Sour Crop in Chickens

Chickens are pretty resilient creatures but sometimes they get sick. Many times, by the time you see the signs they’ve actually been sick for a while. One thing that can be fairly common is a condition called Sour Crop…and yes, it’s kind of as gross as it sounds.

What is a Crop?

Before finding out what Sour Crop is you first need to know what the crop is and what it does. Alright now prepare yourself because I’m about to get all science-y on you.

The crop is a pouch-like organ that is very important to the digestive process and it is found at the end of the esophagus in the upper part of the chest.

If you ever see a chicken with a big baseball shaped protrusion in their chest that’s a full chicken! That means she was gorging on plenty of yummy treats. That’s a happy chicken! Yay! The girl below definitely has had a good day!

brown chicken

Once a chicken eats it goes first into the crop to wait for the digestion process to begin. Think of the crop as a waiting room in a doctor’s office. When the nurse calls you back you will go through a hallway. For a chicken this “hallway” is the proventriculus which is a rod-shaped organ located between the crop and the gizzard.

The proventriculus or glandular stomach is where digestive enzymes are released to begin the digestion process. Hydrochloric acid and enzymes then break down the food further than the initial salivary enzymes.

Then what? Well, after the nurse finishes walking you down the hall you are led to the exam room. This poultry “exam room” is called the gizzard. Once the partially broken-down food reaches the gizzard it is ready to be fully digested.

The gizzard is where the chicken, or any bird, grinds down the food into a paste with the help of grit. Grit are tiny rocks and it’s something that chickens naturally eat as they free range. If your chickens do not free range (and sometimes even if they do depending on the environment) you will need to supplement with grit.

 

chicken-grit

Grit helps aid in the grinding of food in the gizzard. Since chickens don’t have teeth you can picture this grit as the tiny teeth that grind up their food. It’s essential for their health so their bodies can function the way they are meant to.

So, when does all this happen you may be wondering? This whole process from crop to gizzard typically takes place at night while the chicken is roosting. When they wake up in the morning they should have empty crops and need to go out and refill them throughout the day.

What is Sour Crop?

Are you overwhelmed by all the science yet? I sure hope not since I’m not nearly done. Lol.

Now that you understand a bit better how the chicken digests its food you can get a better grasp on diagnosing and treating sour crop.

So, what is sour crop?

Sour crop is actually a yeast infection in the crop. Yes, a yeast infection! A buildup of bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria cause the crop to stop functioning properly. Since a chicken doesn’t have a gag reflex the crop will just fill up and can eventually cause death.

Sadly, we have recently lost a chicken to sour crop. We diagnosed it too late and by the time we started treatment it had gone untreated too long and she passed away. RIP Ladybug! You were such a sweet girl!

This buildup of bad bacteria is yet another reason why we’re in the process of coming up with our own feed recipe. Many of the commercial feed companies add yeast to their food. Why, you ask? There’s a tax break that these large companies get for adding it to their products. All this added yeast, however, ends up causing issues in the flock.

Terrible, isn’t it?

How to Identify Sour Crop?

Does your chicken have sour crop? How can you tell? The easiest way to check would be to wait until morning before they’ve been able to eat anything. Nighttime is when the chicken innards are hard at work! The crop empties and the gizzard digests the food so when you check a chicken’s crop in the morning it should be flat and empty.

Because most of us don’t usually check every chicken crop on a daily basis, sometimes you can end up missing that particular sign for a while which will then lead to other more noticeable symptoms.

“Ewww what stinks?” Well that could be your chicken’s breath. Yuck!

There’s a reason they call it sour crop. It has a sour smell to it because all the food has been sitting, fermenting and not moving toward the gizzard.

Thankfully when Ladybug got sour crop, I was sick and my nose was stuffed up. Couldn’t smell a thing. The rest of my family did though. Ha ha! Most of the time I hate being sick, but this was not one of those times. Lol.

Some other things you’d want to watch out for would be lethargy, diarrhea, drowsiness or loss of appetite. Once you notice any of these things you should definitely isolate your chicken so you can keep an eye on them better.

How to Treat Sour Crop

Giving your chicken probiotics will help to break down the yeast infection that is causing sour crop. For us, we chose to empty the crop by massaging and holding her at a downward angle to force regurgitation. You MUST be very careful because there is a risk of the chicken aspirating if you don’t hold them downward.

Yes, it’s gross. Believe me I know, but I felt I needed to empty her crop so the probiotics could start breaking down the little bit that still remained in her crop. You can give Greek yogurt since it’s loaded with probiotics. I did that and also took a small syringe and put crushed probiotics mixed with water and gave it to her orally. She hated it. Lol.

Prevention is Key!

Knowing how to treat is great but your best bet is prevention. Make sure your flock always has access to clean fresh water. Providing access to grit, which helps to grind and break down their food, will allow their digestive process to continue to work properly.

Sprinkling their water with probiotics will help to keep their crop from developing a yeast infection. Apple Cider Vinegar is also a great preventative measure to take. Use ¼ cup for every gallon of water on a weekly basis and it will prove to be very beneficial for your flock.

Hopefully, you never have a chicken with sour crop but if you do these tips will help your chicken feeling their normal self in no time!

Happy Homesteading & Stay Cuckoo!

Chicken Basics – What Do They Really Need?

Chickens, like any other living being, have basic needs that need to be met to live a happy fulfilled life. These days, however, the majority of chickens live in deplorable conditions and only have their very basic of needs met: food & water.

What do chickens need to be happy, though?

Water

Food & water for sure! Chickens drink and eat constantly. A laying hen requires plenty of water even more so than roosters or non-laying hens because an egg, which is 85% water, is taken from the hen. She will need to replenish this water, so she doesn’t become dehydrated.

All chickens will need easy access to fresh water. For us, we actually have a few small troughs that have floats with a hose attached so any time the water gets below the float line it automatically refills.

chickens drinking water

I highly recommend this because it reduces the risk of your feather babies running out of water and becoming dehydrated. We also keep our waterers in the shade to help slow the growth of algae which happens very quickly in direct sunlight.

How much do they drink, you may wonder? On average, adult chickens will drink around ½ liter of water a day. It may not seem like they’d drink that much because they just take small sips throughout the day. They’re not lapping up water like a dog might, but they do drink quite a bit for their size. This is why, in my opinion, it’s better to have some kind of automatic waterer so they never run the risk of running out.

I can’t tell you have many times I’ve gone to check their bell waterer and it’s either filled with hay/dirt, knocked over or it was on an uneven surface and quickly leaked out without you even realizing it. Ugh!!

No matter how many times I tell the chickens where the hose is to refill it themselves, they refuse to do it. They always tell me it’s because they don’t have hands, but I just think they’re being lazy!

Oh, in case you haven’t noticed I speak fluent chicken. Color you impressed?

Food

What about food? That’s more of a personal decision. No, not whether or not you feed them. That you have to do obviously. What you feed them is what you’ll need to decide.

Personally, we feed organic, non-gmo feed because it’s important to me that their diet is high quality. High quality feed equals high quality eggs. You get what you give and that’s evident in the color and taste of our eggs.

That being said, there are a billion different options for chicken feed and you will need to do your own research to find what’s best for your budget and the quality of your flock.

Currently, I’m in the process of researching how to make our own feed since we have a million chickens. Ha! Feed sure does get costly when you have a large flock like we do. For a smaller flock it’s fine to buy the commercial feed but I’ll be sure to keep you posted when I finalize what our DIY feed will consist of.

Environment

Chickens, although domesticated, are naturally curious and tend to test their boundaries. This is why it is essential that they have a safe environment that they can explore and forage. They’ll also need some sort of enclosure at night to be safeguarded against nighttime predators.

Our chickens have plenty of land to free range, even though the stinkers still try to get over to the neighbor’s yard! Nothing frustrates me more than when I see one random chicken walking on the WRONG side of the fence. I keep trying to find how they are getting over there but they’re sneaky little boogers.

Our neighbors aren’t complaining though: FREE EGGS for them! 🙂

A chicken’s typical day consists of eating, drinking, eating, preening, eating, dust bathing, eating. Did I mention eating? They spend most of the day scratching around looking for bugs and other yummy things to eat.

Tough life, huh?

Well actually it can be, especially for pastured chickens. They are prone to predator attacks. We know this to be a possibility and although we do our best to deter predators, we’d rather our chickens live a free life than to be enclosed 24/7 to avoid the risk of a predator.

Predators are another reason we have a coop that is elevated off the ground. It gives our feathery friends a way to escape the view of a hawk. Chickens are so smart and can spot the shadow of a hawk on the ground. When this happens it’s a rooster’s job to alert the flock to danger.

I’ve seen it happen and it’s awesome to watch. A hawk will fly overhead, cast a shadow on the ground below and suddenly the rooster will make a certain noise (that doesn’t seem to sound any different from their other noises – to me at least) and BOOM all the chickens run for cover! They’ll wait a little bit and then the rooster will alert them when the coast is clear.

Amazing, right?

This is why I’m a big believer in roosters. They take their jobs very seriously! They even alert the flock when there’s food. It’s so sweet. I’ll put some food on the ground for them to eat and then our roosters will make some little noises and peck at the ground, but they don’t eat. They’re actually pointing with their beaks to the food. Then the hens run over and start eating. When they’ve gotten their fill, then the roosters will begin eating!

It’s the equivalent of them pulling out their ladies’ chairs at dinner. Such gentlemen. Lol!

“What if I don’t allow my chickens to free range all day long?” That’s a valid question. We have always chosen to free range because we try to give our chickens the most natural life that they can have, but I understand that’s not always a viable option for people.

If you need to keep your chickens enclosed during the day then I would suggest not to have too many since you’ll want about 10 square feet per chicken. If you have a lot of chickens, you’d need a really large enclosure in order for them to be happy. More space is always better if you can swing it though, because not having enough space can lead to major issues like stress, pecking and even cannibalism.

These issues can also cause your egg production to go way down and nobody likes that!

Their environment has a lot to do with their quality of life and if they don’t feel happy it will show in a number of ways. Since chickens are natural foragers another great option if you are unable to allow them to free range is to have a portable run. Many people have them on wheels that allow the chickens to be moved to fresh grass often so they can stay healthy and happy.

Flock of Friends

Chickens are social creatures. They may be skittish around people, but they love to have friends. If you are thinking of getting one chicken then I’d suggest doubling it at least. The chickens that play together stay together.

Seriously, though, if you’ve ever watched chickens, they’ll dust bathe in groups, eat in groups, sleep in groups. They do everything together. This togetherness helps them to feel safe as well. Safety in numbers after all! Predators, especially, birds of prey will swoop down and grab a lone chicken walking around.

If you’ve decided you don’t have enough chickens, which is ALWAYS the case, and want to get more you’ll want to introduce them slowly to your current flock. Putting them together too quickly can cause a lot of fighting and possibly injury. Once a pecking order has been established, you will see them doing everything together. It’s really adorable, actually. Even when they all run away from me together! 

Health & Wellness

For the most part as long has chickens are fed and watered and have clean environments, they’re very low maintenance. Preventative care is a huge part of this though. For us we like to clean our coops at LEAST every other week but most of the time we clean weekly. Currently, we use hay for our bedding but have plans in the future to try the deep litter method which allows you to clean about once a year! Sounds amazing!!

In order to keep your coop clean you may also want to give thought to spreading dried herbs (moist herbs can grow mold) in with the bedding.  Flies are attracted to the poop in the coop and there are many natural ways to deter these pests. The following herbs are great insect repellants:

  • Rosemary
  • Catnip
  • Peppermint
  • Mint
  • Lavender

Essential oils can also be a great natural way to keep your chickens healthy. Many different oils have different benefits. Below are a few that you may find helpful:

  • Neem oil – helps with mites
  • Oregano oil – used as antiviral/antibiotic
  • Thieves oil – mixed with Epsom salt bath is used for bumblefoot

There are plenty of commercial medications, but I prefer to stick to a more natural approach especially since we eat the eggs regularly. If we do have to medicate, we usually give shots to our chicken for a series of several days of Tylan 50. And when I say we I mean my husband because I’m too chicken (ha ha!) to do it myself. He’s my hero!

Chickens also need a good supply of calcium. Laying eggs requires calcium to produce. A great FREE way to replenish their calcium levels is just to crush up their egg shells and feed them back to the chickens.

When I make breakfast for my family of four I can easily make 8 eggs. After we enjoy our yummy eggs, I take the eggshells and crush them up and toss them to the chickens. They’re so funny when they grab a bigger piece and run around trying to eat it before any of the other chickens can steal it out of their mouth. Silly chickens!

Chickens make awesome pets because they are fairly low maintenance and so much fun to watch! Knowing their basic needs can help you to make the right decisions for your flock to ensure their happiness and contentment. Following the basics above will help with the overall wellness of your feather babies. Now go out and buy some chickens!

Happy Homesteading & Stay Cuckoo!

Egg Carton Labeling – What Do The Different Terms Mean?

Grade AA, A, B. Cage Free. Free Range. Organic. Vegetarian Fed. Pastured.

What does it all mean? Well for those of you that think that cage free and free range eggs means the chickens are frolicking in the meadow, I’ve got some bad news for you. It doesn’t.

store-bought-egg-cartons

Egg Grades

Grade AA, A & B. Your eggs are graded. Grade AA means they aced the algebra exam. Those are some smart eggs! Kidding! Grading doesn’t mean how they did on a test it actually means checking the interior by using the candling method. Candling is using a light to shine inside the egg to examine the egg white, air cell and yolk. You can see below how they’ll qualify for each grade.

egg grading chart

Egg Sizing

There are five different categories for the sizing of eggs. When calculating the sizing the average weight is taken rather than individual egg size. The chart below shows how to size them according to industry standards.

Large, extra large and jumbo eggs are the most popular because everyone enjoys getting more for their money! Duh! When we package our eggs I usually do a mix of large and medium and some jumbo (although they don’t always fit very well in the carton). I mix them mainly because different colored eggs come in different sizes so it’s inevitable when packaging up rainbow eggs.

Standard Eggs

“I’m not picky with my eggs, I just buy the cheapest ones.” If it’s not labeled as anything special and they’re the cheapest eggs you can find in the store, then you can be sure that those chickens lead a very sad life. The picture below shows just how sad. 

caged chickens

These hens live their whole life in a cage only big enough for them to fit. They eat, sleep, poop and lay eggs all while in this cage. So next time you think about saving money on eggs just think of where they came from. It’s an awful life they lead and doesn’t make for very tasty eggs either. This is acceptable according to the government. Yet another reason why I don’t trust when the government says something is good for us, because this picture qualifies and it’s repulsive.

If you ever wondered why most of the eggs in the U.S. are white it’s because the breed they use, white leghorns, lay almost an egg a day which means more money for these chicken farmers. Ever wondered why brown eggs are slightly more expensive? No, it’s not because they are “healthier”. Although my husband would beg to differ since he plays a video game that gives him more health for a brown egg. Go figure. The real reason? It’s actually because the brown eggs layers they use don’t lay quite as often as white leghorns. Less eggs per chicken equals more money you pay.

So, what do all those special labels mean? Alright, let me break it down for you.

Cage Free

So, you want happier chickens that aren’t stuck in a cage their whole life? Then naturally you’ll want cage free eggs, right? Well only if cage free actually meant what you thought it did. So, what does it mean…really?

Cage Free, a USDA term, means that come from hens that are not caged. Sounds good, right? Well depends on where that lack of cage leaves them. Sadly, it’s doesn’t mean roaming the meadows. To qualify for this “cage free” term they must be able to roam freely in an enclosed building with unlimited access to food and water. It is NOT required that they be allowed to roam outside.

Knowing that it’s all a money game I know that this means they are cramming as many chickens in this enclosure as possible. They are all crowded in together and pecking each other too. That’s what chickens do. If they are too close with no way out, I don’t even want to imagine how awful that is for them. At least when they are in a cage, they are by themselves and aren’t being attacked by any other chickens.

As you can see from the picture it’s not a cozy place for a chicken. Remember the term “pecking order”? Well it’s a real thing and chickens have one. With thousands of chickens all in the same building without enough room it’s going to be brutal. Chickens can be extremely savage and even cannibalistic. I don’t have to spell it out for you, do I? Yikes!

Free Range

Free Range, yet another USDA term, means that the hens have POTENTIAL access to the outdoors. Well, what the heck does that mean? It means that a door to the outside exists and that the farmer could potentially open the door for them allowing them outside access but doesn’t necessarily actually open it. Basically, it means the same as cage free, honestly. It’s not a much better situation for them, if at all.

free range chickens

Even if they do have access and are able to go outside the conditions aren’t really enjoyable for them. It’s typically a small patch of concrete and not a nice pasture for them to roam and find bugs and do chicken things. Really, what’s the difference of them being caged or free range?

They still don’t have any freedom. They don’t get to sunbathe, get a nice dust bath, hunt for bugs, scratch in the dirt or any of the other things that chickens instinctively do.

However, there are humane farms out there that do treat the chickens well and let them “free-range” as they should. These farms care more about the animal rather than barely complying with the law just so they can label as free range and charge more. When buying your free range eggs just do a quick google search to check out the farm and see if they are actually free ranging or just simply in compliance with the law.

Organic

Organic can be a tricky label. I heard a comedian once say, “Organic is a grocery term meaning more expensive”. He was right! Eggs sold as organic should be 100% fed organic feed. They can be given water additives and vitamins/minerals but those must be approved according to the FDA requirements.

That being said when I was researching a new chicken feed I spoke to the owner of the company and asked him why his feed wasn’t labeled as organic since it was labeled as non-gmo. The answer I received was shocking to say the least. He told me that he submitted for organic labeling and it went through testing. When he got the tests back, he looked for glyphosate and didn’t see it. He called to inquire about it and they told him that they didn’t test for glyphosate! The dangerous chemical that has been linked to cancer that is found in Roundup isn’t tested for?

How can that be? After that he decided not to further test his product to have it officially labeled as “organic” since he realized it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

Vegetarian Fed

Are chickens vegetarians? If they are it’s not by choice! Chickens are omnivores meaning they eat a plant and animal based diet. Many companies these days boast about having eggs from vegetarian-fed chickens. To the uninformed consumer, that may sound great especially if that person is a vegetarian themselves (one who eats eggs of course). If a chicken is on a vegetarian diet they are mostly consuming corn and soybeans. Yummy…NOT!

vegetarian-fed-eggs

Maybe you have chickens and this is old news but if you don’t know much about chickens, know this: Chickens eat everything! Bugs, worms, and even small animals. They eat plants and any leftovers you might have! They’re nature’s garbage disposal. LOL.

Putting chickens on a vegetarian based diet is not only cruel but can have disastrous consequences to their health. This kind of diet tends to fall short of an the essential protein-based amino acid known as methionine, and without it, they can get really sick. Another downside is if they’re in a cage free or free range environment it can quickly turn deadly. Chickens have been known to start eating each other in desperate attempts to get the nutrients their body needs.

So, when you see a label that says vegetarian-fed, please don’t think that means it’s healthier or superior. It’s not and if anything is far worse than anything else they could be fed.

Pastured

Drum Roll Please! Ta-Da! These are the eggs that you thought you’ve been buying when purchasing cage free or free range. These chickens actually get to be real chickens. Scratch and peck the ground, dust bathe, catch bugs, lay eggs comfortably.

Yay for these chickens, right? Look how happy!

pastured chickens

Pasture raised is not a USDA term, because really did those standards meet your own? Nope, mine either. While “pastured” isn’t a term used by any government agency (I tend to trust the term more because it doesn’t!), a non-profit certification organization called Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) has created their own standards for which eggs will qualify as pastured.

Their standards are that adult birds are kept on pasture 12 months of the year,

in an outside area that is mainly covered with living vegetation. The birds have access to the pasture through exits from fixed or mobile houses, and covered verandas if present. They are kept indoors at night for protection from predators, but it is prohibited to keep them continually indoors 24 hours per day without access to pasture for more than 14 consecutive days. The minimum outdoor space requirement is 2.5 acres (1 hectare) per 1000 birds to meet the Animal Care Standards for Pasture Raised.

Cuckoo Farms chickens qualify based on these standards! We haven’t submitted an application but it’s nice to know that we more than comply with their strict standards. Although we have 100 birds on 10 acres so according to their standards I could get another 3900 chickens!

WOW!!

Something to think about…I’ll have to mention that to my husband. 😉

Now that you have a bit more insight on what labeling means it’ll allow you to make a more educated decision on what you’re buying. Not everyone cares what kind of eggs they get. That’s fine. That’s used to be me too. Once I found out the different conditions I realized how we’ve been tricked into false beliefs by tricky labeling. Now, at least, you’ll know what to buy based on clear understanding. Farm fresh eggs will always taste better though because they’re so much fresher than store bought eggs as you’ll remember from a previous post on how old store bought eggs really are.  

So, what kind of eggs do you buy? Drop a comment and let me know!

Happy Homesteading & Stay Cuckoo!

Carton Labeling Terms Defined

From Chicks to Laying Hens: How Much Does It Cost?

Chirp chirp chirp. The soft little chirping of chicks is so adorable. Happy little chirping all the time. And when they sleep? Even cuter. They pass out, sometimes they even look dead. I’ve poked many chicks in the past to doublecheck they were still breathing only to startle them awake. Oops. Those startled chirps aren’t so happy. Maybe I should’ve put a little mirror in front of their beak to see if it fogged up. Hmm…I’ll remember that for next time.

Chicks are adorable but what if you really just want a hen to lay eggs? How long will it take to get from the chick to the laying hen? That can take a bit of time. What will you be getting yourself into? Let’s start at the beginning.

 “Chicks Days” at Tractor Supply: the happiest time of the year for me and plenty of other crazy chicken ladies out there! You walk in, everyone is so happy, you hear the happy chirps coming from somewhere in the store. Frantically searching, you finally find them. All is right in the world.

They’re so cute and you just have to have them. By the time you get them from the local feed store they’re between 1-3 days. As they get older, they start to offer them for a discount too! $1 chicks, anyone?

Chicks Next to Eggs

You’ll need the basics like I discussed in this article. Chicks are pretty needy at this stage. So maybe you are now counting the days until the chick lays an egg. So how long do you have to wait?

Good question!

The answer? It depends. Ugh, don’t you hate when you don’t get a straight answer? Me, too. So, I’m not going to leave you hanging but it really does depend. The breed is the deciding factor.

On average chickens will begin laying eggs about 5-6 months old. This will seem like an eternity! Especially if you decided to get chicks at a couple days old. Because it will depend on the breed below are a list of breeds and their average laying age so you can decide which chicken breed is right for you.

  • Plymouth Rock: 16-20 weeks
  • Barnevelder: 28 weeks
  • Australorp: 16-18 weeks
  • Naked Neck: 6 months
  • Orpington: 6 months
  • Silkie: 7-9 months
  • Rhode Island Red: 18-20 weeks
  • Leghorn: 16-18 weeks
  • Frizzle: 22 weeks
  • Belgian d’Uccle: 5-7 months
  • Polish: 5 months
  • Cochin: 5 months
  • Sussex: 20 weeks
  • Araucana: 5-6 months
  • Wyandotte: 18-22 weeks
  • Faverolle: 6-7 months
  • Maran: 7-9 months

As you can see there’s a wide range of ages that different breeds will begin laying. If you are wanting chickens for egg laying purposes specifically then you’ll want to choose a breed from above that will lay sooner than others.

Many of your local chicken breeders will sell older pullets, which is a great option if you’d prefer to skip the chick phase. That means more ROI (return on investment) because you will have less feed cost before they start producing.

I chose this option when buying my Marans, although they do cost more since the breeder had to incur the cost to raise them from chicks. For example, a chick will cost up to about $5 each whereas an older pullet that is close to or of laying age will cost you around $10-30 each.

So how much will a chick cost you from day old to lay old? Well like I said it depends, but they average 1/2lb to 1lb of feed a week per bird. When they are very young, they eat closer to 1/4lb a week per chick slowly increasing to approximately 1lb when they reach a few months old.

We personally feed non-gmo, organic feed pellets with a mixture of wild bird seed and supplement with bugs. Since I have around 100 chickens, I go through about 110lbs of feed a week and spend $94 every two weeks. Crazy, right? That breaks down to $6.71 per day for my flock which adds up quickly. There are cheaper options for sure and we plan to begin making our own feed so we can maintain quality while also trying to save a bit on feed costs.

Another way to save money on feed is to grow your own feeder bugs like crickets or mealworms. They are very low maintenance and low cost to raise which helps to counteract buying store bought feeds. I’ll talk more about this in a later post so stay tuned.

mealworms

So, there you have it! Like I mentioned earlier there are a lot of variables when it comes to costs of raising chicks to laying hens but now you have a better understanding of how you can cut costs by choosing chicken breeds that will lay sooner, buying laying hens instead of chicks and feed options.

Which option will you choose? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy Homesteading & Stay Cuckoo!

How Much It Costs From Chick to Egg

How Old Are Store Bought Eggs?

Chickens lay eggs, everyone knows this. Then they are packaged and sent to the store where you buy them. All in the span of a few days! Amazing, right? Well it would be if it were true. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Below are a few facts about the egg laws you may not know, mainly because we never think to question it. We assume the FDA has our best interests at heart, but I’d sure be careful with that kind of thinking or you’ll be severely disappointed. Lisa Steele of Fresh Eggs Daily is a great expert and provided some very insightful info.

Not So Fun Facts...

  • By law, an egg can be sold for up to 30 days after the date it was packaged
  • Farmers have up to 30 days to go from when the egg is laid to the carton
  • Eggs are up to 60 days old by the time they reach the grocery store
  • The FDA doesn’t require an expiration date (although each state can have its own regulations)

It’s a little scary to think that the rules are so relaxed when it comes to eggs that we consume, especially for how common a food it is. In the U.S. the average person eats approximately 280 eggs per year. That averages to about 95 million dozen eggs a year! Want even more math? That’s over 1.14 BILLION eggs a year! Holy Yolks, Batman! That’s a lot of chickens laying a lot of eggs.

In our house we probably (or definitely!) eat more than that. My husband alone will eat half a dozen hardboiled eggs for a snack. When I make deviled eggs, my son will easily eat 4 or 5 eggs…to clarify that’s 8-10 halves.  We’re a family of 4 but easily go through 2-3 dozen eggs a week…if I actually get around to cooking. Ha!

Since we eat so many eggs it really makes us feel so much better to know how fresh our eggs actually are, especially with the fairly lax rules on egg packaging/delivery time frames. So, if you’re not disturbed too much by the age of the grocery store eggs, I can try harder if you’d like. I have a couple of family members (who shall remain nameless) that either are or were truck drivers and both have told me some scary things about times they’ve hauled eggs in the past.

Unfortunately, I can’t share that info.

Just kidding, I wouldn’t leave you hangin’ like that. The first story was that egg shipments that were past the expiration date were just rerouted back to the factory and repackaged with new dates. Yes, seriously! So that could easily mean the eggs you’re eating are 90-120 days old. Yikes!

The other egg hauling story was probably even worse than the first. Eggs are shipped in refrigerated trucks due to regulations requiring the temperature be kept at 45° to safeguard against bacteria growth. Sounds great, right? Well as long as the refrigeration is kept ON the whole time. Kinda important! Apparently, refrigerated trucks make a lot of noise and after pulling off to hang out with some friends this driver decided to just shut the truck off for a few hours.

It’s ok though I’m sure no one died from bad eggs…I hope.

What’s the point? Well, mainly my point would be that we don’t know where any of our food comes from even with regulations in place to try to prevent contamination. But don’t get me started on that or I’ll never shut up!

How Do I Know How Fresh My Eggs Are?

Now you’re probably wondering ‘how would I check the freshness?’ Good question!

The float test is a great way to test the freshness. This picture shows how to tell the difference between a fresh egg and an old egg when placed in a bowl of water.

  • A fresh egg lays flat on its side
  • An older egg will start to tilt upwards as it ages
  • An old/bad egg will float
Egg Float Test

Why does this test work? It’s actually pretty simple but effective!

In a fresh laid egg there is a very small air pocket, so it has little or no buoyancy allowing it to lay on its side. As the egg gets older, the air pocket becomes larger causing it to raise. When the air pocket gets to a certain size, the egg will float.

The smell test is another tried and true method. If you crack open the egg and it smells, it’s rotten. THROW IT AWAY!

Last one to the grocery store is a rotten egg…literally!

Lesson here?

If you want fresh eggs your best bet is to buy from a farmers market or my favorite choice: get your own chickens! At least then you’d know where your eggs are coming from and how fresh they are. Nothing beats the taste of fresh eggs! Yummy!

Happy Homesteading & Stay Cuckoo!

9 Important Decisions Before You Get Chickens

You’ve decided that you are ready for chickens….what next?

There are several things you’ll want to do before you actually buy any chickens. I know, I know….you want them now! Although they are very easy, you will still want to be prepared so you can begin immediately posting your chicken pictures all over Instagram.

Below are 9 important decisions to make before you get chickens.

Chicks or Chickens: Which Should You Choose?

Which came first? The chicken or the egg? No, I’m not trying to get into an evolutionary debate, I’m asking which will come first for you. The first decision you’ll need to make for your chicken adventures will be to start with chicks (the egg) or teen/grown chickens (the chicken).

#1 Chicks

Chicks, of course! Just kidding. Chicks are so adorable, though aren’t they? I love them! Their baby chirps, their little beaks, their cute fluffiness, their little legs, even their little chick poops. Yes, I even love their little baby chick poops but I’m a little on the crazy side so…

However, chicks are like babies…no you don’t have to nurse them. That would be weird. Stop being weird. They just require more care than an older chicken. Makes sense. Just like a newborn takes a lot of attention and care so do chicks. Whereas when they become teenagers, you embarrass them with your mere presence just like human teenagers.

Ok so maybe they aren’t embarrassed by your presence so much as deathly afraid even though you’ve been caring for them their whole lives!

Never before have you harmed them but this one time you just may try to kill them, so they run away screaming in panic.

Actually a lot of that fear depends on how much you handled them as chicks and also what breed they are. Some breeds are more skittish while others can be very friendly and let you hold them. Those get more treats from mama! I reward their sweet behavior. Either that or I’m bribing them to come near me more often. Tomato, tomahto!

So, what exactly do you need to get started with chicks?

#2 Chick Brooder

First, you will need an enclosure aka brooder, something that has a lid preferably for when they start to get a bit flighty and try to “fly the coop”, get it? I just love puns.

Baby Chicks in Bluebonnets

When we get chicks, we keep ours inside so we can regulate their temperature better. If you live in a colder environment this will be important.

You don’t necessarily have to keep them inside because it can get a bit smelly, but if they’re going to be outside, make sure you can keep the temperature inside their enclosure warm enough and in a place not exposed to any kind of draft.

A garage or barn (again with no draft) are also great options for avoiding the smell inside your home.

Once the decision is made of where they’ll live for the next several weeks, you’ll next need to figure out which brooder you plan to get. You can buy any variety of brooders online or at your local feed store, build one yourself, or DIY one – which is what I’ve done.

Ducklings in a horse trough brooder

At our feed store they put the baby chicks and ducks into a large horse trough. Getting something like that makes sense if you plan to have a lot of chicks (which I always think is awesome – the more the merrier, right?). You’ll need to make sure you get one big enough for the amount of chicks you plan to get because they grow very fast.

In fact, they will typically double their weight four to five times in the first six weeks.

Yes, really!

Keep that in mind when selecting the size. While they may have plenty of room as week-old chicks, that won’t be case in a month and having to buy another brooder is an unnecessary expense. So, start with the right size from the start.

If you are a decent carpenter, you can always build one. I met a family that had built their own that looked similar to rabbit hutches. They had a lid that lifted up and metal screen on the top and all sides. Very efficient.

I’m just not great at building things so I chose to DIY one out of a large storage tote. I bought a tote from Walmart with a lid. I cut a large opening into the lid and used nuts and bolts to connect metal screen to the lid. Super easy and affordable. You want to put metal screen because if you choose to use a heat lamp it will be resting on this screen and anything besides the metal will melt.

#3 Chick Temperature

In order for your chicks to grow properly you will want to make sure that their temperature is kept warm enough according to their age. The chart below will help to show how warm to keep their brooder at each advancing week. Newborn chicks will need the temperature to be approximately 95 degrees and it gradually declines until they turn about 6 weeks old.

Baby Chick Temperature Chart

The bulbs that I have seen recommended are typically 250 watt bulbs. In my experience these are too hot. We actually get reptile heat lamps that are 75-100 watt on a variable switch so we can turn down the heat as they start to grow. Works like a charm!

Be very careful with heat lamps as they can be dangerous and could cause a fire. I’d strongly suggest an alternative especially since you are a newbie. Heat plates are awesome and don’t pose the same risk as a heat lamp does. You are also able to raise the plate higher (they are on pegs) as they get older to reduce the temperature.

Chickens are very smart and it’s no different when they’re babies. Chicks will tell you if you’re screwing things up for them. They’re mouthy little things.

Your babies will give you signs if something is wrong with their home.

If they’re spread out around the edge of their enclosure the temperature is most likely too hot for them. Easy fix. Just lower the temperature by either buying a lower wattage lamp or turning the heat down on the variable switch. If you’re using a heat plate, it’s time to raise it up.

If they’re all huddled together under the heat lamp it’s probably not warm enough and you’ll want to lower your heat plate or turn up the heat. They’ll chirp noisily too if they’re cold. This is them looking for their warm mommy to huddle under.

Smart little boogers, aren’t they?

The chicks can begin going outside during the day to become acclimated at about 6 weeks as long as the weather is warm and the temperature is above 55 degrees.

Oh, they’re so adorable when they first get outside too. They’re so curious and they start scratching around looking for bugs and other goodies. So precious! If the weather is warm enough, I let ours out for about 15-20 min at about 3 weeks old or so. Not long enough for them to get cold but enough for them to feel a sense of freedom.

We live in Texas so “warm enough” isn’t really a concern for us. It feels like we live under a constant heat lamp. Ha!

#4 Chick Feed

There are a few other elements you’ll need inside the brooder: food, water and bedding. There are a few options for feed. Personally, we choose to use a medicated chick starter feed. Medicated feed helps chicks to combat coccidiosis which is a disease that is very common and found in almost every environment.

Most of the medicated feeds contain amprollium which, although it doesn’t treat coccidiosis, helps the chicks to fight off coccidial oocysts while their immunity is built up. Though that is something we personally feed, you can always feed non-medicated feed.

I strongly encourage everyone to do their own research and make the right decisions for your own flock.

Whichever feed you choose, chicks should continue to eat starter chick feed and be transitioned to layer formula once they reach about 18 weeks old.

#5 Chick Water

Now that you’ve made your decisions on feed the next thing to think about is water.

Water is completely optional.

Kidding! Your chicks will need access to plenty of water. Waterers are very affordable, especially the small plastic ones, but I will warn you that anything on the floor of the brooder will end up constantly dirty!

I like to elevate ours a little because while the chicks scratch around they toss bedding and end up filling their waterer causing it to clog up. Cue noisy chirps again! I’ll usually put a little wooden block down to elevate it just a bit. As they get bigger, I typically raise it again because their scratching gets more aggressive.

#6 Chick Bedding

For bedding you can use a variety of things, but we’ve always used pine shavings. Tractor Supply carries a big bale of it for less than $10, which will last you a while. You’ll want to avoid cedar shavings since the oil is harmful to chickens to all ages. In the future I may try hemp bedding which is all the rage right now. I’ve got to find out what all the fuss is about.

Chicks poop a lot. Yes, I’m sure that’s common sense but I thought I’d reiterate that fact. Because of this you’ll want to change out the shavings regularly. We usually change them once or twice a week especially because the smell can get…well…smelly.

But oh, how adorable they are! I love the chick phase. I love the sounds they make and how their chicken instincts are so strong even at such a young age.

That being said…

#7 Chickens

Chicks are a lot of work! I know it more than most. At one time I had about 55 chicks in my house. No, I didn’t accidentally hit the number 5 twice…I actually had 55 chicks inside my house. It was heaven….and hell.

I don’t plan to repeat the process any time soon. Well at least not until Chick Days comes around again at the feed stores. What can I say? I have no will power.

White Leghorn Chicks

If you’ve decided to skip over the chick phase I don’t blame you a bit. There’s about five months (if not more) of feeding, watering and cleaning before you get a return on your investment….i.e. eggs. Depending on the feed and bedding you buy that can be hundreds of dollars. I saw a post recently on a chicken group where someone held their first chicken egg and said “This egg cost me $5,000”

I admit that made me laugh quite a bit because I could totally relate! It’s truly a labor of love raising chicks.

Side note: If you choose to get broiler chicks then you’ll only have about 8 weeks of feeding, watering and cleaning before processing.

Many chicken breeders will sell 8 week old chicks that are “outside-ready”. This is a great option because you skip the high maintenance chick phase but still get them before they’re full grown. This also ensures you don’t miss any prime egg laying years.

If you end up getting full grown chickens that are already laying, it’s best to try to find out how old they are. Hopefully the current owner can give you a good idea. Although I’ve rescued plenty of chickens, which is always a great thing to do if you are able. I love the feeling of being able to give any animal a good home. One such chicken I rescued was posted on a local neighborhood group. She was a beautiful barred rock and when I picked her up, she was tied to a bar in their yard. No food or water within reach.

Poor girl. She was so happy to come to our 10 acre farm. We named her Pretty Girl and we gave her a wonderful free-range life.

She acclimated very easily as chickens do. Getting fully grown or near grown chickens is a great option for you especially if you don’t have a lot of free time (or just prefer a low maintenance chicken experience). Other than regular coop cleaning your chickens are pretty self-sufficient.

Chickens need the same things as chicks: food, water and bedding. The only real difference is you don’t have to worry about temperature except in extreme highs or lows.

#8 Chicken Food

Food: where to begin! This can be overwhelming. When it comes to chicks there are a few options but once they grow up? Goodness, it can get overwhelming.

Pellets, Crumble, Organic, Medicated, Non-GMO, Store bought, DIY and on and on and on.

We feed organic pellet feed mixed with seed and allow our flock to free range for at least 10 hours a day. This allows them to supplement the feed with bugs and whatever else they may find. However, soon I plan to research making my own because it would no doubt be more cost efficient for us since we have such a large flock. I’ll keep you posted on that!! Free ranging them does cut down on the feed they would otherwise consume if they were constantly penned up.

#9 Chicken Coop

Where will your chickens sleep?

We free range ours so our coop isn’t huge. If you decide to keep them enclosed during the day then you’ll want enough space for them to live humanely.

General rule of thumb for space is 2-3 square feet inside of the coop per chicken. For an outdoor run each chicken should have about 8-10 square feet of space.

Because we choose to free range we do run the risk of predators and unfortunately that is a very real risk – we’ve lost chickens to coyotes and hawks. That being said I feel that it is so beneficial to them to being able to free range and live naturally.

Many people don’t agree and don’t want to run the risk of losing chickens and believe me I know how upsetting it can be to lose your sweet feather babies, but to me they are so much happier to be out and about all day.

Chickens are natural foragers and they’re very smart at avoiding predators especially hawks – even more so for those flocks with roosters because of their amazing ability to warn of predators. Roosters are natural protectors and their instinct kicks in to protect their ladies.

Every morning we open the coop door to let the chickens out and at dusk we tuck them back in and read them a bedtime story. Their favorite story is Chicken Little. Kidding…they prefer romance novels.

If you worry about getting your chickens back in a coop at night don’t worry. Why? Because chickens like to go to bed at night. They know where their coop is and they automatically go in at night.

Yep, it’s true! Crazy, right? When I first got chickens, I was amazed to find that they went to bed on their own. Sometimes, though, I will say that there can be a bit of a learning curve for them in the beginning. We’ve found them outside the coop and had to put them back in. It usually only takes a few days for them to get the hang of things though.

Easy peasy!

It can actually be even easier than that because of advances in chicken keeping. They now have automatic chicken doors. They open in the morning and close up at night. Cool, right? We haven’t made the switch yet mainly because I prefer to check on my babies at night to make sure there are no predators that snuck in and everyone is doing ok.

I also like to check for any last-minute eggs that may have been laid since the last time we checked.

So, have you decided which is right for you? Chicks in all their cute and fluffy glory? Or hens that are older and more independent? There are pros and cons to both. Which have you decided?

Comment below and let me know!

Happy Homesteading and Stay Cuckoo!

7 Best Homesteading Chicken Starter Tips

Brief History of
Domesticated Chickens

Chickens are the best animal in the world! Ok, as a self-proclaimed “crazy chicken lady” I MAY be a bit biased. Don’t get me wrong, I love all animals but chickens? Chickens are the only pet that lays breakfast! They’re also one of the closest living relatives to a T-Rex. How cool is that? If you are just beginning your homesteading endeavor, then I highly suggest you start with chickens. Unlike cats, which treat you like you’re their slave (I should know because I have 4 cats and they all dictate with a simple meow), domesticated chickens are pets with a purpose! In 2004, an international team of geneticists produced a complete map of the chicken genome. Michael Zody, a computational biologist and his colleagues have been researching the differences between the red jungle fowl and its barnyard descendants, including “layers” (breeds raised to produce amazing amounts of eggs) and “broilers” (breeds that are plump and meaty). These researchers discovered that over time multiple genetic mutations occurred which led to positive results for chickens both in size of bird and capability of year-round egg laying. What does all that technical mumbo jumbo mean? Well for broilers (I refer to these as meaties – because…well…they are) it means that they are more plump than wild chickens which means as a “meat” bird you get more bang for your buck. For egg layers it means if you’d like to become more self-sustaining, their ability to lay all year long is very beneficial. After all, no one wants to feed chickens all year and only get eggs half the time. I don’t know about you, but our family eats eggs all year and I love being able to walk out to the coop and collect eggs. It’s my happy time! So, which chicken type will you choose?

Which Chicken is Right for You?

LAYERS

A comparison of a medium egg to a large egg.

So, you’ve decided to start homesteading with chickens. Awesome choice! So, what now? Well first you need to figure out whether the chickens will be for egg laying, meat or both. Egg layers are just that, they lay eggs. That is their purpose – for you anyway. Depending on the breed they can start laying as early as about 18-20 weeks and will produce eggs with or without a rooster. Yes, you read that right. Hens do NOT need a rooster in order to lay eggs. The reason a rooster is necessary is to produce eggs that are fertilized and are able to be hatched. If you’d like to hatch your own chicks, then by all means get a rooster. However, if you don’t like early morning crowing or maybe you live in the city and they’re prohibited, you can still enjoy eggs without one. In fact, most people are eating unfertilized eggs because the eggs you get from the grocery store are not fertilized as it serves no purpose in their production. Plus, it wouldn’t really even be possible when you find out how grocery store egg layers live. It’s truly sad but that’s a topic for another day. One important thing to note, not all chickens are created equal when it comes to egg laying so first, you’ll need to decide how many eggs you’ll need or want a week. Some, like the Leghorn, lay 5-6 large eggs a week while others like the Golden Laced Polish lay only 2-3 small to medium sized eggs a week.

Side by side depiction of a medium to a large egg to show size difference
A medium egg compared to a large egg

Therefore, one Leghorn will lay twice as much and produce a larger egg than the Golden Laced Polish giving you more return on your investment. These are important factors when deciding which breeds you’ll want to add to your flock. Of course, if you’re like me…the more the merrier! I mean I don’t have a “Crazy Chicken Lady” decal on my truck for nothing. I earned that title! However, if you live in the city or suburbs and want chickens you will be limited in how many you can have so you will most likely want to stick to the good production layers over the breeds that lay smaller eggs less often. This is yet another reason to move out to the country and buy land….UNLIMITED CHICKENS!! Stop letting the man (aka your HOA) tell you how many chickens you can have. Plus, we could be neighbors, wouldn’t you just love that? Of course you would. I’m super awesome and I always have eggs! Just kidding, wherever you live is fine because these days most cities and suburbs allow at least a few chickens. Yay! 

MEATIES

side by side comparison showing the size increase of commercially raised broiler chickens
The increase in growth has quadrupled from 1957-2005

So what if you’re not interested in eggs as much as wanting chickens for meat? Meaties a.k.a. broilers are chickens that are raised for meat. Most often they are Cornish Cross which grow at exponential rates. These birds, however, have greatly changed in the last 50 years from how they used to look. They used to look more like a normal chicken, however now they’ve been bred to plump up to be slaughtered by 8 weeks…yes 8 weeks. That’s a pretty quick turnaround from hatching to slaughter. Having had some meaties myself (on accident – thank you Tractor Supply for not labeling your chicks correctly), I’ve seen firsthand how quickly they grow. Thinking they were white leghorns I quickly felt something was wrong when their legs were larger than my other chicks and they were hot to the touch. After consulting with some of my chicken peeps, I found out what I had were not leghorns but were actually meaties. As they get older you can definitely tell they’re different especially when you see them waddling…oops I meant “walking” around. They’re so big they kinda reminded me of myself when I was 9 months pregnant with my son. Swollen legs & feet? Check! Hot all the time? Check! Eating all the time? Check! It’s a good thing they don’t have to bend down to tie their shoes. Most meaties are placed in front of a feeder so they eat non-stop and fatten up quickly and boy do they ever. The bigger the bird the more meat for your money so to speak so most owners feed and feed and feed. Personally, I couldn’t do that to my chickens, so we free ranged ours and limited their feed. We didn’t plan to process them for meat because I wanted them to have a better life since we hadn’t purchased them for the purpose of processing. Unfortunately, though, we had a tragedy befall us on the farm when a neighbor’s dogs came onto our property and killed 40 of our beloved birds. The meaties were among them and proved to be easy targets due to their size making them slow moving and easy prey. Although I wouldn’t have wished this upon them, I am relieved we didn’t have to witness what can happen when they continue to get larger. I’ve heard that sometimes they become larger than their bodies can handle, leading to heart attacks or their legs breaking due to the weight. Yes, seriously! You can see in the picture the difference in their growth rate in the last 60 years. It’s really not natural how they’ve been bred to grow like this. That being said, they do provide a lot of meat for one bird. I’d say that raising Cornish Crosses for meat is not a bad idea but treat them humanely – let them free range if possible. They deserve to do their chicken thing too. For us as a family, we have decided that in the future when we do raise chickens for meat they will not be these meaties, they will more than likely be a dual purpose breed that doesn’t have the same genetic problems as the Cornish Cross.

 

DUAL PURPOSE

So what is a dual purpose breed? These are the breeds that are good egg layers that are also a good size to raise for meat. All hens lay eggs even the meaties (they usually just don’t live long enough to get to laying age). Many people decide to have these dual purpose breeds so that they get the best of both worlds. They also won’t have the same health issues that you’ll see in the Cornish Cross. And a word of advice: Don’t name the chickens you plan to process. It’s not easy to butcher Henrietta when the time comes. I’m sure that’s how many people have ended up with extra chickens – they couldn’t bring themselves to eat her once they named her. A few good dual purpose breeds would be the Australorp, Rhode Island Red, Black Star & Orpington. They are all great layers and have a lot of junk in the trunk when it comes to processing for meat. The Australorp lays 300+ eggs a year and the hens weigh about 8lbs while the roosters weigh closer to 10lbs. They have calm personalities and are both cold and heat hardy. The Rhode Island Red lays about 200-300 eggs a year with the hens reaching about 6.5lbs and the roosters weighing about 8.5lbs. They have friendly personalities and do well if most climates. The Black Star & Orpington tend to lay around the same amount of eggs a year, typically between 200-300 a year. The Black Star hens are about 6lbs and the roosters weigh about 8lbs. With calm, friendly personalities and suitable for cold or hot climates they are a great choice. The Orpingtons tend to be a bit meatier with the hens reaching about 8lbs and the roosters about 10lbs. They are very friendly but due to their size they are more cold hardy than heat, though we do have several ourselves and we’re in Texas. They do fine but we always give them access to full shade and cold water.

Breeds by Climate

Chickens come in all shapes and sizes but where you live should be a deciding factor when choosing breeds for your homestead. Some do better in warmer climates while others do well in colder areas. Several breeds will also do well in both which helps if you live in areas that are hot during the day and cold at night.

If you plan to raise meaties then they will do better in a moderate climate. Since they’ve been bred to grow so large in only a matter of weeks their body temperature is higher than that of the average chicken. Their size makes it hard for them to regulate their temperature. Due to these factors, they can’t handle temperatures over 85º or temperatures below freezing very well. Meaties also don’t survive well at higher elevations above 3,000 ft. Available oxygen is lower at higher elevations and for birds prone to respiratory problems already, thinner air is very difficult for them. All of these factors must be considered before purchasing or you could end up with consistent death among your flock.

COLD WEATHER BREEDS

So, you live in a colder climate and you want chickens? You can get any breed of chicken you want but, if you’d prefer not to have to crochet chicken sweaters during the winter, there are certain breeds you’ll want to stick with. The best cold hardy breeds are ones that have less exposed skin, these tend to be the chickens with smaller combs and wattles with a lot of junk in the trunk. Sir Mix-a-Lot said it best “I like big butts and I cannot lie”, he was clearly singing about cold weather chicken breeds…duh. The following breeds are great cold weather resilient chickens:

  • Ameracauna
  • Australorp
  • Brahma (these chickens even have feathers on their feet!)
  • Cochin
  • Dominique
  • Orpington
  • Wyandotte

HOT WEATHER BREEDS

We live in Texas and let me tell you it gets really hot here! How hot? Well during the summer it was 108º and we all melted. All of us except for the chickens. Crazy how they were out and about. We provided them with plenty of shade and ok ok because my chickens are spoiled they may or may not have had a coop with an air conditioner so they could sleep in comfort at night. Told you I was a crazy chicken lady. During the day though our chickens free range all day with plenty of access to fresh cold water. So how do they stay cool in the torturous heat? Remember how the small combs and wattles helped the chickens stay warmer in the cold climate? Well the opposite is true in the hotter climates. A larger comb and wattle have a higher concentration of capillaries which helps to circulate blood and body heat close to the skin’s surface. Smaller body types will help keep them cooler as well. So which breeds should you be looking for? Below are a few that will be great heat tolerant chickens:

  • White Leghorn
  • Easter Egger
  • Minorca
  • Welsummer – duh it’s in the name!
  • Penedesenca

Keep in mind though chickens that are resilient in cold and hot climates will still need extra care. Shelters with good ventilation for hotter areas and coops that don’t allow a draft to penetrate in cold climates are important for the health and well-being of your flock. Crochet sweaters are always a good idea…just kidding…sorta. During the hottest part of the day here we like to turn our hose on the mist setting and just give our chicks a nice mist to help cool them off. They love it so much! It’s so cute to watch them fluff up and shake their feathers.

Got Eggs?

I love chickens, did I tell you that? Well, one of the biggest reasons is because of the eggs they provide. BUT not all chickens are created equal when it comes to eggs. Some lay larger eggs than others and many are prolific layers. So, what does that mean to you? It means more bang for your buck. I personally choose to have 100 chickens so I don’t need to rely on just one or two chickens to lay, but many homesteaders aren’t as crazy as me and choose to have less than triple digits…or even double digits.

multiples baskets filled with large brown eggs
The amount of eggs I’d collect daily if I could have as many chickens as I want

If you are just wanting enough for your family and maybe some friends, then you’ll prefer to have breeds that lay more frequently and preferably larger eggs. There are several options for that. Ever wonder why here in the U.S. the majority of the eggs you see in the grocery store are white? The simple answer is because the breed that the commercial egg producers use are typically White Leghorns and they lay white eggs. See? Told you it was simple. White Leghorns lay approximately 280-320 eggs a year. That’s almost an egg every day! Their lifespan is typically shorter, only about 4-6 years, than other chickens due to them being such productive layers. Sidenote: Our White Leghorn, Cuckoo, lived to be over 7 years old and I believe it was because she was able to live out her life a big open space just doing her chicken thing.

White Leghorns also lay large eggs, we even got a double yolk once (that egg was enormous – poor Cuckoo!). So, if you don’t have a color preference of eggs then Leghorns are a good choice for your homestead. I also just love how pretty they are with their tails that stick almost straight up. Heads up though, Leghorns tend to fly more than any of our other breeds from what we’ve experienced. It’s not uncommon to see them perched up on top of our coop. When we lived in a suburban neighborhood Cuckoo used to constantly fly into our neighbor’s yard. Grass is always greener, right? That can also mean that your chickens aren’t necessarily laying where they should. We’ve found many random nests around because our chickens found a spot they preferred over their nesting box. When they lay such large eggs you want to make sure you’re able to find and enjoy them! Another great option for an egg layer, if you don’t mind brown eggs, is the ISA Brown which is a hybrid that can lay 300-350 eggs a year. Keep in mind what that may mean for their lifespan though. They tend to live 2-3 years on average (though there are always exceptions). I don’t mind hybrids personally but I don’t really agree with ones whose sole purpose is to lay a ton of eggs thus shortening their lifespan, but to each their own. Rhode Island Reds are great brown-egg layers and they live 4x as long as the ISA Browns. For our family we love our feathered babies and want them to live long healthy lives and so many of our brown egg layers in the past have been Rhode Island Reds. In their prime, Rhode Island Reds lay about 200-300 eggs a year, however, egg laying production will start to decline as the chicken grows older. This is why having at least a few chickens around should still provide enough eggs for a small family.

Green Eggs and Ham

Dr. Suess wrote a whole book about green eggs and ham so I’m inclined to think maybe he had some chickens of his own. We all know about white eggs and brown eggs, but what about green eggs or blue eggs? No, I’m not talking about dyed eggs. These are real eggs laid by real chickens.

Basket of colored eggs laid by different breeds of chickens
Different breeds of chickens will lay different colored eggs.

Just to clarify though, these colored eggs only apply to the shell! The yolks are still the same color – usually a deep orange for backyard chickens. The commercial eggs from the grocery store have a neon yellow yolk – THIS IS NOT NORMAL! Once you start raising your own chickens and feed a higher quality feed you’ll notice the color of the yolk and the taste are far superior than anything you buy in the store. So how do you get colored eggs? It’s simple. Different breeds of chickens lay different colored eggs. You’ll need to decide what color you’d like and then set about getting those from a local farm or hatchery. Below I’ve broken down a few breeds for each egg color.

White Egg Layers – Leghorn, Minorca, Polish, Hamburg & Andalusian

Brown Egg Layers – Barred Rock, Rhode Island Red, Dominique & Cochin

Light Tan Egg Layers – Orpington, Wyandotte & Speckled Sussex

Dark Brown Egg Layers – Copper Marans, Barnvelder & Penedesenca

Speckled Egg Layers – Cuckoo Marans and Welsummers

Green Egg Layers – Olive Eggers, Easter Eggers and Isbars

Blue Egg Layers – Ameracauna, Aruacana, Cream Legbar & Easter Eggers

On Your Mark, Get Set, Buy Chickens!

Now that you have a good foundation for getting started with your own flock of chickens all that’s left is to get to buying! Ok actually not so fast…sorry I’m always so quick to push people to buy chickens (mostly myself). You’re set with a good knowledge of chickens and what kind would make the best additions for your flock. Do you want egg layers or meaties? Do you need chickens that will be ok in cold temperatures? Do you want a basket with an array of various colored eggs? Once you’ve made all those decisions the next decision will be to decide how many chickens to get and if I may make a suggestion – buy a lot of chickens! Sorry there I go again pushing chickens. I’ve recently started attending Chicken Buyers Anonymous to help with my problem – just kidding it’s not a problem because everyone knows there’s no such thing as too many chickens! So now you’ve decided what you want, what next? In my next post, I’ll be talking about how to actually go about buying chickens, setting up their coop, what to feed and much more!

Thanks for reading and please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you! Oh, and if you haven’t joined the Cuckoo Family you can join here because we’d love to have you.

Happy Homesteading & Stay Cuckoo!

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Welcome to Cuckoo Farms

Who Are We?

Hello and welcome to Cuckoo Farms. We are a homesteading family of four that loves animals and grew sick and tired of the traditional suburban lifestyle. Growing up in Texas suburb outside of Houston, I loved it and always felt that would be how I always lived. Then I met my husband, Nathan. He was born and raised in Florida. Yep, that’s right….a native Floridian! Total shocker, I know! Obviously you’d assume I was the country girl and he was the “city” boy but in actuality it was quite the opposite. He grew up in a rural area in South Florida on 10 acres doing all the things you’d have thought I did like barrel racing and roping and he loved every minute of it. Strangely enough though, as a kid his family used to visit Texas and he fell in love with Big Bend National Park and all the wilderness they found while traveling the state looking for reptiles to wholesale (long story). When we met while stuck in traffic when I was living in Florida (he’s smooth what can I say) it was quite interesting to find out his love for all things Texas. Needless to say, we were meant to be. After getting pregnant with my second child, we moved back home to Texas. Nathan couldn’t be happier to finally be a Texan. Texas is in his blood now and I kinda think it always was.

Suburbanite to Homesteader

You may be wondering how we started on this homesteading adventure. Well, if I’m completely honest it’s all my husband’s fault. No, really it is! Ok, here’s why. He came home one day and told me that we were going to be getting a couple of chickens. Huh? We live in a suburb, surely that’s not legal. Surprisingly, it is. Actually, across the U.S most cities allow you to have chickens. Let me clarify that, they allow hens NOT roosters….for obvious reasons. We started with just a few chickens and it was love a first sight! But be forewarned! Chickens are just the beginning. It starts with a few chickens and before you know it boom, you’re moving a half hour away to buy 10 acres of land!

Neon yellow store bought egg yolks next to farm fresh orange yolks
The farm fresh eggs are rich and dark orange. Yum!

It started with a few chickens and eventually we worked our way up to five chickens…in a backyard…in a suburb. It was amazing especially the fresh eggs. If you’ve never had farm fresh eggs you truly don’t know what you’re missing? Don’t believe me? Take a look at the difference in color.The neon yellow is from the grocery store eggs. The rich dark yolks come from our chicken eggs. Amazing, right??

We got our chickens in early 2015 and it set us on a new path in life. After buying our first home in late 2016 on 10 acres we’ve only increased our flock, a few more chickens here and there. I didn’t even mean to really it just kinda happened. Honest! After telling a fellow chicken friend of mine that we got about 10 chicks from our local feed store, she tried to make me feel like that wasn’t so crazy by telling me that they had about 70 chicks they’d ordered from a hatchery! Wow! So I proceed to tell my uber competitive husband. His response? “We can beat that!” And so we have. He told me that we could house about 75 total but since I’m terrible at math somehow that ended up being closer to 140 chickens. See, I told you…bad at math. Actually, though, in the chicken community there’s a thing called Chicken Math. Basically it means you end up having/buying more chickens than you think. Recently, saw a post of a chicken group where a woman said she’d been telling people that she had about 60 chickens and then after counting them she realized it was actually closer to 120. See? Chicken Math! There’s even a meme to prove it. Chicken Meme: I really only wanted to have 10 chickens but if God wants me to have 20, then 40 it is

Cuckoo Farms was Born

Where did the name come from you may be wondering. Well, it’s actually a tribute to one our dearest chickens, Cuckoo. She was one of our first and she was definitely the smartest. Cuckoo was a white leghorn and she even laid our only ever double yolk egg. Yikes, that must’ve hurt! My husband even recently told me that part of his motivation for moving out here on land was because of Cuckoo. Isn’t that adorable? About a year or so after we moved out here we found our dear sweet Cuckoo had passed of old age. We were sad but also happy that we could provide her a life of freedom where she could roam free and live her best chicken life! When we decided to really make a go of our homesteading and try to become more self-sustaining we wanted to pay tribute to the chicken that started it all: Cuckoo.

     RIP my sweet girl.         Our White Leghorn, Cuckoo, free ranging   You will truly be missed!

So, What Now?

Well I’m so glad you asked. There was actually a method to our madness when buying a million chicks earlier this year. We purchased specialty breeds that would lay unique colored eggs. About a third of them have started laying and I am literally eggstatic about it!! Look how gorgeous they are!!

We’ve started selling our organic pastured eggs here locally and it’s so amazing to provide such high quality eggs. I love that people love them as much as we do. Chickens aren’t nearly enough for us though. We plan to be as self sustaining as possible. That means we plan to raise our own chickens and pigs for meat. It will be great to know exactly where our meat comes from and know that they were humanely cared for. Soon I also plan to get dairy goats and a miniature jersey cow for milk. Shhh….don’t tell Nathan all that yet. The goats milk will also help with my soap making venture I plan to start. Nothing beats raw milk, it’s so healthy. Nathan developed a lactose intolerance as he got older but guess what, no issues at all with the raw milk. Throughout our adventures we plan to document and help others to achieve their dreams of homesteading. There are so many awesome plans we have for our property to become more self reliant and we hope that you will follow us on our journey!

Happy Homesteading & Stay Cuckoo!