Farm Stories. Chapter 3. Chickens Various Breeds and Eggs

We have many chicken breeds on our farm: banty, silkie, phoenix, leghorn, ameraucana, bovan and chantecler and all possible mixes of these breeds.

Silkie hen with baby chicks

Silkie hen with baby chicks

Phoenix chickens

Phoenix chickens

Bovan hen

Bovan hen

Banty hen

Banty hen

 
We keep chickens for eggs. Different chicken breeds lay eggs of different color, size and even shape! Hence we have white, brown and green eggs and all possible shades of these colors like for example beige, pink-ish, blue-ish, and so on.

Eggs of different shapes

Eggs of different colors and shapes

Various eggs

Eggs of different colors

  • Silkie, chantecler and phoenix lay coffee eggs relatively small in size
  • Ameraucana hens lay medium size green eggs
  • Bovan chickens are responsible for large brown eggs
  • Leghorn hens lay large white eggs
  • Banty are in charge for small beige eggs
  • But when we have a large green egg or a small brown egg, it’s a logical riddle to identify the mix of breeds that produced it

Why are the eggs different colors? In nature colored eggs are easier to hide in grass. So some chickens preserved their ability to lay colored eggs. They all taste very similar – there is almost no difference based on egg color.

Farm Stories. Chapter 2. Chickens Winter Routine and Migrations.

  • Chickens are cold tolerant, but they need protection from wind and drafts. That is why in the winter they cannot live in their summer mobile chicken coops. To conserve heat, chickens live together in large flocks in the barn, sharing it with goats and sheep.
  • Sheep_and_hen_together_In_the_barn

    Chickens and sheep are sharing the barn.

  • Being in a barn, chickens form new families ‍‍‍. At night chickens from the same family stay close on perches.
  • Chicken_barn

    Chickens in the chicken barn, seating on their perches.

  • In the winter, the farm routine is slightly different from summer routine: in the morning Edward-the-farmer feeds his chickens with grains and kitchen scraps, fills their waterers with fresh water, cleans the nests and changes the bedding. In the evening, Edward-the-farmer feeds them again and collects eggs.
  • Chicken_barn

    Chickens scratch the bedding.

  • Twice a year, Edward-the-farmer migrates chickens. Migration usually occurs at night when chickens are sleeping. This is done in order to reduce the stress on the chickens, which may be caused by migration and a new place. Migration is a long process that takes several hours.
  • In the fall, chickens are moved from chicken coops to the barn. It takes several days to two weeks for the chickens to settle in the barn. Roosters may even fight to establish a new hierarchy.
  • In the spring chickens are transferred from the barn to mobile chicken coops. During the migration, Edward-the-farmer ensures to keep together chicken families. This spring, for the first time, several volunteers helped us move our chickens from the barn to the chicken coops. It took two days until all the chickens were migrated.
  • Chickens_migration

    Chickens migration in spring 2019

Farm Stories. Chapter 1. Chickens – Overview and Summer Routine.

We start with a series of short stories about our farm and farm animals.
The first story will obviously be about our chickens, who are veterans of our farm.   

  • We have about a total of hundred hens, roosters and chicks
  • Chickens live on average 5-8 years, but so far on our farm the longest survivor has lived 4 years as that’s how long we grow chickens.
  • Chickens are omnivorous, like humans. They eat almost everything: grains and grass, fruits and veggies, insects and kitchen scrap.
  • Young hens usually lay 2 eggs in 3 days or 1 egg every 26 hours. They lay far fewer eggs in the winter. Older hens lay eggs less frequently. Hens start laying eggs when they are about 6 months old.
  • In summer, chickens live in mobile chicken coops or tractors in families of several hens and one rooster.
  • Mobile chicken coop

    Mobile chicken coop

  • Every morning, as part of the morning farm routine, Edward-the-farmer moves the chicken coops so that the chickens have access to fresh grass, insects and worms, which are their main source of calcium. At the same time, Edward-the-farmer feeds his chickens with grains and fills their waterers with fresh water.
  • Every evening, as part of the evening farm routine, Edward-the-farmer collects eggs, cleans the nests and, if necessary, changes the bedding.
  • Edward moving the coop

    Edward moving the coop

Report for the year 2017

By the end of 2016 it became clear that chickens have the best potential of all activities so far. So 2017 became a year of the chicken!

 

Ava February 2017

Training the chicken- guard dog, Ava.

"Recycling" after - cage chickens. Many of them died soon, but many survived and laid eggs from June to december

“Recycling” after – cage chickens. Some of them died soon, but many survived and laid eggs from June to December

Ava guards chickens, march 2017

Ava guards chickens, march 2017

After loses of 2015- 2106. I decided to build chicken tractors, as a protection. They showed their efficiency later.

After loses of 2015- 2016. I decided to build chicken tractors, as a protection. They showed their efficiency and versatility later.

First incubation of 2017

There were many incubation attempts. Though the hatching rate was 20 – 30%, I learned a lot: dry incubation, better incubator insulation, better temperature control.

Many chicks hatched in 2017, but the best survivors were the first ones. Rabbits escaped later from a chicken tractor and disappeared.

Many chicks hatched in 2017, but the best survivors were the first ones. Rabbits escaped later from a chicken tractor and disappeared.

Many chicks were lost during the flood of May 2017.

Many chicks were lost during the flood of May 2017.

An attempt to interplant garlic with potatoes didn't yield much potatoes. Mostly because of luck of care.

An attempt to interplant garlic with potatoes didn’t yield much potatoes. Mostly because of luck of care.

Chicken tractors appeared to be very convenient to keep chicks with a broody hen.

Chicken tractors appeared to be very convenient to keep chicks with a broody hen.

chicken tractor in field

Chicken tractors performed really well in open field.

moles infestation

While chickens were doing well, worms got a problem – moles. I caught 8 of them with bare hands during the season.

Rooster with chicks

Another use of a chicken tractor and extra roosters. Roosters are good baby-sitters for chicks of 6 week and older. They teach to forage, heat chicks and sometimes are capable to protect from small predators like rats and mink.

Baby -sitter hen

My most important discovery of the year was the “golden hen”.

Hens live up to 8 – 9 years, but lay eggs only 3 – 4 years, why? My assumption is that like human grandmothers old hens can adopt ANY orphaned chicks! The only problem is how to convince the old lady… Here is a solution: chicks should be left in the chicken tractor under their heater plate. There should be no perches or other high places unaccessible for chicks inside the tractor. The hen lives in the same tractor and she sleeps in a place accessible for chicks. At night chicks “migrate” on their own under the hen’s wings. When all chicks sleep under wings and the hen starts to call them for food, heater plate can be removed! That’s it. Now this hen will accept any chicks straight from the incubator for the rest of her precious life.   She saves electricity, space, and so needed farmer’s time. She worth gold by her weight (if the dead metal can be compared to a living creature). Chicks survival rate is almost 100%. The chicken tractor can be moved to an orchard or a lawn – no electricity needed!  Picky, the hen on the picture, raised 45 chicks in one summer and died from a sickness in November…

Here is Picky with her 3rd brood of the summer.

Here is Picky with her 3rd brood of the summer.

One more use of a chicken tractor - a chick attraction for urban kids. It's easy to pack the chicks, load the tractor into a car and drive to a local market or fare.

One more use of a chicken tractor – a chick attraction for urban kids. It’s easy to pack the chicks, load the tractor into a car and drive to a local market or fare.

In October Philip came with an idea of getting goats and sheep.

In October Philip came with an idea of getting goats and sheep.

Philip built a temporary bioshelter that, in spite of some technical problems, performed very well during the very cold winter of 2017-2018.

First goats arrived. They were not in a best shape plus luck of our experience - we lost two of them by the end of November.

First goats arrived. They were not in a best shape plus luck of our experience – we lost two of them by the end of November.

Sheep arrived at the beginning of November

Sheep arrived at the beginning of November

Pond

Thanks to Philip’s help we improved the little pond at last!

By the end of November all chickens were moved to chicken coops joined together under a car shelter.

By the end of November all chickens were moved to chicken coops joined together under a car shelter.

The chicken coops didn’t perform well in the harsh winter. They need better insulation and a better chicken run shelter. We lost many chickens. Also we moved ducks into the same shelters, that might carried some deceases. Ducks themselves survived winter very well.

We got two alpine goats to compensate loses

In December we got two alpine goats to compensate loses

 

With some experience we started to walk with goats and sheep, training Ava as a shepherd dog.

With some experience we started to walk with goats and sheep, training Ava as a shepherd dog.

 

No Till Method for Hugelcultur

This hugelcultur is the first one I made in my life. So for sure I did many mistakes. I didn’t straighten the hills, I didn’t put enough compost, didn’t plant enough clover, used wrong mulch – fall leaves. Nature took its turn and planted all with available plants – strong and sturdy pioneers. They formed soil and fixed some nutrients. Now I am taking my turn to use it. Plus we are in the big city of Montreal. Wood chips from tree trimmings, cardboard from stores, soil from excavations (sometimes of excellent quality) are ready available as “garbage”.

leveling the bed with manure and decomposed wood chips

leveling the bed with manure and decomposed wood chips

First I slightly chop the current vegetation and level the bed with manure and decomposed wood chips.

Raised bed covered with moistened cardboard

Raised bed covered with moistened cardboard

Than I cover it with moistened cardboard.

Cardboard covered with soil from excavatoins

Cardboard covered with soil from excavatoins

Than a layer of top soil. We have it from excavations. Than a layer of compost. I stop on this though they usually use more layers in no-till gardening.

Hugelcultur covered with straw

Hugelcultur covered with straw

Than I cover it with the classic mulch  – straw bedding from the chicken coop. So my plants have fertilizer with each rain.

Straw is my best mulch so far. It does not fly with a wind, it’s light, it lets sprouts grow through, it holds moisture well.

 

Then chickens come and de-mulch everything. Chickens are apparently notorious de-mulchers.

 

First chicks from the incubator

First chick hatched!

First chick hatched!

I restarted the incubator on February 14 with updated settings – temperature 38C, humidity 60%. Everything was going well, but on February 24 – 25 we had 12 hours power outage. The incubator cooled down to 15C. I was thinking that all is lost, but on March 6 the first chick hatched! Than on March 7 hatched 2 other chicks out of 15 eggs. Next day I opened all other eggs. There was 7 more dead chicks inside.So the fertile rate is 10/15 = 66%. Not so bad for winter.

In the darkness Farby was good with chicks

In the darkness Farby was good with chicks

I called up a broody hen Farby. Her current chicks are already 6 weeks old. I put her in a broody cage in the basement and slipped the chicks at night. In the darkness she was OK.

Farby rejected the new chicks and started to attack them.

Farby rejected the new chicks and started to attack them.

But when I moved the cage to light she started to attack chicks…

So there was no choice. Farby returned back to her old chicks and all were very happy. Chicks went under the light bulb until their new “electric hen” will arrive.

 

chicks under the light bulb

chicks under the light bulb

There was a funny consequence of this. Chicks learned an aggressive behavior from the hen and continue to attack each other sometimes.

 

Treating eye infections in chickens

 

Here is how I treat eye infections in chickens.

 

Newy had a bad eye infection

I prepare a strong tea: for 1 tea spoon of black tea leaves – 1/2 cup of boiling water. Let the tea to stay for 1/2 an hour and cool down. Then gently wash the sick eye with tea using a cotton swab, wiping out any discharge with a paper napkin. I do this twice a day, in the morning and at the evening.

One hour after the tea I put some petroleum gelly on the closed eye to prevent clogging with dry mucus.
I continue with the tea for 1 week,  then stop the tea and use the gelly only. At night it’s OK to put the gelly after the chicken is asleep. Just wake her up gently, carefully open eyelids wipe out any discharge and gently put the gelly on the closed eye.

 

Newy 2 weeks after the treatment

Newy 2 weeks after the treatment

I noticed that younger chicks with eye infections retard in growth. They catch up later. A slight sign below the eye will remain.

 

Winter on the farm – 3

It’s mid February and the day is more then 10 hours now. In spite of bitter cold winter greens started to grow again.

Winter greens planted in November are ready

Winter greens planted in November are ready

The temperature in the greenhouse is much higher then outside. By midday all frozen water thaws and greens are ready for harvest.

Though it’s -25C outside!

Chickens make "puffballs" on bitter cold of -25C

Chickens make “puffballs” on bitter cold of -25C

Chickens tolerate the cold good. They move much less, some even eat less, some have “bubbly eyes” that is chicken’s running nose. But generally they look happy and healthy.

They started to lay more eggs.

 

Green eggs fro Ameraucana chickens

Green eggs fro Ameraucana chickens

The only thing that didn’t tolerate the cold was my cookie tin water heater. So chickens stay without water for several hours.

 

With a fresh egg supply I restarted my incubator. The new date is March 4.

A new 48 eggs incubator

At last I got the my incubator!

48 eggs incubator

48 eggs incubator

The idea behind it is simple. A hen can hatch maximum 5 – 9 chicks, but she can raise 12  – 20. So instead of running and searching for chicks for adoption I can start an incubator in parallel with the broody hen. The chicks for adoption will be ready right in time!

 

Incubator is on!

Incubator is on!

I couldn’t hold myself and started the incubator with what eggs I have now. Some of those eggs are 2 weeks old. They also were exposed to cold for some time ( but never freeze). So the chances are miserable. But I know for sure both mother and father of those eggs and there is always a hope!