Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer

Keeping Chickens: Preparing for Spring

A photo of Andy G. Schneider, the Chicken WhispererI was quite surprised to find my first seed catalog and my first poultry products catalog of the season in the mail this week. This reminded me that even though its just mid-January, it’s time to prepare for spring. Hatcheries around the country are gearing up for another busy season. After seeing their chick orders get backlogged for six to eight weeks, and their rare breed chicks selling out by March of last year, they want to make sure that they are as prepared as possible for this year. Many hatcheries are requesting that their customers pre-order the chicks they want to ensure that they will be able to fulfill their orders. In fact, Mt. Healthy Hatchery is offering a 5-cent discount per chick if you pre-order before February 13th. Many magazine publishers are making room for all of the backyard poultry articles that will soon be written, and feed and seed stores are increasing their orders to meet the demands of this year’s backyard chicken frenzy.

Not unlike the hatcheries, magazine publishers, and feed and seed stores, we too need to get ready for spring. If you already have backyard poultry or are just getting started, there are a few things we all need to think about to make sure we are prepared. If you are getting started with chickens for the first time or want to expand your existing backyard flock, you first need to decide what breeds you would like. Many people choose the same breeds that their grandparents had on the family farm. Others might do extensive research on what chickens are cold hardy, lay the best, or lay the longest. Some may just choose based on which breed they think looks the prettiest. Whatever method you choose there are many resources available that can help you pick out your new breeds. Many hatcheries have their own color catalogs loaded with information about the breeds they carry. Online websites like www.MyPetChicken.com, www.FeatherSite.com, and www.BackYardChickens.com, can also be very helpful. Remember that rare breeds sell out quickly so you may want to go ahead and place your order as soon as possible.

Once you have your breeds chosen, you need to determine what method you are going to use to get your chicks or chickens. Some of you may choose to incubate fertile eggs while others may choose to order chicks or started birds from a local or national hatchery. Either way, you need to be prepared. Here is a short list of things to think about.

1. Are you practicing correct biosecurity? You can get a lot of free information about practicing correct biosecurity here: www.APHIS.USDA.gov/animal_health/birdbiosecurity 

2. Is your incubator working properly? I recommend running your incubator for at least 24 hours before setting your fertile eggs.

3. Is your brooder working properly? Make sure there is enough room for the baby chicks to move closer to and further away from the heat source based on their comfort level and never use cedar shavings.

4. Do you have all the waterers, feeders, and starter feed needed for your new arrivals? I almost always recommend purchasing the largest waterers and feeders you can afford. Owning chickens is addictive and you will be getting more! You will also be able to go away for a long weekend if you get larger feeders and waterers.

5. How are you going to incorporate your new birds with your existing birds and when? New birds need to be quarantined for about three weeks to make sure they are free from illness and disease. You can read more about this at the bio-security website listed above. I recommend waiting until the chickens are all about the same size before putting them in the same area. After the quarantine process, I like to keep my new birds in the pen next to my current flock so they can communicate and get use to each other before joining them together. I will let them all free range together in the morning but put them back into the separate but adjoining pens for the rest of the day. After about ten to fourteen days of this routine, I will corral them back into the same pen and let the fun (pecking order) begin. Establishing a new pecking order may look like a knockdown drag-out fight, but it must me done. Watch your flock closely, but accept the fact that there will be low birds on the totem pole.

Just like you, I will be getting ready for spring and asking myself these same questions. I don’t intend on expanding my backyard flock this year, but I will be setting some fertile eggs in the incubator and ordering a few baby chicks for my new “How To” video series about keeping backyard poultry.

Thanks,

Chicken Whisperer

Listen to the “Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer” radio show here: www.blogtalkradio.com/backyardpoultry 
Watch the Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer “How To” video series here:
 www.youtube.com/backyardpoultryvideo 
Visit the Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer website here:
 www.chickenwhisperer.net 

Keeping Urban Roosters Quietly and Responsibly

A photo of Andy G. Schneider, the Chicken WhispererSeveral times each month I receive letters, emails and phone calls from concerned chicken owners asking how they can keep their roosters quiet. More times than not, they are keeping chickens in urban areas. Many cities around the country ban roosters to prevent nuisance complaints from their citizens, even though there are several ways to keep roosters in urban areas quietly and responsibly. I had kept backyard chickens for two years before my neighborhood homeowner’s association even found out. Why? Because I choose not to keep roosters with my flock. Yes, I have kept roosters in the past due to periodic rooster rescues, but they did not cause any problems because I kept them quietly and responsibly.

In my opinion, roosters have two main purposes, which they do very well: protect and fertilize. In the past seven years, I have only lost three chickens due to predators. One just happened to be my rooster, Kentucky. During a backyard remodel, we temporarily removed the protective netting from atop our three chicken runs. After arriving home, I noticed that all eleven hens were safely inside the coop and Kentucky was in the run, where he had obviously lost a battle with a hawk. We believe that when Kentucky noticed the hawk that he gathered all of his ladies in the coop for their protection and then returned back outside to fight off the predator. Unfortunately, he lost, but all eleven hens were safe. Because of this, I know the value of a rooster when it comes to predator protection, but I still choose not to keep roosters due to the extra responsibilities involved. I do however provide a very secure coop and run for my chickens, and use Nite Guard Solar® lights to protect my flock from predators.

There are many great reasons why people choose to keep backyard chickens in urban areas, but breeding is rarely one of them, so keeping a rooster is not necessary in most cases. If you keep a small backyard flock without a rooster, one hen will generally take the rooster’s role. She will keep an eye out for predators, alert the flock if danger arises, maintain the pecking order and, in rare cases, may even crow.

On the rare occasions when I did have a rooster or two, I would keep them quietly and responsibly. At dusk, I would bring the roosters into my garage. They would be placed into a metal cage with their own food and water. Then the metal cage would be placed into a large breed plastic doghouse. I would then place a heavy blanket over the doghouse to provide an extra sound barrier. If one of the roosters happened to crow early in the morning, none of my neighbors could hear it. In fact, our master bedroom backs up to our garage. If we were sound asleep the crowing would not even wake us up, but if we were already awake then we could hear the rooster crow, but it was faint and hardly noticeable.

Overall, I think roosters get a bad rap, but I understand that they are not for everyone. They are very beautiful birds and have a couple of specific purposes that they do very well. I still hate to see cities completely ban roosters, but it’s a compromise that many urban chicken keepers are willing to make.

For more information about keeping backyard poultry please listen to Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer, a nationally broadcast radio show all about keeping backyard poultry and living a self-sustaining lifestyle. Listen weekdays at 12:00pm EST here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/backyardpoultry