My Experience Raising Ameraucana Chickens From Pullets to Hens
When I was a child, one of my favorite chores was to collect the eggs from the hen house on our farm. When we retired and moved to the country, some of the first animals that I wanted to get were chickens. I wanted to be able to go out each day and gather healthy eggs from our own free-range hens. Every time we visited the local feed store, I would go and drool over the cute baby chicks.
Unfortunately, several things stood in the way of my little dream, and we had to put it on hold for several years. Around the time when it looked like we were finally ready to build our movable chicken coop and get some chicks, Hurricane Katrina hit, and our whole world was shattered. But thanks to a gift from a good friend, things were put in motion.
How We Obtained Our Little Flock
We are now proud owners of a small flock of Ameraucana chickens. Many years ago when we lived in Baton Rouge, we raised some chicks that were hatched by a kindergarten class. Unfortunately, we couldn't keep them in the city, so they were given to our friend Margaret, who lived in Covington.
It's funny how things come full circle because our most recent attempt at keeping chickens began with a plea from Margaret, the same dear friend who took our Baton Rouge chicks off our hands so many years ago. She had purchased six baby chicks that had been sexed as pullets (hens), and her husband (a city boy) would not let her keep them. So, knowing that we were nature lovers and that we wanted a few chickens, she asked us to take them.
Our Baby Chicks in Their First Few Weeks
Here are the two-and-a-half to 3-week-old chicks the day after we got them. We kept them on the front porch so that they would be warm and safe. Can you say, "COUN-try?"
At first, we would only fill the bottom part of the feeder twice a day, but, by the time they were 5 weeks old, we had to fill the bottle part up to the top.
Housing and Feeding
- These cute and fluffy little Ameraucana chicks spent their first 2 months in a giant cardboard box that was covered with a large, bottomless cage that had once been a flight cage for Cockatiels.
- The bottom of the box was lined with a piece of burlap and some newspaper, which was then covered with a layer of wood chips. Chicks need this kind of surface so that their feet can grow correctly.
- Up until they were about 5 weeks old (which was when they began to get feathers), we kept a lamp clamped to the cage and turned it on when the temperatures were cool.
- Baby chicks under 3 weeks old should be kept in temperatures that are from 85 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Special medicated chick starter food is given twice a day, and their water bottle is also cleaned and changed at the same time.
- When the chicks have more feathers than fuzz (at around 6 weeks), they can be moved into an outside coop.
- It is recommended that the medicated food be given to the chicks until they are about 4 months old.
- We were told that the little ones can perish from many diseases if they are not given the medication in their food.
Out in the Chicken Coop
These are 8-week-old chicks out in the run of their movable coop. In no time, they had eaten all of the weeds and grass.
It took a day or so before they started to use the perches, but, once they did, they would go into the "house" at dusk and sleep there until morning. When they were still small, we would close the door to the "house" each night.
They've Got Personality!
As the little ones grew, they started showing individual personalities. The two youngest ones regularly sparred with each other, and, when their feathers started coming in, they were more red than the other four.
These two were also much larger birds. They were very bossy and were always throwing their weight around. We were always afraid that they were roosters. Then, when they were about 14 weeks old, one of them crowed. About ten days later, we realized that it was the larger of the two red ones.
We really didn't want roosters because we were worried that the crowing would wake us up too early. We already had a Cocker Spaniel that went off from 5:30 to 6:30 a.m., and we didn't need another alarm clock. But, so far, the little rooster hasn't awakened us.
Our four hens all have similar coloring, but each one has her own special markings and mannerisms.
One has a gold head and neck, so I call her Goldie. Goldie is a little smaller than the others, but she doesn't let that bother her.
One hen, Gertie, is very dark and a little skittish, like a wild bird. The other two hens are very similar, but one has a black beard (Henny), and the other has dark ear muffs (Penny).
Ameraucanas have ear tufts, beards, and pea combs. They are also called "Easter egg" chickens because they lay green and blue eggs. They are medium-sized birds and are said to be good layers. They can begin laying when they are from five to six months old. The first eggs are small but will increase in size as the hens get older. Ours started laying at 6 months, and now we enjoy fresh, homegrown, organic eggs.
Time to Lay Eggs
Here are three of the four hens. From left to right you see Henny, Goldie, and Penny. Gertie is a little shy, so she's not in the picture.
- At six months old, Ameraucana hens can start laying eggs.
- The most common colors of egss are green and blue, but sometimes they will be light peach or pinkish.
- Like clockwork, at almost exactly 6 months of age, Henny, the hen with the black beard, laid a small light peachy-pink egg in the water bowl.
- Poor baby. It was obvious that she didn't have any idea what was coming out of her. She skipped the next day, but on day three there was another slightly larger light pink egg on the floor, near where the water bowl used to be. She skipped day four, then, on day five, we found the third egg, and it was in the box we had mounted for that purpose. After that, she started laying every day in the nesting box.
How Many Eggs Do We Get Each Day?
Right now, only one of the four hens is laying, and we are getting an egg each day. Hopefully, in a couple of weeks, as the other three hens mature, they'll start laying as well. We are hoping that one or two of them will lay blue or green eggs because we already have one laying peachy-pink ones.
We are so pleased to announce that two of our hens lay green-blue eggs. They were the last to begin laying, but you know what they say about saving the best for last. We love the pink eggs, but, now, with all four of them laying, we get an assortment of colored eggs. Recently, they have been providing us with three to four eggs a day. Some of the eggs are still in the small category, but because I am on a low-cholesterol diet, that's not such a bad thing.
Henny and Penny lay pink eggs, and Goldie and Gertie lay the bluish-green ones. At 10 months, the hens are all full size and lay almost every day. The eggs are usually in the medium to large range.
Could Hot Weather Affect Egg-Laying?
The summer has been hot, and the hens that lay the blue and green eggs stopped laying for a couple of weeks. Goldie was trying to set. It's normal for hens to stop laying for a few weeks, but it's so odd to see only pink eggs in the egg carton.
Building a Movable Chicken "Tractor" Coop
We were a little late in completing our coop because of weather conditions and a family emergency.
How We Constructed the Coop
- We recycled some 16-gauge welded wire flight cages that we had when we used to raise Cockatiels.
- By cannibalizing the cages, we came up with an 8' X 3' X 3' covered run and a 4' X 2' X 3' summer roosting area.
- We read that each chicken should be allowed three square feet of area in the coop and the run. This current setup has 32 square feet of space for six chickens.
- We put movable pieces of 3/4" plywood around the roosting area. The roof is a piece of sheet metal (which used to be the bottom of the Cockatiel cage), with a large piece of plywood on top.
- The whole thing is movable, and the bottom of the run is open so the chickens can scratch around for bugs and grass.
It doesn't look like much, but it serves the purpose until we can build a larger wooden roosting and nesting area that we'll attach the 8' X 3' X 3' run to. We plan to do this before they are five months old and before the cold weather sets in. There are many predators where we live, so we must keep their coop secure from both air and digging creatures.
Plans for a Nesting House
We have drawn up plans for our more permanent wooden nesting and roosting house.
- It will have a slanted hinged roof so that we can easily clean it out and check for eggs.
- The dimensions will be three feet by four feet and about five feet tall with two-foot legs.
- Two of the legs will have wheels so that we can pick up the attached run and move the whole thing like a wheelbarrow. This way the chickens will have the food of free-range hens but the safety of a cage.
Until we can get the new coop built, I am letting the hens out into the garden for a couple of hours each afternoon. Their vitality has improved, and they are doing a fabulous job of weeding, tilling (scratching) the soil, and ridding the garden of insect pests. As they work through the dormant garden, they also leave fertilizer. As the sun goes down, they go back into the portable coop to roost, and I close the door to secure them.
We finally built a new chicken house for our three hens. It is a beautiful hen house and greenhouse duplex that makes the old one look like a broken-down trailer.
We Got 3 New Ameraucana Pullets
The color variations of Ameraucanas never cease to delight me.
These beautiful girls just began to lay blue and green eggs. The white and gold one in the front is Buffy. The one with the mostly gold head is Cinnamon, and the one in the back is Brandy. Brandy has a black beard. All are gentle hens.
Their eggs are on the small side compared to the adult hens, but each week they get a little larger. They are still young, after all, and I wouldn't want them to strain themselves.
We Found Roosters in Our Flock
Remember the two big chicks in our first flock. Well, it turned out they were roosters after all.
They both have such brilliant colors compared to the hens. We were told that there is a 10% chance of getting a rooster when you buy pullet chicks, but two out of six figures out to be 33.3%. I wonder if they take returns. The good news: the feed store owner says that he can find a good home for the roosters.
Giving One Away
We have now heard both of them crowing. One is quite good at it, but the other is still learning. Both are loud and start crowing at dawn. My only stipulation is that they do not end up in the stew pot.
We took one rooster to the feed store on a Friday, and, by Saturday afternoon, he had found a good home with his own flock of pretty hens. Since he left, things have quieted down in our flock, and the remaining rooster is tending and protecting his hens. We've decided to keep him unless he gets too attentive and starts harassing them.
A Few Months Later
The rooster crows no more in our movable chicken coop. Our remaining rooster was too vigilant in his duties with the hens. Four of them were missing many feathers on their backs. Poor Goldie, his favorite, had claw marks and scratches on her back.
The rooster is now in a good home and will have his own harem of hens. Hopefully, they are free-range chickens, so the hens have room to run.
Why Keep Chickens?
Do you keep chickens? If so why?
© 2009 Yvonne L. B.