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Training Hens to Lay in Boxes

We’ve all had that one or two hens who love to lay their eggs in the most surprising places. We had a hen that sat on the front seat of the side-by-side every single day, and left us a tan egg. There was also our hen Dotty, who loved to lay her eggs in the dog bed, making the perfect organic dog treats. Although it can be funny later, when you can’t find your chickens’ eggs, it can become frustrating very quickly.

 

There are several reasons why a hen would prefer to lay her eggs anywhere other than the nesting boxes. Sometimes when a hen hides her eggs, she is going broody. Some hens go broody in the summer months. Their instinct to hatch babies is so strong, they will seek out the perfect hiding place to start laying her clutch. After the eggs have reached about 20 in number, she will sit on them to incubate them. The problem is, not all the eggs always hatch, creating a messy situation later on. Nests can be hidden anywhere, but chances are these places are not safe. Many a mother hen has lost her life and the lives of her chicks because it was not predator proof.

Some hens decide to lay in odd places because they aren’t happy with their current nesting boxes. Make sure your setup is pleasing. Hens prefer somewhere cool and dark, with confined walls. Having your nesting boxes up off the ground level deters most predators and hens prefer to be up high. If there are too few nesting boxes, hens may decide the squabbling isn’t worth it, and go off to find a new nest. In some cases, hens in a flock will have a favorite nest box, refusing to use the other boxes.

 

Resetting your hens is actually a simple fix. Gather up your entire flock and make sure you lock them up at night. If they free-rage and sleep in the tress, you’ll need to catch them at night and put them all in the coop. The coop should be their normal sleeping coop, including the run. Leave your chickens up for 4 days and nights. Refrain from letting them out to free range on these “resetting” days.

The hens will have to lay heir eggs, and when they do, they’ll have only a few choices, in the nest box or in a corner of the coop. Check your eggs daily, but leave them in the nest boxes. Sometimes they will start a nest on the ground. Simply collect those eggs, and add them to the nesting boxes. Be sure to spread out the eggs into all the boxes, so they know all the boxes are good to use.

 

Lastly, you can use egg decoys! Purchase some fake plastic eggs, preferably naturally colored, and put them in the nest boxes. You can also use white ping pong balls for this. Seeing the “eggs” in the nest boxes will trigger the hens to lay in that particular spot. The ping pong balls are also said to help deter snakes from eating eggs.

After about 4 days, you are free to let your flock outside again, but leave their coop door open so they can come and lay as they please. This method almost always works! We have several hens now that actually sleep outside in the fruit trees at night, but will come into the coop to lay during the day. If your hens start trying to play a game of Easter Egg hunting with you, it may be time to put them in the coop for a simple reset. Good luck!

Chicken Care When You’re Away

For all their many benefits, a backyard chicken flock presents one problem for families who love to travel. Chickens need care every day. That’s impossible from a distant hotel or campsite. Fortunately, there is a time in chicken maturity when traveling is easier. It’s when the birds are maturing from adolescence into early adulthood.

 

Baby chicks need constant vigilance. They must be checked often every day. The heat may need adjusting. Small waterers and feeders quickly empty and need refilling, and sometimes a waterer tips over, soaking litter that needs to be replaced.

Once in a while a chick dies and should be swiftly removed. It’s hard to travel when chicks are in the brooder and need constant care.

Five or six months later those babies will be leaving eggs in nests that need to be collected a couple of times a day. If the hens have an outdoor run the pop hole door must be opened each morning and closed in the evening to keep the raccoons and other predators out. These tasks require a few visits each day.

 

Friendly neighbors and helpful relatives are often happy to temporarily tend the flock so a family can travel. Recruiting fill-in helpers may be challenging to find if several daily visits are needed. Fortunately, there’s a time during chicken maturity when only one or two visits a day are needed. That may make finding a caregiver easier.

 

Families often start chicks in early spring when the weather is cool and the peeping babies must bask in a nearly 100-degree brooder. Fortunately, by the time they’re five or six weeks old their bodies are covered with one of nature’s finest insulation – feathers. By then, spring is transitioning into summer and crisp frosty nights are just a memory.

 

Those six-week-old chicks are feathered adolescents. They need less care than when they were babies.  As long as the temperature stays somewhat above chilly, they are fine in the coop without a brooder’s heat. They’re still too small to let forage in the outdoor run, so there’s no need to open and close the pop hole daily. Since they are too young to lay, daily egg collecting isn’t yet needed.

Adolescent through early adult chickens is probably the easiest age to care for, and this gives a family an opportunity to travel. That’s when the weather is pleasant, fish are biting, and it’s a great time for a family to get away from home for a few days.

It’s important to recruit someone to check in on chicken youngsters daily but because care is simple and the need for frequent visits lessened it may be easier to find a substitute caretaker.

Here’s how we prepare our coop at Winding Pathways so maturing chicks only need one or two visits a day from a helpful neighbor who just needs to check them daily:

 

Coop:  Before departing on a trip, we make sure the coop is tight enough to keep predators out and there’s the right amount of ventilation for expected weather conditions. Our coop windows are covered with heavy duty wire mesh that repels raccoons, and screening to keep out insects. Before leaving we spread a new layer of pine shavings on the floor. Crowding creates problems so we give our birds plenty of indoor coop space. Four square feet per bird is a minimum but we give them at least twice that much room to run, flap their wings, and explore.

 

Food and Water: The more feeders and waterers in the coop the better. When home we always keep two waterers and feeders in the coop. Should one empty or tip over there’s always a second available. When we leave on a trip, we add more feeders and waterers and fill them to the brim. It’s overkill but our chickens can eat and drink for a full week without the need for refilling. That helps the caregivers. And, we keep a metal garbage can of extra feed and jugs of water nearby so the person tending our flock can easily make refills as needed.

 

Extras:  We can be away for a week before our friendly neighbor needs to refill feeders and waterers but we’re never out of touch. She can call us on our cell phone if something comes up and needs our input. One daily coop visit is all that’s needed and it’s just a check in to make sure everything is okay in the coop. We bring our helper a gift or two from our travels and give her plenty of eggs once the hens begin production.

 

We love our chickens and like to travel. Helpful friends and neighbors allow us to keep our flock and get away once in a while. We know it’s easiest on substitute flock caregivers if we travel during the few months after chicks leave the brooder but before they  begin laying.

Jersey Giants

They come with lustrous black, bright white, or blue feathers but Jersey Giants are really a mellow yellow chicken breed. The reason goes back to the breed’s creation in the late 1800s.

 

Back then, few families enjoyed chicken or turkey dinners for one reason. It was expensive. Birds of that long-ago era gobbled down plenty of food yet grew slowly.

Raising them to market size was a slow and expensive process so, typically, chicken and turkey dinners were reserved for holiday meals and special meals served to guests.

 

New Jersey chicken breeders John and Thomas Black were determined to make chicken a more common American meal. Between 1870 and 1880 they crossed several breeds, including Langshans, Dark Brahmas, and Javas to create what came to be called the Black Jersey Giant. Although it had black feathers it was named in honor of the Black Brothers.

Their success was mixed. The new breed grew to a huge size. A rooster can tip the scales at 13 pounds with hens only a little smaller. Originally, they had black feathers so why are they a mellow yellow breed?

 

The answer’s simple. Back then many families raised small flocks. Mellow is a desirable trait. Giants are so big they have a tough time flying, making them easy to keep inside a small fence. Many breeds are considered to be nervous, or “flighty.”  They spook easily and sometimes fly over even a tall fence. Not Giants. The Black Brothers knew that small flock owners preferred mellow, so the trait became a goal of the breed’s development.

 

Yellow?  Consumers are fickle. English diners prefer a chicken with white skin. Not Americans. They like yellow skin. So, a Black Jersey Giant has black feathers and dark shanks, but underneath is yellow skin. The underside of their feet is also bright yellow.

 

The Giant is a wonderful backyard bird. They’re mellow and are easy to handle. Hens are prolific layers of large brown eggs. The Black Brothers did a great job creating the breed, but their timing kept them from ever becoming an important commercial meat breed. Giants grow slowly, and it takes plenty of expensive feed for them to reach the size of a small turkey.  To reach full size can take eight or nine months.

 

During the Twentieth Century many breeds and hybrids were developed that grew much faster than Giants while eating less feed per pound of growth. Cornish Rocks, for example, reach market size when only about six weeks old and eat much less feed than older breeds. That led to commercial success for growers and made chicken a common and inexpensive lunch or dinner.

 

Despite their slow growth Jersey Giants are wonderful birds to include in a backyard flock.  After all they are mellow and fun to be around. The black variety has impressive almost shiny plumage, while White Giants are brilliant in the sunshine. There is even a blue feathered Giant. All are great layers, although they may start producing eggs slower than better known Rhode Island Reds or ISA Browns.

 

They are big and may need slightly larger nests and pop hole doors than more standard sized breeds, but generally they can squeeze into normal sized nests.

 

The Jersey Giant breed enjoys a rich heritage. Although it’s not economic for commercial meat or egg producers it is a wonderful breed perfectly suited to a small flock in the backyard.

Entertaining Your Flock on a Budget

Chickens really live their best lives when they are free ranging outside. Unfortunately, not everyone has the option of letting their chickens out of the coop. Space restrictions, local ordinances, and job schedules are just a few of the reasons why many chickens are cooped up all day.

Owning animals is like being a zookeeper. A good zookeeper takes care of the physical needs of an animal. However, a great zookeeper comes up with ways to keep their animals’s minds healthy and active! It’s called enrichment! There are countless ways to provide your flock something to keep their brains busy.

That being said, chickens are simple creatures, and can live a happy and productive existence in a coop. Since we love them, we want them to have fulfilling lives. Here four affordable ways to give your flock enrichment!

Provide a dust bathing area. 

Chickens actually NEED a place on the coop floor to dust bathe in order to stay healthy. Part of a chicken’s daily routine is covering her feathers in fine dust, all the way down to the skin. After kicking around on her side, she will quickly hop up, and shimmy all the dirt, dust, and parasites off her feathers!

Add a dust area in your coop by clearing a clean 2ft. x 2ft. square on the ground. Leave it as dry as possible and add in a few buckets of dirt from anywhere on your property. There’s no need to use a tray, they’ll soon scratch all the dust out and around!

Put tree branches in the coop.

Chickens, like most birds, love to be up high. Their natural instinct to perch, leaves them always looking for the highest possible spot to rest. You can give them some new furniture simply by bringing in tree branches! The bark will help file down their toenails, as well as help work their muscles. The branches might last a few months before they’ll need to be replaced, and by then your flock might be ready for some new scenery anyway!

Rotate hanging treats periodically.

There are tons of resources and ideas for hanging chicken treats out there! In fact, I’m pretty sure there are some on the Hoover’s blog already! Whole cabbage heads, pumpkins, frozen watermelon; the possibilities are endless! Yummy snacks are always a great motivator to get chickens moving!

Give them a chance to hunt.

Chickens are meant to forage for their food all day. In today’s world of pampered pullets and designer coops, our chickens are often given 24/7 access to feed. This is fine! However, is it fun? Nothing pleases a hen more than being able to scratch for her food. Try broadcast feeding some yummy treats like whole corn, sunflower seeds, or dried mealworms. Speaking of mealworms, for even fresher insects, you can pickup some live mealworms or crickets from pet stores. They’ll make a great source of protein for your birds, and will be entertaining as well!

There are many ways still to entertain your chickens without breaking the piggy bank. Let us know some of your favorite ways to enrich the lives of your flock down below!

Clipping Feathers

There are many reasons why you may need to clip your chickens’ wings. 

Chickens escaping their run, flying up into feed containers, roosting in trees, and just plain wreaking havoc are a few.

Lately, at our place, my chickens have been wanting to sleep in the trees, instead of their deluxe coop! This was fine with me all summer, but now with cold temperatures depending on us, they need to start going back to the coop! Clipping their wings is the first step of my “coop reset plan!”

 

Clipping your chickens’ flight feathers is super easy and can be an instant solution to a number of chicken challenges. You can do it alone, but it helps to have a second pair of hands available.

 

First, you’ll need to catch your chicken. 

Easier said than done, huh? Try waiting until the late evening when it is roosting. After you’ve got a chicken, cradle the bird under your arm against your waist. Grab a wing, and gently pull it away from the chicken’s body, unfolding the feathers.

 

With a sharp pair of scissors, slowly cut in a diagonal line. You are aiming to clip just the ends off of the longest layer of feathers, the flight feathers. Cut about half the feather off. This is where you need to be careful.

Feathers are “alive” in the sense that they do have feeling and blood flow near the base. Unlike hair, which can be cut to the root, feathers should be cut well past the bloodline. You’ll see the bluish, thick shaft of the feather, but you’ll cut a few inches past it. 

 

When you cut the first feathers, the chicken may squirm a bit. Don’t worry, you aren’t hurting them, they just are getting used to the sensation. Cut with a gentle, firm hand, all the way down the wing.

 

After that, you’re done! The great news is you’ll only have to cut one wing! Doing this puts the chicken off balance when they try to fly. If both wings are cut, some smart hens can learn how to compensate for the shorter wings, and still manage to fly. Cutting only one wing has always worked for us! If you have some escape artists in your flock, before spending lots of money on coop revisions, try clipping their feathers instead!

Daylight Savings Time and Chickens

Does Daylight Savings Time affect chickens?

Well, the short answer is no. Of course chickens don’t have a need to understand numerical times, but YES they are affected by the shortening of days.

 

Autumn can be a rough time for chickens. You probably have noticed all of your birds molting. Molting happens to every chicken, every fall. They drop their old feathers, and grow in a new, fresh set for winter. They can be more vulnerable to cold during this time. Some of my girls go almost completely naked during molting season. One named Smarty, gets so puny, she literally looks like a disgruntled pigeon as she runs across the yard.

Chickens are creatures of habit. Their clock is the sun. It doesn’t matter to them if bedtime used to be at 9:00, but now it’s at 6:00. When the sun sets, that tells chickens it’s time to go up. Personally, the chickens going to bed earlier works for me! If you lock your flock up at night, you know the struggle of getting everyone in the coop when it’s still bright outside at 8:45pm in the summer.

With the sun as their guide, chickens undergo some internal changes when the days shorten. They now will lay less eggs, even stopping completely in winter. The darker days trigger the molt, which I mentioned previously. They will be spending more energy staying warm.

Just remember to please give your flock more energy rich foods this fall and winter. Whole corn makes a great evening snack for them, and will heat up their bodies during nighttime digestion. (It’s also a great way to persuade them to go up!) Ensure the coop is free of drafts and remember- no water inside the coop. (This prevents frostbite.)

 

Daylight Savings Time can be rough on everyone, chickens and humans included. Just prepare to hunker down and bring plenty of snacks- for your flock that is!

 

Saying Goodbye

As I weeded a patch of string beans one July morning, sadness overcame me.

The plants were loaded with beans, but the silence got to me.

 

My garden adjoins our chicken run. Whenever I’m planting, weeding, or harvesting, our 14 hens are my companions. They watch me from just beyond the fence and encourage my work with cheerful, expectant clucking. The hens joyfully feast whenever I toss tasty weeds or vegetable thinnings over the fence.  But, on that July morning no perky hens kept me company.

Whenever we bring a pail of kitchen scraps to our hens, they race to meet us, eager for treats.  When I open the pop hole each morning to let them go outside, I greet them with “good morning girls.”  As they watch me gather eggs I say, “Thanks.”  When I close their door each evening, they get a hearty “Good night girls, job well done,” from me. They are endearing. Is talking to chickens silly?  Nope.

 

Word came of an ailing relative 1000 miles away. Marion and I might need to leave at short notice to help him. Neighbors and friends take care of our chickens when we give them plenty of notice of an upcoming vacation trip. That wouldn’t work for a spontaneous need to be gone for an unknown duration. We decided, for the short term, that the flock should go. New birds will fill the coop with enthusiasm this fall.

 

Unexpectedly I was flockless. I grieved. That seems silly for a grown man to miss a few chickens, but it was real sadness. I was heartened to know that I can order chicks from Hoover’s Hatchery this fall. So, curious friendly chickens will again greet me, encourage my gardening, eat our scraps and give us delicious eggs. In the meantime, since we’re chickenless, we can travel without needing to find friends to care for the flock.

 

How to Eliminate a Flock

There are many reasons why a family must eliminate their backyard flock. The spontaneous need to travel may be one, but sometimes people simply lose interest or their life situation changes and chickens can’t be in their future. Also, like all living things, hens age. As years pass, they lay fewer and fewer eggs. To maintain production, trusty old hens must be replaced by youngsters every few years.

 

Saying goodbye to long-held chickens is hard.  They bring curiosity, intelligence, and beauty to the yard while recycling scraps and giving delicious eggs.  Although not quite pets, chickens are delightful life companions who bring joy as they stock the refrigerator with fresh eggs. Saying goodbye isn’t easy but may be necessary. Here are ways to empty the coop:

 

  • Gulp. Old hens are tasty, if tough, but few want to eat their old friends.  Finding them a new home is preferable.
  • Often friends are happy to add a few birds to their flock. It’s helpful to network with other families who keep chickens. Someone may cherish newcomers to the flock.
  • When the decision was made to terminate our flock, I put an ad on Craig’s List. Within an hour a woman called and said, “I have a small flock and give eggs to low-income senior citizens.  I’d like to expand my flock.”  She picked them up two days later.
  • Social media: Social media connections are effective in both disposing of chickens and acquiring new ones.

 

My flock landed in the yard of a woman who gives them great care and gives eggs to low-income senior citizens. They have a great new home.

Hoover’s Hatchery has good news for anyone who must temporarily end a flock. Most people prefer starting chicks in the spring, but Hoover’s sells chicks year round. Starting them in fall works well and that’s what I’ll be doing later this year.

Starlight Green Egger

If you’re looking for a hardy, beautiful layer of green eggs, look no further than the Starlight Green Egger, only available at Hoover’s Hatchery!

One Starlight Green Egger has been a loyal flock member at my home for the past 4 years. Her name is Christmas, and she’s named after her bright red feathers and the gorgeous green eggs she lays. I’ve had the pleasure of owning some hens from this breed for several years now, and I’m convinced they’ll always have a place here. Productive, beautiful, foraging experts, here’s a few reasons you should add some to your flock!

No Two are Alike!

Starlight Green Eggers often lack the fluffy cheeks and ears of other colored egg layers. They retained the pea comb and small, hooklike head. One (as of now) common thread in this breed is the probability to be red. Any variation of red! As deep a mahogany as a Rhode Island Red, to almost totally golden with orange stripes, or even a deep red body with a bronze head- they’re all red! (Usually) If you order a colored layer mix from Hoover’s, chances are if it’s a reddish chipmunk chick, it’ll probably be a Starlight Green Egger.

 

Awesome Eggs

The evolution of colored egg laying genetics has come a long way in recent years. It all started with the Aurucnana from South America, that lays blue eggs. Their descendants are easily recognizable by their fluffy cheeks and styled ear muffs.

After much trial and error, the range of colored layers has grown! Hoover’s has several variations of colored layers, all hybrid types that contain the best of both worlds.

I get an egg from my 3 year old SGE, Christmas, almost every single day, without fail. I have so many SGEs at the moment, that my egg basket is mostly all green! The Starlight Green Egger’s eggs are usually a delicate, pastel green. I like to liken it to a minty green.

Real Survivors

Mixed with leghorn lineage, the SGE is a superb free ranging chicken. More and more people these days are realizing that free ranging is best for chickens. If you have room and no regulations, letting your chickens out everyday is cheaper, cleaner, and more enjoyable for you and the flock! I’ve found that the SGE is custom made to free range. The leghorn lineage makes them small enough to fly and flighty enough to pay attention to danger. Our SGE hens are all so beautiful and awesome survivors!

The Starlight Green Egger is truly a backyard chicken star,as the name implies! I hope you’ll consider adding some to your flock this year!

 

 

What To Do with Frozen Eggs and When Do You Freeze Eggs?

You come home from a long winter day at work or school and visit the coop to collect the day’s eggs. They’re cold.  Really cold with hairline cracks in some of their shells.     That’s not surprising. Those eggs have been sitting in the nest for hours on a subzero day.

 

Egg whites and yolks contain plenty of water but are loaded with dissolved solids.  These lower the egg freezing point to about 29 degrees. Eggs rarely freeze in moderately cold weather but if the temperature drops like a stone eggs freeze and crack in just a couple of hours.

 

In many ways eggs are the perfect product.  They are delicious nutrition packaged in a protective shell and membrane that keeps bacteria and dirt out.  Unfortunately, that tiny crack in a frozen egg can be an ideal passageway for dirt and microbes to enter.   Eating that contaminated egg could be a health risk.

 

What do you do with a frozen egg?  The best solution is to never let it happen.  It’s wise to collect eggs often throughout the day, but when the mercury drops toward the bottom of the thermometer it’s essential. Collecting eggs every couple of hours makes it unlikely that any will freeze. Unfortunately, when chicken keepers are stuck at work or school all day, they can’t saunter to the coop often to gather their eggs.  A few eggs are likely to freeze on a frigid day. For those who cannot collect regularly, some heat in the coop can keep eggs from freezing.  Even, enclosed nest boxes can maintain some warmth and possibly prevent eggs from freezing.

 

What’s the safest thing to do with a rare frozen egg?  Either toss it somewhere so night time raccoons or opossums can snack on it, or mix it into the compost pile. It may seem like a waste but it beats getting sick.

 

Purposefully Freezing Eggs

 

Deliberately freezing eggs for future use is far different from finding frozen eggs in the nest.  A frozen egg is one that was in the nest too long on a frigid day. To be safe, toss it out. Freezing eggs purposefully in the freezer is a way to store them for months.   Almost any family who keeps a flock of hens has times when eggs build up in the refrigerator and days when there just aren’t enough for baking and cooking. A solution is to freeze them when they are abundant. It’s easy. Crack them into a container, scramble them up, seal the container and freeze. They should last about a year.

 

For information on egg freezing, safety, recipes check these websites:   www.incredibleegg.org or www.eggindustrycenter.org.

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