Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hatching Chicks with a Broody Hen: Part 1, The Pros and Cons

This summer, I've had lots of hens go broody and hatch their own chicks! This is really the easiest method of raising chicks, so if you want to do it mamas way, I'll give you a rundown of how it's done. This will be part one of a series of posts on how to raise chicks using a broody hen instead of an incubator.

First, lets make sure you know what you're getting yourself into.

Pros of hatching chicks with a broody hen:

1. Mama does all the work. She sits on the eggs for 21 days. She (sometimes) pushes bad eggs out of the nest.  She turns the eggs. She shows the chicks where the food and water is, finds them tasty treats if free ranging, and teaches them everything from dust bathing to roosting.

2.  You don't have to worry if the power goes off or if you got all the temp and humidity settings right on an incubator.

3. Chicks are usually healthier raised naturally. You don't usually have to worry about pasting up, spraddle foot, and the like.

4. Chicks raised by mama are also protected by her, so you can let them out in the pasture as early as you wish, which helps them learn all of the chicken behaviors that they need to know in life, like how to forage, dust bathe, and heed the rooster's warning calls of predators. She will protect them fiercely against other chickens and even predators, keep them close to her side, and warm them if the temperature outside is chilly.

Cons of hatching chicks with a broody hen:

1. You can't have chicks whenever you want. If a hen is broody, she's broody, if she's not, she's not. You can't make a hen hatch chicks.

2. You can't hatch as many at a time as you can in an incubator. A standard size hen can only keep warm about a dozen or so eggs, less if she's a bantam.

3. If you don't have a rooster, you may not have fertile eggs available when your hen decides to go broody.

4. Not all hens who go broody are good mothers. Some are horrific mothers. I have many examples of this. Some of my hens wouldn't leave the nest at all, which meant that they used the bathroom right there on top of their eggs. The eggs were then so dirty and bacteria filled that they never hatched. I even had a hen once who was great at incubating the eggs, but once they started hatching, she went homicidal! I've had hens accidentally step on chicks or sit on them too hard and squash them. I've had one who stopped sitting on her eggs only two weeks through the incubation period.

5. Sometimes, mama can accidentally push a good egg out of the nest, and if it is out there too long, it will cool and die.

More later on hatching chicks with a broody hen, so keep watching for the rest of the series!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

I'm Back!

I am pleased to announce that, after a long hiatus, I am back to blogging!

I have one big, huge, important, loveable reason for my sudden and unexplained departure, and that is this guy.
Yes, he has a ring on his left hand. Yes, he is mine! (And so are the chicks, by the way, but I'll write about that later.)  My boyfriend became my fiance, who became my husband. That's why I've been so busy and have had no time to blog! Now I have lots to write about. Since my last post, I got engaged, planned a wedding, got married, went on a honeymoon, my family moved out of my house and my new husband moved in, and I have started to learn how to be a good wife. It's a lot of work. But definitely worth it. Oh, and also my chickens went broody and hatched chicks the entire summer! I have learned so much about chickens that I have had about a million or so blog posts stewing in my brain for the past few months, but I haven't had time to write them yet. Do you know how distracting it is to have a million blog posts stewing in your head all at once, just simmering for months? So, bring on the blogging!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My First Eggs!

On Jan. 3, one of my chickens laid their first egg! The silly bird laid it outside the coop on the ground, so I didn't find it until the next morning. It was a white egg, somewhat small, and it had frozen and cracked open due to the cold temperatures outside. That same day, I later found three more eggs, all of them in the nesting boxes, and not frozen.

I think the first eggs were laid by one of my White Leghorns, and one of my Turkens (or Naked Necks), since they were taking a lot of interest in the nesting boxes. A White Leghorn:
And a Turken:

  Here are my fresh eggs next to a store bought egg (on left) for size comparison:
As you can see, they are a bit smaller than the store bought egg (I always call store bought eggs tortured chicken eggs, because of the horrible conditions that most hens from commercial egg farms are kept in, but I'll save that soapbox for another time.) They are smaller because my chickens are still young and have not perfected their laying skills yet. They will get bigger as the hens lay more eggs. Since then, I have gathered over a dozen more fresh eggs from my hens.
Fresh eggs from my own hens are so much better than store bought eggs! They have seven times the Beta Carotene, twice the omega 3 fatty acids, three times as much Vitamin E, 1/3 less cholesterol, and 1/4 less saturated fat than store bought eggs. Also, they are so much more delicious! They have a hearty taste that is noticeably more rich in flavor than store bought. You can tell just by looking! The yolk of a store bought egg is typically yellow, whereas the yolk of a backyard egg is orange. The darker color indicates that it has more vitamins and nutrients, much like a darker vegetable indicates the same. 

Normally, most hens do not lay eggs in winter, or at least not very many. However, I did some things to encourage my girls to start laying even though it is winter. They were about laying age (approx. six months old), and I couldn't wait for eggs to start appearing! The first thing I did was to provide them with additional calcium. My birds are currently eating a feed designed for all stages of growth, and so does not provide adequate calcium for laying hens as too much calcium is detrimental to the birds who are not laying. I added free choice oyster shell, which should provide enough calcium for my layers to make good shells for their eggs.
Here you can see their ten gallon feeder which my boyfriend made out of two five gallon buckets, a garbage can lid, and various other items he found in my garage. In the left hand corner is the feeder for the oyster shell, and just above that is the container for kitchen scraps that I feed daily.

I added a light on a timer to stimulate a longer natural day. Chickens need a long period of light each day (as long as daylight would naturally occur in summertime) to produce eggs.  The timer turns the light on at four in the afternoon, when it starts getting dark, and stays on until nine in the evening. This essentially tricks the chickens body into thinking that it is summertime and time to lay even in the dead of winter.

My boyfriend also made them new nesting boxes, also out of five gallon buckets (There are a million and one uses for five gallon buckets!) and some lumber.

The day after he made these nesting boxes, a hen started laying, and some others have started now too.
I am hoping that in a few months when their eggs start to get bigger, I will have enough to sell. I am also hoping to hatch chicks in the spring, enough for myself and some to sell.

I currently only have brown egg layers and white egg layers. But there are other colors of eggs as well. There are chickens who lay blue, green, olive, chocolate brown, and even pink tinted eggs! I really want some blue, green, or olive eggs. I have one chicken who is an Easter Egger- a kind of chicken that lays blue, green, or olive eggs, but unfortunately he is my rooster. He is a beautiful rooster, but he won't give me any blue eggs.

However, if I breed him with my hens and hatch out enough chicks, I may get some chicks who will lay pretty colored eggs. That's what I am hoping to do this spring!