Chickens, Ducks, Quail. Are You Ready For Them?
During the months of about March-June you can walk in your local feed store and you can hear little cheeps from the cute little chicks that have been shipped to the store. I mean, who doesn't love baby chicks?? I feel like nobody can resist those cute little babies, but that is one of the biggest reasons I feel like people buy them unprepared.
The biggest piece of advice I can give anyone before they buy chickens is: DO YOUR RESEARCH!
Chickens are not all that they may seem, they are a little more work than they may seem and I'll explain in more detail what they entail, along with other poultry that you can purchase.
Even when they are little, chicks require a lot of work. When you first get these cute little babies, you can't just go throw them outside. They do not have all of their feathers until they are around 6 weeks old, so they require supplemental heat. Now, depending on where you are keeping them, there are plenty of ways to keep warm. If you are keeping them in a barn or somewhere with a possible draft, heat lamps are one of the best options to keep them warm. Although, heat lamps are very dangerous and cause tons of fires every year. They are something I highly recommend staying away from, although they have some out with many new types of bulbs and heat lamps that are meant to be safer to prevent fires. There are also chick heaters that you can buy, and some brands that you can use for your bigger chickens in the coop when you are done using it as a brooder (this is the term for heaters used for baby chicks). Along with that you must have clean water at all times and use the correct feed for them. To maintain optimal growth, chicks must be getting a feed with around 18-20% protein, to make sure that they are growing correcrtly. Once they hit around 18-20 weeks I switch mine to a layer feed, which has a lower protein and added calcium. Chickens need calcium to make eggs. One of the biggest disappoints for people is the egg layings stage. If you don't know anything about chickens, you might think you will get eggs a couple of months after you get them. That is where the disappointment steps in. Even production breeds (breeds meant to lay tons and tons of eggs) don't usually start laying until they are around 20 weeks old. Some chickens can start laying earlier, but most chickens start laying around 5-6 months old. Depending on the breed you choose, some can wait until they are 10 months old to start laying. I owned some Barred Plymouth Rocks that start laying around 4 1/2 months. And my Easter Eggers that I have waited until they were 8 months old until they started laying. My Black Copper Marans waited until around 10 months to start laying their eggs.
You can purchase a Canvas Print of this beautiful egg basket on our Etsy Page: esty.com/shop/PondFarmWY
Picking your breeds of chickens will be apart of how many eggs you get and what color of eggs you will get as well. A lot of people don't realize that eggs come in all sorts of colors. Not just white! You can get White, Brown, Dark Chocolate Brown, Brown with Speckles, Cream, Green, Blue, Olive, Pink, Purple, and just about every shade of green, blue, and olive you can think of. If you prefer lots of eggs, your white and brown egg layers are usually production breeds and will lay almost daily. Your more colorful lays will usuallly lay a lot later to start with (8-10 Months), and they won't lay as much as you would like. I would use Easter Eggers as the exception, mine lay almost daily.
Another common Myth:
You DO NOT need a rooster to have eggs.
Chickens are like humans, and they are born with all of the eggs they will ever have, so they will lay eggs with or without a rooster. Which is great for some city folk, as some places will allow chickens in city limits, but not roosters. Which is completely understandable. Roosters can be very loud, unlike they show in the movies, roosters crow at all hours of the day. Crowing is a dominance thing, not a wake up call. They can crow at 2am or 2pm. Whenever they feel like it they will. Now all of that being said, if you do want to have baby chicks of your own, you do have to have a rooster that can fertilize the eggs.
That leading to another converstation, do you research on how chickens behave once they start laying. Hens can either lay their entire life and never go broody, or they are broody almost all of the time. Broody referring to the hens' behavior when she is laying eggs. A broody hen is one who wants to hatch out eggs. Some breeds are prone to broodiness, and some aren't. I have a black bantam (smaller breed) that is broody almost all of the time. I let her hatch out eggs once in a while and she is the best mom! It takes 21 days to develop a baby chick, so the hen will sit on a bunch of eggs for 21 days. These hens will be very grouchy when you try to take her eggs from her. When having a broody hen, I always recommend having the broody hen in a different area than the rest of your chickens. That way when other hens lay eggs, they won't be mixing them up with the eggs that you are wanting to hatch. Another thing to remember, Broody hens DO NOT lay eggs at all. They are wanting to hatch out babies, so their egg production stops completely. So if you want a lot of eggs, broody breeds are what you want to avoid.
Another thing to look at is the size of the breed. Kind of like dogs there are two types. There are standard breeds and bantam breeds. Bantams are so adorable, and they are fun to have. Some breeds have decent sized eggs, but most bantam eggs are very small and not as useful. Bantam eggs are more for keeping and eating yourself, but if people don't mind small eggs, you can always sell them for cheaper than your other eggs and tell people they are smalle eggs.
Ducks are something that some people feed in the park and don't think of having as a pet or for eggs. Now the cool thing about ducks are their eggs. If people are allergic to chicken eggs, they can actually eat duck eggs. I honestly have no idea why, I need to do more research on them, but duck eggs are awesome. They are great to bake with, and they are huge!
Now I know baby ducks are absolutely adorable, I have 6 ducks right now. That being said, they are the absolute messiest things in the world! Ducks have to be able to have water that they can dunk their bills in so they can get any dirt or feed out of their nostrils, so they don't suffocate. Now that being said, that's where the mess comes in! Water, everywhere!! If you can't handle cleaning up after them every single day, and giving them new water every single day, most likely twice a day, ducks may not be for you. Along with that, they are very noisy animals. And they love water. Although they don't require swimming water, they do love to swim. My ducks have a big thing to swim in, and it makes them so happy! They are absolutely ecstatic to go swimming when they get let out in the morning! Just like chickens, they go broody as well. You egg production also depends on the breeds you choose and how soon you will get eggs as well. I have a Cayuga Duck, which I purchased specifically for her egg colors. Cayuga ducks can lay anywhere from Grey to Black eggs, which is why I thought they were so cool! Mine lays a lighter grey egg. These ducks eggs start out very dark, and lighten through the rest of the laying season. Ducks can range like chickens when they start laying. The layer type ducks start around 5-6 months old. Ornamental breeds, like my Cayuga can wait for what feels like forever to lay! Mine waited until she was 10 months old to lay her first egg! But I love them to death, they are very entertaining to have!
Most people don't think of having quail as a backyard animal. But if some of you are like me, and see pictures on instagram, you might want some of your own. The biggets piece of advice I like to give. Seriously DO YOUR RESEARCH! The biggest piece of research you need to do is with your Game and Fish Department. Make sure it is even legal to own quail where you are located. Some places they aren't legal, some places they are. Alot of places do require permits to own them. In Wyoming, you must have a Chapter 10 permit with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Although some people don't really care about that sort of stuff, I do make sure that I meet all legal requirements, so I do have a Chapter 10 permit, and that permit allows me to also sell Non-Viable Eggs (edible, no fertile eggs used for hatching). I love, love, love Quail! To me they are much easier than chickens, and you get a much quicker return on them. Although the eggs are tiny, they are great for pickling! We use them for breakfast all the time as well. Quail are fun to hatch out (I have hatched out around 70 quail eggs). They are beautiful colored, and they are faster growing than chickens. Quail are fully feather quickly and they start laying eggs around 8 weeks old, but that being said, they don't live as long either. 18 months old is considered very old for quail. There are many types of quail. We own Tuxedo Quail and sometimes we have Button Quail, which have the tinest, cutest little eggs. Their eggs are not useful at all, so they are more of a pet bird to me. We are adding Celadon Quail to our lineup when we purchase again, they lay beautiful blue eggs.
So when you get down to it, any backyard poultry is a lot of work. But it is totally worth it when you get those eggs! I love fresh eggs, they taste so different than store bought eggs! And they are much better for your! (That's a whole different story for a different article).
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I hope this helps someone make the right decision when looking into raising backyard poultry.