by Meredith Chilson
Photos by author
Photos by author
It seems to me that this time of year has an urgency to it. Maybe it’s from all the children trying to pack a final few days of summer in before they head off to another year of school. Or, maybe it’s from the migratory birds and the hibernating mammals that need to store up extra energy for long trips and deep sleeps.
Or maybe it’s from me, and other gardeners, gathering and harvesting; blanching and freezing; pickling and drying the fruits of our garden patches—trying to use every last bean, summer squash and cucumber before the autumn frosts arrive.
My hens are getting ready for the next season, too. As evenings arrive earlier and mornings brighten later, the girls have slowed up their egg production, and most of them have begun to shed feathers in their annual molt.
I’ll admit this: I have been spending every possible daylight moment I can outside. The garden is keeping me busy, and I’ve been trying to plan ahead for the winter by calculating how many bales of straw to buy from Farmer Brown (my nearest neighbor), to keep the hens warm and happy when the temperatures begin to dip.
I’m also trying to soak up all the late summer warmth myself—to remember when winds howl and snow flies. And honestly, I prefer to be digging in the dirt or mucking out coops. I’m spending my evenings processing vegetables in my canner or grinding up relishes, and then I’m falling into bed to the sound of “pings” and the smell of vinegar.
I’ve hardly used the computer this summer, and I’ve neglected sharing on this blog. If you’ve been reading the recent blogs, you’ll see one from Taylor Miller asking for your help and expertise in answering some of the many questions received on this website. I’ve chosen three questions to answer by sharing my own experiences.
1.How do I prevent new chicks from eating layer ration (offered free-choice to the flock) and adults from getting into the starter/grower high protein feed that’s for the chicks? Chicks in brooders do not have this issue, obviously, but I have broody hens that are being permitted to set clutches for the first time.
My answer: You don’t mention whether you are free ranging or keeping your chickens in a coop with a run. My experience is with the latter; and I, too, offer layer ration free choice. When I have broody hens, and hens with young chicks, I separate them from all the other chickens. I have had three or four clutches going at once, and I’ve used bales of straw, cardboard and even old screens wired together to keep each little family on their own until they are feathered out enough to fend for themselves.
I give each group water and their own sectioned feeder, filled with chick starter, and I’ve never really worried that the mother will eat too much of it. She looks out for her babies, and she isn’t laying eggs (therefore, not requiring layer feed for a while).
When the chicks are finally introduced to the rest of the flock, I have a feeder with starter/grower and that’s all the purchased feed they can reach. Sometimes the other chickens eat some of it, but my laying hens seem to prefer pellet layer feed, and they don’t bother the finer feed much. I keep the pellet layer feed in a hanging feeder, and I hang it high enough for only the hens to reach.
If you free range your chickens, I would think that you could still use the idea of separating the mothers and babies from the rest of the flock, and using hanging feeders for layer feed.
2.All my hens are in with one rooster. Do I need to split up the group so I will have fertilized eggs and non-fertilized?
My answer: In a word, yes. Hens will lay eggs whether or not there’s a rooster, but only if there’s a rooster will they lay fertilized eggs. If you have a rooster in with your hens, there’s still no guarantee that the eggs will be fertile, but if there’s no rooster that guarantees no fertile eggs. A good rule of thumb is to have one rooster for 10 to 12 hens.
3.Will Rhode Island Reds get along with a sex link in a chicken tractor?
My answer: It’s been my experience that if chickens get along in your coop, yard or field, they’ll also get along in a chicken tractor. Today, in fact, I had a Rhode Island Red, a Buff Orpington and a bantam mix out in my tractor, and they had a great time scratching around together.
If you are thinking of introducing chickens to each other for the first time in a chicken tractor, that’s a little different. When I’m introducing young chickens to my older hens, I put the young ones in the tractor right next to the yard with the older girls and let them peck along next to each other for a few days. It seems to make them become used to each other; eventually, I put them in together one night and hope they get along. There’s always jostling for position in the “pecking order,” but I’ve never had too much trouble.
I think if I had one Rhode Island Red and one sex link, though, I might try them together in a chicken tractor, just to see what happened. If you do try this, stay around and watch them. They might just ignore each other, or they may bristle up and posture to show the other one how big and important they are. If they actually fight, you’ll want to separate them right away, make sure they’ve not drawn blood and work out a different way to introduce them.
I hope sharing my chicken-keeping experiences has given you some ideas and help with your questions. May you all be safe from the storms on the East Coast this weekend.