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Odd question about Chickens

 
Christopher James
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Location: Minneapolis MN
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Hey all!
We are going to start doing the urban chicken thing in the spring.  We are wondering if it would be better to start our flock from chicks or if we should get a few "rescue" hens for people who do not want them anymore.  I know that with the chicks I will be able to have more control over how and on what they are raised but is there some advantage to getting hens that are already established? 
Thanks in Advance!
Chris AKA MNBear
 
Craig Dobbelyu
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The pros of raising chicks:

you select the breed, sex and time of arrival.  They come disease free (mostly) and pest free.  You can get them vaccinated if you wish in some cases.  You will know exactly where they came from and you'll have somebody to call should anything go funky for you.

The cons to raising chicks:

They are little and need a lot of attention.  They will need a heat lamp, a waterer they can't drown in and clean bedding.  It will take a number of months before they begin laying eggs. until then, you have to feed them.  They easily fit through small openings in fences.  Forget electric netting, chicks walk right through it.  You will lose some to natural selection.  Butt paste, clogged crop, chill, goopy eye chrushing, predators.  They are also quite messy and dusty.


Pros to rescue hens:

They are grown up and have made it to adulthood and presumably are in good laying health still.  You don't have to wait months for your first eggs.  If you rescue a flock from one place then they will already have a pecking order established.  They will eat adult chicken food and ideally should be good foragers by too.  Their attitudes are established so you won't likely be surprised by a hen that goes berzerk all of a sudden. 

Cons to rescue:  most people get rid of hens that don't work out for them.  Either they don't lay well, they have bad temperments, they have illnesses, diseases or are just plain old.  Often people who give up animals have already begun to neglect them so they become more aggressive and less inclined to lay.  If you get rescues from many different people, then you multiply all of the disease, pest, attitude and pecking order issues that come with each bird.    Be ready to have to cook a few birds. 



When you look at rescue hens please don't have a pity party and scoop up every decrepit bird you can find.  If your aim is for a ahealthy  backyard hen flock for laying eggs, keep in mind that you're looking for fit, healthy, younger birds with good disposition and no sign of stress, pests or diseases.   If you're getting them from many sources, it might be worth having a couple spaces divided by chicken wire so that you can segregate new arrivals while they learn who's where on the new pecking order.  A quarentine might also be of use if you are worried that your new hen might have a disease or pest that you don't want in your flock. 

Best of luck 
 
Christopher James
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Location: Minneapolis MN
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Thank you zo much for this info.  It is a lot of food for thought.
 
Charli Wilson
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My 'rescue' hens are rubbish at foraging, they weren't raised on grass and were fed only pellets so don't really recognise other things as food. The chicks we raised however are great foragers- being raised on grass and wood chip.
The oldies have improved with time spent outdoors though, and the as the new chicks grew up they taught the oldies a thing or two.

The grown hens are cat-proof, whereas with our chicks being outside they needed a very very secure run, and some careful watching to ensure they were safe.

If keeping chickens for the first time then I'd think starting with fully grown hens would be easier! You need less equipment/investment too. And if one goes broody at a suitable time in the future- you could get her to hatch out some eggs and raise them for you (this is what we did).
 
Todd Parr
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This may not be the most compelling reason for starting with chicks, but they are so much fun, I would never do it any other way.  I could spend hours (and have) just watching them.  Also, if you have only a few, you can spend time with them holding them and talking to them, giving them treats, etc, and they will become very tame.  Even the roosters I raised that way stayed very tame and would fly onto my shoulder and ride around the yard on me.

The illnesses mentioned in Craig's cons list can occur if you are raising large numbers, but I have never lost a single chick to any of them in the numbers I raise.  I have between 30 and 40 now and have never raised more than a dozen or so at a time.  On that scale, if you lose any to sickness, I would look into their housing, water, and feed.  With chicks, as long as you keep them warm and dry and out of drafts, feed them well, and make sure they always have clean water, you should be fine.  Stress and over-crowding are the biggest causes of sickness in my experience.

As far as getting adults, I would question why anyone would want to get rid of healthy, productive hens.
 
Dan Boone
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Charli Wilson wrote:The grown hens are cat-proof...


I've been thinking about this same question a lot, since I'm planning on putting in a chicken coop and pen this winter maybe.  My problem is that there's a lot of potential predators here, and my learning curve for keeping the chickens safe is likely to be severe.  Thus -- and I hope this doesn't sound too cold -- I'm seriously considering starting my flock from free Craigslist chickens, including auditioning (serially) the free roosters that people get rid of because they don't want to butcher.  My thinking is that adult chickens will be a lot more survivable at first, and that at least this way the inevitable losses won't be quite so painful.   Also, the meanest rooster I can find might actually be an asset.  I don't much care about good laying right from the get-go; my thinking is that once I've got a stable flock of robust adult chickens, it will be a better environment for raising chicks safely. 
 
Anne Miller
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We have always bought our chicks from our local feed store.  I would suggest getting them from reputable sellers.

You might also get some of the rescue hens or hens off craigs list just to try your hand at having chickens before getting chicks, but don't mix the two together.

My daughter decided to get chicks that would lay the colored eggs but had trouble introducing them with her older hens so she had to keep them in her bathtub until they could fight back. 
 
John Polk
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Getting mature hens is easier than starting from scratch with chicks:
* Less equipment to buy
* Elimination of chick illnesses
* Quicker to breakfast eggs (but this time of year, it may not matter - they may be slowing down for the winter)

As was mentioned earlier, many rescue hens are already past their prime egg laying days ('spent hens').  The owner got x many pullets in the spring, and now that they are laying, he wants to get rid of the 'stewing hens'. 

However, often people find that they don't like keeping hens (or neighbors have complained to authorities).  They just want out from under the work/responsibility.  Those may be much better layers than the 'spent hens'.



 
Miranda Converse
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Lots of good info already, just wanted to add a thing or two;
If you start with adults, they can eventually raise any future chicks for you!
If you get adults that have not been free range, and you free range them, they will get picked off by predators WAY easier!
If you get adults and they carry certain diseases (like Mareks), there's a good chance that disease will always be in your flock. Not necessarily a bad thing because you will know the birds you have (the ones that don't die) are immune but you will likely have a very hard time introducing any outside birds and you shouldn't really sell any birds, at least not to anyone that already has a flock or you might infect them all.
 
William Bronson
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I am a neewb who recently rescued two chickens that were getting beat down in their flock of origin.
How neewb am I? One of my hens turned out to be a roo!
But he has a quiet coo instead of a raucous caw, so he can stay,for now. We have been getting one egg a day,but the roo occupies the one nest box,while she ignores the other...
At least she is roosting now,couldn't get her to do that at first.
 
Christopher James
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This is Why I love this site.  Thanks for all the great information.  So much to think about.  Everyone is so frackin AWSOME!
 
Jessica Milliner
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William Bronson wrote: I am a neewb who recently rescued two chickens that were getting beat down in their flock of origin.
How neewb am I? One of my hens turned out to be a roo!
But he has a quiet coo instead of a raucous caw, so he can stay,for now. We have been getting one egg a day,but the roo occupies the one nest box,while she ignores the other...
At least she is roosting now,couldn't get her to do that at first.


One of our 6 "hens" turned out to be a rooster and I bought 3 more hen ladies for him because as the roosters mature they need quite a lot more, um, companionship than one hen (or even 5 hens) can provide, so just bear that in mind. I also have 26 chicks chirping away merrily in the bathtub right now, they are so so cute but also a lot more work than buying pullets ready to lay.
 
William Bronson
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Yep,we are only allowed 6 poultry per household,so I worry even with 5 hens,our roo will prove too affectionate...
Still, I like him,he looks bedraggled and threadbare,and thus,fits right in.
My kind of chook!
 
steve bossie
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if you're in a urban area, consider ducks for egg production. they don't crow, are more disease , cold and moisture hardy. don't peck each other and lay more and bigger eggs which i find are richer tasting than chicken eggs.  ducks are more intelligent and sociable than chickens! metzger farms in cali sells their hybrid 300 ducks that were bred by them for egg production. I'm getting 10 next spring! check out their website! if you worry about predators get a goose. they will make a ruckus and take on predators! had a male chinese that was very protective of his flock! put a kids pool in there from time to time. they're fun to watch dive and play in it! they become as tame as a cat or dog!

 
Al Lumnah
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If you get chicks you now what you are getting, but you have to wait 5months before they start laying. If you get established birds they will probably be laying but you dont now how old they are and how long they will be laying for. And you dont now if they have any motes or other problems. If you can find 5 month old pullets that would be your best  option I think. We did that once and it worked great. they were laying in a couple of weeks!
 
Susie Snowdown
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Just my opinion about getting chicks versus grown chickens.

My first six girls were pullets, 6-8 weeks old. They were big enough to put out in the coop and did not need constant attention like chicks would, but still young enough to be goofy-looking and cute.  My pullets are now 3.5 years old, sweet as can be, come when they're called, give me eggs every day and are just a great addition to our family. If you buy chicks, whether you mail order them or buy them from a feed store, you are essentially buying them from a large-scale chicken factory. These are factory farms. And mailing baby chicks? Really? These aren't shoes that you buy on Amazon, they are living things, little, weak and helpless.

You can adopt "rescue" chickens from farm sanctuaries (the most well-known is Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY, http://www.farmsanctuary.org but others are popping up all over the US). Some of these birds have been seized in cruelty cases and some have come from factory farms. They are all individuals with their own personalities, just like our cats and dogs, and can make great pets, and still produce eggs. They are all vet checked before being adopted out.

You can certainly take chickens from people who no longer want them, just be sure to have them checked by a vet. You never know about the care they received from the former owners and can have illnesses that you may not want to be introducing into your flock. I'm not saying that you shouldn't take them, just that you should have them looked at by a vet.



 
steve bossie
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my cousin lost his flock from 3 chickens he got from someone that were infected. I've always got my chicks mail order with the vaccinations and never had any losses. they are a little work but once you raised them once its a breeze! and you got a disease free guarantee if you buy from the right sellers.
 
Lindsey Jane
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Totally agree with all of Craig's talking points regarding each option.

When we were doing the Suburban Homesteading thing, we always started with chicks - I just liked the whole process of watching them grow and there is an added benefit of socializing them to our family. After a decade of doing this, I rarely have a bad tempered hen and quite often they trail behind me while I'm working, now on our new farm, like little feathery puppies. They eat out of my hand. They pick up their skirts and high tail it to me whenever I call them. It's hilarious.

There is a whole area of dog training that actually uses chickens instead of dogs to teach trainers how to use their techniques. Chickens are ridiculously trainable.

But I've never had a rescue hen work out well. And I so wanted them to work out well, but they have always been skittery and standoffish. Fine for egg production, just not so much fun for me.

Anyhow - food for thought.
 
Todd Parr
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Lindsey Jane wrote:always started with chicks - I just liked the whole process of watching them grow and there is an added benefit of socializing them to our family. After a decade of doing this, I rarely have a bad tempered hen and quite often they trail behind me while I'm working, now on our new farm, like little feathery puppies. They eat out of my hand. They pick up their skirts and high tail it to me whenever I call them. It's hilarious.



That has been my experience exactly.
 
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