chicken molting

Chicken Keeping: Molting

Chicken Keeping: Molting

What is Molting? 

Each year, chickens go through molting. This is when chickens will drop many of their feathers and regrow new fresh feathers for winter. This happens to hens and roosters and is triggered by shorter daylight, so you can expect your birds to molt in the fall.

Your chickens will look ragged. Don't worry! Molting doesn't hurt your chickens, this is a natural process. You should not make attempts to stop molting. This molting and regrowth is a sign of a healthy bird that is going through a resting stage after the laying season.  

How Long Does it Last? 

Typically, a chicken will typically molt for 7-8 weeks. Don't be concerned if the molt lasts 12-14 weeks. 

What To Expect

When your chickens are molting, they will drop the majority of their feathers and regrow new shoots that will turn into feathers. You'll start to notice feathers dropping around the head and neck first.

As they regrow their feathers you will see the shoots of their feathers coming through as blue or black, depending on the feather of your birds. Don't mess with these. If you notice a bird is picking at their feathers or other birds are picking at a chicken's feathers, remove the affected bird to isolation and treat the wound with Wonder Dust.

Your chicken coop will look like someone had a pillow fight. 

What to Do to Help

Adding Protein

Help your chickens regrow their new fresh feathers and get back to laying eggs by bumping up the protein in their diet. Chicken keepers can add protein to their bird's diet by buying a layer feed with a higher protein content, adding mealworms, seeds, eggs (yup, you read that right), worms, fodder. I've heard some folks have luck with cat food, too. Chickens are omnivores, so feel free to get creative! More protein is the goal. 

Still Keep an Eye Out for Illness

When birds are molting hard, it's a little shocking and it can be easy to miss more subtle cues of illness. Be sure to keep an eye out for any of your chickens that isolate themselves from the rest of the flock, are hunched over and puffed up, eye closed, look generally lame, have a sneeze, are gaping, or have runny poops. 

Let them Recover

Let your chicken's molting process continue uninterrupted and support them through plenty of food, water, and clean shelter. Your chickens just worked very hard throughout the laying season and this is nature's way of giving them a break from laying eggs. Allow them to have that rest. 

Learn More

To learn more about your flock, check out our guide "What No One Tells You About Keeping Chickens". 


hanging weight

Beef Hanging Weight: Explained

What is a Hanging Weight? 

The hanging weight of livestock is when the butcher has the carcass hanging in the cold room and takes a record of the the weight. 

Once the animal is dispatched, the hide, head, hooves/feet, and innards are removed. The carcass is then lifted onto a hook, the weight it recorded, and it will hang in a cold room until processing. 

Why the Hanging Weight? 

The hanging weight is the fairest weight for the producer (farmer) and customer (you). 

Fair for the Farmer // Why Not Meat Weight?

Many folks wonder why half or whole beef isn't priced by the meat weight.

The customer has the option to choose bone-in or boneless cuts or can choose to leave cuts as roasts, steaks, or grind the meat. Depending on the customer's selections, the meat weight (or finished weight) can vary greatly. 

Farmers raise their beef steers with a goal of sending them to processing when they reach a certain target live weight. Based on breed, live weight, feed program, and body composition, farmers can anticipate that their beef steers will hang at a particular weight. This helps the farmer plan for consistent income.

If the beef was priced by the meat weight, the income from steer to steer would be unpredictable and would vary greatly depending on the customer's personal selections. 

Fair for the Customer // Why Not Live Weight?

Live weight is the weight of the steer at the farm or when it arrives at the butcher shop.  

Pricing half or whole beef by the live weight would mean that regardless of the yield of the steer, the customer would be responsible for paying the price of the entire weight of the beef steer. Why does that matter? 

Picture this. One 1,400lb steer has a hanging weight that is 60% it's live weight. Another 1,400lb steer has a hanging weight that is 50% it's live weight. On the second steer, this means that the butcher has 10% less weight to work. Meat yield would be less, but the customer would have paid the same amount for both steers. 

Other questions to consider with live weight pricing:

Do you weigh them when they are full with feed?

Do you weight them when they are empty?

Cattle can eat up to 30lbs in one sitting. 

Are they weighed on the farm or at the processor? If they are weighed at the farm, they will drop weight on the trailer ride to the processor. 

Long-legged steer is going to have more "waste" (non-meat weight) than a short stocky steer. This is why beef breeds are bred to be short and compact. 

Hanging Weight and the Beef Farmer

Beef farmers have a goal of live weight, hanging weight, and meat weight. This means that if a farmer raises their steers to a certain live weight and body composition, they can expect the beef to hang at a certain weight and yield a certain weight of meat. This consistency is good for projecting income.

If a farmer can raise a beef steer as quickly as possible, on the least amount of feed, that means that the steer was happy and healthy enough to grow rapidly, was fed enough to fill out it's frame at a relatively young age and produce top grade beef. It means that it spend a good amount of time on pasture eating grass for free.

Healthy livestock grow well and fast, they produce beef that is tender, marbled, and a lot of it. It is in everyone's interest that cattle are raised well. 

Learn More

Learn more about buying in bulk for beef and pork so that you can be fully informed when making your investment. 


oregano infused oil

Homemade Oregano Oil

Homemade Oregano Oil

Make your own culinary oils is such an easy and simple skill that makes you feel like you've made leaps and bounds toward self-sufficiency. If you're like me, you'll think, "How did I not realize it was this simple sooner!?". You can apply this homemade oregano oil recipe to any culinary herb oil. Be sure to always use dried herbs though, or it will spoil. This homemade oregano infused oil makes a great gift for your favorite home-cook in your life. It's also a great way to add a depth of flavor to any dish. 

In addition to being a great culinary addition, oregano has incredible medicinal benefits. Note that this is a homemade oregano-infused oil, not an essential oil. 

Oregano-infused oil is also great for your livestock - particularly chickens. Add a few drops to their water to ward off any respiratory issues. 

Benefits

  • Respiratory Support
  • Skin Issues
  • Muscle Pain
  • Insect Repellent
  • Cramping
oregano infused oil

Homemade Oregano Oil

Yield: One Pint Jar
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Additional Time: 21 days
Total Time: 21 days 5 minutes

Delicious infused oregano oil, perfect for a variety of dishes and packed with medicinal benefits for you and your livestock.

Ingredients

  • Dried Oregano
  • High quality olive or coconut oil
  • One pint jar and lid

Instructions

  1. Fill a pint jar 3/4 of the way with dried oregano
  2. Pour in oil until herbs are completely covered
  3. Let sit for 3 weeks
  4. Strain out herbs
  5. Return oil to jar
  6. Label and enjoy!

Notes

Use any oil you have on hand. If you plan to use this mostly for cooking, use olive oil. If you plan to use this for medicinal benefits, use coconut oil. It doesn't really matter which oil you use, you just might smell like pizza if you use olive oil :)

In a rush? Warm your oil and oregano over low heat for 20-30 minutes to infuse rapidly.


keeping chickens

What No One Tells You About Keeping Chickens

You've got the coop, the nest boxes, the birds, the feed, all the essentials. You've bought the "Keeping Chickens" books, scoured countless articles for the right breed, learned about eggs, their anatomy, and how to treat some basic ailments. You've got the basics down pat. 

In the last year, keeping chickens has become so popular, even those who have no family background in livestock are getting a flock of their own. With so many people getting chickens, without family or friends to seek guidance from, they go to the vast world of the interwebs to find their answers. It's almost like googling your own ailments. We all know how that goes.

keeping chickens

Generational Knowledge

What first generation chicken keepers don't have access to is generational knowledge. The stuff that you'd learn from your parents and grandparents. The stuff you can't Google. Generational knowledge is those little tips and tricks that can make life a whole lot easier. That's what I'm going to share with you. I've been keeping chickens for almost 10 years and Dylan's grandparents, MeeMee and PopPop, who live right next door, have been raising and showing all types of poultry, on the national level, for decades. They are a goldmine of information. 

The honest truth: This information is going to be true farm life. I wouldn't give y'all anything less. You won't find any fluff here. It may be seen as harsh, but if you're going to be responsible for the livelihoods of animals, you ought to be prepared for the good, the bad, and the ugly. There's poop, animals die, but it's also one of the most rewarding experiences. So, here we go! 

You Will Thank Yourself for Investing in a Good Set Up

All you need is a coop right? Well, sure. But, what if a bird gets sick? What if you want to hatch out chicks with a broody hen? What if you hatch out chicks from an incubator and now they are too big for the brooder, but too small to be with everyone else?

We have four separate areas for our chickens: Juvie, Lock up, Halfway House, and Gen Pop. We have a little fun around here sometimes! Juvie is the brooder. We've done the whole tub/stock tank brooder, but it's a mess. Finally, we invested in a double stacked brooder. Worth every penny. Keep in mind, we also hatch out over 100 chicks a year, so this type of set up is necessary for us and may not be for you. The tub/stock tank brooder will work just fine if you get a few chicks every year. We will do another article where we talk about the generational knowledge with hatching eggs and raising chicks. 

Lock up is our broody hen/sick pen. Big dog crates work perfect. This is so you can separate a bird and keep them comfortable while they are on the mend or setting on eggs. Just make sure you have everything you need in there, food, water, bedding, and a roost for a sick bird - not being able to roost causes stress, which will prolong sickness. 

The halfway house is our outdoor hoop coop, or chicken tractor. This is a 7'x4' homemade moveable "coop". There are a million building plans online. This is so our birds can be outside, with cover, roosts, and access to the grass. We move it every couple of days. This is perfect for any young birds, or new birds, that just aren't quite ready to go to Gen Pop. Best part is, our entire flock can see these birds. So, when it comes time for them to be introduced, it's not a shock to everyone. This is also a great place to keep mamas and chicks if you are worried about them being in Gen Pop. 

Gen Pop, if you haven't gathered, is our entire regular flock. They go in and out of the big coop, they free range all day, they are happy chickens. 

I know it's a pain to think about building, or buying, multiple structures for your chickens, but if you are going to do this for the long haul, you'll be glad you made designated spaces. We aren't saying these need to be the Taj Mahal of chicken buildings, it can be a makeshift space when needed, whatever will work for you, works. Having the knowledge of how these things typically go will help you make the best decisions for your flock. 

We will talk about introducing new birds into the flock later! 

raising chickens

Cock-a-doodle-doo

To rooster, or not to rooster? If your local area restrictions keep you from having a rooster, feel free to keep on scrolling. If you can have roosters, I would ask you to consider it. I'll give you the bad news first. One negative about roosters is that *some* can be aggressive. Currently, we have three roosters in a flock of about 60 hens. Never have I ever had a rooster buck up to me, a customer, a customer's kid, a dog, a cat, nobody. One rooster we raised from a chick, while the two others we got as adults. Whether you get a cockerel out of an egg or an adult from someone else, follow these guidelines from day one. 

The rooster is not your friend. He is not your pet. It would be wise to treat him accordingly.

Walk up on him fast and make him move out of your way, push him to the side with your foot, get a broom and push him around a little bit and, whatever you do, do not feed him from your hand. Have your kids do the same. If he is going to take a chance on anyone, it's going to be them. You need to show him that you're the boss, otherwise, guess who's next in line? He is. And if he thinks he can outrank you or any tiny humans, he will try to establish his dominance with his spurs and beak. And then he'll make a very good soup stock. Our roosters start with two strikes. They get no chances and neither should yours. 

Spread the love with a good ratio. 

Keeping a good ratio is also very important. I would say one rooster for every 15-20 hens. Roosters do their duty, if you know what I mean, all day, every day. And if he has his favorites and your ratio is off, you'll see it in the form of stressed hens, featherless backs, and bloody combs. You want enough roosters to get strong fertilization in your eggs (we'll hit on that in another article), but not so many that your hens are getting worn out. If you have under 15 hens, one rooster will do just fine.

Free Predator Watch

To me, a good rooster is worth his weight in gold. We free range, meaning there is nothing but thin air between our sweet chunky hens out in the field and the predators who also have occupancy in the woods. There are opossums, raccoons, hawks, eagles, fox, coyotes, snakes, and even stray dogs. The rooster is on constant watch and he will call if danger is near and warn his ladies to hide. I've even seen roosters team up and tango with a hawk. Running toward the threat, spurs flying, while the hens head for cover. He may not be able to keep away a determined predator, but better than leaving your flock out to be a bunch of sitting ducks. He will also call hens over if he finds a particularly tasty treat, picking it up and dropping it down for them. So sweet. 

Chicks 

All that loving the rooster is giving can be turned into sweet little chicks in just 21 days. If you'd like to hatch out your own chicks - a super fun project with kids - you can do that with a rooster. There is nothing different about a fertilized egg when it comes to eating. Only when the egg is incubated at about 100 degrees for a couple days does it start to develop into a chick. Keep this in mind when you are collecting eggs in the summertime. 

Rooster's Place in the Pecking Order

You'll learn after just a few weeks of keeping chickens that hens can be brutal to each other. Without a rooster, one hen will establish her dominance as the "boss hen". I've even seen some boss hens develop spurs and crow like roosters. Nature is wild. The rooster automatically assumes the role as top dog. He will break up any fights among hens.

If you have multiple roosters, introduce them properly (we'll talk about that next!), and be ready for some tussles. Typically, roosters figure it out pretty quickly. They fight, one backs down, and the rooster sub-pecking order is established. If your roosters fight to the point of serious blood, pecked eyes, and violence well beyond regular scuffles. You may want to consider removing one of them. My choice would be to remove the dominant rooster, if he's going to get that violent. Even when established, roosters will continue to harass each other over who is loving up on certain hens. Non-dominant roosters will sneak around the corner and find a hen to get a little quiet action, while the dominant rooster is distracted. 

Purchasing New Chickens

From commercial hatcheries, to local poultry auctions, to Facebook groups, to Tractor Supply, to poultry shows, to your friend down the road, there are many ways to get new birds. A few things to keep in mind. Number one, you are going to get what you pay for. Number two, no one is selling their best bird.

Auction birds are notorious for bringing a variety of diseases to flocks and you never have enough time to really look at them. Local feed stores often misidentify birds or buy pullets from commercial hen houses where the birds can develop illnesses. We've done this before and ended up culling about half the birds we got in that batch, due to a chronic respiratory disease that we couldn't get them to kick. 

Selecting a healthy bird

If you are going to buy a bird from someone off Facebook or a friend, take a very close look at it and ask yourself some questions - does it look sick? Is it sneezing or wheezing? A healthy bird has bright eyes, looks alert, and has good color in it's face. It's feathers are smooth and shiny (take molting into consideration). Look under it's feathers, does it have mites or eggs on it's skin or feather shafts? Does it have fluffy butt feathers or are they matted and poopy? A healthy bird has a fluffly butt. What color is it's poop? Is it foamy and yellow? An indicator of an illness, or is it brown and solid? 

It's not worth bringing a sick bird into your flock. Trust me.

If you aren't going to hatch your own, my suggestion would be to buy from a reputable breeder or a poultry show. It's more money up front, but you'll be so glad you did. You can also find a local farm, like us!, who sells their laying hens, raises started pullets, or hatches chicks. Ask to go by and check them out first. At Hayfield Farm, we point out who is for sale and let customers choose. We sell our hens after their first full year of laying, usually around 18 months old. We need hens to lay a lot of eggs for our business. Once they get older, they don't lay as often, so we sell them to make room.

My third suggestion would be to buy directly from a commercial hatchery - like Hoover's or Murray McMurray. We've never bought started pullets from a commercial hatchery, but we have had chicks shipped in, and you can get the chicks vaccinated against diseases for next to nothing. Definitely a perk. 

raising hens

Introducing New Chickens

It never fails. You get started, you get a couple birds, then next Spring rolls around and someone has a gorgeous hen for sale or you see your favorite hatchery has started pullets, or you just can't resist the Tractor Supply cuteness. You get them home and you're ready. But wait! There's a technique to making sure your new ones don't get picked on too bad. Any new birds should be kept separate for a few days to ensure there are no chronic illnesses or infections that they could spread to your flock. 

Proper Introductions

If you are introducing new chickens, whether the same age or younger, keep them in your Halfway House for at least a week. This will give you plenty of time to monitor their health and give Gen Pop enough time to get used to them. We've also let younger chickens free range from our outdoor Halfway House and roost there at night until we feel like they are fully integrated and can go with Gen Pop full time. Or they just start to roost with Gen Pop on their own. Whatever works for you based on what you need for your flock. 

Either way, when you are ready to fully integrate them and close the Halfway House doors, do not skip this step. If you do nothing else when you introduce new chickens to your flock, be sure that you do this. At night, when everyone is asleep on the roost, grab your new tenants and quietly sneak them onto the roosts of your Gen Pop coop at night. Your chickens will wake up and be like, "Wait a minute...were you here before?...." and go about their day. 

Any new birds will require a reorganization of the pecking order. 

No matter how well you execute integration, there still may be a little bullying at first, but it won't be as severe as just throwing them into the flames in the middle of the day. If someone is getting picked on too bad, I'm talking like hens are relentlessly pinning your new chickens down and pecking them, pull the new ones out for a few days and try to reintegrate them again. You could also try this with the bully. Worst case, get rid of the bully. Roosters help with bully hens! 

The Chicken Coop

You have your coop ready to go. You have roosts, you have nesting boxes, you have bedding in the bottom. Boom, done. What else could you need? You have all the basics. Here's some things to keep in mind. 

Drafts versus Ventilation

Your coop will need somewhere to exhaust the hot moisture from all that chicken breath and dust. Even in winter and especially in the summer. Drafty coops can cause chickens to get sick. A tip is to keep any open areas for ventilation, whether that be a window or an open peak on your coop, above where the chickens roost. This will allow the humidity to rise and escape without chilling the chickens. Unwanted drafts come from open areas below or at the same level that the chickens roost. 

Going Broody

If you notice a hen is sunk down into a nest box 24/7 and resembles a velociraptor when you get near, she's broody. If you remove her from the nest box and she walks around way more puffed up than normal and makes a weird, pissed off clucking you've never heard before, she's broody.

You can do a few things. If you want chicks, you can put some eggs under her and let her do her thing, and in 21 days, you will have some chicks! If you want chicks, but your nest box area isn't the best for chicks, you can move her to Lock Up. But be warned, moving her may break her broodiness. So, if you move her and in a few hours, she's up and walking around, her broodiness has been broken and you can let her out.

We've had some break and some continue to be broody when we've moved them. Use this Lock Up trick if you want her to break her broodiness. Another option is to go in the coop multiple times a day and take her out of the nest box. Look out! She'll be going for blood! 

Run versus Free Range

A run attached to the coop is very helpful if you are going away on vacation or need to keep everyone contained for a few days, but keep in mind that chickens will take any grass in the run down to dirt in just a few weeks. Free ranging is 100% worth it for the health of your birds and the nutrition of you eggs. Just know that you can lose a few birds predators and that chickens will destroy your landscape and/or garden, if you don't fence them off. There will also be poop. Everywhere. You'll get used to it.  

Cleanliness and Preventing the Spread of Disease 

Take care of your chicks first, then your flock, then any sick birds. 

Chicks are extremely vulnerable. Even if you don't recognize any illnesses in your flock, it's wise to take care of your chicks first, always.  Do this before you take care of your main flock and especially before any sick birds. If you have to go back, wash your hands very well. Always deal with sick birds last, to prevent any spread. 

Bleach feeders and waterers when changing occupants. 

Whether you are introducing a new round of chicks or you are putting a broody hen into Lock Up, where you just had a sick bird, take the time to disinfect. Rinse out all your feeders and waterers, take a bucket, put all your feeders and waterers in it, fill it with water, and dump in a few bloops of bleach. Yes, bloops. Give it a few hours, scrub everything with a brush, give it a few more hours. Be sure to remove all the bedding from your Lock Up area, spray it down with bleach and wipe it until it's clean. It's also a good idea to scrub out your feeders and waterers for Gen Pop a few times a season. 

Other Tips

If you are going to treat birds or pull them to separate, it's much easier to do it at night.

To store hatching eggs or eating eggs before use, store them pointed side down. Unwashed eggs can be stored on the counter and washed eggs are to be stored in the fridge. 

Wrapping the bottom of your feeder in chicken wire will keep the chickens from flicking the feed out on the floor. Be sure to get crumble feed, though. 

Keep your feeders and waterers outside the coop. Chickens tend to congregate around the feeder and waterer throughout the day. This will do wonders for keeping your coop clean. 

 VetRx will help out with any congestion or colds. Put a few drops on a paper towel and rub it around their beak and eyes. It's like Vic's Vapor Rub for chickens.