Keeping backyard chickens (egg-laying hens) is a wonderful way to offset your food costs by getting farm-fresh eggs. It’s also great to know you’re getting healthy eggs from hens that have been fed non-GMO food and had plenty of access to fresh greens, bugs and worms. But there are some specifics you’ll want to know before bringing your chickens home for the best success. Find out everything you need to know about raising chickens below.
Today's episode is a fun one, we're going to be talking about what you need to know when you're adding chickens for eggs to your homestead. Best practices to get started, and how to know which way of getting started is right for you, and a complete roadmap to adding chickens to your farm or yard, no matter what your situation looks like.
Today is another Pioneering Today Academy member consult (podcast episode #297) where I help one of the Pioneering Today Academy members with a specific question or project that they have.
Right now, we're actually coming up on our first open-enrollment to the Academy for 2021, so if you want to get on the waiting list, you can sign up right here and I'll notify you once enrollment is open.
This podcast is actually an update to an older podcast (episode #29) that I recorded back in 2014. Quite a lot has changed since I first started raising egg-laying hens, but there's still quite a bit of great information in the older podcast, so I'll add that here just in case you want to listen to that, too.
Everything You Need to Know About Keeping Backyard Chickens
There are many aspects of raising backyard chickens that you should know before bringing them home. We'll be covering each of the following topics:
- Zoning and HOA restrictions
- Where to get chicks
- How to care for chicks
- Ways to find laying hens
- Benefits of chicken tractors
- How to protect your free-range chickens
- Pros and cons of free-range chickens
- What to expect from free-range chickens
- Cost of feed and GMO-free options
- How to train your chickens
- Egg care, washing, storage, and preserving
- How to test if an egg is good or bad
Before You Get Chickens
There are many things you need to do before bringing your chickens home. Things like checking in with your zoning to make sure keeping chickens is allowed where you live. Checking to see if there is a limit to the number of chickens you can keep. Checking with your HOA to see if keeping chickens will break the HOA terms, etc.
There's nothing worse than bringing home a happy little flock only to realize you have to get rid of them. So do this before you bring your new feathered friends home.
How Many Chickens Do I Need?
This is a fantastic question, and the number of backyard chickens will be different for each person.
Most breeds lay about one egg per day (or every other day) during the spring and summer months. Do the quick math for how many eggs your family eats, on average, per week, divide by 7 and that's approximately how many chickens you may want to get.
How Many Eggs Will My Chickens Lay?
As mentioned before, when your backyard chickens are actively laying, you'll get about one egg per day, or one egg every other day (depending on the breed). There are certain breeds that will continue to lay throughout the fall and winter, even without artificial light, but it certainly won't be at the same 1 egg per day, it's more like 1 egg per week or so.
When Will I Start Getting Eggs From My Chickens?
If you're starting with babies, you'll want to know how to care for baby chicks for the first six weeks. Baby chicks are extremely fragile and need special care, so be sure you're set up and ready for them if this is the route you're taking.
Your chickens should start laying eggs at about 4-6 months of age and will continue to lay for an entire year. If you get your chicks in the spring, they'll start laying in the fall and continue laying through that first winter.
However, after that first year, in the fall, they'll go through a molting process and won't give consistent egg production. Then, as the daylight hours lessen through the winter months, the chickens won't lay as much or at all (depending on the breed, see further down in this article).
Will My Chickens Lay Year-Round?
If you're wanting to raise chickens to produce enough eggs year-round, you'll have to decide whether you're going to use artificial light to keep your chickens laying during the fall and winter, or whether you're going to let them lay seasonally (spring and summer only).
Some breeds will continue to lay year-round, even without artificial light. However, they won't continue to lay the average 5-7 eggs per week, they'll likely slow down to about 1 egg every week.
Most chickens will molt in the fall and stop laying altogether unless using artificial light to mimic the longer spring and summer months.
Using Artificial Light to Increase Egg Production
Using an artificial light makes your chickens think there is more daylight, so they don't slow down (or only slightly slow down) their egg production during fall and winter.
If you're not going to use lights (which I myself don't), then you'll want enough chickens to be laying eggs throughout the spring and summer to allow you to preserve those eggs to use in the off-months so you don't have to go back to buying eggs from the grocery store (yuck!).
Our hens will continue laying about one egg per day all the way through late summer when the daylight starts to get shorter, then some of our chickens will slow down and give us about 1 egg every other week.
What Breeds of Chickens are Best for Eggs?
There is a lot to consider when choosing the breed of egg laying chickens. Some things to keep in mind when choosing your chickens are your climate, whether you'll have children handling the chickens, and how many eggs per week you want to get:
- Rhode Island Reds – these are a great all-around egg-laying chicken, they're the most reliable egg-layers and will continue to lay sporadically throughout the winter. It's up for debate, but, on average, you'll get about 150-250 medium to large light-brown eggs per year (some say between 200-300 per year).
- Buff Orpington – a great dual-purpose hen (dual-purpose is a chicken you can raise for eggs and/or meat) that will lay approximately 150-300 light-brown eggs per year (or 3-6 eggs per week). These chickens are very sweet in nature and quite a bit more personable than other breeds. They also have a tendency toward broodiness.
- Wyandottes – this is a great dual-purpose chicken. They're so pretty with their black and white spotted feathers, but they're also great egg layers and one chicken will lay about 200 eggs per year ranging in color from cream to brown (or 3-4 eggs per week).
- Speckled Sussex – this is another breed that is a great layer and may continue to lay throughout the winter months. They'll lay about 4-5 large, light brown eggs each week.
If you're really cold, many people tend to say stick to the darker breeds, so chickens with black feathers such as:
- Ayam Cemani – a good dual-purpose chicken, but you'll only get about 80 eggs per year with this breed.
- Orpington – as mentioned above, a great dual-purpose chicken that will lay very well.
- Australorp – which is an Australian hybrid of the Orpington, making it a great dual-purpose bird and a great egg-layer (giving about 250+ eggs per year). There are other colors of Australorps, so if you're specifically needing the black shade, make sure you're buying from a reputable seller.
- Jersey Giant – this is another dual-purpose chicken that will be on the larger size (as you can tell by the name). You'll get about 150-200 eggs per year from this breed, but it's known to be able to withstand the cold temperatures due to its ample body fat.
I've also read that if you're really cold to look for breeds with smaller combs on the top of their heads. I'm not certain if this is due to frostbite, or another reason, but it's something to consider.
Buying Baby Chicks vs. Adult Chickens
There are some pros and cons to buying baby chicks versus buying one-year old chickens that are already laying. Some of the benefits of getting baby chicks is that they're less expensive, and if you know the exact breed of chicken you want, you can order them as chicks and pay much less for a larger flock.
There is a risk, however, when ordering baby chicks as you're not always guaranteed to get hens and may end up with a few too many roosters. Too many roosters can be hard on your laying hens, so having just one rooster per average-sized backyard flock is what I recommend.
When purchasing year-old chickens you'll be getting eggs right off the bat, not needing to care for, feed, and maintain your flock for 4-6 months before they start producing.
Buying one-year-old chickens is nice because there is no risk of potentially getting a rooster, losing the baby chicks when they're so delicate, and you immediately get eggs!
Don't be tempted to buy some baby chicks and some one-year-old chickens at the same time. I would personally go one way or the other otherwise you'll need to raise them separately to avoid the adult chickens hurting the babies until they're old enough and you can integrate the new chickens into the existing flock.
Dual Purpose Chickens
In the list of egg-laying chickens above, you'll see that many of the breeds mentioned are “dual-purpose”. This means they're great egg-laying hens that will also grow to a decent size for butchering.
There are certainly some positives to raising a dual-purpose hen as you'll get both eggs from them and you can butcher them for their meat after they've laid a year or two to feed your family.
It's possible to raise some egg-layers and some dual-purpose chickens together in the same flock.
I go into more detail about dual-purpose chickens in this podcast/blog post.
Shelter, Chicken Coop, Chicken Tractor, or Hen-House
Your chickens will need some form of shelter, but the good news is, they're not picky!
You will want to have their shelter figured out and set up before bringing them home. If you're bringing home baby chicks, you'll need a brooder, and I go into more detail about caring for baby chicks in this post.
However, if they're older chickens, then you can decide if you want to do a dedicated chicken coop, keep them in a chicken tractor, allow them to free-range with access to something like a barn or a hen-house, etc.
Just know that you don't need a fancy or expensive coop in order to keep backyard chickens. As long as their home protects them from predators, keeps them out of severe weather, allows them to lay their eggs, and allows them to stay hygenic then you're doing great.
If you have daytime predators and are allowing your chickens to free-range, be sure to have a rooster, a goose, or even a guard dog (that's good with chickens) to keep those predators at bay.
How Big Does My Chicken Coop Need to Be?
On average, each chicken will need about 3-4 square feet. If your coop is where your chickens are going to stay most of the time, without much access to free-range, then you'll need about 7-8 feet per bird to allow them adequate space to roam.
If you're building a coop, I suggest building one that holds more birds than you're starting off with. That way, if you do decide your family needs more chickens, or as your kids grow and you begin eating more eggs per week, you won't need to rebuild a new coop for the additional birds.
If chickens are only going into the coop at night, or to lay their eggs, they don't actually need as much space. Chickens are extremely hearty and will tend to be out free-ranging or in an open coop in most weather.
Just know, if your coop isn't large enough, some of your chickens may start pecking at each other, so it's important they have enough space. (See “Preventing Disease or Injuries” below if this is an issue).
Where Should I Locate My Chicken Coop?
When locating your chicken coop you need to keep in mind the smell, the climate, wind direction, and access to power and water.
It's important to understand that chicken poop is quite smelly (with a strong ammonia smell) because a chicken pees and poops out the same hole, so it all comes out at the same time, which is why it smells like ammonia. Locating your coop down-wind is a smart option unless you want the occasional wafts of ammonia floating into your home.
Truthfully, we're able to keep our coop pretty clean, and the smell has never overwhelmed me. But if you're living in a suburban area, it's definitely worth considering for your neighbor's sake.
In colder climates, be sure your coop isn't located in a frost or a shadow line on your property where it will get extra cold in the winter. And in warmer climates, you may want to seek out the shade of a large tree to keep the coop from over-heating in the summer.
It's also important to know where your wind comes through in the winter and situate your coop on your property where it will get both the most sun, and be the most protected from inclement weather.
If there is no option for keeping your coop out of the wind, be sure to situate the door (where the chickens will go in and out of the coop) away from where the wind is coming from.
Something else to consider when deciding where to put your chickens is access to water and electricity. If you need light or a heat lamp for your coop, you'll need access to electricity. And your chickens require water, so consider how far you'll need to be walking their water to the coop!
Caring for Chickens in Winter
In the Pacific Northwest, our temperatures tend to dip into the low 20's and teens in the winter months. Very rarely do we get single-digit temps, and I like to do a deep litter system where there are a few thick layers of straw (don't use hay, it will mold and get really icky). Some people like a combination of wood shavings and straw, but be careful about the type of wood as cedar can be irritating to the birds.
Insulating Your Chicken Coop
I also make sure my coop is all sealed up from any wind or cold that may seep in, and will even consider adding some bales of straw around the outside to insulate the coop if I know the temperature is going to drop significantly.
Due to our damp and rainy weather, I tend not to insulate very often with bales of straw because they'll cause mildew buildup on the outside of my coop.
Using Heat Lamps
Keep in mind, chickens are very hearty animals. There are specific breeds that will do better in colder climates, but we don't need to try and keep our chicken coops at the same temperature that's comfortable for our homes.
If you're battling consistent negative temperatures, you can use heat lamps to help warm the coop. But be careful because chickens are known to flutter up into the air and flap around, so if they happen to knock the heat lamp down, or break the bulb, there is the chance of fire.
There are some newer heating sources for coops that are said to be safer, I haven't used any myself so I can't attest to them, but if I were in need of a heat source, these are what I'd look at first.
Feed Your Chickens Before Bed
One way to help chickens stay warm in the winter months is to feed them some scratch or cracked corn before nightfall. The consumption of this, because of the extra carbohydrates, is that it gives them a little bit of extra energy to keep them warm throughout the night.
The ideal setup is to have your chickens able to free-range for grass, vegetation, bugs and worms. This can either be by truly allowing your chickens to free-range, or by using a chicken tractor which is a protected enclosure that still gives them access to fresh grass (and most chicken tractors are moveable so you can give your chickens fresh patches of grass once they peck through each location).
A chicken tractor is what we use for our chickens and they have access to pasture most months out of the year, unless it's an unusually snowy winter.
I then supplement their diet with store-bought feed.
Type of Feed
I like to feed my chickens certified organic feed because I don't want them eating anything GMO or sprayed with pesticides.
My chickens also get plenty of kitchen scraps and they're very good eaters! They especially love my extra SCOBYs from brewing kombucha.
There are a few things you should NOT feed your chickens such as:
- Green potato skins (these aren't great for humans either!)
- Dry beans
- Citrus fruit
- Chocolate (or other candy)
- Moldy or spoiled food
- Junk food or highly processed foods
How Much to Feed Your Chickens
How much you feed your chickens will vary based on their age and whether or not they have access to peck and scratch for bugs and vegetation. If you're watching carefully, your chickens will tell you how much food they need.
If there's any feed leftover on the ground a few hours after feeding them, reduce the amount you're giving them. Or, if they're eating it up in a short amount of time and still looking rather hungry, try increasing their feed until there's just a little leftover, then scale back slightly.
If your chickens don't have access to free-range, a good rule of thumb is to feed them chickens 1/4-1/3 lb of feed per chicken per day. If they are free-ranging (or in a portable chicken tractor), you can scale this amount back.
Proper Chicken Nutrition
You also want to make sure your chickens are being fed the proper ratios of nutrients. A feed that has 16-18% protein for egg-laying chickens is ideal and you should be able to find these at a granary or local feed-store.
Again, if you're going to free-range your chickens and they have adequate access to vegetation that has plenty of bugs and worms, then you can get away with feeding them something with less protein.
But keep an eye on your eggs, if the yolks start to turn less vibrant orange, or a pale yellow, your chickens are lacking nutrients. Also, if the shells become brittle, they're not getting enough nutrients.
Chicken Watering System
Your chickens are going to need access to clean water at all times. Let me just say, if your chickens can poop in their water they will! This is why I like to use a hanging watering system with chicken nipples so there's no way they can make a mess of their water.
I use a large 3.5-gallon waterer so I don't have to fill it daily. Because we don't have temperatures that dip too low in the winter I usually don't have issues with freezing water, and the water also doesn't get too hot in the summer months.
If you have drastic temperature swings, these are things you'll want to consider.
Chickens in the Garden
If you're allowing your chickens to free-range and they'll have access to your garden, be extremely careful! Truthfully, my advice is to keep them OUT of the garden during the growing season and ONLY let them in once your harvest is over.
Because chickens are scratchers, they scratch everything up without care of what it is or if it's still producing a crop.
They also like to create holes in the ground to make their dust baths, and, in my experience, they liked to do this around the roots of my perennial plants which ended up killing my raspberry plants.
Here are my tips on successfully using chickens in the garden.
Preventing Disease or Injuries
Making sure your chickens have adequate space, good quality food, fresh water, and a clean environment are all ways to make sure your chickens stay healthy.
Quarantine New Chickens
When integrating new hens into your flock, unless you know the hen, where it came from and that it's free of diseases that could potentially spread to the rest of your flock, you'll need to quarantine that bird before bringing it into your flock to ensure there are no diseases.
Maintain Proper Coop Size
If you're not sure about the size of your coop, thinking things may seem a bit cramped, keep an eye on your chickens, watching for signs of stress. If chickens get stressed they may start to peck at each other.
I have had this happen to one of my chickens before, even though my coop size was within the recommended space.
Watch for “Bullies”
Once the chickens start pecking at another one and draw blood or create a red mark, they'll actually continue to peck at this chicken and eventually kill it (chickens are drawn to red).
If this happens, you'll either need to find the chicken in the flock that's doing the pecking and remove it from the coop until the wound on the injured chicken is healed (as long as no other chickens continue to peck at it).
Or, you may need to remove the injured chicken from your flock and get her healed up to where the area doesn't look red anymore, and then the chickens should leave her alone again.
But do understand that this happened for a reason and may happen again if circumstances don't change. You may have a few too many birds in one space, or you might want to consider enlarging the coop.
Keep an eye on how your chickens move and walk when they're healthy, so you'll recognize any changes if something is wrong.
Watch for weepy discharge from their eyes, any chickens limping or not moving around much, etc. The more you interact with your chickens on a daily basis the easier it will be to notice something when it's off.
Because chickens will eat just about anything you give them, if my chickens ever look listless or lethargic, sometimes I'll add some ACV to their water. I'll also feed them some fresh thyme or oregano throughout the summer to boost their immune system.
In the Pioneering Today Academy, I have everything else you'll need to know about exactly what to feed the chickens, troubleshooting tips, even directions on how to butcher a chicken if you're planning to raise the dual-purpose birds.
Enrollment is just about to be open for the first time in 2021 (at the time of this publication), so if you're interested, you can sign up for the Pioneering Today Academy waitlist and I'll notify you via email as soon as enrollment is open.
Verse of the day: Jude 24
- 5 Tips to Raising Backyard Chickens
- Beginners Guide to Natural Chicken Care
- Integrating New Chicks into an Existing Flock
- Breeding Chickens Naturally: Selective Breeding for Eggs & Chicks
- Using Chickens in the Garden (13 Things You Need to Know for Success)
- Storing & Preserving Eggs (Farm Fresh Eggs Primer)
- How to Preserve Your Eggs with Oil
- How to Pickle Eggs
- Soy and Corn Free Homemade Chicken Feed Recipe
- How to Freeze Eggs (Quick Egg Preservation)
- 10 Tips on Raising Chickens for Meat
- Raising Backyard Meat Chickens
- Butchering Meat Chickens
- Raising Chickens for Profit
- Planning Your Livestock for a Year's Worth of Meat Per Person
Melissa Norris: Welcome to episode 297. Today's episode is a fun one. We're going to be talking about what you need to know when you are adding chickens for eggs to your homestead, best practices to get started and how to know which way of getting started is right for you, as well as a complete roadmap for adding chickens to your farm or your backyard, depending on what your situation looks like. So I'm really excited for today's episode because this is a format that so many of you are coming back and telling me that you really love and you are learning a lot from, and that is our member consults. What you'll be listening today is one of the members of the Pioneering Today Academy, which is my modern homesteading membership site.
Melissa Norris: And so if you are a member of the Academy, once a quarter, we are sending out emails and you can apply to get one of these consult episodes. And then you come on and we get to do a one-on-one consult, which is really fun. And then it also becomes a podcast episode so that you guys can get in on this information too. So if you're already an Academy member, we will be sending out the next round of consult invites pretty soon. So keep an eye open for your inbox on that.
Melissa Norris: And if you're not an Academy member yet my friend, my friend, and my friend, we are coming up on our first open enrollment for new members to the Academy for 2021. We have not been open for new members with an open enrollment period since last September. So, make sure that you are on our notify list, which you can get yourself on at melissaknorris.com/pta, just the first letters of Pioneering Today Academy, melissaknorris.com/pta. And if we're not open yet, because open enrollment is going to be March 24th, so depending on when you're listening to this, you can get on the notify list.
Melissa Norris: So if you go there and you're not able to join right now, you'll see the button where it says join the notify list. You pop in your name and email, and then as soon as we're open for enrollment, you will get a notification email and get first chance at joining the Academy, which I hope you do. I can't wait to see you on the inside.
Melissa Norris: But in the meantime, I have got this episode with Rachel. If you don't have chickens yet for eggs and you're thinking about getting them, then you are definitely going to want to listen to this episode. And even if you do have some backyard chickens for eggs, but you might not be 100% happy with the setup that you have with your coop and where the chickens are actually at in your yard or garden, then I think you're going to get some great information on how to evaluate to maybe put it in a different spot or to do things a little bit differently. So if you don't have chickens or if you do but you're not 100% happy with the setup, you're going to get some really good information from this episode.
Melissa Norris: Also, if you want to check out any of the resource links that we talk about, because I do talk about some other episodes pertaining to certain things within your chicken journey, you could get those at the blog post that accompanies this episode. And that is at melissaknorris.com/297, because this is episode number 297. Okay. Without further ado, let's get straight into this consult.
Melissa Norris: Welcome to the podcast, Rachel. I'm really excited for our talk today.
Rachel: Yes. Thank you for having me. I'm excited to do this.
Melissa Norris: For everybody listening in, I know that you are excited to get chickens and that's what we're going to be talking about today. And you don't obviously have to give exact location, but where do you guys live and what is your current setup for where you're wanting to bring the chickens into?
Rachel: Yeah, sure. We live in Southern Michigan, about 10 miles North of the Ohio border. So pretty cold this time of year. We live rurally out in the country. We have about 56 acres. So we've got plenty of space for chickens. We do have a couple of barns that they could stay in. But other than that, I really don't know a lot about where they should go or what would be the best place to put them.
Melissa Norris: Okay, perfect. Are you looking at egg laying hens predominantly, or also meat chickens, or dual purpose, or what type exactly are you hoping to bring in, I should say.
Rachel: Sure. Primarily egg chickens, but I'd like to learn more about the dual purpose. Honestly, I don't know if I could butcher my own chicken. I probably couldn't. They'd probably be pets like for their entire lives, but I am interested in learning more about them.
Melissa Norris: Okay. So we'll start with the egg laying setup because it sounds like that's predominantly what you would be doing. And then if you had some breeds that were dual-purpose, you would maybe consider seeing how it goes, if you would want to be butchering them, but egg-laying is your primary purpose.
Melissa Norris: okay, perfect. Most breeds are going to lay, on average, an egg a day. Looking at your family size, how many eggs you currently go through, and that is going to help you to determine. And you have the space, so we're not really looking at something where you're really confined, like you could only get maybe a couple of chickens, because you definitely have the space for more, if you want them. So that's going to help you decide, okay, this is how many we should start with. How many eggs do you feel like you guys are consuming in a day or in a week, on an average basis?
Rachel: I usually buy about three dozen eggs at a time and it lasts us two to three weeks. So we'll just round and say a dozen eggs a week.
Melissa Norris: Okay. So you really don't need a whole big flock really to do that. Gosh, that would really be two chickens, and two to three would be fine because it is nice to have... I have had them do well in a pair. You definitely wouldn't want to do just one because they're definitely a flock and that's kind of how they have their safety and their whole hierarchy and everything like that. So probably three, because a nice thing is if you have the three, so then you would be getting on average during their laying months. Personally here on our homestead, we don't use artificial light in order to force them to lay through the winter months. That is an option and some people choose to do that. We just choose to let them kind of follow nature's path there.
Melissa Norris: Usually after they're a year old, so you have when they're baby chicks, and then they first start to lay, which is anywhere from about four to six months of age is when they will start to lay if you get them from little tiny chicks. So that first year, because most people get their chicks in the spring time or early summer, they will start laying in the fall. And so that first year they'll actually, most of the time they'll lay all the way through the fall. They won't go into molting and they'll lay almost all winter and kind of just through that entire first winter and fall. However, after that, once they're a full year, then in the fall they will go through their molting where they're shedding their old feathers and bringing new ones in, and that uses a lot of their energy. So usually when they're going through that molting process, they aren't going to be laying. Or if they're laying, it's very sporadic and it's not a lot.
Melissa Norris: And then we move into where you have less daylight hours, which is actually what triggers them to stop laying. It's not really the temperature. People oftentimes think it's the temperature. And so when they're using that heat lamp, because it's light, it tricks their body and so they will continue to lay. But it's really not the heat, it's actually the light in most cases that's going to help them to lay. Now, if they're super, super cold, anytime they go through like stress or something that's not normal to them, it can stop them from laying for a little period of time until they become adapted to it and used to it and don't feel stressed anymore.
Melissa Norris: Usually after that first year, you'll hit fall. Usually for me, I really start to see a drop in egg production in November, and then they don't really start to pick up again until the end of February, first part of March, where we're getting those longer daylight hours and temperatures are also starting to warm up, but it's really the daylight. Just so you kind of know that. So it's kind of nice if you have a little bit extra, so one or two extra chickens, so that during the time when they are laying, so spring through fall, you have an excess of eggs and you can preserve those and you can put those up to take you through the time period when they won't be laying very much.
Melissa Norris: Like for you guys, I would think three chickens would be great because really two a day times seven, I mean, that's going to give you a dozen plus two, and then if you have that other hen and if there's a time period where one of them isn't laying an egg every single day, then that would keep you guys where you want it to be with a little bit extra buffer.
Rachel: Sure, okay.
Melissa Norris: And then of course you always have the option, if you get too much, you're like, gosh, I can't even preserve this much. It's really nice to have a little bit extra because then you can sell to friends, family, whatever, and that kind of helps cover your feed cost and different expenses or that type of thing. It brings in a little bit of extra cash, or it's just really nice to be able to offer someone true farm fresh eggs is really great. So I like to have a couple too. So it kind of depends, like if you thought you wanted to also sell them, then you would maybe want to increase that number of your flock. So it kind of depends on your goals with the eggs, if it's just for personal consumption or a little bit extra farm money.
Rachel: Yeah, probably just for personal right away as we're learning the ropes here and what we're doing, but good to know we can always expand and have more.
Melissa Norris: Yeah. You have a couple of options when you're looking at getting your laying hens. If you are really specific about the exact breeds that you want, then most people will start with chicks because they can order in the chicks and they can get exactly what they want. I have never used an egg incubator and hatched my own that way. I have brought eggs into my broody mama hens and had them hatch eggs out. But I've never actually used an incubator, but that's also an option though I can't advise you on that aspect if you're really picky and you want to order fertilized eggs for very specific breeds. But for most people who are just wanting backyard eggs from their own flock and they're not planning on doing breeding or all these special things, they don't really go that route because you can get chicks really easily without having to invest in incubator and learning that whole process and all of that.
Melissa Norris: If you get the chicks, of course you can pick exactly what you want. You can pick the time of year that you're getting them, et cetera. And then you just know you're going to have about a four to six month time period before they're going to start laying, but then they're going to lay for you almost an entire year before they hit the regular cycle of adult chickens where they have the fall and winter off. So that's one route.
Melissa Norris: Another route, if you're like, I don't really want to mess with chicks because if you do have baby chicks and you're getting them in, you're going to have to create a brooder, you're going to have to have a heat lamp. They do just like an infant anything, especially because you don't have the mama hen there to do her job, you're taking her role basically. So it is a little bit more hands-on intensive. It's completely doable. I mean, we did it for years even when I was working full time. So it is doable, but it is a little bit more of a time investment upfront.
Melissa Norris: Or a lot of times she'll be able to find people who just have too many chickens, they're looking to call their flock down and you can get hens that are a year old, maybe a couple of years old, which they still have a couple of laying years left in them even at two years old, and you can start a flock with adult chickens that are already laying. We've done both ways a couple of different times. We've done it both ways. And so it is nice to have the adult chicken right off the bat because of course you're not waiting. You're immediately getting egg production, well, within usually the first week. It takes them a little bit to get acclimated to a new home and all of that kind of stuff.
Melissa Norris: So that's kind of an option. Of course it's then finding someone though who's local, so like Facebook groups are asking at feeds stores, people who already have chickens asking them, "Hey do you have any young chickens that you're looking to get rid of? We're looking to start our flock and we don't want to start with chicks right away." That's how I found mine was just word of mouth in our local area, asking when I was looking for one-year-old hens and that type of a thing.
Rachel: Sure, okay.
Melissa Norris: Yeah. It's nice because it just gives you that bump. You're getting eggs sooner and you're not dealing with a brooder setup with baby chicks. But personally I would go one way or the other when you're starting out until you're used to the chickens and their care and all of that because if you get an older chicken and put her in, and then you try to bring in baby chicks, they are, because they're not the mom, they're not going to take care of them. So then you have to raise the baby chicks separately until they're of large enough size and then slowly integrate them in with the older chickens. And so it's very doable, but in the beginning you're probably not going to want to have to deal with two flocks; adult chickens that are new to you, and baby chicks, which is also new to you. So I kind of would pick one way or the other first starting out.
Rachel: Okay. So as far as picking a breed, what would be some good resources to learn about what breeds would do good in our cold weather and would be better for laying? How do I go about choosing that?
Melissa Norris: Really for most egg layers breeds, and we live in the North too though I'm not quite as cold as you are. Rhode Island Reds are a great all around egg layer chicken, Buff Orpingtons are really nice. I tend to find the Buff Orpingtons that I have had are very sweet natured. They seem to be a little bit more sweet in nature and personable I think would be the word than some of the other braids. Wyandottes are also really great. I've had several of those. Speckled Sussex. And so any of those, those are some of your standards. There's more, but those are some of your standard egg layers. Rhode Island Reds do really well. In fact, what's been interesting is right now my flock, I have Rhode Island Reds, I have an Olive Egger and some Wyandottes, and it is the Rhode Island Reds that have laid more consistently even throughout these winter months than the other breeds.
Melissa Norris: So I have found that my Rhode Island Reds are probably the most reliable and will even produce eggs when it is the shorter days in the winter. They're not nearly what they will in the spring and summer. I don't want to give a false impression there. But I'll get a couple of eggs a week out of a flock of eight and it's usually always from the Rhode Island Reds, it's not the other birds in the flock. So that's something.
Melissa Norris: Some other things to look at is when you're looking, if you're in a really cold Northern climate where it's really, really cold is looking, some people feel if you're going with the black feathered birds or the darker feathered birds, because you think about black whenever there is any natural sunlight. Of course, if you're wearing black, you wear black clothes. It's hotter in the summer, it's why people usually wear white in the summer, picking clothes. So some people think that that can help translate to the color of the feathers of the bird somewhat. So they like to do darker. I don't know if there's actually any scientific data that corresponds with that. I just know that that's kind of a thought process that some people think.
Melissa Norris: Another thing is looking at breeds that don't have really large combs on the top of their head because the larger the combs, then there's more area there that if you live where it's super cold, perhaps like frostbite or other just cold injuries if they have that really large comb on the top of their head. So a lot of times we look for breeds that have a little bit smaller comb area.
Melissa Norris: And then also like Google and looking at the different hatcheries. A lot of them will kind of say these birds, looking at where they came from. So kind of like their heritage, like if they came from Northern England or Iceland or something like that, then you'd be like, oh, then these birds are genetically bred for way back when in more cold areas. And then of course, if it says this is from South America, you'd be like, oh, this is probably not a breed for me. So you can do a little bit of research that way as well for that.
Melissa Norris: I'm assuming you guys don't have a coop. You mentioned you have a couple of barns, but you don't have a dedicated coop, correct?
Melissa Norris: Okay. You do have acreage, actually quite a bit. So that's exciting. You've definitely got room to work with. What type of setup are you wanting to do? Are you wanting to do like a chicken tractor with free-ranging options or you want just a dedicated coop that is stationary with a dedicated run area that you're not moving?
Rachel: That's a good question. I like the idea of a dedicated coop. But then it would be nice, like in the fall time, to maybe turn them out to do some free-ranging in the garden. We live in a really wooded area, so I wouldn't want to let them free range all the time because there's coons and coyotes and all sorts of not so good things. So probably a coop would be my preferred.
Melissa Norris: Okay. And that's actually great. I mean, you can have a dedicated stationary coop that is not movable. And then you can still have a smaller chicken tractor and/or free range. You can even do a combination of both that you can still move them around and put them on fresh grass and then at night they could go back into the stationary coop, or like in the winter, they would stay in the coop with the run-out area. And then in the nicer time, the summer months and like you said, in the fall, where they could have some more free range opportunity and that type of a thing is also a really great way to go.
Melissa Norris: When you're looking at building your coop, now, I know we started about talking a smaller flock to begin with, but I always feel like not to go too big. I mean, you want to stay within obviously resources and you don't want this huge thing. However, the likelihood that you may decide to increase your flock if you build a coop that square footage wise will hold more birds, then you have that option if you want to add to the flock without having to redo your whole setup. And it's usually cheaper to just build one thing that's slightly larger than you need at the time versus then later having to expand on it. So that would be something, especially if it's a coop that's going to be there for a long time, that I would look at doing.
Melissa Norris: Depending on how large of a run-out area they will have is going to determine how large the coop itself needs to be. Because if they're in a confined coop where they don't have very much area to go out during the day and to move around and have space and all of that, then you're going to need more square foot in that enclosed coop. However, if it's a coop where they just go to roost at night or to get out of really bad weather, which you'll be surprised chickens will tolerate a lot of bad weather. They usually will only go into the coop at night or if it's really, really bad out. But if they're only going in there to roost at night and/or to lay, then you don't have to have as much square footage inside that enclosed coop because they have their other area to move about, either free-ranging or run out, et cetera, whatever that spot's going to be. So kind of deciding that will also help with the size of the coop.
Melissa Norris: Kind of standard numbers are if they are in a coop with a good run-out or a free range system, then three to four square feet per bird is a good estimate. And then if it's a coop that they don't have very much area to run around or have other outlets, then seven to eight square feet per bird. So you're going to need a lot. You're going to need to almost double the size if they don't have that run out area or free range, however you want to do it. Or chicken tractor.
Rachel: Okay. Well, it's good to know.
Melissa Norris: Yeah. And then some of the things to consider like where you're putting the coop, because you have that, you're not having to just use one that's already there. Coops aren't of course provided using good hygienic practices and keeping your coop clean, I should say. They are super smelly. Sometimes you're like, oh, I'm really worried about chicken. So of course, if you're not cleaning it out very often and there's a buildup of chicken poop, it will be stinky because chicken poop smells like ammonia because when they go to the bathroom, they've got only one hole. So they poop and urinate. It all comes out together. There's not two separate places. So you have a high level of nitrogen, but also ammonia in their poop, which is why if you ever went into like a factory farm or a chicken coop that's not been cleaned out, you're like, cool buddy. It is watery.
Melissa Norris: But if you keep good practices, it's not like it's going to be, oh, I don't want it anywhere in the yard or near the house because it's going to smell so bad. That hasn't been our experience. But you will want to keep it clean. And some of the things to consider, especially because you're in that colder climate is any type of frostline. You definitely don't want to put the coop in any type of area where in the winter months that it would be in a frostline or it would be in a shadow line. You want to take full advantage of any daylight to help keep it warm during those cold frigid months.
Melissa Norris: Some other things would be, of course like if the wind comes through, especially in the winter more so than the summer, we have here where we get a Northeastern that only really blows during the winter but when it does, it brings the Arctic air down through our valley and it's really, really cold. So I always make sure when we have that, because my coop is moveable. So when that Northeastern is in a forecast or we feel it start, then I make sure that I have my coop positioned so that any open areas like where I would be opening the door to go into the Cooper getting eggs, and/or where they exit to go out during the day, that it's not in that direct line of that Northeastern so it's not blowing into and putting extra cold air into their coop. So a little bit of just paying attention to the weather during your winter months and seeing any things like that, that'll help you kind of pick both the spot that you would want to put it, but also the positioning of where the different openings would be in relation to your wind pattern.
Rachel: Yeah, definitely. For the winter, I mean, you guys don't get as cold as us, but do you still put in more bedding, maybe line the outside of the coop with straw bales or do anything like that to keep them warmer?
Melissa Norris: Yeah, during the winter months. Here in the Pacific Northwest, it is very odd for our winter because we can have days that are like 50 degrees and sunny and then the next week we'll have temps that are down in the 20s and overnight temps can be in the teens. We very rarely hit single digits. If we do, it's like only for one or two overnight lows a year. So we're very rarely in the single digits just to give perspective. But we do definitely get down into the teens overnight lows for a couple of weeks and then we'll have a warm-up and then it'll happen again. We'll get snow, et cetera. And so what I usually do is a deep litter system inside the coop, so on the coop floor, and that is putting down several really thick layers of straw.
Melissa Norris: You don't want to use hay. Hay will mold and get really icky. So hay is not ideal. Straw's really great to use. Some people will do a combination of wood shavings, making sure that it's like pine. Cedar can irritate respiratory systems of bird, so you'd want to make sure that it was an appropriate type of wood shavings. But you can mix wood shavings with straw and do that deep litter so that they have that on the bottom. It helps provide insulation. Making sure, like I said, any cracks or openings where the wind can really blow in are sealed up. And that helps with the positioning that we talked about a couple of minutes ago.
Melissa Norris: And really for us, that's been enough. Now, provided that your coop is well built, that it has, like you said, you said you're putting straw, so it kind of depends on how thick your walls are, what the insulation is like during the construction of it. But yes, if it was super cold, you could obviously insulate with straw bales. I have not done that, but that would be an option. I would just say, here we are so wet. Now, you might just be more dry and cold. Here we're so wet that I would have to be careful with putting the straw bales against the outside, that it didn't trap too much moisture and then eventually turned to rot on the wood on the outside of the coop. But for just a short period of time, it's not going to be a big deal.
Melissa Norris: And then some other things that you can do to help keep them warm during the winter months without using a heat lamp or artificial light. Depending on how cold you get, there are some types of heat lamps that aren't the lamp. One of the main concerns with the heat lamp, aside from the fact of if whether or not you want to force them and kind of out trick nature's design and make them lay year round and not give them a rest for their body is when you have a heat lamp, chickens will fly up. They'll fly up, they'll flutter around. So you have straw, and wood is usually what your coop is out of, or wood shavings on the bottom with a mixture of straw. And so if they accidentally knock that down or break the heat lamp or break the bulb or whatever, there's a really increased chance of fire. And there's of course horrific stories we hear of the coops all burning down, losing all the chickens. And then, depending on how close the coop is to other structures, causing massive fires.
Melissa Norris: So that's why a lot of people don't like to use heat lamps for those two reasons. But there are other types of newer heating sources for coops that aren't lamps. They're like a disc. I haven't used any of them because we just don't heat at all because I'm not as cold as I kind of shared from our temperatures. But there are some options if you really want a heat source for them that are safer than a heat lamp that you could use, and they don't actually use artificial light. They're just like a heated area. So there's that.
Melissa Norris: And then one of the things that we do when it's really cold out like that is I will feed them some scratch or extra grains, so things like cracked corn and wheat, right before bedtime, which of course at night is usually when our temps begin to get colder for everybody. So right before bedtime, right before they would go into roost, you can go out and throw them some scratch like that. The consumption of that, because it's the extra carbohydrates it takes them to break down gives them extra fuel because of course when it is cold out, it requires more fuel for them to use in order to keep warm. So it doesn't actually raise their body temperature per se, but it does provide them with that extra carbohydrate energy in order to keep warm throughout the night.
Melissa Norris: So that's something that I'll do when we're really cold is give that. You want to make sure that the scratch is used just like a treat right before bedtime and that they're still having the predominance of their diet is coming from a formulated full amount of protein, I think at 16 to 18% for laying hens food wise, because you're not going to get the protein source, corn and carbohydrates. So it's kind of like a little treat before bedtime, it wouldn't be their full diet.
Rachel: Okay. Good to know. Yeah, we would want to avoid heat lamps as much as we could for the reasons you listed. So it's good to know there's other options.
Melissa Norris: Yeah. There definitely is. And of course power. That's another thing too when you're putting in your coop is if you think you're going to need to have some type of power to it, either you're running extension cords, which can also post a problem or issue, or is it going to be close enough that you could actually run power to it if you so wanted. So those are some things too I didn't even think about mentioning that earlier when we were talking about the placement of putting the coop on your property.
Rachel: Yeah. I'm thinking of where to put the coop and it would be handy to be out towards the garden, but we don't have a water source out there. We've got some hydrants off the house, but my husband shot-froze off in the winter time so they don't crack. So probably putting the coop out by the garden isn't an option unless I want to haul water all winter long.
Melissa Norris: And that is a thought. We have, out in our pasture, which is where my coops are, out in our pasture and I do move them around. But we have one of the frost-free outdoor hydrants, which like I said, we're not getting as cold as you guys. I don't know how cold it will go down, but we've never had an issue. It's an outdoor hydrant. But of course the hoses all freeze. And so we have to put those in the pump house when it's really cold so that they stay thawed during overnight and then just bring them out, use them, fill up any waters and then put them back.
Melissa Norris: But yeah, that's something you want to think about because you will be needing to give them, well, let's say if you only have three chickens and it's like in enclosed water, which is what we use, which is the little nipple so that they're not getting it super filthy dirty and pooping inside of it, I can fill that up and with just the three chickens, I have a couple gallon one, that will last them for at least a couple of days before I need to refill it. But I am always taking it, filling it up and then walking it back to the coop. So it depends on how far away, like you said, you are from those and if you want to be packing the water or not.
Rachel: Right. Okay. You touched a little bit about feeding them at night during the winter, but what about the rest of the year? What should I be looking to feed them with?
Melissa Norris: Yeah. If they are not free-ranging on a chicken tractor where they're able to get to fresh grass, fresh greens, weeds, bugs, and worms, and all those different kinds of things, then you're going to be obviously supplementing it and feeding them. And even when our chickens are... I don't free-range. We had too many losses to predators with free-ranging. And so that's why I use the chicken tractor where I can move them around to fresh pasture. So it's kind of like the best of free-ranging, but they're protected, because we're like you guys, there's bobcats, there's raccoons, there's eagles, there's owls, there's tons of coyotes and even neighborhood dogs. We haven't had a neighborhood dog kill any of our chickens, but that's something you also have to consider or/and your own dogs if they're not used to chickens having everything loose together like that.
Melissa Norris: During the summer months when there is fresh pasture that I can move them from daily, then of course they're eating that, but I still supplement with store-bought feed. Now, there are definitely options if you want to grow your own fodder. So it's kind of like doing micro greens to feed them. A lot of people would like to do that, especially during the winter months, so that they're supplementing them with some fresh feed like that. Some people like to ferment and some people like to even make up their own mix. So they'll buy all different kinds of grains and stuff like that and they'll mix it together to create their own feed. If you're doing that, like I said though, you do have to make sure that they're getting adequate protein from all of those different foods that you're mixing together, adequate calcium, all of the different minerals.
Melissa Norris: Off the top of my head, it's between 16 and 18% protein. And of course they're going to have to have some amount of fat in there too because if they don't have enough protein, of course they're not going to grow and they're not going to be healthy. They're not going to grow as well, I should say, and they're not going to be healthy. And they need that in order to help them produce their eggs. And then if they don't have enough calcium, and this can be even true if you are on already a formulated feed. We do buy a certified organic feed because I don't want to be feeding my flock anything with GMOs or any crops that would have a lot of high pesticide use, et cetera.
Melissa Norris: So we buy certified organic feed and then supplement, of course, with all kinds of vegetables and produce and everything like that, scrap stuff. They'll eat anything. They even will like old... like if I have an old piece of bread that I'm like, oh, I'm not going to bother putting this into bread crumbs or making Cruchons or something like that. It's just the [inaudible 00:33:21], they just go crazy. We make our own kombucha and chickens love your extra scobies. So if you're doing anything like that fermenting wise, they go crazy when I have extra scobies, and I get too many. It's so funny. They just go crazy over it. They love it. So there's really a lot of things, not as much as pigs, but there are a lot of things that just are coming out of your kitchen, if you don't want to put them in a compost pile or whatnot, that they will take care of and do really well with.
Melissa Norris: I kind of do a mixture of that, but they will need to have a supplemental feed source, especially during the winter months. And so kind of finding and sourcing that. Most of your local feed stores will carry a plethora of different options. Like I said, I only do organic, that's our personal choice. And even if you're like Azure standard where I get a lot of our groceries and that type of thing from, they also have organic chicken feed. And so I can get chicken feed through them. We have a local granary, it's about an hour and a half away from us, but I can go and get... That's the best deal for us. It's about an hour and a half away. It's a local granary and I can get fresh, mixed organic chicken feed. A 50 pound bag, I want to say it's like $22 or $23, which has been quite a bit cheaper than any other sources that I've been able to find.
Rachel: Yeah, that's not bad. We've got a couple local granary near us. So that would be an option.
Melissa Norris: Yeah. And like I said, it's really easy in the summer and the fall. I don't feed nearly the amount of feed just because they're getting so much of all of our scrap stuff. So they really like that time of year.
Rachel: As far as like having them in the garden, I've got to be a little bit careful about that because they can be a little bit destructive, especially in a young garden, right?
Melissa Norris: Yes. They can be very destructive actually. So if you plan on putting them in the garden, you're going to really want it to be at the end of the season where they're essentially just doing garden cleanup and you have gleaned everything that you want to glean and you're ready for the plants to die. As far as perennials go, we did free-range for a period of time as I mentioned before. One, they almost killed my raspberry plants, and then two, they were getting killed from the predators. They're scratchers, that's what they do. So they scratch stuff up. They're great, little natural tillers, not anywhere near the depth that pigs will go, but they're really good at that. They also like to create their dust baths. So they like to create their holes.
Melissa Norris: Well, they really like to do that around the roots, at least for me, of my blueberry and my raspberry plants. Fortunately blueberry and raspberry plants don't have a really deep root system. Their roots are really close to the surface. And so they exposed, during the summer months, which is when it was really hot and we were having not very much rainfall anyways. They exposed a lot of the roots of my raspberries, which therefore then dried them out and disrupted them and were really quite destructive to them. I ended up losing a couple of raspberry plants just because I simply wasn't paying attention to where they were scratching and I didn't realize they had exposed that many of the roots.
Melissa Norris: If they had only been in the raspberries for a couple of hours, it wouldn't have been an issue, but it was exposure day after day, week after week in the hottest part of the year, et cetera. If it's something that's a well-established fruit tree that's got roots that are going really far down, they're not going to run that. So it kind of depends on what you have and how young it is, the time of year, but you definitely want to keep an eye on them around any plants. They'll scratch through your flower beds. They can uproot smaller flowers. So they can be destructive.
Melissa Norris: So just knowing that, which in a garden situation is completely fine especially in the fall. There's plenty of time for it, but where they're at for a period of time, they will of course poop. They'll have chicken poop no matter where it is. And in the garden, we don't really mind that. And if it's in the fall, and I'm just being in there for a couple of hours or for just a couple of days, they're not going to probably poop enough that you would be worried about too high of nitrogen, but it is something to consider like, oh, if they're in there a lot doing a lot of pooping, that's why we don't put fresh chicken manure on gardens or plants because the nitrogen level's too high and it will burn it. It needs to be composted down so it's not hot. So usually about six months. Most people will compost or use manure six months after the fact to combat that.
Melissa Norris: But if it's in a fall, you're not worried about any of these plants. You already know I want them to just clean everything up and the garden is going to rest. It's actually really great because wherever they have pooped, that'll break down over the following winter. And then next spring, when you're ready to actually plant new stuff, it'll all be broken down. It will have fed your soil. So it can actually be a really good thing, but timing is key.
Rachel: When you were talking about the raspberries and blueberries, it's like, you know what, I don't think these chickens are going to free-range at our house.
Melissa Norris: Oh yeah. And like I said, if you are cognizant and you have a way of kind of showing them out of that area, or you can just keep an eye on it and you can see if they're starting to expose roots and be like, okay, you guys can't be out here. I just, I didn't have the time to do that. I was working during the day. I really couldn't be there to really watch them. And so we just, that's where we really settled on the chicken tractor and being able to just move it around so that they could go where we wanted them to go and not just wherever they wanted to go.
Rachel: Right. Yeah, that sounds like a better idea.
Melissa Norris: Yeah. Let's see. Now, you had mentioned in the beginning a little bit about dual purpose birds.
Melissa Norris: Okay. Dual purpose birds, there's lots of great breeds and I'll have a link. I've got a whole articles and podcast episodes already. I will obviously email to you because we're talking together here, so you can't see the show notes yet.
Rachel: Thank you.
Melissa Norris: But for those of you who are listening in, I've got some other episodes in blog posts that talk about dual purpose birds if you're looking for a bird that will get large enough to bother with butchering, meaning it will have enough meat on it, and especially in the breast area, to make it worth our while to butcher once it's at full harvestable size, versus some of your laying breeds. They're fine for stew meat and making stock if you decide to butcher them, but they're not really going to give you what we like to see when we're buying a whole chicken in some of that nice breast meat area and enough meat just on the bone to make it worth your while.
Melissa Norris: That's kind of the main difference on why we have certain breeds. And of course the egg-laying breeds are really good at laying eggs consistently whereas some of your other meat birds, you're not going to get that as much. But the dual-purpose is, obviously I pretty much gave it away there, you get both. They take longer to get to be harvestable or butcher size, and if you were doing a straight meat bird, but they'll lay eggs for you and then if you decide or you want to hatch them out and be like, we're going to hatch some of these out. We're just going to raise them until they're a large enough size and not even going to let them be egg layers. It gives you a lot more options. So a lot of people like to have that just like if I want to raise a meat flock from my existing flack, I can do that because this breed is a dual purpose.
Melissa Norris: It can be definitely a great way to go. My Buff Orpingtons actually have quite a bit of large breasts on them. They can dress out to be a good-sized bird and they're also really great layers. There's lots of different breeds in there. Let's see. Red Rangers is one that people, it's more of an heirloom heritage meat bird but you can also let them lay eggs. We'll link to that for more specific breeds but it's something to consider if you think you might want to go that route and just have a couple of those in your flock in case you decide, yeah, I do want to try this out or we do want to do some meat birds.
Melissa Norris: And then if you're like you and you're like, no, I think I'm going to be too attached to them and I don't know that I can do that, then you don't have to worry about it, versus if you get especially some of the hybrids, like the Cornish Cross, which we do, they have to be butchered by about 10 weeks is the max, 12 weeks really would be the max that you would want to let them go because they put on weight so fast that they can actually have leg failure or organ failure. They're just not meant to raise out and to lay eggs like you would the dual purpose birds. With the dual purpose birds, if you think that you're going to butcher any of them, you definitely can't name them and you can't think of them as pets because if you do, it will be really hard and you probably won't be able to do so.
Rachel: Guilty. Would there be any reason to keep a dual purpose bird separate from a bird that I wanted to just keep for egg-laying, or can you mix and match? Can you do that?
Melissa Norris: Oh yeah. Yeah. You can definitely mix and match them. Yeah. There would be no reason to keep them separate. When we do the Cornish Cross, because those are definitely for a meat bird, I'm raising them for eight weeks and then we're done. So I keep those flocks separate because when I get them, they're baby chicks, and I've already got my hens, and your hens will create their pecking order. We've all heard that term, pecking order, well, it is a real thing. And so you can't mix baby chicks in with an existing flock when they're small because they will kill them and they don't have the mama hen there to protect them.
Melissa Norris: If you were to have a broody hen and she were to hatch out her own babies, even if she was a more docile hen, once she has babies, it don't matter what the pecking order is. It's like, you are not messing with my chicks, man. So the mama does all of that, you don't have to worry about it. But when it's these little defenseless chicks and you try to put them into an existing flock, they don't have anybody there to protect them and they're probably going to get killed. So that's why we don't have that type of integration.
Melissa Norris: So when I've got the meat chickens that are coming in as baby chicks, by the time they're almost ready to be of a large enough size I could integrate them into the flock, they've only got like two more weeks left and I'm going to be butchering them. So it's just not worth my time to try to integrate them. And then on butcher day, I would have to try to pull them out and not grab the other. Like it would just disrupt everything. So it's much easier, if you know you're just doing meat birds only, to keep them separate. Especially, like I said, the Cornish Cross with that shorter raising lifespan before they reach harvestable size.
Melissa Norris: But if it's dual purpose birds and you're not sure if you're going to butcher them, then it's totally fine to have them together. You can have multiple breeds together within the same flock. The only time you would want to keep them separate is if you were getting birds from different flocks. Like say you have a friend and she was like, "Oh, I have one one-year old hen that you could come and get." And then you have another friend down the road and she was like, "Oh, you can come get one of my hens," and you're going to start your flock from these existing flocks.
Melissa Norris: Well, you would want to quarantine each of these hens for a couple of weeks to make sure they didn't have any disease before you, A, brought them together. Or if you were to get them at a later date or something else, and you have your existing flock already, you don't want to bring in because you don't want to introduce any diseases from existing flock. So that would just be something, kind of like a little quarantine time just to make sure there isn't any disease and then you can integrate the flocks.
Rachel: Okay. Good to know. Well, we all know how to quarantine, so we're experts at that right now.
Melissa Norris: Yes we are. Yeah. Kind of same thought process there.
Rachel: Okay. Do you have any general tips about keeping them healthy and how to see that they're sick and general tips of what to do to address a sick chicken?
Melissa Norris: Yeah. Really just like human beings, having a good game plan on the offensive before they get sick is really going to be the best. That adequate nutrition, making sure they're getting really good nutrition that meets all of the percentages that they need. Making sure that they've got plenty of fresh air so they're not in a coop with a bunch of feces that's breeding and causing irritation, obviously. You don't want them in squalor, you don't want them in their own poop all the time. So good airflow, good quality food, good clean, fresh water, that they have enough space and they're not stressed because if they don't have enough space, they will get stressed and they will turn and even kind of attack each other.
Melissa Norris: I actually had a situation where I had a couple too many chickens, even though it was meeting the square footage space, it was a little bit cramped. And so they really started pecking on a couple of hens, which they can do. If a chicken has a spot that is bare or bloody, then the other chickens will come and continue to peck at that and create a larger wound and eventually will kill them. Chickens are actually mean to one another really. They're a great animal, but just understanding that. So if you have a chicken that they are starting to peck on and it looks like blood is beginning to be drawn, then either you need to find the chicken in the flock who is the main bully, who is head honcho and is doing the pecking. And if you can remove them, then usually the other chickens will leave that one alone and allow it to heal because they kind of follow the lead hen.
Melissa Norris: Sometimes though, if you haven't caught it soon enough and there's already some raw spots or some bloody spots there, then the other chickens will keep pecking at that spot because they see it and they see the red. And so that's why a lot of times with little baby chicks in the brooders, you'll use those red lamps so that they don't see any red spots. They don't see any injuries and they won't peck at one another. But we don't want to use red lamps in our adult coops because of heat lamp issues, like all the same things.
Melissa Norris: So if that happens and you have a chicken that is injured enough that you see red, or they won't leave it alone, then you have to bring her out and get her healed up to the point that you don't see it and it's healed up before integrating her back in with the flock. And I've had to do that a couple of times myself. So keeping an eye on them. Really like you just being out and checking the chickens every day. We have large feeders that I can... And I recommend hanging your feeders in your waters because if they are on the ground, even if they have lips, the chickens will poop on them.
Rachel: Just the way of them.
Melissa Norris: It's just the way of them. So we found if we can hang them from a hook and just a hook so that there's not like a bar or anything over it, because if there's something they can perch on and roost on that's on top of it, same thing. The poop is going to fall right into the feeder and/or water. So we like to do hooks from the ceiling or something that they can't get up on and have them hanging. And we found that stuff stays much, much cleaner that way. And so that way too, like if we want to go on vacation, then we can go away for the weekend. I can fill the feeder and the waters all the way up to the brim and know they're not going to run out before we get home.
Melissa Norris: We actually have, my brother and parents live really close to us. So I usually still will have them come over and kind of just check on things just to make sure. But even with those hanging feeders and knowing I don't have to go out and feed and water every day if I didn't want to, I still go out every day just to keep an eye on the flock because really you'll see any behavioral changes or them doing anything odd. And the sooner you can catch it, I mean, just like with us, the sooner we're starting to just start to calm down with something, the sooner that we can catch that and combat it, then the likelihood the faster we're going to heal from it or recover.
Rachel: Yeah. Okay.
Melissa Norris: And so just any odd behavior, like really lethargic or listless, or maybe walking funny, sometimes that'll be a clue that they've injured themselves on their foot. And so if they're walking funny and favoring one, then you'll realize like there's a cut or there's an abscess or whatever it might be. So just kind of watching them, knowing what their daily normal routines are or what their normal behavior is. And then if there's any type of deviation from that, then you're seeing it and then you can go and investigate further. Any type of weepy discharge from their eyes or things like that. I have to say that we have had chickens, how many years have we had chickens now? Oh, goodness. We've had chickens for I think seven or eight years. I don't even know how many years we've had chicken.
Melissa Norris: We had chicken a long time. I had to kind of remember in my head, okay, how old are my kids now? It might even been more years than that. I have had one chicken who kind of, she seemed to have trouble eating. She wasn't eating. We checked, I couldn't see that anything was like stuck in her craw or any obvious signs of anything, but she just was not wanting to move around. She was kind of lethargic and she got really puffed up, like all of her feathers, she just kind of kept them in this puffed up state. I noticed it in the evening and I'm like, huh, this is kind of weird. But like I said, I kind of went through, I didn't see anything in the coop, the other chickens weren't bothering her. I didn't really see any other obvious signs of anything on her. And then she died the next day.
Melissa Norris: I don't know what it was. It didn't affect anybody else in the flock. Of course, we removed the carcass and I watched the rest of the flock to see if anybody else started exhibiting any of these other signs that she had or acting that way. None of them did. I still don't know what it was. And so we buried her, obviously, and just kind of kept eyeing it. But that has been the only chicken that we've had that showed signs of a sickness or weirdness and then she died really, just by the next day she was dead.
Melissa Norris: I hope this doesn't sound harsh, but it's just reality. Someone who's listening may not agree with this, but the cost of a chicken versus the cost of a vet bill, unless you are extremely emotionally attached to the chicken and I would never want to see any animal suffer. So if I thought that they were suffering, I would do whatever I could home remedy wise in order to try to heal them. But if it was something where the home remedies weren't working, then we just dispose, dispatch those chickens because the cost of a vet bill versus the cost of me getting a new chicken does not offset one another.
Melissa Norris: Just kind of putting that out there. Now, I know some people will take their chickens to a vet, but I don't have $70 to $100 to spend on a chicken for a vet bill when I can get a new chick or a new chicken for less than $10. I mean, actually probably less than five baby chicks are only a couple bucks a piece. But thankfully we haven't had to really deal with that other than we did lose one chicken, the rest have just reached the end of their life cycle. And that's kind of to be expected. If I have a chicken that's five to six years old or six to seven years old, then I've had some of them who have just killed over and it's from old age. And I know that because I know their age, how long I've had them.
Rachel: Sure. Okay. Okay, good.
Melissa Norris: Yeah. And there are lots of ways. I mean, like there's lots of things. Feeding them fresh herbs, like I have thyme and Oregano. So there's lots of different fresh herbs that you can use, and they will eat them. You can throw them out in their pin. Some people like to line the nesting boxes with them. Some people like to put apple cider vinegar in their water. And if I have some that are acting lethargic or maybe acting like they're not doing, I'm like, oh, they don't seem quite normal, then I'll put some apple cider vinegar in their water, et cetera. But I don't do it on a regular basis. I don't personally add apple cider vinegar to their water unless I see that they look stressed or something like that, then I'll add that in there.
Melissa Norris: Some people like to use fresh garlic, so they'll take garlic cloves and they'll smash that and they'll put that in their water. So there's lots of different things like that that you can do, and I do feed mine, like I said, the fresh herbs. I'll give that to them to help boost their immune systems in the summer when it's on fresh just from my herb bed. I'll just pick some and toss it to them every day or so. Throw that in their feed, and they'll definitely go through that. So there's lots of different natural ways of keeping chickens and you can add those things to that. Inside the Academy, I've got some different things, as well as under the chicken series, there's a full tutorial on how to butcher chickens, which I know you don't know if you'll be able to do that, but if you decide to, that's all there for you.
Melissa Norris: But we also have some different things like on the exact feed percentages, and then what they shouldn't eat, because there are some foods that you shouldn't feed chicken, fresh produce wise that they shouldn't have. So all of that stuff is inside the livestock course under the chickens that if you haven't went through those yet, you definitely can go through those.
Rachel: Okay. I will definitely take a look at that. It's good to know that I can give them the fresh herbs because in the summertime it seems like the herbs grow so fast. I mean, I caught off handfuls of them that we can't use fresh and I've got plenty dried. So it's good to know that the chickens would get some use out of those.
Melissa Norris: Yeah, and they really enjoy it. They love it. It's really funny. You'll see quickly when you start to give them different things like what they like immediately, or they like the best, because obviously that's what they'll eat first. And then you'll come back and you're like, oh, you like that one so much, that type of thing. But yeah, they get really excited. They love those little treats. And like you said, it's a great way to put to use when you've reached your capacity of those crops.
Melissa Norris: Yeah. Do you have anything else that we didn't go over that you had any more questions on?
Rachel: I don't think so. This has been really helpful and I think my list here of my notes, we've touched on everything.
Melissa Norris: Oh, great. Well, if so, you can always, when we have the live Q&As every month, or you can shoot me a message and reach out if more come up. I know oftentimes, I know this is how I've been, I have like my planning phase. I'm like, okay, okay. And then I actually get the animal or get to doing the thing and I'm like, oh, I didn't even know I needed to ask this. So if that happens, yes, definitely reach out and ask either on the Q&A or even in the community group, and you will have lots of people there to help you out.
Rachel: Yeah. I've used that a couple of times. Well, more than a couple of times. That's been very helpful.
Melissa Norris: Oh, good. Yes. Well, I'm excited I can't wait. Once you get your chickens and your coop, I hope that you share pictures with us because I'll be really excited to see.
Rachel: Yeah. Yeah. I'm excited to share. This has been really helpful. Gave me a lot of good information to get started with, now we just need to get my husband on board.
Melissa Norris: Yes, this is key. Okay. Awesome. Thank you.
Rachel: Thank you.
Melissa Norris: I hope that you enjoyed at that consult and you got some great information from there. And if you are looking for more help on getting your homestead going and more skillsets developed, I would love to have you inside the Pioneering Today Academy to be able to offer you that help both with the video tutorials and also within our amazing community. So make sure that you are on that waitlist at melissaknorris.com/pta.
Melissa Norris: Now, for our verse of the week, this is from Jude, and Jude is only one chapter. So it's verse 24. "Now, to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy." This verse is from, I mentioned a couple episodes ago that I am going through a devotional this year. It's called God's Best for My Life, by Lloyd John Ogilvie, and its daily inspirations for a deeper walk with God. This was one that really struck me, part along with the Bible verse, of course, but that really sat with me and is one I've been thinking about and wanted to share with you guys is the quote at the end of the devotion from Jonathan Edwards. And it says, "Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life."
Melissa Norris: I read that, and it's basically saying to live like you're about to meet Jesus or to stand before your maker and give an account of the way that you lived your life or the thing that you were doing. So as you are deciding whether or not to do something or to maybe say something, that tongue. I don't know about you, but my tongue can get me into a lot of trouble sometimes. But before you are deciding to take an action, being it saying something or doing something like that, is to think about if that were something that you would be afraid to do if you knew that was the last hour that you would be alive, and that probably would change the way some of us think or say or do things. And I think it's a great thing to think about to help us temper certain reactions, but also to choose the things that we're investing our time in. So it definitely is one that has made me sit and think, and I hope that it does the same for you.
Melissa Norris: Thank you so much for joining me on this episode of the podcast. I can't wait to be back here with you next week. We've got a really great episode coming up next week with something that a lot of you have been telling me that you have been struggling with and would like some help with. So I think that you're going to really enjoy it. So for now, blessings and Mason jars.
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