How to Start Your Backyard Flock

The current chicken renaissance has gathered momentum. It is now common to find coops in both urban and suburban backyards. This may be attributed to the surging interest in organic and local foods, and the fact that most people find chickens to be great pets. If you are considering bringing some farmyard into the backyard, then this short read will guide you on how to get started.

Why keep a backyard chicken?

Backyard chickens are increasingly popular because they are inexpensive, easy, and produce eggs!

    • You are in charge of what goes into them, which I’m guessing will not be the antibiotics, steroids, and other drugs that may be in store-bought eggs.
    • Chicken manure and eggshells produce fantastic nitrogen-rich fertilizer that is excellent for growing food.
    • They offer natural pest control by  scratching and pecking for larvae and insects to eat.
    • Most chicken breeds make great pets and enjoying cuddling and petting.
    • You can get the freshest eggs possible, mostly with fewer calories and fat than those bought in the store.

Important tips for starting your flock

Here’s what to consider before purchasing your first chick:

#1 – Understand the local regulations

The first step is to check the municipal laws or any homeowner association requirements on rearing backyard chickens. Some areas have limits for the maximum number of animals kept in each household. Most communities ban roosters, but this may not be a deal-breaker since hens can lay eggs without them.

Furthermore, some areas will require you to have permits and a signed agreement from your neighbors. You may also need to appear before the zoning board to discover restrictions on the placement and size of outbuildings. Some areas, however, have no restrictions at all.

By understanding the local requirements, you will be able to begin your project without any conflict with your neighbors or homeowners’ association.

#2 – Pick your breed

One advantage of rearing chickens is that you raise beautiful birds with a range of unusually colored eggs.

Most breeds come in two varieties: standard or large breed, and bantam (typically a quarter the size of the large bird). Both varieties do well in the backyard. However, standard breeds lay larger eggs than their counterparts.

When choosing your unique flock, consider the physical and behavioral characteristics as well as each breed’s climate suitability. Check out our comprehensive guide to find the right breed of chicken suited just for you.

#3 – Build the coop

Not only does it provide shelter for your chickens, but it also forms part of your backyard landscape. So when planning for your coop, consider the chicken’s needs and aesthetics.

You may build a stylish coop that complements your home, or even create a fancy customized coop that includes leaded stained glass windows placed above the nesting boxes. No matter what you choose, create the perfect space that you will love and with plenty of room to keep your chickens happy and healthy.

#4 – Feed and take care of your new pets

Your new chickens may be accustomed to digging up part of their food, but you also need to provide chicken feed. Their diet should be balanced and match their specific need such as if they are chicks, layers, or for meat. Moreover, growing birds, young chicks, and layers have specialized poultry feeds to keep them healthy. As a treat, you can feed Ace Hi or Kelley’s chicken scratch, or add vegetable scraps or grass clippings into the run.

Lots of water is particularly essential for consistent laying. If a layer goes for over 12 hours without drinking water, then this would mean weeks out of production.

Your birds ultimately become your friends and will appreciate the way you interact with them. They may get accustomed to a particular call or noise and will always flock around the gate with their cute ‘awk! awk!’ greeting noises.

#5 – Chicken health

As with any other animal, health problems also affect chickens. Therefore, you should always call your vet to help you with diagnosis and treatment whenever there is a health issue. Notably, you should monitor their health every day and you can even create immune support at home for your new flock.

Healthy birds are active, alert, have clean eyes, and silent unnoticeable breathing. Seek assistance if you notice dropping wings and tail, weakness, discharge from eyes and nostrils, paralysis of one or more limbs, or loss of appetite.

#6 – Gardening with your chicken

Although they are mostly kept for their fresh egg supply, backyard chickens can also benefit the garden. At the end of the gardening season, release your birds into the gardening space and see how they will go crazy! They will uproot the stalks and stems of weeds then gobble up the remaining overripe or damaged vegetables.

Any seeds or insects in the soil will also be eaten. Furthermore, the hens will peck apart the vegetable remnants such as carrot tops, broccoli stems, kale, and chard. All this will be done with endless curiosity and enthusiasm.

There is a lot to consider when raising backyard chickens but ultimately you will be rewarded with lots of feathered friends that will save you money in many ways. If you have already checked the local ordinances and understand the necessary commitment, there is no better time to start your backyard flock than now!

Unique Backyard Chickens to Add to Your Flock

Whether you’re looking to start a new flock or searching for new breeds to add to your established collection, there are plenty of unique backyard chickens to choose from. Every chicken breed has its own interesting characteristics, but some breeds are known for being extra quirky, loving, smart, and more! We have the scoop on interesting chicken breeds that will quickly make your backyard flock the talk of the neighborhood.

Orpington

Orpington Chicken

Imagine looking out your window and seeing a happy, ginger-blonde fluff ball wandering around your backyard. Adorable, right? The Orpington is known for being cute, sweet, patient, and extremely docile, so if you have young children this is especially a great pick! The ginger-blonde color is the most popular, but they also come in blue, black, and white. Orpingtons lay one medium/large light brown egg about every other day. Since they have quite a lot of fluff plumage and are heavyset, this breed is great for withstanding cold weather.

Naked Neck or “Turken”

Naked Neck ChickenOnce you lay your eyes on the Naked Neck chicken, you’ll see exactly why they’re so special. This quirky and distinctive breed naturally have no feathers on their necks. It’s been rumored that they are a cross between a chicken and turkey, however, this has been debunked. Since the Naked Neck has the fewest feathers compared to any other chicken, they need shelter from the sunlight to avoid getting sunburnt and to stay warm in the winters. They produce about 100 eggs per year.

Frizzle

Frizzle Chicken

This stunning chicken is sure to turn heads due to their unique, frazzled, and fluffy feathers galore. While Frizzles are certainly known for taking home ribbons after shows from their dashing looks, they’re also known for having loving and gentle temperaments. They produce around 150 cream-colored eggs each per year. Frizzles love cuddles, attention, and treats, so don’t be surprised when they make themselves at home quickly within your family.

Barred Plymouth Rock

Barred Plymouth Rock ChickenIf you’re looking for an inquisitive, talkative, and sweet chicken – look no further! The Barred Plymouth Rock chicken is extremely friendly and smart. In fact, out of all chickens, they’re the ones that will come running first, jumping for cuddles, and following you around the yard like a puppy! Their chitter-chatter sounds like soft sweet coo’s. They’ll typically lay around 4-5 large, light brown eggs per week and can withstand heat and cold very well. They love having free range but can also handle being confined if needed. These black and white spotted beauties make excellent backyard birds!

Barnevelder

Barnevelder ChickenThe Barnevelder is a one-of-a-kind gorgeous chicken with unique double laced plumage and is known for its rare chocolate-colored eggs. They lay about 3 large eggs per week. This breed is easy-going, friendly, mellow, and quiet. You probably won’t find this breed in your local stores due to them being so rare, but you can find them through a private breeder. The Barnevelder can tolerate being confined and can handle the cold. You simply have to see their gorgeous feathers for yourself!

Dominique

Dominique Chicken

You’ll find this lovely breed following behind their favorite humans closely and being very sweet. Their distinct black and white patterns make them easy to spot along with their flattened rose comb. Since they’re so gentle they do have a chance at getting picked on by more aggressive breeds. They make terrific mothers and are auto-sexing which means you can tell the sex of baby chicks just by looking at them. Male chicks have scattered head spots while females head spots are smaller and clumped together. They do very well in the cold because of their unique combs.

Crested Cream Legbar

Crested Cream Legbar Chicken

Known for their bright blue-green eggs, this is a rare breed that everyone wants clucking around their backyard. Crested Cream Legbars have the cutest head poufs and big floppy combs. They are sweet-natured and very inquisitive so they will likely want to be all up in your business! They’re great at avoiding predators and move quickly when needed. Cream Legbars are tolerant of confinement, heat, and cold and lay 4-5 of their gorgeous blue-green eggs per week. Similar to the Dominique, they are auto-sexing so it’s easy to tell baby chicks apart. Their quirky personalities will be a welcome addition to your backyard.

Silkie

Silkie Chicken

Talk about unique… the Silkie breed looks just like a cuddly teddy bear! These cuties are often kept as beloved pets rather than for egg production. Silkies have fluffy, unique feathers ranging from blue, black, white, grey, buff, partridge, splash, and are typically raised as show birds. They lay 2-3 medium, cream-colored eggs per week. Since their silky feathers do not stick together, they can’t fly! This makes them an easy target for outdoor predators and needs higher protection. They’re an easy target for bullying so it’s best to keep them with flocks of their same breed or similar breeds like the Polish.

It’s hard to pick just one breed, isn’t it? They’re all so wonderful. These unique chickens will certainly put a smile on your face every time you look out into your backyard.

Eggs with Blood Spots – Safe to Eat?

First of all, WHAT IS A BLOOD SPOT?!

Do not panic.  If you’ve eaten eggs from your own chickens before, chances are you’ve seen a blood spot.  If you’ve only eaten eggs purchased at the grocery store, and you’re making the switch to “homemade” eggs, then you’re in for a few surprises!  That’s because commercial eggs are screened for perfection, and any unusual eggs don’t make it to shelves.  In reality, eggs are individually made in an intricate and complex process, and sometimes come out looking a bit strange.  One of the many fun features of being a chicken keeper!

egg and egg yolk with a blood spot
The tiny red speck is a blood spot.

Blood spots in eggs are exactly that; tiny spots of red blood that you’ll see when you crack open a fresh egg.  All eggs, fertilized or not, contain tiny blood vessels that anchor the yolk inside the egg.  In a fertilized and incubated egg, those blood vessels will deliver nutrients to a growing chick embryo.  There is common misconception that seeing a blood spot in the egg means it is fertilized.  This is not true.  Both fertilized and unfertilized eggs can have blood spots.

Blood spots occur when one of those tiny blood vessels is broken during the laying process.  This is most commonly due to a hen being startled while laying her daily egg.

Blood spots are fairly common, and not cause for concern.  They are perfectly safe to eat, although you may want to scoop the discolored bit out with a spoon for aesthetic purposes.

If you notice quite a bit of blood, or blood spots accompanied with other unusual egg characteristics, you may want to evaluate your hen’s health.  Infrequent odd eggs are normal, but ongoing odd eggs can be an indicator of disease or nutritional deficiency.

If you are actively monitoring your chickens’ health, and feeding them a balanced feed like Ace Hi or Kelley’s lay feeds, designed specifically to meet the needs of egg laying hens, then you should have a happy flock!

 

 

Pumpkin Season for Your Chickens Too?

chicken jack-o-lantern

Before the first leaf of autumn falls, pumpkin spice season is upon us! Grocery store shelves are lined with pumpkin flavor everything, pumpkin spice coffees are in every hand, and soon pumpkin patches will be taking over parking lots. Can your chickens enjoy pumpkin season just as much as you? Absolutely!

chickens eating out of a pumpkin

Pumpkins are loaded with so many great nutrients, they make a perfect seasonal treat. Pumpkin flesh contains vitamins A, B, C and zinc. And pumpkin seeds are loaded with vitamin E. Your chickens will enjoy all parts of the pumpkin: the stringy guts, the seed, the flesh, they’ll eat every bit until there is only a thing skin left. They’ll happily eat your jack-o-lantern leftovers!

Have you ever considered starting your own backyard pumpkin patch? Pumpkins are loaded with seeds and fairly easy to grow. You can create your own supply of pumpkins for years to come!

Feeding Chickens Seasonally: Summer

What is best to feed your chickens in summer?

What we eat changes with the seasons, and our chicken’s diet will change with the seasons as well. Consistently offering a feed made specifically for your chickens, like Ace Hi or Kelley’s Lay feeds, is important to their overall health, but what we feed as supplements and treats will change based on seasonal needs.

Feeding your flock properly during the summer months will help them stay healthy during the heat, but also set them up for a successful fall and winter.

You may notice that your chickens consume less of their feed during summer. This is normal, as the heat causes a loss of appetite, just like in us humans. If your chickens are free ranging, they may eat less of their feed because there are plenty of other options like grass and bugs available to them.

chickens in a grass field

Make sure you consistently offer them a high quality ration. A balanced feed will deliver the proper nutrients, vitamins, and minerals your chickens need. In addition, you can supplement with summer time treats. Offering a little yogurt can deliver a probiotic boost. Careful not to over do the dairy. Watermelon is a terrific treat for providing cooling hydration on a hot day. Home made chicken popsicles allow you to get creative! Freeze herbs, fruits, and vegetables in some ice, and your chickens will get hours of refreshing entertainment.

chicken eating watermelon
a cool juicy treat!

During summer, you’ll want to limit the amount of scratch grains you feed. The high amounts of corn found in scratch can increase their body heat production, and make them feel even hotter in summer. Instead, encourage your chickens to scratch and forage by giving them leafy greens, grass, weeds, or dandelions.

frozen strawberries and weeds
a chicken popsicle!

Electrolytes: Immune Support You Can Make At Home

Chickens are not well equipped to handle high temperatures. During hot weather, they are vulnerable to heat stress, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and are even at risk of death. They cannot sweat to cool themselves. They expel heat by panting and holding their wings out to increase air flow, which are not very effective during hot summers and heat waves. One strategy you can use to help your chickens stay healthy during heat waves is giving them electrolytes.

Electrolytes can be used to support your entire flock, or to treat a chicken in the sick ward. Electrolytes replenish the nutrients and minerals lost under extreme heat and stress. They boost immunity and support kidney and respiratory functions.

Electrolytes are also useful during times of stress, flock illness, or traveling. They give your chickens a little pick me up whenever one is needed.

Electrolytes are easy to mix at home with items you already have in the kitchen. The strength of the mixture will depend on its intended use. Dilute the mixture when giving electrolytes for general support, and give a stronger mixture to a sick bird needing more health care.

Make sure to only give your chickens electrolytes as needed, and only for a few days at a time. Make sure to have fresh, regular water also available at all times. Too much salt can be detrimental to your chicken’s health.

salt, baking soda, sugar, and a measure spoon are the ingredients needed to make homemade electrolytes for chickens
easy make-at-home electrolytes

Homemade Electrolyte Recipe for Chickens:

1 gallon water

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

Mix ingredients together until dissolved.

Beat the Heat! Keeping Your Chickens Cool in Summer

chickens wading in a small pool

Every year the summer feels longer and hotter.  We hide indoors, with the air conditioner blasting, drinking ice water and wait for the sun to go down.  We tell ourselves we’re moving to a colder state.  We manage it until winter comes.  But what about our animals?  What about the most delicate of our animals, our birds?  How do chickens beat the summer heat, and what can we do as chicken keepers to help them get through it as comfortably as possible?  Keep your chickens cool in summer with these tips and tricks.

Chickens cannot sweat to cool themselves off.  Instead, they pant, or breathe rapidly.  They also hold their wings slightly out from their body, allowing air to flow through.  In high temperatures, this is not enough to keep them cool.  In extreme temperatures, your chickens are in danger of heatstroke.

Provide an escape from the sun with shade, shade, and more shade.  If your birds are free-ranging around the yard, they stand a good chance of finding a bush or a tree to hide under.  They may even seek refuge under a parked car or on your patio!  If your chickens are housed in an enclosed run, it is essential that you provide them with shade.  Know the position of the sun throughout the day, and put up a barrier to block its rays during the hottest parts of the day.  If your birds cannot get out of the sun, they do not stand a chance.

Keep the air moving.  Setting up a fan in the coop or run will help your chickens significantly.  It will cool the surrounding air and reduce humidity.  This is a particularly helpful strategy for chickens that are housed in enclosed coops and runs, as a natural breeze may not always reach them.

chicken standing in water pan

Provide easy access to cool water.  Where do your chickens hang out during the day?  Make sure there is water nearby, so they don’t have to go far to reach it.  Put out additional water sources.  Make sure the water is not in direct sun, so that it heats throughout the day.  Keep it in the shade to keep it cool.  Not only do you want to make sure your chickens have drinking water, consider setting up a mist system, putting out a kiddie pool, or making a little mud and wet sand.  As the water evaporates off your chickens, it acts as sweat does on our bodies, and carries heat away.  They may enjoy walking through a cool puddle to cool their feet off, and a nice mist can cool surrounding air temperatures by up to 20 degrees.

Ice ice baby.  Put out frozen gallon jugs, blocks of ice, or toss a bunch of ice cubes into a feed pan.  You can even add ice to water dishes throughout the day to keep it cool.  Chickens can drink the ice water as it melts, or place themselves close to it to stay cool.

Frozen treats!  Frozen watermelon makes the perfect summer treat for your chickens.  Its wet, mushy, cold, and tasty!  They’ll enjoy eating it, and they’ll get a hydration boost from the melon’s high water content.  Don’t over do it and feed them too much, or you might start seeing pink droppings everywhere!

chicken eating frozen watermelon

If your chicken is in distress, act fast.  If you see a chicken panting excessively, looking pale and lethargic, you must act quickly.  Immediately take your bird and submerge it up to its neck in a cool water bath.  Their body temperature must be reduced as quickly as possible and this could be a life saving measure.  Consider bringing your vulnerable chickens indoors.  Spending the afternoon in a dog crate in the air conditioning may not seem like their ideal day, but it is much more comfortable than the heat outdoors.

 

Virulent Newcastle Disease in Chickens

Being a good bird keeper means protecting them from danger, both seen and unseen.  One of the latest threats to rear its ugly head is Newcastle Disease.  What is it, what can you do about it, and how can you prevent it from harming your birds?  Keep reading to find out.

Newcastle Disease is a highly contagious viral disease.  The virus lives in respiratory discharge and feces of infected birds, and can be spread through direct bird to bird contact, or through contact with contaminated people, feed, or equipment.  While all birds can become infected, chickens are affected most severely and can die from the disease.

Symptoms include swelling around the eyes, swelling that may be purple in color around the wattle and comb, nasal discharge, loss of appetite, and diarrhea.  Birds may exhibit a twisting of the head and neck, and sometimes will die suddenly.

There is no cure for Virulent Newcastle Disease.  That means that prevention is the most important thing you can do to keep your birds safe.  Follow good biosecurity practices.  Wash your hands after coming into contact with birds.  Avoid sharing equipment.  Make sure to disinfect equipment and thoroughly wash clothing.  Any vehicles on the property should have their tires washed upon entry and exit.   Do not bring in any new birds to the flock while there are any active disease outbreaks in your state.  Quarantine any birds on your property that exhibit symptoms.

Humans do not normally become infected with Virulent Newcastle Disease.  In very rare cases, people in extremely close contact with infected birds may experience a mild fever or redness and swelling near the eyes.  Properly cooked meat and eggs from infected birds are safe to eat.

To report an unusual number of sick/dead birds, call:
Sick Bird Hotline
866-922-BIRD (2473)

To learn more visit the California Department of Food and Agriculture website here.

 

Protect Yourself from Salmonella

thorough handwashing is a powerful weapon against salmonella

Eggs have been making headlines news lately, and unfortunately, it’s not for their delicious and nutritious qualities.  It’s because a bunch of them carrying the bacteria Salmonella made their way into grocery stores and homes.  So what the heck is Salmonella, and how do you protect yourself from an infection?

Salmonella is bacteria that is commonly associated with raw and undercooked eggs, meat, and poultry products.   The Center for Disease Control estimates that Salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses in the United States every year.  You might recognize it as food poisoning.  Symptoms typically appear within 6 to 48 hours after eating contaminated food, and include fever, abdominal cramping, and frequent trips to the toilet.  Most people can ride it out and recover in about 4 to 7 days.  Young children, senior citizens, and people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to being seriously ill and could potentially need hospitalization.

As much as we love our backyard flock of chickens, we need to be aware that they can carry germs!  We can get Salmonella not just from eggs, but from our birds, their coop, their food and water dishes, and the soil where they live and roam.

Eggs become contaminated in two ways.  If a hen is carrying Salmonella germs, those germs can pass to the egg as it is being formed before the shell is made.  The germs are then inside the eggs and we are exposed once we crack them open.  The outside of an egg can become contaminated during the laying process, either from the hen herself or from the bedding in the nesting box.

Chickens might carry germs in their droppings or on their bodies, even though they appear healthy and clean.  Salmonella bacteria can live in the environment, so germs can get on coops, dishes, plants, and soil.  It easily transfers to our hands, shoes, and clothing when we’re caring for our flocks.

It all sounds a little scary, but fear not!  We just need to follow some protocols for reducing our risk, and it’s a list of very simple tasks.  By being aware, we are better armed to protect ourselves from infection.

dark blue plate with waffles, bacon, buttered toast, and two farm-fresh eggs

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water after handling your birds or working in your coop
  • Keep your birds outside, don’t let them in the house
  • Set aside a special pair of “coop shoes” and store them outside of the house
  • Don’t eat or drink in the area where your chickens live
  • Don’t kiss your chickens or snuggle them with your face
  • Keep all poultry equipment out of the house
  • Discard dirty or cracked eggs
  • Stores eggs in the refrigerator at 40°F or colder
  • Cook eggs until both the yolk and white are firm, with an internal temperature of 160°F or hotter
  • Make sure foods that contain lightly cooked eggs are made only with pasteurized eggs
  • Eat or refrigerate foods with eggs promptly after cooking
  • Do not keep eggs warm or at room temperature for more than 2 hours
  • Wash hands and items that touch raw eggs with soap and water

By simply washing your hands frequently and cooking your eggs thoroughly, you can really cut down on your risk of catching a nasty stomach bug.  So love your chickens, enjoy your farm fresh eggs, but take the right steps to stay healthy!

Winter for Hens – No Eggs, No Feathers

You brought home your first batch of little spring chicks a year and a half ago.  They’ve grown up into beautiful hens, each with a distinct personality, and each providing you with delicious, nutritious eggs like clockwork.  Right about now you’re asking yourself, “where are my eggs?” and “why are my hens going bald?!”

molting hen
a hen’s annual molt can start as early as late summer

Not laying eggs and losing feathers are two things that go hand in hand during fall and winter, and are totally normal.  If you notice this happening during spring or summer, that is not normal and could indicate a health issue.

As days get shorter and nights get longer, adult chickens will undergo their yearly molt.  Molting is the process of shedding old feathers and growing new ones.  It’s just like when a dog or a horse sheds out their coat, just with feathers!  The shorter daylight hours trigger this process.

Each chicken molts differently.  While some birds may only lose a few feathers and it’s hardly noticeable, other birds lose almost everything and are walking around practically naked!  Feathers usually shed starting from the neck and then move down the body.  Fluffier hens like Orpingtons tend to lose much of their underfluff feathers, giving them a deflated appearance.

molting hen
each hen molts differently, some worse than others

Unlike when a dog or horse sheds its coat, growing new feathers can be uncomfortable and quite painful for birds.  New feathers first emerge as pin feathers.   These look a lot like quills or the shaft of a feather.  They are narrow cylinders encased in a plastic looking tissue, and they also have a blood supply.  If a pin feather is damaged, the bird will bleed heavily, even from a teeny tiny cut.  If your bird has a damaged pin feather, it is best to pluck it out from the base to quickly stop the bleeding.

pin feathers
new feathers covered by a waxy casing

As the new feathers become ready to unfurl, the blood supply recedes, the casing falls away, and the feather is revealed.  You might notice that as your birds age, their new feathers vary slightly from the previous year.  A splash might be splashier, a blue might be deeper blue, a buff might be more gold, and so on.

While your hens are molting, their egg production will drop significantly, or even stop completely.  The reason for this is two-fold.  Hens require at least 14 hours of daylight to produce eggs regularly.  Less daylight in the fall and winter means less eggs.  Also, growing new feathers is hard work!  While your birds are molting, their bodies are using maximum nutrients and energy to replace old feathers.  This diverts their bodies’ resources away from producing eggs.  From your chicken’s point of view, feathers are more important than eggs!

You can help your birds by feeding them a little extra protein while they’re molting.  This can come in the form of treats – mealworms, scrambled eggs, fish, packaged chicken treats – or in the form of a high protein lay feed.

molting chicken
Molting is a normal part of chicken life, but it can still be stressful on a bird.

Your chickens will have completed their molt within 8 to 12 weeks, and they’ll have a set of beautiful brand new feathers.  They won’t return to laying eggs right away.  You might not be filling up your egg basket until spring!  As the days get longer and your hens are seeing 14+ hours of light, they’ll return to their regular egg laying schedule.