By Chris Lesley
When it comes to keeping chickens, there’s a lot to know. From laying, to housing, to protecting the flock, there are countless pointers and tips that you need to familiarize yourself with before raising a new flock. Here are a few facts about raising chickens that you may not be familiar with yet, but are important nonetheless.
Different Breeds Will Lay Different Colored Eggs…
Most people are used to seeing white eggs at the supermarket, and occasionally a few cartons of brown eggs will be available. The color of these eggs depends on the breed of the chicken, and can be predetermined by looking at the chicken’s earlobes. As a general rule, chickens that have red earlobes will lay brown eggs, and chickens that have white earlobes will lay white eggs. However, there are a few exceptions to the rule that lay pink, green, and even blue eggs! One of these exceptions is the Araucana. Araucanas will lay blue–or sometimes green–eggs, and lots of them. If you invest in this breed, expect three beautiful blue eggs per week.
…But, All Eggs have the Same Nutritional Value.
It is a common misconception that certain colors of eggs are healthier than others, but that is not the case! As mentioned above, shell color is a result of genetics and breeding patterns, and this does not have any influence on the contents of the egg. All eggs will supply a hearty amount of Vitamin A and Iron, and have the same great flavor. New keepers who are deciding what breed to raise should be wary of this fact. If you want to raise a particular breed because of the color of egg they lay, know that you are not sacrificing nutritional value by doing so.
Chickens Reach Peak Egg Production After 2-3 Years
Breed is a huge determining factor in how many eggs your chickens will lay, but so is age. Chickens will not start laying until they are about six months old. When they are ready to start laying, it may take a few tries before they produce eggs that are a normal shape and size, as their bodies are not used to it yet. Once everything is in working order, they begin to lay abundantly! The first year of laying will be a hen’s most productive, and after two to three years you will see a significant drop off. Don’t be too surprised when this happens in your flock, but don’t be too discouraged either, as some breeds can continue laying for 5-10 years!
Egg laying will generally drop off during molting or when daylight decreases. To maximize the amount of eggs your flock can lay, be sure to provide sufficient feed and supplement natural daylight with artificial lights.
It May Require Advanced Breeding to Get the Perfect Hen
No matter your goals or interests with chicken keeping, there is a breed that will match it perfectly. However, the perfect breed may be more difficult to produce or acquire. For instance, the Araucana is an excellent choice if you want a steady supply of colorful eggs, and they have ear tufts that set them apart from all other breeds. Unfortunately, the ear tuft trait leads to higher chick mortality, which makes them difficult to breed. Therefore, you must either put in more effort to properly breed an Araucana, or must pay a higher price for the chicks. When making this decision, consider your level of experience raising hens, and whether there are easier breeds to raise that will still meet most of your goals.
Coops Can Be Mobilized
Chickens need an outdoor pen where they can explore and forage in the grass; this is extremely healthy activity for them, but it may not be healthy for your grass. To continue meeting the needs of your flock while protecting your grass, you could consider making your coop mobile. Mobile coops come in many designs, and are even recommended by some local municipalities. Since this style of coop is not grounded, be sure that you have properly protected the coop from predators that may try to dig under the fencing.
Many Ordinances Prohibit Roosters
Checking local regulations and rules should always be the first step in raising chickens; you can’t raise a flock if it is not allowed in your area! This is particularly important if you want to breed your own chicks, since most do not allow roosters. Sometimes roosters will be allowed, but only after purchasing a permit. Of course, a hen will still lay eggs without a rooster, but they will not be fertile.
The reason for these restrictions is due to the general temperament of roosters. They tend to be much noisier than hens, which can disturb neighbors. If you are allowed to keep roosters, be mindful of your neighbors and make sure they are on board before you make the purchase. If you are not able to keep roosters, you may have to reconsider some of your goals. If you are planning on raising Araucanas, for example, you will have to purchase chicks from a hatchery instead of breeding your own.
Chickens Must Be Brought to Specially Certified Veterinarians
Ailments will arise in any chicken flock, and when they do it’s important to be prepared. If a chicken becomes ill, injured, or egg bound they may need immediate medical attention, and this care cannot be provided by a standard veterinarian. The veterinarian you choose should have special training with small poultry flocks, and you should establish a relationship with them right away–you don’t want to be searching for a veterinarian when your chicken is already drastically ill! Fortunately, premade lists are available through many state Departments of Agriculture like this one, so be sure to check out their websites.
- Eggs come in many colors, but they are all equally nutritious and delicious.
- Egg production is highest during the first year, and gradually decreases after two or three.
- Mobile pens are a great option to consider if you are worried about the condition of your yard.
- Check all local restrictions right away, particularly restrictions on roosters.
- Get to know a certified poultry veterinarian before an emergency arises.
With these facts in mind, you will be able to understand your flock much better, and meet their needs while also meeting the needs of your community!