I have nine hens in my chicken coop: six pullets that have just started laying small eggs, and three aging biddies who lay huge eggs… once in a while. We love the jumbo eggs—one per person is enough for breakfast—but we are only finding three or four per week, whereas the six pullets are together laying five or six eggs per day. In the meantime, the hens are all munching down on laying pellets at pretty much the same pace.
I just avoided a war.
Yesterday morning, I went out to tend my flock, and realized that my new pullets, hatched around June 1, were nearly the same size as my mature hens. When they were mere children, they fit just fine in their twelve square foot cage (above). (For their safety, it’s important to separate young birds from the main flock.) Now, however, it was clear that they needed more room. Although I had planned to wait until next month, I decided this was the time to release them into the main coop.
It’s almost September, National Chicken Month. I adore chickens. Put those two facts together, and I have the perfect opportunity to enlighten you with some chicken trivia.
- Chickens are the most numerous bird species on the planet.
- Wild chickens are still found in south Asia, where birders know them as Red Jungle Fowl. There is also a feral population in Hawaii and in other spots around the world. If you want to check “Jungle Fowl” off your life list, you must find one of these wild birds.
- According to Red Bird Farms, the average American eats 80 pounds of chicken every year. (We prefer the skinless, boneless breast, but other cultures prefer dark meat. Much of our domestically produced dark meat is shipped to other countries.)
Chickens can be pretty darn mean. The terms “pecking order” and “henpecked” have a firm basis in how a chicken society operates. Like many other animals—wolves and elephants come immediately to mind—there is an alpha chicken (left) who literally rules the roost. Every other bird knows its place too, which (most of the time) results in peaceful coexistence.
Since my flock lacks a rooster, we have a queen hen. The other hens kowtow to her. She is always first to grab the scraps I toss into their coop, and the first to sample the fresh water when I clean their basin. And then there is the poor biddy in last place (right). She’s lacking feathers in a number of spots, not because she’s molting, but because the other hens pull them out.
Your chicks have arrived! You got the call from the feed store or post office to come pick them up. Now it’s your job to be a mother hen for the next several months. What do you do?
Newly hatched chicks have a few simple needs. Meet those needs and they should grow into adult, egg-laying hens in about six months.
It’s spring. Bulbs are blooming, birds are singing, and feed stores have fluffy yellow baby chicks!
When we were still living in Silicon Valley, finding a source for baby chicks was a challenge. These days, no matter where you live, buying chicks is easy. There are lots of hatcheries that sell by mail-order. It may seem odd that day-old baby chickens are shipped in a cardboard box via snail mail, but it actually works very well. Newly hatched chicks can survive without food or water for the day or two it takes to arrive at their destination. The post office will call you as soon as the box arrives, and you have to be ready to rush over and pick up your brood.
Last week I wrote about the design and layout of chicken coops. Today we’ll talk about the inside.
If your coop is large, you’ll need some light inside so that you and the hens can see. Also, chickens lay eggs when days are long, then stop and molt when fall arrives. If you want them to continue producing eggs into the darker months, you’ll need an artificial light source (and electricity).