Sunday, December 6, 2015

Best Chicken Breeds for Preppers

Doomsday prepping has become quite a popular hobby. It's no wonder, with the CDC releasing a zombie preparedness guide, and many possible tragedies the threaten life as we know it. Whether you're prepping for government collapse, the super volcano eruption, or a massive epidemic, chickens will be a valuable source of food to make you self sufficient. They are possibly the easiest livestock to care for and will provide both eggs and meat! However, not all chickens are the same, and some breeds would do better in a survival situation than others. I've come up with a list of my top picks. The list is in no particular order, and which ones are best depends on your climate and situation. The main factors I considered for this list are Use/Production, weather hardiness, free-ranging ability, raising young, and the ability to defend themselves. Some birds will be better at certain things than others, so I suggest a varied flock that covers all bases.

1. Rhode Island Red.

These guys are the jack of all trades. Originating from New England, they are very cold hardy, but can handle heat as well. They are great layers of large brown eggs, and very meaty birds for the table. Rhode Island Reds are decent free-rangers but will still need some supplemental feed, even in the summer and fall months. Roosters are extremely strong and protective of the flock, but this also means that they tend to be aggressive. Make sure children know to avoid the rooster and what to do if it becomes aggressive toward them. Hens are mildly broody, meaning they will hatch and raise chicks occasionally. 
Heritage birds (from a breeder) are desired over hatchery stock for this breed. Hatchery stock Rhode Island Reds (also called "production reds") have been bred for excellent egg-laying, sacrificing broodiness and size, so they are less desirable for dual-purpose uses. However, hatchery stock will still be good enough for the average prepper. Mine come from hatchery chicks! This would be an excellent breed to make up the bulk of your flock. 

2. American Game

American Games are the fighting fowl of the US. These beautiful birds are probably the toughest common chicken you can get! They are extremely flighty, and can evade most predators with relative ease. Their wings and tails are very long in comparison to their body size, making them perfectly equipped for flight! What they can't fly away from, they will fight. Because females often grow spurs as the males do, they are a force to be reckoned with to predators. Females are also excellent mothers, going broody and raising chicks several times during the hatching season. They protect these chicks with ferocity. 

In addition to being very good at protecting themselves and their young, this breed is very hardy and self-reliant. They can handle both heat and cold very well, can eat almost exclusively through free-ranging. Owners of this breed find that they often prefer to roost in trees rather than in coops, no matter the weather! They are practically wild birds, and can adapt to most any climate. They can have a pea comb or a single comb. Pea is preferred in cold climates, while single may be better in hot climates. 

The hardiness of this breed comes at a cost. They are not bred for production, so hens lay less than 100 eggs a year. Though they are muscular, they weigh less than five pounds, not making them much of a meat bird. In addition to that, these birds are born and bred for fighting and are very aggressive. Males can not be kept in confined environments with other males. Because of this, games should not make up a big part of your flock. Due to their flightiness and aggression, games are not ideal for beginners. 

3. Plymouth Rock

Stocky and cold-hardy, Plymouth Rocks are my personal favorite dual-purpose bird. They lay almost as well as the Rhode Island Red, but lay slightly smaller eggs and may lay a little less per year, especially comparing hatchery stock. They make up for it in their meat, however. Plymouth rocks are heavy, meaty birds. Both male and female can dress out at a decent size, and make for a tasty roast! Males are fairly protective, and not very aggressive. Females are moderately broody, and their size means that they can hatch a lot of eggs at a time.
While they will free range, their size requires that they have a lot of feed to supplement what they find.  This also means that they are poor flyers. 
Plymouth Rocks come in a lot of difference colors. Especially for free ranging flocks, barred or partridge colored varieties are best. White is the most easily spotted by predators, but the white pin feathers look better for butchering than that of darker birds. 

4. Orpington

Orpingtons, the pillow-pet of chickens. You can thank England for this fluffy breed, where they were developed into the excellent dual-purpose bird that they are today. They do fairly well in free-ranging, but will still require some feed, all seasons. Some people prefer Orpingtons over any other breed as a mother to chicks. They are very large, so a lot of eggs can fit under a hen. This breed also has an extremely calm, friendly temperament, making them a common pick for families with children. Roosters are generally not extremely protective, however. This breed is particularly cold hardy.
These birds have been bred for both eggs and meat, and lay medium to large eggs. Because they are a heavy breed, so each bird will have a hearty amount of meat for butchering. The most common color is buff, but they come in many more solid colors as well as patterns!

5. Leghorn

Sometimes pronounced "leg-horn", sometimes pronounced "leggern," Leghorns lay most of the eggs you see in the grocery store. This is because they are able to produce very large eggs, while their small bodies require significantly less food. In addition to laying lots of eggs on little food, they are great at free-ranging and excellent flyers! The brown variety of leghorn will be less susceptible to predators than the more common white. Males are known to be protective and are prone to aggression. They are generally not a mothering breed, however. They go broody very rarely. 
Leghorns will do very well in hot environments, but may do poorly in colder climates. Their large, floppy combs are prone to frostbite in the extreme cold. 

6. Easter Egger

The Easter Egger (often abbreviated 'EE') is not a true breed, but rather a mix of a blue laying breed, usually an Ameraucana or Araucana, with a brown or white layer. They generally lay blue or green eggs, but can lay pink, brown or cream as well. Hatcheries often label Easter Eggers as "Americana" to fool people in to thinking they are getting a great deal on the rare and expensive "Ameraucana" when they are, in fact, getting a mixed-breed bird. 
Nonetheless, Easter Eggers are inexpensive and extremely hardy birds. They are not very big chickens, but very resilient. They can handle heat or cold, but can deal with extremely cold temperatures better than most. An excellent choice for a northern prepper, EEs are great free-rangers and generally come in camouflaging patterns. They are mildly broody and make good mothers. They are a good layer of medium to large eggs that can be any color, but are most often blue or green. 
Easter Eggers are generally known to be quite friendly birds, but it can depend on the breeds a specific hatchery or breeder used in their birds' development. 

Breeds to avoid

There are plenty of birds not mention in my list that will do just as well as the above birds in a doomsday situation. However, there are a few you should probably avoid. 


This breed is often in bantam bins at feed stores. They are striking in appearance which makes them tempting, but your main flock is best without them. They don't lay much, sometimes only laying a total of 4-6 weeks out of the whole year. They don't generally go broody, and they aren't particularly weather-hardy. Males have "hen feathering" due to a mutation that mutes the testosterone receptors in their skin that cause most roosters to have long, pointed, shiny hackle and saddle feathers. This mutation has led to reduced fertility among male Sebrights. They can, however, fly better than most chickens and mine do very well in a free ranging environment (guilty as charged, I have two.)


Another I am guilty of owning. Silkies are an Asian breed of chicken that lack 'hooks' on their feathers. This causes the feathers to appear fluffy, as if the chicken has fur. Unfortunately, this mutation causes a lot of problems for the Silkie. They are unable to fly because their wings and tail cannot catch wind. They also cannot handle cool or windy weather very well. Normal chickens stay warm by trapping air between their feathers and their skin. That air is warmed by their body heat, and insulated by their feathers. Silkies' feathers don't do this very well. They also are not water resistant like a normal chicken's feathers, so they get soaked to the skin any time they get wet. 
Silkies do have a very calm demeanor, do well in confinement, and are good at raising young. They
may be a good option if you needed to keep a chicken indoors. 

Anything "frizzled"

It may be tempting to buy these adorable chickens that look like their feathers are permanently ruffled. However, they run into the same problems as Silkies. Those up-turned feathers are unable to insulate body temperature, making both excessively hot and cold weather difficult for them to handle. 


I personally do love the appearance of these goofy looking birds, but they aren't the best for a prepper. They lay modestly, but generally stop completely in the winter. They rarely, if ever, go broody. Polish could be good free-rangers, if it weren't for their giant crests making them predator bait. The crest blocks out most of their sight, making them unable to see any aerial predators. They also run into problems with other chickens who have not been raised with crested birds. They will peck at the crest, thinking they're getting some funny thing off of their flockmate's head, but they're actually scalping her. 

Your own flock

The best flock for a prepper is a varied one. As generations go on, the flock will combine their genes to produce well-rounded and diverse offspring, allowing you to continue your food source for a very long time. The chickens I specified are my personal top picks, but what you like or need may depend on your unique situation. Always do research on a breed before buying to see if it will fit in to your life! 

All images used in this article are either Public Domain, or owned by myself. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

6 Common Myths About Chickens

There are a lot of misinformation about chickens out there! Some of these myths even prevent people from getting chickens when they want them. Let's clear up some of that information, so everyone who wants chickens, can have them!

1. Chickens are dirty

While chickens aren't the cleanest of pets, they spend a lot of their time - often hours a day - preening to clean themselves and waterproof their feathers. Unless their pen is not kept clean and they can't escape the dirt, they are fairly clean animals. Just remember to clean your pen weekly, or stir the litter daily and add plenty of new material if you're using the deep litter method. If you do this, your birds will be clean as can be!

2. Chickens are loud

Unless you consider the average human conversation loud, this is untrue! Hens measure at about 60-70 decibels at their loudest. Roosters are a bit louder, clocking in at about 90 decibels, or about as loud as a dog's bark. Chickens aren't exactly quiet, but they're no louder than the normal sounds that go on in a community!

3. Chickens will transmit disease!

There are few rare diseases which can be transmitted between poultry and humans. The most well feared one, the Avian Flu, is quite rare. The Avian Influenza scare as of recently may put people off from getting chickens, but it is important to look at the facts. The vast majority of those cases were in factory farms with over 10000 animals, where disease spreads quickly. Another thing to remember is that the strain of flu in the US appears non-transmittable to humans, posing no threat to small flock owners. Salmonella is another concern for chicken owners. Salmonella is the primary bacteria that causes food poisoning, and can be avoided simply by washing your hands after handling chickens, and cooking your food thoroughly. 

4. You need a rooster to get eggs/you can't eat fertile eggs!

Hens will lay with or without a rooster, though it is necessary to have a rooster in order to hatch eggs! As for eating fertile eggs, you can. A fertile egg is nutritionally the same as an infertile egg. The only difference is, if it were to be incubated, it would develop into a chick! This can't happen on your counter or in your refrigerator, so eat up!

5. You can never have more than one rooster

Oh, this old myth. The truth is, what matters more is rooster to hen ratio. That ideal ratio is one rooster for every 10 hens, but some people keep a 1;7 ratio or similar, for higher egg fertility. Too few hens to a rooster can cause "overmating" in which the rooster mates individual hens too often. Two roosters housed together will fight on occasion, but will generally get along decently after they have established which one is Alpha and which is Beta. 

6. Chickens can live solely off of kitchen scraps

While kitchen scraps can make up a large chunk of their diet if those scraps are varied, chickens have nutritional needs that scraps don't always meet. Modern chickens use a lot of much needed nutrients in the egg laying process, so they need a very complete feed to make up for the lost protein and vitamins. A good layer or all-flock feed should be the staple of their diet, with scraps offered as they are available. Oyster shell should also be available for laying hens. 

Chickens can be such a valuable asset to many types of people. The environmentalist, the survivalist, the animal-lover, and those who simply want to be self sufficient. Don't let myths turn you away from getting chickens! 

Sources and Links:

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Breed Focus: Rhode Island Red

One of the most popular layers in the US and Rhode Island's state bird, this all-American breed is one of the first things to come to everyone's minds when they think of a chicken.

History of the Rhode Island Red Chicken

Developed in the late 1800s in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, this bird is considered the best American breed of poultry by many people. Originally, the Rhode Island Red had a deep mahogany color red feathers. This beautiful set of feathers were thanks to the Malay chicken, which was one of the breeds used to develop the Rhode Island Red. Other birds used included Asiatic Cochins and Brown Leghorns, for carcass size and egg laying capability. The purpose of this chicken was to have a significant amount of eggs, while dressing out as a nice carcass for the table. In 1902, the breed was admitted to the Standard of Perfection with the single combed variety, and the rose combed variety being admitted soon thereafter. 

Characteristics of the Rhode Island Red Chicken

Heritage Rhode Island Reds are most known for their dark mahogany feathers, though most hatchery-quality birds today have a lighter red colored feathering. They can have either a single comb or a rose comb, though the single combed variety is much more popular. Hens weigh around six pounds fully grown and lay brown eggs, while cocks weigh in at about 8 pounds. Heritage-type Rhode Island Red hens are likely to go broody, while production-type birds have had it almost completely bred out. 
Rhode Island Red cocks are known to be on the aggressive side, but fiercely protective of their hens. However, personality varies based on birds, so there are docile RIR cocks as well.
These birds are excellent for small farms. They lay extremely well for a dual-purpose bird and can handle inadequate conditions better than most breeds, though it is not recommended. Being developed in New England, they are also cold tolerant and often lay in the winter. 
Because hatchery-type Rhode Island Reds (also called production reds) are not bred to the Standard or Perfection and may have blood of other breeds in their heritage, their characteristics may vary. Production-type Rhode Island Reds are more common than the heritage-type birds.

Is this breed for you?

If you want to have a few birds that lay extremely well, even daily, but are more cold hardy than the White Leghorn, this may be the bird for you!  They can do well in a thrown-together DIY coop, as long as there is ventilation and protection from drafts in the winter. If you want a broody hen, you may want to opt for the heritage type or add a single hen of a broody breed, such as an Orpington or a Silkie hen. Though they can be friendly, Rhode Island Reds, for the most part, are  not as fond of affection as some other breeds, so they may not make the best pets. If you don't want loving pet chickens, but a respectable layer and a decent free-ranger, the Rhode Island Red is certainly a breed to consider!

Sources and Links:

Thursday, June 18, 2015

AVIAN FLU - US and Canada

Backyard chicken keepers and big farmers alike are in all stages of panic at the moment. With large numbers of birds infected in the midwest, including a farm in Iowa culling a total of 5 million infected chickens! That is at one single farm! In the west, several wild ducks, hawks, and falcons have been found with the disease, and it has reached some backyard flocks as well.
While this has mainly taken place in the United States, There have been a few small outbreaks in southern British Columbia and Ontario in Canada as well.

Government Intervention

Several states have put a hold on all large poultry sales, shows, and similar gatherings until the outbreak is under control. 
30 countries have banned US poultry due to the outbreak, particularly from Iowa, where the largest outbreaks have taken place. Iowa is the top commercial producer of eggs in the United States. Considering nearly half of the laying hens in the state have been culled, economics expect Iowa to take a pretty big economic hit.

Is my flock at risk?!

In the US Midwest, your flock could be at risk for contracting the Avian Flu Virus. Measures in biosecurity must be taken to ensure the health of your flock. Keep your birds pinned up, rather than free ranging, and do not add any new birds to your flock.
There have been smaller cases in the Northwest and Southwestern US states, so care must be taken even if you don't live in the Midwest (where the worst is taking place)! There have also been a few cases in southern Canada. There has yet to be a case found on the Atlantic flyway, though the CDC warns that migrations in the fall months may spread the virus more quickly. In my personal opinion, if you live in the US or southern Canada, even if you do not live in a 'hotspot,' measures need to be taken to avoid infection of your flock. Do not order hatching eggs or live birds from affected states (even from hatcheries - some have found the virus in their breeding flocks). If you get any new birds, quarantine should be even more strict than usual. Also, avoid allowing your flock to come in contact with wild birds - particularly migratory birds. It is suggested that you do not feed wild birds for this reason. If you take simple biosecurity measures, your flock will most likely be safe!
Luckily, it seems to be of no risk to humans. The CDC and USDA confirmed that no cases of HPAI H5 (the three viruses in the US and Canada currently) have infected humans, though they warn that it's not impossible for humans to contract the virus.
However, and outbreak of the H7N9 AI virus in China has resulted with infections among humans. This is different from the viruses we are experiencing in the US and Canada. 


In the United states alone, nearly 50 million birds have been culled due to Avian Influenza. The majority of these numbers come from large factory farms.
The US egg industry have taken a huge hit from the epidemic, with egg prices nearly doubling over the past few months. Many bakeries have have been completely cut off, and some grocery stores have begun rationing eggs (limiting the amount you can buy per purchase). Bakeries and restaurants are turning to European eggs and plant-based substitutes to use in their goods.

Effect on Backyard Poultry Owners

Before we flip out and give up on poultry, it's best to analyze the situation. Sure, many birds have had to be culled due to outbreaks. However, most of those were in commercial operations and therefore small backyard flocks could be easy to keep secure and disease-free with fewer birds to house and monitor. With the egg rationing, price increase, and public panic over the virus, this situation would be extremely easy to take advantage of and sell excess eggs! 
Whether you plan to take advantage of the situation and jack your own egg prices up, be kind and keep them the same, or quarantine your whole flock and not sell anything, the AI virus will likely have some effect on poultry owners. Keep yourself updated constantly and track individual outbreaks using this map!

Sources and Links:

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Just a little update!

This is not a formal 'article" style blog post as I normally do, more so an update on what has been going on at our farm since our latest update!
So what's been going on? In the time since I last updated, our flock size has increased, we added ducks, and we lost our dear Blossom. However, I do have a chick from her, so not all is lost!
As I've been taking a crack at hatching, I've had a good hatch, and a not so good hatch. The better hatch was that of my own eggs from my own birds, and the second was that of shipped eggs. While it could have done a lot better, shipping eggs was definitely a contributing factor. From the shipped eggs, we hatched 2 salmon Favorolles, a Mille Fleur d'Uccle, and three mutt chicks (one of which I believe is part Langshan). We also hatched out a single Chinese Ringneck Pheasant!
I have been very busy working on multiple projects to improve our little farm, including a pond, a second chicken coop, and a fence!

I will be posting more often than I have lately, this is only a quick update that I may even delete later. I will make another that includes pictures and more details about my birds!

Possible future posts:
Predator Protection
Building a pond
Raising chicks and ducklings
Guide to buying eggs on eBay

Happy farming!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Gardening with Limited Space

You love your city life. The proximity to everything you need and want, the city lights, the skyline. But maybe you want a taste of the country life, fresh veggies or herbs that you grow yourself! It may seem out of your grasp, but it's within your reach!
I once had an agriculture teacher who grew up in an apartment in town. While all of the other kids were raising goats, pigs, and lambs as projects for the county fair, he was struggling to figure out a good FFA project to do. The solution? Growing vegetables in his bedroom window!

What do I need to grow plants? 

You need light, soil, and water. Oh and a place to put them. Some folks also like to use fertilizer, such as miracle grow. This is fine, but I prefer to use nature's soil (yes, that means composted chicken poop!) If you have a pet rabbit or guinea pig, their poop is awesome as well!

Where can I put these plants?

I always start my plants in the big bay window in our living room. They receive the morning light, and then limited light throughout the day. Then, as they get bigger, I plant them in larger pots and eventually plant them outside. If you live in a suburban environment, this method will work perfectly fine! However, a fully urban setting probably won't allow you yard space to plant a big outdoor garden! Don't worry though, there are other ways!

Terrace garden

In this method, you plant in large pots and put your veggies on your terrace. They can really beautify the space, while also giving you fresh veggies and herbs!
I found a great blog about having a garden in the city - particularly terrace gardening!

Sun room

If you happen to have a sun room (a room with glass walls) This is a perfect place to grow plants. It's like a little greenhouse! Just like the terrace garden, plant in pots and arrange them in a way that suits you and the plants!

Saving space

Whether you have a small suburban backyard, a terrace, or a sunroom, it is important to save as much space as possible while still growing a decent amount of crops. 

Pallet Garden

One of my favorite methods of this is the pallet garden! Staple some plastic to the back of it, really pack in the dirt, plant, and then lean the pallet against a wall or fence! I like to grow smaller plants, like herbs, or vining plants in these gardens. Here is an excellent full tutorial on how to make a pallet garden:

Mini Greenhouse

Ever wanted a greenhouse? You can make a tiny one for less than $30! A basic greenhouse is made of a square base (I prefer wood for this) and flexible PVC to create a "dome" shape, then plastic is stretched over the pipe. This type of greenhouse is light enough to be moved around. It is also cheap and simple enough to be torn down and reassembled each year! 
Here is a very useful article on a DIY mini greenhouse:

How do I fertilize my garden?

You have a couple options when fertilizing your garden. How you do so depends on whether or not you want your crops to be considered "organic" or not. Personally, I prefer compost, because it is free!


If you live in an apartment or condo, you may think that composting is just not possible, but that's not necessarily true. Check out this article about indoor compost, and it's increasing popularity in Canada, and this post about personal experiences with indoor composting. If you're doing an indoor composter, do not attempt to compost meat. No amount of air freshener will fix that mistake. Stick to veggie scraps and poo from the pet rabbit/guinea pig/hamster. If you are doing an outdoor composter, there are mixed opinions on the matter. You can, but if you don't have a big yard or you have close neighbors, you may want to rethink it. Meat also may bring in animals to your yard. Most of my kitchen scraps go to my chickens, whose poop then goes into the compost pile. However, if the meat is spoiled and therefore inedible by even chickens, I put it at the bottom of the compost pile to decompose without horrid smells. We've done this for years and it's never been a problem! However, keep in mind, the bottom of my compost pile is buried under a couple feet of soiled straw and grass clippings. Remember to wash your hands after tending to composting materials (especially poop)!

Commercial Fertilizer

If you are growing organic, skip this completely. Realistically, there is little evidence to show that commercial fertilizer will actually hurt you at all. Studies suggest it has no effect on the body to eat plants that have been grown with commercial fertilizer as compared to organic food. So don't feel bad if you don't want to have a composter in your kitchen, it's not for everyone! A popular fertilizer than people use for flower gardens is miracle grow, and that will work fine for your run-of-the-mill garden veggies. Large companies and greenhouses generally use stronger commercial fertilizers, which I avoid because my skin does not agree with it, at all. Personally, I don't use fertilizers anymore because I have a free option, compost. If you use fertilizer, make sure you mix it properly and store the container properly. 

What plants should I choose?

What you should plant depends on what you want from your garden and what you have space for. 

Small apartments and condos

Veggies/Fruits - small tomato varieties, such as cherry tomatoes, are good options, and can be grown in a hanging  planter, like a bucket with a big hole drilled in the bottom, or a topsy-turvy planter! You can also grow a few single green bean (bush-type) or pea plants. Peppers are generally small plants (under 2') and can be  grown in a decent sized pot. Strawberries are excellent small plants as well, you could probably have one in your windowsill! 

Herbs - herbs are a pretty easy plant for small spaces. Most don't get extremely large, and make your house smell delightful. I enjoy growing basil, oregano, lavender, mint, and catnip (kitties just love it)!
You can use them fresh and raw to cook with, or you can dry them and crunch them up. You can dry the old-fashioned way, by hanging them up, or you can use a dehydrator. 

Suburban Home

Most likely, you can have a few plants outside, so you have a bit more freedom!

Veggies/Fruits - Tomatoes (whatever type you wish), green beans, wax beans, possibly potatoes, and peppers are  all good options for the average backyard garden. Corn should  generally be avoided, as stalks can be over 6' tall with some species. If you do wish to grow corn, choose a variety that have a shorter stalk. I've planed Ruby Queen Hybrid corn several times (suppose to be 7' tall) but each time grew just 3-4', yet with fully sized cobs! I have no idea why, as my other corn doesn't do this. As for fruits, you can do well with some properly-maintained berry vines. Many berry vines naturally have thorns, but you can get the thornless variety for easy harvesting - which I strongly suggest if you have children! Remember to trim them each year after they turn brown. Poorly maintained berry vines can quickly swallow up your backyard!

Herbs - Pretty much anything they sell in the lawn & garden department. You can even keep them inside if you want!

Happy Gardening!

I hope your garden does well, and all the veggies, fruits,  and spices taste absolutely delightful! May you and your family eat delicious, healthy food that is right at your fingertips! Above all, have fun with your garden, however you choose to raise it! 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Chicken Behavior: Normal or Abnormal

Sometimes, our chickens do things that we simply don't understand. If you have chickens, you've probably looked out your window and thought "That stupid bird, why on earth is it doing that?"
So, why do chickens do certain things, and what is normal for them to do?

What are normal chicken behaviors?

Normal behaviors in chickens can seem odd to us. However, for this article, note that there is a difference between "normal" and "natural" behaviors. Natural behaviors can change by the situation that the bird is in, and is driven by it's instinct, though it may not be normal because it's not something the bird does under typical circumstances. For example, cannibalism in chickens is not normal in a flock with plenty of space, but is caused by a natural instinct when overcrowded. Cannibalism is a natural behavior that suggests a problem. 

So, let's explore some normal chicken behaviors. 

Fighting. Like any other animal, chickens sometimes fight over food and dominance among other things. If you have two roosters, they will likely get in a couple of fights because they need to sort out who is the lead rooster. Fighting is okay, but if they are fighting to a point of serious injury, you may want to intervene. 

Mating. Chicken mating does not look fun. It looks a lot like the rooster is trying to kill the hen, especially among young pullets and cockerels. Between a mature lead rooster and hen, the cock will (sometimes) do a "dance" in which he drops his wing and walks in a half circle towards the hen. If the hen accepts, she will squat for him, and he will jump on top of her. They touch their vents together so the semen enters the hen's vent (the rooster has no penis). The act is short, usually lasting between 5 and 15 seconds, and does not always go smoothly. The hen can then store the semen for up to three weeks, and sometimes longer.  With younger pullets and cockerels, they mating may not be so easy. The cockerel will generally skip the "dance" and just hop on. The pullets often don't squat, or try to touch her vent to his. They may even try to get away. This looks violent, but they will eventually get the hang of it. Here is a video of mating, without the dance.

Scratching. Chickens will scratch the ground to dig up bugs and plants to eat. They leave a "chicken scratch" or thinned patches of grass. If you don't like these patches, you can keep your chickens in a designated area. If you don't mind the thin patches, the chickens eat tons of those pesky bugs that live in your grass! You may never have to deal  with another slug ever again, for the low cost of a few bald spots on your lawn!

Cease Laying. Hens stop laying eggs when they are molting, and, with most breeds, in the winter. This is completely normal. You can encourage your hens to continue laying in the winter by using an artificial light for a couple hours after sunset each day. Some roosters will also need photostimulated to produce sperm. They stop laying during a molt to conserve energy and protein for growing new feathers. During this time, there is nothing you can do to make them lay, and it would be unhealthy to do so. You can feed them high-protein treats like cat food or nuts to assist the process. Most chickens molt for the first time in fall of the second or third year, but some molt within their first year. It is also not uncommon for them to molt during the winter. 

Crowing, morning-day-night. It is often accepted that roosters only crow in the morning, this is not true. Roosters can crow from the moment they can see UV rays, until they go to sleep the next night. Some roosters even wake up and crow! So why do roosters crow? There are many reasons. They crow to let their presence be known to other roosters, to take possession of hens, to call the hens to him, and just because he feels like it. This is normal behavior. To keep the rooster from waking you, I suggest using a fan to block out noise.

Preening. This is when a chicken cleans their feathers, and they spend a lot of time doing it. They use their beak and tongue to remove loose dirt and bugs from their feathers. It may appear as though they are puling their feathers out, but that are not. 

Dusting. Chickens love to dust! They use their legs and wings to loosen up dirt, and then they roll in that loose dirt. This helps to prevent mites and other external parasites. Using old tires to make dusting pits may keep them out of your flowerbeds. 

Broodiness. Some people become concerned that their chicken is depressed when it sits on a nest, not moving, and hissing at them when they come near her. However, she has just gone broody! A broody hen will sit on eggs, even if they are infertile. Some will even attempt to hatch golf balls! This is normal behavior. If you wish to have more chicks, put some fertile eggs under her! Because she can raise the chicks with the flock, you don't have to go through the trouble of introducing them later on.

Abnormal Behavior 

Pecking and Feather Picking. Pecking is a common problem, and is abnormal when it becomes obsessive. Whether you have a chicken that is doing it to themselves or others, it's a sign that your bird is bored or overcrowded. If you have enough space for your chickens, then it may be due to a specific bird which, if excessive, may need to be culled for the health of the rest of the flock. 

Cannibalism. Chickens are naturally cannibalistic. If they see a dead chicken, they have no problem eating it, and it will not hurt them as long as the carcass is not diseased. However, killing and eating a fellow flock member is not normal. It suggests that your flock is overcrowded. This is often a problem seen in commercial flocks, both in battery cages and in barns. If you're having this problem, you need to reduce your flock size or increase your coop/run size. 

Overmating/Aggressive Mating. Aggressive mating is often a problem with young cockerels and pullets. Cockerels will gang up on a pullet, forcing her down, one after another. This is not normal mating and may seriously injure the pullet, and she should be removed if this happens. Though they are inexperienced and aren't sure what to do, mating should be a quick process that she can get up and shake off. Overmating is a bit more normal, but still suggests a problem. It is when the cock's spurs tear off the feathers on the back and/or on the neck (from his beak) due to mating too often. This can happen when there is not enough hens for one rooster, or adolescent cockerels which tend to be a little rough. The problem can be solved by culling* excess roosters, adding more hens, or outfitting your hens with chicken saddles.

Wing Drooping. Droopy wings and tails are a common sign of multiple illnesses. If you notice a chicken with droopy wings, you should immediately examine your chicken. It appears as the chicken is slightly squatted, with its wings a bit spread and pointed downward, rather than held against the body as they would be normally.

Lethargy. Not to be confused with broodiness, lethargy suggests illness. Chickens normally like to stay up, awake, and peck around. A chicken that is lying in one spot for extended periods of time, unable to hold its head up, or have difficulty walking is lethargic and possibly sick. 

Human Aggression. This is actually a normal, but intolerable, behavior, most commonly among males. A rooster may fly up to you, flapping his wings and trying to hit you with his claws and spurs. This can be very dangerous, especially around children, as a cock's spurs can grow over two inches long and are sharp. If a rooster attacks you from above (flying), knock him directly to the ground.  If he attacks your feet, give him a little shove-kick (not enough to injure him). Then, pick him up and force him to stay still under your arm, or just chase him around for a few seconds. This will tell him "I am the boss, I am the lead chicken, you do not attack me!" Yes, to chickens, we are all just a bunch of chickens,

Crowing hen. This is a fairly uncommon occurrence, yet it does happen. When it does, it is usually an older hen that is taking on the role of a rooster, especially if a rooster has been removed. It doesn't sound exactly like a rooster's crow, however. This video shows two hens crowing at each other!

Inter-species mating. This is generally abnormal behavior, but isn't always a problem. Guineas and chickens can mate fairly safely. However, a male duck over a chicken hen can be dangerous. Male chickens do not have penises, so hens are not meant to breed that way. Male ducks not only have a penis, but a corkscrew-shaped phallus that may be covered in small barbs. A drake mating with a chicken could be very harmful. 

In conclusion 

Thank you for reading, I hope I was able to help with any questions you may have had. If you have any tips or suggestions, comment or contact me through the "Contact Me" page. 

Sources and Links:

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Feed: Organic or Conventional?

If you've been on any online forums that have to do with food, you've probably seen people arguing about this subject. Organic vs. Normal feed. So, what's the hype? We're going to sift through some evidence, decide which is credible, and hopefully help you decide what is best for your situation!

What is the definition of "organic"?

According to the FDA, farmers labeling foods as "organic" must raise and grow their crops with no herbicides or pesticides,  use manure or compost as fertilizer, and must feed animals feed made from plants matching that description. Organic foods must also be non-GMO (not a genetically modified organism).

Organic Feeds - Common arguments

  • GMOs make animals and people sick
  • Pesticides never leave the plant
  • Organic foods are healthier
  • Conventional farming harms the environment
  • "Normal" feeds contain antibiotics 
  • Pesticides and herbicides leave residue in eggs
  • Animals in conventional farms are treated poorly, better in organic farms

Conventional Feeds - Common arguments

  • It is more practical to use conventional feeds
  • Medicated chick feed can prevent chicks from dying 
  • Conventional feeds can be produced at a much higher rate 
  • There are more viable options with conventional feed
  • Organic is a "fad" food 
  • Pesticides do not hurt the ecosystem much 
With all of this information, we need to be open minded, yet skeptical about the source of people's information. What sources are credible? Let's first eliminate what statements are completely or partially false. 

Statements on Organics

"GMOs make animals and people sick"
There is no credible evidence that GMOs are worse for consumption.
"Organics are healthier"
According to Stanford University, organic foods are not any different from their conventional counterparts nutritionally. Even, an advocate for organic foods, admits that there is little evidence in favor of the belief that organics have health benefits.
"Normal feeds contain antibiotics"
Some commercial feeds contain antibiotics, though it is closely regulated by the government. Store bought conventional feeds (Purina Layena, Dumor feeds, etc.) do NOT contain antibiotics. Some chick feeds contain small amounts of antibiotics, because chicks are susceptible to many types of bacteria while their immune system is still developing.
"Normal feeds leave pesticide residue in eggs"
There is a pesticide residue on the feed, but not enough to affect the egg.

Statements on Conventional feed

"Organics are a fad"
This is partially untrue, as technically, today's conventional farming developed within the past century. "Organic" farming has taken place throughout most of human history/
"Pesticides do not hurt the ecosystem much"
The chemicals used in farming can be pretty bad for the environment, especially once they reach water. Runoff can be devastating to the ecosystem of ponds and lakes, killing tons of fish at a time. It can take a long time for the ecosystem to recover. 

So what is true?

Now that we've debunked the incredible information, let's go on to the supporting information!

Organics - Supporting Information

"Animals in organic farms are treated better than those in conventional farms"
This is true, for the most part. Organic-raised cattle, goats, sheep, etc. must have access to pasture during the grazing season. Conventional farms have them kept in cramped areas, fed only feed, and unable to perform natural behaviors. Organic chickens cannot be kept in battery cages. When buying animal products at a store, organics are clearly the more ethical choice.

"Pesticides never leave the plant"
This is partially true. If pesticides or herbicides are used on a plant, there will be some residue on the plant when it gets to your table. There is little evidence suggesting that this is very harmful, but many families don't like the thought of it. 

In order to sell your eggs as organic, you must feed your chickens organic feed. Being able to legally consider your eggs organic can get you two more dollars by the dozen of eggs. To many, this is worth an additional $7 on a bag of feed. 

Conventional feeds - Supporting information

"It is more practical to use conventional feeds"
Conventional feed is much, much cheaper. Because the risk is incredibly low and possibly nonexistant, many chicken owners find that it makes more sense to use conventional feeds (without antibiotics). 
"Medicated chick feed saves lives"
It is not uncommon for chicks to die. It's natural selection, the ones with the strongest immune systems live to reproduce. Unfortunately, when you only have six chicks, for of them getting sick and dying means a big loss. Medicated chick feed and assure that the most possible chicks will survive. By the time they lay an egg or are ready to be processed, the antibiotics are long out of their system. 
"There are more viable options with conventional feed"
In conventional feed, there are a lot more brands to choose from, with more competitive prices. If you feel that one company does not have proper nutrition, there are tons of other options in the same feed store. 

Conclusion: Organic or Conventional?

As far as whether or not organic food is better for you? The answer is most likely no. Raising your chickens solely on organic feed will most likely not benefit them or you as opposed to feeding them conventional feed. However, choosing organics over conventional foods is much better for the environment and much more ethical. Organic feeds have not contributed as much to the pollution of aquatic ecosystems, and other organic foods do not contribute to animal cruelty. Buying organic is a  decision of ethics, rather than health. Ultimately, it is your decision as to what is best for your family and your livestock. Both organic and conventional feeds are viable, realistic options. 

Sources and links:

Friday, February 6, 2015

Starting an Urban Flock

The Urban Flock - Getting Started

If you live in the city, you may think that you can't have chickens. However, that is not necessarily true. Most cities have a four to six hen maximum, given there are no noise or odor complaints from your neighbors.

Why get chickens?

There are plenty of reasons to get chickens. They control bugs (especially those pesky slugs!), they produce fertilizer for your garden, provide feathers for any crafting uses, and, of course, they lay eggs! Chickens also make good pets. They are comical and are fun to watch as they peck around, bach-bach-baching at each other! Chickens may be a wonderful addition to your family!

So, you want some chickens?

Chickens are a delightful addition to your backyard, but there are a few things to consider before you get chickens. 
The first is to check with local laws, to know how many chickens you can have, how you must house them, and any other laws pertaining to poultry. If you live in a community with a Home Owners Association, make sure chickens are allowed and it is okay with your neighbors!
 Keep in mind that all those things that chickens do, providing bug control, feathers, and eggs, is not free. Especially in start up costs, you have to rake out the cash!
 Then, decide where you will keep your chickens, and how many chickens you have room for. Housing suggestions for chickens is four square feet of coop space, and 10 square feet of run space per chicken. The coop is where your chickens will sleep, lay their eggs, and be sheltered in severe weather. The run is where they will eat, dust, and spend time outside. 
Once you've measured how much space you have, and how many chickens you can keep in that space, it's time to plan your coop! You can buy a pre-made coop online or at a feed store, or you can build your own chicken coop! I made my chicken coop out of an old playhouse that was no longer in use! 
So, ready for chickens now? Hold on, there, we've got a couple more things to cover. 

You need some supplies!

In order to start your flock, you'll need some supplies! 

A feeders and waterers
A brooder (if you're getting chicks) (this can be done with a plastic tote and a desk lamp)
Extra bulbs for your brooder
Chicken feed (or medicated chick feed)
Bedding (I prefer straw and pine shavings)
Nesting boxes (if your coop doesn't have them already)
Grit (crushed up rocks, you can get it at a feed store)
Something to clean the coop with (I prefer the snow shovel)

And that's the basic stuff. 

How are you going to get them/ what breeds?

You can get chickens from a feed store in the spring, or you can order them online from hatcheries. There are pros and cons to both.

Feed store:
Easy, no-hassle. Buy your chicks and leave.
Convenient, you likely have a feed store close to you.
You can see your chicks before you buy, you can see any obvious problems. 

Often mislabeled breeds by staff
Often poor variety of breeds
Chicks are exposed to the public, may contract illness

Directly from Hatchery:

Huge variety of breeds.
Keep better track of labeling.
Chicks are shipped directly to you, without exposure to the public. 

May be inconvenient due to shipping rates and minimum order size.
Must plan orders with hatch dates.
You cannot see if there is something wrong before you buy your chicks. 

*Remember, when buying from a hatchery, be sure to notify your post office that you are expecting live poultry and be available to pick them up as soon as they come in. 

What should you get?
There is a huge variety of chicken breeds out there, but not all may suit your family. What you should get depends on what you want, and your situation. 

For egg production:
Red Sexlinks. A hybrid of a red rooster and a silver hen, these birds are egg laying machines. They are known to lay an extra large brown egg almost every single day! If you can only have 3 birds, that is still plenty of eggs for an average sized family! They are called Red Sexlinks because they can be sexed by the color of their down at hatching. Males grow to be white, females are buff to red with white undertones. They are also known as Golden Comets, Red Stars. Cinnamon Queens, Golden Buffs, and many other names. 
Black Sexlinks. Similar to the Red Sexlinks, they are a cross between a red rooster and barred hen. Male black sexlinks are barred, females are black with red feathers on their head and chest. 
Buff Orpingtons: A calm, fluffy breed, they are very popular. Their gentle personalities make them popular choices for families with young children. They go "broody" often and are excellent mothers to their chicks. 
White Leghorns: These flighty white birds are the top egg producer in the United States. They are the layers of the large white eggs that you get at the grocery store. 

For pets:
Silkies: These are one of the most popular pet chickens. They appear to have fur rather than feathers, and are quite small in size. Kids love the fluffy "cottonball" appearance. They also make excellent mothers. They come in many colors including white, black, buff, and blue.
Cochins: These fluffy birds come in both Large Fowl and Bantam sizes. They are popular pet birds, and lay more eggs than many ornamental breeds. You may expect 3 eggs a week per bird, though some report having more. 
Easter Eggers: Green eggs and ham? These hybrid birds are a kid favorite. They come in bantam and large fowl sizes, and lay blue to blue-green eggs. They have the blood of several different breeds in them, including the Ameraucana, which they are often confused with. 
Polish: These ornamental birds are known for the somewhat silly appearance of their crests. They appear to have an 80's "teased" hairdo, and are quite the beautiful bird. They come in many colors including Gold and silver laced (black), and buff laced (white). 

And that's just to name a few! There are tons more breeds that could suit your family! 

What to do when you get your chicks.

Chicks have to stay warm, but must avoid getting too hot as well. It's best to keep them in your house, in a brooder.
My brooder is simply a large plastic tote with a desk lamp clipped to the side, at an angle that the chicks can get away from it. Place a small bowl of water with pebbles in the bottom to make sure they won't drown if they fall in!
Your chicks need to stay in until they're feathered, which is around 6-10 weeks.

Help! My chicks are flying out of the brooder but they're not fully feathered!
Flight feathers and tail feathers are the first to come in - and be fulling functional. Our simple solution was to put an old screen from a window on top of our brooder. Put something mildly heavy on top of it so they can't move it. Consider your carpet saved!

When do they start laying eggs?!

Congratulations! You raised your babies and they are now young pullets. Depending on the breed, they should start laying between four and six months of age! 
But don't you need a rooster to get eggs?!
No. You do not need a rooster for the hens to lay eggs, but you do need a rooster to fertilize them if you plan to hatch your own eggs. I do not suggest getting a cockerel with your initial chicks, and you likely are not allowed to have one in an urban/suburban setting. Roosters come with their own set of possible problems to run into, and it's best to avoid that while you're starting out. 

Have fun!

If you can take care of your dogs or cats, you can take care of chickens. They're not difficult to care for, but take just a little responsibility. Your kids will learn the value of the work they put into something, and the food that comes from that work. You will find yourself entertained by the dumb little things you'll see your chickens do. You'll know that your eggs come from your chickens, that are treated well and nourish your family. Enjoy your chickens!


Meyer Hatchery (OH)
Ideal Poultry (TX)

Chicken websites:

One of my red sexlink hens. They are superb layers!