Backyard Chickens Part 2 – Roosters and Eggs

 

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In my town there has been some zoning changes regarding keeping chickens. My town is part urban and part rural and keeping backyard chickens has become very popular.  Unfortunately, some chicken owners have not been good to their neighbors by containing the noise from loud roosters and/or containing the flock to their own yards.  On more than one occasion I’ve had to wait for a flock of chickens finish crossing the road to get to the other side.

Because of a few knuckle heads, my town changed its zoning regulations to restrict backyard chicken owners to 11 hens on less than 5 acres and no roosters.¬† Honestly, I don‚Äôt blame the town for banning¬†roosters ‚Äď they can be noisy all day and night, some are aggressive and in my opinion are not needed if the reason for having chickens is¬†to have fresh eggs.

 

 

 

 

 

A pullet (hen less than 1 year old) will begin to lay eggs around 5 months of age regardless if there is a rooster.  Remember your basic biology, when a male mates with a female the result is a baby.  However, some people think hens need roosters to lay eggs.  If you want baby chicks then yes, you need a rooster.

Once a hen (pullet) is old enough, she will begin to produce an unfertilized egg every day like clockwork.  She doesn’t need any help from a rooster to do her thing.  I actually prefer to eat unfertilized eggs.  On occasion I’ve had fertilized eggs that have had a bit of blood in them, which I find unappealing.

checkbox425[1]Chicken Facts:

–¬† Hens (or pullets) begin to lay eggs around 5 months of age.

–¬† In the first year hen‚Äôs lay small eggs at least once every day and the eggs¬†¬†¬† get gradually¬†bigger as the hen ages.

–¬† Two-year-old hens (depending on the breed) lay larger eggs, but may not lay every day but every other day.

–¬† Three years and older, will lay large eggs less frequently and the older the hen is the less eggs she lays. This is why farmers¬†turn over their flocks on the third year and bring in new pullets.

–¬† A good laying hen in her prime on average can lay 250 ‚Äď 280 eggs in a year!¬† That’s 1 hen!

Myths:

–¬† Do you remember the jingle on TV back in the 1980‚Äôs‚Äď ‚ÄúBrown eggs are local eggs and local eggs are fresh?‚ÄĚ Well that was a brilliant ad campaign.¬†¬†How many people fell for it?¬† Do you see me raising my hand?

  • ¬†Myth: The color of the eggshell does not determine the freshness of the egg. The color of the shell indicates it‚Äôs a breed of chicken that happens to lay a brown, white, or blue egg.¬† People thought brown eggs were¬†once white and had gone bad.¬† Which is why egg producers created the commercial – to get people to buy brown eggs since only white eggs had been sold commercially.

To test if an egg is fresh place an egg in a bowl of water.  A fresh egg will sink to the bottom.  An old egg will float up to the surface of the bowl.

–¬† Another slick marketing campaign used by some health food stores was claiming that fertile eggs are more nutritious than infertile eggs.¬† The goal was to charge more for these ‚Äúspecial‚ÄĚ eggs.

  • ¬†Myth: According to ‚ÄúStorey‚Äôs Guide to Raising Chickens‚ÄĚ there is no evidence that states that a fertile egg is more nutritious than an infertile egg.

–¬† How many people do you know that gave up eggs (especially yolks) because they were told they cause high cholesterol?

  • ¬†Myth: Eggs are high in cholesterol however; one would have to eat a lot of eggs to get their own cholesterol to rise. According to an article from the Mayo Clinic:

“Chicken eggs are high in cholesterol, but the effect of egg consumption on blood cholesterol is minimal when compared with the effect of trans fats and saturated fats.

¬†The risk of heart disease may be more closely tied to the foods that accompany the eggs in a traditional American breakfast ‚ÄĒ such as the sodium in the bacon, sausages and ham, and the saturated fat or oils with trans fats used to fry the eggs and the hash browns.‚ÄĚ

So enjoy your eggs!

Keeping Backyard Chickens – Part 1

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When I decided to convert our backyard into a micro farm, one of the requirements under our state’s agriculture law and USDA Regulations was to be recognized as a¬†“farm” on both the state and federal levels. Qualifying criteria was to sell $2,500 of agriculture product and/or have livestock.¬†¬†As I was just¬†starting out and didn’t yet have $2,500 of agriculture product sales, I needed to get some kind of livestock, which could include hooved animals, bees, chickens or rabbits.

Local zoning code requiring 2+ acres for hooved animals eliminated that option for me but, since I was in a “rural” zone, rabbits, chickens and bees were fine.¬†¬†I therefore decided on chickens because I could sell fresh eggs and then butcher the birds¬†for¬†meat when they stopped laying at around¬†2 years old.¬† At least that was¬†my¬†reasoning¬†when I presented my¬†idea to¬†my¬†husband.

Fast forward¬†6 years later and¬†they are still alive and even¬†were given names¬†¬†“Henrietta 1 –¬†9” aka “The Girls”. One of them, a poor bird¬†that was being¬†brutally picked on by the brood¬†was named “Sally” by my husband and became his pet. In addition,¬†although I have lost several birds (which I will discuss later), not one of them has been eaten (by a human at least).¬†All in all,¬†the “Girls” truly have lived a charmed life.

If you are thinking about getting chickens, here are a few things I’ve learned over the years.

Spring Chickens

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Spring is usually the time when hatcheries begin to sell¬†chickens. If you are serious about getting chickens, make sure you purchase them¬†from a good hatchery.¬†Chickens carry a lot of diseases and federal law requires¬†that chicks¬† be¬†vaccinated for a nasty viral disease call Marek’s Disease¬†prior to sale.¬† This is a virus that can kill off¬†an entire flock and contaminate others.¬†¬†I was also surprised to¬†learn¬†that the vaccine wears off in 2 years, which is why most birds are butchered within 2 years.

The lesson here¬†is that purchasing chicks from non-registered hatcheries can result in all kinds of flock failures so – “Buyer¬†Beware”.¬† According to¬†University of Connecticut’s top poultry expert,¬†genetics impact¬†long term health and the Marek Virus is found in the genetic line of a particular bird family.

I recommend that you also check out a website called My Pet Chicken .  I met the owner/creator, Traci Torres, while we were guests on the Colin McEnroe Show on WNPR CT Public Radio a few years ago and she is a wealth of knowledge on chickens.  Her website offers great information and cool products for backyard chicken owners.

A recommended book is “Storey’s Guide to Chickens”.

Equipment

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Once you decide upon a breed of chicken,¬†you’ll need¬†some equipment to get them through the first weeks of life. Be forewarned that ¬†having chickens can be expensive in the beginning.¬†As baby chicks need warmth and protection, a safe warm nursery will need to be created.

I picked my chicks up¬†in¬†early March when there was still snow on the ground and¬†it was bitterly cold.¬†Keeping them in the garage therefore clearly wasn’t an option so they¬†ended up¬†in my backroom where I could keep an eye on them.¬†Then the circus began as EVERY¬†critter in our household¬†wanted to sniff, play or even¬†eat our new babies!

Baby chicks make a lot of poop so be prepared to clean your box frequently. They need a box big enough for them, a warming light, a special size water container and baby chick feeder, all of which I purchased at my local farm supply store.

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Abby's first meeting

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Moving into the Coop

Housing the chickens will depend on where you live. We have very cold snowy winters and¬†thanks to the realities of Climate Change, we also experience extended days of hot/humid days of 90+ degrees. I¬†wanted the coop to be predator proof so I decided to purchase one made by a local farmer, which cost me $600 (without roof shingles and¬† unpainted).¬†I added the shingles, stained the outside with weatherproof stain and, as we are now going on our 6th year,¬†I’m so glad I did this.

The other consideration is not to overstuff your chicken coop with chickens. I had originally purchased 9 Rhode Island Reds and this coop was built for 6 chickens. It was a tight fit and I had to add another roost for them. Overcrowding a chicken coop is not healthy for the birds and can cause health problems.

Since we live in a¬†wooded area we have all kinds of wildlife (i.e. –¬†hawks, coyote, fox,¬†fisher¬†cat, raccoon, possum, an occasional black bear) plus local dogs and cats.¬† As all are¬†potential predators, we fenced in a large section of¬† woods surrounding the coop to given the chickens plenty of room to roam while also protecting them from most of these critters.

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My next blog posting will cover choice of bedding, general care and a few things my chickens taught us.