Raising chicks : broody hen or incubator?

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We began raising our own chicks this year on Franger Farm using both an incubator and a broody hen. We had varying degrees of success with each method and have discovered that they both have their pros and cons. So, which one is right for you? maybe you’ll be like us and give both a go. Here we discuss some of the good and bad points so that you can make up your own mind.

Broody hen.

A good broody hen will take care of everything for you.

A good broody hen will take care of everything for you.

The best thing about letting a broody hen hatch and raise chicks for you is just that, a broody hen will hatch and raise chicks for you, no major input required. However, we have discovered that there are a few things that need to be considered when you’re using a broody. Firstly, you cannot choose the timing of your hen’s broodiness, she’ll become broody when she feels like it and she won’t be interested in sitting on eggs until she is. Secondly, your hen will decide how many eggs she wants to sit on, our broody will only sit on two at a time, despite being a light sussex which is a fairly large bird. Our broody also managed to break one of the eggs she was sitting on quite early on and we had to separate her from the rest of the flock so that she could sit without being hassled and we didn’t have to worry about her chicks being attacked by the other hens or the rooster. We also didn’t know what sort of mother our broody would be, not all hens make great mothers, some will lose interest in their chicks when they hatch and others may even kill them. There’s no way to know what sort of mother your broody will make until she’s raised her first chick, so it’s worth giving your her a test run before you put any expensive fertile eggs under her. The big advantage of a broody comes into play once the chicks are hatched. The hen will teach the chicks to drink, eat and look for bugs, the chicks will also be naturally integrated into the flock, under the watchful eye of it’s mother.

Incubator.

An incubator allows you to control the timing of the hatch.

An incubator allows you to control the timing of the hatch.

There’s no denying that using an incubator is high maintenance when compared to using a broody hen, there are some advantages though. The main ones are that you are in control of the timing of the hatch and the number of eggs to be incubated. It does however, require a lot of commitment. The eggs may need to be turned regularly if your incubator is not automatic, there is a risk of losing chicks if the power goes out, the temperature and humidity must be monitored constantly and that’s all before the chicks hatch! After the chicks hatch and dry out, they have to be transferred to a brooder where they’ll need heat, food and water. They need to be checked constantly for the first few days and there is a chance of losing chicks if the power goes out and you can’t keep them warm.

Chicks hatched in an incubator with be friendlier than those raised by a broody.

Chicks hatched in an incubator with be friendlier than those raised by a broody.

Chickens will go from fluffy little chicks to fairly large, noisy birds inside a few weeks, it may be a while before they can be fully transitioned outside with the other hens, are you prepared to deal with the huge amounts of sawdust they kick everywhere? It’s your responsibility to ensure that they are slowly introduced to the big outdoors and the rest of the flock, this can be a slow process. Incubator hatched chickens will be friendlier than chicks raised by a broody, simply because they are used to being handled and that can be a definite advantage.

So, as you can see, there’s a lot to consider before you decide which method to use. We started with an incubator because it gave us a lot of control over timing, which can be important if you’re working or very busy, but when we found ourselves with a broody hen, we couldn’t resist giving her a few fertile eggs to sit on. What ever you decide to do, one thing is for sure, it’ll be a lot of fun.

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Why every suburban backyard should have chickens

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We started small, with one little veg patch and a few tomato, lettuce and sweetcorn plants grown from seedlings. That spring was very wet and the summer not especially warm. Our harvest was rubbish, but we were excited, it planted a seed of thought, maybe we could grow more of this stuff, maybe we could feed ourselves from our backyard? We threw ourselves into building a huge veggie patch ( this will be big enough to feed us, surely? erm…no.) and we grew more and more, but it didn’t feel as though we were really producing until we got ourselves some chickens. It’s the neatly packaged protein that they produce every day that makes them so amazing, the fact that you can do so much more with your veg when you have a few eggs, the wonderful sound they make in your garden and how happy they are to see you when you’re holding the food bowl. There are so many reasons to keep chickens in suburbia, here are just a few.

You don't have to spend a lot buying your chickens.

You don’t have to spend a lot buying your chickens.

They’re not very expensive to buy and house. Our first chickens were purchased from a battery farm, they weren’t ex-battery hens, rather, point of lay, that were just about to be shoved into the horrifying cage egg system. They were not very expensive but you can save even more money buy purchasing the ex-caged birds. These birds are not very old, around 18 months and are still laying well, just not productively enough for the caged egg industry. They will be very pale when you bring them home as they have spent their entire lives inside, they usually have a lot of missing feathers and they are usually scared of the big outdoors. Within weeks though, they will be looking and behaving just like chickens that have always lived outdoors.

Their housing need not be elaborate or expensive.

Their housing need not be elaborate or expensive.

You don’t need to spend a lot on housing your chickens, we started with something similar to this and now have an array of different types of housing, we even have plans to convert our kid’s cubby house when it’s no longer in use! The most important thing is that it should be lockable at night and predator proof.

Chickens do best on a varied diet of commercial layer pellets, grain, greens and leftovers from the kitchen.

Chickens do best on a varied diet of commercial layer pellets, grain, greens and leftovers from the kitchen.

You can build a run area around your coop to give your girls plenty of room to scratch and dust bath, we’ve learnt the hard way that it’s a good idea to net the top, no matter how high your fence is!
your chickens will help you reduce your waste, they love nothing better than polishing off the kitchen scraps, ours are especially partial to stale bread, pasta, lasagne and bolognaise.
Now may be a good time to talk about poo! If you’re growing your own veg, there’s nothing better for your veggie beds than having a home produced supply of chicken manure. You can add it to your compost, leave it in a pile to rot down or make manure tea with it by adding it to water and using it as a liquid fertiliser. Just don’t use it direct when it’s fresh as it’s too high in ammonia and will burn your plants.

Eggs! The best reason to keep chickens.

Eggs! The best reason to keep chickens.

Let’s not forget the biggest and best reason to keep chickens in your backyard, those wonderful eggs. The eggs that your chickens will produce on their varied diet will be better than any eggs you’ve eaten before, if this doesn’t sell you on the benefits of keeping chickens in your backyard, I’m afraid nothing will.

Reggie the rooster.

Reggie the rooster.

And a quick word on roosters. There’s no need to keep one. Forget everything you’ve heard about needing a rooster to keep the chickens in line or sort out the pecking order, the girls will manage just fine on their own and a rooster would be unwelcome in most suburban areas. We keep a rooster because we have begun to raise our own chickens and because we have wonderful and tolerant neighbours who put up with our “foibles”. So don’t let the idea that keeping chickens may be too noisy put you off.
I could go on and on listing the various reasons that suburbia needs chickens, we’ve covered the main ones, now it’s up to you to get a few chooks and see what keeping them means to you.

A simple guide to caring for chicks.

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Here’s our quick, simple and straightforward guide to caring for chicks from just hatched until they’re ready to move outside.

Newly hatched chicks drying out in the incubator

Newly hatched chicks drying out in the incubator

After your chicks have hatched, they need to be left in the incubator until they have dried out and fluffed up, at this point, they can be transferred to the brooder.
There’s no need to buy an expensive brooder, it’s easy to make one yourself. Ours is made from a plastic storage container with a heat lamp suspended above it. You can use any type of container that will hold some sawdust and your chicks safely.

Once the chicks have fluffed up, they are ready to put in the brooder.

Once the chicks have fluffed up, they are ready to put in the brooder.

The chicks also need a container of water that is not too deep, to avoid drowning accidents, and another container for food.Your chicks will require “starter feed” for at least the first four weeks, then they can be move on to “grower feed”.

The brooder, with heat lamp and food and water containers.

The brooder, with heat lamp and food and water containers.

You will need to check on your chicks several times a day for the first week or so, it’s also important that they be kept very warm. observe the behaviour of your chicks, if they’re all huddled together under the heat lamp, they are too cold, if they’re spread out away from the lamp, the brooder is probably too hot.
You can gradually reduce the temperature of the brooder over the next few weeks as they begin to develop feathers.

Your chicks may need some more space as they grow.

Your chicks may need some more space as they grow.

Your chicks may need some extra space as they grow, we usually move our chicks into a bigger cage after a few weeks when they need less heat.

Spend time getting to know your chicks.

Spend time getting to know your chicks.

One advantage of raising your chicks yourself versus using a broody hen, is that you can get to know your chicks, they can become quite used to you, given the right attention. The chicks will still need checking regularly, even when they’re several weeks old, they will kick bedding into their food and water and this needs to be cleaned up quite often.

Spend time with your chicks as they grow

Spend time with your chicks as they grow

Before you move your chicks outside permanently, it’s a good idea to let them spend short periods outdoors in a secure cage or run, this will help them get used to the sounds and smells of the big wide world.

Getting used to the big outdoors.

Getting used to the big outdoors.

Once your chicks are nearly fully feathered, they’re able to be moved outside with the other chooks. How you go about this transition is entirely up to you. We keep our young chooks in a nursery run, separate from our rooster and laying hens. As they grow and become fully fledged laying hens, we move them in with the rooster, who greets them with an enthusiastic dance….!
raising your own chooks can be so much fun, especially for kids, give it a go, you can’t go wrong. Get some fertile eggs from your local breeder and give it a go!

Raising your own chooks is simple.

Raising your own chooks is simple.



Take a photo tour of Franger Farm : how we’re homesteading on our suburban acre.

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For the last five years, we’ve been slowly turning our suburban backyard into a miniature farm on a journey towards a more self sufficient life. here’s a quick photo tour to show you exactly what can be done in suburbia if you’re striving for a sustainable lifestyle.

Seasonal vegetables

Seasonal vegetables

Growing fruit and veg.

Spring harvest

Spring harvest

We grow most of the vegetables we eat and quite a bit of fruit, especially in the summer months. We have numerous veggie beds around the backyard, one is completely given over to the production of potatoes, the others rotate with seasonal veg.

One of the large backyard veggie beds.

One of the large backyard veggie beds.

 

Some of the first fruit trees we planted are now giving us nice crops of fruit, we’ve added more trees most years, some of these have yet to start bearing fruit, trees are a long term project.

 

We grow some soft fruits, we have a thriving strawberry patch, which we have finally found a way of keeping the weeds and the birds out, we also grow blueberries and raspberries.

Blueberries.

Blueberries.

The strawberry patch.

The strawberry patch.

We plant some purchased seedlings, but most of the veg we grow is started from seed in our greenhouse.

The greenhouse.

The greenhouse.

Keeping chickens.

Franger Farm chooks.

Franger Farm chooks.

The chickens are essential to our backyard farming project. As well as giving us a supply of fresh eggs, they eat our kitchen scraps, weeds and give us chook manure which we use to fertilize our veggie beds and fruit trees. The straw bedding from the chicken coops also goes back on the garden bed as mulch. our chooks produce enough eggs for us to sell extras to our friends, which covers the cost of their feed.

Reggie the rooster.

Reggie the rooster.

we have a rooster ‘Reggie’, so our eggs are fertile, and we’ve begun raising our own chicks. We also have a broody hen sitting on some eggs at the moment, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that she manages to hatch something soon.

Our latest batch of 'chooklets'

Our latest batch of ‘chooklets’

 

Rabbits.

 

Although our rabbits ‘Mushroom and Garlic’ are pets, they work hard for us. They are devourers of vegetable scraps and producers of much poo, which can be added to our growing beds without needing to be composted or aged in any way.

Mushroom and Garlic.

Mushroom and Garlic.

Worms.
We have two worm farms that we use to process our kitchen scraps. In return, they give us worm castings and worm wee, both of which can be used as fertilizer on our vegetables.

 

Our worm farms

Our worm farms

Pest control.

 

Snickers, farm cat.

Snickers, farm cat.

Let’s not forget another hardworking member of our team ‘Snickers’ the cat. He found a home with us after the family that owned him felt unable to cope with his hunting habit. Let’s just say that he a perfect fit for us and will kill any pesky critter that has the nerve to venture near our veg or our chook runs!

 

The  Micro Farmer.
The Micro Farmer gets involved in all the chores on Franger Farm, from collecting eggs and feeding chickens, looking after the chicks and rabbits to planting in the greenhouse and weeding the veggie beds. He loves to be outside, which is were he spends most of his time when he’s not at school.

The micro farmer, hard at work.

The micro farmer, hard at work.

Anyone can have a micro farm in their backyard, it’s just a matter of scaling it to fit. You can make use of the paved areas around your house by adding raised beds. Try hanging baskets filled with lettuce or tomatoes under the eaves, grow a passion fruit or grape vine on the pergola. The possibilities are endless, your imagination is the only limit!

Herb beds at the back of the house.

Herb beds at the back of the house.