Preparing for Baby Chicks

Decisions, Decisions…

The brooder is all set up and now it’s time to decide what kind of chicks to order. October is the best time to start day old chicks here in Phoenix.  Hopefully the breeds I’m interested in will be available.  You’d think 3 months advance notice would be sufficient time for a hatchery to ship my breed preferences, but most likely, it still boils down to LUCK.

Hatcheries don’t make it easy for the little guy, they only ship minimum orders of 15 birds and most all the fancy breeds and bantams (miniature chickens) are a straight run, not sexed.  Urban chicken keepers who have city codes banning roosters avoid straight run chicks because chances are good they’ll have unwanted roosters to re-home. Feed stores sell sexed chicks, but they are rarely the fancy type such as Silkies or the Crested varieties.

I bought a straight run from Murray McMurray Hatchery a few years ago, out of 15 chicks 9 were roosters! After spending 5 months of worrying about who was a hen and who was a rooster, I ended up with only two fancy pullets on my wish list… all six roosters went on CraigsList. I didn’t learn my lesson and again bought 12 non-standard variety chicks from a private party… half turned out to be roosters.

I can however, be guaranteed all pullets (hens, females) if I order standard breed chicks,  the minimum of 15 chicks still applies. But wanting just a small flock, I’ll be able to easily sell the unwanted female chicks.  So, there are decisions to make, the breeds I pick must be marketable, and marketable means good layers of large eggs.  Good egg layers are not what fancy chickens are known for, they are often considered exhibition birds, and only fair layers of small eggs. Fancy roosters are not in demand at all, and will most likely be looking for a home with many others in the same situation.

So I must decide, do I play it safe and buy standard breed sexed chicks, or take a gamble on fancy chicks and hope I don’t get stuck with a bunch of roosters who’ll be hard to re-home. I’d like to raise Polish and Silkie Bantams, those two breeds are at the top of my wish list… both sold in a straight run only.  And, both fair layers of small white eggs.

 

 

 

If I Play it Safe…

I can order all standard bred ladies, my chicks of choice are Delawares.

This breed was founded in the state of Delaware from an original Barred Rock and New Hampshire cross. The Delaware is considered a heavy breed which lays a nice size brown egg.  Cute babies!

But, this is what I really want,  the Silkie Bantam: Fair layer, small white eggs.

It’s either or, I won’t split the order and buy both Delawares and the Bantams…. however, if I order the Silkie Bantams,  I’ll probably mix the order with  7 White or Golden Polish Crested, for resale purposes.

Golden Polish Crested

The Broody Hen

What broody means, and what to do when it’s a problem.

Definition of Broody: A hen with strong instincts to hatch eggs, whether or not they are fertile, or even present in the nest.

Your hen won’t leave the nest, appears to not be eating, her feathers are all fluffed up, she’s pale, and lethargic.These are classic signs of the broody hen. First of all she isn’t starving, she is eating and drinking, but it’s low on her list of priorities. She may only eat just enough to survive.  The fact that she isn’t sitting on eggs won’t make a difference to her, so don’t assume she’ll just give up in a day or two, she won’t.  This behavior could last weeks, and during that time period she will not lay eggs.

Her behavior can be disrupting as well, she may not allow the other members of the flock near her nest, not only is that opening the door for drama, but the laying cycle of the entire flock can be disturbed.

What to Do

You can sometimes discourage the broody hen by moving her nest box, covering it, or to the less dedicated lady, simply take her from the nest a few times the first day. However, there are some with very strong instincts and you may actually have to change her environment completely by moving her to another place. This will take her mind off sitting on eggs and back to laying them!

Chick-n-hutch 

Another trick that I use here at the ranch is getting air underneath the hen. The best way to do this might require a few changes to your nest area, but it’s well worth the effort. I don’t like keeping my birds on a wire grate in the nesting place, but I do have that option for the simple solution of breaking the behavior of the broody hen.

I have a piece of plywood covering the wire grate in their nest area, over that is a gracious amount of grass hay. When the occasional broody hen occupies the nest, I simply remove the plywood, by exposing the wire grate, the hen has air flow under her – which to her, is completely unacceptable… especially if you put a fan underneath it! I use the chicken-n-hutch for this purpose, take the ramp off, using just the hutch for all my nesting areas.

Note: It’s important to act quickly when addressing the broody hen, the longer you allow it to continue, the longer you will have to wait before she starts laying eggs again.

 

Selecting Spring Chicks

Murray McMurray’s April 1st selection of available chicks is indeed slim pickin’s. Hope you’re looking males only, because everything else is unavailable or of limited quantity. If you’re not looking for anything too specific, there are some choices.

Towards the end of April availability improves, especially for the more popular breeds. You can see their hatching schedule HERE.

Selection is skimpy, but it does buy me time to decide what I want.  The big question is how many. All the chicks I want are sold in a straight run only, meaning a minimum of 25 chicks & they aren’t sexed. This is a huge problem, I’ll be the one for sure to get what I can’t have… 24 roosters. That presents an even bigger problem, what to do with them!

City ordinance states NO ROOSTERS, however, I hear roosters crowing in the neighborhood every day, hmmm… my law abiding nature is indeed being tested.

Jojo
This is Jojo, my 1/2 Silkie cross

The ideal situation for me would be to have Silkie hens and one Rooster. There is a market for Silkies here in Phoenix and I’d love to breed and sell them.  What I need is a Silkie stud service.  I wonder if there’s a Rooster for Rent category on Craigslist… checking now. Think?