Feeds and Feeding (3)
I recommend putting fresh feed in the feeders twice a day, once in the morning and once in the late afternoon. This way the feed stays fresher. If twice a day is not an option, feeding the chickens once a day is fine.
For several reasons, it’s not a good idea to put out a bunch of feed at once, even if the feeders have large enough hoppers to handle it. For one, feed will stay fresher in a feed storage bin than in the feeders where it will get more exposure to air and moisture. Fresh feed more palatable to the chickens and more nutritious for them. Second, putting out just enough feed for the day helps to prevent or reduce potential problems with rodents that may be attracted to an easy-to-get-to feed source.
Chickens have different nutritional requirements at different times in their lives. When they are young, it’s especially important that they get the right kind of feed, with the right balance of protein and other nutrients. It’s also important that they get plenty of feed — that is, that their feed is not restricted.
For young chicks, you’ll need a chick starter. Some manufacturers also make a starter/grower, which is designed to be used both for young chicks and as a grower feed as they get older. With many granulated starter feeds, the particle size is a bit too large for day-old chicks, so for the first week or so, you can grind up the feed a little finer by crushing it between a brick and a patio stone. Young chicks should also be given access to chick grit, which is available from feed stores. If you’re not able to find chick grit locally, you can also use adult-sized grit and crush it into finer particles using a hammer. For more information, see our initial chick care instructions.
Once the chicks reach about 5-7 weeks of age, they are ready to transition onto a grower feed (or you can keep them on starter/grower, if that is what you’ve been using). They should be kept on grower up until time of harvest, for cockerels or point of lay for pullets. Feed manufacturers will usually have recommendations of ages at which to switch feeds which may differ slightly from these — when in doubt, follow the feed manufacturer’s age recommendations.
Once your pullets reach point of lay and you start seeing the first few eggs, you can transition them onto a layer feed. It’s a good idea to also put oyster shells (a calcium source that will help them build eggshells) in a free choice feeder.
Chickens will eat different amounts of feed depending on the breed, the age, how hot or cold the weather is and how much forage they get.
Mature layers will eat about 2-3 pounds of feed per week once they are laying. Smaller birds will tend toward the lower end of this range, and larger, dual purpose breeds will tend toward the upper end.
Broilers raised until they reach about 6 pounds will eat about 10-12 pounds of feed each, total.
During cold weather, chickens will eat more in order to stay warm.
Egg Laying (9)
Because we are interested in breeds that are good for family homesteads and small farms, we focus mainly on dual-purpose breeds – that is, breeds that are good for both egg laying and meat production. Thus, all of our breeds lay reasonably well.
Our best layer is the Black Australorp, which lays well throughout the year and particularly well through the cooler winter months. Other very good layers are our New Hampshires and Welsummers. If egg laying is your highest priority, then one of these breeds would serve you well.
Our Delawares, which are also one of our fastest growing breeds for meat, are also good layers and follow closely behind these other three breeds.
Our Barred Rocks have a fairly strong tendency to go broody. When they are broody, they are not laying, so their lay rate is lower during parts of the year than the other breeds above.
One of the most common reasons, particularly in late fall or winter, has to do with light.
Most chickens are very sensitive to the amount of light they get and need 14 hours of light in order for the egg laying hormones to be activated. It does vary some by breed, but 14 hours is a pretty good target.
As a point of reference, on January 25th on our farm, we’re getting not quite 11 1/2 hours of light that’s bright enough to make a difference. That’ll increase a little each day up through mid-June, when we’ll be getting about 15 hours.
Recently this winter, we’ve been moving breeding flocks from the barn out the the field. In the barn, the birds get artificial light starting at 6 am, when I got out to the barn to begin feeding, and the lights go off around 8-9pm. While one of our flocks, the New Hampshires, was in the barn, they were laying about about a 70% rate, that is, I was getting about 7 eggs from 10 hens each day. But now that they’re out in the field, with no artificial light, I might be getting one egg a day. And that’ll improve as spring approaches.
If you choose to add light, first add 30 minutes of light in the morning. After a week, change to 1 hour of light, and so on, adding 30 minutes each week until you get to 14 hours of light.
Often just adding light will cause them to start laying soon, particularly with new hens that you’ve raised up to 6-7 months of age.
For some other ideas that may help, see: Why are my chickens not laying eggs?
Congratulations on your first egg. It is perfectly fine to eat the first one — unless you have had the hen on some medication, such as wormer, in which case, check the instructions for the medication.
Yes, hens will lay eggs fine without a rooster. But if you want to have a more sustainable flock, you will need a rooster so that your hens will lay fertile eggs that you can hatch, either under a broody hen or in an incubator.
A number of things can affect how well your hens lay eggs:
- Amount of daylight — hens need 14-16 hours of daylight each day to lay their best. In the late fall and winter, the shorter number of daylight hours is one of the most common reasons that your hens may slow or stop their laying. We don’t typically do this because it disrupts the hens natural laying and rest cycle, but if you want to supplement their light to increase laying, you can set up a light to come on a few hours before the sun rises.
- Temperature — when it’s too hot or too cold, hens may stop laying. The optimal temperature range for them is 55° to 90° (F)
- Water — chickens should always have good access to clean water. If they run low on water, this can cause stress and reduce laying.
- Quality layer feed — Hens need a good balance of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals to lay well. A good quality layer feed with contain the proper balance. If you’ve been feeding your chickens a lot of table scraps or scratch grain, that can throw off the balance and reduce their laying, so use moderation.
- Stress — Stress will cause your hens to lay less.
- Molting — When your chickens are molting, they’ll lay less or stop laying. This usually happens about once a year.
- Age — Most hens will lay well for the first two years, then their egg production will gradually decline up through about year five. To have an ongoing supply of eggs, you’ll need to add new hens periodically.
- Snakes and Skunks — These can eat the eggs that you are getting. Check your coops more frequently and look for signs that you might be losing eggs to predators.
- Diseases or Parasites — A hen that isn’t healthy or that’s suffering from parasites may lay less.
If your hens are laying their eggs in the floor of the coop or hiding them outdoors, here are a few suggestions:
- Since hens tend to look for a dark place to lay their eggs, position your nest boxes on the darkest wall of your chicken coop.
- Try to avoid having light from your chicken coop’s window or door shining directly into the nesting box.
- Place a few wooden or ceramic eggs in the nesting boxes. When your hens see these, they will start to view the nesting boxes as an appropriate place to lay eggs.
- It’s best to have nest boxes available in the coop by the time your hens turn about 16 weeks old. That way, they will have plenty of time to explore and get used to the nest boxes and will be more likely to use then once they’ve started to lay.
- If you weren’t able to get nest boxes in time for them to get trained to the nest boxes, you may still be able to get them to lay in the nest boxes mounted in your coop by training them very gradually, like I’ve done with one of our laying flocks. First, place a nest box in a dark corner on the floor of the coop, with plenty of bedding in it. Put a few ceramic nest eggs in it. After a few days, if your hens have started laying in this nest box instead of on the floor, then raise this nest box an inch or two every few days. Over the course of a few weeks, if you can get your nest box up to the height of your built-in nest boxes, and if the hens are still laying in it rather than on the floor, you can place it right next to your main nest boxes for a week or so. Next, move the ceramic nest eggs out into the adjacent built-in nest boxes. If all is still going well, then after a few days, remove the standalone nest box, and your hens will hopefully now be laying only in your built-in nest boxes.
The best way to get clean eggs is to avoid letting them get dirty in the first place. But there are times when that’s not always possible.
How to Keep the Eggs Clean
To get clean eggs to start with, keep fresh bedding in the nest boxes, and plenty of it. Remove soiled bedding as soon as you notice it. Dirty bedding leads to dirty eggs.
The coop floor affects how clean the eggs will be. If the floor of the coop has lots of wet manure on it or mud, the hens will track that into the nest boxes, making the bedding and eggs dirty. If it’s a mobile coop, move it to fresh ground regularly. If it’s a stationary coop, keep fresh bedding on the floor, or better yet, use a deep bedding system.
How to Wash Dirty Eggs
You can buy various egg washing equipment and cleaners, but for small scale egg washing, all you need is some sandpaper, a sponge, warm water and some unscented dish soap.
If the egg isn’t too dirty, use a bit of sandpaper to sand off the dirt. This avoids removing the bloom, or cuticle — a protective surface that naturally protects and preserves the contents of the egg.
Water washes off the bloom as well as the filth, so if you wash the egg, you’ll need to refrigerate it afterward. To wash it, use water that’s warmer than the egg. Warm water will heat the egg slightly, causing a little pressure from within. Cold water does the opposite, creating a little suction that can draw dirty water and bacteria through the pores of the eggshell into the egg, so only use warm water (water that’s a bit warmer than the egg).
For more information, see our article on how to clean chicken eggs.
A trap nest is a nest box that has a door which automatically closes when the hen enters it to lay an egg. There are a number of different designs for the automatic doors that involve different (sometimes quite ingenious) trigger systems, usually mechanical.
Trapnests have a couple of uses. For one, it lets you know which hens are laying eggs. This lets you determine accurate which hens are your best layers. (There are other approaches that work, too, but they are a little more subjective).
Second, it lets you know which hen laid which egg. This can be useful in breeding programs. For example, suppose you have a flock of hens that you are pen mating with one rooster. If you have trap nests, not only will you know the sire that fertilized the eggs, but you’ll also know the hen that it came from.
We’re not currently using trap nests with our flocks but have considered it and may in the future on a limited scale.
The main limitation or downside with a trap nest is that you have to check them frequently to let the hen back out after she’s finished laying.
The short answer is that most of our breeds will start to lay at around 5 to 7 months. For example, our Black Australorps layed their first egg when they were 26 weeks old (6 months) and were laying very well by 7 to 7 1/2 months.
Though you can buy hybrid layers from various sources that will start laying earlier than that, some as early as 4 1/2 months, early laying is not one of the traits that we select for. I’ll explain why.
It’s important to realize that as soon as your hen starts to lay, she will cease to grow. So, if she starts to lay at a very young age, she will not get very large. All of our breeds are dual-purpose, developed for both meat and egg production. We want both roosters and retired hens to be large enough for table use. If we were to select for early laying, our birds’ average sizes and weights would start to decrease in each successive generation, making these birds less “dual purpose” and less useful to our customers and to us. For this reason, we don’t select for earliness of lay. Instead, we select our breeders based on the breed standard and based on production traits.
We normally don’t recommend that you worm your chickens on a regular basis until you have confirmed that they have worms. Chickens are susceptible to several different types of worms, and the treatment varies for those different types.
Also, using wormer can interfere with your chicken’s ability to develop a natural resistance toward worms, as we discuss below.
If it seems like your chickens have worms, you can ask your local veterinarian to do a fecal test. This should be inexpensive and will tell you both if your chickens have a problem and if so, what type of worms they have. Then based on that information, you could treat them with the appropriate wormer.
To a large extent, you can prevent or reduce worm problems by practicing good flock management. If you house your chickens in chicken tractors, then move them regularly to fresh ground. This breaks the life cycle of the worms and reduces the likelihood of the chickens re-injesting the parasites or their eggs.
If you raise them in a stationary coop, keeping the bedding fresh will reduce problems with worms. Also, be sure to wash out waterers regularly and feeders, and make sure your chickens have a good supply of fresh, clean drinking water at all times.
Normally, your chickens will start to develop a resistance against parasitic worms, as long as they’re not being stressed by other problems. You can also have your vet do a fecal test about 4 times a year to monitor worm levels in various seasons. Based on your findings with the fecal test and based on your vet’s recommendations, you may come up with a yearly worming schedule that, together with proper sanitation and management, keeps worm problems under control and, to a large extent, prevents them.
If you’d like to read more about this, Gail Damerow’s book Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens is a good source of information, along with her Chicken Health Handbook.
The most common cause of feather loss is the annual molt. This normally occurs when the birds are around 1 year old and may take several months to complete.
It is natural for egg production to be lower than normal during the molt, and it should pick back up again after the molt. The molt usually starts with the head then moves to the neck, chest, back and wings. A rooster will lose feathers around his neck and back.
Another cause of feather loss can be nutritional deficiency. Check that the birds have access to the appropriate feed for their stage of development. Check, too, that the feeder is not overcrowded. As your birds mature, your chick feeder may not have enough space for the now older, and larger, birds.
Yes. We are certified under the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP).
Our flocks are tested for Pullorum-Typhoid and Avian Influenza (AI).
NPIP is a national program established in the 1930s that is designed to improve U.S. poultry and poultry products. It’s main purpose is to certify that poultry and related products that are to be shipped internationally or across state boundaries are disease free.
When you’re deciding where to put your chicken coop, here are several things to consider:
Make the coop location convenient for you.
First, you want the coop close enough that it’s convenient for you to gather eggs and feed, water and care for them each day. So you don’t want it too far from your home. But at the same time, their manure can tend to bring flies, so you also don’t want it too close to your home. I’ve found that the more convenient it is to take care of the chickens, the better I care for them and the more I enjoy them.
For Texas, put the coop under some shade.
Second, consider what your chickens need in addition to feed and water. In Texas, they need shade during the heat. If you can position them under a tree of any kind that provides shade, that will keep them cooler in the summer. And in Texas, summer is the most difficult time to raise chickens.
Put the coop where it will benefit the rest of your farm.
Third, consider where and how they can be used symbiotically. In other words, where can I put them that they’ll benefit some other part of my homestead? Some great places to put them are:
- In the orchard — If you have fruit trees, not only can they provide shade, but your chickens will get some food by eating the fallen or low-hanging fruit. And they’ll also eat many of the bugs that would otherwise harm your fruit trees. Too, their manure will enrich the soil around the trees. So putting them in your orchard is a good place. They will unmulch your fruit trees, foraging for bugs, so consider using a portable coop / chicken tractor to contain them rather than give them free-range of the entire orchard.
- In your garden during the off-season — After your tomatoes or other crops are done, move your chickens into that part of your garden. They’ll clean up weed seeds and bugs. They’ll lightly aerate the soil. And they’ll leave manure behind that’ll benefit next season’s crops. A portable shelter is a great way to do this. Or use electric mesh netting as a flexible way to contain them in a particular part of the garden.
- On your pasture or lawn — This’ll fertilize your pasture, so that the feed you’re paying for does double-duty. I’ve seen a big improvement to our pasture from rotating our chickens through it in mobile, hoop coops. Another approach is to use an eggmobile. The key here is to not leave them in one place too long. I like to move them daily or every few days. This way, the grass gets to rest both from being eaten and trodden down and from their manure. Experiment with the number of chickens, size of coop and frequency with which you move them to get the right balance. You’ll find that it varies somewhat from season to season.
Location for a Stationary Coop
If you’re going to use a stationary coop, ideally position it beneath a large shade tree. And, if possible, use a paddock system or some type of portable fence or run around it so that you can give your chickens access to fresh pasture regularly. Fresh ground is one of the most important things you can do to help them stay healthy.
Portable Coops Offer More Flexibility
Better yet, use a portable house that you can move around from season to season, or as the needs of your homestead change. Put it in your garden in summer to clean up after spring garden crops have died off. Move it to your pasture during part of the year (or your lawn, which is essentially a small pasture). Move it into your orchard during the early spring before you start to see worms and other pests headed toward your fruit trees. With a portable coop, you don’t really have to decide up front where to put the coop. You move it where you need it at any given time. That’s been, in my experience, one of the best approaches.
How much space to give your chickens is an important consideration. If chickens are too crowded, they’ll become more susceptible to disease, and they can quickly develop bad habits like pecking.
Many resources recommend that you give your chickens at least 2 square feet per bird. When the birds are young, that is adequate, but as they grow up they need more space. I prefer to give each bird at least 4 square feed if they’re going to be confined to a coop.
Our hoop coops are 10 feet wide by 20 feet long, or 200 square feet. In them, we start with 100 chicks at 8 weeks old. By the time the birds are 15 weeks old we are keeping only 50 chickens in a coop (4 square feet per bird). Given 4 square feet per bird, the chickens don’t look or act crowded.
We use a movable coop that gives our birds access to the grass and soil, so they they can scratch and forage, which is natural to them. We move the coops weekly so that the birds are always on fresh ground.
As the days get shorter, your chickens will spend more time inside. It’s important to keep fresh water and feed available. In cold weather, there’s a temptation to close all the doors and windows to keep them warm, but they really need fresh air and adequate ventilation.
One approach that can work well is the deep bedding or deep litter system. Basically, you keep a thick layer of high carbon bedding, 8″ or deeper on the floor. This can be dried leaves, sawdust or wood shavings or other similar material.
As your chickens drop manure on the bedding and turn it by scratching, the bedding will turn into a living compost pile inside the coop. It will have a clean, earthy smell, and will be quite sanitary. If you start to notice an ammonia smell, then it needs more carbon material added to the bedding. Also, make sure that it doesn’t get too wet. It can tolerate some dampness, but you don’t want it soaking wet.
We guarantee live delivery and 48-hour survivability. Normally we ship some extras, so if you have losses please count the number of live birds before calling.
We do NOT guarantee one-day delivery. We have no control over the USPS and have never been able to collect on their overnight guarantee. So if your birds take more than one day to arrive, we will not refund the shipping cost, nor will we file for a refund.
As egg laying depends on many factors beyond our control (lighting, water, feed, air quality) we do not guarantee that our birds will lay eggs by a certain date or at a particular rate.
Ordering and Shipping (4)
Throughout winter and spring, when the weather is cooler, our minimum shipment for day-old chicks is 25 chicks. After that, when the weather is warm, our minimum shipment size is15 chicks.
Yes! To schedule an order for local pickup, please call 254-829-5333. Once you place your order, we will provide the date when you can pick up the chicks. If you are scheduled to come to one of our Farm Day events, you can also make arrangements to pick up your order then.
No, our chicks are available as straight run only. There are two reasons for this. First, our hatching operation is relatively small compared to many other hatcheries, so currently we do not employ or hire a sexor who would be able to vent sex our other breeds.
Second, we’ve chosen to be a no-kill facility. By that, I mean that we don’t arbitrarily kill half of our birds at hatch time just because they’re males. Instead we want all of our birds, both males and females to grow out to their full genetic potential. Female chicks will grow to become egg producers or will become part of our breeding flocks. As they grow old enough to no longer be productive as layers, they will become table birds. Males will fulfill their potential by either becoming part of our breeding flocks or by being grown out for table use. Because we want all of our birds to fill out their genetic potential, we’ve decided to mainly focus on dual-purpose breeds (breeds that are both good meat producers and good egg producers). Such breeds are well-suited for use on family farms and homesteads and are the types of birds that traditionally produced most of the meat and eggs in the U.S. prior to the 1950s.
A straight run of chicks simply means that we sell them to you as-hatched, with no attempt made to separate out or distinguish males or females. We do not employ a sexor (someone who is able to determine at hatch time which chicks are males and which are females), so all of our chick sales are straight run only.
Please note that this does not mean that you’ll get an exact 50-50 split, particularly if you order a small number of chicks. If you order 10 chicks, for example, there is still about a one-in-five-hundred chance that they’ll all be males or all be females. But generally, for larger orders, you’ll find a mixture of both males and females. We make no guarantee with our orders as to how many males or females you will end up with.
How a flock is raised is as important as genetics in determining temperament, so how you raise the chicks will have a large effect on the friendliness of your birds. A flock that receives positive human interaction from day one is more likely to be friendly than a flock with only sporadic human interaction. When we select our breeders, we AVOID SELECTING aggressive males. Even so, a good male will be predisposed to protect the flock. So, if he thinks you are acting like a predator or sees you as a threat, he will likely challenge you.
Because we are a small hatchery, we “set” our hatches with only the number of eggs that we estimate that we’ll need in order to fill current orders. So we generally have only a few chicks with each hatch that aren’t already sold. We also offer a breeders pick option so you can purchase, for a discounted price, extra chicks that didn’t sell in a hatch.
Any day-old chicks that aren’t sold, we generally raise them to maturity then process them for table use, either to sell, for our own use, to share with friends and family or to serve as food at our on-farm events.
We highly encourage you to visit the farm where you procure your birds. When possible, we offer on-farm events, tours or classes that include a visit to our farm. For more information, see: Farm Day
People use these terms multiple ways in different contexts. On our website and in our catalog, “cock” describes a male bird over a year old. “Hens” are female birds over a year old. “Cockerels” are male birds up to a year old, and a “pullets” are female birds up to a year old. This usage is based on how these terms are defined in the APA Standard.
The APA Standard is the Standard of Perfection, and ours are not perfect :-). But the Standard of Perfection is the benchmark that we compare against each year when we select our breeders.
We’ve set goals for our breeding program, and each year, we seek to improve.
The 10 percent rule, or the rule of 10s, is based on genetic variability. Whenever you hatch poultry, even offspring from the same parents, the quality of the offspring will vary. Some birds will be about average. Some will be above average, and some will be below average. This is why it’s important to cull. Only about 1 out of 10 (or 10%) will be far enough above average to consider using them as breeders.
There are variations on this rule and how it is used. It’s not uncommon for breeders to select only the top 5% of male offspring as breeders (since fewer males are needed) while keeping the top 20% of females.
And some breeders, seeking improve their flocks more rapidly or more extensively, will select only the top 1% of offspring as breeders.
How this affects you, as a potential customer, is that you can expect some variability between the birds that you order from us. If you plan on starting your own breeding flocks, let us know, and we can help you determine how many birds to order to have a good starting point.
Pen mating is where you put a rooster (or cockerel) with a group of hens (or pullets) in a single pen. The rooster will mate with any of the hens in the pen, so you’ll know the sire, but you won’t know for certain which hen the eggs came from (unless you use a trapnest). It is often used in spiral mating or clan mating breeding systems.