I’ll be doing a series of articles here on management of a mid-size flock, covering issues such as:
We first started this journey with our seven chickens in the suburbs of Aurora, Colorado (“The City Girls”). Fortunately for us, there was a ton of information at our fingertips about starting a small flock. “Backyard” chicken keeping has whole websites and books dedicated to passionate poultry-keepers.
All that advice was golden, and the experience of caring for a small flock was something I will forever appreciate. It’s where I fell in love with the birds, and suddenly understand them as individuals, each with their own personalities. I learned all the basics of small-flock husbandry like feeding, coop management, pest-control, and injury management. I learned how to introduce new birds, and how to sneak baby feed store chicks under a broody. Those were good times, and I am forever grateful to all the chicken pioneers who paved the way.
Shortly after we moved to the farm, I decided it was time to expand. I told David I was going to get 50 chicks. At that time, it seemed like a huge jump!
It’s a long, chicken math-esque story, but I ended up bringing 117 peeping baby chicks home. I remember calling David from the car on the way back.
Me: “Hi.” (loud peeping in the background)
David: “Um, that sounds like a LOT of chicks.”
Me: “Um, yeah, well, there was some confusion, see, and I had to take more…”
And we were on our way!
My biggest learning curve, without a doubt, has been managing a mid-size flock. There just aren't the same resources. Of course, mid-size flocks have been around for longer than factory farming, but 60 years ago most of those mid-size farmers had to scale up or get out. So, we are left reconstructing bits and pieces of sage wisdom with new chicken-keeping techniques.
I’ve found that a lot of the advice that works well in small flocks just doesn’t quite apply to mid-sized, especially when you are raising a flock for profit. Take vet care - even if we had an avian vet in our area, we’d immediately lose money if we took our chickens in for most issues.
I also discovered that research done in very large flocks doesn’t quite apply. First, it seldom puts the welfare of the animal front and center, except as it applies to profit margin. Second, most research has been done on chickens in concentrated, confined settings. Behavior and disease issues are all magnified in such close conditions.
Although we are still tiny in terms of chicken farms, I define a mid-size flock as being over 100 birds. Chickens can recognize about 100 faces, and after that, the dynamics change.
For example, in a small flock, introducing a new hen takes time. The others instantly recognize the stranger, and it takes weeks for that new bird to be anything but picked on and hassled by the others. Feathers can fly and birds can get seriously injured if you don’t take it slow.
Not so in a large flock! If I introduce a new hen and she looks even remotely similar to the existing girls, she just walks right in. The other birds just don’t recognize her as a stranger. There might be 2 minutes of drama as the new bird tries to challenge the old girls, but there’s just too much to see and explore at our farm for it to get serious.
I'll be covering issues like these in the coming months. Please keep in mind that I’m still “winging it” when it comes to managing our flock, but I hope some of our experiences can help others learn and grow. By all means, if any of you have advice/tips you’d like to share, please let us know! We are still learning and would appreciate any good resources.