Written By Don Schrider
This summer of 2012 has turned hot and we on the east coast have been hit hard with storms that have taken the power out for many days at a time. The chickens are surviving this handsomely, needing no electricity as long as they have food, shelter, and water.
As I try to sleep, windows open, a faint breeze stirring the hot, humid air, I reflect on just how well my chickens are taking the heat. My pens are airy, letting the air move and whisking away body heat. The roosts have plenty of airspace all around them. My chickens live in a wooded part of the yard; they love the shade the trees provide. My hanging feeders are under roof, protecting them from the rains, and holding enough food for a few days. I use plenty of water containers, providing a three or more day supply – which proved very advantageous once the power went out and the well pump had no electricity with which to operate.
Each morning I am awakened by a chorus of crowing – each rooster being sure he is the first to sing in the new day. The chickens begin their day scratching around in search of some breakfast. The majority of the day is spent satisfying both their hunger and their curiosity – exploring, scratching, running to see what another chicken has found. The hens quietly withdraw to the privacy of their nest, and then publicly announce, with a loud BAH-KA, that they have laid an egg. During the middle of the day, even in this heat, some of the chickens take the time to sunbathe. They lay on their sides, with one leg and one wing stretched out, basking in the warm golden sunlight. As I arrive to collect eggs and feed treats, they follow me around and hungrily peck up the corn and leftovers I provide for them. As dusk arrives they begin to take their individual places upon the roosts, settling in for the night.
Even without electricity my chickens are safe. I use a solar charger to power their electronet fence. I have a solar light in their yard to discourage predators. And my partner, Roxy, my chicken guard dog, patrols the property day and night driving away such dangerous creatures as deer, neighbors, hawks, and sneaky nighttime visitors like raccoons and possums.
For the chickens, nothing has changed. The loss of power goes unnoticed. Life is as enjoyable today as it was yesterday. This is due to the fact that electricity is not a large part of their experience and care, and to the fact that both pens and food and water systems are designed to be safe, comfortable, and to provide days of nutrition without the need for power.
Now is a good time for you to take a look at your pens and the care you are giving your chickens this summer. Do they have shade? And is the shaded area large enough for all the birds? Is it open enough to allow breezes to blow through. Do you have multiple waterers set out so that every chicken get a drink without being driven away by a bossy hen or rooster? Are the waterers large enough to provide several days of water if needed? Are the roosts roomy? Do you have plenty of feed stored in airtight containers? Is your fence strong and in good repair?
Are you feeding a diet with extra vitamins and a good level of nutrition? Remember, chickens eat less in the heat, so be sure you are using a good quality feed and supplement with Omega Ultra Egg – its vitamins and nutrition helping to ensure both good eggs and healthy chickens during the summer heat.
This summer is also a time for miracles. Each year I like to let a hen or two sit and hatch out a clutch of eggs. This year I had a Light Brown Leghorn sit on a small clutch of her own eggs – four to be exact. Twenty-one days later, she brought off a clutch of three healthy chicks. One of the interesting things about this, is that momma retained most of the redness of her comb during her broody stage. This can be credited to the extra nutrition she received from supplementing her laying mash with Omega Ultra Egg.
Momma hen is fiercely protective of her clutch and an all around attentive mother. She clucks to her chicks, drawing them to tasty food morsels. She warms them, letting them nuzzle under her breast feathers. Sometimes a bold chick decides to leap up on momma’s back to get a better view of the world. And woe betide the foolish human that picks one of her chicks up – momma is there in an instant, attacking with wings, beak, and feet, then retreating, spinning, and returning to attack again. A broody hen seems to have the courage of an army; even roosters avoid a hen when she is protecting her young.
If you decide to brood your own chicks, there are a few tips to keep in mind. Once a hen begins to go broody, she will spend most of the day on the nest. She will cluck and raise her feathers as she walks or if you disturb her nesting. You will notice she is missing many feathers on her breast, allowing the warmth of her body to warm the eggs, and later the chicks. She will begin to spend nights on the nesting box once she is fully committed.
Other hens will want to join her on the nest to lay their eggs. This will cause many eggs to be broken. It will also mean that the eggs she is sitting on will be at unequal stages of growth. For best results, move the hen to a secluded nesting site at night. Take care to disturb her as little as possible. Make sure the new site is secure, can contain day-old chicks, and preferably a little dark and private. Provide momma with good food and water, even though she will consume little of each. And after twenty-one days she will turn a batch of fertile eggs into a brood of healthy chicks.
Hens differ in their mothering ability. Some young hens will not sit the full three weeks it takes to hatch a clutch. Some hens make poor mothers – caring little for their chicks, even killing some or all of them. A fair number of hens can tell their chicks from those of other hens and may do harm to strange chicks. I have even had a hen that knew the chicks she hatched were the wrong color (were another breed) and refused them. Most hens are good to excellent mothers. A few are great mothers and will raise any chick offered to them. For the few that are bad mothers, often you can remove the chicks and raise them in a brooder.
I like to keep the hen alone with her chicks for the first few days. Often I will decide to integrate them with the flock after a week or so. I do this by placing them in a wire pen, within the yard of the flock – so that the other hens and rooster can get used to seeing them. After about two weeks, I will let momma and brood run out in the yard with the other hens while I am around to watch – a few little squabbles may happen as momma decides another hen has gotten too close to the babies. But if everything goes well, on the second day I will let the brood join the flock.
As the chicks grow and feather out, they will first join mom on the roost. Later, momma will decide that they no longer need her protection and they are abandoned to care for themselves as members of the flock.
With some good planning and proper nutrition, like that found in Omega Ultra Egg, your chickens can survive summer and power outages and can even raise a brood on chicks.
Happy chicken keeping.
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia