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Chickening Noob

 
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I’m new to chickening. (I’m going to call it that, and no one can stop me )
Anyway, I’m wondering what breeds would be recommended for a first-year chickener with very little experience.
I’m at 6000 ft, high desert/plains of AZ, and temperatures do reach 10 below zero F at times, though not often.
Temperature swings are pretty drastic between day and night, and the heat/sun in summer can be inclement as well.
I have a few ideas bouncing around in my head for a coop, but I’m wondering if there are certain breeds that would do better than others in this climate.
Also very interested in amending my very clay-rich, acidic soil, so not sure if chickens would be the best bet or not??
Any advice would be appreciated.
Happy chickening!
 
gardener
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I think predator-proofing your coop will be super important in your part of the world.

But I mostly am here to applaud your terminology. Happy chickening and no chickening out!
 
gardener
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I am also new to chickening, this being my first year with them. I call what the chickens do chickening, but I like your terminology too. I definitely second the predator proofing suggestion. I have learned so much, but still have much to learn! A lot of it has been about learning to trust my gut feeling or intuition, whatever you want to call it.

I got a book for Christmas that I so wish I'd found at the beginning of my chickening journey and I would highly recommend it. The Small-Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery. Amazing information and perspective! So much of the advice I found online conflicted with my sense of what was right and a lot of it sounded like it was just applying the methods industrial poultry operations use to a small scale. The way of approaching chickening in the book feels much simpler, more in line with nature and more respectful of chickens than anything I read online. I probably could've spared myself a lot of feeling conflicted, confused and worried if I had found that book at the start. So just wanted to share that. Happy chickening!
 
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Hi Nicholas,
Good for you wanting to get into "chickening" :)

Specific to your questions about breed... realistically it probably doesn't matter as much as we all want it to. Birds in general deal with cold much differently than humans. If the chickens are kept dry and ventilated in the winter and have shade and plenty of water in the summer, they will probably be fine. You can research on google different breeds and what traits they generally have. Black Australorp and Buff Orpingtons are two I know of that tend to do well in cold climates. In general I would suggest a larger bird (less likely to fly over) and a calmer bird (less likely to freak out when you are feeding, watering, collecting eggs, etc.

As to whether or not chickens are a good way to help your soil... yes, but with a caveat. If you are looking to amend a small section by intensly over grazing an area to make a garden, you will see a big different from one year to the next. If you are looking at the field scale with an acre or more... the chickens will be healthy and happy if you move them around. The soil will be healthy. But it will be very slow compared to what can happen with an herbivore such as a cow or sheep. Chickens do good things... just slowly with rotating them through. Combine them with an herbivore and you would be much farther ahead as far as soil amendments. Having said that... if you are starting with chickens, do it. Move them around, it will absolutely help the field and soil as long as you don't leave them in one place too long.
 
Nicholas Roberts
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Thank you, lots of great replies. I would love to eventually get into larger herbivores, but I’m trying to be practical, as I work a day job, and probably not ready to start tending larger animals.
The comment about predators is accurate, and I can hear coyotes almost every night, usually near another local property with chickens.
I’m pretty good at building stuff, so a coop would be a really fun project.
I have an owl that visits regularly. The wildlife seems to get more active here with ever passing month.
I figure 2 or 3 chickens, nothing large-scale,
but glad to hear it won’t be as complex as my brain tends to make things out to be.
Thanks for the feedback!

 
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If you are going to keep roosters, I'd suggest a breed with a pea or rose comb - something smaller than a single comb, because with temps below 0, larger combs are more liable to frostbite.  When it got down to 30 below here the year before last, even my Wyandotte rooster (Rose comb) got frostbitten.  It's less of an issue if you only have hens, since their combs are smaller anyway.

Also, I love "chickening" - that is the best descriptive term ever!
 
pollinator
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I'll be new to chickening this coming year, so I'm not the voice of decades of experience, but I'd suggest to anyone worried about the cold, to read this book. It was recommended to me here on another thread and I found it very satisfying. To address your actual question, I live in a very different environment than you do, but I'm looking to start chickening with Icelandic landrace chickens instead of one of the more common breed varieties. It might be worth a read to see if they're a good fit.
 
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Welcome to chickening! What do you call someone who takes care of chickens?….. a chicken tender!!! LOL

My advice is to get different breeds and not all the same. I got 12 Black Austrolarps when I first got chickens and it has been very hard to tell the difference between most of the hens. Having hens you can tell apart from each other allows you to more closely monitor problems or figure out the dynamics among the chickens. It can also allow you to figure out who may not be laying.

Request a catalog from Murray Mcmurray Hatchery. Even if you don’t order through them, their catalog is chock full of good information about hardiness, egg production and temperament for the different breeds along with beautiful pictures.

Permies is full of information about caring for your chickens.

Good luck and happy chickening!!
 
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I second the recommendation of The Small-Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery.  Very informative.  And I also second the pea or rose comb breeds for cold tolerance as long as you don't have extreme heat on the other end of your weather spectrum.  My deciding factors were - heat tolerance,  docile temperament and high egg production.  1/2" woven wire mesh to keep predators and rodents out (well, 1/4" is recommended for the smallest rodents but we did 1/2" and haven't had an issue).  And a predator 'skirt' around your overnight housing.  Check out the videos of Carolina Coops.  They share the 'why' behind the 'how' they build their coops.  We used many of their ideas to build ours from reclaimed lumber and repurposed windows and doors.  Deep litter is awesome!  The most beautiful stuff comes out of the run in the spring.  We add our biochar in there too so the chickens break it down and innoculate it for us.  I would recommend starting with 5 or more birds... We started with three and found we weren't getting enough eggs for our needs and our sharing.  We are two but we live in a neighborhood in town and share with the neighbors.  We added more chickens last spring (our second chickening spring) and the big girls are MEAN to the new girls (even though I followed all the suggestions on how to introduce them slowly).  So I would recommend getting close to the total number of chickens you want/need.  For our size lot, city code says we can have 9.  I'm dreading trying to add more birds to our flock.  Want to figure out how to grow more 'chicken feed' before we add any more hungry mouths to feed though.

Oh, yes.  Different breeds as recommended by Jennifer.  Definitely easier to keep track of them.
 
pioneer
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Nicholas Roberts wrote:I’m new to chickening. (I’m going to call it that, and no one can stop me )
Anyway, I’m wondering what breeds would be recommended for a first-year chickener with very little experience.
I’m at 6000 ft, high desert/plains of AZ, and temperatures do reach 10 below zero F at times, though not often.
Temperature swings are pretty drastic between day and night, and the heat/sun in summer can be inclement as well.
I have a few ideas bouncing around in my head for a coop, but I’m wondering if there are certain breeds that would do better than others in this climate.
Also very interested in amending my very clay-rich, acidic soil, so not sure if chickens would be the best bet or not??
Any advice would be appreciated.
Happy chickening!



Hey Nicholas - I'm your neighbor over in NM - a bit higher but all other environmental conditions the same.  I really like Black Giants, calm, big, friendly. I've had no issues with heat or cold with them, only predators.  Hawks didnt seem to be much of an issue, although coyotes, raccoons etc are an issue.  We have them in a fenced in yard under some trees, (for flying predator protection/deterrence) then a closed coop for night.  That being said we still have things digging under the 2' skirt of the coop to get in then digging bigger hole to get the chickens out! we have a heated waterer for the winter other than that no other heat or light.  And they lay throughout the winter - our beautiful sunny days help massively!

One thing- they are pretty amicable with the ravens, so if you dont want to feed everyone in the neighborhood keep the food in the coop - this did not prevent the ravens from eating the food, but cut down on it lol  - our ravens are SMART.  Or maybe the chickens just thought the ravens were smaller chickens lol


I have not bought from here - but here is some information on them:

https://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/black_giants.html

Good Luck and have fun!
sandy
 
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Welcome to chickening!

I have a small urban flock of 5 in Minneapolis and it was -17 here last week. We have increasingly hotter and humid summers. Australorps are great, like the others have said. Also good are barred rock, Rhode Island Red, and Easter egger. My girls are aging to I added a Salmon Faverolle and a White Crested Polish to the flock over the summer and they are handling the cold really well. The main thing like a few have said is the comb. You want to choose breeds with small combs to avoid frostbite. My RI red and barred rock have small combs but they are just big enough that I have to keep an eye on them. When it's going to be zero or colder for a string of days, a nice coating of vaseline on their combs will keep them from frostbite.
 
Nicholas Roberts
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Sandy S.. Yes, the ravens are smart here as well. They say “Hawwwk” whenever there’s a hawk. No kidding. And they alert all the smaller birds.. Even fly circles around the hawks, it’s something else. I think of them as “protectors” more than anything.
Very verbal, like I’ve never seen/heard with other crows around the country.
Have even heard they can recognize human faces.
Anyway, thanks for the advice!
 
gardener
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This is my system.    
.   I recamend reflective roof in your climate.  Use hefty fencing wire to keep predators out.   Strong latch to keep wind from. tearing roof off.
 
Nicholas Roberts
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Thanks Hans!
I love the design. Especially the roof. Simple and effective.
I’ll have to check more of your videos, but how did the amaranth do??
 
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My chickens all die, unless I have fighting chickens, if you have predators it maybe the best way to go. My chickens usually roost in trees, and lay in the forest, so obviously it makes that game harder, but usually at least a pair, will survive and produce. I also don't feed them, if they aren't cooped up, they always to die of predation, never to little food. I've seen my fighting hen fight off a hawk, when she had chicks. I did cull all my chickens this year, except 2, so those are in coop full time, now. They also have a much lower pressure and are way happier, then domesticated animals, therefore happier food, better for you.
 
steward
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Hey Adam, just to clarify, do you mean chickens that are good at defending themselves when a predator comes along?  Or cockfighting?
 
Nicholas Roberts
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Wow... this is intense. So you’re talking about some hard-core chickening!
I once knew a guy that made a sign for his coop, which read “Arbeit macht Fried”
I thought it was funny, but what do I know.
Adam, you sound very punk-rock 😎
 
Hans Quistorff
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Nicholas Roberts wrote:Thanks Hans!
I love the design. Especially the roof. Simple and effective.
I’ll have to check more of your videos, but how did the amaranth do??

Sadly that batch of seed was bad or the germination conditions got too dry or wet.  In many cases though the grains I fed them that got scratched into the soil did sprout and produce food for them on the next round of movement.  In my climate wheat is successful in almost all seasons so that is my choice of feed. The chicken tractors were inherited with the farm from my sister and were built as a 4-H project by youth she was mentoring. So at the time of the video were showing signs of weakness after 12 years of use.  Recommend notching a 2x4 for the uprights instead of using 2 pieces of 2x2 . The wheels on the end are from a rusted out lawn mower and can be adjusted up and down to make it easier to move over distance.  It needs to sit tight to the ground without gaps to keep predators out. And as mentioned chicken wire is not strong enough to keep racoons from breaking in as it starts to corrode over time.
 
Nicholas Roberts
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I’d be willing to bet you’ll see some amaranth sprout up this season.
Seeds can be strange like that.. I used to grow amaranth in a greenhouse, among many other things.
I tend to do what you’re doing, spread lots of different seeds and see what happens.
The soil here was barren when I first showed up, but I had some success with corn, clover and there’s lots of grasses that weren’t here when I first arrived. I’m spending a lot of time trying to structure the ground so as to retain water, and it really seems to be working.
It was really just a hill of rocks when I came here, and just major soil erosion.
It’s more of an experiment at this point than a sustainable landscape, but I hope to get there!
 
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Hi Nicholas, fellow noob chickener here We are planning to get our first chickens this spring, thinking maybe 3-5, but also unsure on breeds and I still have a lot of research to do. Our climate is quite different from yours (temperate hillside next to a forest, at the edge of floodplain and wetland) but similarly we will have to prepare to protect them from predators, as we have just about all of them here that would love to eat some chicken (cougars, bears, coyotes, eagles, etc.) I'm still slightly hesitant to get them, knowing that they could end up attracting predators to our yard, and we have a young kid and a couple of dogs... so that makes me nervous. I wonder what advice folks have about that?

Previously we had ducks when we lived in the city, in a very urban location, and one of them ended up getting killed (by a raccoon I think) while another got attacked by a possum (and managed to survive), so I guess predators are going to be an issue no matter where one is located.  
 
Hans Quistorff
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Tara Swenson wrote:Hi Nicholas, fellow noob chickener here We are planning to get our first chickens this spring, thinking maybe 3-5, but also unsure on breeds and I still have a lot of research to do. Our climate is quite different from yours (temperate hillside next to a forest, at the edge of floodplain and wetland) but similarly we will have to prepare to protect them from predators, as we have just about all of them here that would love to eat some chicken (cougars, bears, coyotes, eagles, etc.) I'm still slightly hesitant to get them, knowing that they could end up attracting predators to our yard, and we have a young kid and a couple of dogs... so that makes me nervous. I wonder what advice folks have about that?

Previously we had ducks when we lived in the city, in a very urban location, and one of them ended up getting killed (by a raccoon I think) while another got attacked by a possum (and managed to survive), so I guess predators are going to be an issue no matter where one is located.  


Exactly the same for me. The chicken tractor pictured fits between my berry rows on the sand and ravel slope. works its way down to the garden beds where the soil starts to have clay as the rainy season ends then out onto the flood blain as it dries unless it has ducks then it can go into partially flooded areas.  Muscovy ducks will perch on the roost bar just like the chickens so they can get out of the water and are happy with a flooded pen.
    The poultry can be moved to clean ground and water without ever having to clean the pen or expose them to predators.  It needs to be heavy enough and fit tight to the ground with strong wire to make it predator resistant.  Do not make the mistake of nest boxes that can be removed from the side; they can be pulled out to access the pen.  Having dogs that accept that the residents of the pen are part of the family to be protected gives an additional layer of security.   Geese can serve as predator alarm in a wire cage so they can see the sky for arial predators.  They eat grass so can be used to  maintain such pathways.  
  When my sister had all 4 tractors working with a variety of poultry it was  quite productive.  I recommend starting with a variety of hens then replace with the ones that work best for you. The rock and Road Island types are more aggressive at digging and resisting predators.  English hens are smaller and more content in the tractor and work well on a lawn.  Ducks can be noisy but Muscovy's do not quack and are quieter than chickens.  
 
Nicholas Roberts
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Tara, I think having dogs is your best deterrent against predators encroaching. I don’t have one myself, but I can always tell when there’s a “neighborhood disturbance” because there are enough neighboring dogs. I don’t think most large predators want anything to do with them.
Anyway, I think you’re one step ahead of me there.
 
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