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.

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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.

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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?”

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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.

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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.
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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:

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

How Much Roost Space Do My Chickens Need?

Chickens roosting on fenceRoost space depends largely on the size of your chickens — how tall, wide and long they are, from beak to tail. There are several considerations that affect how to position the roost and how much space to provide.

If a roost is too close to the wall, the chickens will get some manure on it. For large breeds, start the first roost parallel to the wall and about 18″ from it to help keep the wall clean. Consider having making the roosts easy to remove so you can more easily clean and disinfect the coop.

Large, dual-purpose chickens will use up to about 12″ of space (width along the roost) per bird. The more chickens you have, the better use they will make of the available space.

Avoid placing the top roost too close to the ceiling so that your chickens can fly up to the roost and flap their wings as they settle for the night, both without bumping the ceiling.

Horizontal roost spacing

Horizontal roost spacing

There are two basic ways to lay out the roosts. If you have ample space in the coop, you may want to lay the roosts out horizontally, with all of the roosts at the same height. In that arrangement, a spacing of 12″ per chicken (width along the roost) and 18″ between roost bars will be adequate.

Stair-step roost arrangement

Stair-step roost arrangement

In a coop where space is more limited, you can save space by staggering the roosts in stair-step arrangement, as shown in the diagram. Place the roosts at least 12″ apart horizontally and 12-15″ apart vertically, as shown.

If the roosts are too close together in this stair step arrangement, lower birds will not be able to avoid droppings from birds above them. For large breeds, avoid this problem by keeping the roosts spaced at least 12″ apart horizontally, and at least 12-15″ vertically to provide enough headroom. Simple things like this, which improve hygiene and reduce stress to your chickens go a long ways toward maintaining a strong, healthy flock.

Finally, it’s best to place your roosts higher than your nest boxes, at least your top roost. The reason: chickens like to roost as high as they can get, and they produce manure all night long. It will be impossible to keep the nest boxes clean if the hens sleep in them. Having your nest boxes lower than the roosts reduces the chance that your birds will roost in them.

As mentioned earlier, the size of your birds determines the space that they’ll need. The above recommendations are for large, dual-purpose chickens. For lighter breeds, like the White Leghorn, or for bantams, you can scale the distances down.

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How Often Should I Worm My Chickens?

Free Ranging ChickensFor most backyard flock owners, we don’t recommend worming on a regular schedule without first having your flock tested for worms. The test involves a fecal sample, which can be done by a local vet. It will tell you whether or not your chickens have a problem with worms, and if so, how severe the problem is and what the treatment should be.

Because chickens are susceptible to a variety of different worms, and because the medications used to treat these differs, it’s important to identify the type of worm that you’re trying to treat for before trying to treat it.

By practicing good flock management, you can keep your flock as strong and healthy as possible, and this will allow your chickens to develop a natural resistance toward worms. Using wormers regularly short-circuits their ability to build this natural resistance and makes your flock more dependent on the continued use of wormers.

What are the keys to good flock management? First of all, hygiene. Clean the chicken’s waterers, feeders, coop and other equipment regularly. Provide a supply of fresh, clean drinking water at all times. Keep feed out of contact with the ground. Keep bedding clean and fresh or use the deep bedding method. Second, use a good quality feed that’s appropriate for your flock. Third, provide adequate shelter against rain, wind and predators. Fourth, choose breeds that are well-adapted to your environment, climate and management style. And fifth, if possible, move your flock to new ground regularly.

To multiply, worms rely on being ingested (eaten) by the chickens as part of their reproductive cycle. If you move your chickens daily to new ground, such as you can do easily if you house them in a chicken tractor or portable coop or pen, it can go a long way toward preventing a worm problem.

If your flock has had a history of worms, you may want to schedule a regular fecal sample 2 to 4 times per year. Treat worms when necessary, then follow up with another fecal sample to make sure the treatment was effective. But also, take a close look at your flock management, as discussed above and make any adjustments necessary. With worms, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

We’ll discuss the types of worms that can affect chickens and treatments for them in a separate article.

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