About Warrens and NovoBrown
Warrens and NovoBrown start laying at about 20 - 24 weeks old and will lay eggs for about 14-18 months. They usually have a rest, called a moult, during their second winter for about 2-3 months. They will lay an egg each day once they start; occasionally they will miss a day. As they get older they will start to lay less. Commercially they can lay up to 330 eggs per year. In back gardens this varies but is usually over 300. They are generally very easy to keep and are much calmer and tamer than pure breeds.
The Coop and Run
The coop should be situated in a sheltered position. Warrens and NovoBrown will tolerate a few days at freezing (keep the water thawed) but measures should be taken to protect them from prolonged or severe frost. Ideally they require at least half a square metre of floor space and no more than 7 birds to the square meter inside the coop. Provide about 20cm of perching per bird 15-60 cm off the ground. They are quite happy to share nest boxes and often all birds will lay in the same one. For larger flocks provide a nest box for every 4-8 birds. Provide a purpose made drinker and feeder. The feeder will need to be protected from rain either by placing it in the coop or under a sheltered area of the run. Ideally it should be off the ground to prevent it from getting full of dirt. Ideally drinkers should be hung 15 to 20 cm off the ground, this will keep them level, keep the dirt out and provide the best drinking height. If the drinker is placed in the run the birds will need to be given early morning access, you can leave the hatch to the run open in mild weather providing the run is secure. The drinker is best inside the coop in winter to help prevent freezing.
It is a good idea to have a secure run attached to your coop that they can't escape from and predators can't get in. You can leave the birds in the secure run when you are out and let them range free or in a fenced area when there is someone about. If your run is static it will quickly become heavily soiled with droppings. A layer of bark chippings will help keep the run healthier and give the birds something to scratch around in. Use a ground sanitizer on heavily soiled areas around the coop. This will reduce smells and seradicate bacteria and worm eggs.
Tip: Cover the top and prevailing wind side of small runs to keep the rain off. A dry run will remain healthier much longer than a wet one.
Bedding and Nest Material
For most situations the best material for the bottom of the coop will be fine wood shavings. Fine wood shavings make an excellent natural litter that bird like to dust bathe in. Spread shavings over the floor of the coop 3 to 5 cm deep. As long as it stays dry and loose there is no need to change it regularly. If there is a build up of droppings under the perch then just replace that area. If the bedding becomes damp or starts clogging together then it is time to change it. Wood chip is more durable if the floor gets damp quickly and may be a better alternative for larger flocks. Straw is an economical alternative but may be difficult to clean out once saturated with droppings.
Place barley straw in the nest boxes at the onset of lay; there is little point putting it in before lay as they will just root it out and dirty it. Many people shut off nest boxes until birds are about to lay to prevent birds roosting in them and making a mess.
When you get your birds home put them in the coop and let them find their way into the secure run if you have one. After a week or two, when they have settled in, you can let them wander around freely if you like but only if there is someone about. Obviously don't let them on to the road and don't let anything chase them. Be aware of foxes, I am asked to replace fox kills hundreds of times each year; it is by far the most common problem. Larger flocks will perform better and have fewer problems if they are kept separate from existing flocks. Thoroughly clean out and disinfect existing coops before introducing new birds. If possible the new flock should be given access to rested ground that hasn't had birds on for at least six weeks. With smaller flocks it may not be practical to keep new birds separate. Introducing new birds has varied results. Sometimes it is uneventful and they all get along fine in no time. Sometimes the existing matriarch will not tolerate newcomers even after days. Generally a new pecking order will have to be established. This usually involves strutting about, neck stretching, chest bashing and mock fighting ending with the new comers retreating to the far end of the run or coop. if the existing birds continue to hound the newcomers or it gets nasty then you will have to separate them. Introducing into the coop at dusk often helps letting them all wake up together in the morning. A temporary mesh divider in the run will allow them to get used to each other before they are mixed during the day.
Roosting tip: on the first night go in the coop at dusk and place any birds that aren't already there on the perches, after that they will usually go up themselves.
Warrens and NovoBrown need to be fed on layers pellets or layers mash which is high in protein (at least 15%). If the bag has "Layers" written on it should contain a complete balanced diet for laying chickens. It should contain all the protein, fibre, oil, vitamins, minerals (including oyster shell) and other essential nutrition that laying birds need. Feed them in the morning every day. They eat about 1Kg per bird per week (more in cold weather). Try to judge how much they eat and feed them that amount every day. They like the interaction of being fed and like to see new food each day. When you feed them there should be just a little food left from the previous day, if the feeder is still half full you are giving them too much, if it is pecked clean you are not giving them enough. If you want to give them a treat later on in the afternoon or evening you can give them a little kitchen scraps or mixed corn. Scattering a handful of mixed corn on dry ground will encourage their natural foraging behaviour and relieve boredom. Don't overdo the treats, if you give them too much they will stop eating sufficient pellets and not get the required protein and other nutrition.
If birds are ranging free they will probably be picking up grass and other vegetation. It is a good idea to give them a little flint grit once every three or four weeks to help them digest fibrous material. Don't feed chickens grass cuttings they can clog in the crop and go sour preventing the bird from eating. If this happens it will appear as a large bulge at the base of the neck.
They should have access to fresh water at all time. Clean the water fountain out every 2-3 days to prevent the build-up of algae.
Health wise there are rarely problems with new sites. Most disease problems occur on long established sites when the ground has become saturated with droppings or new birds are mixed with old. Our birds are fully vaccinated to commercial standards, worming after a couple of months is a good idea or I sell a gut conditioner that can be given monthly that will flush out worms, internal parasites and generally cleanse the gut.
Red mite is a common problem in established sites. Examine birds regularly, look under the wings where there are few feathers, this is a warm place where Red Mite like to congregate. They are the size of a full stop and are usually red but can be black or opaque. If you see a small speck that moves it's probably a mite. Once spotted treat immediately. The mites live on the birds and they lay their eggs in the nooks and crevices of the coop. You will have to eradicate both to get rid of the problem. Remove the birds from the coop while it is thoroughly cleaned. Spray all the nooks and crevices with mite spray and thoroughly dust the birds with Mite powder and replace the bedding before returning them. This procedure will need to be repeated at eight to ten day intervals two or three times to eradicate heavy infestations. Mites breed very quickly in the summer months but can persist in mild weather right into December. If an empty coop has had a mite infestation make sure it is thoroughly treated before putting new birds in. Hungry mite have been known to kill new birds over the first night. Another sign of mite is that birds stop going in the nest boxes or even the coop and spend the night perched elsewhere. Dust bathing in a dry sandy hollow is a birds natural means of controlling mites and external parasites. This process can be enhanced by providing them with a bath (washing up bowl) half filled with 3 parts dry sand 1 part Diatomaceous earth (mite powder). Place it outside near the coop and protect from rain.
Clipping the flight feathers on one wing will usually prevent birds flying over 1.2m high but this will make it easier for predators to catch them! Once settled in Warrens always return at dusk or feed time.