Welcome to Dear Chickens
Welcome to Dear Chickens, a new and somewhat regular feature on the Silver Fox Farm blog!
How this column started:
I am a huge fan of advice columns and find them incredibly entertaining. I remember reading Ann Landers in the newspaper when I was a kid, and now enjoy reading newer columns like Savage Love and Dear Prudence. So of course I was thrilled when two of my favorite chickens on the farm, Janine and Egon, told me that they wanted to write their own advice column.
I get a lot of questions about chickens, but who better to give chicken advice than an actual chicken? As it turns out, folks want all kinds of advice from these two birds. All responses are from Janine and Egon; I just read questions to them and record their answers.
In need of poultry or life advice? You can submit your own questions to Janine and Egon through the form at the end of this post. They can’t wait to hear from you!
That’s enough from me. Let me turn it over to Janine and Egon, two young Olive Eggers living their best life together on Silver Fox Farm. This week they’ll tackle topics including how to deal with an overly friendly neighbor, returning to ‘normal’ life, chicken diapers, and the question of free ranging your flock. Enjoy!
Chances are, if you have chickens, you love eating eggs. Unfortunately, sometimes your chickens will get a taste of their own raw eggs and love them, too! If you’ve ever had a serious egg eating issue in your flock, then you know how frustrating it can be to care for your flock with no eggs in return. In this post, we will talk about why and how the egg eating habit begins, and the interventions you can use to snap your birds out of this habit.
It's Broody Season...
Spring is in the air. With it comes the scent of lilacs, soft warm breezes, and...the raging squawks of broody hens interrupted on their nests.
If you’ve ever experienced a broody hen, you know they are fierce and determined as they sit on and protect their eggs. They are also a great way to expand your flock, as they will incubate, hatch, and brood chicks for you.
On the flip side, a broody can be an unwelcome disturbance in the flock, especially if you don’t have fertile eggs or young chicks readily available. They also often need their own space, but they don’t pay egg rent. Not only that, but broodiness can put a real strain on your hen.
In this post we will look at both sides of the broody coin: how to support and care for your broody hen while helping her become a mama, and how to break a broody if need be while minimizing stress to her.
What is an Eggtopsy?
Spring has arrived and with it, hatching season! Perhaps you collected and incubated eggs from your own flock, or you patiently waited for eggs to arrive in the mail from a breeder. Either way, you spent 21 days incubating and anticipating the arrival of your new babies.
Then hatch day came and went, and there are still some unhatched eggs sitting in the incubator, leaving you to wonder why some hatched, but these didn’t.
First of all, this is totally normal. In most cases, not all the eggs you set will hatch. A good hatch rate for fertile, fresh eggs from your own yard is anything over 75%, and the average hatch rate for shipped eggs is 50%.
While it’s expected that some eggs won’t hatch, those unhatched eggs can leave you guessing about what happened, and if there’s any way you can improve your hatch rate next time.
To troubleshoot your hatch, you can perform an eggtopsy, otherwise known as a “breakout analysis,” on your unhatched eggs. A breakout analysis simply means opening each unhatched egg and studying its contents for clues as to why that egg didn’t hatch.
An eggtopsy may not help you pinpoint the exact cause of death for each individual embryo, because there are so many factors affecting each stage of development. However, an eggtopsy will help you recognize patterns, troubleshoot issues, and possibly figure out the cause of a disappointing hatch.
We are on the cusp of spring. If you’re a new chicken keeper, you might be putting the finishing touches on your first coop. Or you might be adding an addition to your hen house (because, chicken math) or reinforcing what you have.
My wife Sarah and I have built eleven coops together on our farm, where we have a combination of stationary coops, movable tractors, and two small prefab coops. (Why so many? To maintain our clan mating programs). Over the years of building together, we’ve learned a lot about coop construction and what our chickens’ need--and we are still learning, even now. Our coops might not make the cover of Martha Stewart Magazine, but we built them ourselves, our birds are happy, AND not a single predator has ever breached our chicken castles!
Wherever you are in your chicken journey, having a coop that meets your flock’s needs is a vital part of poultry care. Whether you are building a coop for the first time, purchasing a prefab coop, or already have your housing set, there are a few fundamental features that every coop should have. I’m going to go over them in this post, so that you can incorporate them into your build plans or make adjustments to an existing coop.
What is Clan Mating?
If you are interested in breeding your own flock for the first time, know that there are a number of different breeding methods you can choose, including line breeding, flock mating, and clan mating. All have their pros and cons, and some might be a better fit than others for your own situation and goals. On our farm, we’ve chosen to use a clan mating system for our Ameraucanas and Black Copper Marans.
Clan Mating (also known as Spiral Mating) is a system of breeding where chickens are separated into at least three different groups, or clans. You can absolutely have more than three groups if you wish, but three is the minimum. In the initial year of a clan mating program, chickens mate within their group, and in all subsequent years, males are rotated to the next clan over. (I was unable to discover where this breeding method originated, but I first learned about Clan Mating from Harvey Ussery’s great book, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock.)
“What is the difference between hatching eggs and eating eggs?” A friend asked Sarah and I this most eggs-cellent question recently while we were hanging some flyers for our farm.
This is a great question. Producing eating eggs is pretty straightforward: eggs laid, eggs eaten. Far more goes into the production and selection of a hatching egg.
I thought I'd share some of the differences here. When we produce hatching eggs, we pay careful attention to:
Freshness: Eating eggs last for weeks, but a hatching egg should be a week old, max, when placed in the incubator. This week includes collection, shipping, and at least a day of rest after shipping.
A few months ago, one of our Marans hens, Mollie, suffered an impacted crop. We performed an at-home surgery for her, which went incredibly well. After a few weeks of rest and recuperation in our house, Mollie started laying eggs again--a clear sign that she'd made a full recovery!
While we would miss her company, we knew it was time to move Mollie back outside. Since we don't breed birds that experience any kind of illness, this meant integrating Mollie into our laying flock, a new group for her.
Integrating or re-integrating a chicken into a flock should be done with care and planning, in order to reduce stress on all birds involved. Below are our best practices for introducing or returning a chicken to a larger group.
Why buy straight run? Here's some straight talk on straight run, the sexing of chicks, and the common poultry industry practice of killing male chicks at hatch.
On our farm, all male chicks are grown out into beautiful roosters and have the opportunity to lead a quality life. At maturity, our extra boys are swiftly and respectfully processed. We often have friends and family over to help us with this, so that others may practice harvesting their own meat. It’s a powerful experience that has both challenged us and gifted us a completely new relationship with our food.
On our farm, humanely raised, pastured meat is a natural byproduct of producing hatching eggs and chicks. Because we are such a small farm, it’s easy for us to absorb our extra roosters, adding them to our freezer or sharing them with friends and family. But what happens in large scale hatcheries?