I like trade shows. Trade shows offer you a place to see, feel, smell and experience new products, new ideas and allow you to meet many new people. Granted, some people would ask, “Why do you need a tradeshow when you can just go to the company’s website?” The experience a visitor gets on a company’s website pales in comparison to what they can experience when looking for new products at a trade show. Does a picture or video of a chicken on a website generate the same reaction as holding a live chick in your hand? Not at all. I know first…well…hand.
I attended a particular trade show as a visitor the last two years. At last year’s show, I looked around and thought our Murray McMurray Hatchery chickens just might go over well at the show. As a vendor this year, with about 35 newly hatched chicks on display, I was nestled in between several organic farm’s, Natural Health Expert Jordan Rubin, a State chief justice, several authors and many more wonderful vendors.
I have to admit, showing off our chicks at a trade show really does not feel like work at all. It is thrilling to put a newly hatched chick into the hands of a person for the first time – and I’m talking about adults and children. I usually get a great mix of experience levels that stop at our booth. I find it so amazing that there continues to be adults who have never held a newly hatched chick before. Even the toughest, strongest, hard looking individuals stop to see the chicks. When I ask them if they want to hold one I get a Tim the Tool Man type of arhgh, argh, argh, “No Thanks!”. Then I put one in their hand before they can leave. The transition that happens on their face is amazing. I do the same thing with the executive women who pass by and “take a quick picture for their nieces and nephews”. All of a sudden what was in their planner doesn’t matter and the ringing of their cell phone goes uninterrupted as they start a baby talk voice and slowly caress the heads and feathers of the chicks.
It is funny with adults – they have a first reaction, then they have the real reaction. As adults, I wonder just how much we have let other influences condition us to the point that we don’t even remember how we are supposed to, or rather want to, react. I’m guilty of it. I’m sure you are to.
The kids that stop at the booth to see the chicks remind me of how far gone I have gotten on some things. Kids are awesome. They don’t care what they are doing, they just let their reaction to the chicks happen. Several will walk by having temper fits when they see the chicks and yell, “Oh mommy look!” They quickly forget what they were mad at and ask if they can hold a chick.
One of the families that I recognized at this particular trade show was the Duggar Family from TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting show. The youngest Duggar children who were in attendance loved the chicks on display. They held them, named them, and watched the chicks for hours.
“What’s your name?” I heard one child ask one of the Duggar’s.
“What’s your last name?”
“Duggar”, he said.
“hmm, I don’t know you. Want to be friends?”, asked the inquisitive child.
Does it really have to be more complicated than that? It seems like we make it so at times. The chicks I get to display have a magnetic affect on many. People of uncommon backgrounds, uncommon professions, and uncommon lifestyles are sharing in the joy of chickens. Some remember old times, some experience it for the first time.
I get to hear all kinds of wonderful chicken stories at the trade shows. One particular story shared with me was from a younger gentleman, probably 35 or so, who had a little hint of a southern draw to him. He told me he was helping an elderly widow with things and in one of their conversations she shared with him that she once owned chickens as a little girl. While her health was not in its prime, this widowed lady was surviving her days at best. This young gentleman said he wanted to help her spirit so he gave her several newly hatched chickens from Murray McMurray Hatchery. A year or two later, the widow commented to the young gentleman that his gift of the chicks added years to her life. She took on a new hope, a new excitement, a new, or re-newed spirit. This young gentleman remembers chicks at his grandparents house growing up and he, himself owned chicks now also.
You can see chicks on our website, you can even watch videos of them. These features, as I mentioned, don’t compare to holding them in your hand. If you have not owned chicks before, why not start today? We would love to get you started and experience the joy of chickens that so many others are today.
I remember my mother reading me many stories when I was little. In a lot of the stories that included a fox, the fox is the bad guy. The fox has been included in many stories, cultures, songs and more from Jimmy Hendrix’ “Foxy Lady” to Dr. Seuss’ “Fox in Socks”. The fox has a storied past for all of us and brings to light many various characteristics. The fox may be admired by some, may be feared by others, and for some, like myself at the moment, may be on a hit list.
You may remember my past blog about our recent move and the care that went into moving all our animals, including many, many new chickens. I was thrilled to get to our new farm and eventually let our meat birds range within the grass pasture. I utilized a moveable coop that I gleamed from a visit to Joel Salatin’s place and loved seeing the meat birds out in the grass pasture. I built the moveable coop with a strong gauge of chicken wire and 2″ x 4″ boards. I’m not the best judge of weight but this coop was heavy enough to where it took some effort to move it over the pasture.
It was a nice night out with the stars shining brightly and the moon beaming like a beacon in the night. I walked out of my main chicken coop and took a route past the meat birds in the movable coop. They were settled in for the night, hardly making a peep so I continued into the house and turned off the lights. I am typically up pretty late at night working on this or that and this night was going to be just that – a late one. Later this particular evening I got up from my desk and walked out the back door of the house. The stars and the moon were still shining brightly and I could see just a little movement within the meat bird coop. Silent night – all is calm, all is bright.
When I woke up the next morning I headed towards the coops, as I always do. As I got closer to the meat bird coop, I couldn’t see the chicks immediately. Strange, I thought, they must all be laying down yet. As I got closer my mindset changed. Hmmm.. That’s weird, they must have gotten out somehow. Given my typical craftsmanship this certainly was a possibility. Maybe they are behind the coop. As I got to the coop itself, my worst fear was realized – my chickens didn’t just get out, something took them!
All 16 chickens, gone. The reality of the situation set in quickly and I began to scan around the coop. I noticed what looked like the beginnings of a burglar’s attempt but I had seen that same scratching marks the day earlier. At the time I dismissed it as being from our young puppy. Around the opposite side of the coop I spotted the point of entry the thief took. I was very puzzled as the “route” under the coop was only about four to five inches wide. This entrance/exit was also very shallow measuring only a few inches deep. As I scanned inside the coop from the top through the chicken wire I saw only one small drop of blood and two tiny white feathers.
The coop measures eight feet by eight feet so I have a four feet by eight feet sheet of plywood as part of the roof to offer the birds cover from the rain and sun. The coop itself is only about 24″ to 30″ high. It was there, on the half roof of the coop, in plain sight for all to see, the reason that I now wage war on bad, bad, Mr. Fox. I can understand a fox needs to eat. I can understand a fox needs to feed its pups perhaps as well. For this particular fox to leave his calling card atop of my coop was, quite honestly, rude.
I know I have said this before in my past chicken trials, but I should have known better. I should have known that bringing a bunch a chickens to the farm would make us the talk of the town amongst the predators in the area. I can just hear them now, sitting around the coffee shop in the woods, you the know, the regulars reminiscing about the good ole’ days when they had the run the land and now all these humans were coming in to their territory. I can just hear Roxy the Raccoon behind the counter, pouring coffee to Fred the Fox and Colt the Coyote, telling them she saw a new family move in with a bunch of chickens. Fred the Fox has always been trouble maker in town so he quickly decided he was going to be the first to introduce himself. Colt the Coyote was older so he was going to let Fred take all the risks he wanted to. “Thanks for the tip Roxy,” says Fred as he puts down not his usual one mouse as a tip, but two mice as an extra thank you. He brushes his black socks and struts out of the diner.
I have seen Mr. Fox five times now during different hours of the day with most instances from 1:30pm to 4:30pm. I have seen him on my bike and run route, I have seen him while driving through town and now, most recently, in my yard as he just took one of our layers that was taking a stroll around the front yard. Before he was sneaky – now he is bold. Well bad, bad, Mr. Fox, you, as Joel would say, are infringing on my chicken-ness. If you feel like taking more chickens from my farm, come and get them. Just don’t plan on leaving.
Since we are now the proud owners of chickens, I did a little investigating into the significance of “the egg” this Easter celebration. When did eggs first become associated with Easter? The egg is an ancient symbol of new life and it has been linked with the celebration of Spring for years. According to history, Christians were forbidden to eat eggs along with other foods during the season of lent. When Easter arrived, the people painted and decorated the eggs to celebrate the end of fasting. Christians have adapted the symbolism of the egg to represent the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb, giving us new life through him.
We enjoyed a wonderful Easter yesterday as a family. Our kids woke up to baskets filled with candy eggs and special treats. Their favorite gift was the wind-up chicken that lays bubble gum eggs as it waddles. After church in the morning, we enjoyed an amazing brunch at the Olympic Training Center. We then came home and had fun watching the chickens free range in our backyard. We really wanted a family picture taken with all the chickens, but they were too fast for us. We only managed to catch Athens, so she was the only one that made the Easter family photo.
To finish out the day, we spent the evening at my sister-in-law and brother-in-law’s house. After the big Easter feast, the kids were excited to finally decorate the Easter eggs. This was a fun time we were able to use the eggs to teach our little ones about the true meaning of Easter and the salvation story.
Here’s what the colors represent:
We also talked about how the hard shell of the egg represents the sealed tomb where Jesus was buried, and the breaking of the egg represents Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. I never thought about the significance of the Easter egg before we had chickens. Next year, we look forward to decorating our own Easter eggs straight from our girls – Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London, and Rio.
As I drove the moving truck out of the neighborhood, Rosie and Winston sat shotgun quietly. I could see the look on their face. They couldn’t believe what we just packed up in this bohemith of a truck. Quite frankly, I couldn’t either. They didn’t say a word – they just both gave me a kiss on the cheek and watched down the road.
Rosie and Winston are my two golden retrievers. Rosie is the senior dog at two years old while Winston, the puppy, is still learning the ropes in her young 14 weeks of age. We just spent the last two days loading nearly 100 baby chicks, six adult chickens, two rabbits and the two aforementioned golden retrievers into the truck. In addition to the animals, of course, came two chicken coops, a rabbit hutch, two dog kennels and two tubs that served as brooders for the newly acquired chicks.
Newly hatched chicks are very resilient yet fragile as the wind at the same time. I had approximately 40 broilers and 60 layers housed in two separate large plastic tubs. To get chicks just a week before a move is not something I recommend at all. My family thought I was crazy but when the opportunity to get the chicks presented itself I wanted to take advantage of it.
I started the chicks in a two feet by three feet tub with the smallest waterer and feeder I could find. They remained on the landing of the stairs for that week prior to our move. Two tubs, two waters, two feeders, two heat lamps, 100 chicks – all in the front door of our home that we were carrying furniture out of.
With the truck loaded – our destination was set. Well sort of set. The farm we were moving to would offer plenty of room for the chicks to roam in time but for now as the farm house needed some repairs we would be staying with family for the next week or so. I guided Noah’s Ark to my parents’ house and promptly set up all the animals in their garage. I could see the worry, concern and astonishment on my mother’s face as the chicks peeped, the rabbits drank, the chickens cackled and the two dogs walked around knocking over golf clubs and everything else that wasn’t fastened down in her garage.
For the next two weeks the chicks got bigger, and the number of tubs increased to accommodate their growth. As I watched them grow, I knew they were going to need a bigger brooder fast. My plan for a wooden, divided brooder that would keep the chicks happy and safe certainly looked better in my mind than the final result. After the last nail was hammered in, I stepped back to take a look and the first thought that crossed my mind was, “It looks like a coffin for an eight feet tall person”. Not exactly what I was looking for but if it kept my chicks safe and got me back in the good graces of my mother, I was all for it. I drilled holes in each end of the brooder for air flow, put two heat lamps in each side for each group of chicks (layers and meat birds) and latched it tight so no predator would be able to pay a visit. It was four or five weeks by now and my chicks were out of the garage.
Week five was similar to a sixteen year old football player getting his appetite. These chicks can put away some food! With the weather warming up to consistent above freezing temps and the buffet these chicks were enjoying, I knew this coffin brooder would only be a temporary solution. By the beginning of week six I knew I needed to act quicker than I originally planned. The chicks were trying to fly out every time I opened the brooder and I promptly loaded them up for greener pastures.
Literally, I was taking them to the greener pastures of our new farm. The house renovations were complete and I had constructed a wire mesh wall that would separate the layers from the future brooding spots in the chicken coop. The coop is approximately 600 square feet giving each layer a lot of room to roam around. Of course, they have access to the pasture on nice days also. The meat birds are enjoying the fresh grass of the pasture as they move around the farm in their newly constructed chicken tractor that my boys and I quickly put together.
Two days ago my family and I were out in the yard and we saw two coyotes running across the West end of the property about 200 yards away from us. I’ve been keeping a close eye on all our chickens but now I tend to look into the coop several times a day just to make sure I haven’t forgotten something that would allow a pesky predator to make a visit.
Looking back over the last several weeks with the newly hatched chicks in the house, then to the garage, then to my coffin coop to finally getting the chicks to the farm, I can honestly say it has all been a positive experience and well worth the work. While it was not the most ideal situation with our move and the temporary locations we moved through, the chicks remained happy and healthy. Attention to detail and closely monitoring the chicks kept me in tune to their needs. This wasn’t the first time we brooded chicks but it certainly was the most unique.
Even during the short time at my parents’ house, the chicks garnered much attention from the neighbors. It was fun to share eggs from our adult chickens with the neighbors and educate them on the joy of having chickens. Brood some chicks today and share the experience with your neighbors!
I had the pleasure of showcasing some of our Murray McMurray Hatchery chickens and speaking at this past weekend’s Siouxland Garden Show in Sioux City, Iowa. This was our first time to the show so I didn’t know exactly what to expect. As I pulled into town with the snow flurrying around me, I welcomed the idea of an inside garden for the weekend. I wanted to fast forward into the heart of spring and as I stepped into the doors of the show, it seemed like I did.
Rain barrels, perennials, ferns, honey, decorative patio blocks, worm castings, aquaponics – just a few of the topics covered at the show. Oh yeah, and now, CHICKENS!
Chickens were the buzz at the show (sorry bees) as Sioux City recently passed an ordinance to allow four hens in the city limits. Another small victory for the chicken owner world was worth celebrating. Many visitors had heard of Murray McMurray Hatchery and I had the pleasure of meeting several generational customers, which is always neat for me personally. I love hearing stories of how the customer I talk with remembers ordering chicks from our catalog with his grandfather and now he was ordering chicks from us with his grandson.
At tradeshows, I talk to a variety of people with various levels of experience in owning chickens. One of the best experiences is seeing a child come over to our booth and put eyes on a real live chicken for the first time. Their eyes get big and after the initial pause of astonishment, the smile grows and grows across their face. After a quick acknowledgement from their parents, I put a newly hatched chick in their hand, stand back and just watch. The reactions are priceless, the hand sanitizer close by. And if it wasn’t enough to see the kids’ reactions, the same happens to several of the adults as well. Some adults are seeing and holding a baby chicken for the first time in their lives and it is really amazing to watch.
For three days I answer chicken questions, listen to chicken ownership stories, offer some advice on how to do this and that and meet some wonderful people. During my talk on Sunday I gave an overview of what it is involved in owning chickens. I talked about feed, water, coops, benefits of fresh eggs and much more. With a few hours remaining, the show was over. The displays came down, the people left and my drove home began. As I exited Sioux City, I couldn’t help but wonder what has begun in the community.
With the volunteers and staff of the Siouxland Garden Show, the city is well poised to learn and grow about gardening, chickens and so much more. The seeds they continue to plant in the community will be a harvest for many to enjoy.
The past couple months have been a fun adventure with our chicks. They’re beginning to look a lot more like chickens than the fluffy little chicks that arrived on our doorstep just 9 weeks ago. The weather has gotten warmer and they’re now enjoying living in their brand new coop.
My wife Val and I have decided that chickens are the ultimate pets for three little boys. During the first few weeks, the boys enjoyed holding them and petting their soft little fuzz. As they’ve grown, they enjoy watching the silly little girls peck and scratch around.
One afternoon, our oldest son Davis came running into the house to tell us that our two year old Case was in the Peck and Play with the chicks, and that he kissed one of them! I guess they’re getting very comfortable with our new pets.
Did you know how many books there are written about chickens? Every week, Davis brings home a new chicken book from school. It’s been a fun way for all of us to learn all the fun facts there are to know about chickens. We’ve also realized that we have a lot of children’s books around the house that have chickens in them. The kid’s most recent favorite is, “The Chicken Problem.” Our little Case begs to read it every night before bed.
With our boys, it’s been all about the chickens. They love to read chicken books, watch chicken cartoons and chicken movies, tell why did the chicken cross the road jokes, and draw and color chicken pictures. Davis has even brought the chicks in to first grade for show and tell. They were definitely a hit with all the kids!
When we first made the decision to raise chickens in our backyard, we primarily thought about the benefits of fresh eggs. We’ve been pleasantly surprised to experience what great pets they make for the entire family. Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London, and Rio have definitely found a special place in our family.
You have invested a lot of time raising your chickens and by now they could be producing fresh eggs for you every day.
With the winter season, you need to make a few special arrangements to ensure your hens continue to lay. A few minutes of attention to housing, temperature, water supply and lighting will keep them laying all winter.
Winter housing need not be fancy. Any dry, draft free structure will work. Remember that drafts can be more deadly than cold temperatures. A 10X10 foot building is more than adequate for a flock of 20 hens. Chickens produce a fair amount of body heat. Except in the extreme northern states, an insulated building will keep your flock warm…in fact, you may need to provide ventilation to keep your flock from getting too hot. Be sure to inspect the building for openings and weasels to enter. You’ll also need to provide nesting boxes and roosts for your laying hens.
Hens lay best when the temperature is between 55 and 80 degrees F. Any temperature colder or warmer will affect egg production. A small heater or heat lamp may be needed to maintain a minimum temperature in extreme northern climates.
Your flock needs a constant supply of water (not ice) throughout the winter. Keeping the water from freezing is very important. Be sure to keep FRESH water available at all times. Water is extremely important to egg quality. 65% of the egg is water.
Light is very important in egg production. Light causes the hen’s pituitary gland to secrete hormones in her ovary. These hormones stimulate her to lay more eggs. Hens need fourteen hours of light each day for maximum egg production. A 60 watt bulb can supply enough light for up to 200 square feet of floor space. A timer should be used to turn the light on and off. Hens subjected to irregular lighting will lay fewer eggs or begin to molt and stop laying altogether. Some poultry experts suggest having two timers. One to control the 60 watt light and one to run a 7 ½ watt bulb a little longer to allow hens to find their roost after the 60 watt bulb goes out.
THE INCREDIBLE, EDIBLE EGG
A hen lays approximately 20 dozen eggs during a 12 month period. Once an egg is laid, it cannot get any better, brown or white, fertile or non fertile, the egg is a near perfect food. Proper handling keeps eggs that way.
Gather eggs at least twice a day. Cool them to 50-60 degrees F, as quickly as possible. 75% humidity will help keep them fresh. A fresh egg has a yolk that stands high in the frying pan and a white that is thick, cloudy and doesn’t run all over the pan.
During winter, keep eggs from freezing. Taking extra eggs to work for friends and fellow workers? Don’t leave eggs in the car or truck where they can freeze. Bring them into the office and place them in a cool place…not near a heater. This will preserve the quality of the eggs for your customers.
Winter can be tough on everyone. The bitter cold bites at your lungs while the howling wind cracks your hands. Frozen tears cry for warmer weather while layers and layers of bundling limit your mobility to a stay puft marshmallow man. I am not a fan of winter.
The elements of the winter season are embraced by many I’m sure. While I certainly enjoy a good Winter Olympics, sled riding with the kids and of course that white Christmas that Crosby sings about every year, I would much rather have a limited exposure to it. When it comes to our animals outside, limiting their exposure is exactly what we need to do. We certainly learned a few lessons this past winter in caring for our chickens. Some things, quite frankly, I took for granted during the warmer days and others we were lucky enough to learn or be told about that we will incorporate into next season’s preparation.
Water: Oh how I longed to be able to turn on the hose outside at 5:00 am to fill the waterers in the coops. With six or more inches of snow on the ground and negative temperatures for days, the spigot unfortunately was not going to spew. A three foot long icicle hanging from the spigot quickly told me I should have done something differently. Watering the chickens now consisted of filling several pitchers of water to fill the three gallon waters in the coops. I had to do this in the dark on most days as I dare not wake up the little ones who needed several more hours of sleep. I learned quickly to pay attention to not spill any water on my hands as I turned the filled waterers upright in the coop. The first time I reached for the door knob to the garage with wet hands I found myself breathing as much hot air as I could on my hand that was now frozen to the door knob. Several times my index finger would freeze to the metal latch of the coop door and I kept thinking about how this just happened the day before – how can I keep making the same mistakes? I chalked it up to early morning delirium.
Coops: Kim at the hatchery here was wowing me with her stories of her glorious coops she had in the past. She told me about the shutters on the windows and the curtains she sewed for them. She also talked about how she built the coop with insulation. I thought she was getting a little extreme with the insulation until I moved to Iowa and felt the cold hard truth of the winters. As winter came in, I thought my chickens would be okay. I have hardy breeds such as Buff Orpingtons, Barred Rocks and the like. Chickens have been around long before insulation I reasoned, surely they will be fine. Hold that thought.
During a visit to Joel Salatin’s place he showed us his deep bedding philosophy in action and I quickly got an appreciation for this as I watched the chickens scratch and bed down in the thick bedding. Joel mentioned that while he loved the egg production of the Red Star’s, he preferred the hardiness of the large breeds like the Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds. He had found that the Red Star’s just didn’t take the winter as well as these other breeds. A week after our trip to Joel’s, there in my coop was my Red Star, Ester, lifeless. I was devastated. My kids were devastated. And it was my fault. My mind flashed back to Kim talking about insulating her coops, it flashed to Joel talking about deep bedding. For my small coops in the backyard, I needed to do something different. I quickly added a lot more bedding, put heat lamps in each coop and put thick plastic around all exposed windows of the coop and the runs. I should have done this already – I’m not sure what I was (or wasn’t) thinking but I know now – unfortunately this was a costly lesson to learn.
Feed – I was in the habit of feeding the chickens in the morning but with the cold weather, the chickens will need to eat more to maintain their body weight. I switched to feeding them twice a day (or at least ensuring they had food in the feeders in the evening.). I learned again that walking to the coops in the yard was something I took for granted. With a few warm days periodically throughout the season, it was just enough to melt some snow and then refreeze it into this uneven treacherous frozen tundra. One day in particular I was walking a loaded feeder back to the coop when I found myself gliding down the yard like a downhill skier! Panic set it quickly as I tried to maintain the fully filled feeder while riding the roller coaster of this ice path. The trip came to an abrupt end with the feeder in the air, my tush landing hard on the ice, my eyes glaring up at the starry night sky and the chickens squacking at me as I lay there doing a quick limb check. Feeding in the winter can be dangerous. Next year, I’m keep a nice, clear patch shoveled to the coop.
I always tell new chickens owners that chickens need three basic things: Food, Water and Shelter. Unfortunately for me, even with having owned chickens and working at a hatchery, I let winter come in like a lion and chase my common sense away this time. Winter can be tough on everyone, and it was especially for me this winter. As I proved, exposing our chickens to the elements can be deadly if we are not prepared. While I know we are getting to the end of winter now, later this week I’m going to share a quick list of some winter tips that Kim put together for us. One of the best ways to prepare for exposing our chickens to winter, is getting ourselves exposed to the hard lessons learned by others.
With Spring upon us now, I look forward to the warm weather and look for ice only to be my tea.