Moving Chickens to Texas

chickens-in-truckAs Avian Influenza (AI) has continued to spread in the United States and Iowa, in particular, we began making arrangements in May of this year for how we could start some backup flocks.

Although the strains of AI found in the U.S. have not affected or posed any direct risks to humans, AI has caused the loss of millions of birds — both chickens and turkeys — since December 2014. Many of the breeds that we raise are somewhat rare, and if we were to lose a breeding flock of one of those rare breeds, it would take a long time to find good breeding stock again and then build our flocks back up to the size needed to maintain the breed’s genetics and to provide adequate numbers of chicks for our customers.

So we made a list of our most important breeds — those that would be most difficult to re-establish — and entered into discussions with Joe Claborn, a long time friend in Texas. Joe agreed to set up facilities where he could house and raise about 3,700 of our chicks. Texas would be an ideal location for our backup flocks because its warmer climate discourages the spread of AI.

On May 27, as was mentioned in a recent Reuters article, our company president, Bud Wood brought a truckload of about 3,700 newly hatched chicks to Joe’s farm in Texas, and we set them up in pens where they could be raised. Meanwhile, we began construction of additional housing for the birds as they grow and need more space.

So far, none of our flocks in Iowa have been affected by AI. We plan to continue monitoring AI and make adjustments as needed to maintain our breeding flocks so that we can continue to supply you with the wide selection of breeds that we have become known for.

Posted in McMurray Hatchery | 40 Comments

An Interview with Joe Claborn, Part 1

JoeClabornBackground: Joe Claborn has worked with McMurray Hatchery for many years and currently raises started chicks and started pullets for McMurray. Joe is also involved with a project that Bud Wood, president of McMurray Hatchery, initiated to start backup flocks for many of McMurray’s rare breeds during the current Avian Flu outbreak.

This is part 1 of a three-part interview. We plan to publish part 2 and 3 of the interview in the next few weeks.

Interviewer: What kind of preparations did you make to receive the chicks that Bud brought down from Iowa?

Joe Claborn: When the bird flu first started, I didn’t think it was going to have such a big impact on our lives. Bud and I discussed the possibility of moving some birds to Texas. We bought a 40 x 100 foot hoop house at an auction in Canada with the thought that when it got here, we would put it up for housing. At that point we were thinking to bring down adult birds from Iowa. Then we found out there was a possibility that we wouldn’t be able to move adult birds out of the quarantined zone, but that we would still be able to move baby chicks. The hoop house did not arrive when we expected it to, so we started to look for a place to brood 3,700 baby chicks.

Our barn burnt last fall from a fire in our shipping container room. We planned to restore and expand it and began work  but hadn’t yet completed the addition. After looking around for suitable space, we decided to finish the barn’s addition and repairs — this would give us about 3,500 square feet.

Riley, Brian and Shannon building partitions in the barn

Riley, Brian and Shannon building partitions in the barn

My oldest son, Brian, headed up the project. He pulled in his younger brothers and many of his friends. First, we cleaned out the remains of the old shipping room and the old brooder room. Then we put up new walls, a roof and an interior wall. Next came electrical. We decided to go with 4 bulb hanging brooders — one brooder light for each pen. The pens were each fifteen feet in diameter. We separated the room into four alleys with panels made from vinyl-coated chicken wire on 2×4 wood frames. Three of the alleys could hold three chicken pens and the fourth held two pens, for a total of eleven pens.

Surveying the pens and alleys

Surveying the pens and alleys

We were on a schedule, with about 10 days to go until the chicks would arrive, when in a Thursday phone call with Bud, we decided to move the chicks that Saturday. That gave us about 48 hours to complete what we thought we had 10 days for. There were a couple of pretty long nights with lots of snacks and milkshakes to fuel the effort.

Baby Chicks Transported to Texas Farm

Baby Chicks Transported to Texas Farm

Soon, we got a call from Bud that he was at the end of our road with a hatchery truck full of chicks. Out we went with the spray to disinfect the truck to make sure nothing came onto the farm from the outside. Bud had brought his son-in-law, Tom, to help with the driving and with the birds.

Bud Wood and his son-in-law, Tom preparing brooders

Bud Wood and his son-in-law, Tom preparing brooders

Once they arrived, we started introducing the chicks into the brooders. It takes a lot of help and time to put 3,700 chicks into the brooders. Each one has to be watered (dipping its beak in water so that it will recognize where to get water).

Giving the baby chicks their first drink

Giving the baby chicks their first drink

Within a few hours we had them all watered and fed.

Baby Chicks

Baby Chicks

That was 8 weeks ago. Maybe we can give an update later on the current status of the project.

Posted in McMurray Hatchery | 12 Comments

My hen is broody. Now what?

Hen with chicks

Photo by Jean Kirkhope

It’s normal for hens to go broody. Some breeds — such as Buff Orpingtons, Cochins, or Silkies, and many breeds of bantams — are more prone to go broody than others, but even production breeds can, on occasion, go broody.  Black Stars are a production breed that rarely goes broody, but this spring, one of the Black Stars in my home flock went broody, and she already appears to be going broody a second time.

If You Only Have Hens

If you have only hens in your flock, as is the case for many urban flocks, the eggs won’t be fertile and won’t hatch, so there won’t be any point in letting the hen sit on those eggs. If you want to hatch chicks under your broody hen, you may be able to get fertile eggs from someone in the area and swap them out.  The best time to do this is at night, so that you don’t disturb the hen any more than necessary. Gently remove the non-fertile eggs from beneath her and replace them with fertile eggs. One of my hens is very defensive when she goes broody, so I wear a pair of welding gloves when handling her. She will repeatedly peck hard at my hands, but I can barely feel it through the gloves.

Letting a Broody Hen Hatch Chicks

It takes about 21 days for a hen to hatch eggs. Since she will be sitting on the eggs in a nest box for most of that time, occasionally getting up for a drink or to eat a few bites of feed, and since the babies will be small and vulnerable once they hatch, it’s best to isolate her so she can sit without being disturbed by other chickens. A small coop (2 feet by 4 feet) or chicken tractor works well for this.  Provide a small waterer (1 gallon size should be plenty) and a small feeder for her.

As the hatch date draws near, be sure to also have on hand some starter feed for the chicks. Starter feed contains more protein than layer feed and is formulated to help the baby chicks grow properly. It will be fine for the broody hen, too.

As the baby chicks start to hatch, check on them frequently (several times a day) to make sure they are doing okay. Fire ants can be a problem in the southern states. If you encounter them, use an organic pesticide, such as Rotenone around the broody coop.

Let the broody hen sit for a few more days after the first hatch so that additional eggs can hatch. You can also candle eggs to determine whether they are developing.

“Breaking” a Hen of Broodiness

If you decide that you don’t want your hen to sit, then as soon as you notice that she has gone broody, transfer her into a cage that is well lit and that has a wire mesh bottom made out of hardware cloth. The floor of the cage should be several feet off the ground. The idea is to make the cage not feel very private to the hen. As always, continue to provide her with food and water. Usually within a few days, she will cease to be broody, then you can unite her with the rest of the flock.

Posted in Chickens | Tagged | 11 Comments

Why Do Chickens Eat Their Own Eggs?

Chicken eggs

Photo by Steve Taysom

Sometimes you may be getting fewer eggs than you expect, even when your hens are laying well. This can happen if they develop the bad habit of eating their own eggs.

Egg eating can start by accident, sort of. Maybe a hen stepped on an egg and punctured the shell. Or maybe once when you were gathering eggs, an egg slipped from your hand, fell to the floor of the coop and broke.

Chickens, quick to eat anything that looks like food, voraciously lap up the white and yolk of the broken egg. Once a hen has tasted fresh egg and found it to be “good food” she may start breaking eggs intentionally in order to eat them. Once she’s learned to do that, other hens will learn it from her, and soon you may be very short on eggs.

So how do we prevent this? Or if egg eating has already become a problem, how do we cure it?

How to Prevent Egg Eating

It’s easier and more effective to prevent chickens from eating eggs than to cure egg eating once it has started.

First, make sure that your chickens are getting an adequate and balanced diet, with plenty of protein and calcium. Calcium helps form strong egg shells, which will be less likely to break. Lack of protein in a hen’s diet can make her more inclined to break and eat eggs.

We recommend that you keep a free choice feeder of ground oyster shells available to your adult layers, and use a good quality layer feed with at least 16% protein. If your chickens have access to table scraps or scratch grains, that will lower the average protein content of their diet, so use these in moderation.

Second, provide plenty of space for your chickens, both in the coop and in the nest boxes. Overcrowding in the coop can cause your chickens more stress and can lead to multiple problems beyond just egg eating. Overcrowded nest boxes increase the likelihood that a hen will accidentally break an egg.

Start with one nest box for every four hens, and adjust from there. You’ll know they need more nest boxes if you often see more than one hen crowded into a nest box at the same time.

Place your nest boxes in a darker area of your coop, where the opening doesn’t face direct sunlight. Hens prefer to lay in darker, more secluded areas, so this will encourage them to lay in the nest box rather than somewhere else, and hens are less likely to break open eggs in a dimly lit nest box.

Provide plenty of fresh bedding to form a soft layer in the floor of your nest boxes. This will help protect the eggs from inadvertently being broken.

Third, if you or the chickens ever break an egg in the coop or in an area they can access, clean it up quickly and thoroughly, before they discover it. Remove any egg-soaked bedding. If the broken egg is on the ground, use water to wash away and dilute the egg white and yolk so it can soak into the soil. Remove broken egg shells or at least crush them into very small pieces so they no longer look like eggs.

While we’re on the subject of eggshells, some people feed their chickens eggshells as a source of calcium. This can be done, but we prefer using ground oyster shells as mentioned above. If you do decide to feed egg shells back to your chickens, wash them thoroughly and grind them into very small pieces so that you don’t encourage a egg eating either by taste or by sight.

How to Cure Egg Eating

As mentioned previously, it’s easier to prevent egg eating than to cure it, and it’s not always possible to cure an egg eater.

First, practice everything discussed above in the “Prevention” section.

In addition, gather eggs frequently, as soon after laying as possible. Although this isn’t extremely convenient, checking for and gathering the eggs several times a day can make a big difference. The longer an egg is left in the coop, the more likely it is to get eaten, particularly if only one hen is the culprit.

Ceramic Eggs

Ceramic Eggs

Use artificial eggs (ceramic eggs work well for this or wooden eggs, or even white golf balls). Ceramic eggs look like real eggs but are much harder. Gather all the real eggs quickly, but leave a few ceramic eggs in the nest box. As chickens peck, trying to break these eggs, they’ll find them impossible to crack, and this will (hopefully) discourage them from eating the real eggs.

Try to identify the egg eater. It’s most obvious if you catch her actually eating an egg, but you may also be able to spot dried yolk on her beak, feathers or comb. Once you’ve identified her, isolate her from the rest of the flock and see if your problem with egg eating in the main flock goes away. Moving the hen disrupts her behavior somewhat and will help to break the habit. Gather eggs quickly and frequently from the isolation coop so that she doesn’t have access to any eggs. If you’re continuing to lose eggs from the main coop, then you may have more than one egg eater that needs to be isolated.

A suggestion from Pat Foreman, author of the book City Chicks is to block access to the nest box where you found evidence of the broken egg. To do this, you can block the entrance or put something bulky in the nest box to occupy it. This will change the hen’s routine somewhat, since she won’t be able to eat egg where she normally would, and according to Foreman, this can be successful in helping to break the pattern of egg eating.

If all else fails, cull the egg eater.

Posted in Chickens | Tagged , | 20 Comments

Why Do You Raise Chickens?

Why do you raise chickens?

Most of us reading this article have probably already made the decision to raise chickens and have raised them for at least a few years, but occasionally, questions like this come up, perhaps in the form:

Raise chickens? Why would I ever want to do that?

to which my immediate response, verbalized or not might be: “Well, why not?”

When I was young, my parents began to raise chickens in the tiny backyard behind our small-town rental house. I was around 8 years old at the time. We raised mostly meat birds, and when it became time to prepare them for the table, we would slaughter and pluck them. Plucking is what I remember the most. Hot, wet chickens. A certain homey, but not entirely pleasant smell. Feathers — lots of feathers. Downy feathers sticking to my fingers. Picking them off and placing them into the black garbage bag while plucking. Picking up loose feathers from the yard after plucking was done. (Nowadays, I normally skin rather than pluck my chickens.)

A few years later, we moved “out into the country” into the suburb of a small town. We at last had some land, and our flock grew larger to match. In a used, round, metal incubator, we hatched eggs — a mixed flock of Rhode Island Reds and various crosses. Lots of color variety and lots of memories of caring for them. Time, it seems, has a way of aging memories, making them fonder even than the original experience.

Another move. Off to high school in the city then college, living in a dorm room. Calling various apartments home for a few years. Then marriage. Later, our first child. We moved onto small acreage, and I found myself preparing to raise chickens again, building a coop out of leftover lumber from another project.

All of my children have grown up raising and caring for chickens. Some have enjoyed it more than others. My youngest knows each chicken by name and won’t let a day go by without going out to check on them (or without picking up and holding them).

So while I could write about lots of practical reasons to raise chickens, something in my own experience and in my family runs much deeper than that, tying me both to my immediate family, my ancestors, and even extending into the future, continuing to tie things together there, and chickens are a part of that. Something deep in the heart can at times seem to compel you to take certain steps, make certain choices or decisions, or enter into certain commitments, even though you may not be able to fully articulate in a rationally comprehensible way to someone else all the practical reasons why. (And somehow even to try to do so can seem a bit trite — somewhat incapable of expressing the real reasons why.) Yet you try. You branch out into this metaphor or that, this remembrance or that, until someone else picks up the thread and begins to run with it. And, it seems, many of the more meaningful things in life take root in that way.

So back to our original question: Why raise chickens? Here are a few answers that come to mind:

For the experience and the memories. This, I would say, is the first and most fundamental reason. Raise them because they’ll enrich your life and experience in ways that you cannot fully predict or even anticipate. And they’ll bring you into shared experiences with others in certain wonderful and unexpected ways.

For the children. Even if you don’t have children of your own, surely some of your neighbors have children (neighbors that don’t yet raise chickens), or perhaps you have grandchildren, or friends who have children. (And if not, you’re missing out on something even more important than chickens, so start there, if you need to, and then come back to the question about why you need to raise chickens.) Getting some chickens and letting the children help you raise them will make a difference in their lives and yours.

Fresh Eggs. Though the ability to find high-quality, fresh food at local markets has taken a big leap forward over the recent years, there’s simply no such thing as a store-bought egg that’s as fresh as the eggs from your own chickens. You can step right out your back door, egg basket in hand, walk to the coop and grab a few eggs. Then walk back to the house, crack them into a hot, buttered skillet and be sitting down eating a fresh omelet faster than you can get your car warmed up to drive off to the market, even one that’s just a few blocks away. That’s fresh, and eggs don’t get any fresher than that.

These are just a few of the reasons why I raise chickens. More could be said on the practical end, and we’ll perhaps cover that in a future article.

So, why do you raise chickens?

Posted in Raising Chickens | 23 Comments

Don’t Let Your Chickens Run Out of Water

Photo by Joost J. Bakker IJmuiden

Your chickens need to always have access to plenty of clean, fresh drinking water.  This is especially important in hot weather when their need for water increases significantly.

Problems Caused by Lack of Water

Posted in Raising Chickens | 17 Comments

Keep Your Chickens Cool in Hot Weather

Keeping chickens coolWith summer approaching, you’ll need to help your chickens stay cool, at least in the warmer parts of the country.

Unlike humans, chickens don’t sweat, but like humans they depend on evaporation to stay cool – by panting. As they pant, moisture within the chickens’ lungs evaporates and is moved out of their bodies. This is also why it’s harder for them, like us, to stay cool when it’s humid.

The best way to know if your chickens are getting too hot is to watch their behavior.

Are they panting? Are they hanging their wings out a little distance a way from their bodies? These are early signs that they’re having to work harder to stay cool. If they’ve become listless or their breathing has become labored, then they’re experiencing heat stress – that’s harmful to them. Hens that aren’t able to stay cool enough will slow and stop their laying, and chickens that get too hot or stay hot for too long can die from heat stress.

So, how do we keep them cool?

Adapted breeds

The first thing is a decision you make before you get chickens: to start with adapted breeds, that is, breeds that are well-suited to your climate.

There are a lot of different chicken breeds, and each breed was originally developed for a specific purpose. Some breeds do better in warm weather, and some do better in cooler climates.

Mediterranean breeds, such as Leghorns and Minorcas are a good choice for hot areas. For more suggestions, see our chick breed selector. Click “show more characteristics” and then make a selection for “heat tolerance”. For more information, see our recent article on using the chick selector.

Next, let’s consider housing.

Housing

First, make sure your birds have plenty of space. Chickens have a natural body temperature of 107° (F). They put off a lot of heat and moisture. Put too many chickens in too small of an area, and it will be difficult for them to stay cool. For full size birds, we recommend a minimum of 4 square feet per bird.

Next, make sure the coop is well-ventilated. Good airflow will help to move out both the moisture and the heat put off by the birds. If you’re not able to get enough airflow with natural ventilation, consider creating a breeze with a fan.

Third, when possible, position the coop and the run under the shade of a tree or a building or other structure. Placing the coop and run beneath a shade tree can make a big difference in temperature. Also, position the coop where it will catch a breeze.

Water

It’s always important to give your chickens plenty of access to fresh water. But in hot weather, this is even more critical.

Put waterers in the shade so that the water will stay cool. Chickens may be reluctant to go out into the hot sun to get a drink – so having water in the shade is critical. Keep the water fresh and clean, and fill waterers with cool water if possible. On excessively hot days, replace warm water with cooler water again during the hotter part of the day. Your chickens will drink more water when the water is cool, and the cooler water will be more effective at helping them stay cool. If needed, you can even add some ice.

Be Observant & Be Creative

Checking on your chickens every day and watching their behavior is one of the best ways you can discover things before they turn into problems. If you notice that your chickens have plenty of water and shade, but they still seem hot and are sitting, panting in the shade, or if you notice that they’re not drinking as much water as you would expect, you may have to do a little detective work.

I recently heard an account of someone who was raising chickens in a hot, dry area. They were using nipple waterers, and there was ample water at all times. But still, the birds did not seem to be drinking enough water. Under most circumstances, nipple waterers work well, but the person keeping the chickens discovered that when it’s hot and the chickens are panting, they aren’t able to operate the nipple waterers well, so they weren’t getting as much water as they needed. When they’re not panting, the nipple waterers work well. The solution was very simple – they added a water fount in the shade so that the chickens could quench their thirst there and make use of the nipple waterers.

Small Things Make a Big Difference

In the heat of the day, chickens aren’t as active as when it’s cooler. If they have to cross a hot, sunny area to reach a waterer, they may not drink as much water as they should. Simply adding another waterer in the shade near them or repositioning the waterer so that it’s more easily accessible can make a big difference in how much water they drink and how well-hydrated they stay.

At one point, as I was writing this article, I sat and watched our chickens for a few minutes. In a chicken tractor nearby two Black Stars were panting a little. The large thermometer in the shade of our porch read 97° (F). I went out to take a closer look at the hens.

As I got closer, I found that the shade provided by the coop was mostly falling outside the chicken tractor on an area that the hens couldn’t reach, so it wasn’t doing them much good. The chicken tractor was parked right next to a tree, but the shade from it wasn’t landing inside the coop. I moved the coop a few feet and turned it 90° so that the shade from the coop’s roof would fall on the grassy run where the hens were, and they immediately got up and began foraging again in the grass.

Sometimes, something as simple as repositioning a coop or placing a layer of straw or fabric on the top of the run can give your chickens all the shade they need. In our garden, we have difficulty with Bermuda grass. To manage the Bermuda requires pulling out as much as possible of the roots. Bermuda is very apt to root again, so I don’t like to put it directly into the compost heap or leave it on the soil in or near the garden even once pulled. Instead, often I will lay the uprooted Bermuda on top of one of the chicken runs. There it provides cool shade (better than a piece of tin would) and this keeps the Bermuda off the ground where it will dry out fully and not be able to take root again.

This covers some of the basics. What kinds of things do you to keep your chickens cool?

Posted in Chickens | 25 Comments

4 Excellent Egg Recipes

In spring and summer, sometimes your chickens may lay so well that it’s hard to come up with ideas for what to do with all the eggs.  Here are a few tasty recipes that will help you out:

Chile Relleno Casserole – This makes a hearty dinner that’s simple to make and nice enough to serve for company. It can be served together with homemade Green Chile Sauce.
Spinach Yogurt QuicheSpinach Yogurt Quiche – For a special breakfast or lunch, try this great quiche. Even though quiche isn’t one of my personal favorites, this one is really quite good.
Jalapeño Cheese Snacks – These spicy little treats make a tasty afternoon snack or appetizer.  They’re also attractive enough enough to bring as “finger food” for parties, “showers,” or other “get-togethers”.
Easy Oven Pancake Oven Pancakes – Also known as German Pancakes, Dutch Babies, Finnish Pancakes, Kropsu, or Pannukakku. These are simple to make and make a great breakfast for special occasions, such as birthdays. They’re great with  home-canned fruit, such a peaches, along with yogurt and a little maple syrup.  They’re also good with fresh fruit or baked apples and a dab of whipped cream.

We know this barely scratches the surface. If you have recipes that you’d like to share that use lots of eggs, please post as a reply below.

This post was originally published in 2011 and was updated on May 25, 2015.
Posted in Recipes | 4 Comments

Murray McMurray Hatchery Chick Selector

Murray McMurray Chick SelectorWith so many breeds and varieties of chickens to choose from, sometimes determining exactly which breed you want can be difficult. The chick selector on our website is a tool we developed to make it a lot easier to decide, based on the breed characteristics that matter the most to you.

How to use the chick selector

McMurray Hatchery Chick Selector

First, click the link below, or click “Chick Selector” on our website:

https://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/chick_selector.html

Next, select the characteristics that you care the most about. By default, we show you a short list containing some of the most common characteristics, or you can click “show more characteristics” to see the complete list.

As you make your selections, to the right, you will be shown a list of the breeds that meet your requirements, and a small popup window will briefly show you how many breeds meet your criteria.

An Example

Let’s try an example. Suppose I want a backyard chicken that will produce eggs reasonably well and that’s a good meat producer. I don’t care about the color of the egg, and I’d like something that’s available to order right now as a straight run.

Good egg productionSo I select “good egg production”, “good meat production” and “st. run available”. The chick selector returns a list of 37 breeds (if you try the same selection, your results may vary because of changes in availability).

That’s still a large list to pick from, so I’d like to narrow it down further.

I decide that I really want large eggs, not medium or smaller, so I pick “large eggs”. Now I’m looking at 29 matching breeds.

Show more characteristicsNext, I click “show more characteristics”. This brings up more criteria so I can further narrow my choice. I decide that since my children will be helping with the chickens, I’d like something that has an “excellent disposition”. I make that selection, and now I have 8 matching breeds.

Since I live in a warm climate, I decide that I want a bird which is somewhat heat tolerant, or at least more so than average, so I select “better heat tolerance”.

Now there are only three matching varieties, making it much easier to choose one:

  • Blue Cochins
  • Delaware
  • Red Stars

The characteristics of each of these breeds is listed so I can easily compare them side by side and make my final selection.

Posted in McMurray Hatchery | 2 Comments

Feeding Your Chickens Table Scraps

Chickens like to eat table scraps, and most of the leftovers from your meals are safe for them to eat.  Table scraps alone don’t form a balanced diet for your chickens, so feed them and moderation and use them as a supplemental treat, not the main course.

Most table scraps are lower in protein than commercial grower rations.  Since baby chicks need plenty of protein to grow and develop properly, we recommend waiting until chickens are about 3-4 months old before introducing table scraps. Continue reading

Posted in Feeds and Feeding | 27 Comments