Sunday, February 24, 2013

About Raising Chickens

Time to post about something I have always been completely passionate about---how to raise chickens! This is a great task for families to do together. It is beneficial for the family as a whole (fresh eggs and meat) and it is a great way for the kids to learn responsibility and have fun at the same time. DO IT! You wont regret it. I don't know why exactly, but ever since my first grade teacher brought in the incubator and I got to see these little baby chicks put all of their strength into cracking their shell open and then see them grow up into cute puff balls(which took a matter of days), I wanted my own to raise and love. Luckily, after the project of hatching them my teacher said that if we got permission from our parents, we could take as many as we wanted home. My mom was hesitant but my dad loves chickens too, he raised them when he was young and wanted to give me that same opportunity. That was the beginning of plenty of more chickens to come. The saddest part was coming home from school and seeing feathers scattered everywhere around our backyard. That meant that a fox or coyote had gotten in and killed them(we didnt have a coop---they would sleep in the trees). Anyways, moving on! I haven't had anymore chickens since middle school but I want some so bad! Over at Central Utah Gardens ( water conservation education) they offer all sorts of awesome free classes. The one this weekend was called "Raising Chickens". So, I decided maybe there are a few others out there, like me, that are in love with everything about chickens that would be grateful if I posted the main things I learned from this man's presentation(didn't get his name :/ ) on how to start raising chickens. Here goes!

Basic Terms:
Pullet: A pullet is the term for a young female chicken.
Hen: A hen is a matured female chicken.
Cockrel: A young make chicken.
Rooster: A matured male rooster...Roosters have longer tail feathers and have spurs which are long nails on their lower legs. They use these when fighting other roosters. They also crow, which can be very loud.
  1. Chickens can live for up to ten years. They can lay eggs for only about four of those years. 
  2. Eggs that are fertilized hatch within about 21 days, and for the first couple days of life the chicks do not need food, just water.
  3. An easy way to tell the sex of a day-old chick is by spreading their wings and looking at the edge of them. If the feathers of the wings are straight-edged it is a female and if they are staggering in length then they are male.
  4. Bantams are half-sized (mini) chickens.
  5. Specialty/rare breeds usually have feather feet, naked necks or are hooded. These birds are normally used as show birds.

These are the pros/cons we were given for owning chickens:
  • food, eggs
  • insect control (pesticide free!)
  • Compost from gardening
  • easy
  • inexpensive hobby
  • kid friendly-good educational tool
  • smell
  • noise
  • interference with other pets
  • can be expensive
  • time requirement
  • not allowed in some cities.....(which didn't hold me back living in Denver, CO. But shhhh, don't tell.)
Some people think it would be completely overwhelming raising a flock of chickens for the first time, and for some people it might be. But, there really aren't that many things that you need in order to be successful at it.
You Need:
  • A coop/hen house
  • outside space for roaming and scratching
  • water
  • food
A coop or a hen house is what the hens will sleep in. It is also most likely where they will lay their eggs. The coop is a safe-haven for them from predators and it also should be able to protect them from the weather. Inside the coop there should be nesting boxes within it for them to sleep in and lay their eggs in.

Types of Breeds
Egg producers, meat producers, dual purpose breeds.

Sexed or Straight-Run?
When ordering chicks from a catalog or online, you have the option of "sexed" or "straight-run". What the heck does that mean? Well, sexed means that you are looking to get a certain sex. So, "sexed" will normally provide you with 95% pullet (hens...egg producers) and "straight-run" will normally provide you with 50/50 (half cockrels and half pullets). Nothing is ever certain, though. You can end up with different numbers of each.

Where Can I Get Them?
A lot of feed stores sell them, and you can also look online for hatcheries (look around for one you like) or mail ordered through a catalog.

How Do I Keep My New Chicks Healthy?
The most important thing to remember when raising chicks (and fully matured chickens) is that they need a clean environment to live in and constant fresh source of water. If you can do this, your chickens will most likely stay happy, healthy and alive.

Chicks can at first be kept in a box. Cover the ground with wood shavings or hay (switch out often) with a heating bulb above it. Warmth is extremely important for their first week-two weeks of life. They also need a source of water that is in their with them that is not too deep or else they can drown! Also provide a dish with some starter feed. The chicks will eat starter feed for about the first two months of their life, at which point you can start them on grower/developer feed until about 5 months. You can move the chicks to the coop when they are fully feathered and it starts warming up in the spring. The hens will start producing eggs at about 16-24 weeks.

The Eggs
Matured hens need a higher protein diet than the younger ones. A lot of people mix in Oyster Shell (calcium) with the egg producers' (hens) feed.  A healthy diet for the hens is very important since their bodies use their nutrients to create the egg shell. If they are not getting enough nutrients the egg shells are weak and thin, and eventually your hen might not be able to produce as many. Hens will usually start producing at about five months. To be able to lay eggs daily, the hens need adequate light and nutrition.
The man who gave the presentation said that he has researched the difference between the nutrition of the different colored eggs---he said there is none. The nutritional value of the eggs depends on how healthy your chickens are.

Areas Along the Wasatch Front
Here is a list of areas that allow you to raise chickens in residential areas. But, there are different rules/regulations for each area. Some places you can only have so many, a certain kind, etc. Call your city to find out the details.
Alpine, Cedar Hills, Centerville, CLinton, COttonwood Heights, Draper, ELk Ridge, Farmington, Genola, Goshen, Heber, Highland, Kaysville, Layton, Lehi, Lindon, Mapleton, Orem, Payson, Provo, SLC, Sandy, Santa Clara, Santaquin, S. Weber, Spanish Fork, St. George, Syracuse, Taylorsville, Tooele, W. Bountiful, W. Jordan, W. Point, Woodland Hills, Woods Cross.....NOTE: I know in Pleasant Grove it is legal as well, so be aware that there are some areas that allow it that are not listed.

Random (important) Info:
  •  The waste of your chickens is GOLDEN for compost for your garden. Gather up the hay/wood shavings that they have done their business in and just add it to your compost. This will give your garden all the nutrients it needs. 
  • There are three different types of feeds: mash, crumble and pebble. The presenter said that he used pebble because it was the least messy.
  • Breeds that are popular for solely egg production: Barred Rock, Leghorn(lay white eggs), Rhode Island Red(lay brown eggs), Americauna(lay green/blue eggs)
  • Cornish X Rock hybrids are a "meat" bird. They are bread specifically for meat and should be harvested by 8 or 9 weeks...otherwise it is considered cruelty because their bodies become too large for their legs to support. ( I don't know if I like the fact that they cross the breeds like that, but to each their own).
Thanks to my uncle for letting me use these pictures! He does an amazing job raising his chickens. So beautiful!

So pretty.