Its a Boy

Gold Laced Wyandotte, male at 4 weeks.

Gold Laced Wyandotte, male at 4 weeks.

I buy sexxed chicks.   This means I buy chicks that someone has decided their gender on the same day they are born, before shipping them to me.   Sexxing chicks is done by one of three methods.

  • Some chicks are color sex linked.   This means that when they are born they have a color trait that is specific to one gender or another.    Easy as pie
  • Some chicks are feather sexxed.   This means someone looks at their emerging wing feathers and a pro can tell by what they see if they are male or not.   Not so easy
  • Lastly it is just like you think.   A pro takes a look at the little parts.  Pretty amazing they can sex chicks at all. Beyond hard and gross.

As you can imagine sexxing is an inexact science.    Though my hatchery has done  a pretty darn good job over the years.  This year I have one who slipped by and tricked the sexxers.  My gold laced wyandotte is a boy!

Some baby chicks will not reveal their sex for a many weeks, but most of them start to shows some sign of gender between four and six weeks.    This boy is already showing deep red in his comb and his waddles (that part that hangs below the beak) is already starting to develop.)   I must admit I am disappointed this breed has always been sold out, or when I have bought it the local farm  supply it has not survived.   I finally get one and it lives and it is MALE!

Male Gold Laced Wyandottes can be very handsome roosters.   I am hoping he might be a rooster with a good disposition and he can stay around for the summer.   A good rooster will keep watch on the flock while they are out free ranging.   I will keep you posted on this developing matter.

Testerone Gone Wild

I was on the road last week.  It was week 3 for the chicks.   My husband was in charged of the new chick care while I was gone.  He did well in my absence…none died.

I came home to find that last week my new chicks had made great strides in not only growing larger,  feathering out, but they began to start showing which sex they likely were.   I could see many large combs with pink showing.  Looking under their beak you could see signs of waddles developing.  I was began to start pronouncing certain birds males.  They had reached a new level of maturity, it was time for them to make a move to new digs.

I set up space in the shed outdoors for the baby chicks.   It had twice the floor space they had had the week before with multiple heat lamps and feeders.   I have been watching them as them made the adjustment to the space. They went from “fraidy cats” who traveled in groups  to brave birds who explored all corners of their world alone.  One would think with the double space I had bought a little time that the trouble with  young roosters with raging hormones would cause.   Instead almost immediately we started to see posturing of male chickens challenging each other.    The new roosters were standing tall and dancing around each other.   Today my little roosters have started to grab my new little laying hens by the neck and making mating overtures. Soon today one of my hens had a head with no feathers.

Chickens can become quite cannibal when they peck each other if blood is drawn.   I  had to take action to stop all of this.  We did not have the time or things on hand to remedy this.      I ordered a second dog exercise pen today, that will be delivered tomorrow.   Tomorrow I will once again double the floor space for my new chickens with the roosters in one and the hens in another.   Once I ordered I was wondering if this would blow over.    Tonight I got confirmation I had “done right” when one of my full-sized birds “jumped the fence” and went into the baby chicks pen.   My little roosters repeatedly challenged her.   I wish I had had my camera to capture all this. Imagine a three-week-old rooster challenging an adult bird.   Testosterone gone wild.

Chickens are like Cowboys – most of what you think isn’t true

Chickens are sort of like cowboys.  There is a lot urban beliefs on what is based on TV shows and Hollywood movies.  If you live in true cowboy country you know many westerns are just plain crazy with things that are preposterous.    I am a transplant to Montana, and though I grew up in rural Illinois, my cowboy IQ before moving west was shameful.   After living here for a number of years I  have friends who own ranches, are married to true cowboys,  help out during branding, love to help bring  herds down in the fall, lady friends who have barrel raced for years, and  neighbors who have arenas on their property so they can practice their team roping skills.   I know so much more, but my cowboy IQ is still pretty low.    Some of favorite urban legends about the west are: horses whinny and talk all the time,  you can get off your horse and if you don’t tie it up it will be there when you come back twenty minutes later, all cowboys are sexy except the old chuck wagon cook, and none of them chew.

On the other hand I have had my own flock chickens for quite awhile and my chicken IQ is pretty high.      Here are some of my favorite chicken fallacies.

Rooster Farm_CottageArts

You need a rooster.  A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, and a chicken needs a rooster about as much.   Unless you planning hatching chicks, there is no need for a rooster.   A rooster like a man is need to make babies, without it the female gender will produce eggs and slough them off.

Brown eggs are better, more nutritious, better flavor, you pick.   Brown eggs are a genetic egg shell color period.  Nothing more exotic than that.

Chickens scratch and wander around the “barnyard.”  Some chickens are great forager, meaning the scratch around looking for good food..   Others have no interest in moving around beyond going to the feeder. I pick my birds for their forage quality and I can tell you some are rock stars going out and finding the first green grass of the spring and others well they will get there, but if they miss out on a tasty morsel or grasshopper they don’t care.

Chickens are fed hormones or steroids to make them big faster.   The poultry industry doesn’t need to do this.   After years of selective breeding they have developed a bird that will “naturally” grow from egg to maturity in just about 6 weeks.   This breed is extremely efficient turning everything they eat into body weight.  They sit in cages and have food available to them non-stop.  They grow so big so fast, their legs often can’t hold them, and can get congestive heart failure.

sdrum_kitschykitchen_eggBASKETCage free or Free-range means something when buying eggs.

  • Technically yes cage free means exactly that the chicken that laid your egg was not in a cage.   It doesn’t mean it had a lot of space or could wander around the chicken coop, it just means it wasn’t in a pen. I am not sure if that is any better, chickens have a pecking order and can be quite mean to one another when allowed to be free, and in crowded conditions things always get worse.  Cage free generally  is just a bunch of free chickens crowded in a coop.
  • Free-range is a term that means the chickens had the opportunity to go outside.   It doesn’t mean they have a wonderful green lawn with bugs, slugs and seeds for them to eat.   It just means there is a door in case they want to use it.   There is no standard that says each free range bird must have at least two square inches of outdoor space.   It doesn’t mean they ever have to be so uncrowded in the coop that they could make their way to the sunshine.   Keeping chickens myself I can tell you it takes no time for them to denude green space, so odds are this free-range space has long since been picked free of any green material they might eat.

Organic or vegetarian eggs are better.   Organic just means they at organic food, it does not speak to how they were treated or raised.    The only advantage of organic in my mind is they are not fed food that was not raise with pesticides, but probably more importantly to me no vaccines or antibiotics.   Vegetarian eggs on the other hand is plain insanity.   Chickens are omnivores, like us they eat meat and veggies.   Vegetarian and free range are mutually exclusive.   You can’t let them egg bugs like they naturally do and call them vegetarian.

There are many more, but these are some of my favorites fallacies about chickens and cowboys.

The Incredible Edible Egg

eggsOur chickens, at least some of our chickens,  are back in the egg business again.   All I can say is Yahoo!  We have been paying dearly for locally laid eggs.

We do not supplement our chickens with light all year-long like many do.   They are given an egg laying holiday.  Winter is a chickens natural time to molt and stop laying eggs.   Normally hens need 10-12 hours of daylight to lay an egg.  The short days of winter cause this egg hiatus.     We let our hens go through at least part of the natural cycle of things.  Our hens stop laying sometime between October 1st and December 1st.   During that time there is lots of feathers flying as they take care of their seasonal molt.      As soon as we go into the new year and the days start to get longer  the holiday is over.    We start turning on the coop light when my husband leaves for work at 7am.     Instantly the days become longer.   It takes several weeks sometimes more for them to start laying again.   This year they have started at a new early record, the second week of February.   And as the keeper of chickens we could not be more thrilled.

Light and Chickens

Most folks don’t realize that light and eggs go hand in hand.  Many of us live so far from our food sources that we don’t have an opportunity to be exposed to where our food comes from let alone understand the nuances of what makes our plentiful food supply possible.

As a keeper of a backyard flock every year we go through the same quandary to light or not to light.   This comes into play because chickens need ideally somewhere between 12-14 hours of daylight for optimum egg laying.    Where I live the days are about 9 1/2 hours long now and they will get as short as 8 1/2 hours on December 21st.   I need to make a decision do I want to add supplemental light or take my chances with nature and my birds.

If I choose supplemental light, I need to turn on a light in the coop to give them the daylight they need.   In the farm egg factories that your grocery eggs come from all the lights are on timers and come on at the same time everyday and go off each evening at the same time.   The farmer has figure out exactly how much daylight he wants and the magic of modern technology takes care of it for him.   Nothing is left up to chance.   I on the other hand need to get my bum up and dressed in the cold of the morning so that magical fake sun hits the birds at nearly the same time each day. Howling wind and sub-zero temps be damned.   Chickens like consistency with their light.   Being late a couple of mornings can send them into a seasonal shut down.   Then in the interest of  money as soon as the sun is really up, then I need to head out to the coop shut off my lights and let the girls out and about for the day to absorb their daily dose of real sun for awhile.

If I choose to not go with supplemental light, which some would argue is the more natural approach, then I am at the mercy of the birds I have selected for the year.   Some breeds and birds are less light sensitive.   Some of my birds have already shut down and are no longer laying, others are still hard at work.  Even for the backyard flock owner it is an economic issue.   Do I wish to keep birds who are not laying and feed them for 4-6 months?   In the summer when they free range around the area, I  go through very little food as they get most of their food naturally foraging.  In the winter they are dependent on me for their nutrition and they eat more because it is colder out.   Keeping birds over the winter can get pricy.

I opt for a combination of the above.   We will add some supplemental light, with my husband turning on the coop light as he heads out to work each day.   Weekends it becomes my job.    As long as I get a few eggs each day I will keep up this ritual.   Sometime  in January this routine isn’t enough for my birds and they will stop laying.   I will stop fighting the natural rhythm and let their bodies rest.   We will treat each of our eggs like the precious commodity it is, while we wait for the early birds to start laying again.   By late February or March our least sensitive birds will start laying again.  We will soon be able to share eggs with friends and neighbors.   We will have survived the winter the birds will let us know that spring is on the way with a nest box full of eggs.

Procrastination Pays Off – For the Chickens

Each fall we butcher part of our flock of layers to end up with about six to overwinter. We have a flock that is always in a state of rotation.   Each spring we get a few new chicks and each fall we cull older birds and poor layers to get down to our optimum number of six.    It works great as chickens lay best in the first two years.   After that they start to slow down.   That two-year limit also works good you as far as eating goes as well, as after two years they really limited in their use to stewing and stock.

This year we procrastinated our last butcher cycle.   We knew we wanted to get rid of three birds, but were having troubles deciding who was on that last list of the year.   The hens were laying unusually well even though the days were getting shorter.  We only had one poor layer who was on the short list.     We only had one hen was on the too old list.   We kept on talking and debating who the third one should be.  No single bird rose to the top of the list of the remaining birds.  We thought with time it would become obvious to us.

We were lulled into thinking we had plenty of time to get down to our magical number.   This fall was unusually warm.   It seemed like  winter was a long time away.    So we continued to put off the decision who to put on our final list of the year.  We did not feel the clock ticking because as long as we can run a hose, we can butcher.    I know Grandma’s from years gone by probably butchered year round, but I am not quite as tough as her.

Finally we went from late summer to a full-blown winter.  Cold sub-zero and lots of snow.    We had a snow storm that gave us the most snow in a single snow fall in 10 years.   It seems that our procrastination paid off big for our birds.   That debate on who should be number three, resulted in us having nine birds for the winter this year.

Time Ran Out

Yesterday the first of this year’s chicks, the littles, laid her first egg.  What a great moment of celebration.  My 19-week old birds have started to lay.     I have 3 more on the cusp of laying and the rest of the littles are not far behind.  I love this time when they are  finding their big girl instincts.  This has been made complicated by the fact that my broody hens  of a few weeks ago are back at it.

For those unfamiliar a hen who is broody, spends all her time on the nest box hatching eggs.   If they don’t have eggs, they pretend they do.   They will fight with other hens who want to use the nest box to protect.   It is a further complicated by the fact that every hen does not have their own nest box, but three or four hens will share a single box.     Suddenly you don’t have enough boxes and hens start to think about laying on the coop floor.

I have two hens who sit in the nest boxes for days refusing to let other birds in.   Today I went out to check and found four birds standing waiting to get on the nest box.   Four birds who want to lay, being prevented by two birds, who are not laying.   This frustrated me to the point I put each hen under my arm and carried them about 200 feet away and put them down to make their way back.  I repeated this exercise twice more today.   By the end of the day I was just frustrated and angry with these two birds.

These two birds were schedule to go to the freezer before winter set in and tonight their time ran out.   I was tired of the uphill battle I was waging.  So we butchered the two broody birds tonight.   It was the complete circle of life for these two birds tonight.