When you arrive home with your Eggsellent Chickens purchases there are a few things you should do to help the settling in process to ensure the best outcome for your chickens and so the best eggs for you.
If you are going to incubate your eggs it is best to leave them in a cool, dry room (definitely not the fridge), tilted on an angle until the next day. Your incubator should have been thoroughly cleaned and checked that it is working correctly. Follow manufacturers instructions carefully for how to operate your incubator but especially for setting temperatures as some require slightly different running temperatures to others and that slight variation can be the difference between success and failure in your hatch. Your eggs should take 21 days to hatch but can take a little longer if your settings are a bit cool. The eggs need to be turned three times (or more) daily at evenly spaced intervals except for the last three days, from day 18, when they should be left alone and humidity raised slightly. Make sure little hands can’t reach the incubator.
If you have purchased eggs to place under a broody hen then it is best to do this in the evening when the chooks have settled in for the night. Try not to disturb your hen as you set the eggs under her at the same time removing any that she may have been sitting on. If other hens are continuing to lay in the same coop then it is wise to mark the fertile eggs you have purchased so that you can still collect the others daily. Your broody hen will do all the work of hatching for you but you do need to ensure she leaves the nest for a short time each day to toilet, eat and drink. Some hens have almost starved themselves in an attempt to look after their eggs. Some people prefer to remove the hen from the general coop to her own quiet area for raising her chicks but this should be done at least a few days prior to giving her eggs to ensure she will remain sitting. Other people prefer to leave the broody hen with her flock to avoid having to re/introduce mother and babies at a later date. This is but watch that the other hens are not being aggressive towards the chicks or their mother hen.
Heat is essential for the survival of chicks up until about 8 weeks of age, a little less in warmer weather. A lamp placed over a large box works well but check that heat is emitted from the globe. Many of the newer globes are ‘cool touch’. A shade over the light that reflects the heat down toward the chicks is ideal. The box should exclude draughts and be large enough for the chicks with growing room, their feed and water and room to move away from the heat source if they are a little too warm: about 1 meter square is ideal. If your chicks a cheeping a lot they might be too cold (or hungry or thirsty), you will soon learn the difference between general talking cheeps and crying for help cheeps.
A solid, fox proof, coop is required for older birds. There should be plenty of room for a nest box, the chickens to move around, dust bath, perch and get away from other chickens if they need to. Let them adjust to their new surroundings for a week or so before letting them free range, this way they will be sure to return to their coop of their own accord before the sun goes down.
Reducing stress in the new home
Allow you new pets to adjust to their new home without being harassed by cats, dogs, kids etc. It usually takes less than a week for a chicken to feel ‘at home’. During this time avoid loud noises, sudden movements, too much handling and any changes to their coop unless necessary. Ensure they have abundant fresh food and clean water, that there are no spills in the coop and that they have shelter from adverse weather. Most pure breed pullets will start to produce eggs from 20 weeks, the larger breeds taking a little longer. The commercial layers will usually start laying from about 18 weeks of age. This is dependant on the time of year, diet, environment and health; initially the eggs may be sporadic and look a bit ‘wonky’ but given time and nurturing you pet chickens will become happy little layers providing you regularly with flavoursome fresh eggs.
Chickens naturally have a pecking order (funny about that). Any newcomers will be told their place and pecked into order fairly promptly. Sometimes this can get out of hand and become nasty. To allow adjustment between the old and the new it is best to try to keep new chicken numbers to similar to what you already have; i.e. if you have four hens at home already then purchasing 3-5 would be wise. If your coop can be divided so that the chickens can see, hear and smell each other but not touch (or taste!) they will often adjust well when they are allowed to meet in person after about a week. Neutral territory is the safest for this. Let your new chickens out into the backyard for a bit then let the older ones out. If it is not possible to separate the chickens initially then place the new ones into the coop at dusk when there is just enough light so they don’t panic but not enough for a war. Let them out again early in the morning so that they are not cooped up together. The new chickens should follow the lead of the older ones when it is time to go in at night. Providing the girls with lots of their favourite foods for a few days will help to distract them from bullying each other.
Hierarchy is evident on perches, the top chickens choosing their spot and often not allowing another chicken to sit next to them. Perches can be tiered or at the same level but it is important to have more perch space than your chickens need to allow them to move away from a bossy hen.
The best food you can afford will be rewarded with the best eggs you will eat and plenty of them. Free ranging and a handful of wheat is not enough to sustain the egg laying numbers of our common domestic fowl. They have been bred to produce far more eggs than their wild counterparts and need good quality food to maintain this. Having a constant supply of food in a hopper kept out of the weather is recommended; try to limit access to it by other birds or rodents. Food also needs to be age appropriate; starter crumbs for chicks, followed by grower pellets and/or grains then either finishing or layer pellets/grains. The names of the life stage feeds and the age to change from one to another varies with manufacturers so be guided by the food label. Most grain only diets have at least one grain that chickens will avoid which leads to a lot of waste and potential for ‘weeds’ if using the coop litter on your garden. Chickens can be affected by sudden changes in diet, if you are introducing a new food then mix it with some of their old food for a few days. Scraps are great for chickens but don’t feed them anything that has mould or rot.
Foxes are common everywhere, even inner city areas, and will happily hunt during the day so it is best not to let your chickens roam freely unless someone is going to be around. And don’t forget to lock them up at night, the dreaded fox always seems to visit on the one night the coop door is left open. Hawks also prey on chickens, having plenty of shelter for a chicken to hide is often the best deterrent. Some dogs and cats will attack chickens if given the opportunity. Observe your pets closely until they have established a mutual respect for each other. Some pet chickens and pet dogs and cats are great mates.