Some Thoughts On Keeping Chickens

I don’t claim to know all there is about keeping birds. Heck, I don’t claim to know anything at all. This is a post about what I think I know about chickens…and I have given this topic some thought. Egg Eating All chickens eat eggs happily. All chickens. Just break an egg open in front of your flock and see who comes running. I THINK this is a normal, instinctive behavior. Birds don’t want messy nests so they clean up broken eggs. And believe me, I have some experience in this matter. I have heard and read that egg eating is contagious and the only cure it is to cull the whole flock. I believe this to be false. I believe the contagion is the end-result of nutritional deficiency in the flock or of unclean nest boxes. There. I said it. This is total heresy in the farming world though. My birds have had trouble with this from time to time (keep in mind I have a flock of four year old birds). Most of the time the cure has been to keep oyster shell in front of the flock free-choice. When that runs out, eggs start breaking. The other possibility has been packed or dirty nesting material. If we have a prolonged period of rain I may not be as disciplined as I should be about cleaning next material. Wet birds with muddy feet do bad things to clean nests. The final reason I believe I have had periodic trouble with broken eggs is because we are sometimes delayed gathering eggs. Things work better if we collect eggs at 11am and at 4pm, not just when we tuck in the bi

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14 thoughts on “Some Thoughts On Keeping Chickens

  1. i’ve got those 250 birds — in high season i get 12 dozen eggs/day in freezing temps we go down to 8. i like heat lamps with red bulbs in winter and find if they are cozy a quantum number of birds will lay all year long even without artificial light. i keep dominiques — a great friendly bird producing medium/large brown eggs. i NEVER wash the eggs!! tell your customers chickens lay an egg with a natural, protective-anti-bacterial coating so embryonic chicks can survive the hazards of a dirty nest. washing denatures the coating and the eggs become vulnerable to contagion from salmonella, etc. educate your buyers and save the washing step, sell the eggs unrefrigerated — the way they do in much of the rest of the world! the eggs taste way better and last just as long on the kitchen counter as a store bought egg. last money-saving trick: keeping good foragers like my dominiques lets us with hold bought feed all day long in summer. have never called the vet. these free range, warm and dry girls have an iron constitution! If they look sick i isolate them, feed water treated with apple cider vinegar (which we offer to everybody a few times in the summer for worms and general health) and lots of house treats and then hope for the best. if i find a broken egg i toss it on the ground and — yes — they all come running. only issues with full on free ranging is you could never identify the non-layers or egg eaters to cull them. so i carry more dried up old birds than i should. chickens are a treat. train them by yelling ‘snack’ and offer up something special (rotten tomatoes, etc.) to eat. that way if you see a fox in the field you can yell snack and rustle everyone up to safety. just a few tips.

  2. I like the chicken house! Do the chickens go inside at night on their own? And how big of a pen do you give them?

    1. Pen size depends on a couple of things. Mainly the number of birds and the season but also our intent. If we would like the birds to act intensely on a smaller area (like the manure pile after we clean out the barn) we use less fence.

      But on range for 200 birds, four lengths of permanet does the trick. Time varies by season. Generally, if the grass is growing fast, the cows are moving fast and the chickens are following fast too.

  3. Great article. As a kid we had lots of chickens, and those days are some of the best of my life. I always say you aren’t a chicken farmer until the shit starts to smell like chocolate. It still smells like chocolate to me! I’m hoping that soon I will be in a position to have a place for a small hobby flock, as I want my children to experience the glory of a flock of birds running toward you coming out of all the nooks and crannies when you yell “Here chick, chick, chick, chick!!!”

  4. Dunno. Love this. Sometimes you just don’t know and that’s ok. We move on. Get more chickens and go with it. Mother nature is always going to throw the curve ball. Thanks so much, this was great.

  5. I need more chickens too. But, I want to talk about the breed descriptions and share my little bit of experience. The saying “There are more differences within a breed than there are between breeds.” holds true for all species. Which hatchery and then how the chicks were raised probably makes more difference than the breed. Granted, we had 100 Brown Leghorns and 50 White Leghorns and when they weren’t fluttering around like crazies they were pecking each other to death, so some breeds are CERTAINLY flightier than others. We have some 2 yr old Barred Rocks that have been the best hens we have had. They were raised for the first two weeks in our living room because of 20degree icy weather and they are very calm around people and lay well in South Louisiana through the summer. We have a chicken tractor full of Silver Laced Wyandotte pullets about 4 months old and they have gotten used to me moving the pen everyday, but they did run to the back of the pen for the first month. They also pecked some full grown broilers to death. But now they are calm and if a few get out I can easily grab them. I am not disputing your general breed traits, I just want to remind everyone and support your thoughts that upbringing and conditions have a significant affect. Cheers! More Chickens for Everyone!

    I agree wholeheartedly that you feed health into your stock because the Barred rocks have never missed a meal and always have oyster shell and they have returned the favor. Early on when we tried to do too much with too little I was metering feed to the flock “by the book” and all it got me was skinny birds and no eggs– for months.

  6. We’re getting ready to leave our urban, cubicle-based routine and try our hand at homesteading. Definitely appreciate the advice and insight into chicken-keeping!

  7. Good article. I worked with a cow-calf grazer in Iowa that got a running school bus and uses that for 300 year old laying hens behind his cow herd for fly management, fertilizer, insect management and eggs. Hens go by when the snow fly. These free range, and organic but not certified jumbo eggs sell really well. I have pictures: e-mail me at jess.jackson@wdc.usda.gov

    1. Jess,
      Please send us a picture of the 300-year-old chickens. Those are REALLY old birds! 🙂
      We’re extremely impressed that they are still laying. You should definitely breed them.
      Rachel and Kathy

      PS Kathy and I are cracking up!!! But we do know what you meant. We just like it better as ancient birds.

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