A sign of the times…Chick Days.
Every year at this time there is a phenomenon going on called chick days. It is when local tractor/ranch supply stores bring in baby chicks for sale. Most of the ranch supply stores bring in an assortment of breeds which proves to be a great challenge for me. I am one of those folks who wants my chickens to be cute, no standard white, red or black for me. I find myself buying more than I should and it is not because baby chicks are cute. No I imagine what the feathers on all the breeds will look like and get caught up in the possibilities down the road. This year I ended up with ten chicks. I was planning on six….tops eight. I ended up with gold lace wyandotte, silver lace wyandotte, light Brahma, buff Orpington and barred rocks this year. Time will tell how they all fare and how I fare with my choices this year.
In the next couple of days I will update my backyard chicken page and get some pictures up here for all you chicken owners and want to be owners
Every spring I get new chicks. In the past nature has always taken her toll, that has ensured that I am not overrun with too many chickens. This year Mother Nature had the last laugh, because I lost no chicks to infant mortality, nor did they have to go early because they were the wrong sex, nor did a single predator somehow show up to cull my flock. No this year everyone of the 15 baby chicks I purchased was a hen, who made it to egg laying adulthood. I suddenly had a flock of 20 chickens.
Twenty chickens is too many for a back yard flock. I am a recreational chicken wrangler. I want it to be at least sort of fun. When you have twenty birds, there is too much poo, too many pounds of chicken chow ate, and just civil unrest even with over 20 acres to wander free range style. We had reached the point where we were going to have to butcher 15 birds just to bring our flock back to a size where we could enjoy our hens. Instead we got lucky in that our friends who raise chickens for eggs to supplement their income were in need of pullets. Late summer is really not the time you want to be ordering and starting baby chickens in Montana so getting 26-week old laying hens was perfect to them. Problem solved for both of us. They came over with three dog crates and went home with 10 pullets to add to their flock. Much less stressful for us.
It is amazing what the reduction of our flock to ten has done to our flock. They are quieter, and no longer play the role of mean girls to some of the flock. They are much more cohesive group who all wake at the same time, travel in a single bunch and retire to the roost early as a group. On top of that they food consumption has dropped, they are doing much more free range eating. Lastly the coop is easier to keep clean. Before winter sets in we will still need to cull our flock to half size, but with only five yet to go it will be a quick morning event rather than an all day ordeal.
When you only have ten chickens in your flock there can be peace in your valley.
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.