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Table of contents :
How to Get Started
How to Raise Chickens: Flock Size, Spacing, And Start-Up Cost
Gardening with Chickens
Choosing The Right Chicken Breeds
How to Build A Chicken Coop
Tips for Raising Young Chickens in Your Backyard
How to Collect And Clean Chicken Eggs
When Chickens Stop Laying Eggs
Common Chicken Health Problems
Selection of Breeding Chickens
Backyard Chickens Guide to Raising and Breeding Your Own Chickens Joshua McPherson Copyright © 2020 Joshua McPherson All rights reserved. DEDICATION The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you for your personal use only. You may not make this e-book publicly available in any way. Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this ebook you are reading infringes on the author's copyright, please notify the publisher at: https://us.macmillan.com/piracy
Contents Raising Chickens How to Get Started How to Raise Chickens: Flock Size, Spacing, And Start-Up Cost Gardening with Chickens Choosing The Right Chicken Breeds How to Build A Chicken Coop Tips for Raising Young Chickens in Your Backyard How to Collect And Clean Chicken Eggs When Chickens Stop Laying Eggs Common Chicken Health Problems Breeding Chickens Selection of Breeding Chickens
Raising Chickens How to Get Started
Why should you raise chickens? There’s a lot to like about raising chickens in your backyard. The eggs are a real temptation—tastier and fresher than any store-bought eggs, and better for baking, too. The shells, along with the chicken poop, can be tossed right into the compost pile. Much of the day, the birds entertain themselves, picking at grass, worms, beetles, and all of the good things that go into making those yummy farm eggs. Plus, with their keen eye for insect pests, chickens make for great gardening companions. Remember, though: Nothing good comes easy! Things to consider before getting chickens First, check local town ordinances to ensure that keeping chickens is even allowed in your neighborhood or if there is a limit to the number of chickens you can keep at once. The last thing you want is to invest time and money
into preparing for chickens and then find out that you can’t even keep them! Make sure you have the space for a henhouse or a full-size chicken coop. It has to hold a feeder and water containers, a roosting area, and a nest box for every three hens. A proper coop should be large enough that you can stand in it to gather eggs and shovel manure comfortably, but a simple henhouse can be quite a bit smaller. Plus, any housing must be sturdy enough to keep your chickens safe from all the predators out there! Here’s how to build a chicken coop in your backyard. Chickens need food (and water) daily. Feed is about $20 per 50-pound bag at my co-op, but prices vary depending on your location and the quality of the feed. How long a bag lasts depends on the number of chickens that you have. Hens will lay eggs through spring and summer and into the fall, as long as they have 12 to 14 hours of daylight. Expect to collect eggs daily, or even twice a day. All year ‘round, you’ll have to shovel manure. Yippee! If you go away on vacation, you’ll need a reliable chicken-sitter—and they can be scarcer than hens’ teeth!
How to Raise Chickens: Flock Size, Spacing, And Start-Up Cost How Many Chickens Should I Keep? Chickens are sociable creatures, so plan to keep three to six birds. With this amount, you’ll always have a steady supply of eggs, since an adult hen lays about two eggs every three days, on average. Chickens are most productive in the first two years of their lives; after that, egg production will slow, so you’ll need to think about replacing your flock with younger birds eventually. Young chicks can be bought from suppliers quite easily, or you can hatch your own if you have a rooster (which we do
NOT recommend). Read more about raising baby chicks here! How Much Space Do Chickens Need? Ultimately, it depends on which breed of chicken you’re raising. According to the University of Missouri Extension, one medium-sized chicken needs at least 3 square feet of floor space inside the coop and 8-10 square feet outdoors. The more space, the happier and healthier the chickens will be; overcrowding contributes to disease and feather picking. The birds will need a place to spread their wings, so to speak: a sizeable chicken run, for example, or a whole backyard. (Our hens have lots of outdoor time. They have places to take a dust bath and catch a few rays.) Either way, the space must be fenced in order to keep the chickens in and predators out. (Predators include your own Fido and Fluffy, too!) Add chicken-wire fencing to your list of equipment. How Much Does Keeping Chickens Cost? All of this costs money, of course. The materials to build and furnish a coop and a 20x5-foot run—including wood, fencing, and hardware—are going to set you back at least $300. If you can’t do this work yourself, you’ll also be buying skilled labor. Overall, expect to spend between $500 and $700 when just getting started, depending on the size of your flock, coop, and run.
Gardening with Chickens Most folks who keep chickens do so largely for the constant supply of fresh eggs, but did you know that keeping chickens can be also be beneficial for the garden? When the gardening season has finished for the year, let the chickens into your gardening space and watch them go crazy! They’ll uproot the stems and stalks of weeds and gobble up any damaged or overripe vegetables that
remain. They’ll eat any weed seeds or insects they find in the soil, and will peck apart and digest vegetable remnants, especially broccoli stems, carrot tops, chard, and kale. After that, they’ll scratch the ground and peck out hidden worms or insects, mixing up the soil in the process—all with endless enthusiasm and curiosity. Chickens don’t only provide a constant supply of fresh eggs—they produce an endless amount of manure, too. Luckily, chicken poo can be composted, aged, and eventually added to the garden. In about 6 months’ time, you will accumulate about 1 cubic foot of manure per chicken.
During your daily cleaning of the coop, collect and pile up the chicken poop and used bedding materials. The best decomposition occurs when the pile is 2 parts poop to 1 part bedding materials. Lawn clippings and fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps, as well as leaves, twigs, and shredded paper, can also be added into the mix. Soak the pile and, over the next year or so, wet and stir it regularly to add air. A temperature of 130°F to 150°F is recommended to eliminate bacteria.
Choosing The Right Chicken Breeds What types of chickens should you get? When it comes to choosing your chicken breeds, there are more breeds than you can shake an eggbeater at. One of the delights of this step is learning some of the types of chickens and their charming names: Silkie, Showgirl, Silver-Laced Wyandotte, Rosecomb, Redcap, and Russian Orloff, to name a few. Things to consider Some things that you’ll want to consider include the number and color of eggs produced, the breed’s temperament, its noise level, and its adaptability to confinement. If you can’t let your chickens range free, the confinement factor is important for a happy, healthy flock. Noise level really matters if you do not reside in the country. Some sources advise against mixing ages, but I’ve never had trouble with older birds picking on younger ones.
Most varieties thrive in all climates, although some have special needs: Phoenix and Minorcas chickens need heat, for example, and Brahmas and Chanteclers chickens prefer cool conditions. Every breed produces eggs, even the so-called ornamental breeds, but egg size and production vary. Mediumproduction layers are plenty for a family. Bantam chicken eggs are small; to complement their yolks, you’ll need more whites than most angel food cake recipes call for.
How to Build A Chicken Coop
Keeping backyard chickens is a fun and exciting experience. One of the biggest considerations to make when keeping backyard chickens, though, is the chicken coop itself. There are a few different housing options for backyard chickens. Here are a few key things to know before building a chicken coop. Coops can be purchased online for between $150 to $200. A second-hand coop can be purchased for even less. However, for those that are particularly handy, building a chicken coop from scratch can be an extremely cost-effective option. It can also serve as a fun DIY project. That being said, there are a few considerations that need to be made before building a chicken coop from scratch. COOP DESIGN AND LOCATION In terms of design, there are almost an infinite number of choices for a backyard chicken coop. Some backyard chicken keepers choose to build a simple structure for a coop. Others choose to use existing structures, such as a garden shed, and build on
to it for a chicken coop. According to Texas A&M University, there are a wide variety of options for the design and layout of the coop itself. As long as the coop is structurally sound and contains nesting boxes, roosts, and space for a feeder and waterer, just about any design will do. The location of the coop in the backyard is important to consider in order to maintain coop hygiene and protect the birds themselves. A chicken coop should be built on high ground so to avoid flooding or any buildup of water and moisture. According to Oregon State University, it is a wise idea to build a coop relatively close to one’s home or in a highly trafficked area of the yard to deter from unwanted predators. Building a coop away from large plants and lots of foliage that can help shelter predators will also help keep a backyard flock safe. COOP SIZE Another important thing to think about before building a chicken coop from scratch is how big the coop needs to be. Building a coop that is large enough for the number of birds is crucial to think about but is sometimes overlooked. Overcrowding in a chicken coop can lead to a multitude of issues among a backyard flock. For instance, overcrowding typically causes chickens to fight more, meaning the birds at the bottom of the pecking order will likely have limited access to food and water and may even exhibit cuts and peck marks on their bodies. Overcrowding in a coop also means a buildup of fecal matter and bacteria in a coop, meaning the chances of parasites of insects entering the coop and making the birds sick is much higher. According to the University of Georgia, most breeds of chickens require at least three square feet of room in a coop per bird if outdoor range space is available. However, to be safe, most backyard chicken owners give their birds between three and five square feet of room per bird. If there is no outdoor range space available, chickens should have more room inside the coop to spread out. Between eight to ten square feet of room per bird is recommended for those without outdoor range space. COOP MATERIAL Something to consider before building a chicken coop is the type of material that will be used to build the structure. While there are plenty of options in
terms of the materials a coop is built from, some options are better than others. For example, Virginia State University recommends using plywood for a backyard chicken coop. Plywood is not only relatively cheap but is extremely durable as well. Furthermore, plywood is easy to cut holes and windows in to provide a backyard flock with plenty of ventilation inside the coop. For the coop walls in open-air sections of the coop, it’s a good idea to purchase heavy-gauge mesh wire. This wire fencing needs to be durable and strong enough so birds cannot break through the fencing and predators cannot break into the coop through the fence. PREDATOR PROTECTION One of the most important considerations to make when building a chicken coop from scratch is how to secure a flock from the threat of predators. Some of the biggest threats to backyard chickens include raccoons, coyotes, dogs, and even snakes. Some types of snakes like to eat chicks and may attempt to slither between the coop walls and the ground to access backyard chickens. To ensure that snakes and other predators cannot break into a coop from underneath, it’s important to build the coop several inches off the ground, ideally on a slab of concrete. In addition to building the coop a few inches off of the ground, the wire fencing of the coop walls should be buried a few inches into the dirt to further deter snakes and predators that may dig underneath. Some predators that pose threats to backyard chickens are less likely to dig underneath the coop walls. These predators may take a more conventional approach and try to break into a chicken coop through the coop door. Because of this, it’s a good idea to ensure that the door of the chicken coop is especially secure. Some backyard chicken owners even choose to purchase an automatic coop door. Automatic chicken coop doors are great because not only are they strong and secure, but they operate on a timer so there is little to no risk of forgetting to close and lock the coop door at night. DESIGNING & PLANNING YOUR CHICKEN COOP While keeping backyard chickens is a project in itself, building a chicken
coop from scratch can be a fulfilling and fun project as well. And luckily, there are very few wrong ways to build a coop. As long as the structure of the coop is strong and sturdy, there is plenty of ventilation in the coop, the coop is large enough and the chickens are sufficiently protected from predators, just about any coop design will work. So get creative! The housing for your chickens can be as simple or fancy as your imagination and budget permit. The basic criteria will be dictated by the birds. 1. Decide on the size. As mentioned above, you will need 3 or more square feet of floor space per chicken. Also, you’ll need one nest box for every three hens. Nest boxes should be about a foot square. For larger breeds such as Jersey Giants, allow an additional square foot of floor space per bird. Learn more about the sizes of different chicken breeds to figure out which size chicken coop is right for you. 2. Sketch the chicken coop on paper, with measurements. 3. It might also be helpful to mark the ground where the coop will be erected, taking into consideration its location relative to the sun (southern exposure ensures greater warmth and sunlight); any nearby structures (will you attach it to a garage or barn?); and the need for a run, fenced or not (more on that in a moment). Build your coop and run on high ground to avoid battling water and mud problems! 4. Do not forget to include a door and a floor in the plans. A door can be as simple as a piece of plywood on a frame of 1-by-2s, with hinges and a simple latch—make it large enough for you to enter and exit easily with eggs in hand or a basket. (Learn how to collect your eggs to determine what you’ll need). A dirt floor is perfectly adequate. However, as discussed above, we prefer a coop six inches off the ground, ideally on a slab of poured concrete if your time and budget allow. Also consider whether you will bring electricity into the coop: A low-watt bulb will prolong the day during winter months and keep egg production figures constant. 5. Coop ventilation is more important than insulation. Plan to have openings near the ceiling for air circulation. (While chickens enjoy moderate—around 55°F—temperatures, they will survive nicely in
the barn through fairly cold winters; their feathers kept them warm.) Also plan to install a couple of 1½-inch dowels across the upper part of the coop; this will enable the chickens to roost off the floor at night.
BUILDING THE CHICKEN COOP 1. When you’re ready, bring your plans to the lumber yard. Someone there can help you determine how much stock and what tools and/or equipment you will need. Plan to frame the chicken coop with 2-by4s and use sheets of plywood for the walls. The roof can be a sheet of plywood covered with roof shingles, or simply a piece of sheet metal. 2. A 5x20-foot run will keep a small flock—six to eight hens—happy. More space is better if you have the room. If predators are a problem in your area, bury a layer of chicken wire 6 inches deep under both the coop and the run in order to foil diggers like foxes, dogs, and skunks. Mink and weasels can slip through standard 2-inch wire. To keep them out, use a couple of 2-inch layers offset or 1-inch wire instead. Plug any holes in the coop walls as well. 3. You’ll need to accessorize the chicken coop, at least rudimentarily:
Waterers, available from farm suppliers, keep the chickens from fouling their water supply. Get one for every three or four chickens. Also get a feed trough long enough to let all of the chickens feed at once (or get two smaller ones). Learn more about chicken feed. Have enough wood shavings (pine) or straw to put a 6-inch layer on the floor and a couple of handfuls in each nest box and your chickens will have a perfect home. Change the bedding about once a month or if it starts looking flat. Remember, a chicken coop doesn’t need to be complicated. Our first one was a small shed built with recycled wood. The run was screened in chicken wire and built onto the side of our house. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job. Just keep in mind the two simple rules, “Measure twice, cut once,” and “Pointy end down,” and both you and your hens will be happy. Feeling ready to raise chickens? Get more tips on building a successful hen house and cleaning chicken coops, as well as bringing up baby chicks and collecting, cleaning, and storing eggs!
Tips for Raising Young Chickens in Your Backyard
WHERE TO GET BABY CHICKENS There are a number of ways to go about getting chickens! Most often, chicks can be bought locally in the spring, from farm supply stores or small farms themselves. These days, you can even go online to order chicks and get them shipped to your door (or local post office). Then there’s always the “ask a friend with chickens to hatch some for you” approach. Purchasing Chicks You can purchase chickens at several stages of development—it all depends on how long you’re willing to wait for eggs. Day-old chicks are available from hatcheries. Most farm suppliers do one or two chick orders a year, so you can get your chickens where you plan to get your feed. They’re usually under $3 each. You’ll have to wait about 6 months for eggs. Ready-to-lay pullets are 20 weeks old and just about to start laying. They’re more expensive than day-olds, but of course, you get your eggs sooner. They can go straight to the coop and are all females. These, too, can be ordered
through your farm supplier from the hatchery. Mature laying hens are harder to come by. Unless you have someone with a small flock nearby who wants to replace older hens and will sell their “old girls” to you, chances are, you’ll have to buy pullets or chicks. (“Battery hens” are not good candidates for a farm flock—they’re confined in tiny cages, debeaked, and made to produce so hard that they’re “laid out” at 2 to 3 years of age.)
Hatching Chicks If you already have chickens (or know someone who does), there’s always the option of hatching your own chicks. Of course, you’ll also need a rooster to get fertile eggs. Check your zoning regulations; some places allow hens, but not roosters. Hens will lay perfectly well without one. You’ll also need a broody hen. Broodiness—the instinct to sit on eggs until they hatch—has been bred out of a lot of chickens, but we always had one or two who would begin to sit tight on the nest and peck if we tried to remove their eggs. Bantams are famously broody, and a bantam hen will hatch other
hens’ eggs. You can hatch replacement chicks yourself with a home incubator. Eggs take 21 days to hatch. An incubator must be monitored diligently; chicks left too long after hatching will die of dehydration or picking. On the whole, we found it best to leave hatching to the hen. RAISING CHICKS Tending baby chicks isn’t difficult, nor need it be elaborate. As well as chick starter feed and clean water, they need a draft-free brooder pen with a red brooder lamp on at all times. This keeps the temperature at 92°F (33°C) at 2 inches above the floor. (It also reduces picking and cannibalism among chicks.) When the chicks have feathered out, reduce the temperature by 5°F per week until they are 6 weeks old, then switch their feed from chick starter to grower mash.
TIPS FOR KEEPING A HAPPY CHICKEN COOP If you don’t yet have one, here’s how to build your own chicken coop. Many sources say that you can’t keep a flock of mixed ages. We never had a problem with older chickens picking on younger ones or vice versa. Our hens raised their chicks happily in the flock. Most picking is the result of overcrowding. Give your chickens lots of space. Young chicks need to be close to water and food at all times. Spread a 4-inch layer of pine shavings on the floor, then lay several layers of newspaper over that. Scatter lots of chick feed on the paper and also have feeding troughs filled in the pen. Remove a layer of paper every day, and by the time the last layer is gone, the chicks will have found the feeding trough. Always use red bulbs; injury doesn’t show under red light. Under white light, any bloody spot immediately attracts pecking. Chicks will cheerfully and efficiently peck each other to death. Block corners of the pen with cardboard to make wider angles that are harder for chicks to pack up in. (You could also make a circular pen.) This prevents suffocation. Ensure that waterers are shallow and cleaned daily to avoid having chicks drown. My hatchery recommends one gallon-size waterer for every hundred chicks. I always had two or three, even for fewer chicks, so that they wouldn’t crowd. With pullets, I used one waterer for every six to eight chickens and a feed trough long enough to accommodate all of them at once.
How to Collect And Clean Chicken Eggs
WHEN TO COLLECT EGGS You’ll want to collect eggs every morning; hens cackling loudly are a sign or clue that they’re laying. I usually have another look in the evening as well. Some hens lay in the morning and others in the evening. HOW OFTEN DO CHICKENS LAY EGGS? Hens lay about one egg per day when they’re laying. You’ll collect more eggs during extremely warm or cold weather. Collecting eggs frequently keeps the eggs from breaking due to hen traffic. Always discard eggs with cracks which allow bacteria to enter the egg. Also, be sure the shells are strong. Give your hens ground oyster shell or a similar calcium supplement, available at farm suppliers, for strong eggshells.
WHY ARE MY CHICKENS EATING EGGS?! Oddly enough, chickens like to eat eggs as much as we do. Most egg-eaters learn on broken eggs and then begin to break eggs themselves. Chickens are opportunists and will pick at whatever looks edible. If you clean up broken eggs immediately and throw out any “eggy” straw or shavings, you can prevent egg-eating. A chicken that learns this habit can’t be cured, and others may follow her lead. You don’t want the chickens eating your eggs—you want them yourself! You can tell what color eggs a hen will lay by the color of her ear. Yes, her ear. Birds don’t have external ears like humans do, so look for a small circle or oval of skin on the side of the head, next to the ear hole. If it’s white, your hen will lay white eggs; if it’s red, she’ll lay brown ones. There’s no difference in flavor or nutrition, but white eggs show the dyes more brightly at Easter!
CLEANING AND STORING EGGS Avoid washing farm-fresh eggs if you can; instead, wipe with a dry, rough cloth. Eggshells have a “bloom,” a natural coating that protects the egg from bacteria. If you wash the eggs, it removes this protective layer and you need to put in the refrigerator. Otherwise, the eggs can be stored on the counter for up to a month or stored in the refrigerator; it’s personal preference. I think the eggs taste better within two weeks, but they’re fine to eat within a month of laying. If the eggs have a little manure on them, remove. To keep your eggs clean, keep their straw fresh and pick out any large pieces of muck best you can, but it’s inevitable that the eggs may have a little muck on them. Just wipe with a damp cloth for small spots. A really dirty egg can be submerged and scrubbed with a vegetable brush. Always use warm water (wearmer than the egg); cold water will make the egg shrink inside the shell and will draw in bacteria. If you wash the eggs, be gentle and quick. Let eggs air-dry thoroughly before putting them away. (I like to sort them by color, darkest to lightest, but that’s just me!)
I put my eggs in dated egg cartons, and store them in the fridge on a shelf— not the door, where they will get jostled with every opening/closing. For partial cartons, I mark each egg in pencil with the day it was collected. Refrigerate between 32- and 40-degrees Fahrenheit. Fresh eggs are good for a month in the refrigerator. A cooking tip: To make deviled eggs, use week-old or older eggs, not this morning’s. The shells of really fresh eggs stick and don’t peel cleanly.
HATCHING CHICKEN EGGS A common question is whether a chicken could hatch from an egg purchased at the grocery store. This is typically not possible. For a chicken to develop from an egg, it must be fertilized. Most eggs sold commercially in the grocery store are from poultry farms and have not been fertilized. Now that that question is answered, let’s get to the business of babies. If you want chicks, you’ll need a rooster! As a rule of thumb, 10 to 12 hens per rooster is a good ratio. While you could build an incubator and supervise the development of the eggs, it’s easiest to let the hens take care of hatching. A hen that is getting ready to nest becomes “broody.” This means that she wants to hatch her eggs. She’ll sit “tight” on the nest and resist having her eggs collected, whereas a non-broody hen will let you reach under her to
collect eggs. A broody hen may even peck or screech at anyone coming near. There are ways to discourage broodiness, but why would you? The hen does all the work of hatching and raising—and you get free chicks! If you do decide to get an incubator, a forced-air model with an automatic egg-turner is recommended, as eggs will need to be turned four to five times a day. The temperature inside the incubator should be between 99° and 102°F, while the humidity should remain between 55 and 60%. Chicken eggs will hatch after approximately 21 days. Farm chickens can live 4 to 7 years and lay eggs for most of that time. Every year they go “off-lay” (stop laying eggs) for several months. This happens over the winter, when there’s too little daylight to trigger egg-laying. They’ll begin again in the spring.
When Chickens Stop Laying Eggs
HOW LONG DO CHICKENS LAY EGGS? A chicken (called a pullet until she is a year old), begins laying eggs when she is about 18 to 20 weeks old or so. Some types are older. Egg laying is largely dependent on the length of the day, and most hens will stop laying when they receive fewer than 12 hours of daylight. When exactly this will happen depends on the chicken, though. Most of ours did go “off lay” as the days grew shorter and the seasons changed. They laid fewer and fewer eggs until, one day, they simply stopped. One or two continued to lay sporadically throughout the cold, dark days of winter, although most of those eggs froze and cracked before we got out to collect them. (In that case, we gave them to the dog, usually raw and right on the spot. He had a lovely, shiny coat, but produced sulfurous gas at inopportune moments.) Healthy chickens lay eggs most reliably in their first 2 to 3 years. After that, egg production will taper off.
We found that our old hens usually produce fewer eggs, but larger ones. In a production flock, this is a problem because consistency of supply and size is important. In the home flock, who cares? (Another advantage to old hens: They’re used to you and are less flighty and panicky.) When Chickens Stop Laying for the Winter You can extend the laying period for your hens by putting a light hooked to a timer in the hen house. This will give the hens a couple of extra hours of artificial daylight, but the natural pattern for most hens is to stop laying in the winter.
HOW LONG DO CHICKENS LIVE? Chicken lifespans vary widely, with most hens generally living between 3 and 7 years. However, with ideal care, they may live even longer. If a chicken is kept safe from predators (including dogs) and doesn’t have genetic issues, they can certainly live 10 to 12 years old.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR CHICKEN STOPS LAYING EGGS Before you read this section, understand that this article isn’t about chickens as pets but as farm animals. Taking responsibility as a small farm owner means accepting the full cycle of life. Farmers do not bring chickens to vets in the same way as a family pet (unless you have very few chickens); most of us need to be prepared to handle both the births and the deaths ourselves. As the hens go off lay, you have several approaches. 1. One option, especially if you have very few chickens, is to allow the older hen to contribute to the farm in other ways. Older hens are great bug catchers. Imagine having a roving mosquito and tick eater! They help control weeds in your flower beds and vegetable garden. They are better than young hens at watching for predators. They contribute nitrogen-rich manure for the garden. They are better broodies, perfectly content to sit in a nesting box on a clutch of eggs, unlike many younger girls. They tend to be great mothers, having had the experience! Note: It is important to keep an eye on older hens so they’re not pecked by the younger, feistier girls. You may also need to lower their roost and provide a little extra warmth and comfort. 2. Another option is to cook your chickens as meat chickens. Year-old hens usually aren’t tender enough to roast and older hens tend to have tough meat so we are talking about a lot of chicken stew. The more humane approach is to give them the winter off and wait. They’ll begin laying again in the spring. (I’ve heard people say that they couldn’t keep chickens because “you have to kill them when they stop laying eggs.” Not true. We never killed a hen simply because she stopped laying.) 3. The third option is to humanely dispose of a chicken.
Even if you decide to keep your laying hens until they die of old age, you will eventually have to dispose of a chicken. Maybe you’ll have a sick bird or a hen injured by a predator—accidents do happen. If a chicken’s life does need to end, we want to do it as painlessly as possible. There are two simple ways: 1) Wring its neck. You have to be quick and forceful to avoid causing pain. We’ve never done this. 2) We use a quick chop to cut the chicken’s throat. An axe and a block (a stump or upended round of firewood will do, as long as it’s stable) are probably the simplest method for people new to this age-old practice. There are a couple of ways to hypnotize or calm the chicken. 1) One is to place the chicken breast-down on a flat surface while holding its legs. Wave a piece of chalk in front of the chicken’s beak until you have the bird’s attention, then draw a line straight out from the beak for 12 to 18 inches. The bird will focus on the line and not move or flap. 2) An alternate method which seems easier is to lay the bird on its side, with one wing under it. Tap your finger in front once at the point of the beak (but not touching), then about four inches in front of the beak. Repeat alternating taps until the bird calms down and holds still. To keep it as painless as possible, make sure you improve your aim by pounding two long nails into the stump, far enough apart to span the chicken’s neck but close enough together to keep its head from slipping through. Apply enough tension to the legs to stretch the neck and keep the bird in place. Then use the axe. If you intend to eat the chicken, hold it up by the legs to let the blood drain. There will be flapping, but rest assured that the bird is dead and doesn’t feel any pain. Have a pot of scalding (140° to 160°F) water ready. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can tell that the water is hot enough if you can see your face reflected in it. Dip the bird for 20 to 30 seconds. Afterwards, you can wipe the feathers off with your hand. Chop off the feet, then cut around the cloaca (anus—chickens use the same opening for excretion and egg-laying), being careful not to nick the intestines, and scoop the innards out with your
hand. Rinse with cold water. If you can get all of this done in 20 minutes while the oven preheats, you can cook the bird immediately; otherwise, let it rest for 24 hours, until rigor mortis relaxes. People who raise their own food know where it comes from, what’s gone into it, and how it’s been treated. Whether your chickens are ultimately intended for the table or killed simply to end pain or illness and then buried in the back forty, remember that this is your responsibility as a small farm owner. Doing it, and doing it well, means that you’re doing your best by your birds.
Common Chicken Health Problems
Keeping backyard chickens is a fun and relatively easy experience. However, just like a pet, chickens can fall ill at times. While the prospect of chickens becoming sick can be scary, the most common health problems in chickens can usually be treated easily from home. In this new article, we will cover the five most common health problems among chickens and what to do about them. Once you understand these health problems you will be in a much better place to keep your chickens healthy and prevent them from occurring with your flock. 1. EGG LAYING ISSUES Health issues related to egg laying are some of the most common health problems among chickens. However, it can be difficult to identify egg laying issues without paying close attention to the chickens’ behavior. There are a variety of reasons why a chicken may experience egg laying issues in their lifetime. Things such as vitamin deficiencies, parasites and
infections, and even stress can prevent a bird from laying eggs. It’s critical to know what symptoms to look out for when it comes to diagnosing egg laying issues in chickens. Symptoms of egg laying issues can include a loss of appetite, lethargy, abnormal droppings, weakness, and even respiratory issues. Because there are so many different egg laying issues—such as egg yolk peritonitis, egg binding, and soft-shelled eggs—there are a wide variety of appropriate treatments. One of the most effective methods of treating egg laying issues in chickens is the addition of calcium and protein into a chicken’s diet. General vitamin supplements and oyster shell supplements should be added to a chicken’s feed in order to promote healthy egg laying and strong eggshells. Other egg laying issues such as egg binding—when an egg gets stuck between a hen’s cloaca and uterus—may require a trip to an avian vet. A vet will typically prescribe antibiotics to treat these more serious egg laying issues. 2. CUTS OR PECK MARKS It’s very likely that, at some point in their lives, backyard chickens will suffer from cuts and peck marks done by other flock members. Cuts and peck marks can appear on chickens for several reasons. Chickens may peck at one another if they are stressed. Chickens may also peck at one another if they are kept in a coop that is too small. Cuts and peck marks may also be more likely if the flock includes a more aggressive breed of chicken. According to Chickens and More, some breeds of chickens are more prone to fighting, such as the Shamo, the Old English Game, and the Sumatra chicken. Cuts and peck marks are easily detectable. Chickens may exhibit bald spots with missing feathers where they have been pecked at or may have scabs and cuts in easily reached places such as their backs. These cuts can be prevented and treated through a variety of methods. One method is expanding the size of the coop to prevent fighting as a result of a lack of space. As a rule of thumb, each bird should have between three and five square feet of room in a coop. Cuts can also be prevented by isolating aggressive birds from the remainder of the birds. Once aggressive personalities are isolated, injuries can be treated with a colored wound spray
that not only treats the cut but also conceals it, discouraging other chickens from pecking at the wound. 3. FOOT INJURIES Foot injuries are some of the less-serious health problems in chickens but may be difficult to treat. However, there are still a variety of ways to treat foot injuries in chickens that will help them get back on their feet (literally) as soon as possible. Some foot injuries in chickens are simply the result of a small cut or entanglement that may lead to a more serious infection. Other foot injuries, such as bumblefoot, are caused by a staph infection in the foot. The most common symptom of a foot injury in a chicken is an inability or reluctance to put weight on the injured foot. Chickens may be more lethargic and spend more time than usual sitting on perches or in nesting boxes. Bumblefoot shows up in one or more pus-filled abscesses on the bottom of a chicken’s foot. Luckily, foot injuries are generally easy to treat with an antiseptic wound wash. Once a cut or wound on a foot is cleaned with a wound wash, the foot should be lightly bandaged to prevent further infection. Injured birds should also be kept separate from other flock members to give them time to heal. Bumblefoot can be treated with an antiseptic wound wash, and antibiotic cream, and gauze. If the case is more serious and does not heal from antiseptic washes and creams, the chicken may need a trip to the avian vet to drain the abscess. 4. DISEASES There are many categories of diseases that backyard chickens may contract. The severity of these diseases as well as their treatments vary depending on what type of disease is contracted. Parasitic Diseases Mites, lice, ticks, and worms are the most common causes of parasitic diseases among chickens. Chickens are more likely to become infected with a parasite if the coop is not cleaned regularly and is filled with soiled bedding. Additionally, second-hand coops may already be infected with parasites.
Symptoms of parasitic infections vary, but may include feather loss, skin irritation, lethargy, and a loss of appetite. These diseases can be avoided by spraying insecticides in the coop and birds can be treated with antiparasitic medications and supplements. Viral Diseases Viral diseases may be difficult to treat and can be very serious if left untreated. It’s especially important to detect viral diseases quickly, as these are highly contagious and can infect an entire flock. These diseases may include infectious bronchitis, Marek’s disease, avian flu, fowl pox, and Newcastle disease. Although there are many different viral diseases, they share many symptoms. A viral infection can be identified by the following symptoms: sores on skin, coughing and sneezing, declined egg production, nasal and eye discharge, and even paralysis. Luckily, most of the common viral diseases in chickens can be treated with a vaccine. In fact, vaccinations are usually given to chicks before they can be purchased by backyard chicken owners. Bacterial Diseases Bacterial diseases in chickens are not overly common, but can spread quickly and infect an entire flock. These bacterial diseases include colibacillosis (caused by e coli), salmonellosis (caused by salmonella germs), and chronic respiratory diseases. Symptoms such as respiratory and breathing issues, halted egg production, and swollen faces and sinuses may indicate colibacillosis and chronic respiratory disease. Salmonellosis, however, is only symptomatic in young chicks. Adult birds can be carriers of salmonellosis and show no symptoms at all. These bacterial diseases are usually spread from an infected bird to the rest of the flock. They can spread more quickly in unsanitary and poorly maintained coops. Although rare, these diseases are very serious and may require the infected bird to be separated from the rest of the flock and put down to avoid the entire flock becoming infected.
Fungal Diseases Fungal diseases, although rare, are some of the easiest diseases to treat in chickens. The most common fungal diseases in chickens are brooder pneumonia and ringworm. Brooder pneumonia usually only affects young chicks and shows up in the form of respiratory and breathing issues. Ringworm is usually mild and tends to clear up on its own without treatment. If a chicken has a thick, white layer on their comb, they may be infected with ringworm. These fungal diseases can be avoided by wiping down coop walls with chicken-safe cleaner, keeping litter fresh and dry, and regularly cleaning feeders and waterers. 5. PASTY VENT Pasty vent is a condition that usually only affects baby chicks. This health problem can become life-threatening if it isn’t detected quickly. Pasty vent is a stress-induced condition. It occurs when droppings cake up around the chick’s vent (under their tail). If left untreated, the vent can become completely blocked and the chick will be unable to pass any droppings. This health condition is easy to detect and diagnose. The most obvious symptom is caked droppings on the chick’s vent, but other symptoms may include lethargy and a loss of appetite. Pasty vent is easily treated and usually doesn’t require a trip to the vet. Simply wet the dried droppings around the vent with a wet paper towel and gently tug at the dried droppings to clear the vent. It’s entirely normal for some of the chick’s tail feathers to fall out during this process. SUMMARY It’s always important for backyard chicken keepers to put the health and wellbeing of their flock first. However, this doesn’t mean that injuries and illnesses will not happen. That’s why it’s important for backyard chicken keepers to be able to identify the causes and symptoms of various injuries and
diseases and how to treat them. In general, if birds are fed a quality diet, have enough space, and are watched closely, they will likely live long and healthy lives.
Breeding Chickens If you are considering expanding the size of your flock, then one of the most rewarding ways to do this is by using a cockerel to provide you with fertile eggs from your own hens so that you can incubate and hatch your own.
There are however a number of considerations to consider, apart from
whether a cock bird would be too noisy for your neighbours! From selecting the right birds to breed from, keeping them in the best possible health to obtain viable hatching eggs and then storing these eggs correctly before you even think about incubating them. This article provides some information on how to get these things right so that you can hatch some healthy chicks to increase the size of your flock. Before deciding to breed from your chickens, it is sensible to consider whether or not you have the space to raise chicks and sufficient housing to be able to rear them. You cannot mix young growers with adult birds firstly because of the risk of them catching a disease (they take time to acquire immunity) and secondly because smaller birds will get bullied so you will need separate accommodation for them. If you have this covered then the next step is to consider what to do with (on average) 50% of your hatch being males. Remember: Ensure you have a plan for unwanted males. Rehoming is difficult since everyone who hatches chicks has a surplus.
Selection of Breeding Chickens If you are breeding a specific breed, then it is only right to be selective of which cockerel you choose and which of your hens you use. Genetically, the traits of the parents will be passed down to the progeny so if you are breeding from poor quality stock you will be increasing the number of poor quality birds. Sadly, so many pure breeds have been diluted down by poor breeding and sometimes there are massive differences within a breed. Birds that have bowed legs or wry tails (point slightly to the left or right continuously) for example should not be used for breeding as these problems will just be passed on. 1. Breeders Health Birds should be examined for good health. With experience, general good health can be seen in a bird. The cockerel should be attentive to his girls and should court them from time to time, without bullying. Birds should have clear bright eyes, have a red comb without any blue edges and the birds
should be bright and alert. Nostrils should be clear of mucus and breathing should be without any wheezing which could be a sign of respiratory problems. Check for lice, especially around the vent and under wings and check the vent for any discharge or scabbing. A sound diet and good management of the birds during breeding is obviously essential not only to maintain good health but also to provide good hatchability and healthy chicks. A varied but balanced diet including greens is recommended with pellets having a high level of protein of around 1620%. Breeders pellets contain all of the minerals and trace elements in the correct proportions required to produce healthy chicks. If large numbers of dead-in-shell chicks are occurring before hatching then this can often be overcome by switching to breeders pellets. 2. Eggs How many people buy a breed that have a published annual number of eggs in their poultry book, only to be disappointed that their hens hardly lay anywhere near that number? This especially applies to utility type birds that have been changed massively for showing purposes where shapes and feathering have changed over the years to meet the demands of show judges leaving factors such as egg and meat production behind. This is because of poor selection of the ‘good’ egg layers. Let’s face it how many people can say how many eggs their chickens lay each year? Well even harder, could you say which were the good layers and which the bad? Many serious breeders recommend using the first year of lay to record egg numbers then in the second year, the better layers can be considered to go in the breeding pen. Whilst this is not easy in the backyard, over the cause of a year, with a simple coloured leg ring and frequent observation of your hens, you soon get an idea of who is laying well and who is not.
3. Egg Selection
Egg selection for hatching is very important and overlooked by many. Eggs for hatching should be checked for size, shape, colour and texture. Check the standard for as much information on your breed as possible but if you can’t find information about their eggs, go to an online forum and ask for help from other breeders of this breed – for example Copper Black Maran should be a large size and dark brown in colour, Cream Legbar medium-sized and blue, don’t set eggs that are incorrect because firstly you are not helping the breed and secondly you are reducing hatchability. The better the egg quality, the better the hatchability. If you select weak eggs, this trait will be passed on down the generations and hatchability and chick quality will suffer. Once you have the best of your birds selected, your breeding pen up and running, and the best quality eggs selected, you should allow the cockerel 10 days with the hens before collecting eggs for incubation so that they are fertile. If changing cockerels or removing hens from a larger run with other cockerels present, it is necessary to wait 14 days otherwise you can get fertilised eggs from the wrong cockerel. If hens have suitable nest boxes with clean bedding material, most eggs should be clean and not require any sort of washing prior to incubation.
4. Egg Storage If eggs are stored before incubation, they should be kept in a cool place, away from bright sunlight and sources of heat. A garage or pantry is often the best option. They should be stored pointed end down and turned through 90 degrees twice a day. The easiest way to achieve this is by placing eggs on an egg tray or large egg box and placing an empty half dozen box under one side of the tray in the morning and the other side in the evening so that they are lifted by 45 degrees from horizontal one way, then the other. Eggs can be stored for a week without degrading hatchability too much. Next is the 21 days of incubation which is covered elsewhere in the incubation and hatching section.