October 31, 2014

New Hobby in Essex, the Keeping of Chickens

 

Dr. Michael J. Darre, Professor, Department of Animal Science, UCONN

Dr. Michael J. Darre, Professor, Department of Animal Science, UCONN

Who would have thought it? Well, it’s true, many residents of Essex, Connecticut, are now keeping chickens. The wide interest in this “feathery” hobby was evident at a recent program at the Essex Library. The program, which lasted well over two hours, was about just one thing, the care and feeding of backyard chickens.

The speaker at the program was Dr. Michael J. Darre, PhD, P.A.S., who is a Professor of Animal Sciences at the Department of Animal Science of the University of Connecticut. Darre invited those attending the program to contact him directly at any time, if they had any questions about raising chickens. He added that those persons attending the Library’s program might find the “UCONN Poultry Pages” of particular interest.

In passing Dr. Darre’s said that one of his own specialties was training chickens to stand still in chicken competitions. He also said that on the UCONN Poultry pages, there was information on where to purchase chickens.  

It Takes a Lot of Skills to Raise Chickens

In addition to asserting that it takes a lot of skills to raise chickens, Dr. Darre said that in raising baby chickens to the point where they are laying eggs, required the adoption of what he called a “Food Safety Plan.” He noted, ominously, that over 50,000 chickens die every year from fecal poisoning.

As regards egg production the professor said that when they are fully grown, five chickens can produce 3 to 5 eggs a day. He also said that when considering the cost of chicken feed and the construction of proper chicken housing, that from “a cost benefit analysis,” no one saves money in the cost of eggs by raising their own chickens.

He said that that there are three types of chickens that can be raised in the backyard. They are: 

1) Layer chickens, which are owned for producing eggs,

2) Meat type chickens, which are for eating, and

3) “Show bird” chickens, which are for chicken beauty contests.

He also noted that there are regular sized chickens, and “bantam,” smaller chickens.  Dr. Darre suggested that, “giving five ‘live’ chickens to another person would make a nice Easter gift.” 

Dr. Darre discussed the proper hormone supplements that are safe and nutritious for chickens, and he noted in passing that he taught a poultry class at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. The poultry professor also noted that in the hen house, older birds have a tendency to pick on younger birds, and that chicken keepers should be aware of this fact.

There then followed an extensive discussion on the proper housing for chickens. The professor pointed that “hen houses” should have proper ventilation, and that roosting chickens should be keep, “free from drafts.” Dr. Darre’s said that there should be heat sources in the hen house to protect the chickens from the cold, and that chickens should not be kept outdoors, when it is over 95 degrees. “Watch your chickens to make sure it is not too hot or too cold,” he said with emphasis.

He added that if the chickens were clucking, it meant they were happy, and when they are making distress noises, they are not. Then, the professor went into what he called, “An owner’s checklist.” One of the items mentioned was that dry litter made of pine savings was the best thing for chickens to rest on, and he cautioned against using straw in the hen house. He also suggested the use of a garden rake to spread the liter around.

There should also be a perch for the chickens to walk on, and a roost on which the birds can sleep, he said. The professor noted that the birds like to cuddle together when they sleep. 

As for feeding the birds, he said that bird feed should be bought by the bag, and that it was a good idea to buy “name brands” of feed. He also noted that chickens like to eat table scraps. He stressed as well that bird owners should make sure that the chickens have enough drinking water at all times.

Professor Darre said that chickens should be kept away from rodents, and that wild birds sometime eat chickens. Also, he advised that sick chickens should be put in quarantine. The professor also observed that in the hen house, “the birds themselves establisher their own pecking order.”

Baby Chickens for Sale in Old Saybrook

Baby chickens are frequently available for sale at the TSC Tractor Supply Co at 401 Middlesex Turnpike in Old Saybrook.

Tractor Supply Company, which sells baby chickens

Tractor Supply Company, which sells baby chickens

Store Manager Andrew Gaskine said that the store orders as many as 400 “live” baby chickens at a time, and that they are completely sold out in a matter of days. He said that state law requires that the baby chickens be sold in groups of six. The price range is $1.99 to $2.99 per chicken. Call 860-388-9641 for further information.  

Chickens for Sale sign at tractor company

Chickens for Sale sign at tractor company