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.
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.
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