General Care of the Chicken Flock
GENERAL CARE OF THE CHICKEN FLOCK
There are different varieties of chickens; each kind has its own purpose. Some breeds, such as Leghorns, are mainly used for laying eggs. The Cornish are for meat and the Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds & New Hampshire are dual purpose: meat or eggs. There are even varieties used extensively for showing in exhibits. The names for chickens at a certain age, by sex and weight are unique. Pullets are female chicks less than a year old, while cockerels are males. Broilers are chickens that are 8 weeks old and weigh about 4 pounds. Roosters are male chickens 4 months and older, weighing 5 pounds or more. Capons are male chickens that have been castrated, are 6?7 months of age and/or 7 pounds when marketed.
Until baby chickens are 10 weeks old they may need supplemental heat in a draft free area. For 1 week old chicks, the room temperature needs to be at 90 degrees, with a gradual dropping of 5 degrees per week until the temperature is 70 degrees. If the chicks are piling up under the heated hover they may be too cold. If the chicks are always moving away from the hover they may be too hot. In the summer discontinuing the heat after 2 months of age can be adequate. As the chicks grow you will need to provide more living space. At 4 weeks of age the floor space should be 1/2 square foot per chick, gradually enlarging to 5 sq. ft/chick at 21 weeks of age. One waterer should be provided for every 25?50 chicks. Place the water and food outside the edge of the hover brooders. We do not recommend nipple waterers until you are sure all of the chicks know how to use them; then daily check to ensure the water is going down and/or the nipples are not plugged.
For the first 4-6 weeks of age, provide a 20% protein starter mash, or a 24% if the chicks of the meat type. After 8 weeks of age, a 16% protein growing mash should be always available. If planning to market the chickens, 22?24% protein feeds are available; if planning to use for laying, then a 15% layer feed can be started after 18?20 weeks. Chickens are good converters of food into meat or eggs. 2?3 pounds of feed will convert to 1 pound of eggs. 3 lbs of feed can be converted to 1 lb. of meat. Feed varies from a 1:1 ratio for a very young chick to 6# food to 1# meat for the older chickens.
Pullets start laying eggs at 18?24 weeks of age, and should be provided a laying formulated feed 2 weeks before this time. Using inferior feeds will result in lower egg production. Flaked oyster shells or granular limestone can be provided if the calcium level is below 3 1/2%; it is best to instead feed a complete layer’s ration. Do not feed whole eggshells to your birds, or some hens will start to damage eggs. If the hens are not allowed to run free, grit can be provided, but it is not required with the commercial mash diet. The dual purpose and meat varieties start laying eggs later than the egg breeds. During the first year, approximately 15 dozen eggs should be laid, with a molt occurring after 12?15 months of age. Chickens do not lay eggs during the molting period and most commercial operations sell the hens at this age. A “forced molt” can be used after 10?11 months of age. During the 2nd and each year thereafter expect 12 dozen eggs yearly. Collect the eggs twice a day. Eggs hatch in approximately 3 weeks, with a 19?24 day range.
If night stampeding is a problem, leaving the lights on 24 hours a day should correct the problem. A 40?60 watt bulb, 10 feet above the floor is adequate for 200 square feet of floor space. If the chickens are to be used for egg laying, 14?16 hours of light is necessary to stimulate the layers to lay eggs. (Do not leave the lights on if egg laying is the goal, especially after 21 weeks of age). Provide 1 nest minimum per 4 layers, in a hen house large enough for 3 square feet per bird. The outside yard area should be larger, especially if there is more than one rooster. Nesting roosts are placed 1 1/2 to 3 feet above the floor??? some may want to fence out the lower part below the roosts for control of defecation onto the other birds, yet design it to where it is also easy to clean. It is best to have an upward angle up for the various levels for these rows of perches where some birds can be on top; always have more perch space than birds. Chickens need perches up and off of the floor for all adult birds. The roosting poles can be 12?15 inches apart, with an 8 inch perch space per bird; use 2-3 different sizes ranging from a minimum of 7/8″ up to 2 1/4″ diameter. Perches should be round and encompass 3/4 of the foot’s grip when perching; do not use square perches. If the hens have the ability to range, perches are not required yet a nesting box is. A watering system of 1.5 inches per hen is adequate, and food should always be available. One linear foot of feeder per 25 birds, or one double sided starter trough per 5 birds is the minimum feeding space required. Rodent control, smell and insect control should be routinely provided; we have more information if you have a problem. A litter of sawdust, wood shavings, chopped straw or ground corn cobs should be provided at a 1 to 3 inch depth, cleaning as necessary; the aromatic woods such as redwood & oak should not be used for bedding. Some facilities are adequate with a hard dirt floor cleaned daily. If you are having problems with predators our deterring wildlife handout discusses how to build such fences; you also can use a motion sensor or a motion sensitive light to point at your house to aware you of predators outside the pen. For all poultry owners we recommend that you come into the clinic to obtain a feeding tube, syringe and the directions for tube feeding a bird, especially a bird that has been stressed out and attacked by a predator.
Cannibalism occurs if there is overcrowding, no perches available and/or not enough food or water space, or if there is the sight of blood on another chicken. Always remove any injured chick. You can debeak a bird at any age to help prevent cannibalism, but usually 1 day of age is the customary time to start this process; debeaking is rarely needed if you provide enough space. Some studies suggest that pellets and crumble rations tend to increase the rate of cannibalism. We advise the finer granules of commercial chicken feed which is commonly sold as a mash or crumbles. If you house chickens indoors, the rate of pecking towards each other increases. It is natural for a bird to want to peck at something, such as the ground, and if unavailable they may peck at each other. Overcrowding and having roosters are much more common causes of birds being pecked at.
Chicken scratch, cracked corn and other grains are not complete diets. Even if one adds oyster shell these grain diets will still be deficient of vitamin A, protein and other vitamins and minerals. A complete diet is the type of food we recommend as 80% of any bird’s diet. We do not recommend feeding egg shells back to your laying hens.
For commercial operations, vaccines are available for Marek’s disease, Newcastle, Infectious Bronchitis, Fowl Pox, Laryngotracheitis, Avian Encephalomyelitis, and other diseases. Routine vaccinations for the farm flock are not usually indicated. If you are going to have laying hens we that you purchase Marek’s vaccinated chicks, and if you are organic also coccidia vaccinated chicks. We do advise yearly fecals for internal parasites, and periodic examinations for external parasites. All you have to do is collect 1 teaspoon of feces from 4-8x different stools in the barnyard. We have more literature on file for egg incubation, building of hen houses, slaughtering, wildlife deterring, keeping hens out of the garden, vaccines, etc. The USDA has requirements for commercially selling dressed birds and eggs commercially to anyone. You may also want to check into local zoning laws if you plan to have a large flock; Colorado requires a permit if you sell over 8 dozen eggs a day.
Keeping Chickens out of the Garden:
Many clients want their chickens and other poultry species to be free, and thus a fox or raccoon will occasionally get some of the flock. Some birds do not always want to go into the coop when you want them to go in for the night, especially if it is before dark. The best thing is to fence in a large hen yard and/or with a wire top to keep out hawks; we realize this is not always practical. One can use a cover (plastic trash) to go over the feeders during the day, and then when you want them to go in you remove the cover to allow them access to food. One also can have a flip down door to the coop, but this method may cause them to lay eggs elsewhere. For winter weather, heated pads, timers and molting we have a handout for these issues. Many clients want to have free range chickens and an easy method to keep them out of their garden. We can show you how to clip the bird’s wings every 4-6 weeks and use 4′ high hog panels as the least cost method; a small size screen that has 2” (chicks) to less than 4” openings (for hens) may be required. A chicken can fly over a 6-8′ fence; especially the small bantams. If the wings are clipped most cannot fly over a 3-4′ fence; plan for 48″ high around the garden and trim the wings monthly. Small solid rods can be used for the posts, and “zig-zag” the panels for stability if 2-3x of these are in a straight row. These panels come in 8′ or up to 20′ in lengths, and thus they may need to be cut down to store and/or move these panels. A small gate can be attached to a larger rod (or T-post). It should be noted that there are many portable plastic fences sold for deer or sheep fencing; we recommend that you consider fencing that is durable and reusable. It should also be noted that if you are showing the chickens in 4-H and other programs they cannot have their wings trimmed.
If looking for attractive fence posts for your garden fence for chickens the galvanized posts or rods are not easily found (unless over 1.5″ in diameter pipe and these are used for chain link fence). Consider the 6′ grounding rods for the livestock electrical fence and these are approximately $14/6′ for a 1/2″ diameter rod (2010); for a 4′ fence you will need a 6′ rod. Not all posts have to be 1/2″ and some 1/4″ rods will be satisfactory. Use one 1/2″ solid rod every 8′ as the minimum recommendation, and if you do not care about looks then iron rebar can be utilized (1/2″-3/4″). If you call a metal recycle facility (scrap yard) you may find that their used stainless rods cost less than metal; stainless or galvanized metal does not rust. For 1/4″ and larger rods you will need to use a different connect system to hold the hog panels to the rods. Besides galvanized wire to hold the galvanized fence/hog panel against the 1/2″ post one can also use galvanized “split bolt nuts” in the electrical area of most hardware stores. (Or with T posts there are wire clips which are sold for holding a wire fence against the post). Ensure that you buy a split bolt which can come apart if you are looking for such a reusable connector. These split bolt quick type connects do cost more but in the long run it may be worth it. For any quick connecting of the post to the panels there are always the hog rings one can use; each year you need to cut off the ring to break down the panels. (Take a magnet to keep track of both pieces once you cut the hog ring). For a more permanent post once can use 3″x3″ or larger size wooden posts.
To connect the panel to each other one can use some 1/8″ quick links ($0.50,2010), the Gallagher galvanized Joint Clamps (#6603, $14.50/10x) and these are sold for connecting their metal post and wire. The joint clamps work great for < 1/4″ wire if you want to use a thinner wire panel; also you can use tie wire/bailing wire and/or small hog rings and/or overlap the ends of the panels at a T-post, or etc. As a consideration to join these panels we recommend that you also look at the Tinnerman U-style nut. Buy these U-nuts before you buy the bolts; as some of the 7/16″ size will use a 1/4″ NST thumb bolt as a quick connect/reuse type of a connector. By placing one Tinnerman nut on each side of the wire panel you can use one bolt to connect them together; see www.abcorfasterners.com and look at their U-nuts. There are many different types of Tinnerman nuts; the U-nuts are usually sold in cartons of 2,000 for 12 cents apiece. For 1/4″ Thumb screws (bolts) x 1″ these are available in many hardware stores for <$1 each, at McMaster-Carr (wwwmcmaster.com) the thumb screws with a spade head are $11.11/25x (2011) and the Tinnerman U nuts/panel for 1/4″ rods are $6.31/10x. You can buy the least cost also by the box from etimerline.com.
As mentioned above, the lower section of a typical hog panel has 1-2 rows of 1.75-3.75″ high x 5.75-7.75″ wide openings, and the upper rows are 3.75″-7.75″ x 5.75-7.75″ (usually the smaller panels have the smaller size of holes; both are adequate for keeping out an adult hen, yet you may want some chicken wire or galvanized mesh for the lower levels if chicks are getting into the garden and causing problems). Banty type chickens can get through this fencing, and thus some wire screen on the lower half may be indicated. If you use only chicken wire or a galvanized mesh fencing this wire does not stand up very well and some type of external fence support rails will be needed. The temporary plastic or metal pet fencing sold at the pet stores is not tall enough. Some new clients will want a chicken coop and a green house at the same time; this usually does not work so consider buying a building or kit for a green house.
There are also portable electrified fences for use in small livestock; these fences may be practical if you have a problem with predators and still want your chickens to be out in a portable type pen.
If your hens are laying eggs outside their coop this may indicate the laying box needs to be looked at closer. Ensure there are enough boxes, that there is proper bedding, enough perches and also that there is always an egg left to stimulate them to lay in the box. Hobby Lobby and similar craft stores sells wooden chicken eggs.
If you are having problems with mice, ask for our specific species wildlife handout and also the rat/mouse poisoning handout.
The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic
Livestock health preventative measures for the small herd or flock
Once we diagnose a disease in herd or flock, many times this same problem will reoccur down the road. There are many things one can do for maintaining the health of your animals; we have separate handouts on vaccinations, as each species is different. Most small ruminant and herds need annual vaccinations. A few types of vaccines we may recommend only once every 2-3 years as adults, if the animals are by themselves and do not have any interactions or exposures with other animals. Each flock or herd is treated individually.
The deworming program for each species also varies. We recommend deworming horses at least 4x a year to prevent colic; colic is not an issue with other species and their deworming schedules are usually less often. There is not one dewormer which will get all of the parasites, yet you do not need to deworm for every parasite each year if you do not have the parasite present in your animals. There is a balance between keeping a herd or flock healthy, and overuse of drugs and antibiotics. We recommend a strategic deworming program where you do deworm the flock or herd for the know parasites at least 1-2x a year, depending upon the species. (If in a different wet, humid climate this same flock or herd may require 6x a year deworming). We have a program where if the vaccines and dewormers are purchased at the clinic, the purchases may qualify for a free fecal. All new animals into a herd or flock should be dewormed and deliced upon arrival in the quarantine pen, if possible. Young animals may require a higher deworming schedule than adults. We recommend a mixture of the herd or flock’s stools to have a fecal test performed at least once every 1-2 years, preferably before you deworm the whole herd or flock. A teaspoon to a tablespoon of feces from 6-8 different looking piles is all than is needed, to be mixed into one zip-lock bag. If any of the animals have been coughing then collect a 2nd bag of fresh feces from them and ask us to do a lungworm fecal exam. When we do have a flock or herd with parasites, these parasites rarely will go away forever from the herd or flock; the intent will be to deworm for these parasites when it is economically justified and/or we are treating for another disease and can use one product for both problems.
Almost all dewormers in small ruminants and many products for poultry flocks are called extra-label use; the species name is not on the label. There are some products, especially those for lice, which can be toxic to some species that are not on the package label. Animals intended for food should have only approved products utilized, as there are meat, milk and egg withdrawal times. As a general rule when giving deworming or lice control products to poultry, the eggs should be not utilized at all for human consumption. We recommend at 2x the meat drug withdrawal time period for eggs if you are unsure of the egg withdrawal time for your own use, using an OTC product; you can cook these eggs and feed them to your pets and/or freeze the cooked eggs until they can be consumed by your pets. When treating poultry there may be times of the year where it is convenient to treat the whole flock, such as when they are molting and/or not laying eggs. Goats will also have a similar consideration for milk. Coccidiosis is a problem in herds and flocks known to have this common parasite; at “weaning time/before egg laying” and at the end of the milking or egg laying season we recommend that the herd or flock be treated yearly.
Once lice have been discovered in a flock or herd, at a minimum of once a year all the animals need to be treated, maybe twice depending upon the amount of lice seen. (Initially we will recommend treating 3x in less than a 2 month time period for lice or mites). Some internal parasites can be treated with a water or food medication program, and a few parasites need individual gathering up to be medicated. In summary for egg laying flocks and for milking animals the yearly treatments, if indicated, for coccidia and lice are to be considered when most of the flock/herd is not laying or milking. We can send post cards out each year for the products you need to pick up to help remind you.