One of our chickens died a few weeks ago, I fear she was a victim of some bullying within the flock. It happens, you have to let the chickens sort out their issues. What was particularly sad about this case is that she was a strong layer, an Easter Egger, and one of my favorite hens.
Seizing the moment, I decided it was a good time to expand our flock. Adding chickens to an established flock is a challenge but the number one rule to pay attention to is never to attempt integrating one chicken at a time. A group is always better.
I have an increasing fondness for interesting breeds, which I think is consistent with what you will hear from other chicken devotees who have success with a good laying flock. There are many interesting breeds of chickens that have a distinctive appearance and, more importantly, colorful eggs. The latter is particularly important if you are selling your eggs because colored eggs (other than brown) are very desirable.
French Black Copper Marans are a breed of chicken that descends from France. A regal looking bird with good temperament and hardiness, the primary attraction is the chocolate brown eggs they lay.
Olive Eggers are, like Easter Eggers, a cross between a blue egg layer and a brown egg layer. Easter Eggers are known for blue-green eggs, Olive Eggers are known for brownish green olive colored eggs. Marans and Olive Eggers are moderately productive egg layers that integrate well with mixed flocks, making them ideal for backyard chicken keepers.
I really didn’t have any intention of raising chicks but having an opportunity to get Marans and Olive Eggers was too good to pass up. I now have two of each breed in a brooder in my workshop.
Chicks are pretty sensitive to temperature so the essential equipment is a heat lamp and thermometer that you can use to manage a consistent temperature. Week-old chicks, what I have, need 95 degrees and at ten-day intervals, the temperature can be dropped 5 degrees.
The chicks themselves are the best indicator of temperature. If they huddle under the heat lamp, they are cold but if they move out to the edges of the brooder to get away from the heat, they are hot. Milling around the brooder, then they are just right.
Clean water and food are the other critical elements. Chicks need medicated chick starter feed up to about 16 weeks, at which point I will mix in layer feed 50/50 but hold off on oyster shell until they are 20 weeks old. The layer feed I prefer is processed through a reduced size die resulting in a pellet that is between large pellets and crumbles. I find that this feed has minimal waste and the hens really like it. Pellets of any size may be too large for pullets so watch food consumption carefully and transition to layer crumble first if size is a problem.
At this point, it is a matter of waiting out the chicks to when I can move them outside. They are indoors for the next 10 weeks, or until they feather out. We are coming into the summer months and if night temperatures are normal for July, I could move them out earlier. However, I will need to construct a larger enclosure for them as they will quickly outgrow the small animal cage that I currently have them in.
I’ll keep you posted on progress. The most critical phase of expanding a flock is introducing new chickens to an existing flock. This can be a very frustrating process that is dominated by old wives tales, the dynamics of pecking order, and a bit of luck.