Chicken Goals

img_5729-1When my first chicks ordered from a hatchery arrived over a year ago, I had no idea the adventure they would be. I enjoyed watching them grow from cute chicks to young pullets. I was thrilled to get my first egg and dealt with having too many roosters. We put three of the original five rooters in the freezer and kept two with the flock. Peace was restored in the chicken run and we were getting a decent supply of eggs.

In time the two roosters I choose to keep also got a bit aggressive. Anytime I was in the run I had to keep a watchful eye on them at all times. This was taking some of the fun out of having chickens and I had to start evaluating what I wanted to do with my flock and those roosters. We also started to have some inconsistent egg production at a time I needed it steady and my frustration with the girls began. It was at that time I had to think about some chicken goals.

Replacement

My initial goals were just improving my laying flock. In the coming fall, after a year of production, I knew I would have my hens slow down their laying. I wanted some young pullets coming along to start when the others slowed down. It was a way to keep my egg production up through the winter and egg production steady. To provide that replacement I decided to hatch out some of my hens eggs this spring rather than order again from a hatchery. I did not want as many birds as I would have had to order from the hatchery and I liked the idea of breeding towards production and color. So I decided to hatch out a dozen of my own eggs. I was hoping to have half of them be pullets as that is how many I wanted to add to my flock.

I chose eggs to hatch based on what I wanted to have in my flock in the years to come. I loved my blue egg from the Easter Egger so I saved her eggs. I also saved the jumbo eggs I was getting. I loved the super large size and the hen producing the jumbo egg was a producing machine. So choosing those eggs I hoped to have a offspring that laid large colorful eggs and laid them often.

I stored my eggs that I was gathering in a dorm type fridge set on the lowest setting until I had gathered for 6 days. The dorm fridge keeps them cool but not cold. I would tilt the egg carton they were in from side to side morning and night. I made sure the eggs I saved were not dirty.. for the most part all my eggs come out of the nest box clean.. as the idea of chicken poo, heat and high humidity sounded like a recipe for disaster.  I then put the eggs on the counter to come to room temperature.

incuview-shadowDuring the week I was saving eggs, I set up the incubator and allowed it to run. I chose as my incubator the Incuview Incubator from Incubator Warehouse. When I was shopping for an incubator I had a few things I wanted for sure. I wanted the ability to hatch more than a few eggs, wanted an auto egg turner and it needed to be reasonable in cost. The Incuview fit the bill for what I wanted, and I liked the entire top of the Incuview being clear to watch the hatching eggs. But before taking the leap and purchasing, I wanted to check out any reviews to see if people that bought and used this incubator had problems anywhere along the way. For the reviews, I spent quite a few days reading the thread on Back Yard Chickens on this incubator. The thread covers a number of years and overall I found the incubator did a good job hatching eggs, and at the times there were issues, the customer service was superb from the company year after year. So I took the plunge and made the purchase.

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Before I put eggs in the incubator I wanted to make sure it was working properly. I like to run the incubator a few days before I put the eggs in to make sure everything is working and there are no failures. During the three weeks of incubation things can go wrong, but before I start the checks developing I make sure we can at least get off to a good start. So the week I gathered eggs the incubator was set it up and running. I was able to get an idea of how my water would keep the humidity where it needed to be during this time as well. I love the gauge on the top that tells you the range of humidity you need to have during the first part of the hatch and then at lock down.

Since the eggs hatch in three weeks, I wanted to have day one on Sunday .. the first day of my weekend.. so they would hatch on my day off. I unplugged the incubator Saturday night and put it where I wanted it to be during the hatch. For me it is in a back bedroom where there is no danger for it to be knocked into or over by the cats or dog. Sunday, after the eggs sat on the counter and got to room temp, I put them in the incubator and then plugged it in and let it run. I figured both the incubator and the eggs would warm up gradually together. We were very lucky with this hatch and hatched 100% of the eggs we set. We now had a handle on flock replacement.

Roosters .. Again

IMG_4372As the new chicks were growing I was getting more and more aggression from my two roosters in the main flock. I chose two young cockerels developing in the recent hatch to move forward with and was left with six boys to get rid of.. the initial two and four from the hatch. Because at the time I still had two roosters in the freezer, and was not sure how to eat them because I thought they would be tough, I really did not want to put 6 more in the freezer. Lack of room and the time it would take to cook them made me want another option. I put their pictures and a free to good home note on a local Facebook page for Backyard Chicken Owners. I noted I did not care if they were allowed to roam or were put in a freezer. I lucked out and found someone that actually wanted to take all six of them off my hands. They have land and just allow the roosters to free range all over it. It came not a moment too soon as the Easter Egger rooster, pictured above right, jumped me and ripped open my hand when I took my eyes off him for only a second they day before they were picked up. Darn birds…

img_5976-1Out of my May hatch I kept 2 cockerels, lost one and had 5 pullets. I had a hen go broody at the time the eggs were in the incubator so I let her hatch four eggs. I only had one survive and had to find him a friend. So I got an Olive Egger that was a Maran cross to hang out with him. They were a few weeks behind the others, but in time we got the nine littles integrated into the main flock. The young pullets started to lay in November and and, for a while everybody was getting along.

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My choice of eggs to hatch were selected with my goal in mind. They were selected based on color and size from two hens that had great production as well. I was not sure how egg size would inherit, so imagine my surprise to see pullet eggs the same size as moms. The tan egg on the right is mom and her offspring’s eggs is the khaki one on the left. That egg was one of the first eggs this pullet laid and I was pretty excited. I have two pullets out of the Jumbo eggs that I now feel are from my Production Red Lulu. They are promising to have great size and color. Time will tell if they are the laying machine their mother is.

eggsThe other eggs we are getting from the pullets are also good sized and they too are shades of green. The Oliver Egger I got for company is also laying now, and does have a darker olive egg.. but it is much smaller that what I am getting from my home raised girls. You can see her egg on the right. The egg on the left is the Easter egger mom. Her eggs are a very pretty blue as well as being good sized. I think the next two are from her offspring, then the second from the end is out of the other Production Red. These eggs are pullet eggs and are coming pretty steady. They are making a very colorful egg basket when we pick them up. I am very pleased with the girls from my hatch. The boys, on the other hand.. are another issue.

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We are now back to having the boys giving me grief. As the chick hatched by the broody grew, it has turned into a neat young cockerel. I am not a fan of barring, but he is barred and has black wing tips and a more cream hackle and saddle feather. I like him and want to breed him going forward. He is out of my Cuckoo Maran [dark eggs] covered by the first Easter Egger roo [blue egg] so should  give me genetics for olive eggs This third rooster coming of age has got the other two a bit more aggressive to the hens and unfortunately to me. The head rooster, JJ, made the mistake of jumping me when my back was turned in the run feeding one morning. I turned and booted his puffed up butt into the run door. Since it was not latched it swung open and he hit the ground running. I was feeding in the morning getting ready to head to work, so just left him and locked the run up with him on the outside and went to work.

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JJ has been my yard art now for a couple weeks. Because I had recently wormed, I was not in a position to process him for another week after he got booted out. For the most part he has been behaving, so I have allowed him to free range the yard. Unfortunately, he made the mistake the other morning of attacking my dog, on a leash, as I was taking him to his run in the morning. That has now put JJ back on the top of the list to get processed as soon as I get time. I will not tolerate a nasty rooster as it takes all the fun out of having chickens. We will then be left with just the two cockerels in the main run and right now they are co-existing. If things get rough we will thin them down to one.

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Because chicken math is .. well.. chicken math.. I bought some Crested Creme Legbars along the way. The goal here was to add the blue eggs to my layer flock. I bought six pullet chicks and ended up getting an additional two young cockerels. With the wet spring and the insane mosquito surge we had, they got fowl pox and had some other complications and I started to lose some.

I found another pair for sale and purchased them. I started with ten birds of which I lost four. I have left four pullets and two roosters. The boys do not get along so I now have one in a very large crate in with the others in my first A-Frame. It is not ideal, but I don’t have anyone getting hurt. I do not plan on it being like this for much longer, but for the moment we will live with it. So far the Legbars have been very respectful of me when I am in there with them. Bo is not as friendly as he was when a chick, but there is no aggression towards me when we are together. The Legbars tend to be good natured roos.. but some have been known to be nasty. We will keep an eye on their attitude and only breed the nice ones.

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Initially I was building the new coop to house the Legbars and also be a place for my Isbars. I have wanted the Isbar breed for a long time as they are known for being very sweet birds, roosters included. My goal was to have Isbar roosters over my laying hens and have roosters I could live with. When I finally bought some Isbars eggs, I also added some Maran and Maran cross eggs to the hatch. We now have nine Isbars, three of which are roos, two Marans with one a roo and three olive eggers of which one is a roo. All these guys from this hatch are now in the new coop. However, I will not want all that testosterone in that pen in a few months when they start maturing, so need to come up with something else fast. And I need to rethink what I really want to do with the different chickens I now have.

Coming to a Crossroad

I am at a point I need to do something about the young roos. Some of the upcoming boys I will want to breed, others I will want to process. I want to keep both of the Legbar boys but they are outgrowing their current space. I decided I did not want them or the pullets in with the recently hatched chicks, which was the original plan. Besides the size difference, I don’t what whatever secondary issues they had with the pox that cause some to die, in with my Isbars. Between the two Legbars and five cockerels showing in the Isbar hatch, I have a number of males that need some place to be besides in the the girls. Leaving all the boys in with the girls will produce aggression I do not want to deal with. They are going to need some place to mature to where I can make decisions about them that is safe for all concerned. The boys are just going to have to have their own space to grow until I decide what their futures will be.

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So.. we will now need to build some sort of bachelor pad to put the boys that will be away from the girls. They should stay much better mannered if they are not competing for the girls. I am also really considering not having a rooster in with the hens and use something like this pen to breed when I want fertile eggs. I think something like this would be a good place to put young cockerels to grow out as well. So it looks like we have another project coming up very soon.

A New Direction

Our plans with the chickens have changed quite a bit over the year we have had them. Initially, I just wanted a few hens to provide me some eggs and would hatch some chicks here and there to keep new blood in the flock. The day I opened the fridge and had nine dozen eggs staring back at me was the day I put a sign up at work. We started out slow and the dog got quite a few eggs along the way. Over time, we now have regulars at work wanting our eggs to the point I am having trouble keeping up with the orders. I am now looking at the laying flock as being a group of high producing hens giving me large colorful eggs. So we are breeding with that goal in mind and will be thinning out the girls in this group not producing what I want in their eggs and replacing them with ones that do.

isbar-dsc_0025Having had issues with roosters, I fell in love with the Isbars that are reported to have really nice tempered birds. They are a smaller chicken created to produce a lot of green eggs on not a lot of food. My desire going forward is to breed them for their colored eggs and high production, all the while preserving the type and coloring desired in the breed. Though there is no standard for the breed and probably will never be, there is a group breeding for a particular type and I want to be part of that group.

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The Legbars were an impulse buy. I thought it would be nice to add their blue eggs into my main flock. As my chicks grew I fell in love with the breed. They are a very chatty group and I love the poofy crests. After some research I decided I wanted to breed these as well. Like the Isbars, these are a smaller bird that is designed to produce a lot of blue eggs with good feed conversion. They are also an auto sexing bird, meaning the sex of the chick is apparent at birth, so many like them for that reason alone.

With the addition of the Isbars and Legbars, I now want three coops and runs to keep the groups separate. I will also need a couple of the bachelor pads for roosters and breeding. The goal now is to breed and sell both the Isbars and Legbars at different times during the year. The rest of the time I will add their colorful eggs to the cartons of eggs I sell at work from my main flock.

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It is a bit amazing what one year with chickens has brought. I have found I really enjoy them and have changed my goals from getting a few eggs to breeding with a purpose. Who would have known when that first box of cute arrived I would be here today. And I have found my story is not unique. Makes me think those first fluffy butts should come with warning labels.

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