Saturday, March 7, 2009

Blossom and Fern's Quickie Guide to Keeping Chickens

by Fern and Blossom

On May 11, 2007, we got chickens at Blue Seal. They were only two days old. We got six. They were as fluffy as milkweed puffs. We kept them in a cat carrier, but you could also keep them in a tall cardboard box with straw or pine shavings. Keep the water and food in the box. All of that you should put in a sheltered place, like an attic or a basement or a shed. You should put in a heat lamp. You can turn the light off in the day, but remember to turn it back on at night because they might freeze.

And you should know this too, if you want them to be friendly and safe: You need to be gentle and just let one or two out at a time and don’t squeeze them because their bones are fragile.

Here is the way to take care of the food and water. You can give them regular water. Change it every day. The food is called Chick Starter. It has corn and vitamin D.

It takes eight weeks until you should build a coop. The coop has to be sealed tight so rain or snow can’t get in. Put a lock on the door so raccoons or other predators can’t get in at night. Make a run on the side of the coop. Wrap chicken wire on all sides of it. Staple in all places; you can put wire ties in places where you can’t staple. Cut a hole big enough for a chicken between the coop and the run. In the winter, you should put insulation all around inside the house, but nail boards over it or the chickens will tear it apart. Make a little door into the run. Chickens don’t like the snow, so they won’t come out much in the winter.

We like to let our chickens free range as often as possible. In the summer, they love to fluff in the dirt and peck in the grass. They swallow gravel to help them digest food. They love to catch earthworms; they slurp them like noodles. They also like lizards and mice brains left behind by cats. And they eat toads from little watery places. When they are big enough to free range, they also can start eating kitchen leftovers. Ours especially love picking at cabbage cores, kale stems, and corn cobs.

Don’t leave them out at night because raccoons and foxes and coyotes could eat them. And in the day you should watch them because of hawks and neighborhood dogs.

If you have a rooster, it might jump on one of the hens to try to have a chick.
You should build nesting boxes when they are four months old. Also about then, they should eat a kind of food called Crumbles because it makes their eggshell thicker. When they start to lay their eggs, only one hen might lay every other day. By about six months old, all the hens should be laying almost every day.

They start laying between four and six months. If they don’t start out laying in the nesting boxes, a fake wooden egg might help give them the idea. When they start laying you should let them out more in the afternoon because you don’t want them to be laying places you can’t find the eggs. Don’t bother them when they are trying to lay eggs. Try to get their eggs every day because they might crack.

And you had better put a perch in the coop so they can sleep and keep warm in the winter. If you want your chickens to lay more eggs, you should put a dim light in. If you put a strong light in, our daddy says they might start to pant.

In the winter, they might get all cooped up and start to pick on one of the chickens. One of our hens got pecked on the neck, and we put her in a cat’s carrier and brought her into the basement to heal. Also you could put your chicken in a big box with holes on each side. Get an old bowl and put some food in it. Do the same with the water. In the spring our hen was able to go back to the flock with no trouble. We just waited for the first warm day when they could all free range, and that night, she went home with everyone else.

It might help them not to peck each other, if you hang a cabbage in the coop during the winter. It gives them green food and something to do.

After the first and second year, they might not lay as often. They can live for about eight years.

If they don’t have fourteen hours of light, they don’t lay. So you should put a light in the house in the winter.


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