Coping with chicken loss

 

There are few things more painful to me as a chicken owner than the untimely loss of one of the flock. Our chickens are all lovingly hand-raised, and it’s enough to drive one mad when a sneaky predator gets past one’s defenses, or when a disease you can do little about makes its rounds in the coop.

Still, I guess that this knowledge, this acceptance of the fact that there will be some losses, is what enables us to bounce back and keep raising chickens.

From my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Losing animals is an inevitable part of raising them. No matter how careful and diligent you are, at some point you will have to deal with saying goodbye – and not just due to old age, either – to some members of your flock or herd. This is heartbreaking even if your animals were meant to end up as dinner at some point. So much more if you treat your livestock somewhat like pets. I remember one time years ago, crying and telling my husband I’d rather give it all up and never keep anything living but plants again.”

Chickens: predators and prey

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Above: garden bed fenced against digging chickens.

Chickens are both predators and prey: you have to protect them from ending up in the belly of a fox, but you also have to protect your garden from your chickens eating whatever is in their sight, or just turning your lovingly made flower bed into a dust bath.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“We free range, which of course exacerbates the losses to predators, but the overall pros of free ranging are so evident that I truly believe it’s the only practical way for us to keep chickens. Not only do we save a bundle on feed as our chickens forage and find their own food, but we get the benefit of a pest free yard and can get away with a smaller coop – it’s OK for chickens to be a little crowded some of the time if they mostly have the whole yard to themselves.”

First chicks of the season

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The first chicks of the season are here, though we’ve had the unexpected setback of low fertility rate in our hatching eggs.

Our alpha roo is a black Brahma, so our chicks all have feathered legs and most of them are black. I love Brahmas for their size, docility and fluffy feathers, and hope to get good stock for a purebred flock.

So far we’ve let our broodies do the job this season, but we also plan to set up a salvaged incubator and see how it works. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

By the way, we never buy chick starter. Instead we feed our chicks regular layer’s mesh, supplemented with hard boiled eggs and, very early on, all sorts of kitchen scraps. Pros would probably frown upon this, but we have raised many generations of happy, healthy chicks this way.

Happy hatching to all backyard flock owners!

The Private Life of Chickens

Once in a while I come upon a documentary that is as deliciously comforting as a cup of hot cocoa when you’re feeling a little under the weather. The Private Life of Chickens was just that for me: a dose of comfort and relaxation to take late in the evening, when the chores are done and I’m tired and craving something cozy and domestic like only a British documentary can be.

This documentary takes us to the beautiful English countryside (something I would dearly love to re-create in Israel), to the farm of a sweet lady named Jane, who rescues ex-battery hens, cares for them, and passes them into the hands of small backyard flock owners. She is really one of a kind – I wish I had a neighbor like her.

So, if you’re a chicken lover and would like to learn some fascinating facts about your favorite bird, kick back, relax and enjoy an hour of fun and relaxation with The Private Life of Chickens.

As for me, I’m moving on to watch The Private Life of Cows.

Getting the chicken coop ready for spring

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Check out my latest Mother Earth News post, about preparing the chicken coop for spring:

“Though we’re still in the deep of winter, days are beginning to lengthen and, at least around here, spring really seems to be just around the corner. The spring-like feeling is validated by the new grass – as winter is the green season here – and by the narcissuses and cyclamens that are beginning to pop up.

Our chickens pick up the cue of longer days and generally resume laying around February, even though it’s still cold. The young pullets hatched at the end of last season – say, September or October – are generally ready to start laying in February or March.”

With warmer weather, greens all around, and a steady supply of fresh eggs, I begin to look forward to a productive spring and summer for our little flock, with lots of eggs, new layers as last autumn’s little pullets mature, and of course the excitement of new chicks, which will probably begin arriving around late March or April.

Spring Chickens

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Yes, I know that it’s only the end of January; days are still short, nights are still cold (I hear you folks up north snorting at me with disdain… you don’t know what real cold is, you are saying), but fine days in winter feel like spring in Israel, with everything turning green and fresh and blooming, and chickens busily digging around among the new grass.

In the photo above you see two of our hens, quite happy to be turned out of their coop, which I was at the time cleaning out (a long-overdue practice). I spread some of the manure and rotten straw around our fruit trees, not working it into the ground but just on the surface to let it slowly sink in with subsequent rains.

We’ve had an up-and-down season with our chickens this year; many chicks, but also many losses to predators. We have acquired some few more nuggets of wisdom, I hope, and are ready to apply the lessons we learned now that our girls are picking up laying again. More on this topic in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“We’ve always been big enthusiasts of free-ranging our backyard flock and, in fact, have practiced this for the larger part of our career as chicken owners. Recently, however, we had to rethink our strategy a bit due to the appearance of a particularly sneaky fox that started to make its way on our property at the most unexpected hours.”

Dreaming of chicken coops

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Ideally, the chicken coop I’d like to see in my yard looks something like this.

In practice, we have the below:

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This is the fifth chicken coop we have built, having moved several times during our married life so far, and we scrimped on a lot of things knowing we’re probably going to move again in a couple of years (not very conductive to homesteading, I know). Our coop is way too drafty (we only get away with this because we live in a warm climate and choose hardy breeds), only partially roofed, has a dirt floor, gaps here and there through which very small chicks can escape, and other inconveniences. We don’t have a run, our roosts need sanding down to keep splinters away, and I could go on and on.

I do hope that someday, we get settled in a more permanent place and build a good, sturdy, convenient, secure and pretty chicken house.

Read more about our chicken housing experiences here:

“A reliable chicken coop is a must if you don’t want your chickens to end up as the dinner of some fox, stray dog or whatever local predator you have in the area. Do yourself a favor and make an initial investment in a chicken house, a real sturdy shed you wouldn’t mind taking shelter in for the night. As we’ve moved house several times, we’ve had to make do with some makeshift coops that caused us a lot of alarm and frustration. We lost a lot of chickens to predators, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t learn from our experience.”