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Re: what kind of chickens?

We are now up to three eggs a day, so more eggs than we can use! If all goes well we shouldn't have to buy any more store eggs at least until when the hens slow down for the winter. They are all from the Buff Orpingtons, because they are all brown. The Americaunas are supposed to lay blue or green eggs. The Americaunas are one week younger than the Buffs, but should be close to ready.

We are letting them free range in our backyard more (they LOVE the compost piles). But so far it still means that the chickens can be in the yard or the dogs, but not both. We are still working, when we take the time, on training the dogs, which is sitting with the dogs on short leashes while the chickens walk around. The dogs are getting pretty good about that and some of the time will just lie down and relax.
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Re: what kind of chickens?

So today we got four eggs! But as far as we know we still only have three laying hens. The eggs are all brown shelled. We have been told that the Ameraucanas will produce blue or green shelled eggs. Is it even possible for three hens to lay four eggs in a day?
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Re: what kind of chickens?

I believe that I have read that it is possible. It's far more likely that one or more of the Ameraucanas is laying a brown egg.

Hens of non-commercial breeds usually have 24+ hour cycles. Still, they are highly productive compared to their wild ancestors. They are laying "clutches" of eggs and will cease to lay to begin the setting (incubation) process. Laying breeds cannot seem to get to that without being compelled to begin laying another clutch. Nevertheless, they have short breaks by skipping a day. Those with a normal longer than 24 hour cycle will probably lay a little later in the morning until it's early afternoon for them. Then, the cycle is briefly interrupted as hens tend not to lay late in the day. Chickens are strongly influenced by daylight or artificial lighting.

Newly laying pullets are "off schedule" at times, however.

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Re: what kind of chickens?

I believe you are right. We found one of the Ameraucanas in a nest box with a (brown) egg. Looking it up, I think that means it is not a pure bred Ameraucana. The pure bred ones, which you likely can only get from a breeder, do lay the blue eggs, but otherwise not necessarily. Too bad, we were looking forward to the blue eggs, but oh well. They are all the same inside the shell...
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Re: what kind of chickens?

We continue to get four eggs most days. Not sure if all six of our hens are laying yet or not.

We let them out to free range our backyard a couple times a day. (The dogs and the chickens alternate who gets to be out in the yard! :) ) They love it! When we come to let them out, they all line up right by the door squawking to be let out. At first they stayed all clustered up together and didn't go far. But now they have gotten more comfortable with it and are exploring the whole yard and spreading out more.

We've gotten more comfortable with it too, so we leave them out sometimes when we aren't out there with them. They could fly over the fence if they wanted to, but so far they have shown no inclination.

It gives me a quite irrational amount of pleasure to see our backyard with six hens walking around in it, doing their little chicken dances, scratching, pecking, waddle/run/half-fly, etc. When we were thinking about this, I was just thinking about eggs/ producing our own protein. I didn't know I would get attached to them and that they were so adorable! :)

They learn routines pretty quickly. At first we had to round them up and herd them back in. Now when they've been out for awhile and see us coming, they hustle their fluffy butts back to their compound all on their own.
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Re: what kind of chickens?

Sigh...

I've been trying and trying to get a third planting of corn started and I guess it is not destined to happen. The bed I've been planting corn seeds in is new this year and is just off the south end of our deck. When we started free ranging our chickens, I put fencing around three sides of it. That worked fine for awhile.

I just a couple days tried one last time to plant corn. The chickens who are these days much braver about exploring the whole yard, figured out how to get into the bed by going under the deck and getting into it from the (unfenced) deck side. They ate every corn seed out of it, even though the seeds were planted an inch deep and covered over and patted down. Somehow the chickens had no trouble finding them. I tried shooing them out, but there are more of them than me and I couldn't get to the bed unless I took some of the fence down (meaning the chickens could go out one side and in the other) or crawled under the deck, which I wasn't willing to do. So I gave up and just let my corn seed become chicken food.

I will wait a couple weeks and start planting cool weather stuff again. I do have lots of beans and squash coming on and the second planting of corn still ripening.
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Re: what kind of chickens?

Aw bummer! At least you'll "get the corn back" as eggs!
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Re: what kind of chickens?

So I had one of the garden beds with the netting opened up so I could weed it out and plant peas along the edges.

I am letting the tomato plants hang in there, though there isn't much left of them after removing all the septoria. The edges had spinach earlier in the year. There's one pepper plant in the middle of the front edge and one at the short end and some basil at the other short end.
chickens helping garden.jpg
The chickens decided to help me get the soil ready. Nature's little rototillers! After they were done, I chased them out, planted the peas and then put the netting back quickly, before they could eat the peas.

Incidentally, I used up the rest of the finished compost from the pile I've been using, getting this bed ready. So I started piling new stuff into that bin and getting the other one ready to just settle and finish. I poked a couple holes down into that one with a stick, just for aeration and realized it was quite hot down in it! My no-work, just add things as they come along compost piles don't usually heat up very much. But with lots of chicken poop in it, it burns hotter and cooks faster. :)
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Re: what kind of chickens?

They are pretty! No grubs in that bed to worry about now I bet. 8)
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Re: what kind of chickens?

We now finally have all six hens laying, though so far we have not had more than four eggs in one day.

It turns out that the last hen to start laying must be a pure bred Ameraucana because:
eggs.jpg
The pure bred Ameraucana lay those blue green eggs. The other two we have lay light tan eggs and the Buff Orpingtons lay brown eggs (those are both brown ones in the picture, I didn't manage to include one of the tan ones).

The blue one is smaller, because she just started laying. They always lay smaller eggs at first.

Who is starting to want their own chickens? :) It is easier and more rewarding than I expected. We spend no more than an hour a day on chicken care, often less, and if you get everything all ship-shape one day, you can get away with skipping a day now and then. We have about 48 sq ft of cage including a covered coop with the roost bars and nesting boxes and some covered run and then an open wire run. That is inside a 10 x 15' fenced enclosure. That 150 sq ft is where they spend most of their time. We've been letting them out to free range our backyard for an hour or so twice a day, morning and afternoon. If they weren't going to be able to free range the backyard, it would be better if the enclosure were a little bigger, but 200 sq ft would probably be good enough (for six hens, depending on breed size, etc).
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Re: what kind of chickens?

How fun! Are you at the point where you are starting to think what am I going to do with the extra eggs? It's great that you have your own source of protein along with the garden produce.
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Re: what kind of chickens?

Ah but, you will reach a time when there are no rewards other than "chicken companionship" from 6 old hens.

Their feed consumption may drop a bit but they will continue to require care through the final year or two of their lives. You will be trimming toe nails and trying to keep them comfortable.

Speaking of scratching around in the backyard: free-ranging won't contribute much to their diet and you probably already realize that with 6 hens. There was a study of the Red Jungle Fowl done in India during the 1960's. The University of New Mexico has the pdf file online. It showed that flocks averaging about 5 birds ranged over about 5 hectares. I know that in Southeast Asia that it isn't unusual to find the village's flock of chickens a half mile from their home.

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Re: what kind of chickens?

Yes, I know that free ranging isn't the mainstay of their diet. We buy commercial chicken food for laying hens and they have it on demand, as much as they want, whenever they want. We also give them greens from the garden and vegetable scraps from the table.

They seem quite happy in our backyard. We never clipped their wings. They easily could fly over our four foot fence, but they never have. They really look forward to their free range time though. When we come to let them out, they all line up right by the door. It is exercise and mental and physical stimulation and makes them happy.
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Re: what kind of chickens?

applestar wrote:How fun! Are you at the point where you are starting to think what am I going to do with the extra eggs? It's great that you have your own source of protein along with the garden produce.
We have sold a couple dozen and given away a couple dozen. There's plenty of takers for our "farm" fresh eggs! :D
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Re: what kind of chickens?

RE: "it showed that flocks averaging about 5 birds ranged over about 5 hectares. I know that in Southeast Asia that it isn't unusual to find the village's flock of chickens a half mile from their home."

Those were probably not birds that were being constantly supplied with high quality chicken feed. If they had to find their own food, they of course would have to forage farther.
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Re: what kind of chickens?

Today we had our first day of getting six eggs in one day from our six hens!! We have sold 2.5 dozen eggs this week and still had enough for ourselves. This experiment is going well. :) We were total newbies when we started.
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Re: what kind of chickens?

While the chickens were free ranging our backyard, I noticed two of them throwing something around. I went to look and they had a garden toad cornered and were pecking at it and managing to pick it up and drop it on its back, repeatedly. I shooed them away and went back to look. The toad wasn't there any more so apparently it had enough life left to hop off somewhere.

I know they are carnivores as far as eating grubs, worms, insects, but that was not something I expected! Hope the toad is OK.

They are a little bit of a mixed blessing in the backyard eco-system. They eat the japanese beetle and other grubs and pest insects, but also earthworms and other detritovores out of the compost piles. And they are agents of entropy! Anything I have piled, like leaf pile, mulch pile, brush pile, they immediately have to un-pile. That is mostly funny, but I do spend a lot more time raking my piles back together. If I decide I don't want to, then I will have to fence off the piles to exclude them, but so far I'm okay with it, rather than having lots more fences (I already have all my garden beds fenced.)
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Re: what kind of chickens?

So here with the days getting very short, our chickens have cut their laying in half. They were laying one egg a day a piece, almost every day, like about 6 a week per hen. Now we are down to about three per week per hen.

I had heard that if you give them supplemental light in their coop in the winter, they keep laying better, so we had been thinking about doing that. But as I looked in to it more, it seems that it is kind of stressful on the hens to keep them laying with no break. AND (like human females) the hens are born with all the ova already inside them that they will ever have. So if you keep them laying year round, it just means they will have fewer years of laying as they use up the supply faster.

So we decided to keep our hens natural. Natural is how I do plants, so it makes sense to manage our hens the same way. They still seem very happy and healthy. They apparently "like" us, at least they follow us around the yard a lot, come to check on what we are doing, and come when they are called (as a flock, they do not respond to or recognize their individual names at all; chickens may not have as strong a sense of individuality as people and dogs do, since they are such flock animals). They are very well-behaved, come when we want them to go back in their coop, lay all their eggs in the nest boxes and no where else, and almost never poop in the nest box.

At one point we went away and left the chickens free ranging in the back yard for a couple hours. When we came back, our next door neighbor told us he had a chicken in his back yard. He was making elaborate plans for how to get it back in our yard, but as soon as it saw us, it immediately flew back over the fence and came to us!

We love our little pet hens!! :)
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Re: what kind of chickens?

I love your updates. It sounds like the chickens were your best gardening addition this year (as well as your labor of love building the raised beds, of course)
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Re: what kind of chickens?

rainbowgardener wrote:... So if you keep them laying year round, it just means they will have fewer years of laying as they use up the supply faster. ... as soon as it saw us, it immediately flew back over the fence and came to us!

We love our little pet hens!! :)
Hey! It's good that you are enjoying them, RG.

The depletion of the ova has been a subject of study by a WSU researcher. She used Coturnix quail in her study but they aren't very distant as a relative. What was interesting to me is that there is a multitude of ova! Before they are "lost," the bird ages beyond its reproductive life. However, keep in mind that 300 eggs a year was beyond comprehension for people keeping laying hens a couple hundred years ago.

Okay, the wild chicken lives in much lower latitudes than the US. If you lived near the Arctic Circle, you would never think of NOT providing supplemental lighting in your heated coop during the winter months.

See, there are a couple sides to this supplemental lighting issue.

Steve :)
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Re: what kind of chickens?

Thanks for the info! What I have read says that those of us not at all close to the Arctic circle should NOT heat the coops.

These hens went through some freezing weather when we first got them in march, when they were a month old. They seemed just fine. Just huddled themselves up in a big feather pile to share warmth. I think chickens are pretty cold hardy. Our average low temperature is 30 degrees all through Jan. and 30-36 through Feb. We average nine nights a year when the temps get down to 20 degrees and 30 nights a year when it gets to 32. But even in the coldest part of the winter, the daytime temps are always above freezing, Jan average high temp 48-50. And all that is historic (pre- global warming) averages. My two winters here, we haven't seen anything like 30 nights in a year when it got down to freezing.

In these temps, I think it is better just to let the chickens adapt to ambient.
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Re: what kind of chickens?

They will adjust and especially those of your breed choices. They aren't scrawny lightweights. You may not even notice much of an increase in the calories the hens will be eating.

I never really had the lightweights, either.

It probably wasn't a very good idea but I once allowed the chickens to make their own choices of where they wanted to be during the coldest weeks of a cold winter. This was on a farm and they promptly abandoned their small coop and moved to the more open barn.

I noticed that on days when the temperatures did not warm above zero Fahrenheit, they wouldn't leave the floor and would stay in the loose hay. On those days, they seemed especially lethargic. That was probably coming too close to their survival limits.

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Re: what kind of chickens?

New question:

Since the days got short, our hens are laying about half as many eggs. I understand this is to be expected.

But recently one of our hens (we don't know which) has gone back to laying eggs that are very small and very pointed. We were told that eggs like this are normal when they first start laying. In fact each of them did lay one or two small pointy eggs when they were starting to lay, in early summer. Since then, we haven't seen any more like that until now.

What do you think, friends? Is this normal or a sign of some problem?
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Re: what kind of chickens?

You will need someone with more knowledge and experience with laying hens than I have, RainbowGardener. Although I had backyard flocks for a good number of years, they never amounted to very many hens at a time and I never had a single class in animal husbandry in school.

What I did research and learn as a gardener with chickens mostly had to do with their diet. Eggs are primarily protein and fat and water and the minerals in the shells. It takes a good deal of all four to allow a hen to produce an egg each day.

Fresh water and something like crushed oyster shell should be there as a constant and a free choice. The calories in their food can be converted to fat.

Proteins are a little tricky if garden produce is a very large source of the hen's diet. Most vegetables may be good sources of calories and other nutrients but they are often low in protein. What protein is there isn't a complete animal protein, like the hen is producing in that egg. So, a balance of proteins has to be in her diet to sustain egg production.

The production of eggs can be turned off by factors like environmental and biological change and dietary deficiencies. However, the hen has these genetic imperatives, pushing those eggs along. It's a reason that highly productive breeds cannot switch to a brooding cycle to hatch their own eggs, completing a reproductive cycle that egg laying is all about. They are compelled to produce not just 10 or 12 eggs to fill a nest but many, many more than that!

My guess is that the hen laying substandard eggs is just winding down from a more productive period. Attention to her complete nutrition requirements may be needed but, then again, it always should be a very important concern.

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Re: what kind of chickens?

They are not fed mainly off garden produce. They have good quality commercial chicken food for laying hens and oyster shell and grit available on demand all the time. They never see the bottom of their feeder. Lately we have been supplementing with high protein chicken "snacks" with sunflower seed and a lot of other stuff in it and with meal worms, for extra protein. The garden produce or kitchen scraps when they get them is just a little extra treat, that makes more diversity in their diet.
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Re: what kind of chickens?

I wouldn't worry about the pointy eggs as long as the shell is smooth, it isn't thin and the yoke and whites look normal. I have one that gives me very pointy eggs and one that gives me very torpedo-shaped eggs. Out of 30 laying hens, I don't know which ones they are, but they're fairly consistent. If one or more of your girls are being troopers pushing out an egg with so little daylight hours, we can't fault her for the shape. At least you're still getting some eggs. Wait 'til next year when they face reduced daylight hours *and* they're molting.
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Re: what kind of chickens?

Yes, these eggs seem perfectly normal-- the yolk is even full sized, it just seems like it has less white. But it wasn't consistent in the sense that we got eggs like that at the very beginning when they first started laying, then we hadn't seen one for months. Now that the days are short and production is going down, they appeared again. It seems to be just one chicken, because there is only one of the pointed ones a day and not every day. So far the ladies seem to be doing pretty well. We are still getting between two and four eggs a day from our six hens (down from four to six a day previously).

They do seem to be dropping more feathers, we are seeing a lot more feathers around, mostly the downy ones, but a few bigger ones also. But not enough that any of ours are looking patchy like that.
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Re: what kind of chickens?

I feel confident in saying that the pointy eggs are fine. In a commercial poultry farm where you have tens of thousands of anonymous laying hens and the eggs travel on giant conveyors to be sorted by size and packed into cartons, it's easy to come away with the idea that eggs are always the same shape. When you have a handful of hens and you enjoy a daily relationship with each of them, it is more apparent that eggs are a natural product in which size, shape, and color can and does change from time to time. If the hen is healthy and the only thing out of the ordinary is the shape of the egg, I think you're fine.

On an aside note, they don't usually molt (or at least very heavily) the first year and they lay pretty well through their first fall/winter. You'll notice a difference next year when production drops quite a bit more and the coop looks like teenage girls are having a pillow fight in there every night.

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Re: what kind of chickens?

Allyn wrote:
No heat in the coop...period. Chickens need a dry, draft-free, well-ventilated coop. A fully-feathered chicken can handle sub-freezing temperatures as long as the coop is dry, has no drafts and is well ventilated. People think it needs heat because they've had or they've heard stories of chickens getting frostbite on their combs. The problem isn't temperature; the problem is moisture.
Agreed. I live in western Pennsylvania and only heat my chickens' water to keep it from freezing. The coop is totally sealed from wind and weather so the cold is not a problem.

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Re: what kind of chickens?

So our chickens kept producing some eggs, but fewer and fewer right up to about Christmas. Then we had about three weeks with zero eggs. And this is with no supplemental light or heat. When it was so cold, we were closing the door to the box where they sleep/ roost/ nest (most of the time we left it open, so they could go in and out as they pleased), to cut down drafts. This worked pretty well. I could tell by sticking my hand in, that the inside of the box, with six hens generating body heat, was significantly warmer than ambient. We also stood bedding bales up in front of a lot of the screened areas and put tarp over the unroofed areas. With all that, they seemed to be fine when the temps went down in the teens. We were bringing their water in at night and taking it back out after it warmed up enough so the water wouldn't just freeze too quickly.

A bit more than a week ago, we started getting a few eggs again! But from six hens we have been getting one egg every other day. Don't know for sure which hen(s) are laying them, but we know it is one of the golden girls. None of the Ameraucanas have started laying yet.

So now that we have passed imbolc and are half way between winter solstice and spring equinox, is there anything we can do to encourage them to resume egg laying? Those of you who have chickens are yours laying yet?
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Re: what kind of chickens?

So in December they gradually tapered off how many eggs they gave us. In Feb, they have been gradually building up how many eggs. We were reliably getting an egg every day, then two. Yesterday we had our first four egg day, so we have four hens now laying, but not every day. Today we got two. But we are so happy to be getting eggs again! :) And our dozens are so pretty, with brown eggs, light tan eggs, and one hen that lays blue eggs.
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rainbowgardener
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Location: TN/GA 7b

Re: what kind of chickens?

A couple days ago, we had our first five egg day, from our six hens. They will soon be back to peak production. Each hen lays five or six eggs a week, so it always was rare for us to to get six eggs in a day. Sometimes four, sometimes six, most often five.

We have already given two and a half of our beautiful dozens of eggs away. We love our backyard chickens :)
Twitter account I manage for local Sierra Club: https://twitter.com/CherokeeGroupSC Facebook page I manage for them: https://www.facebook.com/groups/65310596576/ Come and find me and lots of great information, inspiration

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applestar
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Location: Zone 6, NJ (3/M)4/E ~ 10/M

Re: what kind of chickens?

Last week I offered to give some vegetable plant starts to the owner of my DD’s music school where she has her piano lessons. He got his wife on the phone and we spoke, and she said she will have the owner bring me a couple of her spaghetti squash from last fall that stored well over the winter.

This week I took a tray of plants for their garden, and in exchange, he gave me the squashes as well as a dozen multi-colored eggs from their chickens:

Image

— I couldn’t get the color to show up in the photo very well, but the third egg from the left in the top row is a blue-green egg too .... :D
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DarrenP
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Location: Mid North South Australia; warm temperate climate

Re: what kind of chickens?

I'm looking at getting some Aracauna chickens down the track; they are a smaller breed (not bantam) that lay blue-green eggs. Also a good breed for our hot, dry climate.
Currently have 9 ISA Brown/Hyline crosses and 6 Light Sussex pullets almost at point of lay. We get 8-9 eggs a day most days, sharing with the neighbours and selling the odd dozen to passing tourists.

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rainbowgardener
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Re: what kind of chickens?

We have three Ameraucanas which are related. One of them lays a blue green egg. The other two lay light tan eggs, which is probably an indication that they weren't pure bred. The other three are buff orpingtons which lay large to extra large brown eggs.

Since they got well going in the spring, they have been crazy productive. We've been getting five or six eggs per hen per week, week in and week out for months now. We eat eggs, we sell some, we give some away ...
Twitter account I manage for local Sierra Club: https://twitter.com/CherokeeGroupSC Facebook page I manage for them: https://www.facebook.com/groups/65310596576/ Come and find me and lots of great information, inspiration

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