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Monthly Archives: June 2013

  • Who Rules the Roost in your Chicken Coop?

    If you've ever found the time to sit and observe the interactions of backyard chickens, you'll no doubt understand where the term 'pecking order' originated. While you might debate who 'rules the roost' in your home or workplace, you can be sure that there is a clear 'King' or 'Queen' that dominates your backyard chicken coop.

    white chicken2The concept of a 'pecking order' was coined back in the 1920s by biologists who discovered that backyard chickens maintain a hierarchy with one chicken pecking another of lower status. In the absence of a rooster, one particular chicken will dominate all others. The 'pecking order' concept was transferred to human behavior in the 1950s.

    Chicken domination

    While owners of backyard chickens may not be aware of such a hierarchy, the chickens most definitely know their place in the coop society. If you have chickens in your backyard, take a moment to simply look at the condition of their feathers. There will be one chicken that will stand out with its beautiful crop of feathers entirely intact.

    If you take a little more time to sit and watch the action in your chicken coop, you'll see that this 'top chook' has been given the right to peck any other chicken in the flock, with no retaliation. While you may not be able to make out the order entirely, there is a definite hierarchy.

    In flightEach chicken knows whom they are allowed to dominate and whom they need to step aside for in terms of eating first and having the privilege of the best laying boxes and perches. The favourite laying boxes and perches are generally those that are the highest in the chicken coop, and therefore the greatest distance away from predators.

    Chicken coop introductions

    If you've just taken the step to acquire backyard chickens or are about to do so, be prepared for a short period of intense fighting between your new pets. This fighting determines whether a chicken is dominant or submissive and therefore where they sit in the pecking order.

    Interestingly, if you remove a chicken from a well-established flock for only a day and then put that bird back in the chicken coop again, fighting amongst the entire flock will reoccur to re-establish the appropriate pecking order. This is also found to occur when a chicken is injured, with their place in the pecking order significantly down-graded as a result.

    Adding New Chickens

    Of course when you add new chickens to an existing flock of chickens the pecking order needs to be re-established. While it's unlikely that you will be able to prevent fighting completely during this phase of introduction, it pays to try some of the strategies that have been found to help your old and new chickens get to know each other. This includes introducing new chickens at night-time; distracting older birds with treats; and using two coops for a short period side by side (see other articles on this topic coming soon!).

     

  • Is a Rooster Needed in Your Chicken Coop?

    It might seem obvious, but have you ever wondered if a rooster is a necessary addition in your chicken coop for your chickens to lay an egg? There seem to be many myths or ‘old wives’ tales’ circulating about eggs and the rooster’s role in egg production. This article, aims to answer some of these commonly misunderstood issues.

    You may have had chickens in your backyard chicken coop for many years, or perhaps you're new to the chicken scene. Either way, some of the questions and related answers below might seem obvious, but read on, as it’s likely that you’ll be surprised at some of the answers.

    Fresh eggs Fresh eggs!

    No. Hens, like female humans, don't need a male in order to ovulate. If the aim is to produce baby chicks, then fertilization and therefore the rooster are necessary. A 'broody' or 'clucky' mother hen is also needed to sit on her fertilized eggs for a period of around 21 days. Sometimes chickens who have not circulated with a rooster, get clucky and sit endlessly on their eggs hoping for chicks to hatch. Unfortunately for these ladies, only disappointment will be the result.

    Are grocery bought eggs fertilized?

    If you purchase your eggs from a local farmer who has roosters running with the chickens (or this is the case in your own backyard), then it’s likely that the eggs are fertilized. In comparison, it is highly unlikely that grocery store eggs are fertilized as commercial egg producers do not keep roosters amongst their chickens.  Even if the eggs you purchase are fertilized, they won’t hatch into chickens. A broody chicken or an egg incubator are needed to keep the eggs at the right temperature in order for them to hatch. Fertilized eggs can be eaten because once they’ve been refrigerated, the chicken embryo will not develop.

    Does the discovery of a red dot in the yolk of an egg mean it was fertilized?

    You might discover a red spot amongst your fried eggs, but this does NOT mean that the egg was fertilized. This is an old wives’ tale. The red dot is simply a blood spot that came from the chicken when the egg was being formed. Broken capillaries in the reproductive system result in blood spots in the egg. If you purchase eggs from a grocery store, it is unlikely that you’ll come across this. ‘Candler’ inspectors at poultry plants routinely shine bright lights at eggs and remove all eggs that are found with a red spot. Years ago, candling was done by holding the egg up to a lit candle which is how this inspection process got its name.

    If you’re concerned about the health hazards from eating eggs like this, there’s no need to worry. There are no issues with eating the blood spots found in eggs. Egg producers remove eggs like this mainly because of consumer preference rather than any related health issue.  If you come across a blood spot within your egg, simply remove it. If it’s only small it’s likely to disappear when cooked anyway, and no one would be the wiser!

    If you'd still rather eat fresh, organic eggs from your own backyard... get a Royal Rooster chicken coop

  • Choosing a breed of chicken for your backyard chicken coop

    If you’re interested in getting backyard chickens, you’ve likely wondered what type of chicken is best for your backyard. As there are hundreds of breeds of chickens in existence, it can be a little overwhelming when deciding on a breed.

    Chook face smallChickens vary in lots of different ways including bodily size, feather colour, extent of feathers, comb type and egg colour. Breeds of chicken also vary in terms of their main use. Some are best for eggs, others for their meat, some are more for ‘decorative’ purposes, and some are considered ‘dual-purpose’.

    In order to determine which breed is best for your situation, let’s look at some of the most common qualities that owners look for in their new backyard pets.

    Eggs in basket 21. Egg size – do you want full size eggs for cooking or are you happy with a smaller sized egg?

    2. Quantity of eggs – some breeds produce more eggs on average in a year.

    3. Mother hens – certain breeds are better for rearing chicks.

    4. Family friendly, docile chickens - will your chickens also be pets for your family?

    5. Standard breeds versus rare/ pretty chickens.

    Good egg size

    One obvious difference between standard and miniature (or bantam) chickens is the size of the egg they produce. A bantam egg is around a half to a third the size of an average egg from a full sized chicken. Bantams also produce fewer of these smaller eggs in a year. For example the Isa Brown breed of chicken will produce around 260 eggs per year, compared with only 150 small eggs from various breeds of bantam chickens. So if eggs are important to you, it’s best to go for a full standard sized hen.

    Quantity of Eggs

    Different breeds of chickens seem to be able to produce more eggs than others. As mentioned, the commercial hybrid ‘Isa Brown’ tends to lay more eggs per year compared with other chickens. Isa Browns can produce up to 300 eggs per year in it's first year. Then generally around 260 eggs per year, compared with 250 from the Black Australorp and around 200 from the Rhode Island Red. White leghorns are also a higher volume layer producing around 195 eggs per year. (This post was recently updated on 21 September, 2016)

    Broody Mother Hens

    From time to time chickens go broody or ‘clucky’ meaning that they tend to sit on their eggs in the hope that they’ll be able to hatch some chickens. Of course some poor hens still do this even though there’s no rooster in this pen to make this possible. While the chickens are broody they will stop laying new eggs and sit on their eggs, or whatever eggs they can find, for an extended period of time. If a chicken actually sits on fertilized eggs, in 21 days they will hopefully hatch into chicks.

    Often bantam breeds such as ‘Silkies’ regularly go broody, so these are a good choice if you want some hens to do the sitting. Other breeds such as Rhode Island Reds or Australorps have had their broody instincts bred out of them, so you have a chicken at maximum egg laying capacity. If you decide down the track that you’d like some chicks, purchasing some fertilized eggs and hiring an incubator may be the way to go, because it’s unlikely these ‘unbroody’ breeds will get broody just when you need them to.

    Family Friendly Chickens

    If you’ve got children, you might like to get a breed of chicken that doesn’t mind being handled. If you’re not too fussed about getting eggs and want the chickens more as pets, then various bantam breeds might be the way to go.

    Our nephew Max with his beloved chicken 'Sizzle' the frizzle. Our nephew Max with his beloved chicken 'Sizzle' the frizzle.

    Frizzles are unusual but attractive looking bantams that have curly feathers that point upwards instead of sitting flat again the body. Pekin is another popular breed of bantam that looks like a ball of feathers. They even have feathers on their legs and feet. These are very placid creatures and are excellent pets for children. Silkies are also very placid and make great pets for children. Like many bantam breeds, Silkies are great broody hens.

    If you want a breed of chicken that is great a great layer and also good with children, Australorps are a good choice. These are black in colour with a beetle green sheen to their feathers. They are great with children and other pets and lay really well.

    Standard Chickens or Unusual Chickens?

    The choice between getting standard sized, common chicken (such as an Australorp, Isa Brown or Rhode Island Red) or a more unusual breed still comes back to the issue of egg quantity. If you primarily want a reasonable sized egg with a good number of eggs per year, it’s best to stick with the most common standard sized breeds. If not, then there are many beautiful breeds to choose from! For something different there are even breeds such as the Araucana that lay pretty blue/ green eggs! You could even get a mix of different standard breeds: some orange, some black and some white just to make your backyard chicken coop look that bit more interesting!

    Useful link:

    • Backyard Poultry by Andy Vardy
      A great website which provides further information of different breeds including a chart explaining all the different features and characteristics of the many breeds available. This site also provides a useful forum and a great detail of information about keeping backyard chickens.
  • How to Fox Proof Your Chicken Coop

    fox and chicken Protect your precious chickens from predators

    If you’ve ever had a fox attack your chickens before, I know you'll understand how important it is to make sure your chicken coop is fox proof. It is absolutely devastating to find your pet chickens after a fox or a dog has ransacked your coop. Unfortunately, many people think that foxes only live in rural areas and are unlikely to be a problem in urban areas. This may be the case in your area, but don’t be too sure. Take steps now to protect your chickens, rabbits, birds and guinea pigs from these predators.

    Increased Foxes in Metro Areas

    There have been recent reports that numbers of foxes have significantly increased in some metro areas in Australia. Twice as many foxes have been trapped in the Perth area during 2016 compared with the past year. Increased urban development means that bushland areas are reduced which leaves foxes no choice but to head closer to the suburbs and houses.

    As manufacturers of chicken coops, we’ve had many customers tell us about the brazen foxes in their area and the devastating results. Some have come as close as a back porch in the early morning, and that’s in a metropolitan area! Others have reported that foxes are game enough to even eat the food that is left out for dogs and cats. I would strongly suggest that all owners of backyard chickens safeguard their chickens, before, not after a fox is noticed in the area.

    Predator Proofing a Chicken Coop

    The best way to keep foxes out of your chicken coop depends largely on the style of coop and run that you have. If you have a mobile chicken coop that has a run attached to a housing section, it’s important to make sure that foxes can’t tunnel underneath the outer edges of your coop. Even if you’re on reasonably hard soil, foxes can be quite determined to access your coop.

    Fox proof floor in coop Chickens safe inside their mobile coop

    One of the best things to do in this case is to wire a large mesh floor to the base of your coop. If it’s attached to the base itself, it will be able to be moved along with your coop when you move your chickens to a fresh area of your backyard. Chickens love to have area to scratch, so you want to make sure that this mesh floor has large enough squares to still allow your chickens to scratch, but small enough that a fox won’t be able to enter. We’ve found that mesh with 10cm x 15cm rectangles is ideal. If you stood this mesh upright, a fox may actually fit through, but when it’s wired to the base of your coop, a fox will not be able enter the coop due to the angle of their burrowing.

    The other option is to create a mesh ‘skirt’ around the edge of your coop. This allows your chickens more room to scratch, as there’s no need to have the mesh under the coop as well, but makes moving your coop a little harder. We’ve tried both methods and the skirt is very cumbersome, but may be the preferred option by some.

    It’s also important to make sure that your mobile chicken coop is made from strong enough mesh. Unfortunately, some of the imported coops that we've seen on the market are made using very light ‘aviary’ style mesh. We’ve been told about foxes that have chewed through this thin mesh to gain access to the chicken coop. So just make sure that the coop you purchase, or make, has strong enough mesh. I would suggest mesh that is 2.5mm thick. We’ve found that this cannot be damaged by foxes trying to chew through, or children who love chickens and clamber all over the chicken coop!

    Fox Proofing a Fixed Chicken House

    Fox proof fence in ground A fence placed into a trench and backfilled to stop digging foxes from gaining access

    If you’ve got a chicken house that stays in a fixed position, the main issue is making sure that the run area is fox proof. Most people with a traditional chicken shed and run erect a permitter of high chicken wire to form the run. This wire should have holes no larger than 80mm in diameter. As this style of run generally has no ‘roof’, it’s important that the walls are high enough to prevent a chicken from flying over as well as to prevent a fox from entering (around 1.8m high is generally adequate).

    The other important consideration is that the chicken wire at the bottom of the fence is dug into the ground, not far below the surface to a distance of about 50 or 60cm.  As mentioned, foxes will dig to gain access to your chicken house. If the wire is dug into the ground, the foxes will hit the wire when they start to burrow and eventually stop trying to get inside your coop when they realise that they keep hitting the wire barrier. Another way of achieving this barrier is to but something heavy like wood or concrete sleepers on top of the mesh at the bottom of your fence.

    For more reading, from the perspective of humanly controlling foxes, Brisbane City Council's article explains that a fox-proof poultry pen is the best way to keep your chickens safe. An article from Unley City Council about foxes in Urban and Urban Fringe areas is also helpful to understand the fox problem and how it affects our pets.

    If you're concerned about foxes, be sure to purchase the ‘fox proof floor’ upgrade with your Royal Rooster chicken coop to keep your chickens safe! 

    (Article Updated November 2016)

  • Do chicken coops attract mice and rats?

    I love backyard chickens but I’m definitely not a fan of mice and rats. Just because you have chickens in your backyard, doesn’t mean you also have to have mice or rats in your chicken coop. Obviously it’s not the chickens themselves that attract mice or rats, it’s the spilt or poorly stored grain or pellets that can attract these unwanted visitors.

    Rodents are looking for food, water and shelter. If your chicken coop provides a secluded corner that your chickens can’t access, food and water, these little creatures might just decide to stay. Interestingly, chickens are actually omnivores which means that they eat both vegetable and meat materials. Chickens happily eat insects, worms, carcasses as well as seeds, grains, weeds and other plant material. This means that a mouse that is a bit slow running through the coop, might find that he becomes a light snack for one of your chickens. I wouldn’t however, rely on your chickens to keep your mouse problem under control.

    Owners of backyard chickens should always take preventative measures to keep away these undesirable visitors that can bring with them a range of diseases.

    Keeping mice out of the chicken coop

    While the first, logical thing to do would be to prevent mice actually entering your chicken coop, this is much easier said than done! Mice can fit through very small spaces, so small that we may overlook potential access points because we assume that they’re too small.

    If you have a fixed chicken coop made with iron walls, a concrete floor and fine mesh, you may be able to keep them out. But if you’ve got a mobile chicken coop or you regularly free range your chickens, there’s likely to be a tiny gap somewhere for these determined creatures to find their way in. So physically keeping mice actually out of your chicken coop may not be really possible, but there’s still other ways to keep them under control.

    Mice love spilt feed 

    Our chickens enjoying their new drinker and feeder set Our chickens enjoying their new drinker and feeder set

    One of the key factors in keeping away rodents is to make sure that you have an adequate feeder that doesn’t allow the chickens to spill a great deal of feed onto the ground. As owners and manufacturers of ‘Royal Rooster’ mobile chicken coops, we regularly had customers asking for suggestions about how to prevent their chickens from scratching lots of grain onto the ground. Your chickens can cost you a great deal more than necessary in the way of chicken feed. Most chickens naturally love to scratch at their feed which means a lot of it ends up on the ground and then wasted. 

    To be honest, we were also having issues with our chickens wasting lots of feed. We were determined to overcome this problem and so decided to design our own feeders. A key part of the design of our feeders is the special dividers in the middle of the feeding tray. These dividers make it much more difficult fro chickens to ‘swipe’ the feed onto the ground.

    Chickens will naturally try to sort their grain mix to find the tastiest piece of grain or seed. We’ve found that these feeders significantly reduce the wastage of grain. The chickens are forced to peck at the feed to eat it, rather than ‘explore’ the grain mix and make a great mess in the process. We’ve found that having a feeder that prevents feed wastage is a key factor in keeping away the rats and mice. So while they may physically be able to come into your coop, if  you can get your spilt grain under control, you’ll also have your mice problem under control.

    Can I take away the self-feeder?

    If you have a really bad mice problem, you may be tempted to just feed your chickens at one point in the day by scattering their feed on the ground. Unfortunately, chickens do much better if they have a regular, continuous supply of feed that they can access throughout the day. Self-feeders are really the only easy way to ensure they have a continuous supply available.  Rather than taking away the self-feeder all together, it is much wiser to invest in a feeder that limits the amount of grain spilt.

    How should I store my feed? 

    The very popular drinker and feeder set - made to overcome feed wastage, dirty water and to take up very little room inside a coop. The very popular drinker and feeder set - made to overcome feed wastage, dirty water and to take up very little room inside a coop.

    You also need to make sure that your grain or pellets are stored appropriately in a sealed container. Rats and mice can be fairly determined if they sniff out some food that they’re interested in. I’ve discovered a lost Tupperware container in our garage, hidden behind a cupboard that was completely chewed through for the mice to gain access. Tough plastic or even wood is no problem for mice or rates. Be sure to purchase a strong container, ideally made of metal such as an old-fashioned garbage bin or 44 gallon drum to store your grain.

    Where to find greater feeders that reduce feed wastage... we've made our own! Have a look at our very popular Royal Rooster drinker and feeder sets.

     

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