Episode 13 – Do you have to start with baby chicks? Don & Suzy talk about the possibility of starting your urban chicken flock with adult hens.
When we work out in the yard, we often open up one or more of the chicken tractors to allow our chickens some play time outside of their protective chicken runs. Yesterday, Suzy let out five chickens from two chicken tractors. This morning, Suzy went outside to discover the five of them were still pecking around the backyard… she had forgotten to lock them back up in their tractor before retiring for the evening! Thankfully, they were all fine, but this illustrates that as much as you try to do everything right and on schedule, sometimes mistakes happen.
Salmonella Contamination [03:49]
If you have listened to a few episodes, you are likely aware that one of my personal pet peeves is people who use the salmonella argument to say that ‘regular’ people should not be allowed to raise backyard or urban chicken flocks.
CNN recently reported that Foster Farms, which has been experiencing issues with salmonella contamination for nearly ten months, brought in experts to clean up their operations. The article claimed that after the cleanup, only 5% of chicken tested at Foster Farms is contaminated with salmonella. The shocking part is that they say most chicken processors have about 20% contamination.
Twenty percent? Seriously? Am I the only one that is a little disturbed that this is considered an acceptable number? That means that if you buy five chickens from your local grocery store, there is a good chance that one of them is contaminated!
My point here is that if you are thinking about raising chickens, don’t be scared off by the salmonella argument. If you are afraid of salmonella in backyard chickens, then you should be even more afraid of salmonella in your grocery store.
Starting Your Flock with Adult Chickens [07:40]
We often get calls from potential customers looking for adult laying hens. It is easy to understand why someone would desire to skip over the whole baby-chick-raising thing and get hens that will give you eggs tomorrow morning. In addition to saving six months of time and a bunch of feed, you can also make sure you don’t end up with any roosters.
The good news is that it is very easy to find adult hens. Just look on Craigslist, search for regional farm groups on Facebook, or browse farm-ad websites. You will pay more for an adult hen – around $25 per bird compared to about $5 per baby chick – but think about the time and feed you will save. Not to mention not having to buy a brooder, brooder lamp and bulb, chick feeder, chick waterer, chick grit and chick starter feed.
Now before you run out and buy an existing flock from Craigslist, you need to make sure you understand what you are getting into. I did say that it is easy to find adult hens. It is extremely difficult, however, to find healthy, young adult and actively laying hens. Lets break that down into chunks.
Chickens can carry a good number of diseases that affect their overall health and laying ability. One disease in particular, Mycoplasma Gallisepticum (MG), in extremely common and troublesome. In some areas, it is believed 85% or backyard flocks carry MG, which is very contagious. Many birds can be infected with MG and never show any symptoms. Without symptoms, these birds will appear to be happy and healthy.
Age of the Bird [14:49]
To the untrained eye, it can be very difficult to determine the age of an adult chicken. Maybe that Craigslist bird really is just one year old. Then again, she maybe be five years old and only lays one or two eggs a week. The only way you will find out is when you take her home and wait for eggs.
Laying Ability [16:45]
Knowing the breed of a chicken will give you an idea of its laying characteristics. That being said, all chickens are individuals, and it is not terribly uncommon to get a hen that just does not lay well. Again, you will not know this until you get her home and find out for yourself.
What Can You Do? [17:53]
Our advice to first time chicken keepers is to start with baby chicks. If, however, you insist on starting with adult hens, here are some things to keep in mind during your search.
First, ask the seller why they would get rid of a healthy, young, actively laying hen. Maybe they are moving to an apartment and can’t keep their beloved flock. Maybe. But see how they react to the question and how long it takes them to come up with an answer. If your internal lie detector is beeping, walk away.
Second, go to wherever the chickens live so you can see the conditions they were raised in and get a better feeling for the people who raised them.
Keep in mind that even if the people are honest and the chickens were raised in ideal conditions, they chickens could have an illness like MG and just have never had symptoms. The owners could be completely unaware of what is lurking in their chickens.
Don’t be in a hurry to find adult chickens. The pressure of completing your search may cause you to ignore many warning signs that you will be sorry for later. Be patient in your search.
Started Birds [26:00]
Another alternative to baby chicks is to look for started birds. These are juvenile chickens that have not begun to lay yet. They are sometimes easier to find at reputable breeders than adult hens are.
With started birds, you have less time to wait for them to reach point of lay – perhaps half as much time. They are also old enough to be sexed, so you don’t have to worry about getting stuck with unwanted roosters.
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See you next time!