Sunday, June 12, 2011

Chicken Math

My husband raised chickens when he was a kid. When we got married, we constantly talked about having chickens one day. We never lived anywhere where we could have chickens until we moved in this house.

Someone was kind enough to give us 3 chickens shortly after we moved here. Padawan was around 3 years old then, and he just LOVED his chickens. After a few months a terrible thing happened..two dogs dug under the fence of our coop and murdered our chickens! We were all devastated.

Well, two springs ago, our nephew got some chicks for his two little girls from Tractor Supply. My husband really wanted to get some too. I didn't want to go through the pain of possibly losing more chickens, so I was against it, but I was out voted 2 to1. The next day he brought home 6 precious little chicks. One look and I was hooked!

This time around while the tiny chicks were being raised inside by me, my husband spent his leisure time building a very secure coop for them to move into once they were feathered out. He buried the fence in the ground and reinforced it with concrete. I even asked him to use rabbit wire so that snakes could not get in there. He thought it was overkill, but I am terrified of snakes- so this time I won. :)

The six chicks grew and the whole time we weren't sure if we had males or females, but they turned out to be all girls!  We had 3 White Leghorns and 3 Red Sex Links.

About the time the girls started laying, a buddy of my husband's gave us an Easter Egger hen and rooster that he had rescued from a neglectful owner.

That began my obsession of learning everything there was to know about chickens. I found many other chicken obsessed people at Backyardchickens.com. They have a theory called Chicken Math. You can start out with just a few chickens and before you know it , your chicken population just begins multiplying exponentially- if you're not careful.

So, here's my experience with Chicken Math.

(If you're keeping track, we just went from 0 to 6 to 8)
Two of the Leghorns, one Red Sex Link and the Easter Egger hen.



Our First Rooster (Notice I said first)


Well, now that we had a rooster, I bet you can guess what happened next. All my cool new friend were hatching their own eggs and posting pictures of the cute little babies. (Chick envy started setting in.)

So last spring, the girls were all grown up and laying nice sized eggs. The "Teacher Mom" in me thought it would be way cool for Padawan (and me) to try to incubate and hatch our own eggs. So, I learned EVERYTHING there was to know about incubating and hatching eggs.

Only I didn't have an incubator, but that was NO problem.  All my friends at BYC were making incubators out of everything imaginable. I quickly realized I had an aquarium and Google!

My husband thought I was crazy for even thinking this would work, but he went along with my plan and helped me get it all set up.

Chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch. I calculated the hatch date to happen over spring break. (Padawan was still in public school then.) Then I started collecting the eggs that I was going to hatch. We got the temperature and humidity regulated in the incubator, and started incubating. I started out with 8 eggs.

My homemade incubator

Shortly after I put the eggs in the incubator, Tractor Supply got their chicks in! Well, you can guess what happened next... My husband was still not so sure that my plan would work, and he was worried that the chicks would be gone by the time we found out. And my friends at BYC certainly weren't going to discourage me. So,we went to pick up some chicken feed for the girls one morning while Padawan was at school and came home with these:

These little guys and gals ended up being 2 Rhode Island Red Roosters, 1 Rhode Island Red Hen, 1 Easter Egger Hen, and a Barred Rock Rooster and Hen.

If you're keeping track, we just went from 8 to14!

Chicken eggs have to be turned several times a day for the first 18 days. So, I was a good mother hen. I turned the eggs religiously. After day 3 we candled the eggs to see if anything was developing. Now that was cool! I candled them again a few days later, and noticed that the 2 green eggs from our Easter Egger were not developing, so I tossed them out. I quickly became obsessed with candling the eggs, but I was careful not to leave them out of the incubator for too long. This was just too exciting to pass up.

Well, day 21 came around and NOTHING! I thought I saw a couple of the eggs move a little though. Day 22.. Still Nothing! That night I could hear peeping from inside the incubator! Well, the morning of Day 23, we got our first pip!

(A pip is the hole the chick makes when it is just starting to hatch)


And then it started to zip. (The chick uses its egg-tooth to break the shell all the way around.)





Before we knew it we had 4 chicks!
One egg ended up being rotten. (Gross!) The other one didn't make it. :(

Now the chicken count has gone from 6 to 18 in a very short time!

This caused a housing dilemma because the little ones were not big enough to be with the big ones. So my dear husband made them their own temporary house.


Here's the part where the math gets a little fuzzy.

After all the new chicks were grown enough to determine their sex, three of the young roosters were re-homed. Our little Easter Egger hen also had died of natural causes. Two of the other young chickens met a tragic death during our attempt to let them free range part of the day.

Our chicken count was now 12.

By now, my sister-in-law had also been bitten by the chicken bug. She had ordered 25 chicks from a mail order company. She ended up giving us a Speckled Hamburg since we had given her a rooster.

Today our chicken count is holding steady at 13.

We were really tempted this spring to get more chicks, but we seriously don't need any more chick-ENS or EGGS!!! We're not making any promises about next spring, though!


Have you had experience with Chicken Math?

3 comments:

  1. I'm not a bird person myself so I don't have any experience of my own in chicken math, but I've been amused to see my sister's chicken math. She seriously got the chicken bug when her oldest married and moved out. She started out with six chickens. The population boom has put her somewhere north of 100 and she wound up buying an empty lot across the street from her house and building the entire thing into a chicken coop. She's into the Silkie chickens and has been doing breeding experiments with them (nothing unethical, I hasten to assure you!). There was some sort of fervor about her Silkies being an aberrant genetic strain a while back and she now has a thriving sideline shipping Silkie eggs all over the country for other chicken people to incubate. I laugh and call her my "crazy chicken sister" but I don't tease her too much because she's been very generous with her eggs ;-)

    At times, I really wish I could get into chickens like she is because I can see the utility in it, especially for a baking nut like me who buys 18-24 eggs a week. Unfortunately, a tragic rooster attack at a young age just really put me off of chickens forever. Y'know, that sounds way more interesting than it was. It was just a mean rooster who enjoyed pecking little girls.

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  2. Oh, I would love to have a breeding program. I don't think my neighbors would enjoy it though. Selling hatching eggs can be very profitable.

    We tried letting one of our roosters have the run of the yard. It worked for a while, but then he started attacking people. Our girls are very docile. The Leghorns are really flighty, but the other ones have such individual personalities. You could always start out with 2 and see how it goes.

    I use our eggs for baking and lately I've tried my hand at pasta making. Plus we have plenty extra to share with our neighbor and our families.

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  3. I miss making my own pasta soooo much! I used to make all our pasta (and believe me, we use a LOT because I'm a big fan of Italian cuisine) but about 8 years ago I stopped being able to find semolina. I never had access to it locally, but at stores in the "big" towns in the region used to carry it and then stopped. I still make our egg noodles, but for the rest I have to buy store bought now.

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