Thursday, October 25, 2012

Chicken Training


We try to learn and practice as many things possible that we plan to do or have on the land. As chickens are definitely in the plans, we got baby chicks while here in Saudi Arabia to learn how to raise them. It has been an excellent learning experience and one that has made keeping chickens a normal part of our lives.

Early problems were that we got them while it was still relatively cool here, so we had 14 chicks in two different containers, which we mistakenly decided to group all together for the sake of keeping warm. Once they were all together, they started crowding and attacking each other and we lost six of the chicks. After that, we separated them into two groups again and the problems ended. They grew very quickly and consistently, mashaa'Allah, and went from being in their containers to a wire chick cage and then we built a chicken run, which we bedded with some rich compost from our compost pile. We fed them the typical grain-based chicken feed as well as some fruit and vegetable scraps and the pulp from juicing. They love that!

Instead of nesting boxes, we simply spread out a whole straw bale over the ground in their home, which gave them a nice thick bed to peck and scratch through. They established little nesting areas in the straw and, earlier than expected, started laying eggs at 5 months. The eggs are very small in the beginning and gradually grow in size over the period of a year, up to jumbo size eggs. Currently we are marveling at how the eggs are elongating and gradually getting larger week by week.

One important thing we learned were the ratio of cockerels to hens, which shouldn't be more than one per 5-6 hens. We had two cockerels, one of which was very good looking and had a very big mouth. He crowed so much, all day long, that for the sake of the neighbors we selected him to slaughter. He was a special Czechoslovakian breed, famous for the floppy red comb and constant crowing. Now we have just one cockerel, who is a quiet fellow, probably scared to make too much noise for fear of meeting the same fate of his buddy.

Another extremely important lesson, which was not in our chicken book, was about the bloody egg. One day the girls came in with a bloody egg. The next day, they came with another, bloodier than the first. It simply had a few streaks of blood on the shell. I made a note to look it up and see if it was a problem. However, by the third day, a hen was dying after being attacked by the other birds. Despite our efforts, she died before we could even slaughter her. I looked up the issue of the bloody egg and learned that it is normal when hens are first laying or when their eggs are increasing in size, to have streaks of blood on their eggs. However, if the eggs continue to be bloody in the ensuing days, then it means the hen isn't healing. She will go off her feed and water and the other chickens will, in a cut-throat way, attack her. It really is survival of the fittest in the world of chickens! After this, we have watched closely if a bloody egg has turned up, to ensure that it doesn't persist. We have had two occasions when there has been a bloody egg, but just for one day and then nothing else.

In the event of seeing a bloody egg two days in a row, the chickens vents must be inspected to see which one is bloody. That chicken must be removed immediately from the rest and put separately in a cage with its own water and feed supply. Then the chicken will be able to heal without the others attacking it and can be returned to the others when it is fully recovered.

Now, our 6 and 9 year old girls take care of the chickens. They go out once or twice a day to fill up their feed, add grit to it when needed, change their water, give them whatever scraps and pulp we have for them, and gather the eggs, mashaa'Allah. It is going very easily and well and we are feeling much more comfortable and confident about raising chickens on our farm in the future, mashaa'Allah.

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