MUST READ Facts!
These are some basic facts about caring for chickens, pets or not that you should know.
Many people that buy chickens are just getting started and are shocked when learning facts about chickens.
Quite a few folks new to raising chickens love to think about the image of "a happy sunny day" with their chicken flocks running and feasting on grass and bugs in their backyards, dogs barking, kids running and playing. You take your egg basket to the chicken coop, open the door and gather an abundance of fresh eggs! aaahhh!!!! such a nice image. Some of it CAN be true. BUT:
Now some FACTS from a chicken farmer and what I have learned from actual experience of raising and caring for poultry.
Its FUN to raise chickens but its a serious responsibility too. A chickens life for producing eggs usually for most breeds is about 18-36 months. Seriously. After that age hens will slow down egg production to a few eggs a week, then stop all together. They will be pets or you need to find another home for them.
You do NOT need a rooster for the hens to lay eggs. Chickens will lay eggs anyway, the eggs just won't be fertile and can't hatch into chickens.
The more plain or simple the breed, (Leghorn, Rhode Island, Barred Rock etc...) the stronger the immune system and better egg layer, the fancier the breed, (Polish, Cochin, Orloff, etc...) the immune system seems to be not as strong and are not the best egg layers.These breeds are harder to raise.
Your dog LOVES chickens He will enjoy every bite. Unless you raise your dog and train it to not touch chickens. ONE day when you least suspect it, Fido will think your pet chicken is his dinner with feathers that likes to play with him before being eaten.
Your kids will enjoy chickens too. But very young children can be hurt from an aggressive rooster protecting a hen, or a hen searching for food can "peck" a shiny eye on your pretty child or fingers that look like worms to them. Do not leave children under 5 years old alone with chickens.
Chickens may NOT lay eggs in cold wet or too cloudy weather, or if the seasons change for example: if your chickens are in cold wet areas they may slow down egg production. If your chicken has less sunlight for 8 hours orLESS they may stop producing eggs.You CAN hang lights in your coop to stimulate egg production during short daylight hours. Also, very hot weather may slow down egg production. Remember talking to your chickens and feeding them treats will not convince them to lay more eggs! (chickens are seasonal and lay best in warm/cool spring or crisp fall weather but under right conditions, they can lay year around.)
Very very rarely will a "hen" crow. your chicken just might be a rooster!
Chickens do NOT lay eggs in hot dry weather, they NEED shade and a small pan of water or MUD to stand in and keep cool or they will DIE
Chickens are LIVESTOCK and have been a part of farm life for thousands of years. They were bred for MEAT and EGGS. Its best not to name them, put clothes on them and teach them tricks
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When starting your coop/run for the 1st time BE SURE to add old organic matter/compost to your coop area from a farm NOT the garden center (chicken, horse, cow or other manure dried with old compost) Blue Star has this available. This will be the "starter" for your bacteria supply. Add water to dampen it. Then and fresh green grass or weeds to start bacteria growth.The chickens will "scratch it in" (eating the greens) and mix it up to activate your bacteria supply. Read "Healthy Coop Page"
If you purchase baby chicks from a "backyard" breeder. BE VERY CAREFUL! In many cases they can sell you "cockeral" or rooster chicks instead of "pullet' chicks. There are actually three ways to tell the sex of baby chicks:
One way is the "sex linked" chickens which means that "girls" hatch a different color than "boys" These are very popular chickens with large factories. The male chicks are disposed of and females are used for egg production at about 20 weeks of age.
The second way is in some breeds "feather sexng" your day old chicken. This again is the way to "shop" for day old chickens from any breeder. If he/she is selling you a batch of roosters... you can tell in a second. (another clip of feather sexing) DON'T BUY FROM THAT BREEDER!
The third and oldest method is"vent sexing" or looking inside the vents of chicks to determine the sex of that chick. (Another clip of "vent sexing")
Egged out- When buying chickens its best to purchase young healthy pullets.(teenagers that are not laying yet) Many people selling hens will sell you the oldest hens they have and keep the youngest ones for themselves Why? They get more eggs that way.
How to tell the age of a hen: GENERALLY speaking: an older hen can still be very pretty, but the "tell-tail" sign is under her "tail" Look at the vent feathers of all hens that you want to purchase. If that chicken has saggy/limp feathers with an opening near the egg vent the size of a half dollar, well that is an "egged out" hen and will stop laying soon, if not already. (RUN from that seller fast!) Also in many breeds a "yellow" or brighter colored leg in many breeds is a sign of a younger hen. Older hens legs send to lose color and go pale or white with age.
BEST EVER HEALTH MIXTURE REALLY WORKS! Each week add to water (or by eye dropper full to ill chickens) Fresh crushed garlic, apple cider vinegar and real honey (not store bought fake honey country honey is best) Folk medicine has been used to prevent illness since the Egyptians about 4000 years. (good for people too) This prevents most common illnesses in chickens.
Free Ranging- Its best to only let your chickens in an enclosed pen or out for only a few hours near dusk, supervised by an adult if possible. Chickens will not wander too far from coop if its three hours from sundown. The longer they are out in the open the greater the chance of them being eaten by a predator. But predators are so fast anyway, the only reason they might not strike your chickens is your smell or sight. But supervision is no guarantee that free ranging from time to time may not cost you a chicken or two. However, some folks have free ranged for years and lost only a few.. Its just pure luck!
Chicken Disease This page has links to websites for chicken illnesses Be prepared. chickens are generally healthy if fed and treated correctly. BUT illness can occur.
NO chickens are immune from all diseases. Natural selection "rules the roost" Your chicken is not meant to have a life of 15 years like your dog or cat, but a shorter life of about 3 years. (although many chickens can live much longer than this, most non egg layers end up in the soup pot) Nature will do what is best. In any flock there are weaklings, runts and the not favorite hen in the flock (thus the saying "pecking order") if anyone has 100% healthy chickens and no illness or losses, they are very lucky (or its their ego talking?)
FACT If you want a flock of 10 to 12 healthy laying hens in your coop, a GENERAL rule of thumb is to raise 25 day old chicks or 16 pullets.
FACT Raising chickens, no matter how much care you give your flock, there is a percentage of them over time that may be lost to free ranging, killed from predators, or that will die from illness or accident. Its natural selection. Good old Mother Nature. YOU can't change this so be prepared and understand that you may have to replace your chickens for one reason or the other.
MUST READ about MG Poultry - Mycoplasma gallisepticum: FAQ
Marek's Disease All of our day old chicks are immunized at the hatcheries before shipment to Blue Star Ranch for Marek's disease. That is the ONLY time this vaccine is effective. "Range Paralysis" or Marek's Disease is mutating (always changing disease) so immunizations are effective only 95% of the time.
WITH immunizations for Marek's your chickens will still have a 5% chance of getting Marek's anyway.
WITHOUT immunization, your chickens have a 35% chance of dying from Marek's
Incorrect cleaning of your coop your chickens will have a 50% chance of dying from Marek's
FACT Most chicken sellers/breeders will NOT tell you this. Cleaning your coop incorrectly can spread Marek's!!!!!!!
Marek's is also spread through the air from other sources, (wild birds, plants, dust) other sources than just from cleaning your coop. There is no safe place from chicken diseases.
Overcleaning your coop is the WORST thing you can do. Please look at "healthy coop" page. Chickens NEED the right bacteria just like your pet fish in your aquarium.You do not put your goldfish in distilled sanitary water why? Too much or too little of proper and balanced bacteria will actually seriously harm or kill your fish!!!!
Overcleaning your chicken coop is like stirring the bottom of your pretty fish tank to clean the bottom. WHAT HAPPENS when you stir your fish tank while cleaning? All of the muck starts floating around and unless you clean properly your fish will DIE. Bacteria and disease are spread. Chickens are very prone to airborne diseases. Chickens (and fish) need a proper balance of good bacteria and bad bacteria.To learn how to clean your chicken coop and reduce spreading of diseases read this page.
When you do clean dirty areas.. add water to make area damp to prevent dust particles.. then scrape away waste.. add barn lime to reduce smell then add final layer of straw or pine shavings.. A full coop cleaning is best done no more than every 6 months.. even then. ONLY CLEAN HALF OF COOP AREA.. leave the other half for bacteria.... clean the other half next 6 months.. IN BETWEEN CLEANINGS... clean under the roosts and corners or where they "poop" be sure to always add water to make area lightly damp, add barn lime then fresh layer of bedding... DO NOT OVER CLEAN.. or your chickens can become ill.
Years ago, when chickens got sick, ill or lost to predators, farmers just hatched more chickens then killed or "culled" the weak. They did NOT take ill chickens to veterinarians. But now veterinarians are available and they are there wanting your CREDIT CARD. Newsflash: There are very very few veterinarians that know ANYTHING about chickens (avian care) because a chicken is considered "disposable" to farmers, there is no money in this for veterinarians, unless its your "pet" chicken... Then the veterinarian will be HAPPY to take your money. Facts are: if a chicken has one of several common diseases to poultry its usually fatal, but the veterinarian will be HAPPY to help you anyway...(I know of several clients that have spent HUNDREDS of $$$ on their pet chicken) its up to you. (or, you can call a commercial chicken operation, they will tell you: if a chicken is very ill CULL IT, because disease can spread to your entire flocks)