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Winter Poultry Care

The answer to the poet’s ques­tion of, “What is so rare as a day in June?” was, until recently, a farm fresh egg in the middle of winter. Egg laying was essentially a seasonal activity and was greatest only when the hours of daylight lengthened.

Egg output increased as producer experi­ence and skills increased and were motivated by the demand for eggs in the cooler months when baking is increased and appetites are heartier. Take stock of your flock facilities and management techniques for successful winters to come.

Lighting 

Earlier egg producers learned to make the most of what nature of­fered them. Poultry houses were built with larger southern-facing walls, of­ten with large numbers of windows to catch as much of the thin winter sunlight as possible. They were white­washed inside each fall as both a sani­tary measure and to further amplify the light factor inside the building.

When electricity became more available many began to light their laying houses to stimulate egg produc­tion in the darker, gray months. It is a practice that continues with good effect though not always done well. Continue Reading →

Flock Management for Increased Production

Decades ago the worth of a well-bred adult chicken or clutch of hatching eggs was believed to hold the same value as a working man’s wages for a day, highlighting the importance of proper flock management. The literature well into the 20th century carries accounts of breeding males regularly selling for three figures, a good many for low four figures, and top producing females were valued more highly than gold. And why not, for in a single year she could produce scores of her own kind.

What do the names B. Ketcham of Illinois, T. Perrine of Ohio, S. Conger of Indiana, F. McElheney of New York, T. Ludlow of Yonkers in New York, and W. Dakin of Ohio have in common?

A bit of an unfair question, but one I raise to make a point. All of the above were independent poultry breeders advertising in the November 1885 issue of a magazine called The Poultry Keeper. They raised, respectively, Barred Plymouth Rocks, Dark Brahmas, Wyandottes (the first was the Silver Laced variety), Brown Leghorns, Houdans and Black Langshans. Continue Reading →

How to Build a Portable Chicken Tractor

DIY Chicken Tractor

A modified chicken tractor at 37 Acres Farm in Camden, Ohio.

When building a chicken tractor, keep in mind that in any type of poultry containment the old rule of thumb is to provide at least 4 square feet of floor space per bird, although up to 6 square feet might prove beneficial for some of the larger breeds. There should also be plenty of head space to allow for free movement and natural activity.

Chickens have been used frequently to follow cattle across pasture; utilizing some of the lower, finer stemmed plant materials left behind by the true grazers; feeding on some insect life; and even helping to break down manure pats. They will still need to be offered a full feeding of a good laying ration to maintain desired levels of egg laying performance, however.

The challenges will be how to best tend the birds so contained and to protect them from predation. One- x 2-inch or 1- x 1-inch patterned, welded wire is a strong, durable choice, although it will add to the initial cost of construction. Continue Reading →

Breaking into the Egg Business

Perhaps the best place to begin a discussion about the egg business would be with the egg itself. There is just a nine-ounce difference between a dozen medium and a dozen jumbo eggs. A dozen large eggs, the standard in the retail mar­ketplace, weighs twenty-four ounces. A dozen medium eggs, commonly used in the food service sector, weighs twenty-one ounces—just three ounces less. These slight dif­ferences can become big factors when calculating what it costs to produce a dozen eggs.

table eggs

A six-pound hen that lays two or three eggs per week will eat as much as one that lays five or six.

Egg grades—AA, A, and B—have nothing to do with egg size or shell color. Rather they are used to rate shell cleanliness and uniformity and the condition of the egg’s interior. Under examination and candling, an AA egg will have a clean, unbroken shell with even shape and shell surface. The air cell will be 1/18th-inch or less in depth, and regular in shape. The white will appear clean and firm, and the yolk will be centered and free of defects.

An A-quality egg will also have a clean and unbroken shell. The air cell will be 1/4-inch or less in depth and fairly uniform. The white should be clear, although not quite as firm as that of the AA egg. The yolk should be fairly centered, have a more defined outline, and should also be free of de­fects such as meat or blood spots.

Continue Reading →

Ordering Chicks: Tips for Adding the Right Birds to Your Flock

Chicks

The normal, as-hatched ratio is six cockerel chicks for every four pullet chicks hatched. Photo by Scott David Gordon

Ordering chicks, for most of us, means that spring comes early in the poultry world. Here in Missouri we start planning out the mating groups in the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The hatchery catalogs start arriving a week or so after Christmas. It was once tradition to start the pullet chicks in February to have them sorted and laying for the fall and winter months when eggs would normally post seasonal highs.

That box or two of chicks that arrives during the traditional hatching season, mid-February through early June, are so much more than the little bits of fluff they first appear to be. I sometimes wonder if everyone fully understands what awaits beneath the lids of such boxes.

Too many folks flip through a catalog or stand before the little pens at a farm supply store and buy some of those because they’re cute, some of the “funny” colored ones, and others because they recognize the breed name or because their grandparents had some of them. Bits and pieces are alright when piecing together a quilt, but a poultry flock, to be successful, must be built with a plan and a uniformity of vision. Continue Reading →