Flock management

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Marigold
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Flock management

Post by Marigold » Thu Feb 15, 2018 10:59 pm

At the moment, as I've said elsewhere, I'm turning over various options for managing and replacing my small back garden flock of 5 hens. They have a lovely big run which could house up to 8, but I don't want them to be overcrowded and the coop has only got room for a maximum of 6. Also, I don't want all the work and expense of maintaining unproductive hens. Personally, I seem to be immune to 'morehens disease' in the sense of just collecting lots of hens for the sake of it. I regard my hens as productive pets, I like seeing them around and observing their behaviour and different personalities, they have names, I try to give them a very good standard of life whilst in my care, and I'm sorry (but not devastated) when they die. But I don't go to great lengths to make them tame or cuddle them, and if one is badly ill I cull her rather than treat her, so they're not pets in the sense that many people regard their chickens.
We use about 2 dozen eggs per week, so 4 young pullets should be able to provide this in their first two years, after which production will drop off markedly and the choice then is either to simply add a couple more new pullets to bring numbers up to 6, or to cull some or all of the existing flock and then restore numbers up to the original four birds, or to go for the 'all in, all out' policy of complete flock replacement every 2-3 years or when egg production falls below requirements.
I just found these articles from the Urban Food Garden site online, which outline the advantages and disadvantages of different systems of management for small domestic hobby flocks, which make interesting reading. I'd be interested to read your observations about all this. In any group of poultrykeepers I suppose there's a wide spectrum of opinion, ranging from the totally practical (all in, all out on a regular basis) through to 'A chicken is for life, not just for Christmas' and everything in between.
see https://urbanfoodgarden.org/main/chicke ... gement.htm
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chrismahon
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Re: Flock management

Post by chrismahon » Fri Feb 16, 2018 8:48 am

At the moment we are "chickens are pets" as you know Marigold, but soon we will be in the same position as you. We are preparing a secure area for 6 hens purely for eggs, as eggs we buy are either rubbish quality, very expensive or from an unreliable source. One problem I didn't notice in the article was non-production during Winter. So whilst "all in- all out" would be favoured from a flock management viewpoint, a phased turnover would be better as pullets lay over Winter. The management of bullying is going to be a really big problem though! Not sure the writer of the article has had that much, if any, experience in that respect.

I favour the former approach- we can freeze the excess eggs and have scrambled for breakfast in Winter, which is what we did in England and then earlier here. After 3 years we will replace the lot, accepting that we only get fresh eggs in Winter for the first year. Think we have a supplier of hens- they breed for meat, separate the cockerels from the hens at 12 weeks and slaughter the lot at about 22 weeks. Cocks and hens are different meat quality and are sold accordingly marked. So effectively the hens will be 'rescued' from an early death, which will to some extent ease my conscience at the 3 year point.
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Hen-Gen
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Re: Flock management

Post by Hen-Gen » Fri Feb 16, 2018 11:04 am

A difficult issue with which we all wrestle and I don't think there is any right answer. Space, money and inclination all come into play.
My own system is to hatch a lot of chicks in the Spring of the hens third year and to then kill those hens when they go into the moult. Culling of those chicks takes place to remove any with defects or cockerels leaving me with my keepers and others to sell in the Autumn. This gives me time to thoroughly clean and sterilise the henhouse before the new pullets are introduced into it.
All new cockerels are either bought down south or hatched from posted eggs to ensure genetic diversity. Any little projects I engage in usually involve hens which lay different coloured eggs so that all hens can live together and by introducing different cockerels I can hatch those varieties that I wish. This year I hope to hatch some Cream Legbars, house them with my Dominiques and then introduce a Maran cockerel next year so that I can hatch the potential olive eggers from the Legbars rather than the eggs from my Dominiques.
Like you my hens receive no treats apart from spinach in the winter and the sickly are culled. Having said that apart from one episode of vent gleat and a cockerel that was mauled by a dog I have never had to do this so far as I recall.
For the third time recently I have to re-emphasise the importance of genetic diversity in order to maintain healthy, disease free stock. I know it's an obsession of mine. People will often refer to the phenomenon of hybrid vigour when different breeds are crossed with one another. I reject this concept. The explanation, to the contrary, is that many breeds suffer from inbreeding depression because of the narrow genetic base from which they were created.
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rick
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Re: Flock management

Post by rick » Fri Feb 16, 2018 12:03 pm

It does strike me that although we are backyard (wide range of what might be called a backyard here) keepers of small flocks we can all be proud of making it work at the sharp end of the natural constraints. Convenience and economy of scale/space is pushed to its limits with a small flock.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with all-in all-out and with four hens it is practically a necessity if the cost of keeping/eggs produced is the bottom line on the balance sheet. Put a vet in the equation and any notion of monetary sustainability goes instantly out of the window. But then you can think of trips to a good vet with conditions where the outcome is not so obvious as part of the learning curve - they become more obvious after a few trips! There are plenty who would go on a training course (good idea as a beginner) that will make their next 6 months of eggs cost £2 each and not relate the two in the finances.
Obviously breeding is a discipline that brings with it all the good management necessities for a disease resistant breeding stock (an art which I would love to go in for (with the space) but for me would mean shifting from a love of the individual to a love of the breed.)
I suppose my point is that the reason for keeping chickens will, to a large extent, dictate the way they are managed - that and the amount of space available - and their little histories and battles - and the way they look at you on 'management' day ...
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Re: Flock management

Post by Icemaiden » Mon Feb 19, 2018 1:10 am

An interesting article, but I wouldn't want to be one of two new pullets being introduced to an established flock of seven. I shudder at the thought.
Chickens are a girl's best friend (though diamonds would be nice too!)
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Marigold
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Re: Flock management

Post by Marigold » Mon Feb 19, 2018 8:41 am

Yes, that's one advantage of the 'all-in, all out' system, of course - when the new ones arrive, theres no need to separate them from the flock for quarantine or to settle them in, they can have the full range of the run and coop from Day 1. Also, it's possible to take your time and do a really good deep clean of all the housing and equipment before they arrive. If the disinfectation etc is very thorough, it reduces the possibility of latent infections and infestations spreading from older birds to young ones, which is a very common problem in small, multi-age flocks. Of course if you have enough space and equipment, each new batch can be set up in a separate run and coop, but this isn't an option for most of us.
The best time to introduce newbies to an existing mixed flock is in the Autumn, at POL, when older birds are moulting and having their annual holiday. The pullets should then be able to take on the work of providing winter eggs, and once the older ones have slowed down they become much less territorial and introductions are not difficult, if all have enough space in the run. Springtime introductions are much more likely to be problematic.
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Marigold
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Re: Flock management

Post by Marigold » Sat Feb 24, 2018 8:56 am

Well, last week I took the plunge, did the difficult deed, and now have no hens. I needed some new birds but unfortunately it was the youngest two who succumbed to natural causes, the Blacktail to peritonitis and the Leghorn to long-running (in both senses) mucky bum, leaving two very old birds, a brown leghorn and little Nutmeg the CLB, that I was fond of, but who were beyond laying. I would normally have kept the remaining middle-aged one, a 3-4 year-old Chalk Hill Blue, but it was not going to be good to just have her on her own, so for the first time ever I went for a complete all-out. I've been spending the past week on a deep-clean and refurbishment of the run, impossible with birds in there. I removed all old bedding, perches and equipment, pressure washed all the mesh and beams and everything else inside and out, put feeders and drinkers through the dishwasher, totally dismantled the Green Frog coop, (what a joy to be able to do this, compared with a wooden one) and disinfected everything with Barrier VI. I removed the porous membrane covering the floor and replaced with new - it had been down for 9 years and was still intact, though grubby, but nowadays you can get it much wider, up to 5metres, so this time I could do it all in one piece with no overlaps. Inspected the anti-rodent mesh underfloor, which runs up the sides and is joined on for 6ins, and tested this by leaving a little pot of corn on the floor for 3 days - totally untouched, so I presume the 1/2inch mesh floor was a really good idea. Am now improving the moveable mesh screens I can use to make a separate area at the end of the run when necessary, and experimented with a new position for the coop. Added a new willow screening panel to shelter the coop from direct winter winds from the east, and to shade it from early morning sun when it's very hot in summer.
So all I need now are 4 new pullets. Chalk Hill are going to have some in March, so I'm looking forward to having them living in the lovely clean run. No need to isolate them on arrival, or worry about introductions to the oldies. It feels very strange not to have any hens ATM, and I have to suppress the reflex to collect apple cores and trimmings from green veg and other bits for the chicken treats pot, but at least, in this freeze-up February, I don't have to keep thawing out the drinkers. And, with luck, the new girls should stay with me for quite a while.
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Re: Flock management

Post by MrsBiscuit » Sat Feb 24, 2018 10:45 am

It can't have been an easy thing to do; well done Marigold. It was a thought provoking question you raised, and I couldn't answer it for myself very easily, tho I suspected you would opt for this solution, your head was there reading between the lines, which is half the battle. I only kept pure breeds and never had the problem of freeloaders outweighing productive birds as someone would always be in lay, added to which I am not a great egg lover so numbers weren't an issue. I would give away summer surplus and we hardly ateeggs in winter. I kept enough for hatching, dispatched or sold the males, sold the females and kept some back for breeding, by which time somebody else would have expired! I only ever had about 20-25 birds at once, in about 4 or 5 pens, the garden was plenty large enough.

But what would I do in the 6 bird situation, desiring weekly eggs? I really don't know. Possibly I would get 4 now and add 2 in 18months time.

Anyway, exciting times ahead for you, a brand new set up and brand new stock, good luck with it all :D
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Re: Flock management

Post by bigyetiman » Sat Feb 24, 2018 12:27 pm

Exciting times indeed, looking forward to hearing about your new hens.
That's one advantage of no hens you can give everything a good clean and inspection and move things around
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chrismahon
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Re: Flock management

Post by chrismahon » Sat Feb 24, 2018 1:29 pm

A bit sad, I know Marigold, but sometimes you have to be practical and they've had a good life, unlike 99.99% of chickens.

I'm preparing the ground for our egg-layers at the moment. After a huge amount of rain the ground is finally soft enough to rotorvate the weeds ready for grass. Hopefully the hard frosts forecast will kill the roots. Decided to make the enclosure large enough for two flocks in case I 'chicken out' at management time!
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