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Flock Maintenance

University of Connecticut Cooperative Extention System - College of Agriculture and Natural Resources [16.5KB]

Basic Management of Small Flocks

A successful small chicken flock is the result of good breeding stock combined with careful management, disease control and a good feeding program matched to the requirements of the bird.

What Type of Chicken?

You may choose to rear hens, meat type birds or show birds, or a combination of these. Each has its own requirements for feed, housing, management and health care. Birds can be purchased as hatching eggs, chicks or adult birds. Which you choose to start with depends upon how much time and energy you are willing to invest in your flock. What ever you choose, purchase only from a reputable dealer or hatchery, and only from pullorum free flocks.


Housing Requirements

Housing for poultry must keep the birds comfortable in all kinds of weather, and protect them from predators. It should be tight, well ventilated and insulated. It should provide proper lighting from sunlight or artificial lighting. Although a concrete floor building is best, any structure that meets the above criteria will do. Litter, such as wood shavings, sawdust, corncobs, etc, need to be absorbent and kept dry. Clean up wet, dirty litter and replace with fresh to prevent diseases. Use 1/2 -inch mesh hardware wire over windows to keep birds, rodents and other varmints from entering.

Allow about 2.5 to 3 square feet of floor space for layers and 1 to 1.5 square feet for broilers and bantams.

Brooders

Baby chicks need heat during the first few weeks of rearing. For most small flocks, an infrared heat lamp is best for rearing up to about 100 birds. The heat lamp should be at least 18 inches about the litter. In winter make sure the room itself is warm enough for the heat lamp to be effective. Chicks require about 95oF for the first week and 5oF lower each week until about 70oF is reached. A brooder guard, a piece of cardboard about 15 inches high that can form a circle on the ground under the lamp, keeps the chicks in the vicinity of the heat lamp, and prevents drafts. If the birds huddle under the lamp, they are too cold, if they are at the edge of the brooder guard they are too hot. Adjustments must be made.

Feeders

There are a variety of feeders available to the small flock owner. Provide enough feeder space so that almost all the birds in the flock can feed at the same time. Hanging tube feeders are easy to use and provide feed as required by the birds.

Waterers

There are also a variety of waterers available to small flock owners. The important thing to remember is to keep clean, fresh water available to the birds at all times. This is critical in cold weather as well as hot.

Nests

Chickens reared for egg production should have access to nests starting at 18 to 20 weeks of age. Leghorns should have a 12" x 12" x 12" nest and Rhode Island Reds and other dual purpose type birds can use a 14" x 14" x 14" nest. A 1.5 to 2 inch strip across the front on the bottom of the nest is required to keep the nesting material inside.

Roosts

Adding a roost to the front of the nest box will provide a step into the nest and provide a resting place for the birds. Roosting is a natural behavior and should be provided for all types of chickens. A piece of 2" x 2" board with rounded edges is ideal for most chickens. Provide about 6 to 7 inches of roosting space per bird.


Feeding the Flock

Feed represents much of the cost of rearing chickens. Different ages of chickens need different nutrient requirements and these must be met of the birds will not grow properly. The best thing for a small flock is to be fed a commercial feed, suited for the age and type of bird reared. It is recommended that chicks are provided medicated starter and grower feeds to help prevent coccidiosis. A mash or crumble type feed is good for most birds. Broilers do well with pellets for grower and finisher feeds. Typical feeding programs are listed below.


Typical Feeding Programs*

Layer Layer
Replacement
b
Caponb Broilerb Roasterb

20 weeks -production cycle
Laying mash
0-6 weeks Starter Same as layer replacement to 10 weeks 0-3 weeks Starter

3-6 weeks Finisher

6 weeks - market Withdrawal
Same as broiler to 7 weeks of age
May be fed all mash or mash-grain method 6-13 weeks Grower or Pullet developer (15% protein) Grower or Developer and grain prior to market. Grain gradually increased in diet up to 2 weeks prior to marketing. Broiler Finisher and corn or whole grains until 2 weeks prior to marketing at 12-14 weeks. Insoluble grit may be fed if whole grain is used.
Free choice:
Calcium (oyster shell or limestone) may be fed for good shell eggs. Soluble grit may be fed if whole grain is used.
13-20 weeks Developer Feed high protein mash crumbles or pellets only during last 2 weeks

* This schedule should be used as a guide only. Commercial company programs may vary from the ones proposed. Choose a company's feeding program and follow it.
b A suitable coccidiostat must be included in feed for young chickens (see poultry disease section). Read the feed tag or make sure your feed store provides a Starter or Grower with a coccidiostat.


Lighting Your Flock

Reproduction in chickens is stimulated by long days and is reduced with short days. Laying hens are generally provided with 15-16 hours of light during lay. However, two general rules exist. NEVER provide growing birds with increasing hours of light and NEVER provide laying hens with decreasing hours of light. A single compact fluorescent or incandescent lamp of about 500 to 600 lumens is adequate for about 150 to 200 square feet of floor space if the lamp is about 8' off the floor. A combination of natural sunlight and artificial light (on a timer) is effective in providing for the needs of the birds.


Health and Disease Management

Follow good sanitation programs, such as thorough cleaning and disinfecting of house and equipment before birds arrive and in-between flocks. Keep all feeders and wagerers clean. Practice good housekeeping and rodent control. Dispose of dead birds properly and practice good biosecurity by keeping possible carriers of disease away from your birds. See other disease management guides for more information about poultry diseases.