Chickens and Kids—The Ultimate Educational Experience

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Many kids today don’t give a second thought about where their food comes from. Never before has a culture been farther removed from its food source. Fast, easy, and processed is the very definition of the American diet and it is terribly unhealthy. One of the greatest gifts a parent can give to their child is nutritional awareness. Healthy eating habits are perpetuated over a lifetime.  A great way to start is to put children in touch with their food source; raising chickens is one way to do just that.

The Importance of Healthy Living

If you were to ask the average elementary school child where their food comes from, they’ll likely reply, “From the grocery store!” Many kids have never seen a farm outside of picture books. Lack of healthy food choices contribute to the alarming percentage of American children who are overweight. Change must occur and the best place for this to happen is in the home. Bring the kids out to local farms to see how they work and get up close and personal with the animals. Bring them to the farmer’s market and buy a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Move beyond apples, oranges, and bananas. Read books together about healthy eating and where food comes from. Best of all, adopt healthy eating habits as a family and make nutrition a vital part of your life.

How Do Chickens Play Into All This?

Raising backyard chickens puts kids in touch with their food source like nothing else. Caring for and raising a chicken from chick to table is an incredible lesson (although this can be traumatic for some kids, so use caution). Gathering eggs is not only fun, but also incredibly educational. The children learn to care for the birds and respect animals while also learning responsibility through daily chores. Whether they feel like feeding and watering the birds or not, whether they want to gather eggs or clean the coop or not, these things need to be done. These are lessons that can’t be learned through a textbook.

Respecting the Importance of Life

Kids of all ages gain a lot from hatching and raising chicks. Watch the amazement in their eyes as the chicks hatch. Teach them to care for the delicate babies, honing their nurturing skills. Teach them to value life and commit for the long haul as they care for the birds for years. Chickens are perky, funny beings who will capture the entire family’s hearts in no time and they’re not hard to love. They teach kids lessons in patience, respect for living creatures, and animal husbandry.  They’ll likely learn about the frailty of life, too, and the hard truth about loss should a bird die.

Teaching Self-Sustainability Too

Another great lesson to be found in raising chickens is the concept of self-sustainability. Not all food must come from the grocery store. In fact, some food (such as eggs) can easily be raised at home and tastes even better than the conventional store-bought variety. The kids may start wondering what else they can do for themselves.

Don’t Forget The Fun!

Raising chickens can be great fun and chickens can make wonderful pets. If your kids aren’t completely interested in raising backyard birds, however, don’t press the issue. Don’t make the chickens a burden on them hoping they’ll come to enjoy the birds. There’s a chance it’ll work, but more likely they’ll resent the added responsibilities. If the kids are interested in chicken husbandry and are just as enthusiastic as you are, do research as a family. Make sure that the kids are responsible enough and are in it for the long haul. If you get into this wisely, it may turn into one of the most rewarding experiences you’ve ever shared as a family.

 

Raising Araucana Chickens

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A Heritage Breed that originated from Chile, the Araucana Chicken is most well-known for its unique eggs. Ranging in colors from blue or green to pink or yellow, their eggs are prized and were advertised in the 1970s as the ultimate Easter eggs. This breed is also unique because of its lack of a tail.  It was first introduced to the APA in 1976. Raising Araucana Chickens can be a fulfilling pastime.

A Deadly History

Variants of the Araucana breed were bred and raised by native Chilean tribes. In the early 1900s, an animal scientist named Dr. Ruben Bustros began developing the Araucana Chicken into a standard breed. After years of crossing two breeds, the Colloncas and the Quetros, he developed the “perfect” rumples, blue-egg-laying chicken.

There was a big problem with the Araucana chicken bred, however.   The gene that produced the bird’s unique neck tufts also caused chick mortality. If a chick inherited two copies of the gene, the mortality rate was nearly 100%. This is still a risk today, although some breeders have tried to breed the tuft out. Still, breeding two Araucana chickens does have risks. A lethal allele combination will cause some of the resulting chicks to die. Up to a quarter of a hen’s chicks will inherit the allele and die before hatching. Even if only one copy of the gene is inherited, the chick has a 20% mortality rate. This is a risk a pertinent breeder must be aware of before breeding Araucana Chickens. Because of their allele issue, the Araucana is more difficult to incubate and hatch than most other chicken breeds. The rumpless trait also makes it difficult for this breed to reproduce.

Colorful Egg Layers

The Araucana Chicken is most famous for its colorful eggs and for this reason it’s often referred to as the Easter Egg Chicken.  The breed is available online through hatcheries, but as it is often mistaken for the Ameraucana Chicken you’ll have to be diligent and make sure you’re actually getting the correct breed.  This medium sized bird comes in a variety of colors, including black, silver, white, buff, black breasted red, golden duckwing, and blue. These chickens have tufts of feathers on the sides of their heads and necks and a pea comb too. They come in standard and bantam sizes. According to the American Poultry Association’s Standards, pure Araucana Chickens must lay turquoise or blue colored eggs. Any other color is a disqualifier, but they are not uncommon, especially when the Araucana is crossed with any other chicken breed.

Easy To Care For and Useful Too

The Araucana Chicken is a great dual-purpose bird which lays around 180 eggs annually. They are smart, broody, love to forage, and have friendly dispositions. Excellent fliers, these birds do well free-range and can escape from predators better than some other chicken breeds. They bear well in confinement too, if need be. The Araucana chicken is beautiful, unique, and unlike any other. It’ll make an unusual but useful and friendly addition to your backyard or small farm.

Keeping Chickens as Pets

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It’s popular to keep chickens for eggs and for meat, but what about keeping a chicken as a pet? In some countries, this is actually quite popular. Cat, dog, or chicken? Any chicken can ideally be a pet if raised gently, but some breeds make much better pets than others. Keeping a chicken as a pet isn’t much different from regular chicken husbandry, but there are a few things you should keep in mind.

Start From the Beginning

There are few things quite as rewarding from raising a chicken from an egg, or at least a very young chick. One can purchase young chicks online or from their local farm supply store and must keep them in an incubator for the first several weeks. The more you handle them and the gentler you are with them, the more your chicks will trust you and respond well to human touch. Squat down to handle your chicks, don’t make fast motions, feed them from your hands, and make sure that small children don’t run around them or handle them roughly. Teach your children to handle them gently, to feed them, and to treat the birds well. This is an excellent chance to educate your children and sure to create a lasting relationship between your kids and your family’s new pets.

Some Breeds Are Better Choices Than Others

While all chickens can make decent pets, some are naturally better tempered than others. Hens are the best choice and quiet, gentle breeds make the best bets. Bantam chickens are much smaller than regular breeds, making them easier to hold. Looks, coloring, and size are all a matter of preference.

Silkie Chickens make excellent pets and their silk-like feathers make them appealing to hold as well. Docile, soft, and easy to carry, the Silkie Chicken is the ideal pet. They are friendly, especially if they’re been handled frequently from the time they were young. Silkie Chickens also make excellent mothers, so if you want to increase the size of your flock this breed may be just what you’re looking for.

Ameraucana chickens are also popular pets and an added perk is that they lay lovely, colorful eggs. They are known for their unique looks and their gentle temperament. They are not the best egg layers when it comes to quantity, but they are good with children, easy to care for, and even-tempered.

Other breeds that make excellent pets are Cochins, Mille Fleurs, Brahmas, Austerlorps, Sussex, Plymouth Rocks, and Buff Orpingtons. No matter which breed you choose, do your research! Each has distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Keeping Your Pets Safe

Before buying your first chicks, take account of the pets you already have. Dogs and chickens often don’t mix well. Certain breeds, like Jack Russell Terriers, have been bred to kill small creatures. A chasing, nipping dog can easily kill a chicken. Training a puppy to be gentle with chicks and chickens is much easier than training a full-grown dog to do the same things. Even when you have trained your dog, it’s never wise to leave your dog alone with your pet chickens. The results can be disastrous. The same can be said for cats. Keep in mind that many creatures prey on chickens and that you must take extra precautions to keep your pets from becoming another animal’s dinner.

What Exactly is a Broody Hen?

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You’ve likely heard the term “broody hen” before. It’s well known within the chicken community that some chicken breeds are excellent broody hens while others are terrible. Yet, exactly what does it mean to be “broody?” Is this something man can influence, or is it something that is genetic?

Broody Chickens Generally Make Excellent Mothers

Broodiness is the natural tendency of a hen to care for her flock of chicks. Broodiness comes and goes in cycles; it is not a constant state of being. When a hen “goes broody,” she experiences a strong desire to care for and protect her eggs. She will rarely leave them, rather sitting on them to protect them.

According to James Kash in his January/ February 2013 Backwoods Home Magazine article “Broody Biddies Make Sense on the Homestead,” “Broodiness is an avian behavior that is frowned upon in the world of agriculture.” Why? Broodiness inhibits egg production. If you want a constant supply of eggs, not chicks, broodiness is not productive.

However, broodiness can also be very beneficial. If you’d like to increase the size of your flock, having a broody hen will do this inexpensively. You also won’t have to worry about incubating your eggs, because the hen will do this. Broody hens can maintain your flock, especially if you use some of your birds for meat. Mother hens are also good protectors of their young and teach them helpful skills, such as foraging. She’ll teach them to eat and drink and keep her chicks warm and safe at night.

How Can You Tell If Your Hen Is Broody?

If you suspect you might have a broody hen on your hands, there are a few signs you can look for to make sure. A broody hen will spend a lot more time at her nest or nesting box and will be very protective of it, fluffing up her feathers, pecking, or even making a growl-like sound. Broody hens tend to be irritable. Allow your hens to nest away from other pets and chickens, because they can be quite mean to any animals (or children!) who come too close. A broody hen may only leave her nest to eat, water, or defecate. She may even pull out some of her feathers. Are you seeing these signs in your birds? If so, you’ve likely got a broody hen on your hands.

Be careful, though, because not all broody hens are good mothers. Some will abandon their eggs or young chicks and if this happens, you’ll need a good stand-by brooder or an incubator to keep these chicks alive.

Some chicken breeds, like Cochins, Silkies, New Hampshire Reds, Australorps, Buff Orpingtons, Dorkings, and Old English Games are very likely to become broody. This is a genetic thing and is much more likely in some breeds than in others. Hens cannot be made to go broody. In fact, broodiness is a trait that has been bred out of many chicken breeds because broodiness inhibits egg production and many in the agricultural business consider this a bad thing. The leghorn is an example of a chicken breed that very rarely goes broody.

If you want to increase the size of your flock, choosing a broody breed may be just the answer. Keep in mind that broodiness varies even within a breed and some birds are naturally better brooders than others. With a little bit of research and some luck, keeping broody hens can be hugely rewarding.

Protecting Your Chickens from Predators

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These are dangerous times to be a chicken. While free-range chickens are the self-sustainability, organic-raised ideal, keeping your chickens strictly outside opens them up to many dangers. If you’re careful, though, and provide your flock with a safe place to spend the night, you’ll minimize the chances that your birds will end up on the wrong dinner plate.

A World of Dangers

Chickens have a lot of predators, so it’s important that they have a safe place to live, especially at night. If you wish to keep your birds free range, at least make sure they have a chicken house to retreat to if the need arises. It’s not a bad idea to put the chickens in their coop for the night. Even for free-range birds, it’s possible to train them to return to their coop for the evening hours.

Photo by: David J Dalley
Photo by: David J Dalley

Dogs and cats are both common household pets that can be a nightmare to chickens.  Even accidentally, it’s easy for a dog to kill a chicken. Some domestic cats will stalk and kill chickens, especially vulnerable chicks. Mother nature hosts a plethora of threats too. Owls and hawks make a quick meal of chickens. Snakes and opossums are known to steal eggs. Coyotes, raccoons, skunks, bears, foxes, and wild cats prey on chickens when given the opportunity. The list goes on and on. Basically, the world is full of creatures large and small that will happily eat eggs, chicks, and even full-grown birds. Living within city limits doesn’t mean that there are not threats lurking in the darkness; they’re there and they would greatly appreciate a chicken dinner. You need to protect your flock accordingly.

Providing Protection in Perilous Times

The most basic method of protecting your chickens from predators is to build a heavy-duty chicken coop with a strong, locking door that shuts securely at night. If you have a chicken run, cover it or ensure that your birds are indoors for night. Hawk netting is an option to keep out flying predators. To keep your chickens safe from digging predators, bury hardware cloth 12 inches deep all the way around your coop. Electric net fencing helps keep persistent pests out too, as does a line of electric wire along the bottom of the fencing. Also, elevating the coop off the ground can help keep weasels, rats, and mice from penetrating your chickens’ home. Make sure that your floor is solid and can resist rodent-like pests.

Regularly inspect your chicken coop for holes or gaps where predators could gain entry, clean up food the chickens don’t eat before night falls so that it doesn’t attract other animals, and keep the area around the coop neat and tidy. Many predators like brush cover and won’t feel as safe if there is an open field or yard without cover. Motion-detecting lights are also an option. They’ll quickly let you know if anything is lurking around where it’s not wanted.

Preventative Chicken Protection

If predators are a consistent problem, consider getting a chicken-friendly dog. He’ll be aware of predators and likely able to chase them off. Although not quite as effective as a dog, a rooster can also help protect a flock. Roosters are effective at fighting off small predators, but they do need light to see predators at night. If your yard is partially lit or if you have motion-detecting lights, this may be a good option.

Predators are an unfortunate part of raising chickens and it’s likely that you’ll lose a chicken to prey at least once. However, there is a lot that you can do to keep your flock safe and help them live long, productive lives. A bit of diligence and some safety precautions are all you need to get started protecting your chickens today.

 

Raising Chickens at Home

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Raising chickens at home is a fun hobby and a great endeavor for family projects. You can choose chickens that are kid friendly, or start a home business selling chicks and eggs.

If you are going to sell baby chicks, try getting a pair or threesome of a rare breed. The chicks are worth a higher price, and they don’t cost any more to raise than your common barnyard chicken.

If you have chickens with nice feathering, you can collect the shed feathers for crafting. Many crafters will buy pretty feathers to use in their handicrafts.

Preparation and Planning

Once you have decided to try raising chickens at home, your first priority is to provide protection from weather and predators. To do this, implement a plan keeping in mind how many chickens you plan to house over the next 6 months. Starting small is usually the best option until you get your feet wet in the chicken raising process. When you are planning your chicken venture think about:

  • Whether you are going to build an enclosure yourself or buy one.
  • How many chickens you would like to house; you need 4 feet of space for each one minimum for standard size chickens, 2 feet each for bantams. Of course the more space you can provide the happier – and healthier they will be.
  • Beware of using treated lumber in your chicken coop or cage – it is laced with arsenic.
  • Many predators (dogs, raccoons, skunks, opossums) can tear through chicken wire and will dig under fencing to get to the chickens for a midnight snack.
  • Chick starter feed and feeder
  • Purchase chickens that are adaptable to your climate.

If you live in a cold climate choose chickens that feather out well and are considered cold hardy. One chicken considered fairly immune to cold weather are the Cochins. They are a medium sized chicken with a lot of heavy, downy feathers all the way to their toes. They are a moderate layer, producing an egg almost every day after they are 6 months old. Cochins are also kid friendly with a mild disposition and are easily handled.

 

Raising Chickens with Turkeys

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Chickens and turkeys can live harmoniously together if they begin their life together at about the same size. As they grow, the chickens should have plenty of room to get out of the way of the big guys. Perches or roosts up high help the chickens when they need to get out of a full grown turkey’s way.

When choosing breeds of chickens that are to be raised with turkeys, it is important to choose chickens that have a relaxed nature and are on the docile side. An aggressive rooster and an adult male turkey may fight to the death.

If you are raising one turkey and one chicken as pets it’s best to get females. They are not as prone to fighting as they get older, plus you will get eggs to use.

When mixing chickens and turkeys it is especially important to keep them current on worming and other medications. There is a disease that the turkeys can contract from the chicken’s droppings called Blackhead. The chickens get it from a worm, but many times the chickens don’t show any symptoms of the infection. It is 100% deadly in turkeys.

Symptoms of Blackhead are depression, fluffed feathers, yellow diarrhea, and blue (cyanotic) condition of the flesh around the face and head. The end result of this disease is that it destroys the birds liver.

Many poultry owners raise chickens and turkeys together without ever having a problem. But if chickens ever carry Blackhead disease it can stay viable in the dirt for four years after those chickens are gone. Contact your local agriculture extension agent to get your soil tested if there is any suspicion of Blackhead in your area.

/John

Photo by: Katherine

Keeping Chickens in the Garden

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Keeping chickens in the garden has many advantages. You can walk out the back door and collect fresh eggs each morning, they keep the bug population at a minimum without chemicals or pesticides, and they can pay their own way in eggs and baby chicks. Not many pets can contribute to the household in such a manner.

When planning to keep chickens the first thing you will need is a safe place for them to spend the night and an area for outside exposure to fresh air and sunshine that provides protection from predators.

When planning to keep chickens in your garden, there are some considerations to keep in mind.

  • Provide ample space to keep your chickens happy and healthy. Each standard sized chicken needs at least 4 square feet of space. So if you have 2 hens and a rooster you will need to provide a pen that provides 12 feet of space. Bantams only need 2.5 square feet of space each.
  • Beware of wood that has been processed to stand up to outdoor use. If it has been treated to withstand rot and bugs, it contains toxins such as arsenic.
  • Chicken wire can be easily torn through by many predators such as dogs, raccoons, skunks, coyotes, and many others. Use a stronger gauge wire mesh to keep your chickens safe.
  • Don’t use pesticides or chemical fertilizers near your chicken’s pen. They eat grass, vegetation, and peck small rocks and grit from the ground. Anything they eat can wind up in your morning eggs.
  • If you will have children around your chickens, check the breed’s personality traits closely. Choose chickens that are more docile, and know which ones are violent as adults.

John

Photo by: Jess

How to Raise Chickens

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Raising chickens is a rewarding pastime. It’s a great way to raise food, both eggs and meat. Chickens are great for aerating your soil, fertilizing your lawn and garden, devouring pesky insect populations, and for teaching children about animal husbandry and compassion for living things. They are also simple to care for and hearty in most climates. Whether you’d like to order your first chicks in the near future or are researching raising chickens for some far-off-in-the-future date, there are a few things you should consider.

First Things First

Before you pick up chicks from your local farmer’s supply store or order them from a supplier, it’s time to do your research. What breeds best suit your needs? Some are easier to care for than others. Some are good layers, some good broilers, some are great for both (aptly named duel-purpose chickens). Certain breeds fare better in cold climates than others. Some breeds are not good choices for beginners at all.

Next, consider the amount of space you have to work with. The Dollar Hen: The Classic Guide to American Free-Range Egg Farming by Milo M. Hastings recommends no more than 50 hens per acre. That is a lot of hens.  Considering the average chicken lays around 260 eggs per year, a flock of 50 chickens would produce around 13,000 eggs per year! Chances are that’s far too many for your needs. Consider how many chickens you can sustain on your property and how many eggs your family will reasonably consume. If you’re buying broilers, consider how many chickens your family will likely eat in the course of a year as well as how many birds can live healthily on your land.

Photo by: nhoulihan
Photo by: nhoulihan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make sure that your chicken coop meets all local regulations and, if needed, acquire necessary permits. Check with your local ordinances and your homeowner’s association before building or buying anything. This will save you a lot of headaches! Legal matters settled, it’s time to choose your blueprint, buy your supplies, and start building. Make sure that your chicken coop, run, and all necessary supplies are ready before bringing home your birds.

Buying Your First Chickens

There are several possibilities when it comes to chicken acquisition. One can purchase fertilized eggs and incubate them at home. This is a great science project for kids! Or, one can purchase day old chicks. If you don’t care to raise chickens from chicks, local classified ads often list adult chickens for sale too. Do your research so you know how to care for your chickens no matter which stage of life they may be currently enjoying. Did you know, for example, that young chicks must be kept under a heat lamp with food and water at all times, that the temperature must be kept near 95 degrees for the first week of life, or that baby chicks can drown themselves in their watering bowl? They require a lot of supervision and care.

Caring For Your Birds

Chicken feed comes in a variety of forms, including chicken scratch, pellets, homemade food, and scraps such as vegetables and bread. Chickens are also big fans of bugs.  The amount of feed required is variable, depending on the breed, whether the chickens are growing or laying, the weather, the types of feeders you have, and more. Still, a medium sized bird will eat about ¼ lb of feed daily.

Enjoy Your New Hobby

Keep your chickens fed, protect them from predators, provide them with bedding, and clean their coop. Allow them lots of sunshine, exercise, and fresh air. Raising chickens can be a rewarding hobby enjoyed by people of all ages. Do you research before buying, talk to others who have successfully raised chickens, and be prepared for an interesting and educational journey.

Until later,
John

Photo by: thedabblist