Chickens raised in a non-commercial environment can live 8-10 years. We have yet to see that as either ours have expired due to predators, cold, mysterious diseases, or “lead poisoning”. The one hen we have left from our original batch, Opal, is now 4 years old and going strong.
Chickens start to lay eggs around 6 months of age. Our last batch started later than that but their 6 month age coincided with short winter days which I’m sure delayed them. They will be most productive during their first few years and then taper off as they get older. I believe Opal still gives us 2-4 eggs per week.
Chickens don’t like the snow. Keep this in mind if you use a small tractor set-up in the wintertime. You may want to find a way to give them access to at least a small area to roam (outside the coop) during snowy, winter months. We do have evidence of our chickens braving the snow. I’m not sure if that’s because they had time to adjust – or they were just happy to finally see some bare patches!
Want to be sure your hens are friendly? Spend time with them. When we got our first flock, Papa would place a chair in the run and the hens would come and perch on his legs. Eventually, they would let him pet them, eat from his hand and come when called.
Chickens molt approximately once a year. They may look pathetic while they lose their feathers, but it’s not a sign of sickness – as long as they are acting normally and the feathers start to grow back. They also will not lay eggs during this time, so the hope is that you don’t have all your chickens molting at the same time!
Hens can become broody. They just want to sit on the eggs to hatch them instead of laying. They can “growl” and become agitated when you try to collect the eggs – watch out you don’t get pecked! They’ll only eat and drink once or twice a day and may lose weight. Some breeds are more susceptible to this condition. You can deal with this in several ways:
* let her hatch some eggs and get “free” baby chicks (that is if you have a rooster, so they are fertilized). She will lay on the eggs for 19-23 days, raise her chicks for approximately 4 weeks and egg-laying will resume a short time later.
* if you plan to get chicks and suddenly have a broody hen at the same time, you could use the hen to keep the chicks warm while they grow bigger.
* collect the eggs immediately (several times a day); sometimes this discourages sitting on the nest
* remove her from the nest every time you find her sitting there
* remove the hen to an isolation ward (with food and water); preferably a wire cage with no bedding and propped up so air can flow underneath. They prefer comfortable (padded), warm, dark, quiet locations for brooding and this should break them of it after a few days.
We’ve now come to the final post in this series. Did I miss anything? Any tips I missed? Feel free to comment and let me know.