I have all sorts of random chicken-keeping advice swirling around in my head. Most of it is the type of thing you don't typically find in books or magazines.
If you would like to hear my first article on this subject go here. It covers why you need to collect the eggs every day and how we feed our chickens for free (mostly).
This article is going to go deeper into my brain and the real world of keeping chickens.
THREE: Good luck getting rid of the fox.
If you get a fox near your hen house, you could be in for a world of hurt. I'm not trying to be a huge downer, but a fox is a problem you don't want to take lightly.
I've been told that once a fox finds your flock they will stick around until they have eaten every last chicken. One of my best friends watched her hens disappear one at a time until the fox consumed every last one of them. When she got new chickens, he ate them, too.
I know another lady who no longer even tries to keep chickens. A fox found her flock and ate every chicken she brought home. She finally gave up.
Foxes are smart. They are sly. They don't fall for traps. They can smell your scent on every hole, claw, line, bait, cage, or trap you set.
How do I know? After keeping chickens completely free range for over seven years, a fox found our flock.
He started with our ducks, because Pekin ducks are slow and easy to catch. He ate five ducks in one week. Then he went to work on the laying hens. He ate a chicken every day. Each night when my son would close up the chickens and count the heads, we would have one less. It wouldn't be long before they were all gone.
We put our lazy, comatose hound dog to work. As long as he was stationed at the chicken coop on-guard, the fox didn't strike. If the dog took the day off — down went another hen.
Well, I don't have an ending to this fox dilemma. We are hanging in there, we still have a nice flock, but we still see that fox meandering around our property. Mama Fox is here, and she has a baby. We have traps set. We have tried to catch her in the act. She's good at what she does.
I'll keep you posted.
FOUR: Don't put the water in the coop.
I don't know what most coop floors are made of. Ours is made of wood. We covered it in a laminate flooring to protect the wood from the "eeeew" that would be laying all over it thanks to the chickens. Even with a coat of laminate, I still don't want water in there ...
There are lots of great reasons not to have a chicken watering facility located inside your coop. First, there's the damage to the floor: rotting, molding, yuck. Additionally, cold weather is not what causes most cases of frostbite in chickens. Moisture is. If your coop is soaked, saturated, wet, and humid, it can make your chickens sick. The goal is dry litter in the coop. Whenever I've attempted to keep water inside their domain, it ends up making everything soggy and miserable.
We keep the water outside the coop.
FIVE: Don't buy sick chickens.
We made the huge mistake several years ago of buying some silkies from a girl showing them at our county fair. The chickens appeared healthy and adorable. There was no way to tell that they had been exposed to infectious bronchitis.
Once a chicken has had infectious bronchitis, it is a carrier for life. This means that even though the chicken got sick and recovered, it will contaminate every chicken it meets forever ... those chickens may not recover.
We brought our four silkies home (we have four children — each one got a silkie), and the chickens started coughing and dropping like flies. We had around 70 chickens that year (including the Cornish Rock meat chicks) before the silkies descended and destroyed, and the majority of them died. We were in the unfortunate situation where we had to cull or sell our entire flock in order to get rid of the disease. We talked to vets. We talked to chicken folk. We weighed our options. If we wanted a healthy flock, we would have to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. Sadness.
The good new is we had plenty of chicken to eat, and we found a great home for all our favorite hens.
Once everyone had moved out, we cleaned the coop, bleached the coop, torched the coop (used DH's red dragon to burn off any remnants of ick) and then we opened the doors to let all things air out and freeze. Then we got a new flock.
We have not had any problems with diseases when ordering chicks from hatcheries or buying them from local farm stores. I have bought chicks from numerous farm stores in our area and haven't had any issues. It was only when buying from a stranger that we encountered problems.
Never again will buy a chicken from a person, fair, livestock swap, auction, or other untrusted/unknown identity.
I prefer buying baby chicks from hatcheries and farm stores that I know and trust. I know this means I will always be purchasing chicks and waiting five months for eggs. That is OK with me. Waiting for eggs is better than watching my flock die of an infectious bronchitis aftermath.
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