Working Chickens, Part 8: Roosters and Chicks
Chickens only lay eggs for a few years. What that means is that you will need to refresh your laying flock every couple of years. You’ll either have to buy new chicks every other spring, or you have to raise your own flock.
Here are some thoughts, answers to questions, and tips on keeping roosters and raising chicks.
I have heard a lot of folks ask if they need to keep a rooster in order to get eggs. The short answer is no. Hens will lay eggs without a rooster, so if all you are after is eggs, you don’t need one. In fact, there are many municipalities that don’t allow you to keep roosters in city limits.
However, you do need a rooster in order to get fertilized eggs. Roosters are great for more than just fertilization, too. Roosters protect and watch over their flock. I have personally witnessed our rooster find an insect or pile of grain, not eat it, and call the hens over for them to eat first. He’ll even watch over them while they eat.
So if you want to raise your own chicks, and if you are allowed, you’ll want to keep a rooster. Not all roosters are mean, but all roosters are territorial. That is a good thing. You just have to be aware of it.
Hens get broody. It will happen, because that is the way of nature. When a hen gets broody, she will sit on a stock pile of eggs. Her body temperature rises, she’ll stop laying new eggs, and she’ll get very moody. Whether you want to let her stay that way is entirely up to you.
Many folks stop their hens from being broody, because egg production goes down and other hens will often go broody at the same time. You can do this by cooling mamma down, kicking mamma off of the nest every time you find her sitting, and removing the eggs often.
If you decide to let her sit, you’ll need to keep a close eye on her. We had a hen who sat for nearly two months straight because her eggs weren’t hatching. (That’s a long story!) Eggs are supposed to hatch after 21 days of incubation. If mamma hen sits much longer than that, she’ll get stressed out or sick.
If your mamma has a successful hatch, you should soon see baby chicks trailing after mamma. One of the greatest benefits to letting your hens hatch their own eggs is that incorporating the new birds into the flock is much less stressful on you and your flock.
If you don’t have chicks after 21 days, you could have a couple of issues: your eggs are not fertilized, your eggs are getting stolen by predators and replaced by the other hens in the flock, or they’ve somehow died during incubation. Candle the eggs about once a week, if you can, to check on the chicks development. Also, I recommend marking your egg with a pencil on both ends. If you go out there and there are “new” eggs, you can and should collect them to make sure you don’t have chicks at different stages of development.
There are all sorts of great resources out there on this one, so that’s where I’ll leave it.
Hatching Eggs with an Incubator
An incubator is not necessary. Some feed stores — and probably a few of your neighbors — have incubators that you can use, rent, or pay to have them hatch eggs for you. However, on a small farm like ours, we find an incubator extremely useful.
Sometimes you’ll have a mamma hen who only sits for half the time. That will leave you with a batch of chicks only half incubated. You can stick the half-baked chicks in the incubator and finish the job, if necessary.
Sometimes you’ll want to hatch a larger batch of chicks than mamma hen could hatch on her own. In any case, choose your incubator well. We have an IncuView All-in-One with automatic egg turner. We really like it.
If you do decide to have an incubator on hand, make sure to follow all of the instructions completely. AND don’t check your eggs too much; whenever the eggs get too cool, you’ll lose a few.
Whether you will be hatching your eggs in an incubator or letting mamma hen hatch them, you will need to know how to take care of the chicks once they hatch. When you let mamma hen hatch them, she’ll take care of most of this for you.
Incubator chicks need a bit more attention. Chicks need to be kept warm right away. Their yolk will feed them for 24 hours after hatching, so food is not necessary immediately, but do put food and water in your brooder so they can start eating when they are ready. Just don’t panic if they start to hatch and you haven’t gone to the feed store yet. My only really important suggestions are that you make sure that they can’t drown in their waterer, and you’ll need to give them something to roost on so they don’t smother each other.
There are a lot of really great resource books on raising chicks. I recommend picking up a copy of “Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens” and “Hatching and Brooding Your Own Chicks,” both by Gail Damerow. These books are chock-full of great information on how to raise chicks and chickens. There are plenty of others out there as well. Find one that works for you, and don’t be afraid to use it!
Good luck with your flock. I hope this series has helped you in some way. Please comment below if you’d like to see the whole series as an ebook or downloadable resource.
You can find the rest of the series here:
• An Introduction to Working Chickens
• Part 2: Counting Hens
• Part 3: Growing Forage
• Part 4: Creating Paddocks and Deep Mulch Runs
• Part 5: Roosts, Coops and Nesting Boxes
• Part 6: Grit, Dust Baths, and Other Necessities
• Part 7: Utilizing Your Flock
By Lindsay Hodge
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