Sunday, June 28, 2015

Chicken update

The chicks we started on May 1 are now over seven weeks old, and are no longer chicks at all. It had been a long time since I had tended livestock as a kid on the farm, so it's with renewed amazement that I see how quickly they grow. I partitioned off a part of our new barn for the coop, and then built this permanent run outside. We used cattle panels and chicken wire, as well as buried hardware cloth to discourage predators from digging under the fence. We will still shut them in at night in the varmint tight coop.

Next chicken project is to set up a mobile coop/roost and electronet to get them out in the rest of the pasture. I'm also building our own little abattoir, as we will do our own butchering.

This photo shows the sun shade I fashioned out of an old tarp canopy we have held on to forever, and are finally getting some use out of. I think the last time it was used was when the kids were in scouts.

Closer shot of the Black Australorps. The difference between roosters and hens is quite clear now. The other marked difference is between the Australorps and the New Hampshire Reds. While both were described as good breeds for foraging and free ranging, the Australorps are MUCH more confident and ready to explore, eat various tidbits, and just seem more alert and quick to react to their environment. On the other hand, the Reds are growing quicker.

This shot shows the hole I hacked in our new barn. I'm still working on a better latch/door mechanism.

In hopefully another month or two, we'll be sending most of the roosters to "freezer camp", and then just waiting for the hens to start laying. Since it will  be late fall by the time they should start, I will need to set up some lighting on a timer to encourage laying as the days get shorter.


  1. Hi Steve,
    Nice work. I'm assuming you raised the eggs in an incubator? They've grown really quickly.The ratio of hens to freezer camp candidates (nice one, very amusing) can be very variable. How did you go on that front? The australorps are good layers, I've got a few here, although mine are a bit prone to leg mites for some strange reason whilst other breeds aren't, but other than that, they're really hardy. Are you planning to over winter them or start a new batch next year?
    Cheers. Chris

  2. G'day Chris: since we are starting from scratch, our chickens came from a hatchery. I don't know how it works in Oz, but here, you can order day old chicks by breed, and get your flock going quickly. I am not aware of any outfits that sell fertile eggs. We do plan to hatch our own, but not sure if we will do an incubator or let broody hens do their thing. Maybe both?

    M/F ratio- the hatcheries will sell you sexed chicks, either all male or female, or what they call straight run, meaning whatever nature did, so ~50-50. We chose straight run, but I have not counted to see what our actual split is, since it doesn't matter that much with 50 chickens. Probability evens out over enough occurrences, so I imagine we are close to 25 chickens for the freezer, and 25 hens will give WAY more eggs than my wife and I can eat, so we'll be sharing/bartering with the neighbors.

    We will overwinter the layers and a couple roosters, and next spring will decide whether to order more chicks for meat or start hatching our own. I need to research incubators first.

    Leg mites! I need to read up on that one. We've been very lucky so far, no losses, and no diseases that I have noticed.

    What other breeds do you have ( and like) ? I've read so many opinions on line, but would value your opinion.

  3. Hi Steve. G'day from wintery down under! You can buy both fertile eggs or day old chicks. I've been tending to purchase point of lay chickens from the local agricultural shows and local poultry association auctions as the quality and choice is quite good. People from your part of the world were advising against this though, but I'm not really sure why? Doesn't matter. The fertile eggs can come via mail order down under.
    Yeah, I'll be interested to hear how it turns out but as you correctly say, it shouldn't matter and a few extra meat birds is a good thing.

    Leg mites seem to be the only problem so far after many years. It was an error on my part to make the laying boxes from flooring plywood as mites can live in timber. I've now lined the boxes with heavy duty plastic (damp proof course used in buildings) and the problem seems to have gone away. The perches and other areas are steel reinforcing rods which the birds are quite happy with. They'll score a few swings (seriously!) and differing height perches in the new enclosure which should keep them happy and entertained!

    Many thanks! The Araucana's are a good breed - very hardy and they always float to the top of the pecking order and lay plenty of blue eggs. I'm also a bit of a fan of the Plymouth Rock birds because they are also hardy, good layers and they look like a good meat bird too. They're a bit timid though at first until they find their feet but would probably never make boss chicken status! The standard go to laying bird down under is the Isa Brown which are prolific layers, but have tons of personality and curiosity and I reckon they're pretty good too. Silkies make good mother hens if you can handle a bird that may go broody 5 times per year. A few years back I had a Rhode Island Red rooster that was a bit of a gentle spirit and not the aggressive type. Light Sussex are similar to the Isa Browns but up to a little bit less mischief. Wyandotte's are good meat birds, but lay a few eggs too - the birds here are massive compared to the other ladies.

    That is about it! I'll be very interested to hear of your experiences as the season progresses. Cheers. Chris