Chicken Math

IMG_5732 (1)I absolutely love my chickens. I enjoy sitting out with them in the morning and watching them scratch around in the ground. I laugh at their antics and like to buy them treats.  Initially I thought I had a lot more chickens than I needed. I ordered hatchery birds and there is a minimum order of 15 birds. So I placed my order for 15 and the hatchery ended up sending me 17 day old chicks. Since it is just me I though I would have plenty of eggs for a long time. I figured in a few years I would hatch out a few eggs to add some new blood to the flock and I would maintain my small flock in the years to come. That was the thought before Chicken Math hit.

As I said I ordered 15 day old chicks. One was to be a rooster and the other 14 were to be hens.  I knew the hatchery would send an additional rooster and expected 16 so not sure how I got the extra. When then chicks matured I ended up with FIVE roosters and a dozen hens. I was none too happy about all the males and the hatchery was kind enough to refund me for the hens in my order that turned into roosters. I knew I did not want that many boys running around the flock as it was too many roosters to the hens I had. When the girls started laying there was just too much commotion and aggression in the flock and so three of the roosters ended up in the freezer. That brought me down to a dozen girls with two roosters. The girls started laying  regular and hit a real good pace around the first of the year. The day I opened the fridge and had nine dozen eggs in there was the day I took a sign to work and posted fresh eggs for $3/dozen. It started off a bit slow but we eventually got several people wanting the eggs and we hit a place where the demand was equal to the supply.

IMG_5214Then we got torrential rains and flooding in the spring. The chickens got Pox and slowed down production a bit. I also got interested in a breed called Isbars. I wanted to get some of this breed but the only way I could make getting them affordable was to get eggs to hatch them out.We also had more people interested in our eggs and needed more laying hens to keep up with the demand, so we decided to get an incubator and try our  hand at hatching eggs.

I chose six of my blue/green eggs from my Easter Egger and also chose six of the Jumbo eggs we were getting for my first hatch. I wanted to add colored and hopefully larger egg producers to the flock. We saved eggs, put them in the incubator and waited 21 days. It was fun to candle them along the way and watch them develop until we hatched out a dozen baby chicks on May 1. It was my first try at hatching and I must say the Incuview Incubator did a great job hatching the chicks. We got a 100% hatch rate and we added 12 more to the flock.

IMG_5583As the youngsters were growing I decided they needed a nursery to grow out in before being introduced to the main flock. Not wanting to dig post holes and go gather pallets like the first coop and run I did, I came up with this A Frame design. The base is 10 x 10 and the uprights are 2 x 4 x 8. It gives me enough height to walk into the coop and I can work in there if needed. With it coming into summer I left it open air and just enclosed the sides along the back top of the A with fence boards. There is a roost in there up in the covered area and the open air design allows a nice breeze to move through. I was pretty proud of this thrown together coop as it did not take much time and did not cost much at all.

This little coop did a real  good job growing out the Littles. It was next to the big run so they could see and hear each other. To transition the Littles in with the Bigs I put a very large dog crate in the big run with 2 pullets at a time to transition them even more into the big flock. After a week in the dog crate and on the weekend where I could watch, I would let the two pullets out and watch them. I expected some bullying and chasing but made sure the youngsters had plenty of places to hide. They eventually learned to get up on the roosts in the run to stay out of the bossy hens way. Then I would put two more in the crate and do it all over again. As I let the Littles out into the main flock they formed their own group and it was amusing to to see they choose to hang together. In a short order the Bigs and Littles learned to live together and settled down.

IMG_6398 (1)I ended up with 6 pullets and 6 cockerels in my hatch. I got the six pullets integrated into the main flock and was left with the roosters. About this time someone on a local back yard chicken Facebook group had some Legbars they were selling. They were a ways away but some one local to where I work was making a run and taking orders. The Legbars lay a blue egg and I had kinda wanted some from the breeder I would be ordering the Isbars from in the fall. But since I really wanted the  Isbars I could not bring myself to get less of them to get the Legbars too. Now, with the Legbars being local and reasonably priced, I jumped and said I wanted six females. My plan was to add them to my flock for more colored eggs. I tried to get a hold of my chicken keeping neighbor as I thought she might want some too. By the time she got my message I was already headed over to get my six young chicks that had been picked up from the breeder. When I got there I asked if by chance they had picked up any extra birds. I was told they did but I would have to take them in pairs. My neighbor did not need the roosters so I got two pairs and ended up keeping the young roos. So now we have eight more.

I have come to really love the Legbars. They are a noisy bunch always peeping and chattering among themselves. One of the young pullets likes to jump up in my lap where she will pick at my shirt and talk to me as I pet her. She will then settle down and sleep there if I allow it. Even the roosters are friendly and like to come up for attention. Such a vast difference from my other roosters that seem to keep a wary distance. Of course now, instead of wanting to add the Legbar girls to the laying flock, I want to breed these birds. So that means I need to design and build some place to house roosters. I will want to grow them out and make choices in breeding so do not want roosters just running with the hens. We are still working out how many roo pens I will need. So far the math is all addition.. more birds, more coops and runs. Now it is time for some subtraction.

IMG_6212I chose two of the young cockerels to keep going forward and got rid of the other four I had from the hatch plus the two that were their fathers from the hatchery order. I learned quickly that a proper ratio of hens to roosters keeps the flock from being stressed. I will have two roos over 16 hens. We will also be watching these two  youngsters for attitude. Both the previous older ones had gotten so they would jump at me and the Red on actually drew blood on my hand. I now know how to put them in the freezer so any aggression pointed in my direction will result in immediate freezer camp. I am all for the boys protecting the girls. I am NOT for them coming at me for any reason at all. In the year I have had my chickens I have found the roosters to be very sneaky about how they will come at you and I refuse to let a bad tempered rooster take away the enjoyment I have with my flock. I also am not going to be afraid to turn my back or  have to carry a stick when I am in their run. Good tempered roosters were a big reason that drew me to the Isbar breed. Seems they are always people friendly yet very protective of threats to the flock. My plan is to use Isbar roos over the laying flock. They will also contribute genes for colored eggs as well as their good attitude.

IMG_6449 (1)My little grow out coop was perfect until another torrential rain and flooding spell hit. My great design was fine when it was sunny, but when it rained it did nothing to keep the water out. I thought that the boards would keep the roost dry as well as the area under it. What I did not know was the rain fell through every crack between all the boards. My poor little youngsters were getting soaked. So I stopped by Tractor Supply and picked up a tarp. It is not pretty but it keeps the water out as I desired.. in the roost area as well as the area under it. There are still places where the water can come pouring down in the run, but the Legbar Littles at least have a place to sleep and forage when the weather is bad. It is not a place I think I want to winter over any birds as there is no enclosed area to get away from the cold. Hence another coop and run is to be added.

IMG_6469 (1)And, if our crazy Spring was not bad enough, the triple digit temps of Texas summers hit. Again we took a hit to the egg production as the chickens spent most of the day running around panting. I had more birds and now less eggs with the heat. I felt really bad for them walking around in their little down coats and started to freeze water in 2 liter soda bottles and was putting them into pans of water to keep some water cool for them to drink. There was still plenty of water in their chicken nipple system, but the reservoir was in the sun most of the day so the water got really warm. The pans gave them cooler water and most liked to step into the pans for a few minutes to cool down. The nipple system was installed as we went into fall and the idea of direct sun in the winter would keep it from freezing. Since we are headed that direction now we will leave things as is and just keep the pans filled with cool water as well. But next year we may move the system to a more shaded part of the coop to keep that water a bit cooler.

IMG_6517 (1)Now that we are out of the the triple digits and we are starting to cool down, egg production is back up a bit. But now we are dealing with the years olds molting so we are again not at peak production and the Littles are not due to start laying until the end of the month. With the cooler temps we are planning to order the Isbar eggs. I will have them shipped in a week or so when the day time temps are in the 80’s. With the Legbars and the Isbars I will of course need another coop and run. I like the A Frame I built as it was pretty easy for me to put together by myself. I have plans to enclose the end section then have additional sections that will be an enclosed run. The base is still a 2 x 4 10′ for width, but the sides will be in 8′ sections. Still being used are 8 foot 2 x 4’s as the height I found was comfortable to  work in. Since I feel this design is suited to someone without a lot of handyman experience and can be done inexpensively I will add posts about the construction along the way.

img_5272-1One thing I have learned, and learned all too well this past year, is chicken math is easy. Even if you were not good at math in school, chicken math has a way of making those new to chickens a math pro in a short amount of time. When chicken people tell you to build as big a coop as you possibly can and you wonder why for only three hens, they are giving you advice from mathematical experience. Chickens really are a lot of fun and the addition comes all too easy. More chickens, more eggs and more coops. Subtraction, in the form of less eggs, predators, processing and sickness, are usually not as much fun but are a necessary part of the equation to get a balanced answer. As you work your own chicken equation, you can rest assured, the best part about chicken math is you will never get a problem you won’t enjoy solving.



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