So I just now realized that I have yet to post a chicken specific post?! What kind of chicken lady am I? I guess with garden preparations in full swing, and my laying hens all grown up and hitting full production they've taken a back seat. But, with the new meat chicks arriving next month, the new layer chicks I bought this morning on impulse, and the overwhelming amount of eggs in my basket, it's time to put my girls front and center.
Simply put I love chickens. I find them to be absolutely hysterical and if I can be honest, I can't believe that they haven't managed to be wiped out due to survival of the fittest. Anyone who owns chickens knows they aren't exactly the smartest animals, but, I think this is a majority of their charm and what makes them so entertaining.
That being said, I find myself constantly talking about my chickens like they were my children. I talk chickens to chicken and non-chicken people alike. And one thing I have noticed even in the chicken people is how much you can learn whether you're a seasoned vet or new to the hen world. I've had many conversations with people who raise and have raised chickens for a while, I will mention a tip or trick I've used and they go "wow I didn't know that". You learn something new everyday right? I decided that I should compile a list of some of the tips and tricks relevant to raising chickens that have helped me with my layers most. Maybe you already know about all of them, maybe you don't! I narrowed my list down to my top three, so if you have a helpful tip, please feel free to share!
1. Introducing new chicks to an existing flock
With spring officially here, it's chick season! And unless this is your first batch of chicks, at some point you are going to have to introduce the new pullets to the existing flock. Yes, there is a pecking order, and if not introduced slowly and properly, it can get quite ugly. I didn't have a chick named Bloody Face for no reason!
First things first, don't even think about physically introducing the two until the chicks are completely feathered. Keep them separated! I keep mine in two separate locations so the hens don't even see them. Some breeds are naturally more aggressive than others, and you don't want to run the risk of the hens somehow getting to the chicks. Aggression aside, quarantining the chicks is safe for them and for your hens. No matter where you get the chicks from, you do run the risk of potential sickness/disease and you do not want it spreading over to your existing flock as well.
Once fully feathered, you can introduce the newcomers to the hens and see how they interact. There may be some squawking and pecking, but unless you have an all out brawl, allow them to interact. Again, there is a pecking order that needs to be established. Do this as often as you can each day, still keeping them separated at night. Once you feel confident that the flock is not a threat to your new chickens, you can take down the partition in the coop. Aside from some initial hazing, the process really does go smoothly without any issues as long as you don't try and rush the process. They will be accepted by the original group and even start forming their own cliques like a bunch of teenage girls.
2. how to get hens to lay in the nesting box
Anyone who has had chickens long enough has experienced this before. At some point whether it be when the hens first start laying, or two years in and they seem to "forget", they just don't want to lay in the nesting box. If you're lucky or your hens are in a restricted area they are at least laying in the coop somewhere. Even more complicated though, is when your chickens free range and they don't make it into the coop at all. They have found another spot to lay in and depending on how much outdoor space you have, it can be difficult to find. These are two separate problems that need to be handled accordingly.
Chickens laying in the coop, but not nesting box
Although inconvenient and at times irritating if you get damaged eggs, this is a very easy and relatively quick fix. They at least know that they should be going in the coop which is the hard part, they just don't know where. To make them lay in the nesting box you can use any round or egg shaped object such as plastic easter egg or golf ball, and place it in the box. They see this as an egg, and then think "hey, this is where where these things are supposed to go!" It may take a little while for them to get the hint because as I mentioned earlier, they aren't the smartest animals. But, they will learn. At that point you can leave the eggs/golf balls in if you wish just to avoid any future confusion.
The one thing you don't want to use is a real egg. Hardboiled or not, this is a bad idea. If they decide to peck it for whatever reason and start eating it, this is a very tough habit to break. So best to avoid the temptation all together.
Chickens laying somewhere other than the coop
I personally have been down this road plenty of times. Back when I lived in PA I had about a dozen layers of varying ages, free ranging on unlimited acreage. I personally had 40 acres of mostly pasture, and my neighbor (I use that word loosely as she was a half mile down the road) had over 300 acres. So they could essentially go wherever their little hearts desired. So when I would notice a drop in production, and they weren't molting, I knew something was up.
Unfortunately the only thing that seemed to work to get them to lay in the coop was to essentially "recalibrate" them. Because I didn't know who was laying elsewhere, I had no choice but to shut all of my hens in the coop and keep them there for a few days. I hated to do it, as they were used to running free, but it was necessary. It only takes a few days of being shut in and forcing them laying in the nesting boxes to get back into the routine. After a few days, let them back out to range and you'll be filling your egg basket again!
3. Replenish calcium to ensure hard shelled eggs
Laying an egg is nutritionally draining and physically demanding on a hen. Making sure your hens have a well balanced diet and are getting the required nutrients is key to overall health and egg production. If your layers aren't getting the proper nutrition, the first sign will be a drop or stop in egg production (not to mention they will look a bit haggard). In addition to their feed; scraps, free foraging, or supplements will ensure they are getting a well rounded diet (and make tastier eggs). One of the easiest nutrients to target specifically is calcium. Calcium is what makes egg shells hard, and because they lay so frequently, it is very important that they are consuming plenty.
Farm and garden stores sell crushed oyster egg shells that you can supplement chicken feed with. But why buy it if you already have it for free? Chicken egg shells do exactly the same thing, and you already have them! When you crack your eggs, keep the shells in a bowl/container. They will dry out and become brittle, and can be blended up in your food processor.
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