Saturday, October 5, 2013

Raising Chickens is Easy

Raising chickens isn't rocket science. We have come to find that chickens are one of the simplest additions to a homestead that one could ask for.
 Now I know I am going to catch a bunch of flack from some show chicken  enthusiasts about how "difficult" it is to raise good chickens. "They need constant attention to their diet". "You gotta make sure they have free choice, crushed oyster shells, fresh water, scratch grains, and de-wormer." "You can't feed cracked corn on tuesdays." "Make sure you shampoo their feathers twice a month." "You can't let the mothers hatch the eggs, you have to take them away and use an incubator." "Don't let them go out in the rain." (as if they are gremlins). BLAH BLAH BLAH.....  Ya, there are seriously people who believe that a hen can't do a good enough job raising her own young. Now in their defense, some breeds of chickens are developed as "egg-laying machines", and the trait of broodiness (where they sit on eggs) has been strategically bred out of them. For a homestead, I would suggest getting at least a few chickens (if not the whole flock)from a breed which has retained the broody traits. Our farm has a few feather footed cochin bantams that are absolutely incredible mommas. They will go broody at a moments notice and sit on any eggs she can find. I once had a hen who I placed on 9 aracauna bantam eggs and she hatched all of them. The chicks were sold the next day, and momma immediately sat on more eggs, so I put her on 9 more, and she hatched those too. Sold those chicks the next day also. Can you guess what she did next?  Yup! back on more eggs. This time, I had to actually remove her every day for a week in order to "force" her to begin eating better,since she was beginning to whittle away from the stress of the past 42+ days of incubating. 
Here is the story on how a chicken comes to be. (essentially, the process is mostly the same for all birds, although incubation times are typically different)
A chicken lays one egg every 25 hrs....ish, and they only lay when it is light. She will lay the eggs in the same location every day until the day where "her schedule" meets the darkness. This is when she will sit on the eggs and remain on them. This pile of eggs is called a "clutch" Up to this point, she doesn't actually sit on them. For the chicks inside to actually begin forming,  the eggs must reach 99.5 degrees F for 24 hrs. (this is the reason all of the eggs typically hatch at the same time.) Momma hen will remain on the eggs, with occasional quick trips to water and feed, until the eggs hatch. Chicken eggs take 21 days, but she doesn't know this. I have had some hatch in as few as 18 days, and some take as long as 23. Just before the chick hatches, it absorbs the yolk, which will allow it to stay alive for up to 3 days without food or water. They will have to stay with the hen for at least 5 weeks to regulate their body temperature by tucking into momma's feathers. Once they have their own feathers to keep warm, they are pretty much on their own and even their own mother will begin using the "pecking order" with them.

All of our eggs are fertile, though you wouldn't know it. When we crack open an egg, it appears to have the same components as the ones you buy in the grocery store. The difference?  Farm raised eggs have MUCH better flavor, Darker, richer yolks, and typically harder shells. The color of the shell really doesn't make a difference to the inside. As you can see, we have quite the variety. Greens, Blues, Browns, Whites...! 

Chickens don't need high priced hotels to live in. My favorite reference to this was when Kate Gosselin decided to save money on eggs for her 8 little monsters by buying chickens. The little Amish dudes came and built that beautiful coop for her. (probably charged her 5 grand) and she ended up hating the fact that she actually had to......what's that word?......oh ya,  "work". Pretty sure the chickens didn't last for even the entire season, did they?.  Money she saved = negative $4,980.
Some people just aren't cut out for homesteading.
Our coop is an old 8x8 shed, with a divider for straw and hay storage. There is a small run attached (with a door cut in the side of the shed to allow 24-7 access to the sun and dirt. Every morning, the run door is opened, allowing full access to the world for the chickens to free range for food. In the evening, after all of the chickens have re-entered the coop for the nightly roost, the door is closed to keep out predators. That's it! Nothin' to it. The chickens pretty much do what they want. 

I used to lose a lot of chickens to hawks, until I discovered the aracauna's. This chicken is like a meerkat. There is always a sentry or two...or four...or six, on point watching for danger. I swear, even if a blackbird flies over, the chickens all beeline to the nearest cover. Prior to the aracauna's, I would lose at least 1 bird every other week. Since I purchased them a year and a half ago......Zero birds lost from ANY predators. The only downfall....these birds do not like to be held and cuddled. Easy trade-off  for me since I am NOT a cuddler.

The aracauna's lay the blue and green eggs.

Our flock, free ranging in the sun.

They love my neighbor's apple trees too. They eat the apples which have dropped down, and all of the bugs which are crawling on them.
Chickens....GET SOME!

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