Rene’ Littlehawk: Chicken feathers and scratch
It’s hard to believe some days, but spring is here. There’s a bit of green starting to show between snowstorms, and I have tulips and other springy things showing in the yard. One true and unarguable sign of spring is the presence of chicks, the sound of chickens clucking and roosters crowing in the bright morning sunshine.
I’ve seen so many people buying chicks this year. Starting a new flock or replenishing an existing flock, baby chicks bring delight and smiles to most. They also, unfortunately, bring a bit of work and require some knowledge to maintain in a healthy and productive manner.
Much responsibility goes into how to raise the little ones, what to feed them, what not to feed them and housing — the list goes on and on. Don’t get overwhelmed. It really is fairly simple and very rewarding.
First, decide if you want chickens for the availability of fresh eggs, fresh home-grown meat, pets or all of the above. There are many different breeds that accommodate their many different uses. Do a little research about them and decide what you want to start with or add to your flock.
Before you pick up your chicks, you will need somewhere to house them safely and productively. If you are adding to your group, you already have a facility to house and most likely have all the things necessary to raise babies. If you are just starting, you need to make sure you have somewhere to raise your new little ones. A small area you can heat with a heat lamp (95 degrees to begin), food and water containers and, of course, feed.
Several things are available to help you raise healthy chickens, including books and the Internet. Your local feed stores are a good source of information.
Once you have gotten your little ones raised up big enough to go out into a coop, you will want to make sure they are protected from predators such as fox, raccoon and weasels as well as dogs. Introduce new chicks slowly. I usually put the new chickens in a pen within the large pen so that they can become accustomed to one another with the least amount of trauma.
Continued care will include lice and mite mitigation and keeping the coop clean and dry. These two things go hand in hand. Lice and mites can be brought in by wild birds or other chickens that we sometimes trade. There are products available to dust or spray for parasites; some even are natural products. There even is a feed available if you ask your local feed stores.
Feeding is relatively easy once the birds are grown. A laying pellet or crumble is a good source of nutrition. A little scratch thrown in one or two times per day gives you a chance to do a quick check on your birds and gives them a treat. You will need to gather eggs at least once or twice per day. Your birds will begin laying about 18 to 22 weeks of age. Most will lay for three to four years, some longer. They will slow down when the daylight hours shorten to less than 16 hours or so and during their molt. You can use a light on a timer to extend the light if you want to have them continue to lay, and there are some new products on the market that help when they go through their molt.
I know all of us want to feed the birds table scraps. Feeding them to the birds gives us somewhere to dispose of the scrapes and gives the chickens some variety. We have to take care, though. There are a number of foods that should not be fed to chickens. Citrus will not hurt them, but it can cause a decline in egg production. Don’t feed them spoiled meat or too much meat. No avocados, potato peels, garlic, onions, chocolate or any thing with caffeine. Very salty or sweet foods also can be bad. The list goes on, and these are just a few examples. Just check with your veterinarian or do a little research before you get carried away with the table scraps. We want to enjoy the birds and keep them healthy and happy. They are more productive and we are less stressed.
One other thing I would like to touch on is the subject of chickens in town. I have been asked so many times if chickens are allowed within Craig city limits. At this time, they are not allowed in Craig. Craig City Ordinance 6.20.010 says live stock and fowl are unlawful except in specific zoning districts.
Please enjoy your birds. I love to listen to them and watch them. I also enjoy the eggs, of course. For me, though, just having their company in the yard is a delight. My birds are as much a part of my garden as my flowers.