Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from Chapter 3: Keeping Chickens
[…] First, how much space do you actually and realistically have in which to keep chickens? As chickens come in a variety of sizes, from the very large Jersey Giants to the little Bantams, your space needs to be able to support the number and type of bird that you plan to raise. Keep in mind that you will need not only animal space, but housing space as well. How much space you have available will not so much dictate the breed of bird you will get as it will the number of birds that your space will be able to handle.
When building or creating your chickens’ space, a general rule of thumb is 4 square feet of space per bird inside the coop and ten square feet per bird in the outdoor space, no matter how many birds you have. If you have the space, you may wish to build your coop and run space larger in size, but the figures given above should be the minimum.
Choosing the Right Accommodations
So exactly what options do you have when it comes to housing your flock? There are basically three options available to the new chicken owner.
The first (and probably least favorable) way to keep chickens is using the containment method. Used primarily by commercial growers, containment housing is just as it sounds: the birds are kept contained indoors throughout their entire life. Layers are usually kept in small cages, with multiple birds per cage (many times in cages too small to house them), while meat breeds are allowed to run around only within the house. The outdoors and oftentimes natural daylight are off-limits to these birds.
Some will argue that confinement housing is safer and healthier for the birds. And while containment may be good in an emergency or temporary situation, it does not seem to hold true as beneficial to the birds as a 24–7 way to exist. It also can prove to be much more work for those responsible for the upkeep of the birds as well. Fortunately, most backyard chicken owners and small homesteaders do not choose to keep their birds in this manner.
So what are the arguments in favor of containment housing? If you are setting up a flock in a very harsh cold climate or during a cold season, then containment or partial containment may be the best alternative, both for your needs and to provide less stress overall for the birds. Partial containment provides shelter during the worst times, when weather conditions could become deadly for birds with long-term exposure and being indoors 24–7 would be necessary for the health and safety of the birds.
Excerpt from Chapter 6: Incubation
Many backyard flock or small homestead owners will use an incubator to hatch their eggs. The incubator may be small enough to sit on a tabletop or as large as a refrigerator, although this is usually too large for the small flock owner. Some will even make their own incubators from wood, glass, and a light bulb. (There are numerous plans online for simple incubators. See the Resources section for examples.)
One reason for using an incubator to hatch your eggs is that it will allow you to keep your layers in production. This is especially important if you are hatching chicks to sell. Once a hen begins laying, if you don’t collect the eggs, at a certain point she will “go broody” and begin sitting on and incubating her eggs. When the hen goes broody or gets ready to set, she will stop laying eggs and concentrate on the eggs in her nest, hatching them out. There is no set number of eggs that will make her go broody, but once she stops laying, she will not start again until her clutch of eggs are hatched. Collect the eggs daily, store them pointed end down at a temperature of 55˚F in a cool and humid area, and rotate the eggs daily. When you are ready to incubate, allow the eggs to come to room temperature, write the start date for incubation on the eggs, and place in the prepared incubator.
It is advisable to do a little in-depth reading about incubation before diving in as well as reading he manual that comes with your incubator (if a purchased piece) well in advance of the time you plan to begin incubation of your first clutch of eggs.
Here are some basic steps to keep in mind:
·Make sure the incubator is clean. If you are using a new machine, it should still be cleaned. If you are putting an already used incubator to work, then it should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. If you live in a bright sunny area or have a very sunny day when cleaning, let the incubator dry outdoors in the sunlight; the sun is nature’s sanitizer.
·Make sure the incubator reaches and stays at the correct temperature before you put in your eggs. Plug it in, and then let it heat up and sit for 24–48 hours with a thermometer inside (unless it has a built-in thermometer). Thermometers designed to sit inside an incubator may be purchased at feed or pet stores.
·Make sure the eggs are clean. There should be no dirt, feces, or mud on the eggs. If there is some light dirt, gently and carefully clean them with a soft cloth or run them under warm water and gently use your fingers to remove any debris.
·Do not rub the eggs, as the shells have a light, invisible film that acts as a protection for the egg, and that should remain intact if at all possible. Dirty eggs that you cannot clean should not be placed into the incubator, as they can introduce bacteria into the incubator itself as well as to the hatching chicks.
After you have cleaned and checked the incubator and have the eggs ready, use a fine-tip permanent marker to mark each egg with the date it enters the incubator. This step will be invaluable in helping you keep track of when the eggs went in, especially if you add new eggs to the incubator (which should then be marked with their entry date) days or even a week or two later. Also, if you put eggs in at different times, you will know which eggs you should be expecting to hatch at any given time.
Incubation time for chicken eggs is 21 days, although chicks may hatch a little earlier or later, but not too much later. If an egg does not hatch a few days after its hatching date, it most likely will not hatch at all.