Spring means nesting boxes

hen in box with chicks

Around here, spring is marked, among other things, by the renewal of nesting boxes, which are replaced or cleaned, and padded with fresh dry grass or leaves. My hens, excited by the end of their winter egg-laying break and the beginning of the new and fruitful season, are eagerly checking them out.

Read more about comfy nesting boxes in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“With some basic carpentry skills, you can easily build your own nesting boxes out of wood scraps, but even if you don’t know which way to hold a hammer, there are plenty of simple and cheap DIY solutions. Among them are 5-gallon buckets (resting on their side, obviously), old cat litter boxes, large plastic containers with the top cut off, and old re-purposed drawers and crates. The nesting boxes should be stable, so that they aren’t prone to falling even if the hens tend to shove each other, sheltered, and with a rim to prevent the eggs from falling.” 

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The champions of the chicken world

Some chickens are the ultimate layers, others are champs at meat production, but which breed would be the best choice for your backyard? This depends on your preferences, climate, space and, of course, budget. Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post, also featuring the smallest, largest and rarest chicken breeds in the world:

“Many breeds traditionally chosen by homesteaders are actually dual-purpose, such as Rhode Islands, Plymouth Rocks, Orpingtons and Wyandottes. These breeds are fairly large, hardy, decent to good layers, and will supply you with both eggs and meat, though not as efficiently as industrial single-purpose lines. They will roam your land, getting much of their food on their own if you let them free range, and provide organic pest control. They will naturally go broody, and renew your flock year after year by hatching and bringing up chicks, so that you need not be dependent on hatcheries after you purchase your starting stock.”

The chickens in the photo above are Fayoumis belonging to a good friend of mine. The Fayoumi is a traditional Egyptian breed very well-suited to a hot climate. These medium-sized chickens are good layers, excellent foragers, and hardy, independent birds largely resistant to the fatal Marek’s disease. Overall they seem like an excellent choice for a homestead in a Mediterranean to desert climate, and I hope to obtain some hatching eggs when the laying season begins.

Hand-raising baby chicks

brahma cross baby chick

There’s something comforting, in the middle of winter, in planning on running the incubator and raising baby chicks that will be let out into the great outdoors once the warm weather comes. It’s a bit like browsing a seed catalog while a winter storm is howling outside.

I can tell you there are some breeds I can’t wait to get my hands on – start a pure-bred flock of Marans or Speckled Sussex, and look forward to the possibility of obtaining some good-quality eggs from breeders I know, in a month or two. Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“We are big proponents of breeding and raising chicks the natural way, with broody hens, but sometimes running the incubator or ordering a batch of baby chicks can have definite advantages – such as, for example, the ability to monitor valuable eggs extra carefully, and to give your flock a head start in the spring. If you are not averse to the idea of keeping chicks indoors for a few weeks, your February babies may well be ready for the outdoors as early as March or April, depending on your local weather – at about the time when your hens are just thinking of getting back to laying.”

Garlic: a wonderful natural remedy

Image result for garlic

The anti-inflammatory and health-promoting qualities of garlic have been known for thousands of years, and we include fresh crushed garlic in many sauces, spreads, dips and salads that are served around here. Recently, I have taken this a step further and began using garlic to promote the health of my poultry.

Read more here:

“It’s surprising that I didn’t think twice before giving my young peafowl antibiotics in increasingly strong doses for persistent respiratory symptoms. The birds, however, not only didn’t get better, but appeared weaker. An experienced friend whom I consulted recommended that I discontinue the antibiotics as they most likely have compromised the immune system of my peafowl, regardless of the initial complaint, try giving my birds fresh garlic, and observe the effects. Anxious to strengthen their immune system before the winter, and not seeing much to lose, I decided to give it a shot.”

Raising heritage chicken breeds

 

Prior to our Great Chicken Adventure, I was utterly unaware of the wealth of heritage breeds out there, with their variations of size, shape, color, plumage, temper, and various characteristics. A chicken is a chicken, I figured; any will cluck and lay                   eggs – so why invest in heritage breeds?

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Unlike hybrids, pure-bred heritage chickens breed true. If you start with a flock of, say, Wyandottes, a few years down the road you will still have a flock of Wyandottes, with largely the same qualities of egg production, growth rates, adaptation to climate, and appearance (though you can improve your flock by hatching eggs from your finest, best-looking, hardiest specimens). With mutt chickens, you can always expect surprises.”

Choosing a Chicken Breed

Our chicken-keeping adventure has lasted for some years now, and during this time we have learned a great deal, met some wonderful new friends with whom we bonded over this common interest, and stopped making a fuss over stepping in bird poop. We have even gained the status of something like chicken experts in our local community; but still, when people ask us, “which breed of chickens should I choose?” more often than not we can offer no better answer than “it depends”.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Whichever breed you choose, make sure you get your stock from a reputable hatchery or private breeder. This is the only way to guarantee you get healthy birds (or fresh, good quality hatching eggs) that come from pure bloodlines. Don’t be tempted by unusually low prices, and shun places where birds are kept in substandard conditions, or are looking sickly.”

Chicken Behavioral Problems

Above: a photo of one of our roosters strutting around. This guy has been occasionally known to have some attitude problems, which are quickly adjusted by a well-aimed sweep with a broomstick. Some roosters are a lot more troublesome, however, and may be found incompatible with the backyard flock owner seeking a quiet, peaceful life.

Admittedly, roosters are often the more problematic part of the flock, being noisy, territorial and sometimes aggressive. It is no wonder that the English language boasts of expressions such as “being cocky”. However, I also believe that at least half of all the behavioral management programs in backyard chicken flocks – whether it’s excessive pecking, aggression toward humans or extreme flightiness – can be dealt with by choosing the breed that suits you best.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post about chicken behavioral problemsPredators, pests and diseases are not the only challenges a backyard flock owner will have to deal with. Sometimes the problems are originated in the flock itself, and solving them involves lots of creativity, ingenuity and even diplomacy.