Saturday, February 23, 2013

Introducing New Chickens To My Yard

My new extra large chicken coop
Adding to my flock of girls has been many months in the planning and there has been a sad farewell to one of my two old faithful Isa Brown chickens in the early part of February this year. Dear Molly passed away suffering ongoing kidney issues due to her high egg output. But if it wasn't for her passing I may never have set my plan into action of increasing my chicken flock.

This time around I really threw myself into researching different breeds and located some fancier and possibility healthier breeds locally. Thank God for the Internet for linking up breeders with backyardians like myself, and providing so much information on every chicken variety available.

And here's my beautiful new girls who arrived this week!
Two Light Sussex and three Silver Laced Wyandottes.

Change of Breed

I have been a keeper of chickens by proxy ever since I moved to Sheidow Park, as my neighbours could not  look after their flock due to their rental agreement and lack of knowledge about poultry. I took on standard white chickens and some fluffy white bantams with feet in a terrible condition. In essence, I became a mini RSPCA for chickens. And I absolutely loved it! My yard was full.

In between I also added my first two Isa Brown chickens. Later, I gave them away to a hobby farmer as their egg production ceased and the visitation of native pigeons to their water and food was out of control and causing constant worm problems.

So I set about to fix my yard so as to keep the pigeons away before I added any new chickens. Their health was my number one priority.

I purchased another two Isa Browns as they seemed to be the only breed I could obtain in Adelaide. Again, I ran into issues with the that breed, but now with the pigeon issue resolved I could see the Isa Brown traits clearer. I called a local mobile vet to inspect my girls and she gave me a better understanding about their inherent health problems due to their high egg output.

I later caught up with Dr Karl Kruszelnicki's radio show on TripleJ tackling the question of 'why do chickens make such a noise after laying an egg/'. It opened up all sorts of theories from pride to pain. However, the best answer came from one caller who explained what chickens were like prior to domestication.

Originally, undomesticated, wild poultry only laid an egg every 20 days or so. As man has refined breeds to suit their eating habits, the chickens egg production has been inevitably increased to a daily output (such as the Isa Brown, Ancona, Australorp, Rhode Island and Star breeds).

With an increased egg output also comes a shorter lifespan.
These breeds often suffer from liver and kidney problems.

My desire was to have more chickens, as I adore their company, their manure is great for my garden and they tackle any pest problem very effectively.

But having more chickens meant I would have more eggs than what I could handle.

Chickens that lay less are more meatier and larger in size. If you desire to also eat your poultry the meat/egg breeds are ideal.

Until it dawned on me that my desire for a fancier breed could be to my benefit. It all seemed to make sense to have a chicken variety that had a slower egg production.  In fact, I could increase my flock size considerably and still benefit (within our local Council regulations of course).

Sally is my last remaining Isa Brown chooky. She is my constant companion in the yard, curious as anything and helps where ever I am weeding. But as of this week she is a little put out, a little annoyed and out of sorts because her coop has been moved over slightly to make way for an even bigger coop with some new additions.

Light Sussex poulette

Introducing New Chickens To Your Flock

When introducing new chickens to your existing flock, even if it is just one chicken, there will be issues, and I'm talking about the pecking order. It can be a very stressful time for all involved.

The easiest way to introduce new chickens to have them all around the same age. Placing young poulettes with older hens will not work which can result in the lowest of the pecking order being pecked to death.

Adding a Second Coop

This involves:
1. Quarantine (to guard against introducing an disease and illness to rest of your flock)
2. Observe their Pecking Order
3. Give the appropriate feed for their age (poulette crush or pellets)
4. Do not mix age groups.
5. Slowly introduce other food into their diet which will be a regular in your yard such as greens, peelings or other seeds as a treat.
6. Training them to use the feeders and waterers of your choice.
7. Keeping them locked in their new coop (if going Free Range) will also teach them that that is where their territory is and that is where they must lay their eggs. Duration: 1-3 weeks (longer if very young).

If your existing flock's coop has been moved or given a new coop, make sure that they are locked into their shed overnight. You may need to take them physically to their shed so that they are retrained where to roost for the night and to reset their laying habits.

Another Reason For a Second Coop

You may have decided to add all of your chickens together, in which case it must be done during the night so as to lessen any fights. Allowing the chickens to all wake up with each other in the morning is far gentler than a middle-of-the-day addition.

However, all introductions will have their teething problems as their pecking order is established. Sometimes this can result in one hen being pecked in the bottom until it bleeds and dies for its injuries. Inspecting your girls daily is essential and may require the pecked hen to be separated from the flock to her own coop for safety.

A second coop can also act as a quarantine area for illness to prevent the rest of the flock from being infected.

You may like to choose to have a mini coop or chicken tractor as an alternative chicken coop for these circumstances if you do not want to have another large coop in your yard.

Choosing a Chicken Coop Size

How many square feet per chicken can depend on your farming method.
For a serious commercial farmer the size range can be incredibly small, but for most backyardians it can be far more generous and ethical.

Roaming room: 4 square feet or 1.3 square metres per chicken

Roosting room: chickens like to bunch up when they sleep so space becomes less of an issue. Just ensure that there is adequate ventilation for the hotter months so that the birds can cope with their body heat during the night roost. Keep in mind that they may spread out a little more during summer so allow extra room for the season.

Nesting room: 1 nest per 4 birds
Chickens lay only one egg per day at the very most. Hens like to lay on top of each others eggs, so layer sharing is very common.

Silver Laced Wyandotte poulette

Chicken Breed Information

Need to do some more research for yourself?
I found a great chart to explain every chicken breed and their egg output over at My Pet Chicken.
Click here for the breed chart.

Further reading, grab a copy of How To Care For Your Poultry from your local newsagent. ($14.95)

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