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Is there a way to mark/tag chickens to keep track of age classes?

 
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I have some 1.5 year old hens and some pullets that have just started laying.  I figured I'd always be able to recognize them by their feather patterns but now I have so many black ones (no white spots or glimmers) that I'm starting to not be able to tell them apart.  I figure in another year or two I'll wish I had a way to tell 3 year old hens from 1 year old.  Is there a way to band them or tag them that won't hurt or cause sores/problems?  For another month or two I'll still be able to tell them apart...

One idea was to put a black zip tie around one ankle.  Leave it loose and snip off the excess.
 
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Get ones with very obvious different color vs ones with same color but just vaguely different patterns.

You have a 12month until egg production is affected by chicken age. So for the next 6 months replace with a specific while culling half of the flock
Then switch over to another color bird while culling the rest
Color are: BLACK WHITE BROWN GRAY
For a full list checkout http://www.sagehenfarmlodi.com/chooks/hendersonschickenchart.pdf
 
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I use the zip ties and haven't seen any sores. I got a pack of assorted colors and use a different color for each year.  I find the bright ones make it easy to spot.  

If I have two for the same year that I'm tracking like which rooster to keep, I use a past color on one.  With only a few roosters I can usually track those ok.
 
Mike Jay
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Thanks S!  Sorry, I should have mentioned that I have a rooster and am hatching chicks from the hens.  Next year I'll get fertile eggs from the same people I got these chickens from as chicks last year.  They rotate their roosters so the next batch won't be inbred.  One of next year's cockerels will become my breeding rooster down the line.  But I'm pretty sure they will be similar colors to the current ones due to their breeding program.
 
Mike Jay
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Thanks Tina, it's good to hear that is an option!!!
 
Tina Hillel
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I thought I would be able to tell them apart, but the colors start mixing surprisingly fast! At first I kept track by the breed types I added, but they kinda got mixed together😀
 
Mike Jay
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Yeah, and I thought their feather patterns would stay the same through a molt.  But now Ringtail, Salt and Pepper all look the same

At least when I hand feed them cracked corn, I can tell cuz the old hens eat gently and the new ones pinch my palm as they try to hork it down.
 
Tina Hillel
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I got caught by the pattern change too.  I did have one keep her sideways wonky feather each molt.  Keeps chicken raising entertaining!
 
S Bengi
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We cant brand so zip tie works well.

Unless you want to start a new flock (temp coop) with baby chicks(mutts or imported) every two years and cull all the chickens from the old flock. Then move the youngsters into the old coop after some repair.  
 
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There are also numerous colored bans sold for chickens. Some are spiral, some are clip on (with an open part) etc...

Though I would pay attention to the bands and check the size/tightness occasionally the birds entire life, not just the first year. I got two older retired OEG show bantams that were about 4 yrs and they each had 3 different bands.

Even though the birds were older adults when I got them and the bands fit fine, 2-3 years later the bands were getting too tight and had to be cut off. I noticed because those birds were tame/friendly and were handled a lot, otherwise I guess they could be checked when they are roosting at night. Apparently their legs continued to get thicker even into middle age and it wasn't from fat/weight gain.





 
Tina Hillel
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I use the zip ties as they are considerably cheaper in price.  Good reminder on checking the growing leg size. I check it about twice a year and sometimes notice one to replace when I do a quick sore check. Never had sores on their legs, but I know a friend who did, so I watch for it.  
 
Mike Jay
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Weird, I didn't even check amazon before posting cuz I didn't realize this was such a common problem.  Seems like there are lots of bands available out there as well (Thanks Lucrecia!).  I do like the "clip on" aspect of your last photo.  Looks like 100 of those cost under $10.  I'll either do that or go with zipties.

Thanks everyone!!!
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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Also folks that eat or cull their birds but also raise chicks naturally with broodies very often band their broodies with a special color. Broodies are far too valuable to be accidentally culled.

Heck my best broody is 8 years old and this winter I have started bringing her in the house when the temps drop near freezing. I just pop her in a little kennel (with a snack) and she is one happy bird. I recently learned chickens "purr" when they are very content, their bodies tremble very much like a cats, and boy does that little bird purr when she is carried in the house for special treatment.
 
Mike Jay
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Hmm, maybe I should start selling my spare broodies Of my 10 mature hens, at least 4 have gone broody this year and I've hatched chicks under two of them.  One's broody now despite it being December in WI...
 
Tina Hillel
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My remaining 6 year old broody gets special treatment too.  When she doesnt want to come out of the coop itself to get food with the other birds, it gets brought to her. Husband says I qm turning into crazy chicken lady, but I see him bring her food too😀

She actually is the only one without a band just in case it bothers at all🙄 And I didnt want curious chicks messing with her feet.

Mike, they can find a market for literally anything! I liked the fluorescent best because it is easier to id the birds from a distance.
 
Tina Hillel
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Mike Jay wrote:Hmm, maybe I should start selling my spare broodies Of my 10 mature hens, at least 4 have gone broody this year and I've hatched chicks under two of them.  One's broody now despite it being December in WI...



I am so insanely jealous right now! What breed are they? I have to build up flock this spring?
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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Tina Hillel wrote:

Mike Jay wrote:Hmm, maybe I should start selling my spare broodies Of my 10 mature hens, at least 4 have gone broody this year and I've hatched chicks under two of them.  One's broody now despite it being December in WI...



I am so insanely jealous right now! What breed are they? I have to build up flock this spring?



Tina if you want to buy adult broodies I would suggest hunting for poultry show clubs in your area. The show breeders know which of their birds go broody and they usually have adults that are no longer needed in their breeding program, they will often give the birds away or charge very little for them. That is how I found my broodies, I googled for show club organizations and then contacted one of the breeders on the list. He gave me two lovely retired show hens (would have given me more if I asked) and he didn't want a dime, though I did give him a couple of boxes of ..223 as a thank you gift (cause that was the one gift every redneck appreciates, and he did!)
 
Tina Hillel
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Lucrecia, thank you for that info! Great suggestion.  I had thought of the county fair but couldnt make it this year. Most inquiries on craigslist use incubators not broodies.

I originally had six brahmas, but only two went broody. It was just happenstance as I had no idea what I was doing or what I was looking for in birds. Chickens were so new to me. Probably will ordr more brahmas this spring and hope for more broody birds.

Had to laugh over the bullets.  I use bourbon and eggs to thank a neighbor for dragging the gravel road with his tractor.
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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Tina Hillel wrote:Lucrecia, thank you for that info! Great suggestion.  I had thought of the county fair but couldnt make it this year. Most inquiries on craigslist use incubators not broodies.

I originally had six brahmas, but only two went broody. It was just happenstance as I had no idea what I was doing or what I was looking for in birds. Chickens were so new to me. Probably will ordr more brahmas this spring and hope for more broody birds.

Had to laugh over the bullets.  I use bourbon and eggs to thank a neighbor for dragging the gravel road with his tractor.



Just did a quick search to see what would come up in VA. Doesn't look like there are a whole lot of poultry shows in that state but the president of the VA poultry association  came up.

Guy breeds a LOT of different varieties for show, and he surely knows most every other show breeder in the state. If I were broody hunting he is the guy I would call, here is his website with all the contact info: http://www.goldenfeatherfarm.com/

Though if your flock has a standard rooster I would mention that and only consider full sized hens. Because I have some tiny bantams I can only have tiny roosters, and my one standard "oops" rooster has to be separate from them. I noticed the guy also breeds cochins, they often go broody and those are super sweet birds bred as pets, I would love to add some cochins to my flock one day.
 
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Years ending in 0 or 5 are blue.

Years ending in 1 or 6 are white.

Years ending in 2 or 7 are yellow.

Years ending in 3 or 8 are red.

Years ending in 4 or 9 are green.

That is the beekeeper color code. Some mark their queens. I would also use it for chickens but ... predators. Chicken old age is a rarity so far. Intend to greatly increase number of birds this year so will probably start using the bee color code for consistency. Easy to look up. One less thing to remember.  
 
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some of ours have 3 bands, 1 is for age, 2nd is for egg quality (dark chocolate is the goal in French Black copper marans) and third shows the ones that go broody for us.
I use the spiral type rings and change them once a year usually.

 
Mike Jay
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Sorry Tina, I don't know the breed.  They're mutts from a nearby homesteader who breeds for dual purpose and cold hardiness.

I just bought a 100 pack of snap on bands with 5 colors.  Thanks for all the advice!
 
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Mike Jay wrote:I have some 1.5 year old hens and some pullets that have just started laying.  I figured I'd always be able to recognize them by their feather patterns but now I have so many black ones (no white spots or glimmers) that I'm starting to not be able to tell them apart.  I figure in another year or two I'll wish I had a way to tell 3 year old hens from 1 year old.  Is there a way to band them or tag them that won't hurt or cause sores/problems?  For another month or two I'll still be able to tell them apart...

One idea was to put a black zip tie around one ankle.  Leave it loose and snip off the excess.



I always just judge by the leg scales, young chickens have smooth shiny leg scales and older hens have dull, rough scales that begin to peel back somewhat getting more raggedy as they age.
 
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be very careful with spiral leg bands, zip ties, ect, if the bird is still growing and you don't check and change them often enough (every 2 weeks while they are young) their leg will grow over the band and cripple them.  I toe punch all my chicks at hatch and record the mark for each mating. You do need to make sure you get a clean punch, and you get the whole bit of skin out of it so it doesn't grow back. not counting no punch at all you have 15 different combinations. Toe punching is just putting a hole in the web between the toes and is best done the first week after hatch. I do it as I take chicks from the incubator to the brooder.

The zip ties and the celluloid numbered bands tend to get broken and fall off older birds over time.

Around 5=6 months when I decide which birds I'm keeping they get a permanent numbered metal band. These require a special pliers to put on but the ones I get have 3 sizes so fit all the different birds I have and work sort of like a rivet. There are also numbered wing bands that can be put on small chicks and which stay pretty good. I have a friend that uses them. Occasionally a bird will do something crazy and catch a wing band on a wire fence and rip it out, but normally they are there for life. On an older bird they are pretty much invisible. I find that since the numbers are small they are real hard for me to read without a helper holding the bird and pulling the feathers out of the way. I have occasionally had a bird lose a metal leg band but I think those may have been some of the first ones I did and maybe I didn't get them applied quite right. The metal bands come in a dozen or more different colors.

Since I show and breed it is very important that I know exactly where a particular bird came from so I really need permanent bands.
 
Mike Jay
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Thanks Mary!  I saw lots of negative feedback on Amazon about the spiral bands so that's why I went with the clip on ones that look like bands (instead of key rings).
 
Tina Hillel
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I don't put the zip ties on until they are 4 or 5 months because I don't want the bands growing into their legs. Pretty much when they start getting close in size to the adults and I realize I will soon have a hard time telling them apart.  

I have only had a band break off once. It was on a four year old bird so it lasted a good long time with no problem.

It's great to see so many different ideas!
 
Lucrecia Anderson
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As a side note, if folks want a safe spray on product that lasts a really long time I would suggest Blu-Kote (which contains Gentian Violet, a bright purple skin disinfectant).

It is sold as a wound dressing at feed stores (and Gentian Violet is sold at some drug stores) and often used on injured chickens to hide bloody wounds (so the other birds don't pick on the bright red wound). I used it on a pullet 4-5 months ago and the bird still has bright blue/purple feathers,  the kitchen items that got accidentally hit with the spray are also still a vibrant blue/purple.

There is some debate as to whether it is 100% safe on wounds, so I won't address that but it is darn good to mark feathers.
 
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I don't know the other ingredients of BlueKote, but Gentian violet is something we use in the hospital for neonates, including premies, for thrush (I'm a NICU nurse).  I think if it's safe enough to paint inside a premature baby's mouth, it's probably pretty safe for wounds. ;)
 
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Having read/heard some horror stories about leg bands (though likely from people who aren't entirely diligent), I have taken to "painting" tails with a bit of gentian violet to differentiate look-alike hens when necessary. I had a new mama buff orpington with two sisters that looked pretty much exactly the same and accidentally put aunt hen back in with the babies instead of mama hen. It only took about 10 minutes to realize my error but so it wouldn't happen again, I made a nice violet spot on mama hen's tail so everything would be easy in the future. It's totally natural and stays on a good couple of weeks, or likely longer when it's not constantly raining.
 
Tina Hillel
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Hi and welcome Alicia!

I started marking chickens because of the same reason. I had two broodies and was new to chickens.  The first time I let both groups out to free range, I was an idiot and let them out to meet their new flockmates🙄.  The two moms had a battle and never really got along well after that.  When I broke up the fight, I wasnt sure which mom was which.  I picked wrong.  Then I started marking birds.  Soon after I came across Permies😀👍
 
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Tina Hillel wrote:Hi and welcome Alicia!

I started marking chickens because of the same reason. I had two broodies and was new to chickens.  The first time I let both groups out to free range, I was an idiot and let them out to meet their new flockmates🙄.  The two moms had a battle and never really got along well after that.  When I broke up the fight, I wasnt sure which mom was which.  I picked wrong.  Then I started marking birds.  Soon after I came across Permies😀👍



Thank you, Tina! Oh no, that must have been a bit of a stressor for sure. I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one. 🙂 I hadn't previously had several of the same breed at the same time and it definitely came in handy that time. I haven't had to mark anyone sense but I definitely keep the gentian violet on hand just in case now, especially with 33 chickens.
 
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