West Mountain Farm

Pastured Pigs, Free-Range Chickens, Biodynamic Gardening, Homesteading

Archive for the tag “chickens”

Supplemental Lighting For Laying Hens

So, its been a great spring and summer with a daily basket full of eggs, as a homesteader you couldn’t be more thrilled. Then, the temperature drops, the leaves turn colors, and the hours of daylight begin to shrink-along with your bounty of eggs. You walk into the coop one morning and it looks as if a pillow fight has occurred, the coop is more quite, and your once fluffy chickens look a little worse for wear. The autumn molt has began and the process should be allowed to continue, they usually lose their feathers in patches, the most noticeable being the neck and tail feathers (a good time to collect for crafts).  The process takes one to three months depending on what kind of nutrition they are given, breed, and age of the chicken. They need extra protein at this time to regrow new feathers and get back to laying eggs and staying warm. The first molt usually occurs their second fall after their first laying ‘season.’ So if you had spring/late winter chicks they should  begin laying that first fall and then go through a molt the NEXT fall.  If they have adequate nutrition your first season chickens should lay all winter, spring, and summer with a gradual increase and subsequent decrease, without the help of lights. Now that your hens are molting its time to accept the empty basket of eggs and simply feed them well and give them peace and quiet until they all but through with the process. Handling should also be limited because the tender new feathers coming in damage easily and are probably uncomfortable to be messed with.

Around mid-October or early November the molt should be coming to a close and your hens got a rest from laying. You may notice that their combs and wattles are light pink instead of bright red and they seem to have smaller hips, instead of the volumptous hen petticoat booty. This is a sign that their hormones still haven’t kicked back into gear after the molt, this is were the supplemental lighting comes in handy.  The short day length will keep it that way until spring as a way to adapt to the lack of food in winter. Since they have you to graciously feed them year-round this winter survival adaptation is no longer necessary. The coop lighting will stimulate the pineal gland and kick start the endocrine system back into laying mode. There are many ways to do this and it may take some research on your part to find what works best for you and your flock. I will describe our method as it has worked well for us and is backed by experience and scientific research.

When we see that the molt is coming to a close and the hens have had at least a one month rest, which happens to be this time of year, we place a soft white bulb (you could even use christmas lights) in the coop and put it on a timer to come on in the MORNING and turn back off anytime after sunrise to save electricity. I heard you shouldn’t use fluorescent lights because chickens can see the slight flicker and it drives them nuts. All kinds of inexpensive timers can be bought at your home improvement stores. This will ensure constancy in the light sequence because you are going to forget one morning. The reason not to artificially increase day length in the evening is because we want them to go to roost at night and not be confused by the light and get lost.  We set it to come on 30 minutes before sunrise for a week, and increase it by 30 minutes every week until they have reached 15-16 hours of light. A quick google of sunrise times for your location will give you  a specific time and continue to adjust to keep up with the changing sunrise/sunset cycle. In 2-6 weeks they should start laying again (so they still get a little more of a rest).  When it gets really cold I switch the light to a heat bulb, but please make sure that it is secure.  You still run the risk of an accident with a heat lamp, but its one I am willing to take  to prevent frostbite, conserve calories, and have a defrosted water pan. We still run electric cords to the coop but plan to wire it soon, we even have the supplies to bury the line, we just have an endless to-do list. We also need electricity because we plan to wrap our Chicken Fountain in heat tape so we can use it year round. The places where I plugged extension cord to extension cord and where the light is plugged in is protected by a feed bag that I cut the other end off. I basically put a ‘pillow case’ at each plug in so the chickens can’t scratch or peck at it. Yes, I know its hillbilly, but we make the best of what we have 🙂

Some people leave a light on all the time, I do not agree with this nor do poultry experts. They really need 8-9 un-interrupted dark period, just like we do. I think if you allow the hen to come into and out of the molt without interference coupled with sound nutrition and fresh water she will have adequate rest and won’t be ‘used up’ before her time or have her lifespan shortened. Each hen is born with more ova than she can turn into eggs in her lifetime, so no worries there either. I know some people feel like chickens deserve a break all winter, but I don’t think it harms them, and this is a homestead, not a zoo. It just wouldn’t be sustainable to feed them all winter every winter with very few eggs. And this was an adaptation in response to lack of food, which isn’t a problem anymore, they are quite spoiled compared to their ancestral jungle fowl. No body freeloads around here as we all work together and support each other, and if I don’t have some eggs to fuel my body to work the farm then everyone is in trouble and hungry.

In summary, lights are usually needed only their second winter after they have completed their first laying season. Your situation may vary depending on when they were hatched and other environmental factors.  Allow them to have a natural, uninterrupted molt and rest. After the molt, introduce light gradually in the morning with a timer for convenience and then put it away in spring when the daylight has lengthened again. Be safe with bulbs and electricity, chickens do fly and get rowdy. Consider professional wiring for safety and ease of use.  Devise and provide a good nutrition plan with access to fresh drinking water and good husbandry.  As the hens mature you will probably get less eggs over time, but they will increase in size and have less egg abnormalities

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Eggs, Eggs, and more Eggs!!

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Farm Fresh Eggs

$3.00/dozen

Eggs are in season! $3.00 a dozen when bought from the farm or locally (I may at some point be selling at the farmer’s market and would have to adjust cost). My eggs are from my 60 free range chickens, they are fed mostly organic and 100% natural, high quality feed. They aren’t given any medication or antibiotics of any kind. They have a happy life, and in return enrich our lives and our bellies. We gather eggs daily and often. The nesting boxes are clean and cozy resulting in clean eggs, the flock is from NPIP (National Poultry Improvement Program) certified, and healthy. They get organic garden goodies, black oil sunflower seeds, kelp, and flax supplements, to raise omega contents in the eggs. They are also aesthetically pleasing and great for crafts. Blown eggs are for sale for 75 cents a piece, plus shipping if we can’t meet locally. Hatching eggs coming soon.

Dirty Old Egg Sucking Dog!

Nera

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My friend, flock protector, entertainment, eager to please, well-behaved border collie/chocolate lab dog. She is 5 years old this November, I bought her as a family christmas present and she has become a loyal companion. Her name is because since she was a pup, she always wanted to be near us. She does not get eggs out of the henhouse or kill chickens, but she knows she is allowed to eat the ones she finds in the woods. We are lucky to have her, a good dog starts with good genetics and develops from persistent care, companionship, and discipline.

Do you have an egg-sucking dog, or a dog that just likes to hang out in the coop and disturb your chickens? If a dog is utterly useless, a persistent problem, and not your best friend, I would consider re-homing, but sometimes we have to make adjustments for our furry or feathered friends. Cutting a triangle on your coop door can be a deterrence to dogs and other large predators. It even deters flying predators because they don’t like to feel trapped. My windows are designed to keep hawks from flying in, from above it doesn’t look open to them like your traditional windows that have hinges on the sides. These adjustments also give you more ventilation and temperature control options. In the winter you can keep the big door closed with the chicken door open.

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*If you have children make it very clear that they are NOT to play in the windows, if they were to remove the wooden sticks that keep them open, they would get smashed head or fingers, same precautions need to be taken for adults! I’m sure some kind of safety option could be made by a creative carpenter. I use sticks of various lengths to prop open my windows, thus controlling the ventilation and temperature. In my opinion children shouldn’t be playing in the coop unsupervised unless they can be trusted (yeah that’s funny). They should beware of flogging roosters as well, and the coop is where someone is most likely to be flogged, as it is the roosters territory and they are protecting their hens.

Back to the chicken door, in the picture you should can see that we used a hinge at the top of the triangle, and a lock at the bottom (yes, it needs to be closed at night if you don’t have a secure chicken yard that closes up). I unlock it at the bottom, flip the door up, and I have a nail that has a hole that is just for it (a bit primitive, but it working for now). You may want to keep an eye on it when you first install it to be positive it isn’t going to fall, and make it where the chickens can’t get back in to lay.

Obviously, this only keeps out medium to large dogs, but I have yet to have a chihuahua get by my roosters, or even try, for that matter. This door option also helps the coop stay warmer in winter-time, be able to open it and ventilate more in the summer, and makes the hens feel more cozy, which reduces easter egg hunting year-round (yeah, that gets old). In this picture I am in the process of cleaning the coop, amending the gardens with the hay/straw/wood chip/manure bedding, and replacing it with new bedding. I practice the deep litter method, but more on that later. Good luck with an ornery dog, I’ve had to send a few to the big chicken house in the sky.

Speckled Sussex

Speckled Sussex

The speckled sussex is a hardy dual purpose breed that lays about 200+ light brown eggs a year when fed a well balanced diet and a constant supply of fresh clean water (as all animals need especially laying hens!). I ordered my current flock of chickens from Cackle Hatchery and this is what they have to say about them: “This chicken originated in the county of Sussex and is a very old English breed.  The Speckled Sussex chicken was recognized as a distinct breed in 1914.  The Sussex is a very gentle and colorful bird. This variety of the Sussex breed makes for a good backyard chicken and dual purpose for meat or egg production. This bird is a very good layer and handles confinement well.  Their speckled coloring makes them blend in with the background and camouflages them from predators such as coyotes, and foxes. They molt year and more speckles appear so they become even more colorful the older they get.”

The hens are around 7 pounds and the roosters around 9 pounds. They tend to take a little longer to mature than other similar classed breeds, 8-9 months versus 6-8 months. I do not use artificial lighting once the need for warmth is gone, until they are in their second season of producing, as I want them to mature slowly, I find they are hardier birds in the long run if given proper time to mature sexually and support egg-laying. In the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas we have hot humid summers and cold winters, they do well in both extremes. They also forage well and have a good feed conversion ratio. If you have a garden, flight ability is another thing to consider, they are too heavy to get over a 6 foot fence, which is a bonus if you want to have some tomatoes for yourself. Wing clipping is an option, which I avoid doing because I think they need the freedom to fly properly to run from predators and because it doesn’t feel right to clip a birds wings (there’s the hippy talking).

Over all, they are a highly recommended bird for the backyard poultry owner and pleasing on the eyes. Here is a picture of my rooster and one of my hens, they are 8 months old, and have not gone through a molt. They are laying daily and have almost reached their average weight. Rashie the roo is one of my dominant roosters out of the 8 I have, and he tends to be a bit cocky to everyone but me, he knows who is boss!

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