Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Helpful Hints for Beginners

There is a steep learning curve for the chicken enthusiast just getting started.  However, there are also many wonderful "chicken people" out here who are willing to give the benefit of their earned experience.  What follows is basic information that we have gained with trial by fire!

Pullets are young female chickens that haven't begun to lay.  Laying an egg is a right of passage for a chicken.  The minute she starts laying, she becomes a hen.  Cockerels are young males that haven't reached sexual maturity yet.

Roosters are not necessary to have eggs.  You can have just hens if you just want eggs.  A rooster is needed if you want to hatch those eggs and have chicks.  Another useful tidbit is that one rooster can handle eight to twelve hens.  While having a rooster isn't necessary to have eggs, he will really take care of his "girls" by finding food and calling them to eat, warning them of impending danger, and even fighting for them if necessary.  He will be their personal bodyguard.  A good rooster will even help with the chicks that his hens hatch.  Woodrow, our oldest Phoenix rooster, will get on the roost at night with two to three chicks under each wing while Charlotte, the oldest hen, roosts alone.  He seems to realize she needs a break.  Prime, our Belgian Maline "yard boss" is ALWAYS the last Maline to enter the coop at night.  He makes sure that all are in before he goes to roost.  Roosters can be very helpful, especially to the hens.

When buying chickens it is important to realize that most farmers (especially on small farms) will not sell just hens.  Our hatches are normally around 50/50 ratio of male to female chicks and sometimes the number of roosters is higher.  Typically we will sell pairs or trios.  A pair is one rooster with one hen.  A trio is one rooster with two hens.  Chicks are sold from day old and straight run normally. Straight run chicks are not sexed so you take what you get.  Chicks can be shipped at one day old because they have absorbed the yolk before hatching and that will normally sustain them for 2 -3 days.

You've heard the saying, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure"!  Don't allow your pure bred chickens to range in mixed groups, for instance don't let Jubilee Orpingtons range with Phoenix and so forth.  They WILL co-mingle!  If this happens, you should not hatch their eggs for at least 14 days if you don't want crazy mixes in your chicks.  A hen will retain a rooster's sperm for around 14 days and sometimes longer.  It's necessary to have a separate coop, roost, and run for each breed to keep your pure bred chickens honest!

We keep the different breeds in separate pens with coops, roosts and runs.  We also have several large areas for them to roam.  We alternate their range days and areas.  This way everybody gets some time to roam in the really large areas.

In order to sell birds and/or ship them in most states some testing is required.  P/T testing is free and done through Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory.  NPIP is also a good thing.  This program tracks movement of birds in the state and out in an effort to prevent and stop harmful poultry diseases.  In Texas your flock needs to be registered with the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC).  This is a simple process as well.  Find out about these and how they can help you and your flock.

Last but not least, watch your chickens.  Pay attention to how they act normally.  This will help you realize when something is not quite right and can literally be a life saver for your chickens.  There are a few diseases that require a very quick response and treatment.  Coccidiosis is one such disease.  It will kill chicks very rapidly and even mature birds if not caught immediately.  It is easily cured if you are prepared.  We keep Corid on hand.  It's a medicine for Coccidiosis that is added to their drinking water daily for 7 to 14 days.  Read about Coccidiosis in order to recognize the symptoms early.  We also keep VetRX on hand for respiratory difficulties and various other ailments.  Worm your chickens regularly (several ways of doing this as well).  DO YOUR RESEARCH!  If you don't understand what you are reading, ask a "chicken person" for recommendations.  For that matter ask several and go with what you think will work best for your circumstances.

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