Chick Update – California Leghorn

California-LeghornFor those of you who are chick watchers here is an update on one of the new breeds for this year, California Leghorn.   It is a cross of a Leghorn, and a California Grey Rooster.    I chose this breed because it was suppose to be an egg laying machine and not as flighty/flaky as a standard Leghorn.   The California Grey is suppose to bring the calming effect to the cross-breed.  She is definitely one of the calmer birds this year.     I avoid white chickens because it makes them too much of a target for predators.  I had gotten the impression that they would be white who some black/grey splashes.   My little chick started out with some dark spots, but as she had feathered in she has lost all spots and become a pure white bird.

Four weeks is too early to be passing judgment on if this is a breed I will repeat or not, but the solid white makes my work to keep her safe is going to be much harder than I traditionally put into watching my flock.

Chickens in a Box

chix-boxNo I am not talking take out chicken dinner, I am talking baby chicks.   On Friday morning at 8:30 I got a call from the local post office to come pick up my box of baby chicks.   I pulled on my shoes and got in my rig and drove to town to pick up my box.

When I got there, everyone was fascinated by a box that came through the mail that was full of loud peeping.   Chicks in a box always cheep and peep, but this box was the loudest I had ever received.  They wanted to know if I had done it before, which I had.   They pepper me with more questions which I freely answered as I took my box and headed home.    It is a fun time to introduce others to the process of chickens and eggs.

My 15 baby chicks  they were all sorts of  colors.   Just the way I like it, pretty, different layers.   My invoice was stamped with males for warmth.   Bummer!   For the first time of having extra chicks as packing peanuts, I  could not tell who they were.   I could not tell the difference between the chicks I wanted and the boy chicks I did not want.  Bigger bummer!   It means that I am going to have five boys that will be strutting around with testosterone fever shortly.   It means nothing but trouble.  So I am hoping  they don’t fight much, leave the girls along and grow fast so they can go off to freezer camp in a few weeks.

Broody Girls – it gets worse

Yesterday I had a third hen go broody on me.  AGH!   I have six layers and three nest boxes this should be more than enough, and suddenly I am running short.

I have been going out several times a day and taking  the ladies out of the boxes, carrying them far away ( you can read that to mean out of the coop, out of the chicken run, well in the free range area  with the working  the ladies).  Yet they return home, so the next time I go out and check they are back in the nest box.  Broody hens have a different personality and do lots of talking.   Each time I enter the coop they issue all sorts of warning in with sounds telling to me that they are busy and I best go away.   They are not squawks, but sort of a muttering and cursing under their breath  letting me know I am  disturbing them.    It is also the time they are likely to peck at you to get you to leave them and their imaginary eggs alone.

I must tell you all that hens temps get a little higher when they go broody, keeping the nursery warm.   I am extremely cold blooded and I love to reach my hand under them and  feel the nearly hot place under their breast feathers the birds have  for their imaginary chicks.  That hot spot is what you need to break if you hope to stop all this.    You remove them to a place where they can not nest and they cool off.   In days when everyone had flocks, some birds who were good mothers were allowed to raise a brood of chicks.  If no chicks were wanted, the person responsible for gathering eggs did just what I do, throw them out (though I suspect they did not pick them up and spend as much time getting them out of the coop as I do.)  Today many folks have “exhibition pens” they can put a broody hen into.    It is a wire cage, with  no bedding and no nest, but plenty of fresh water and food.     Within two or three days this whole broody mess is over.

I am sure you are wondering, if it is that simple why don’t I just get on with it and stopping talking about it.  Some breeds are broodier than others, and mine are some of the breeds least likely to go broody.   In the past I have always been able to shake this behavior with just pulling them out several times a day.   I don’t have an exhibition pen, but do use a extra wire dog crate as my isolation chamber when I need it.   Unfortunately right now my new chicks that are still not fully integrated in to the flock are using it as part of their shelter.   The other problem  is space.   I am running two flocks, my adult flock and juvenile flock.   That means I am using some of the free space in my shed to make a second temporary coop.  The whole idea of juggling all that to make a 3rd area in my shed to for a no-more-broodiness set up seems like a lot of hassle.   But I have set a deadline of Monday.   If  at least one of them does not get over this they will be asked to cool their jets in the dog crate.

Integrated Flock Eating

This year’s young chicks snitch food out the layer’s feeder.

One of the problems of integrating a flock is feeding them.   There is a danger of too much calcium for little chicks if they eat calcium-rich layer food too soon.   On the other hand your layers need calcium to lay eggs with fully developed shells.  I only maintain a small flock of chickens and don’t need or want half-used bags of chicken feed left around my shed.

Here is my solution.     I allow my new chicks one 50 pound bag of  chick starter.   Once that bag is gone they go on an all-purpose flock raiser feed.  Flock raiser is an  all purpose food,  not perfect for any type of chicken, but it will work, sometimes requiring supplements.

During integration I swap my layers over to flock raiser as well.   Layers require the supplement of calcium with flock raiser and I use oyster shell during this time.    If my young ones have any chick starter left I continue to fill the feeder in the youngster’s pen with chick food until they finish off their bag. Then they too will move over to  all purpose flock raiser food.   Life will continue on this way until the first young one lays an egg, then I will let them finish off the flock raiser feed, and move them back to layer pellets.

Come late summer I will have only one type of feed left and it will fit in my mouse-proof can.  No problems and a healthy flock of layers for the winter.


Flock Integration

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One of the hardest parts of new chicks is integrating your flocks.    Many small flock owners struggle with this.  It is part of the knowing your small flock’s personalities.  There are some human emotions going on as well  that make us want one big happy flock. Eventually probably, but the transitions hmmmmm, well not so easy.  Mean vs. cute, old vs young, big vs little, and the list goes on.

One of the things I have found that works for me is I start the integration as soon as possible.    No I don’t put them together but I let them see and be aware each other at a young age.    I have a coop that is in larger shed.   I put my new flock out in the shed in a combination dog crate and exercise pen.   The big girls walk by them each morning as they head out to forrage.   If the weather turns grungy my layers return to the shed, since I have not natural shelter.    My big girls hover around the edges of the pen hoping to show the chicks they are a lesser chicken than they are with a firm peck.   Soon this changes and the big girls become ho-hum and are on to bigger and better things than hanging around the edges of the ex-pen hoping to get a peck in (not the loving kind). The little girls lessons during this time is to be quick and avoid confrontation.

The next step is to create an opening in the ex-pen that is only big enough for the little chicks to pass through.   Chicken’s are not the the brightest nor are they driven to chase for too long so I don’t make this complicated.   I tie a piece of cardboard across the top of the door on the ex-pen.  Just tall enough for th the little ones to get in and out.   If you are not sure error on the side of small.   Soon your chicks will figure this out and be out in the rest of the world when the big girls go out to forage, and be back inside the security of the ex-pen lickety split at the first sign of the big girls.   As you chicks get larger you can start to raise the cardboard.

At nine weeks my chicks are as ready to be set free each morning as the big girls.   Each day they get braver and wander further, but already they are learning as the sun goes down, so return the big girls and it is time to put yourselves back  in their corral for bed.   My youngsters are still less than half the size of my laying flock and full integration is still aways away, but this process makes it much easier.   Integration starts early, and by the time I am ready to put them all in one coop they figured out how to make it work all by themselves.

I’ve posted a two picture slide show, where you can see how the cardboard barrier at work.