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Chicks:  A Sure Sign of Spring
By Tim Reid
ell nothing signals the start of spring better than the chick orders.  This is when you decide if you will raise meat birds or replace your laying hens.

If your layers are over 1 year old you can expect to get fewer eggs but better quality.  The rules of thumb are:  a pullet will lay 5 eggs a week and take 2 days off,  that's year one; three eggs per week in year 2; and by the third year she is costing you in feed.

What to do with your "spent hens" is one of the harder aspects of farming.  For those brave of heart, the hens are great for soup.  Or, there is always the odd person in the neighbourhood or the poultry auction that will take them.

Now comes the big decision:  do I want a white egg layer or a brown?  Maybe even blue?  The undisputed winner of white egg production is the leg horn.  In brown it is the Isa Brown and in blue and green it's the Aricauna.  (Yes, you can have robin's blue to forest green eggs.)  Although these are wonderful eggs they are difficult to explain to a novice egg buyer.

I have ruled out explaining leghorns here due to their high strung nature.  A loud noise or a scare of any kind will throw them off laying for a week.  Instead, I have chosen Isa Browns and Aricaunas.  These are good varieties of hens that will tolerate the cold and are general "all purpose" birds.  They provide you with a nice brown egg income plus that little touch of class.

When your chicks are due to arrive make sure you have their pen all set up.  A bit of sand for litter is the best way to start.  Shavings can cause the chicks problems if eaten.

Adjust your heat lamp according to the wishes of the chicks.  If they form a circle outside the light, it's too warm for them.  If they crowd under it, it's too cold.  It has been proven that red heat lamps prevent them from picking at each other.

All too soon their fuzz turns into pin feathers, and they start to grow.  In 22 weeks they will start to lay their first small eggs.

Q & A

The wiser mind mourns less for what age takes away than what it leaves behind.
Quote of the week
This week's question comes from April in Lanark.

Dear Tim:

I have a flock of barred rock hens.  When I check their nests I find broken shells.  It's becoming worse every day.  Is there a reason for this or are they just clumsy?

Dear April:

I would suspect you have an egg eater in your flock.  The way to find the culprit is to take an egg, put a pin hole in each end of it, blow out the inside, and when it's hollow fill 50% of it with hot peppered vodka and the other 50% with dish soap.  It won't be long before you find who gets drunk and falls off the roost or who staggers about blowing bubbles.  Separate the hen or hens and get rid of them before they teach the rest of the flock these bad habits.

Tim Reid is Ex- Canadian Navy and lives with his spouse on a small mixed farm in Hastings County.  He may be contacted at or by letter mail at RR2 Gilmour, Ontario, Canada.  KOL 1W0.