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The Girls

The Girls

November 27th, 2007  · stk

Our baby chicks are now 8 weeks old! See how they've grown, learn where they were born, their breed, what great layers they are and see their new (unfinished) coop.

8 Week-old Chickens: An Update

Our four chickens are eight weeks old. (For those that missed it, we got 4 baby chicks, in early October).

At first, we kept them in a file-size, cardboard box. A 100-watt lightbulb kept things a toasty 85°F for the fragile tweeters. Gradually, we reduced the wattage down to 40-watts.

Just like human babies, the baby chicks ate a lot, slept a lot (and pooped a lot). The peeped a bunch too. The louder they peeped, the unhappier they were. They became used to people, as we pulled them out and let them bumble around the house (till they pooped, at which time, it was 'back to the box').

We discovered their breed and even where they were born. They've long since outgrown their cardboard box and (soon) will be moving into their new digs.

To get the scoop ... read on ...

Going to the Birds

I'm not sure which astounded us more; how much the tiny chicks ate, how rapidly they grew, or how much waste they generated! It wasn't long before the file box was too small for our fine-feathered tots! Fortunately, we had acquired a large(ish) bird cage, when we bought the property and the 4-week-old brood, was moved into this wire abode.

During this time, they stayed in the house, on the dining room floor. We did this in an effort to keep them warm. There's two things that are bad about keeping chickens in the house: the smell and the noise (they peeped, pecked and squawked an awful lot, during the night).

Oddly, the cat wasn't too interested in the birds. He salivated over them briefly, shortly after they arrived, but not for long. (His interests seem to focus on warm laps, good food and sleeping ... chickens aren't on the list).


Moving Out

Rachel wanted the birds out of the house, but Alex and Scott managed to argue in their defense, so they stayed indoors a couple of weeks longer than Rachel wanted. Eventually (prior to the arrival of overnight guests), the birds were moved into the garage.

Talk about dirty! Yites ... there were little balls of downy fluff everywhere in the dining room. Rachel was happy to get the floor clean, but it took a couple of days for the room to air out so that it didn't smell so 'coop-ish'.

We'd already taken 3 trips to the feed store, to buy bulk bags of 'starter feed'. We never thought 4 tiny chicks could eat through a 40-pound bag, so we'd been buying small, lunch-sized bags of the stuff. After our third "emergency" trip to town for feed, we finally paid for a 40-pound bag. (It comes as either mash, crumbles or pellets.) We opted for crumbles, as the mash gets everywhere and they can't handle the pellets yet, because they're too tiny.


The New Coop

Scott's been working (when he has time, it's not raining, not working on the Internet, watching Alex, catching squirrels or repairing alternators ... i.e., sporadically) on building a new coop. While we did inherit a coop-type building, it's one of the only "dry storage" areas we have, so thought it best to keep it as such.

The new coop is roughly 4-feet by 8-feet and will hold up to 8 birds. The frame is made, wire mesh laid down, roof put on and electrical wiring added (light and heater coil to keep the water from freezing). All that's left is the back side, doors, 2 nesting boxes and a feed/water setup.

In other words, by next summer, our birds should be in their new coop! :|

One of the big advantages of the new coop (besides allowing us to keep our outbuilding), is that everything (water, egg collection & feeding) can be done from outside the coop. Another feature - the raised mesh floor - means that we don't have clean out very often. Waste just piles up underneath and by the time it needs cleaning, it will be (mostly) fertilizer! (That's the theory, anyway.) :p


Royal Bloodlines

Our birds aren't just any birds! They're well traveled, having been born in Alberta *appropriate "ewe-ing" and "ahh-ing" sounds*.

The breed was a bit of a mystery (our benefactors hadn't relayed the information, nor had we thought to ask). We figured they might be Rhode Island Red, based on their color ... but they weren't a solid red. As their primary feathers grew, they appears mostly red, but with distinct splotches of white or cream.

One night, while Scott was ripping up old cardboard boxes, he happened upon the box, in which we were given the chicks. It had a packing slip, but it only spoke about the care we should provide (would have been nice to have spied that early on). There was, however, a cryptic tag on the side that said "49 Sex-sal-link-brn-pullets-XXX" (couldn't make out the last bit). The key clue, was the return address: Rochester Hatchery, Westlock, AB.

A Internet search revealed the hatchery website, which had "Sex-Sal-Link Browns" (also called DeKalb or ISA Browns) in their product line. (For more information than you can shake a stick at, head to Hendrix Genetics Company, where the breed was developed).

Turns out, we were half right, as an ISA Brown is a hybrid brown-egg layer, which is a mix of Rhode Island Red and Rhode Island White chickens. They're known for high egg production (300 eggs per hen, their first year of laying).

So now we know where our chicks were born, who their parents are, where they're going to live and that we'll get lots of brown eggs! We'll have to take them on a road trip to Alberta, when they're older, for a family reunion. :p

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1.flag Ray Comment
Fun stuff, Scott! Later than usual in the year to start chicks but they'll do fine with protection from the weather, and they'll start laying in spring. Chickens lay eggs in response to increasing day length, and to keep them laying next winter you'll need to put a timer on their light to give them 14 hours of light per day. Otherwise they will stop laying until the day length increases again in the spring. (Oh for that bit of expert advice I might bill you for a dozen of those brown eggs one day!)
2.flag stk Comment
LOL ... you'll have to come all the way down to Y.P. to get them! :p
3.flag Gary Comment
Any chance of half a dozen to the UK ! You can't beat freshly laid eggs.

You are becoming a bit of an expert on egg farming by the sound of things!

I just fancy a nice runny egg right now for my supper, I guess it wouldn't go down too well with a bottle of Carlsburg though ;)


4.flag Paul Comment
hi, nice story, thought i was the only one, my wife was exactly the same, it was like a mirror image of my first hatching.
my 3 hens are now 7 weeks old
5.flag stk Comment
LOL ... glad you enjoyed the story and to hear that I'm not the only guy that's hen-pecked from all directions. :D
6.flag Candice Wilkie Comment
We have just aquired a baby chick. It is very friendly and likes to be cuddled. It also follows my daughter everywhere and only stops chirping when she cuddles it. I dont have the heart to put it outside, so it is staying in the house. Does anyone have any ideas at how I can have it as a house chicken? If he is not with us, it chirps all the time.
7.flag stk Comment
Candice - Thanks for commenting and yes, our girls are a big part of the family. However, they're definitely "outside" creatures, as they tend to be messy and REALLY LIKE to dust themselves in fine, powdery dirt.

From Popular Farming: Chickens: "Chickens are happiest living in flocks. 'If there is one thing you notice as an observer of chicken behavior, it is that they are highly social creatures. A single chicken is a sad creature. They really need group interaction. That's what pecking order is all about,' says Dr. Joy Mench, Director at the Center for Animal Welfare at the University of California at Davis."

I'd recommend you get a few more chickens and move the lot into a coop/run in the back garden. ;)
8.flag Cam Comment
nice. try getting a rooster and hatching out your own chicks. i do it and it is really fun. try getting a silkie or sumthin to be a broody.
9.flag Bev Comment
Funny. I got 26 baby chicks in June. They all survived, and are thriving. They are now in a nice "chicken hotel" behind the barn. I covered the entire floor with chicken wire, to prevent foxes, raccoons, etc. from getting them. The have a fenced in "courtyard" which is also covered in plastic chicken mesh in case of hawks. Mine are Americauna and golden buff. They will lay blue and green eggs, and the golden buff lay pinkish and brown. My grandkids can't wait to gather eggs!
10.flag stk Comment
Cam - Definitely not interested in having a rooster, though it would be fun to hatch our own.

Bev - Wow. Beats our normal brown eggs! It'll be Easter every day at your place. LOL.

At nearly 5 years, Alex loves playing with the chickens, when they're in the yard. She herds them around and pets them (they're more "productive pet" than "laying hens", at our house now). :p
11.flag Vicki Mercer Comment
Wow, I didnt realize there were so many more chicknanas out there :)

I live in the side apartment of my friend's place. They own a bunch of different breeds of free range chickens. This spring they incubated about 50 eggs. Only two chicks arrived. We know the daddy is an araucana, but are not sure who the mama is. Well, I fell madly in love!! They live on my front porch at the moment and are 12 weeks old and pretty tiny for their age.And yes, they love me!! I've become their chickanana. They have become my birds! As they are terrified of those clucking beasties that come up to the front (the other chickens).

I'm not sure how they'll take to living with them. Or how hard it will be to intergrate them into the flock... or even if I want my babies to not live close to :( their nana.

How hard is it to keep "house hens" (I dont even really know if they are hens o Help!
12.flag stk Comment
Vicki - LOL @ "chicknana". :D

Sexing fuzzy chicks (days old) is easy difficult. Just grab them by the nap of their neck in two fingers and lift them up off the floor slightly. If they bring up their feet (to fight) - they're roosters. If their feet just hang down - they're hens. (Not sure how to do it when they're older ... wait to see if you're wakened by crowing noises? :p)

Our birds are now in their own chicken run (though we used to let them out all the time ... till they tore the flower garden to shreds), so we have little experience with "house hens". I'd imagine you could train them to do as you please, given enough time and patience. (Chickens tend to be messy creatures though ... not sure how the potty training bit would work out).

Since they're so social, I'd recommend integrating them into flock, when they're big enough. You'll find where they fit into the "pecking order" after a while. (They'll always be 'your chicks', even if/when they 'fly [to] the coop'). ;)

Good Luck!
13.flag ...ray Comment
"Sexing fuzzy chicks (days old) is easy. Just grab them by the nap of their neck in two fingers and lift them up off the floor slightly. If they bring up their feet (to fight) - they're roosters. If their feet just hang down - they're hens. (Not sure how to do it when they're older ... wait to see if you're wakened by crowing noises? :p)

This is fascinating, Scott! I wish you could have told that to my uncle, who was an expert chick sexer - but that was 'way back in the dark ages of the '30s-'50s. I used to go swamping for him on weekend breaks from school. It took him years of study to learn the technique from Japanese experts who developed it. I know they would have been relieved to learn that all they needed to do was pick up the chicks and watch how they lifted their feet!

If only it was that easy!
14.flag stk Comment
LOL ... Last time I repeat something I learn from my father without checking it out first!

I've amended my comment and humbly defer to your uncles's "dark ages" experience. :oops:
15.flag ...ray Comment
:) Chicks are sexed by 'vent sexing' or 'feather sexing', Scott. Vent sexing involves distinguishing about 18 different configurations of the chick's sex organs, some of them very difficult to distinguish - this is what takes long training and experience. It's done on day-old chicks.

Some strains of birds are bred with a sex-linked gene for rapid early feather growth, so that the wing feathers of male and female chicks grow differently.

Most of us we should be able to tell their sex by the time they are 4 - 6 weeks old because the comb and wattles of males starts to grow sooner and bigger than those of females. Otherwise, the cockerels will tell you when they start to wake you up at dawn!

16.flag stk Comment
Ray - yeah, I got that from one of the links I found, after my embarassing blunder. Mother Earth has a good article about vent sexing, which I read part-way through.

I guess this old dog learned a new trick today (though I did find a forum post that says rooster chicks put up more of a fight than hens. Ours didn't fight and they were all hens, so I figured the method "worked"). LOL :p

Now ... I just need to find a way to embarrass my father - one good turn, deserves another! :D
17.flag Barb Comment
Not sure about the sexing thing. We got our chicks last July. I was told no rooster.... well I had one. I was also supposed to have 4 Rhode Island Reds. One was the rooster, the other 2 ended up being Guinea hens.

My RI Red is turning more white. Are yours doing the same? Do you think it's because it's getting colder? She didn't do this last winter.
18.flag stk Comment
Barb - LOL .. 25% isn't very good odds, eh?

Ours are all ISA Browns, so they're a cross between Rhode Island Reds and Rhode Island Whites. I don't know about temperature, but ours have continually gotten more red, over time.
19.flag ...ray Comment
Barb - bring your Reds in out of the snow!
20.flag Barb Comment

They never went out of the coop last winter. I thought they were too small. But now they're over a year so maybe I'll let them out this winter. I let them out all summer (I was home all day). But since I"ve been back at work they only get out on weekends. Anyway, do they like snow?
21.flag Bev Comment
My girls are giving me about 20 eggs a day now. I have 26, they were supposed to be all female when I ordered the chicks, but two of them are beautiful big boys that crow! One of them is obviously "challenged", as he crows at all hours of day or night. He even crows at 2am sometimes!
22.flag stk Comment
Wow ... 20 eggs a day. I can't imagine. (I think the most we've gotten in a day is six, but now ... with only 3 hens and dark winter hours ... it's down to three). LOL @ getting roosters. You can keep them, as I find they can be "over protective" of their girls, over-sex them (to the point of wearing off the back feathers) and just plain noisy!
23.flag ...ray Comment
Wow, Scott! Three eggs a day from three hens - or 20 from 26 (or is it 24 hens?) in mid-winter is pretty remarkable unless you have lights in their pens. Hens normally need at least 14 hours of light to keep laying - they stop laying as days get shorter and start to lay again when daylight lengthens in the spring. You've gotta be doing something right!

And if you ever got six eggs in a day from three hens, that's even more spectacular!
24.flag stk Comment
Ray - Yes, we're running a 60-watt bulb as "artificial daylight", in an effort to keep their clocks > 14 hours of daylight (not checked in a month or so, but I think there's an hour or so where the light goes out, before I let them out of the coop now).

The six eggs was a one-off record - from (then four) hens. In case you didn't know, one of our hens was abducted, recently.
25.flag Kelly Comment
Hello, or should I say 'howdy'??

I was Googling 'hens', as I am sorta thinking of keeping a couple as 'producing pets', and I came across your 'edutaining website'. Many thanks for the information and I hope that you will be able to answer some questions, once I decide to actually go ahead with this crazy idea.

I see you are on the island. I am in Surrey. My sis is in the Nanaimo area.
26.flag stk Comment
Kelly - I tried emailing you a reply, but it got kicked back with error messages. :( (Address rejected, 'State 14', whatever that means). So I took the liberty of posting your email here, in hopes you see it.

Sure, ask away. I surely don't have all the answers. Ray knows more about chickens than I'll ever forget, but I'll try to help in any way I can.

I bet the future holds a growing population of suburban chickens. They turn kitchen green-waste into eggs! Talk about 'going green' and 'sustainability' ... it's hard to beat that!
27.flag Bev Comment
Yes, stk, I have 24 hens. They were all supposed to be female, but somebody goofed at the hatchery. I do have a natural "daylight" lamp on a timer for them. I also have 2 infrared heat lamps for them that automatically kicks on when the temp gets below30 degrees. You gotta keep the girls happy to get the eggs! I was told by a very old farmer that the heat lights have to be red. He said it gets them in the mood to lay eggs. I don't know about that, but they sure like them!
28.flag Gideon Comment
sexing is very easy at day old if it is pure bred layers as per your case with dekalb brown hens have a feather that is called fast and slow wich means you have on long feather and on short where as roosters will have fast and fast all the feathers are the same lenght

good luck in trying it
29.flag stk Comment
Gideon - Huh? (I normally correct punctuation as needed, but I'm at a loss here, as I have no idea what you're trying to say).

I do know, however, that we don't see our chicks when they're a day old. All those we've been (generously) given by our neighbors, Georgina and Richard, have been a few days to a couple weeks old. (And sexed at the hatchery). :D

In other news ... yesterday was a big day for our 2nd batch of laying hens!
30.flag ...ray Comment
Gideon is saying that some strains of chickens carry a sex-linked gene which causes the feathers of male and female day-old chicks to be different in length. Feather-sexing as done now is much easier than vent-sexing, which used to be the only way to distinguish the sexes at day-old.
31.flag stk Comment
Thanks Ray! :)
32.flag Bev Comment
Well, today was a bad day for one of my roosters. He made the fatal mistake of attacking my beautiful, precious, 6 year old granddaughter. He was absolutely vicious! As I said before, he came to my flock my accident, but he did not leave by accident. He will make a fine Sunday dinner tomorrow for my family. My granddaughter is going to get the first peice!
33.flag stk Comment
Bev - I'm sorry for your granddaughter. Hopefully, she's young enough that she won't be traumatized by the attack.

My parents had a rooster that was over-protective and attacked me 1 week before Rachel and I left on our 5-month hike from Mexico to Canada. It hurt like heck and I limped for a week. (Was a tad worried about the start of hiking, actually).

Dad just laughed and said I was being a wimp for letting the chicken get the better of me.

Mom learned to arm herself with a hula-hoe when she collected eggs.

Dad didn't laugh at all when it finally attacked him. Instead, he killed it.

Roosters ... noisy, often over-protective and over-sex the hens to distraction. Be gone, I say! (Unless you want to hatch chicks, then they're kind of a necessity) :p
34.flag Bev Comment
Thanks stk! Fortunately, it's cold today, and she had a heavy coat and hat on. She loves the chickens so much, and she wanted to go right back in there with them! She said "You can keep kicking him off me until I get the eggs". She just keeps crying because she doesn't understand why "that chicken doesn't like me". I'll try to explain rooster behavior to her as we go along. She has been with them since they were 18 hours old. After all, I got the chickens for a learning experience for the grandkids in the first place. The learning has begun. I agree with your rooster philosophy! Only good for 2 things. Eating is one of them........
35.flag Nancy Comment
Thanks for all the interesting info about chicks! We live in Kansas, a bit warmer than you all, but still frost in the a.m. right now. We got six chicks, straight run, a few weeks ago and still have no idea how many hens we have. They are in a large box in the kitchen with a 120 watt light about 3 feet away to keep them warm during the day and blanket over the top at night--which annoys them because they like to roost on the side of the box and poop on my floor! I can't wait to get them out into the ramshackle coop my dh built for them, but it is still way too cold and I think they are only about 5-6 weeks old and are bantams so really small. (How can you tell if you don't have a hatch date?)
Any advice on getting them out of my kitchen would be greatly appreciated! How warm do the days have to be for them to be out? How can I keep them warm at night in their coop?
Thanks for a great site!
36.flag stk Comment
Nancy - Thanks for writing! I laughed at the birds roosting on the edge of the box and pooping on the floor.

We got both our batches of chicks in the Autumn and kept them in the house for as long as my wife would stand for it (feathers, dust and smell). We gradually reduced the wattage on the bulb we used (started with 100W and ended with no bulb). I had a min/max thermometer in with them and we started them at around 85°F and gradually lowered the temp about 5° every week or so.

Then we transitioned them into the garage for a few weeks, again using a bulb (60W) + blanket to help hold in the heat.

Don't remember the time-frame, but then we moved them outside, letting them out during the day, but herding them back into their box at night (w/60W bulb and blanket). Probably over two months old at this point. Primary feathers had pretty much come in and they looked like chickens and not chicks.

We tried to guage their comfort from their behavior. If they were cold, they'd huddle and peep a lot. If they got hot, they'd drink lots of water and be as far from the light as they could be. Tried to keep them "just right", but as adults, it does get bloody cold out there, but they seem to "be used to it". (They hate snow! Who can blame them?)

Speaking of chickens, it's time to go let them out of their coop, feed them scratch and scraps, and then collect the eggs! cya :D
37.flag Bev Comment
Hey all! I have a hen that has decided to hatch some chicks. I don't know how many eggs she is sitting on, but she has been on the nest since June 1. All 22 of my girls like to lay their eggs in the same 2 nests, even though there are many more out there. Anyway, I was getting 18-21 eggs a day. Now, I'm lucky to get 4. I think she must be sitting on the rest. One other hen is starting to get broody also. She is sitting on at least 14. My granddaughter is so excited! We should have chicks in less than 3 weeks! It will be interesting to see what kind they are. We have Golden Buff And Auricanas. Both mamas to be are Buff. Only one rooster due to the "incident" last winter. ONE is enough!!
38.flag stk Comment
Bev - LOL @ one rooster being enough. Better to keep one rooster 'hen-pecked', than keep all your girls over-sexed! No chance of chicks here, w/o a rooster. :( Darn, I knew they were good for something! Let us know what you end up with! I'm eager to hear how you get on with your new hatchlings.

A couple of weeks ago, we thought our girls had developed a taste for fresh eggs, as a number were broken, in their nest (like yours, ours prefer to lay in one nest, even though we have two). Looks like some are just 'thin shelled' ... maybe they need more calcium?

Wow @ 22 ... we've only got 7 atm, but we're due to get a few more. They all sleep on one roosting bar, which makes me think the coop (4x8x4) could handle 10-14 chickens.

Good luck!
39.flag ray Comment
What do you feed them, Scott? A balanced layer diet? Or still scratch and scraps (Unbalanced diet)? If the latter, they need to have oyster shell available to provide calcium for egg shells, otherwise they'll lay soft shelled eggs and deplete their body's calcium (bones) trying to do better.
40.flag stk Comment
Ray - They have "Buckerfields" layer pellets (16% protein - or something like that) available in their coop & run at all times, plus we supplement with a couple tins of scratch and whatever scraps we have. We also provide #2 grit and occasional grass, dandelions and winnowed shells, from the beach down the road.
41.flag ray Comment
Sounds good Scott. 16% is right.

I used to be Buckerfields' nutritionist, formulated all their feeds. But that was eons ago.... no idea who does it now.

Don't give them too much scratch, the layer pellets are balanced with all the grain they need. But I know they like to pick at the scratch.

Are the 'winnowed shells' broken up for them? They need to be able to eat them for their calcium....
42.flag stk Comment
Cool @ being the Buckerfield's nutritionist. We only give them a couple of cups of scratch per day (and some days none).

The shells are definitely small, as we collect them off a nearby beach (1/10th the size of your pinkie fingernail - ish)

They like the scraps and grass the best!
43.flag Jeanette Paul Comment
As a workshop intructor of creative writing, I must say that this is an entertaining, well-written account! You should think about freelancing! I can also relate to the state of the dining room as I have several budgies there, though they don't smell!
44.flag Jeanette Paul Comment
The comment regarding sexing newly hatched chicks which seemed incomprehensible states that females have one short feather for every one that is long (uneven growth rates), whereas males feathers are all fast-growing, hence all long. At least, that is how I understand it.
45.flag Momunit Comment
My 12 ISA Browns are supposed to be all pullets (females), but if someone visiting the TSC store replaced a straight-run chick into the all-pullet stock tank, then all bets are off. I think they're about 12 weeks old now, and free-range the meadow and backyard near their coop.

I've had a couple birds "facing off", but none are bigger or more developed than another, and I don't see any cockerel-like tail feathers. I've been told that the facing-off is also common pecking order behaviour among all-hen flocks.

Every night at 9pm they've reassembled on one of the two roosts in the coop. Well, most of them fit on one roost. By the time they're laying they'll have to use both.

They get medicated 20% chick feed crumbles, crushed oyster shell and all the weeds, grass, and bugs they can gobble. They've discovered they really like my coral bells, but don't like pigweed, dandelions, daylilies or hosta.

I've had to put 5 foot poultry fencing around my garden, or my beans and swiss chard would surely be decimated!

My father in law raised chickens, ducks and guineas for many years, and he says they'll begin to lay sometime in August. A friend also has ISA Browns (which are supposedly a French production bird cross between Rhode Island Whites and Rhode Island Reds) and he told me his flock of 10 2 year old birds lay a dozen eggs a day! Yikes... gonna have to have a sign at the road advertising free-range brown eggs! :))
46.flag Ray Comment
Momunit - sounds like your Browns are well looked after. Did your FIL tell you about lighting your hens? Laying hens must have at least 14 hours of light to continue laying eggs. If they don't, your hens may start laying heavily in August but as the day-length shortens their production will slow and nearly stop until spring. Laying is regulated by the pineal gland in the back of their heads, and stimulated by light. A small light bulb on a timer, hanging over their roosts, is all they need to keep them laying.

A dozen eggs a day from ten hens? I kinda suspect your friend is a tad optimistic... unless things have changed a lot, it takes a hen about 26 - 28 hours to make an egg ready for laying...