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A Simple and Delicious Egg Salad Sandwich

A delicious egg salad sandwich 

A favorite treat following the week of Easter is a good egg salad sandwich.  We always have an abundance of colored hard boiled eggs and this is an easy way to use some of them up.  The ingredients are quite simple and can be made in a pinch.  I think the secret that makes this such a delicious version of egg salad is using cornichons.  Cornichons are small French pickles packed with flavor.  I purchase them from Trader Joes but they should be readily found in the specialty food section of the grocery.  Spread this easy salad between a nice crusty roll or toasted piece of French baguette for a wow factor

Ingredients:

6 hard-boiled eggs chilled
1/3 cup mayonnaise-adjust to your preferred consistency
2 tablespoons diced sweet yellow onion
6 cornichons-cut into small round "coins"
Salt and pepper to taste
Crusty bread

Preparation:

Dice the hard boiled eggs into bite sized pieces.  Add them to a medium mixing bowl.  Add the mayonnaise, onion, cornichons, salt and pepper.  Mix until everything is well incorporated and coated with mayonnaise.  Spread between two slices of bread.

More than One Way to Raise Chickens

 A Buff Orpington hen 

Just like raising children, people have many different opinions and styles regarding how to raise and keep a flock of backyard chickens. Time and time again my heart breaks when I see people telling others that there is only one correct way to do things. There are many ways to do things and do them well. We are very lucky to have so many wonderful options out there to help provide our chickens with a wonderful quality of life.

There are many ways to feed your chickens...

Do you choose organic feed?

Which brand?

What kinds of treats?

Do you add supplements like food grade diatomaceous earth?

Do you let them have free access to as much food as they like or do you limit their daily intake?

Do you share scraps from you table with them?

Do you give them dairy products?

What types of feeders do you use-hanging, trough, PVC tube dispenser, a rubber bowl?

There are many ways to give water to your chickens...

Do you use tap water?

Do you give them water from the hose?

Do you use a metal or plastic waterer?

Do you use a nipple waterer?

Do you use a large black rubber bowl?

Do you add anything to the water like vitamins and electrolytes, apple cider vinegar or make them tea?

If you do add supplements to their water, how often do you do it?

When your chickens are ill...

Do you take them to the vet?

Do you cull them?

Do you separate them from the flock?

Do you keep them in with the flock?

Do you bring them in the house?

Do you give them medicine?

There are many ways to house chickens...

Do they have a little house or a big house?

What material is it made out of?

How do you provide shade for your flock?

Do you cover the run?

Do you keep a light on in the coop in the Winter to keep up egg production?

Do you use straw, pine shavings, hay or a combination?

Do you keep decoy eggs in the nesting boxes?

There are many ways to predator proof...

Do you use hardware cloth or chicken wire?

Did you bury the wiring all the way around the coop?

Do you let your flock free-range?

Do you keep them confined?

Do you lock up all the coop doors at night?

My advice is to investigate for yourself. When you discover something that might work for your flock or your coop seek out more than just opinions. Seek out reputable sources with evidence based facts. As you can see from above, just like life there is never one way to do things. Sometimes, certain thing work better for different breeds, during different seasons and climates and in different places across the globe. Sometimes you may have to try a few things in order to determine what works best.  Sometimes what works for one person will not work for you.  The best advice I can share is to do what works best for you.  After all, no one knows your flock better than you.

Introduction to Keeping Chickens Part 5 of 5

A photo of Melissa CaugheyToday, I am sharing the conclusion of my five part series in getting started with backyard chickens.  Raising chickens has been a very easy experience.  I would highly recommend it to everyone that is interested.  It is addictive and provides fresh eggs for you and your family as well as many other life lessons.  Spring time is almost here and so are the chicks at your local feed and grain stores.

EGG LAYING

Most pullets will begin laying eggs around 20 weeks.  However, don't be surprised if you are waiting until 6 months of age for your first egg.  Larger breeds take longer to get there.  Remember, you will need one nesting box per four chickens.  Often, one box turns out to be everyone's favorite.  It is not uncommon that I find two chickens in the same box laying eggs, while the other boxes remain empty!

Once chickens reach 20 weeks of age, make sure that you have plenty of calcium available to your flock.  This will help the chickens create nice strong eggshells.  Some individuals even refeed the chickens' egg shells back to them.  Spread the egg shells on a baking sheet.  In an oven on low, dry the egg shells to remove the moisture.  Once removed from the oven and cooled, gently crush the egg shells into small unrecognizable pieces.  These can now be re-fed to the chickens.

Sometimes, though rare, you will find that one of your girls becomes egg bound. This can happen for a number of reasons. The egg becomes stuck in the vent and you will need to assist the egg out of the chicken.  If you can visualize the egg, you can help.  Wrap your chicken's head and body in a towel, keeping the back end exposed.  I find this keeps the chicken calm.  With some Vaseline, gently lubricate the egg and try to coax it out of the vent, taking great care not to break it.  There are techniques available as well if you cannot visualize the egg.   After success, you will see that the vent area will have pink tissue exposed.  The vent is prolapsed.  Apply some Neosporin and if severe, Preparation H to the vent area and place the chicken in a dark (does not stimulate egg laying) warm place to rest. Be sure to provide food and water.  After a day or so, return her to her flock.  Hopefully, the next egg she lays will be easier for her to pass.

CHICKEN DIET

You will find that your chickens love to eat kitchen scraps as well as tasty findings around the yard that they discover on their journeys.  Once pullets reach egg laying age, they should be eating layer grade food.  Roosters are fine to eat layer pellets.  It does not harm them in any way. 

Chickens love to eat apples, berries, breads, broccoli, corn, cucumbers, lettuces and greens, melons, oatmeal, rice, squash, zucchini, grapes tomatoes and pumpkins. Chickens should NOT EAT salt, citrus, processed foods from the kitchen, potato peels, avocados, sodas/carbonated beverages, chocolate, coffee/coffee grounds and onions.  They should also avoid greasy foods as well.  Kitchen scraps should always be fed in moderation.  The chickens will lay best if they primarily eat their layer pellets.  Here is a more thorough list.

I also supplement my flock's diet with food grade diatomaceous earth and I put apple cider vinegar with the mother in it in their water, 1 tablespoon per gallon, as well as electrolytes and vitamins during times of stress.  In addition, once a week, I give them organic plain yogurt. In my experience, it does not give my chickens diarrhea. It helps with preventing egg eating and also acts as another calcium source.

PREDATORS

Depending on where you live, there are many predators that would like to have your flock for their next meal.  If you are a responsible flock owner and you take proper precautions, the risk of losing one of your beloved chickens to a predator can be minimized.  Potential predators include fox, coyotes, bob cats, fisher cats, raccoons, weasels, rats, snakes and hawks.  Here are some helpful tips:

1. Use predator proof locks on all your coop’s and run’s doors.

2. Use only ½ inch hardware cloth on your coop and run. Do not use chicken wire.

3. Bury the hardware cloth 18 inches around the perimeter of your run and coop, bending the bottom portion of the buried wire out a couple of inches. This will help deter digging predators.

4. Remember to lock up your flock every night in the coop.

5. Install motion activated lighting near your coop.

4. Remember to lock up your flock every night in the coop.

5. Install motion activated lighting near your coop.

KEEPING ROOSTERS

We never intended on having a rooster.  However, because Sikie Bantams are difficult to sex, we ended up with two roosters.  Unfortunately Peanut was rehomed and Chocolate was too.   If you decide to keep a rooster, you will need to take a few more steps to be sure that he does not become a nuisance to those around you.  I would also recommend that you check with your local laws and verify that you can keep a rooster.

Roosters are noisy and do not crow only during the daylight hours. Roosters will crow at any time of the day, even in the middle of the night. They crow for several reasons, not only due to light exposure. They crow to assert their territory, ward off danger and to alert the flock.  When keeping a rooster, you need to be respectful of your neighbor's rights. Like barking dogs, rooster can become annoying to those within earshot.

1. Keep your rooster in the coop during evening and early morning hours.

2. If your rooster crows for more than 5 minutes consistently, investigate the cause.

3. Provide distractions to help with crowing, such as treats and scratch.

4. Discuss the rooster with your neighbors. Consider sharing your eggs with them. A dozen eggs can create an amicable relationship with your neighbors.

5. Welcome neighbors to stop in and visit your flock. The chickens might enjoy your neighbors bringing them treats like celery and lettuce.

6. Re-home aggressive roosters.

BROODY HENS

Hens go broody when they seek to hatch some babies of their own.  Often you will know that a hen has gone broody, because she sits on the nest even when it is empty.  Broodiness, if let to run its course, lasts about 20 days.  While she is broody, she will briefly come off the nest one or two times per day to eat, drink and poop.  There are techniques that you can try to break a hen of its broodiness.  In my opinion, they are cruel.  I prefer to let nature run its course. It is a good habit to harvest the eggs from the nesting boxes a few times per day.   This helps to decrease broodiness.  Be sure to keep a fresh supply of water and food close too.  She will not venture too far away from her nest, eggs or no eggs.

HATCHING EGGS

If you have a broody hen and a rooster, you can try hatching some of your eggs.  A hen will sit on any fertilized eggs.  You can even purchase eggs from a hatchery, if you have a broody hen.  You can also incubate eggs on your own with an incubator. 

Either way, it takes anywhere from 19-21 days to hatch eggs.  If you are hatching eggs the natural way, you will need to create a brooder and a safe haven for the mother hen to be!  Also, it is a good idea to set up visitation of the broody hen with her original flock.  This way they remember each other.  It will be easier to reintroduce them with minimal disturbance of the pecking order and avoid you having to deal with broody poop!

Be sure to candle your eggs at about one week and then at 14 days to determine that they remain viable.  Eggs that are not fertilized or no longer have developing fetuses within them will turn rotten.  They can emit harmful gases and can even explode!  It is best to remove them as soon as possible.

ILLNESSES

At some point sooner or later, one of your chickens will be under the weather.  It is best to remove that chicken from the rest of the flock.  Some people will cull their chickens once they appear ill.  I take mine to a veterinarian that specializes in birds/chickens.  There have been two instances where the vet has helped restore my chickens' health.  Although there is a lot of information on the internet about dealing with sick chickens, it is my opinion that they should only serves as guides.  It is always best, when available in your area, to see the chicken vet.  They are the experts.  They had many years of schooling regarding avian illnesses and they cannot be replaced by the internet.

Introduction to Keeping Chickens Part 4 of 5

 A baby Silkie explores her surroundings 

THE FIRST SIX WEEKS 

I think that you will be utterly amazed at the pace in which these adorable little chickens grow!  Don't blink because you will miss it!  Take the time to enjoy them.  They should start to develop a pecking order.  Every flock has one.  By watching your flock, you will be able to determine things such as; Who eats first?  Who eats last?  Who seems like an outsider?  Who sleeps next to whom?  Who plays together?  Who is the smartest one?  Who is the fastest?  Your answers will help to determine their pecking order.  The idea of a pecking order is hardwired into every chicken from days when they had to survive in the wild.  Each chicken will have a role.  These roles are fought for or settled on depending on how the chickens jockey for position.  There is not much you can do to change it.  Once a true order is established, it should not change.   The only exception to this is if you add or subtract anyone from the flock.  Of note, roosters are not part of the pecking order.  Roosters are separate from the hens in this manner.  If you have more than one rooster, there will be an alpha rooster and the other will be submissive to him.  They may fight now and then and sometimes it is deadly.  The rooster's role is to be a protector of the flock and to fertilize eggs.  If a predator attacks, it is the rooster that will sacrifice himself for the sake of the girls.

If you have a warm sunny day and temperatures outside are not too far off from the brooder's temperature, feel free to let the chicks go into a small enclosure outside.  We put our chicks in the run.  I suggest starting with small increments of 15 minutes.  As they get closer to six weeks of age, they can spend a couple of hours outside depending on the temperature.  When they do go outside, be sure to provide them with shade, food and water at all times.

It is also a great idea to introduce some toys for your chicks.  Growing larger in a tiny space like the brooder can create chicken boredom.  My chicks enjoyed reading the newspaper.  They loved to scratch away the pine shavings to reveal people's faces.  Then they would peck at them for hours.  They also loved it when I put cardboard paper towel rolls in there too.  They would peek through the tubes at each other and try to roost upon them.  Until they got the hang of it, it was like a log rolling contest.  At about 2 weeks, they will also begin to practice roosting.  Chickens should sleep on roosts.  It helps keep them clean and provides them with a feeling of safety.  Try placing some sort of skinny stick just wide enough for the chicks' tiny feet in the brooder.  I found one outside in the woods.  Initially, I placed it about 2 inches off the brooder floor.  As they grow they will need it raised.  This provides exercise and roosting practice for these little chicks.

SETTING UP YOUR PERMANENT COOP AND RUN 

Now is the time to start preparing the area for your permanent coop and run.   The decision that you will first need to make is whether your chickens are going to be primarily confined or primarily free-ranging.  It doesn't mean that they can't do both.  It will just need to be figured into the plans.  It is estimated that standard sized chickens need 4 square feet of living space if they are free-ranging and they need 10 square feet of living space if they are confined.   I am defining living space as the square footage of both the coop and the run.  Bantam breeds like the Silkies do not require as much space because they are smaller.  To determine square footage, take the length and multiply it by the width.  For example, if your coop is 3' by 4' then it is 12 square feet.

We decided that we would keep our chickens confined for most of the day.  They do get to free range about an hour a day in the afternoon but we are always in the yard with them.  We came to this decision because of potential predators in the area.  We live near conservation land.  This land is home to many predators including hawks, coyotes, foxes, fisher cats, raccoon, and opossum to name a few.  If you choose to free-range your flock, you must accept that you are going to lose a member of your flock now and then.    We have had several friends who have lost chickens in both the night and broad daylight.  The chickens were stolen as they were free ranging and also through coop break-ins.  This was too real for us and we did not want one of our pets becoming dinner.  Once you come do a decision on your spacing requirements, you are ready to think about your coop.

You can build coops or you can purchase them preassembled or ready to assemble.  There are many great coops available.  Here are the absolute essentials that you will need, keeping in mind the climate that you live in.  Coops should have easily accessible doors for cleaning and harvesting eggs.  Coops should have ventilation but no drafts.  Coops need roosts and they need to have predator proof hardware.  Coops should be water/snow proof.  Coops may require insulation for colder areas.  Coops should have a window of some sort to let in natural light and also assist with ventilation on warmer days.   Coops should be able to lock your chickens in at night.  Coops will also need one nesting box for four hens and an entry ramp.

The run should be constructed with 1/2 inch hardware cloth.  DO NOT USE CHICKEN WIRE.  Predators can rip right through it and raccoons do nasty things to chickens like pulling them through chicken wire.  Once you have set up the coop and the run, you will also need to predator proof the perimeter.  This requires burying hardware cloth in a 12" deep trench surrounding the run.  Fold the top edges into the run.  Once this is done, it might be enough to discourage predators.  There is a lot of other predator proofing paraphernalia out there.  It can all be found on the internet. 

TRANSITIONING OUTDOORS 

Once your chicks are fully feathered and day and evening temperatures are close to the brooder temperature of 65 degrees F after 6 weeks, they are ready to transition outside.  If you live in a cooler area, and the evening temperatures are still too cool, let the chickens go outside during the day and return them to the brooder at night.  This will help you acclimate them until warmer weather arrives.   Keep the chicks locked in the coop and run for 3 days before letting them free-range.  This allows them to become very familiar with their home.  As dusk approaches, the chicks should enter the coop on their own and go up onto the roosts.  At first, you may have to help them learn this.  I had to.  Now after the sun sets, the girls go in all by themselves.  I just close the door.  In the morning around 7:30, I let them out into the run.  I wait until all potential nocturnal predators have returned to their homes.  At this point, the girls are pretty self-sufficient.  I refill the feeders and change the water for the day and sometimes do not see them again until they get tucked into bed.  

FEEDING THE FLOCK 

Different manufacturers recommend transitioning chickens at different times to the various feeds available.  Based upon your flock's goals, I encourage you to research the feeds independently of this blog.  Please read the labels for clarification.  Chicken feed is created as follows:  chick starter, grower or developer, layer or broiler feed.  The goal for my flock is eggs.  I have all pullets.  They were on the chick starter until about 8 weeks.  Then they transitioned to the grower pellets until about 15 weeks and have been transitioned to the layer pellets.  They will remain on this for the rest of their lives.  Chicken feed also comes in a few forms.  These are mash, crumble or pellets.  I went with pellets because they create minimal waste when the chickens scratch in the feed with their beaks.  However, when I transitioned them, I had to mix the chick starter with pellets that I chopped up with a large kitchen knife.  At first, the girls had a difficult time eating the pellet form.  This lasted about 1 week until they got used to the pellets.  Now, I just give it to them as is.

In addition to providing the flock with fresh water at all times, I choose to give the chickens additional nutrients.  I mix about 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar into their water every day to promote healthy digestive tracts.  I also mix about 2% of food grade diatomaceous earth into their food supply as well.  For more information on diatomaceous earth, visit Fossils for Chickens.

Finally, I give my chickens organic scratch once a day.  Scratch consists of cracked corn, oats, and whole grains.  I usually feed them as much as it takes for them to eat in about 5 minutes.  I like to provide this in the late afternoon.  This helps to fill their crops prior to their bedtime.  As their bodies work on digestion, they produce heat to keep them warm, especially in the winter. 

In the conclusion of this series, I will discuss eggs, winterization, health concerns and food sources other than free ranging and chicken feed.

Introduction to Keeping Chickens Part 3 of 5

 Chicks a bit older can explore the outside during warm days 

THE ART OF CHICKEN HOMEMAKING/ CREATING A BROODER 

As the arrival of your chicks quickly approaches, you will need to create a brooder.  This will be their home for about the next 6 weeks.  For their first week of life, the chicks will need the brooder temperature to be about 95 degrees F.  This is maintained by your heat lamp.  As each week passes, the temperature is lowered by 5 degrees until you reach the outdoor equivalent or they are fully feathered.  When we had our chicks delivered in June, temperatures were already in the 70s outside.  At six weeks of age, they transitioned outside.   Our mid-July temperatures were in the mid-eighties at that point.  We only used the heat lamp with the 250 watt bulb for about 2 weeks.  After that, I used a regular household light bulb of various wattages in the heat lamp.  Some people create brooders in their bathtubs, living space, or sheds.  Just remember that chickens are messy, sometimes stinky and produce dust in this stage.  Thus, we set our brooder up in the garage.

Your brooder can also be a large cardboard box, a wooden box, or a galvanized metal tub.  I used a wooden box on loan from a friend for my six chicks.  It was about 2.5 feet by 2.5 feet and stood about 2.5 feet tall.  Depending on the size of your flock, you may require a larger enclosure.  On top of my brooder, I added an old guard from a screen door.  This prevented them from flying out or into the heat lamp.  Upon the screen door guard, I rested the heat lamp.  Remember that the goals of your brooder include keeping the chicks warm, providing fresh air, protecting them for predators like household cats and keeping them free from drafts.  These all must be taken into consideration.  Line the bottom of your brooder with large thick pieces of cardboard cut to size.  Upon the cardboard, spread newspaper.  Next add some fresh pine shavings about 2 inches thick.

The day before your chicks arrive, fill the feeder and place it inside the brooder.  The feeder should be filled with a combination of about 25% grit and 75% feed.  When my chicks were about 3 weeks, I added a child-size shoe box lid filled with feed and grit.  My chicks enjoyed learning to scratch that way!  It also kept them entertained for hours.  They were practicing being big chickens!!  Remember that the feed will need to be refreshed daily as the chicks poop everywhere.

Next fill the waterer and place it on a level spot.   As the chicks get older they will explore.  They will spill the water and put pine shavings in the waterer.  Thus it will need frequent checking.  It is recommended that you check on your chicks about 5 times per day.  You never know what they will get themselves into!  As the chicks grew larger, I placed the waterer up on two bricks placed side by side.  This helped keep the water clean and they were less likely to spill it.  The waterer should be cleaned daily with white vinegar.  Keep in mind that you may need to change the water a few times a day based on its cleanliness.  It is very important to have clean water.  Dirty water can make your chicks sick.

Next test your heat lamp.  Place a thermometer directly below the center of the heat lamp in the pine shavings.  Hang the heat lamp about 18 inches above the pine shavings.  DO NOT rely on the clip to hang the lamp.  It must be secured in a different fashion to prevent fires.  This lamp gets HOT!!   Monitor the lamp for about 10 minutes and check the temperature.  If it is 95 degrees F, perfect.  If not, adjust it higher to make it cooler and lower to make it warmer. At this point, you are all set.  Now it is just a waiting game until your chicks arrive.

ARRIVAL OF THE CHICKS 

The post office will call you immediately once your chicks have arrived.  I mean this literally!  If your chicks arrive in the middle of the night, be prepared to go and get them right away.  Be prepared to be awake for a little while because you will need to tend to them immediately when you get home.  My call came in the afternoon.  I was so giddy.  When I arrived at the post office, they told me that I had a "peeping" package.  Sure enough, I did.  They peeped all the way home.  I did my best to peep back.

When you get home, do not open the box in front of the kids.   Sometimes, although rare, a chick will perish in transit.  If this happens remove the other chicks and after you tend to the live chicks, you should bury the dead chick deeply into the ground.  This prevents disease transmission just in case the little one was sick.  However, it was most likely the stress of the adventure that caused the death.  Be sure to call the hatchery and just let them know after you have addressed the live chicks' needs.

Plug in your heat lamp.  Next, take each chick out individually.  First inspect the vent area.  If it is crusted over with poop, you will need to remove it.  This is called pasty butt.  Silkies are extremely prone to this.  If the crust is left, the chick will die.  I had to treat quite a few pasty butts along the way.  You will need to check all chicks for pasty butts every day.  To treat pasty butt, you will need to soak a paper towel in warm water.  Gently moisten the poop.  Do not pull as you will remove the chick's skin.  Gently work the water into the poop by rubbing it between 2 fingers.  Try to remove as much as you can so that the vent is exposed.  After you remove the poop, coat the vent area with Neosporin.  You may need to repeat this over the next few weeks.  Think of it as bonding.

Immediately after dealing with the pasty butt, teach your chick how to eat and drink.  Remember, they will imprint on you as their Mother Hen.  Dip the chick's beak into the water.  Make sure the chick drinks.  The chick will tilt its head up.  After the chick has taken a drink, dip the chick's beak into the food.  Then release the chick and repeat with each additional chick in your new flock.  Watch the chicks drink and eat.  Watch their behavior as well.  Do some seem weaker?  Do some seem tired?  These are the ones that will require close monitoring for the next 48 hours.  It is possible some may still perish.  After they eat and drink they will nap like newborn babies.  Usually, they will nap together like a patchwork quilt.  Nuzzling closely and quietly, you can see their little bodies breathing.  It is so sweet.

You will frequently want to check on the temperature.  If the chicks are too hot, they will stay away from the lamp hugging the edges of the brooder.  If they are cold, they will huddle under the heat lamp.  If they are just right, they will explore and be spread all over.    Listen carefully to your baby chicks.  You might hear a pleasure trill!  It is the utmost sign of chicken contentment.  It is the purr of a chicken and it is the most adorable thing you will ever hear.

Introduction to Keeping Chickens Part 2 of 5

The first Silkie to hatch 

Preparing for the arrival of the chicks was so exciting!  It was almost like Christmas.  We counted down and with each passing day, our anticipation rose!   In our household, it was a family affair.  I ordered the chicks in February for a June delivery date.  Why did I wait so long?  Well, I had a few reasons.  I wanted to do more research about their permanent coop and run.  I also knew that the chicks would grow very quickly.  In fact, at about 6 weeks they look like mini-chickens!  I wanted the kids participate in the experience as much as possible, so I waited until summer vacation.

About one week prior to the chicks' arrival, we went to our local Feed Store.  We are very lucky to have a terrific store about 10 minutes away that carries all types of livestock products.  They also carry Organic Chicken Feed!  I am a lucky girl and so are my chickens.  I think that one of the biggest decisions that you will have to make is whether you are going to feed your chickens organically or with a traditional non-organic feed.  We chose to go organic.

The USDA organic certification was never truly an option for our family.  The certification process is extremely rigorous including inspections, soil sampling and documentation.  The soil has to have no added chemicals for the past 7 years!  It was too much for me with my small backyard flock.  So, we decided that we would feed them organically and not worry so much about the rest.

Organic feed contains pure ingredients. They do not contain medications, heavy metals, animal by-products or preservatives.  There is also a variety of non-organic feed on the market.  My suggestion is to start reading the labels.  There are good feeds out there that are non-organic.  However, some non-organic feeds contain antibiotics, arsenic, ground up-dead chickens, animal by-products, chicken litter and feather meal.  YUCK!  It's no wonder that I started to think about my food sources!

The next choice is deciding whether to feed your chicks medicated vs. non-medicated feed.  Medicated feed offers baby chicks protection against Coccidiosis.  Some hatcheries also vaccinate against Marek's Disease. I highly recommend vaccinating your chickens for Marek's if this is available to you. The hatcheries do not vaccinate the Silkie Bantams.  So, half of my flock was vaccinated and the other half was not.  I fed them the non-medicated organic chick starter and they all turned out fine.  I credit this to paying close attention to keeping the brooder clean and dry. Good hygiene is very important.

Every manufacturer will recommend on the label how long to keep your chickens on a particular type of feed.  From chick starter, they will go onto a grower feed, then a layer or broiler feed, depending on your final intentions.  Once you decide on the feed, the rest is pretty straight forward.   

At the store, you will need to purchase a chick starter feed, a chick feeder, chick waterer, pine shavings, grit, a thermometer and a heat lamp with a 250 watt heat bulb.  I recommend purchasing one waterer and one feeder per 6-7 chicks.  The rest you can devise from household items and create your brooder.  I'll tell you how in my next part of this series.

Introduction to Keeping Chickens Part 1 of 5

So, how do I go about this, you ask? Well if you're like me you read everything you can get your hands on, check the internet and dive head first into something figuring you'll just troubleshoot along the way.  However, there is some planning to optimize your chicken experiences that will make life easier.  So, lets start at the beginning.  How do I get the chickens?

Ordering the Flock 

There are a few things that you need to ask yourself before you start.

1.  Do I want roosters?

2.  Do I want baby chicks or full grown egg laying hens?

3.  How many chickens do I want?

4.  What type of climate do I live in?

5.  What do I want my chickens for?  Pets, meat, eggs, or a combination?

There are many ways to get chickens.  Many hatcheries have mail order services.  The United States Postal service has been delivering live baby chicks in the mail since the early 1900s!  Depending on where you live, you can order day old baby chicks on-line from hatcheries.  Chick quantities depend on how fast they can deliver your chicks.  Chicks will huddle to keep warm.  The greater the number of chicks, the longer they can maintain their heat.  Thus if you are far from a large city, you may need to order a larger number of chicks.  Once hatched, baby chicks can survive 3 days without food and water because they ingest part of the egg prior to hatching.  My minimum order for Cape Cod was six.  We are about one hour from Boston. 

Once the baby chicks hatch, they start their journey.    I chose to have my birds sexed because I wanted all females.  YOU DO NOT NEED A ROOSTER TO GET EGGS.  All pullets, female chickens under one year of age, are born with about 4000 eggs.  Pullets start to lay eggs as early as 20 weeks to about one year.  Based upon the breeds you select, some are better at laying eggs than others.  I wanted chickens that were friendly, docile, good egg layers and cold hardy; thus the Austrolorp, Buff Orpingtons and the Silkie Bantams.  Note:  The Silkie Bantams lay smaller eggs.  Two of their eggs are equal to one standard breed's egg.

I paid extra to get all pullets.  I also paid for them to be vaccinated for Marek's disease.  With the sexing and the vaccination, each bird was on average about $12 and it was about $30 to overnight the package I loved the experience. 

The other option is to purchase egg-laying pullets.  Yes, you do get instant gratification.  If not stressed, the pullets will lay eggs immediately.  However, you must be careful because it is difficult to determine the age of the chicken and its overall health.  By researching on the internet, you should be able to find a reputable local farm or vendor that sells egg-laying pullets.

So now that you know about ordering chicks, how about getting ready for those chicks?  What are you going to order?







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