Raising and Starting New Chicks

Preparing for Next Season

October arrives! There’s a morning chill in the air that’s perfect for catching up on those long over due chores in the chicken yard.   The brutal sun and crazy high temperatures of summer baked tarps, buckets, and even the wood on the coop.  Now is the time to replace, repair, and prepare for next season. Temperatures are mild through March, the evenings may dip down to the 30’s, but freezing is just an occasional occurrence.

January and February is Arizona’s rainy season, but certainly nothing I would consider measurable. My hens have shelter from the rain, but they don’t much use it. They prefer to scratch around in the mud unless it’s literally pouring, which is close to never. However, with possible rains , the dampness and mild weather is perfect for pests.  Good chicken housekeeping  on my farm  includes a thorough inspection of the coop and birds for hitchhikers every October and March.  So far I’ve never had a problem with pests, but nevertheless,  it’s better to be safe than sorry.

My coop is roomy enough for all of them to fit inside, and the door is left open all day. The nest area is located at the rear of the coop and elevated about two feet.  That is the only area that I board up so they have protection from wind and rain.  I over-fill the nest area with Bermuda hay because it’s soft, and they all huddle together for warmth at night. I don’t use any artificial light or heat lamps.

All the birds look a bit frazzled from the hot summer months, especially Lady Madonna pictured below. All those long feathers on her head and neck spent a good deal of time wet from the water trough. But as all the others, she is getting her new feathers as the *molt season has already begun.

Lady Madonna, Silver Laced Polish Hen

By the end of October it will be in the upper 80’s for a high, and 50’s at night. I feel that is cool enough to introduce scratch to their diet as a treat.  The colder it gets, the more scratch I feed, assuming corn helps keep them warm.  If not, at least they‘re kept somewhat busy scratching around looking  for 10,000 kernels scattered about the yard.

Egg Sales / Production

Egg production is expected to drop substantially over the next month, this is normal, and directly related to the fall and winter seasons.  I’ve already noticed a 40% decrease in production just in the last two weeks.

Can’t help but notice that money is tight everywhere, and it’s no secret that *shelf eggs are cheaper than *nest run eggs.  The last few years my eggs were far more in demand than today, even though graded store bought are cheaper.  In order to be competitive with shelf eggs, my standard price of $4 now buys 17 ungraded nest run eggs instead of 12. I don’t weigh or measure my eggs, nor do a separate them by color, however I do package them for sale by size.

Starting New Chicks

It is a little different raising chicks in the extreme heat of the Arizona desert. October is the best time to raise chicks in Phoenix,  it’s much easier to keep chicks warm than it is trying to keep them cool.  High temps in the day are in the mid to high 80’s and nights in the high 50’s and low 60’s. My brooder area is an addition off the house without controlled temps. Therefore, 80’s outdoors means 90+ in the enclosed off the house structure. I use a red low wattage brooder lamp at night about 20 inches above brooder and only natural lighting during the day.

At 3.5 weeks I move them to the outside coop. They will be confined there with a 250 watt red brooder lamp 3ft above ground which is left on day and night. Half of the coop is unheated. Temps in late Oct. are usually in the 80’s and at night upper 50’s.

At 4 weeks I open the coop doors to the chicken yard offering them the choice to fly the coop so to speak. They will venture out briefly then run back to the coop. After about 4 days they brave the outside world. Brooder lamp is still left on. Every night the coop doors close and all chicks are huddled together under the lamp.  It is now the first part of November and temps. are in the mid to upper 70’s, lows around 55.

At 5 weeks the birds are fully feathered, heat lamp off around 10AM, and turned on around 3PM. I find this important because the brooder lamp lures them in the coop as dusk approaches – exactly where I want them to go every night… always.

At 7 weeks the temps are high in the mid 60’s and lows in the 40’s. No heat lamp. However, it is now that I introduce an LED light where I want them to sleep at night, and eventually lay their eggs. The birds go the the light, even though it provides no heat. I choose an LED source of light because the batteries last a really long time, up to a month. My nesting area requires a ladder ( I use a sturdy tree branch) and as long as there is light up they all adapted quite easily to the change.

Heat Tolerant Breed Favorites:

Dominiques, Ameraucana, and Orphingtons are the top egg producers on my farm, they are consistent egg layers for approx. ten months, taking two months off in the cooler months. Leghorns don’t seem to fair well in the heat, fatality rates have been high and I no longer keep them.  Rhode Island Reds and Ameraucanas are with out a doubt the most hardy. However, I find the RIR to be bullies and since I’ve eliminated them from my flock I have much happier birds. I keep the Polish varieties as well and find them quite hardy.

Note: Although I’m rather partial to the Orphingtons, they are indeed broody and can be troublesome when they won’t leave the coop during the hot months.

And Furthermore…

Dominique hen [dark speckled bird] is laying an egg in this picture

Mamma hen pictured below makes the newsletter this month for her strange behaviors. Not only is it bizarre that she produces polka dot alien looking eggs, but she finds them quite tasty too.  Immediately after she lays an egg, she breaks it and eats it – shell and all. I’m not sure what to think about that…

Mamma, Dominique hen

Penny Lane, AKA Freeloader pictured below also makes the news as the new non-egg layer of the flock. She’s either on strike for six months, or quit her job altogether.

Penny Lane, White Crested Blue Polish Hen

 

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Chicken Keeping in Phoenix, is it Legal?

Are Chickens Allowed in Phoenix   Yes
Max Chickens Allowed     20
Roosters Allowed     No
Permit Required     No
Coop Restrictions:     80 feet from residence-ZONING ORDINANCES APPLY
City/Organization Contact name:       City of Phoenix Ordinances

Read on, especially between the lines…

Sec. 8-7. Poultry and rodents.

(a)  Except as otherwise provided in the article, it is hereby declared to be a nuisance and it shall be unlawful for any person to keep rodents or poultry within the City. No poultry or rodents shall be kept in an enclosure within eight feet of any residence within the City. Poultry may be kept within eighty feet of a residence if written permission consenting to the keeping of poultry less than eighty feet from a residence is first obtained from each lawful occupant and each lawful owner of such residence. Poultry shall not be kept in the front yard area of any lot or parcel with the City. Poultry and rodents shall be kept in an enclosure so constructed as to prevent such poultry and rodents from wandering upon property belonging to others.

(b)  No more than twenty head of poultry nor more than twenty-five head of rodents nor more than twenty-five head comprising a combination of rodents and poultry shall be kept upon the first one-half acre or less. An additional one-half acre shall be required for each additional twenty head of poultry or for each additional twenty-five head of rodents or for each additional twenty-five head comprising a combination of poultry and rodents. For areas larger than two and one-half acres the number of poultry or rodents shall not be limited.

(c)  No male poultry shall be kept within the City limits except such male poultry as are incapable of making vocal noises which disturb the peace, comfort, or health of any person residing within the City.

(d)  All such enclosures shall be kept in such condition that no offensive, disagreeable, or noxious smell or odor shall arise therefrom to the injury, annoyance, or inconvenience of any inhabitant of the neighborhood thereof.

 

Keeping the Chickens Cool, Here’s How!

In this Article:
• Proven Methods to Help Chickens Survive the Heat
• What to Do When a Chicken Suffers with Heat Exhaustion
• Egg Production

Surviving the Heat

It has been a brutal month for my flock in the scorching heat, Phoenix this summer has well exceeded 110 degrees in the shade, and 115 or higher in the full sun.  Over the years I’ve learned to recognize the danger signs of a bird in distress before it’s too late, but learning how avoid distress in the first place is the real trick. I’d like to share what I’ve found to be the best way.  I may not be an expert, but keeping confined chickens in the desert in July with ZERO fatalities makes me dang close!

First off, get rid of those standard drinkers, the plastic ones and especially the metal ones are absolutely unacceptable in extreme temperatures.  Buckets of water, dish pans, etc. and notice this recommendation is plural. Watch the sun, place many around the yard where at any given time of the day there is water available in the shade.  I like buckets, they are easy to pick up and replace with cold water during the day. You can place a large rock next to the bucket for easier access, but quite honestly if they can’t reach the water without a rock, the water is already too hot and they aren’t drinking it anyway, keeping them full means you’re keeping the water cool.  VITAL!  I have four buckets in my chicken yard.

I hang a box fan on the fence; this without a doubt has made the difference between life and death. Again, I stress the point of buckets of water, because as water evaporates it cools the air, so keep one or more near the fan.  Keep the area by the fan shaded, if there isn’t any, make some. Palm fronds, shade cloth, lattice, all work nicely. Avoid tarps, wood, or anything that will inhibit air movement.

Ground litter including hay and pine shavings hold in the heat, rake everything up, especially chicken droppings which also contributes to an elevated ground temperature.  Bare ground is a little extra work for you to keep clean, but a once over with a rake everyday is a small price to pay if it means saving your birds.  Don’t discourage hole digging, it’s a perfect place for dumping water buckets during the day, chickens will play in the water then lay in the mud holes to stay cool.

Mist systems are nice, but chickens are not especially fond of them, the air around them however is about 5 to 10 degrees cooler, so you’ll find them congregating near it.  The free standing type run only about $10, I like those best because they aren’t overbearing. Chickens will avoid getting wet if they have a choice; they do however like the ground moisture a mister provides. I keep my mister attached to a hose outside the fence and poke the mister through the fence. Inside the fence line below the mister I have an area enclosed with concrete edger [or bricks will do fine] to hold the moisture in.  This also provides the ideal conditions for worms – a treat indeed for chickens.  Often the birds are too busy looking for worms to notice they are under the mist system.  Success!

Fluids obviously are important and water is the best source, but another way to entice them to drink and stay hydrated is watermelon.  I cut a seedless watermelon in half and place it in a shallow ground feeder at the hottest time of the day. They will pick it down to the green rind in a matter of 15 minutes. Fresh lettuce and cantaloupe are also beneficial.

Heat Exhaustion, What to Do!

A chicken that is suffering heat exhaustion will be lying down, panting, and is lethargic or unable to stand. They lack color and are unresponsive to their surroundings.  If you don’t act quickly they will die. Heavy birds such as Orpingtons, Rocks, etc. are the first to show signs of intolerance to extreme heat.

•Act Fast•

Again I’ll stress the importance of those buckets of water in the yard, this time find one that is not freshly filled with cold water and place the bird in the bucket of water until it is soaked.  Remove the bird from the yard [the others will pick on a distressed bird] and place it under tree or a shady spot, preferably on grass.  If it’s not a breezy day, get a fan on the bird, a low setting is best.  Stay with the bird and hold the wings away from the body helping it to cool quicker.  I keep a plastic baby pool handy near the chicken yard; after the bird begins to show signs of relief usually about 10 minutes, I place it in the baby pool with about 3 inches of cold water.  Within 15 minutes the bird should be standing on its own, and most likely looking for the way out!  I then return the bird to the chicken yard, but under observation until the sun goes down.

Egg Production

Egg production has been remarkably good this summer. The only thing I changed this summer was a new nesting structure in the shade. It’s nothing more than four nesting boxes stacked two high on cinder blocks. I never imagined they would use it, I threw a golf ball in one nest box, hoped for the best, and they took the hint right away.

Tip:
It is always good practice to pick eggs as quickly as you can, but it’s even more important to do so when it’s hot, especially if you keep setters. They will sit on those eggs in a billion degrees and literally bake themselves to death in the coop or nest box. I often have to reach under my Orphingtons and take their eggs away, or any other bird’s eggs they claim, then shag them out of the coop.  They are not an easy bird to keep in the desert, they are very broody and not at all heat tolerant. I’ve had two this summer that I brought back from near death using the method mentioned above.

 

Chickens and the Extreme Heat, 110+

It’s tough trying to keep chickens cool in this heat, but I have a few tips I’d like to share. Chickens body temperatures are about 106 Fahrenheit and keep their temperature steady by converting energy that comes from feed into heat. In other words the less heat they need the less food they need to eat. However, the effect of reduced food consumption combined with excessive heat often causes a radical drop in egg production. In some cases they may quit laying altogether.
Heat stress is a serious matter, once birds are observed as lethargic, no clucking or preening, and just lay around is when death often follows.

Chickens do acclimate after awhile, in layers, there is scientific evidence that their temperature will stabilize a few degrees higher three to five days after the initial exposure to heat. Meaning, if a chicken goes through repeated heat exposure they will adapt and be able to survive at five degrees higher than before acclimation.

Chickens don’t have sweat glands so they can’t perspire, instead they pant like a dog. Dehydration or heat stress  is the number one cause of death, so cool clean water is vital to their survival. They do not like hot water so drag yourself out into ovenland armed with a garden hose and change the drinkers at least twice a day, or more! Use buckets, or large bowls, keep it simple so it’s not such a big ordeal.

As water evaporates it actually cools the air, so many buckets of water  scattered around the yard is extremely beneficial. Hose down the roof and any walls that might surround the enclosed area the birds are in, this will help cool their environment as the water evaporates.

Layers upon layers of chicken droppings hold heat in. Clean the yard up and keep the ground footing to a minimum of one inch.

Mist systems are used by some poultry keepers but my success rate is rather low with them. The birds don’t like them, plus the pooling of water beneath them creates humidity. Humidity in high temperatures is a deadly combination. Fans on the other hand are an excellent source of relief, either in the coop or yard – better yet, both.