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ADDING MORE BIRDS TO AN EXISTING FLOCK
My girls went to visit their grandparents in East Texas. While they were there, they went by the local feed store and picked up seven chicks. These chicks ended up being quite different than our first batch of birds. The girls decided on a few different breeds: Ameraucana, Silver-Laced Wyandotte, and Black Sex Link.
When the birds were brought home, we kept them inside with a heat lamp for a few weeks. Then we brought them outside to their new home. This was the first coop my husband made out of upcycled wood, telephone poles, new nails, shingles, and a coat of paint.
It didn’t take long for our girls to name those 7 little chicks. However, they didn’t keep their original names. Because, as they got older and got some personality, their names had to fit.
We had two Silver-Laced Wyandottes, which were the oldest chicks in the bunch, who also became the dynamic duo leaders of our little fledgling flock. We also had three brown-red Ameracaunas, and two Black Sex-Links, bringing our flock to nine members.
Soon, we and the birds got into a routine. For the 9 of them, they had a nice green backyard and plenty of space. And we were working on getting more trees for shade for the summer months.
I vividly recall being mesmerized by this batch of chicks, really invested in almost everything they did. Perhaps that’s because it was a completely new experience for me. I was soaking up everything I was learning about them.
It wasn’t until that Winter when the birds were all locked in their coop together, due to a heavy snow, that we got our first eggs from our chicks no longer. They were now all adults, it had taken around 6 months for the first eggs, and we were so excited.
The following Spring we decided to increase our flock, but being uncertain about the nature of how and when hens go broody, we bought an incubator and started collecting eggs. Boy, did we go overboard. I think we had around 20 eggs on the likelihood that at least half would be cockerels. And we wouldn’t keep them, as I explain why in another post.
We ordered a GQF Thermal Air Hova-Bator to incubate our eggs in. But there are many different kinds of incubators out there, depending on how much you’re willing to spend and what your needs are. The one we got was just a simple one; we were responsible for turning the eggs. Although it had a temperature setting, I ordered a digital thermometer with a humidity gauge on it just in case. It ended up being a good thing, because it often got very dry and hot in there.
It takes 21 days for a fertilized egg to fully develop and hatch. So we dated all of our eggs from the day we took them from the nesting boxes. And because we had such a small flock, my older daughter and I knew which chicken laid which egg.
After a week you can candle the eggs. It’s where you take a bright light, like a flashlight, to the egg, preferably in a dark room, in order to see if the egg is fertilized. We had a few that were unfertilized so we threw those out. It’s called ‘candling’ because candles were originally used, though how they could see anything is beyond me. We now have Cuckoo Marans, and we still have ‘Caunas, which both have thick eggshells. Their shells make it difficult sometimes to see if the egg is indeed fertilized.
When the chick is ready to hatch it will pip or start pecking the shell with its beak tooth, a horn-like projection on the end of its beak, that will fall off a day to two days after hatching. Next, the chick will unzip the shell, around the circumference from where he started his pip. He will use his beak tooth, eventually hatching free of the egg.
By the time all was said and done we had 8 cockerels and 5 pullets, and we lost only 2; 1 egg never hatched, and 1 chick died either of stargazing, which is a Thiamine deficiency, or wry neck, which is also a vitamin deficiency. Or it could be genetic. Either way it only lived a week no matter our efforts.
Please keep in mind that we were still novices when it came to farm animals. We didn’t really know very much at all beyond feeding and watering them at that point, even if we did have chickens for a year and educated ourselves. Sometimes we don’t really understand what it is we’re reading about or the importance of it until we experience it. Therefore experience becomes the better teacher.
We used the eggs from our coop, fertilized by our Cream Legbar. Yes, we took some eggs from each hen, but mostly we stuck with the Ameracaunas. Incubating and hatching our very own eggs and chicks was a good lesson. It taught us what to do and what not to do even though we had very minimal losses. We only took 2 eggs from our Sex-Link, and one of those chicks was the one we lost. We still have the other one that we named Oddball. She resembles a Barred Rock, however she has her dad’s huge comb.
We got a couple of pullets from the Wyandottes as well; one was the second chick to hatch out of the clutch; she was healthy and still today tends to be a bossy hen like her mom. However, the other one hatched with one foot/claw not fully formed. We surmised that it was a genetic issue, and since we don’t have chicken vets where we live, that wasn’t an option to see one. There really wasn’t anything that could be done for her regardless, since her leg and foot were undeveloped.
At about this time people might wonder why we didn’t just put her down. Maybe you have chickens, have had chickens and are an old pro at this. Or maybe you’re new to this like we were when we first incubated and started hatching eggs. Maybe you’re anywhere in between, but Kix could get around; she adapted easily and the other chickens didn’t bother her for the most part. She had a special place in our youngest daughter’s heart, so we kept her and she lived 2 years. Then after her good foot got infected, we knew it was futile to give her antibiotics. Because, she lived outside and her foot would only get reinfected. Letting Kix go was one of the most difficult and saddest decisions we had to make, but we knew it was better for her.
The reason the one Sex-Link hybrid didn’t live is simply part of the risk. I’ve read instances where many chicks were hatched from a similar pairing, Cream Legbar and Black Sex-Link, with one or two losses. It’s a risk that there will be genetic issues, though I didn’t really understand that going in.
Only One Cannoli was our first chick to hatch and he was a cockerel like 7 of his brothers. Although, he was the only one who bonded with us the way he did, most likely because he was the first-hatched. So when he cheeped and peeped, we came immediately, and by the time the others were hatched they had each other. Only One Cannoli only had us for the first few hours of life.
We kept the cockerels for 3 months before they totally got unruly. But then we had to slaughter them, because the hens come first. We tried to find homes for them, however, where we live, no one wants roosters. They weren’t broilers so they weren’t fat. Though, I was still able to make a few dishes with the meat we got from them. I made roasted chicken, which didn’t hide the gamey taste. However, King Ranch Chicken (or Cannoli in this case) and chicken soup tasted good.
Since our first batch of home-grown chicks, we’ve incubated only one more time, and we went with more manageable numbers. We purchased more Sex-Links, but locally and only once more. And I’ve bought more ‘Caunas, which I’ve driven from 2 to 6 hours to get the ones I wanted. Because they are my personal favorite. And last but not least, we’ve had some hens go broody, yet we still have only allowed manageable numbers.
I would love to hear from you if you have any comments or any stories about your own adventures with chicks.