About a year ago, May 1st 2004, we went to the neighborhood feed store and bought 10 day old female chicks. The feed store had several kinds of chicks with signs above the pens telling what they thought each group was. We got there as close to when they arrived at the store as we could so that we would have a good selection; we had been told that the Araucanas sell out pretty fast. When we got there, there were still lots of everything, so we got a good pick. We knew we wanted the colored eggs of the Araucanas, so we picked out 4 of those, and the Wyandottes looked interesting, so we got 4 Silver Laced, and then 2 Rhode Island Reds because they had such a good reputation for being good layers.
We took the babies home and put them in a big box we happened to have in our greenhouse with their food, water, and a heater to keep them warm. I put a thermometer in it so we could monitor how warm it was for them. When they got a bit bigger we cut one side away and put a wire fence around the box to keep them in, but give them more room to play in. Then when they outgrew the box and started flying over the fence, we moved them to what had been an old cattery with a secure fence to keep them safe. Their permanent home is still a future project, but they seem happy enough with what they have for the time being. At night they come back from exploring around the property and roust in the rafters and boxes near the ceiling.
As it happened, the Araucanas were really Ameraucanas mislabeled and one Ameraucana was later taken by a hawk. Three of the Wyandottes grew up to be Silver Laced and one is some other darker Wyandotte, we think. So now we think we have three Ameraucanas, four Wyndottes, and two Reds. Two of the Ameraucanas are large pretty buff colored and brave birds, the other has darker feathers, but still has the muffs, rose comb and beard of the breed. Their bravery is why one of them was eaten, it strayed further than the others into the edges of the property nearer the forest where all dangers lurk. The Rhode Island Reds are slightly smaller, but also independent and will be found more often on their own, exploring somewhere in the garden for something good to eat. They are the only ones we have that have the classic single comb with nice points along it. They also have nice big waddles and ear thingies. Three of the Wyandottes are Silver Laced Wyandottes which are very beautifully marked and also pretty large. The other Wyandotte has darker markings and actually looks more like the dark Ameraucana, but it doesn't have the muffs or beard of the Ameraucana. It has the same rose comb of the other Wyandotte. Most of the time the birds hang out together wandering around the property in a loose flock, talking to each other about what they are finding. By luck, all these breeds are considered very cold hearty and good layers.
They are all wonderful birds and very entertaining to watch. They are very friendly and readily come around you to be fed or just to see what you are doing. They seem to assume that if you're out there, you've got something for them to eat. We haven't had any problems with predators except for the one loss to the hawk, one other attempted hawk attack that we were lucky to be near and so we intervened and the hawk just got a few tail feathers, and one case where neighborhood dogs came over and chased the hens around. We were here when that happened too, so we could chase the dogs off before they did too much damage, beyond psychological, to us.
We keep the chickens in a pen that was originally built for cats. It is on a cement pad with a sturdy chain linked fence enclosing a roofed over area. They spend the night in there and their laying boxes and food and water are in there. From reading about chickens, we thought that they would molt and stop laying their eggs in the winter, but that hasn't happened, yet. I think there is some difference between chicken types as far as this is concerned. These chickens are also pretty good about the cold. They have been in a partly exposed area all winter through some typically cold weather for our area and they seem to have put up with it pretty well.
They will eat anything, or at least try it. They love it when I put bird food in the bird feeders and spill some for them on the carport floor. They also like cat food. They roam all over the property scratching in the dirt for bugs. Occasionally they catch a small snake. That causes quite a commotion and attracts all the hens who try to take it away from the one who has it dangling from her beak. They eat various greens from the yard and garden, and they are pretty tough on any part of the garden that has just been dug, making it hard to get stuff planted. They eat small slugs, but not the big ones, unfortunately. They love bread.
They are easy to take care of. We let them out in the morning,
but they could stay in their pen, unhappily. We check to make
sure they have food and water. They go through a sack of food
every two weeks or so, which we keep in a plastic trash can in
their pen. We put a bale of straw down over the concrete of their
pen, which is probably 8' X 15'. We check for eggs a couple of
times a day, and we close their gate at night. For that we get
as many fresh healthful eggs as we can eat and some to give away
and endless amusement.
We get between 5 and 8 eggs a day, now that they are a year old. We haven't been able to tell which hens are the best layers, but we get about two blue or green colored eggs every day, presumably from some of the three Ameraucanas, and those are the biggest eggs we get. The brown eggs from the Wyandottes and the Rhode Island Reds are also very pretty, some are almost more of a buff color and some are slightly speckled. We think that the two red hens are laying reliably. And we see the Silver Laced Wyandottes and the darker Wyandotte laying too. When we get our new hen house built, we will separate them so we can better tell who is doing what.
6 or 7 eggs a day is just slightly more than two adults can keep up with. Every once in a while we have to give a dozen away. We keep an egg box in the refrigerator for the most recent eggs and another for older ones, that way we can eat the older ones first, but none of them are more than a week old. We keep the eggs toward the bottom of the refrigerator, because our refrigerator, and yours too probably, gets colder from the top to the bottom and the eggs should be kept at 40 or so. The door compartments of most refrigerators are probably too warm for them.
At one point they started laying in a sheltered corner of a work bench on some plastic bags. We would prefer that they didn't take to laying in various places, just in their nest boxes in their pen, so we can find the eggs. But we let them continue to lay on the bench because they seemed to like that so much. Then we began to find eggs with holes in their shells, and we think that is caused by blue jays or other birds that are in the area always looking for things to eat finding the eggs layed on the bench to be sitting ducks, or whatever. So we have blocked up that area so that it is no longer appealing to the hens and they have gone back to doing all the laying, we think, in the nest boxes. Our nest box cabinet is 4 boxes wide and sometimes we find eggs in each box. There is usually a variety of eggs in at least one of the boxes so we know that one chicken has layed in the box and then another has followed her to add her eggs to the collection.
When we cook clams or oysters we crush the shells and give them to the birds. (Put the shells in a plastic bag and beat on it with a small sledge.) They eat some of the shells and get some more calcium from them. We don't give them back their egg shells to eat like some do. We will use the shells in the planting mix for the tomatoes, which like egg shells.
Because we have so many eggs, we have made egg dishes part of our weekly menu. Frittatas are good. Savory bread puddings make great entres.
Eggs are very good for you. From the www.nutritionandeggs.co.uk web site:
For a medium sized egg of 56 g
|Inc Saturated||1.6 g|
|Selenium||6 Micro g|
|Vitamin A||98 Micro g|
|Vitamin D||0.9 micro g|
|Vitamin E||0.57 mg|
|Thiamin (B1)||0.05 mg|
|Riboflavin (B2)||0.24 mg|
|Vitamin B6||0.06 mg|
|Folate||26 micro g|
|Vitamin B12||1.3 micro g|
|Biotin||10 micro g|
|Pantothenic acid||0.91 micro g|
Got 10 baby chicks, one day old, or so today. 4 Ameraucanas, 4 Wyandottes, and 2 Rhode Island reds. All very cute. We put them into a big cardboard box that one of our new chairs had come in. We bought a feeder and a waterer and put those in the box too. Francesca found a pot bottom saucer and we give them sow bugs several times a day. They love that. To keep them warm, we tried a brood light, but it seemed way to hot. So we put a heater from the guest room in the box and that works pretty well. We try to keep them between 80 and 90. Fresh water every day and clean out their food thing.
The chicks are starting to get more color on their tails, and their tails are more pronounced. Also wings look bigger and with more coloration. They love their sow bugs.
They are getting bigger. Some of them have started perching on the top of their feeder. Flying soon!
The big one (Ameraucana) got out of the box today.
Chickens are still fine. They are getting big, but still not all that large. We added a wire addition to their box and cut the side of the box down so they have about twice the floor space they did. They still get into the little box we bought them in and that is still in the corner of the big box. We moved the feeder and waterer out to the bigger area and added a cat box with dirt so they could take dirt baths, which they like to so. They still all try to get into the saucer if we put bugs in there, which we do at least once a day, part of their standard diet. But only about 2 or 3 will fit into the saucer at one time, laying down. They love sow bugs. They have two roosts, each a piece of bamboo pole. They get on top of their feeder and then to the roosts and then up on top of the big box. Then they fly down into the greenhouse, so we find at least one of two out at any time we go out there. They mostly run around trying to get back in. I cut one of the wires out of the fence so we could bend it down and make a door for them to go back in., Today I bent it once too often and it broke off, so now we have a permanent door for them to go in and out of. We have also been feeding them comfrey every day, which they love also, particularly the flowers. And we have lots of comfrey all over the gardens. They like strawberries also, and cantaloupe, watermelon not as much. And lettuce not as much. They are still eating the first type of chick feed. We got a second bag of it just last weekend. Since they are almost 6 weeks old, I will probably have to get the next type of feed this weekend or Monday and start them on that.
7/8/04 - 10 weeks (minus a day)
The chickens are halfway through their first bag of the second type of chicken food, past their baby phase. They are in the cat pen, both parts of it, and seem to like it. We got a bale of straw and put straw down on the concrete floor for them. We throw various herbs in for them, like comfrey, every day, so there is a mat of various kinds of bedding on top of the straw. We still give them a bowl of sow bugs every morning, just about and they still like them. We've been making cherry jam and found that they like the cherries too, so we recycle the pits and any cherries we don't use through them. Pretty happy birds. They roost in the top most boxes that were built for the cats in there. They've got their original waterer plus a pan we keep water in and it is hooked up to a faucet and a timer to refill once or twice a day. They're huge.
According to the calendar, they should start laying now. Raphael and I made 4 laying boxes for them. Person at the store said to wait till they had layed two eggs before changing their food to the laying mash. They are big, seem happy. Feeding them lots of apple cores and peals as we made applesauce. And lots of tomatoes we found as we cleaned those up a bit. Let them out of their house to wander around a bit today. Went back in just fine. I might let them out every day it is convenient to watch them.
We found the first egg! A light green small egg that one of the chickens layed in front of the compost pile next to the carport. Right on time. Waiting for the second one, then I will start feeding them laying mash. We've been letting them out of their fenced in area for a few hours the last few days. They like to be able to roam around and find dirt to lay in and stuff to eat.
Now we are getting about 3 eggs a day. One green and two brown, say. Sometimes two sometimes four. Keeping us busy. We've been letting the chickens out all day with less supervision, which they are happy with I think. We did loose one several weeks ago to what was probably a hawk or eagle. Maybe a coyote, there have been many around of late. It had ventured down by the lower apple trees, we think. At least that is where I found the small clusters of feathers. Otherwise they are all doing well.
Chickens are still in the cat pen. We let them out first thing
in the morning and at dusk they go back in by themselves and we
lock their gate. They have taken to going all over the property,
but respect the fences, so we can usually find them. If we go
out to work in the garden or for whatever reason, they will usually
come to see what we are doing. We get about 6 or 7 eggs a day,
usually 2 or 3 green or blue ones and the rest brown.
Graves, Will Raising Poultry Successfully Williamson Publishing, Charlotte, Vermont 1985 Kilarski, Barbara. Keep Chickens!:Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Suburbs, and Other Small Spaces Storey Publishing 2003 800-793-9396 www.storey.com Murray McMurray Hatchery Box 458, Webster City, Iowa 50595 800-456-3280 www.mcmurrayhatchery.com Get their catalog. Besides pictures of lots of breeds of birds there is general information on raising chickens. Smith, Page and Charles Daniel The Chicken Book North Point Press, San Francisco. 1982