THE CARE OF CHICKENS
Source: Outdoor Sports and Games
The best breed--Good and bad points of incubators--What to feed small
chicks--A model chicken house
A pen of chickens gives a boy or girl an opportunity for keeping pets
that have some real value. Whether there is much profit in poultry is
a question, but it is at least certain that the more care you give
them the better they pay. There is but little difference in the
results obtained from the various breeds of chickens, but there is a
great difference in the people who take care of them. It is very
difficult to make poultry pay on a large scale. Nearly every poultry
farm that has started as a business has failed to make a success. The
surest way to make chickens pay is to have only a few. Then the table
scraps and the worms and weed seeds they can pick up will supply them
with practically all their feed and the time you give them need not be
counted as expense.
There are sixty or seventy distinct breeds of poultry recognized by
expert fanciers and from three to ten colours or varieties in many of
these breeds. New ones are being added constantly. For example, a
breed called Orpingtons was recently introduced from England and now
has ten varieties or colours that are "standard." At the New York
Poultry Show a record price of $2,500 was paid for the prize-winning
hen of this breed. There is a style in chickens as well as in anything
else. A new breed will always have a great many admirers at first, and
great claims will be made for its superior qualities. The poultrymen
who have stock and eggs to sell will secure high prices for their
output. Very soon, however, the real value of a new breed will be
known and it will be on the same basis as the older breeds.
A beginner had better start with some standard recognized breed and
leave the experimenting to some one else. One thing is certain:
thoroughbreds will pay better than mongrels. Their eggs are of more
uniform size and colour, the stock will be healthy and as a rule weigh
a pound or two more than birds of uncertain breeding. Thoroughbreds do
not cost any more to feed or care for than the mongrels and in every
way are superior.
Breeds of poultry are usually divided into three separate classes,
depending on the place where the breed originated. They are the
American, Asiatic, and Mediterranean strains. The leading American
breed is the barred Plymouth Rock and for a beginner will probably be
the best to start with.
Another very excellent American or general purpose breed is the White
Wyandotte. They are especially valuable as broilers, as they make
rapid growth while young. The Leghorns are the leading breed for eggs.
They are "non-sitters" and, being very active, do not become overfat.
Their small size, however, makes them poor table fowls and for this
reason they are not adapted to general use. The Asiatic type, which
includes Brahmas, Langshans, and Cochins, are all clumsy, heavy birds,
which make excellent table fowl but are poor layers and poor foragers.
Brahma roosters will frequently weigh fifteen pounds and can eat corn
from the top of a barrel.
A beginner should never attempt to keep more than one kind of
chickens. To get a start, we must either buy a pen of birds or buy the
eggs and raise our own stock. The latter method will take a year more
than the former, as the chicks we hatch this year will be our layers a
year later. Sometimes a pen of eight or ten fowls can be bought
reasonably from some one who is selling out. If we buy from a breeder
who is in the business they will cost about five dollars a trio of
two hens and a rooster. The cheapest way is to buy eggs and hatch your
own stock. The usual price for hatching-eggs is one dollar for fifteen
eggs. We can safely count on hatching eight chicks from a setting, of
which four may be pullets. Therefore we must allow fifteen eggs for
each four pullets we intend to keep the next year. The surplus
cockerels can be sold for enough to pay for the cost of the eggs. If
we have good luck we may hatch every egg in a setting and ten of them
may be pullets. On the other hand, we may have only two or three
chicks, which may all prove to be cockerels; so the above calculation
is a fair average. If we start with eggs, we shall have to buy or rent
some broody hens to put on the eggs. A good plan is to arrange with
some farmer in the neighbourhood to take charge of the eggs and to set
his own hens on them. I once made such an arrangement and agreed to
give him all but one of the cockerels that hatched. I was to take all
the pullets. The arrangement was mutually satisfactory and he kept and
fed the chicks until they were able to leave the mother hen--about
eight weeks. It is also possible to buy one-day-old chicks for about
ten or fifteen cents apiece from a poultry dealer, but the safest way
is to hatch your own stock.
The easiest way to make a large hatch all at one time is with an
incubator. There are a number of very excellent makes advertised in
the farm papers and other magazines and the prices are quite
reasonable. An incubator holding about a hundred eggs will cost ten or
twelve dollars. There are many objections to incubators which we can
learn only from practical experience. We shall not average more than
50 per cent. hatches as a rule. That is to say, for every hundred eggs
we set we must not count on hatching more than fifty chicks.
Incubators are a constant care. The most important objection to an
incubator is that it is against the rules of most fire insurance
companies to allow it to be operated in any building that the
insurance policy covers. If the automatic heat regulator fails to work
and the heat in our incubator runs up too high we may have a fire. At
any rate, we shall lose our entire hatch. The latter is also true if
the lamp goes out and the eggs become too cool. I have made a great
many hatches with incubators of different makes and my experience has
been that we must watch an incubator almost constantly to have success
The sure way to hatch chickens is with a broody hen, but at the same
time incubators are perfectly satisfactory if run in a room where the
temperature does not vary much (a cellar is the best place). With an
incubator there is always a temptation to attempt to raise more
chickens than we can care for properly. Overcrowding causes more
trouble than any other one thing. It is better to have a dozen
chickens well cared for than a hundred that are neglected.
Eggs for incubators will cost about five dollars a hundred. Of course
if they are from prize-winning stock the cost will be several times
this amount. Before placing any eggs in an incubator it should be run
for two days to be sure that the heat regulator is in working order.
The usual temperature for hatching is 103 degrees and the machine
should be regulated for this temperature as it comes from the factory.
Full directions for operating, as well as a thermometer, will come
with the machine and should be studied and understood before we begin
to operate it. As the hatch progresses, the heat will "run up," as it
is called, and we shall need to understand how to regulate the
thermostat to correct this tendency toward an increased temperature.
The eggs in an incubator must be turned twice a day. To be sure that
we do this thoroughly it is customary to mark the eggs before we place
them in the machine. The usual mark is an "X" on one side of the egg
and an "O" on the other written in lead pencil. In placing the eggs in
the trays we start with all the "O" marks up, for instance, and at the
time of the first turning leave all the "X's" visible, alternating
this twice every day.
In order to operate an incubator successfully, we shall also need a
brooder, which is really an artificial mother. There is a standard
make of brooder costing five dollars that will accommodate fifty
chicks. Brooders are very simple in construction and can be made at
home. A tinsmith will have to make the heating drum. The rest of it is
simply a wooden box with a curtain partition to separate the hot room
from the feeding space. Ventilating holes must be provided for a
supply of fresh air and a box placed at the bottom to prevent a
draught from blowing out the lamp. In a very few days after we place
the chicks in a brooder they should be allowed to go in and out at
will. In a week or two we shall be able to teach them the way in, and
then by lowering the platform to the ground for a runway we can permit
them to run on the ground in an enclosed runway. On rainy days we must
shut them in.
There is always a temptation to feed chicks too soon after they are
hatched. We should always wait at least twenty-four hours to give them
a chance to become thoroughly dry. The general custom of giving wet
cornmeal for the first feed is wrong. Always feed chicks on dry food
and you will avoid a great deal of sickness. An excellent first food
is hard-boiled egg and corn bread made from cornmeal and water without
salt and thoroughly baked until it may be crumbled. Only feed a little
at a time, but feed often. Five times a day is none too much for
One successful poultryman I am acquainted with gives, as the first
feed, dog biscuit crushed. All the small grains are good if they are
cracked so that the chicks can eat them. The standard mixture sold by
poultry men under the name "chick food" is probably the best. It
consists of cracked wheat, rye, and corn, millet seed, pinhead
oatmeal, grit, and oyster shells. Do not feed meat to chicks until
their pin feathers begin to show, when they may have some well-cooked
lean meat, three times a week.
There is quite an art in setting a hen properly. They always prefer a
dry, dark place. If we are sure that there are no rats around, there
is no better place to set a hen than on the ground. This is as they
sit in nature and it usually seems to be the case that a hen that
steals her nest will bring out more chicks than one that we have
coddled. Eggs that we are saving for hatching should be kept in a cool
place but never allowed to freeze. They should be turned every day
until they are set. Hens' eggs will hatch in about twenty-one days.
The eggs that have failed to hatch at this time may be discarded. When
we move a broody hen we must be sure that she will stay on her new
nest before we give her any eggs. Test her with a china egg or a
doorknob. If she stays on for two nights we may safely give her the
setting. It is always better when convenient to set a hen where she
first makes her nest. If she must be moved, do it at night with as
little disturbance as possible. It is always a good plan to shut in a
sitting hen and let her out once a day for feed and exercise. Do not
worry if in your judgment she remains off the nest too long. The eggs
require cooling to develop the air chamber properly, and as a rule the
hen knows best.
Young chickens are subject to a great many diseases, but if they are
kept dry and warm, and if they have dry food, most of the troubles may
be avoided. With all poultry, lice are a great pest. Old fowls can
dust themselves and in a measure keep the pest in check, but little
chicks are comparatively helpless. The big gray lice will be found on
a chick's neck near the head. The remedy for this is to grease the
feathers with vaseline on the head and neck. The small white lice can
be controlled by dusting the chicks with insect powder and by keeping
the brooder absolutely clean. A weekly coat of whitewash to which some
carbolic acid has been added will keep lice in check in poultry houses
and is an excellent plan. Hen-hatched chicks are usually more subject
to lice than those hatched In incubators and raised in brooders, as
they become infected from the mother. Some people say that chicks have
lice on them when they are hatched, but this is not so.
The first two weeks of a chick's life are the important time. If they
are chilled or neglected they never get over it, but will develop into
weaklings. There are many rules and remedies for doctoring sick
chickens, but the best way is to kill them. This is especially so in
cases of roup or colds. The former is a very contagious disease and
unless checked may kill an entire pen of chickens. A man who raises
25,000 chickens annually once told me that "the best medicine for a
sick chicken is the axe."
A very low fence will hold small chicks from straying away, but it
must be absolutely tight at the bottom, as a very small opening will
allow them to get through. Avoid all corners or places where they can
be caught fast. The mesh of a wire fence must be fine. Ordinary
chicken wire will not do.
[Illustration: A home-made chicken coop built on the "scratching-shed"
A brooder that will accommodate fifty chicks comfortably for eight
weeks will be entirely too small even for half that number after they
begin to grow. As soon as they can get along without artificial heat,
the chickens should be moved to a colony house and given free range.
They will soon learn to roost and to find their way in and out of
their new home, especially if we move away the old one where they
cannot find it.
A chicken coop for grown fowls can be of almost any shape, size, or
material, providing that we do not crowd it to more than its proper
capacity. The important thing is to have a coop that is dry, easily
cleaned and with good ventilation, but without cracks to admit
draughts. A roost made of two by four timbers set on edge with the
sharp corners rounded off is better than a round perch. No matter how
many roosts we provide, our chickens will always fight and quarrel to
occupy the top one. Under the roost build a movable board or shelf
which may easily be taken out and cleaned. Place the nest boxes under
this board, close to the ground. One nest for four hens is a fair
allowance. Hens prefer to nest in a dark place if possible. A modern,
up-to-date coop should have a warm, windproof sleeping room and an
outside scratching shed. A sleeping room should be provided with a
window on the south side and reaching nearly to the floor. A hotbed
sash is excellent for this purpose. The runway or yard should be as
large as our purse will permit. In this yard plant a plum tree for
shade. The chickens will keep the plum trees free from the "curculio,"
a small beetle which is the principal insect pest of this fruit. This
beetle is sometimes called "the little Turk" because he makes a mark
on a plum that resembles the "star and crescent" of the Turkish flag.
Whether we can make our poultry pay for the trouble and expense of
keeping them will depend on the question of winter eggs. It is
contrary to the natural habits of chickens to lay in winter, and if
left to themselves they will practically stop laying when they begin
to moult or shed their feathers in the fall, and will not begin again
until the warm days of spring. When eggs are scarce it will be a great
treat to be able to have our own supply instead of paying a high price
at the grocer's.
The fact that it is possible to get really fresh eggs in midwinter
shows that with the proper care hens will lay. The average farm hen
does not lay more than eighty eggs a year, which is hardly enough to
pay for her feed. On the other hand, at an egg-laying contest held in
Pennsylvania, the prize-winning pen made a record of 290 eggs per year
for each hen. This was all due to better care and proper feed.
The birds were healthy pullets to begin with, they had warm food and
warm drinking water throughout the winter, their coop was a bright,
clean, dry place with an outside scratching shed. The grain was fed in
a deep litter of straw to make them work to get it and thus to obtain
the necessary exercise to keep down fat. The birds in this contest
were all hatched early in March and were all through the moult before
the cold weather came. Most of the advertised poultry feeds for winter
eggs are a swindle. If we give the birds proper care we shall not
require any drugs. It is an excellent plan to give unthreshed straw to
poultry in winter. They will work to obtain the grain and be kept
busy. The usual quantity of grain for poultry is at the rate of a
quart of corn or wheat to each fifteen hens. A standard winter ration
is the so-called hot bran mash. This is made from wheat bran, clover
meal, and either cut bone or meat scraps. It will be necessary to feed
this in a hopper to avoid waste and it should be given at night just
before the birds go to roost, with the grain ration in the morning,
which will keep them scratching all day. Always keep some grit and
oyster shells where the chickens can get it; also feed a little
A dust bath for the hens will be appreciated in winter when the ground
is frozen. Sink a soap box in a corner of the pen and sheltered from
rain or snow and fill it with dry road dust. Have an extra supply to
fill up the box from time to time.
The best place for a chicken house is on a sandy hillside with a
southern slope. A heavy clay soil with poor drainage is very bad.
Six-foot chicken wire will be high enough to enclose the run. If any
of the chickens persist in flying out we must clip the flight feathers
of their wings (one wing, not both). Do not put a top board on the
run. If a chicken does not see something to fly to, it will seldom
attempt to go over a fence, even if it is quite low.
It is much better to allow chickens full liberty if they do not ruin
our garden or flower beds or persist in laying in out of the way
places where the eggs cannot be found.
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