affair.

    I'll leave others to make suggestions re: breed. Since eggs are your priority, you may wish to look into sex-linking?

    I'm sure others will be along soon to add many other thoughts to the pot.

    Good luck
    CT
     
  3. Blooie

    Blooie Team Spina Bifida Premium Member

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    @CTKen has giving you some good info. Here's another link that may be helpful, since you will be starting out the flock addition with chicks.

    https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/yes-you-certainly-can-brood-chicks-outdoors

    I have now raised 6 batches of chicks this way, have them fully integrated with the older birds by 4 weeks, and the brooder is pulled out of the run either that 4th week or a few days later. I have never had an issue doing this. The one thing I did change in my outdoor setup since I wrote that article was based on @azygous fantastic "portal door" idea. Rather than leave the brooder door cracked so the Littles could get away from the Bigs if they needed to, I cut small doorways into two sides of their brooder pen with sliding plywood doors. The chicks can fit back through, but the Bigs can't follow. When I was just propping the door open slightly, the chicks would often run the length of the brooder pen, not always finding the opening! So now at 3 weeks old I open the portal doors when I can be out there to supervise and I make sure that the Littles know exactly where those open doors are so they can hightail it for "home" if they get spooked. I close those doors at the end of the day so they can sleep in their brooder. Once they show me that they are fully capable of knowing where their safe spot is and how to get into it, I leave the doors open full time. Oh, we have some chasing and some pecking, but mostly it's just the Bigs reminding the Littles that there are limits to tolerance and they are overstepping those limits. As long as they aren't drawing blood, I'm fine with them sorting it out. They do that better than I do anyway. Having extra feeding and watering stations helps considerably as well. As long as they have a safe area, they do better with less interference from me in the natural way of things!

    When I first start opening the portals, I also have the run door open so the Bigs can have their free time outside. That way they are occupied out there while the Littles get to explore the run unmolested. It doesn't take long for the first brave LIttle to step totally outside the run, and I've noticed that the Bigs barely even acknowledge that they have joined them. I should also mention that inside the run on the side opposite where their brooder pen is, I have a huge half log. It's hollow on the underside, and it takes the Littles 2 seconds to figure out that if they are too far away from their pen when they get scared they can just pop under there. Again, the Bigs can't reach them, and after a few minutes when things have settled back down they pop right back out again. No matter how you do it, they simply must have a safe zone if they are ever going to feel 100% confident in with the older flock.

    I agree that your space just will not support that many birds. So while you plan which chicks to get, also be planning how to best utilize the space you have and add a bit more. As for as suggestions for choosing breeds if you decide to go the "all one breed" route, I just can't help you there. I'm too crazy about my mixed flock painting a rainbow in the grass on my yard to be objective! [​IMG] Good luck!
     
  4. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

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    Your coop, which is very nice, is tight for the 18 you already have...and I don't think you've been thru a winter yet, correct?
    Do you have a plan for winter ventilation and providing liquid water?
    So you have a sheltered run area to ease the stress of the coop crowding?

    You're gonna need more, and separate but adjacent, space to integrate new birds.
    I split my coop with a temporary wall(and a separate run) in spring to brood new chicks, as shown here, it worked great integrating at 4 weeks this year.

    Also, it takes 6 months for those new birds to start laying, hopefully before the older batch stops laying to molt in late summer.
    That didn't work out great for me this year, most the olders started molting before most the youngers started laying.
    I was 'rationing' eggs to my regular base customers for a couple months due to the low production.

    Rotation of stock is tricky, due to that 6 months of growout, and there will always be lulls in production, that's what 'real food' is about.
    I've done 3 age groups and this year just 2.....why my handle is 'Chicken Juggler', I'm still juggling for a balance.
    I'm going into my 4th winter, anxiously awaiting my molting birds to start producing again, this year without supplemental lighting.

    Shipped hatching eggs can be risky, some are great others are a disaster.
    I suggest you browse the hatching and incubation forum to research that.
    Hatching in itself brings another learning curve, wahtcha gonna do with all those extra males?
    I slaughter mine at 13-16 weeks, before they start causing trouble and while still tender enough for the grill.
     
  5. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

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    I'm trying to pare this down some....

    You currently have a mixed flock of point of lay pullets only?

    You're wanting to start a small scale egg business, so want to add a dozen production layer birds in the spring?

    You're okay with harvesting your older hens for meat,


    Okay.....

    If you're looking at egg production/sales, you can't beat a Leghorn or a sex link. The're the industry standard for egg production, with minimal feed intake. The flip side is, they're small hens, so the meat aspect is going to be lacking. But, I don't think it matters what breed you have, you're not really going to use any 2 year old hen as a broiler.

    You'll have to decide if you want to try incubating eggs, vs ordering sexed pullets each year from a hatchery. If incubation goes right, it's easy and fairly inexpensive. If it goes wrong, dead chicks aren't fun to deal with. Plus the frustration of not having the birds you counted on. Also keep in mind each batch is statistically 50% cockerels. Since you're talking about butchering hens, I'd assume you're okay with butchering cockerels, but you still have to have space to grow them out to butchering age (anywhere from 13 weeks on up to 6ish months). Ordering sexed pullets does have a bit more expense, but has the advantages of allowing breed variety or purity, and the sexing is a great option.

    I agree your space is tight. But, you'll go through this winter with your current flock, and that will give you an idea how you'll need to tweak things for next year. You'll have this spring and summer to make adjustments to the coop size, or change your plans.

    Culling layers is best done in the fall. Their normal cycle is laying in the spring, summer and tapering off in the fall for a break over the winter. Feeding a non-producing bird over the winter only to cull her in the spring makes no sense. Just something to keep in mind for the timing aspect. Unless you're using supplemental light to force laying over the winter, then it may not matter so much.

    And it's all well and good to make plans now, for what's going to happen months away. But,....always be flexible! you never know when something will happen to throw things off, or you need a change in plans.
     
  6. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Overrun With Chickens

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    You are falling into the trap that a lot of people make, with the idea that free ranging chickens can compensate for not enough coop space. In the summer, if you are adding chicks to the flock, they are physically smaller, and take less space, but within months that changes, they grow up, needing more space. So my point is with the long days of summer and the smaller birds, you can cheat in the summer. Technically that is what you have done till now with your first flock. Your birds have just recently reached full size, they are slightly overcrowded, and now going into winter, they will be crowded in the coop for long spells during the night.

    Generally speaking, mammals raised together, get along. Birds do not do this. They really don't care if they are raised together, it is all about pecking order and how much space and feed they get. This forum is filled with posts that state, "They were raised together, and now are fighting constantly.What happened?" Almost always it is do to space, what was enough space as chicks, is not enough space as full sized birds. Then you add the long nights of winter. Mine are roosting up very close to 4:00 and not coming off the roost until 7:30. That is a long time to be crowded. Fighting will ensue if there is not enough space. The tension in your flock will reduce your egg laying.

    Years ago, when I was just getting started, I too had an attack of chicken math, where you think, oh I can add more, and they will all be nice. I had a predator get in and help me out. Ugh! But within days, I realized how much less tension there was in the flock, how my birds were more relaxed, and egg production went up. I took a head count and that is the number that truly fits in my set up.

    So you can cheat in the spring, adding chicks really does not be much of a space issue, if you have enough space in your set up for the flock. Then as they grow, the tension will rise in the flock. By fall, you need to cull out the flock, so as to fit with extra room in your coup for the winter. You introduce chicks in your current set up, and they will be killed, there is not enough space for the birds you have, they will be very aggressive towards chicks.

    Basically we are all saying the same thing, hate to rain on your parade, but
    • to double your flock, you need a bigger coop
    • 2 year old birds are not broiler birds
    • incubating is iffy
    • free ranging does not help coop size
    Mrs K
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2016
    2 people like this.
  7. gadus

    gadus Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thanks to all for thoughtful and helpful responses. Let me just say by way of clarification that my initial goal in having chickens was to give my daughter the same joy I had growing up, that of raising and caring for birds. Having said this, and while it is nice to contemplate making a little money at it and have unlimited delicious eggs at our disposal, my plan is to segue to rabbits for protein. Therefore, while I definitely need to consider the meat value of egg-producing birds, including when to slaughter them, it is not top priority.

    Further, that while I would love to ride into the sunset with my birds and grow old together, my plan is to kill some or all of my layers at the two year mark, based purely on the arc of production; I hope to have a new batch ready to lay at that point but also fully understand that there may be lulls in production due to cold, molting, earthquakes, etc. I do not plan on becoming an egg factory but I would just like to have a few more dozen eggs to sell on a weekly basis, nothing more.

    I love my multi-colored eggs but if I'm to be serious about eggs, I have to go with the 300 eggs/yr birds or else I'm just whistling dixie. As I said, I will add about 12 birds, which I know will need more space, regardless of how vast my run is; winter will be tough but I'm from Maine and know a few things about cold weather; having said this, the ventilation issue is proving a tad tricky to me and I'm currently tweaking what I have to keep drafts away from birds and the weather out. I have also added roost so that there's plenty of wall space for all 18 birds. I will be moving my poop board off the floor and in an elevated position so that the birds can walk underneath it; frankly the removable board was a waste of time for me because I can easily walk in and clean out the space in five minutes with no fuss. The ventilated access door for the board was thus also a total waste of time and space- the one suggestion I took that didn't pay off.

    I understand that at two years, the layers may well be too tough for anything but the stewpot. Given this, it does make perfect sense to go with a pure egg-laying breed, vs dual-purpos; I will need more research to know the answer to what this breed should be.

    If I get a rooster, yes, it will obviate the need to buy eggs. I am okay with culling the cockerels and eating them at 13-16 weeks. Knowing the high incidence of cockerels, I will compensate accordingly, by hatching double my needs (for layers). Incubation seems to be a crapshoot yet many people do it and do it well. I am not particularly ambitious in that regard but having done it as a kid, I think I can do it successfully again.

    I am fully aware that free-ranging has nothing to do with space needs within the coop and therefore am not attaching any weight to my free-ranging arrangements.

    I have kicked myself for not going with a 10 or 12 X 12 coop so I know that my current space is neither adequate for 30 nor humane. However, 64 ft2 seems just fine for 18, I'm comfortable in saying; I have taken my feed can out and am moving the poop board because it is obvious that they really need all of that space.

    I may try to build a brooder/annex to the main coop that can be a permanent addition to the coop but I'm going to take the winter to plan and see where my head is come early spring.

    Thanks again.
     
  8. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Overrun With Chickens

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    We have all kicked ourselves for not building bigger!

    After several years, I got another coop. Truthfully I love having two coops, it gives you a lot of options. Sometimes I use both, and sometimes I don't. But it is sweet to have the options.

    Mrs K
     
  9. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

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    Sounds like you've got a good handle on things. I especially like that you've identified issues and have changed your management style to fix them. Seem so many folks want to bang their heads against the wall to keep doing what isn't working.

    As an option to culling, a good amount of folks sell off their 2 year old layers. I do myself, quite a bit. Full disclosure as to age and when they'll probably lay again. I can often get $10 for a hen that age. Makes it more worthwhile to me to sell than butcher.

    And yes, we've all kicked ourselves for not going big at first [​IMG]
     

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