April 15, 2013

Springtime Chicks Q&A

We are expanding ... again!  The demand for farm fresh eggs has increased and we've been selling out each week. Recently, my husband did the happy dance as he looked at the books and said, "the girls are finally paying for their own feed!"  Now that we are breaking even, it is time to add to our production line.  50 egg layers and 25 meat birds arrived today.
Q: Where do you get your chicks?
A:This is how they arrive at our house:
 Yep!  The friendly people at the local post office call to let us know they are ready to be picked up!  This set came from Mt. Healthy Hatchery. We've also ordered from Murray McMurray Hatchery.  All the chicks arrive healthy and ready for their new home.

Q: Why do you have to order them?  Can't you just let some of your eggs incubate into chicks?
A: We do not have a rooster, so our eggs are never fertilized.  The benefit is that we don't ever have to worry that a customer will get a surprise when they crack open an egg for their omelet.
Q: How can a hen lay an egg if there is no rooster?
A: Good question!  (Probably our most asked question!) Just like humans, the females produce an egg during ovulation.  Humans ovulate once a month but hens produce an egg about once a day.  The eggs (human or chicken) won't produce a baby unless the rooster is there to fertilize it.  Now does the "birds and the bees" phrase make sense?  Check out these amazing books for a beautiful explanation of the process (3 books in the series).  They are also a great resource for laying the groundwork  for THE talk.  ;)

Q: How many eggs can a hen lay in a day?
A: No more than one.  Some birds, depending on their breed will lay only 2-3 per week.  Since we are in the egg business, we choose breeds that are prolific layers; but that still means one per day, max.

Q: How old are the chicks when they arrive?
A: Usually 1-2 days old.  They grow quickly, so we have to capture their cuteness with the camera within a week of their arrival.

Q: What do baby chicks need?
A: A safe place, free from predators.  A heat lamp ... they are still babies!  Fresh water and food designed specifically for their small tummies.

We keep them in these galvanized tubs with a heating lamp for a few weeks.  Then they will be given the freedom of the hen house.  When they are old enough, they will move out into the hen yard.  Soon they will be free range birds enjoying tasty bugs and grass!

Q: What are "free range birds?"
A: That depends.  There is a broad definition of free range birds.  Our birds enjoy a couple of acres of open space that is surrounded by fence.  While the fence provides safety from most predators, hawks have been known to visit the farm.  We have a large area that surrounds the hen house that is covered with bird netting.  This is where we keep their water and food dispensers.  We rotate the birds to fresh grassy areas every few weeks so they can enjoy the bugs and tasty morsels as well as fertilize the grass.  
Q: How do you get the hens into the henhouse each night?
A: They put themselves to bed!  Each night, just before dusk, the birds make their way to the henhouse.  We close the door each night to protect them from nocturnal predators.

Q: Do they sleep in nesting boxes?
A: Not usually.  Chickens prefer roosting poles just as we prefer a mattress.  We use a dowel rod similar to the rod in your closet.  It is the perfect size for their feet.

Q: What do they use the nesting boxes for?
A: Hens like a special place to lay their eggs.  Nesting boxes are just the right place.  When we collect eggs, we usually will find multiple eggs in each box.  This means that the girls are sharing the boxes.  Sometimes the hens will be brooding, meaning sitting on the eggs.  The breeds we choose are gentle, so the girls allow us to slip our hands underneath and collect eggs without pecking us.

Q: Is "pecking order" for real?
A: Yes.  The birds hash it out and decide who is the boss.  The ones lower in the "pecking order" learn to just steer clear of the bossy girls.

Q: How did you learn about chickens?
A: You know how they say the best way to learn a new language is to immerse yourself into the culture?  Well, that's my story on chicken lingo.  Three years ago I didn't know ANYTHING about chickens.  We've read many books/websites that have been helpful.  We've asked lots of questions; and we've done a little trial and error.

I wrote this post for the normal Joe Shmoe who is either ready to try his hand at backyard chickens or the person a wee bit curious about this crazy adventure we are on.
Have more questions about our farm?  Please ask!  I'd love to do another Q&A!

I'm linking up with Savvy Southern Style


truth in weakness said...

oh, that look on your animal-lovin' girl's face . . . absolutely beaming with delight. love it! (and we love that miracle of creation series, too!)

what a fun post. what a fun adventure. i know it's a lot of work, too, but the rewards of watching & nurturing life are the best!

Lauren said...

Gretchen, I loved this post. I know I asked you a few of these questions during summer bible study ;)

What I really wan to do is come love on all those chicks!! So precious!

Tracey said...

I cannot tell you how much I LOVE this post! I have a certain 8 year old that is going to squeal with delight at the photos..she LOVES baby chicks!

I need to become one of your egg customers...

Talk to you soon!

Sandy said...

Very informative!๐Ÿ“๐Ÿฅ๐Ÿฃ

Katie said...

Oh they are precious! Always love a little farm Q&A!

beth patafio said...

I just love reading through your blog :) Thank you for taking the time to document and share with the rest of us!

beth patafio said...

I just love reading your blog. Thank you for taking the time to share with the rest of us :)

MEEMAW said...

The teacher in you is displayed so well as you have made this easy to understand and very interesting. I love seeing how the Lord is growing your farm and each of you with so many gifts and abilities.

Richella Parham said...

Gretchen, I'm just now getting around to reading this post. . .what a delight! I love it!! How cool that your chicken venture has proved so successful. Even though I don't really think we'll be getting any backyard birds, it was still such fun to read all about the chickens and their needs and habits. You did a great job writing this up. (Now I want to visit the farm and see your gorgeous house and all your feathered friends!)