The fantasy of millions during the Great Depression was to move to California and start a “Chicken Ranch”. The movie: “The Egg and I” was an inspiration, but it was a humorous revelation to the compared reality that chickens require care, which involves time and money.
Personally I cannot imagine living without chickens. I spent so long a time sitting with my beloved birds that when I told my wife they had a “language” of their own; she was ready to send me to the shrink. Chickens, like people and others animals, do communicate, and in time if you are observant many mysteries will be unveiled for your success with birds.
It may interest the curious that the fore runners of chickens evolved from much larger birds that, according to the Discovery Channel, followed the Dinosaur in the Earth’s dominance that were huge raptor size predators. Fortunately today, chickens are relatively peaceful, and when content will “sing” en-mass to you before the “call to roost”.
Choosing the bird variety is most important and in this day and age the large “Chicken Ranches” are gone. Backyard raising for many is becoming a revised hobby that even with small modern size lots offer a possibility to caring for one of mans most productive and, yes, sweet friends. With more space for those who have made the break to Back2theLand more enjoyment is possible as you can incorporate chickens into your food production gardening plans.
Assuming you are living in the city, wherein many cities are relaxing the anti-chicken rules of yesteryear due to the economic hard times, you can raise Bantam chickens in a small coop. If properly designed and maintained this will afford you an opportunity to not only gather eggs, albeit small ones, but you can breed Bantys: and for the more hard hearted, raise them for food as you would a Quail or Partridge.
Many inner city apartment dwellers raise pigeons on the roof, by the same token, Bantys would offer more production and I am thinking of eggs, albeit: small eggs, but they are just as good as big eggs if you raise the production birds: a Road Island Red Banty, vs.: the show birds.
Small birds eat less, are not as noisy to disturb the close neighbors when with the first crack of dawn the Rooster Calls. If you forbear the rooster (the male bird) you will not have any complaints. However there goes the breeding program; however eggs will continue to be laid. I must add though that fertile unwashed eggs can sit on your kitchen counter in an egg basket for an easy 30 days without refrigeration, and if kept cool, say in the springhouse at 40(o) F they will remain viable for three months. However if they are not fertile eggs, well they will spoil rather quickly and that is the reason old time cooks always cracked the eggs in a cup first before dropping them in a frying pan or cake batter. Fertile eggs if kept overly warm; similar to a mother hen temperature approximating 101(o) F will start to develop bloodlines. Of course you can always wash them and place them in your refrigerator. I did want you to know that fertile unwashed eggs have old time options and we will be talking more on this topic as we move through “chicken raising”.
There exist several chicken hatcheries on the web. www.macmurryhatchery.com is probably is the standard in exotic birds and Bantams. Certainly viewing their catalog or on line photos-then researching a bit with books on the subject will spur you on to new enterprises.
Since we live in a colder climate and these birds are small it is imperative that they have proper shelter-a coop suitable for Banty chickens. One long time late friend in Pilot Virginia did keep his in covered cages in an old garage then expanded into another building. He was active in the show birds and traveled quite a bit with his pet “Frizzy” chicken, a true a treasure.
When I was constructing my first Rabbit House (See rabbit series), I was contemplating even then the feasibility of using the basic design as a small birdhouse. The unit as shown in its rabbit form is twelve feet long and two feet wide with a three-foot high ceiling. What is most important is that the flooring NOT be of wire mesh. The flooring needs to be the polypropylene non rusting-forever quality sold through http://www.farmtek.com/, item# HA2215. The doors may be screened with ½” galvanized hardware cloth which will keep snakes and predators out.
The inside of the “house” is divided down the center allowing six feet on each side for two separate bird flocks. At the center there is a set of roost poles slanted at 45(o) F, as all birds are happiest being able to feel they are sleeping in a tree and safe from ground predators. By making the two roosts back to back, separated by the dividing section you will have enhanced warmth. When birds roost at night the majority of chicken poop is deposited at that time, so clean out is easier if you place a small litter pan or drawer under the horizontal roost poles to collect this goodness for your garden.
If you want to be really into roost poles you will locate sassafras, trim it to fit. Sassafras is oily and anti lice, keeping your birds happy at night. Listen to them sing.
Do not use treated wood in contact with the birds- it is harmful to them. The roost poles are best-left rough, if from a tree branch, or if using 1×1 inch stock, sand it in a wavy proportion as their feet become arthritic if they are kept on a permanent smooth round pole. They need to move about at night. Think of it this way- if you had to spend your entire life on your feet, wouldn’t you like to have some comforts?
On the other end of the “house” you will want to make a “dark nest”. This is simply an enclosed box against the end wall, about a foot deep and a foot high with a small bird size opening on one end. On the outside wall you will cut a long shallow door opening, say 1 foot by 2 feet, hinged and lockable with a hasp for gathering eggs. Since this is an outside opening it leaves a potential egress for raccoons and such. The dark nest has a covered plywood sheet scrap floor, and place it about 1/3 full of hay. This allows the birds to have a communal nest for egg laying, ease for you to gather eggs and clean it out. Dry hay is always welcome in wet weather and early spring. Shredded newsprint is also an option.
Since your hatchery will be sending you a minimum of 25 birds you will want to order expressly “hens”, that’s the female egg layers. If you want to raise more birds you need a rooster, which is the male. Sometimes with bantam chickens they will not sex the birds and you are stuck with a batch of males and maybe a couple of females. There are always more males than females in a hatch. It would pay you too check with your agricultural extension agent who may have names of breeders who could provide a better service to you.
I want to make a point. In the spring, the farm stores are selling baby chickens. All of these birds are “run chickens-as hatched”. You will mostly be choosing males, which you do not want unless you are expressly interested in caponizing them for the cook. To make matters worse you will note after a few years of experience that these batches of birds have been sexed at the hatchery and the females-hens already screened out. You are best advised to order your birds and they will be delivered by the post office. Always order your birds for a delivery in the last of May or June because of temperature and developmental aspects we will be covering later in this series.
Chickens need fresh water- clean water every day. Placing a pan of water and dry crumble food in the small, or even larger chicken house floor ensures they will poop in it, and fill the water-feeders with scratch of dirt and hay. With the small birds a watering cup hung on the galvanized door mesh will work fine: the best being the heated pet bowl with hutch mount, item# C18132N for winter use. Incidentally I use this exclusively in the winter for my rabbits-one per cage unit. During the summer months you can use a Lixit 64 oz. Rabbit Bottle, item # C14323N. The classic “Water Bell”, a gallon size water can inverted into a pie plate-or commercial made- is ideal year round if you place a flat metal heater under it to raise it up a bit. More on this next week with the big chickens. These items are found in the Nasco catalog. Go to http: www.enasco.com/farmandranch/
For birds the Quick-lock crock in the 20 oz size, item# C27273N is a viable size but they will roost on this type of feeder. More poop. Probably the best feeder, also for group rabbits is the Pest-Proof Dog Feeder, item # C05292N. Wait! There is more to consider.
Chickens require two more feeders: one for baby chicken stone grit for Bantys, and one for Oyster Shell. I use the dual Poultry Feeder with Lid: item# C26962N. Buy the grit and oyster shell at farm stores to save on shipping costs.
When the chicks arrive, you will have already installed in the center of each side of the chicken house at the ceiling a porcelain lamp socket and a screwed in 125-watt RED heat bulb. Place a 6-inch fluff of hay on the flooring. Mat it down with your hands. Now, lay down a few sheets of newspaper. Place either small RED plastic baby chick feeders and waters in a circle around the outer rim of the heat lamps light so that when the chicks arrive you can take each precious chick, dip it’s beak in the water (they will be thirsty) and soon all will be moving about in the warmth. You can buy a small brooder but the expense is not justified if you start them in late May. Leave the heat lamp on until they are fully feathered. Sprinkle some crumble food on the newspaper, and add but a tiny touch of play sand for the baby chicks to start their gizzard working. With the baby RED color water bells, add some white table SUGAR to the water for an extra boost of energy for the first two or three days. In some farm stores you will see additive water treatments already prepared. Remove the newspaper in three days. Cover the doorways so that at night chilling drafts will not injure your tiny birds; now you have a big brooder house.
Nasco is a specialty catalog store so if you make note of these items you can compare prices with Tractor Supply and other farm stores for better prices.
Next week we will continue with our chicken series and look at raising bigger chickens more suited for the Back2theLand people who have more space. The focus of this article is to remind potential growers that next May is around the corner. It is time to get ready now.
The lead in picture is a showstopper Silky. I could not resist. Go to www.mypetchicken.com , a wonderful site-all about chickens.
Copyright: 2009, Back2theLand.com