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A new batch of baby chicks have arrived on the farm.

Here a chick, there a chick, everywhere a chick chick!

Ah, the chirping of baby chickens is both music to my ears and a sign of new young life on our farm.  These baby chickens are Pearl-White Leghorns and are simply adorable.  How did these leghorns come to live at our farm?  Well, they were hatched through a school embryology program through the local Extension Office, where elementary students get to see a "seemingly lifeless chicken egg develop into an active peeping chick" according to the program brochure.  Students get to experience and track the life of the egg in an incubator for 3 weeks and then work with the hatched chicks for a week after they are born.  Then good farm homes are found for them to live.  This little batch came to live with us.

This is our fourth year having leghorns.  They lay beautiful large white eggs, but prefer to keep to themselves.  I coddled the first batch I had thinking if I held them enough they would become attached to me, but not this breed.  They are hyper and high-strung and prefer to do their own thing.  They are not good birds for the freezer, as they max out at only 3.5 to 4 lbs. and don't leave a lot of meat for you to work with.  Leghorns get along well with other chickens and are excellent egg layers.

We have several different varieties of chickens on our farm, but these are my only white egg layers.

May 23, 2012

A lot of city folks are getting backyard chickens and loving it!  I can't say I blame them.  Chickens are fascinating to watch.  When I first decided I wanted to have chickens, I read every book I could find about them.  Before you purchase any baby chickens or adult chickens do the following:

  1. Study the breeds of chickens.  Not all chickens will "fit" into your lifestyle.  Do you live in a colder weather climate?  If so, make sure you look at chickens that get along well in cold weather.  Do you want a chicken that lays white, brown or blue eggs?
  2. What type of food source are you looking for?  Eggs only? Chickens that will lay for awhile then go in your freezer?  Broilers - chickens that are going to be raiseed for meat only?  Knowing what you want will also help you in deciding the breed you're purchasing as well as the food and housing that you will need.
  3. The Chicken Coop.  The wonderful thing about chickens is that they don't need a lot of coop space.  What they do need is a safe place to sleep at night, a private/dark spot to lay their beautiful eggs in their nesting boxes, shelter from the cold and the heat, and a place to peck the ground.  Depending on the number of chickens you plan on having will determine the space that they need to live for their coop.  A lot of people use an old barn, an outdoor building, etc and turn it into amazing living space for their beloved chickens.  Personally, we took our old dairy feeder barn and turned it into our coop.  The outside cement is caged in so the girls can go inside or outside during the day without fear of predators and when I am home at night, I let them graze in the pasture by the barn.
  4. Nesting Boxes and Roosts.  My big misconception was that I had a bunch of chickens, so now I need a bunch of nesting boxes.  WRONG!  My girls will only lay in about 8 of the nesting boxes that we have.  The rest of nesting boxes, they end up sleeping in or don't use.  Chickens share nesting boxes.  They love to snuggle another chickens egg under their belly and then lay their own egg.  It's what they do!  Plan on one nesting box for every three to four chickens.  Make sure to use some type of bedding in the bottom of the nesting boxes.  I use straw because that is what is convenient for us and my girls are use to it.  Additionally, make sure your girls have a place to "roost" at night.  You will need more of these than nesting boxes!  Roosts are a place where they can be high up and watch for predators if need be.  When they go to bed at night is when you can seeing how the chicken pecking order begins and who your dominant chickens are.  It is amazing!
  5. Predators.  Do you live in the country?  If so then your chickens could find themselves food for predators like raccoons (they usually eat their eggs), oppossums (they refuse to die no matter how hard you try and kill them), foxes, hawks, coyotes and more!  If you live in town, beware some of the same predators can strike their as well.  Your neighbor's dog could even be considered a predator.  Know your surroundings and make your chickens safe from anything that might harm them.
  6. This is a ladder for the chickens to go to their
    "roosts" for the night.
  7. Roosters.  I love to get up in the morning and hear my two roosters crowing down at the barn.  It is music to my ears, but may not be to you or your neighbors.  You do not have to have a rooster for a hen to lay an egg.  People ask me this question all of the time. A rooster will protect his "ladies" if necessary, but the rooster isn't a requirement.
  8. Food.  Chickens will eat just about any type of food you give them.  I always give them my scraps and they love me for it.  As soon, as I walk to the barn and say, "girls" they all come running because they know they have some kind of a special snack.  Adult chickens can be fully pasture raised, but I feed mine a mixture of oyster shells (which helps strengthen the shells of the eggs by providing calcium) and ground up corn that comes out of our fields.  You can buy these same products at your local farm elevator or feed store (TSC or Rural King).  I've read in many place not to feed chickens raw potatoes, so I never have.  I have learned over the years that my girls will not eat onions either.  All the weeds I pull out of the garden and flower beds go to my girls.  Just be sure you haven't used any chemicals in these areas before giving the weeds to your girls. I used to be concerned about the feeders we used as well, but chickens are messy eaters. They live to peck at things on the ground.  Wether there food is in a feeder that is hanging down or in a feeder on the ground, they will knock some of it on the ground and eat it.  Fascinating!
  9. Water.  If you do nothing else, make sure that your girls have ample water all the time!  When it is hot outside, they are hot and they drink a lot!  I have twice as many waterer's as I do feeders.  They also need an ample supply of water to make those big eggs that you want for breakfast.
  10. Oyster Shells.  I mentioned oyster shells in paragraph #7.  I find that since I use them in the feed mixture, the girls don't need as much of it, but I still keep some out in a feeder as "free-choice" so that if they want some more, it is there for them.  You don't want to give your girls oyster shells until they have started the laying process.
  11. Eggs.  Ah, this is the best part about our chickens.  The thing to remember about eggs is that they are like people.  They come in all different shapes, sizes and colors, but you love them all. I know some people don't wash their eggs and some people do.  I hand wash my eggs in look warm water every night, let them air dry and then store them in the fridge immediately.  Eggs are porous, so you don't want to use soap in your water and then have that taste in your eggs.  Also, watch for cracks in eggs.  Sometimes when the egg drops in the nesting box, if there isn't adequate bedding underneath, they can crack.  So be sure to look for these minor things before you store your eggs.
Okay, those are some basics that I have learned.  How about a little terminology to help you as well?

  • Pullet - This is a young female chicken that is less than a year old.  Most chickens will begin laying eggs when they are somewhere between the 6-9 month stage.
  • Hen - This is a female chicken that is at least a year old or older. 
  • Cockerel - This is a young male rooser that is less than a year old.  I have to insert a personal note here.  Cockerel's are so cute when they first learn how to crow.  It's is adorable!
  • Old Cock/Rooster - (Ok, quit laughing!)  This is also known as an adult male rooster that is at least a year old or older.
Our adult hens in the outside pen getting a drink of water.
I have doors on both sides of this pen so they can graze
the pasture and come and go as they like.

Texas Extension has a wonderful publication on "Chicken Breeds and the Color of Their Eggs."  Here is a fun fact, did you know that the color of a chicken's earlobe will predict the color of the egg they will lay?  Seriously!  Check it out!

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