Automation has come to our hobby farm. We installed an automatic chicken coop door earlier this year for extra protection against predators given our prior losses.
The simplest model (which is the one we purchased) provides automatic opening and closing with a daylight sensor or a set time schedule operation. The amount of daylight that triggers opening or closing is fully adjustable. It also includes a freeze protect feature with an adjustable temperature setting so that the door won’t open if it is below the set temperature (we set ours at 17 degrees). Our door requires external power but we already had power outlets in our coop so that wasn’t a big issue for us.
After the weasel attacks last fall, our chicken flock was somewhat depleted. Earlier this spring, we purchased some new chickens to add to our flock – this time we purchased day old chicks.
Although they are sorted by sex shortly after hatching, there is generally an error rate of around 10% so there is always a risk with day old chicks that some might actually turn out to be roosters.
We bought 6 chicks in total – 3 Buttercup hens and 3 Ameraucana hens. The Buttercups are the chicks with the speckled heads in the pictures. We already have other Ameraucana chicks – they are also called Easter Eggers because they can produce a range of egg colors from brown to green to blue to pink (each hen only lays one color its whole life).
While none of the 6 appears to have been a rooster, unfortunately one of the chicks did have a health issue appear after a few weeks.
Last fall, consistent with past practice (see here, here and here), we picked up 4 new hens from the NY State Fair.
There were 3 bantam-sized partridge cochins and 1 silver-spangled hamburg. They were all close to fully grown. The silver-spangled hamburg is a small breed, so although she wasn’t a true bantam, she was similar size to the bantam cochins.
As the hens were new to our flock, we quarantined them in the moveable chicken tractor for several weeks. When quarantining the new hens, we placed the chicken tractor outside of the main fences.
The chicken tractor is covered with wire mesh to both keep the chickens inside and keep predators out. As you can see in the above picture, the wire mesh is pretty small and anything that can fit through the mesh is unlikely to threaten an adult chicken.
We ended up with a number of new chickens once again in 2017.
We really liked the intricate feather pattern on the Partridge Rock hen so we purchased the only one on display. She is a bit older than many of the birds on display – she was over 2 years old and had already been in a number of shows and events before the fair.
Partridge Rock hen in her cage in the poultry building at the NY State Fair – 2017.
In addition to the Partridge Rock hen, we also purchased 2 Andalusian hens. Andalusians are fairly small for full size chickens and pretty fast on the ground. They are also decent flyers compared to other breeds. At least one of them has been flying up into the hayloft to lay eggs occasionally. They have a variety of coloring with blue (gray) with various black lacing. Our 2 Andalusians are named Andi and Luci.
They quickly outgrew the crate and needed some more space. At around age 6 to 7 weeks, we moved them into the movable chicken tractor so they could experience full outdoor weather for the first time and better hone their foraging skills before merging with the main flock.
The chicks in the chicken tractor.
Here is a video of the chicks their first day in the chicken tractor:
The chicken tractor is moved every couple of days to a new spot to avoid dead spots in the pasture from too much foraging and digging. After a couple of weeks in the chicken tractor, the chicks were finally ready to join the main flock.
Click through to see pictures and videos of the chicks joining the main flock.
The day old chicks we were raising outgrew their cage in the house after about 4 weeks. They were ready to move outside to the barn. They didn’t need the heat lamp any more and were ready for more space and fresher air (the house needed to be aired out by that point as well!).
I used an outdoor pet exercise pen and covered the outside with chicken wire to make sure the chicks couldn’t squeeze out between the bars. I added a wooden crate and a cement block inside to give them something to climb and roost on. The floor is covered with pine shavings to help maintain cleanliness and provide the chicks with something to kick through. The roof over the pen was just a scrap of wood from the barn to prevent them from flying out and any other chickens from getting in.
Four week old chicks out in the barn.
Click through for a video and more photos of the baby chicks.
As you may recall, we lost a hen last spring to what was likely a case of egg yolk peritonitis (EYP). EYP is when the egg does not form properly inside the hen and then the yolk can remain inside the hen and cause an internal infection. EYP is almost always fatal.
A few weeks ago, another of our hens, Mindy, was exhibiting similar symptoms. She was somewhat more lethargic than normal and she was also walking upright like a penguin. We recognized the symptoms from our prior experience. We separated her from the flock.
After last time, we had asked around the area and had been given the names of several local vets who are willing to see chickens. We packed her up in a travel dog crate and took her to the vet at their first open slot.
Mindy in a crate ready for transport to the vet.
Not surprisingly, in the waiting room, we were the only one with a chicken instead of a dog or cat.
After meeting with the vet, the situation was not looking great. Mindy’s abdomen was enlarged and somewhat solid to the touch. The vet could not provide a specific diagnosis and there were a number of possibilities, most of them were very likely to be fatal.
Mindy’s only realistic chance was exploratory surgery. The vet could not provide any likelihood for success because there are very few chicken surgeries (the cost of a chicken is so low compared to the cost of surgery that few people ever take chickens to a vet at all, let alone for a surgery). We opted for the surgery.
Her surgery was the next morning. Click through to see how it turned out. Continue reading →