Backyard chicken keeping is an increasingly popular hobby that is experiencing a resurgence. More and more cities are rolling back ordinances that prevent keeping chickens on your property, leading to an uptick in interest. There are hundreds of different types of chickens to choose from – hybrids, heritage breeds, crosses. One of those breeds is the Araucana, a kind of funny-looking chicken with a ‘bearded’ appearance due to its ear tufts that lays blue eggs.
All about Araucana chickens
When it comes to picking the right breed of chicken for your home or farm, knowing the basics of the breed will help you make that decision. So let’s talk a little bit more about the Araucana chicken.
- Other names: Gallina Mapuche, South American Rumpless
- Appearance: Multiple colors, tufts of feathers around the ears
- Origin: Chile
- Temperament: Docile
- Noise: Quiet
- Purpose: Eggs
- Maturity: 20 weeks
- Eggs per year: 250
- Egg color: Blue
- Egg size: Medium
- Size: Small
- Hen weight: 5 lbs
- Rooster weight: 6 lbs
- Broody: Yes
- Lifespan: 8+ years
- APA Recognized: Yes, 1976
Araucanas fall under the ‘docile’ temperament for chickens, given their propensity for friendliness to their people and even other pets. Personally, I had an Araucana hen that would sit at the kitchen table with us while we played cards or had drinks. She’d sit on the back of one of the chairs and preen herself or watch what we were up to. It was really something! These chickens, in my experience, are great for families with kids and pets.
When it comes to roosters, and this applies to just about every breed of chicken, if you treat them with respect and are kind, they will typically return the favor. Knowing their boundaries and reading their body language is important. If, despite all your best efforts, your Araucana rooster won’t stop being aggressive, it may be best to remove him from the flock and look for a nicer rooster.
Araucana are a small breed of chicken that lays 250 medium-sized blue eggs per year. They are not kept as meat birds, but instead are used for their colorful eggs. If you did keep them for meat birds, you wouldn’t get very much meat from them.
Coop and run
Chickens tend to pick up bad behaviors when their coop and run aren’t up to their standards, so making sure you have the appropriate cook and run for your Araucana chickens is vitally important.
Araucanas like to have plenty of coop and run space to go about the business of being a good chicken. The more space you can provide them, the happier they’ll be and the more eggs they’ll lay. Araucana chickens should be provided 10 or more square feet of free-range area per bird.
Chicken runs and coops should be kept properly cleaned out and provided fresh straw regularly. At least one nest box per laying hen is preferred, although they can tolerate “buddying up” and laying eggs in the same nest box. These chickens are known to wander some and will occasionally find creative places to lay their eggs.
Common Araucana chicken problems
Araucanas are a hardy heritage breed of chicken that doesn’t have any breed-specific health issues, but people who raise this breed report that they often and easily go broody, which can result in an aggressive hen that will peck when you collect eggs and may stop laying eggs altogether. Having to repeatedly break a broody hen of her broodiness is a little annoying. Outside of that, they can still come down with various diseases and illnesses.
Chickens are susceptible to a number of viral illnesses, including Marek’s disease, vaian flu, fowl pox, Newcastle disease, and bronchitis. Some of these conditions are more common than others. Signs of a viral infection among your chickens include sneezing, coughing, reduced egg production, reduced eating, lethargy, discharge around the eyes and sinuses, sores, and paralysis in the case of Newcastle disease.
Most chicks acquired from a reputable breeder or hatchery are vaccinated against the more common viral infections, like Marek’s. Chicks acquired from smaller-scale sellers may not be vaccinated. Always ask if your chicks have been vaccinated and what they’re vaccinated for.
Bacterial infections are a real concern for chickens, as coops, runs, and the outdoors, in general, can be havens for bacteria. The most common bacterial infections for chickens are salmonellosis and colibacillosis. These infections can be fast spreading and infect entire flocks.
Signs your chickens may be struggling with a bacterial infection include reduced egg laying, breathing problems, reduced appetite, and death. Salmonellosis doesn’t always present symptoms in chickens.
The two most common types of fungal diseases are brooder pneumonia and ringworm. Ringworm can be spread to humans as well, so if you suspect your chickens have ringworm, handle them carefully and wash your hands and clothes immediately.
Brooder pneumonia tends to only infect young chicks spending their first few weeks in a brooder. Ringworm usually clears up on its own with time. Keeping brooders and coops clean is key to avoiding these fungal infections.
Like most of our pets, chickens can experience parasitic infections. Worms, ticks, lice, and mites are some of the more common ones. Symptoms of these parasites include loss of appetite, lethargy, skin irritation, and unexpected loss of feathers outside of normal molting.
Be wary of used coops. Always disinfect them thoroughly before introducing your chickens. Replace coop bedding often and periodically disinfect chicken coops to reduce the presence of parasites.
It can be a rough and tumble life for chickens as they go about establishing pecking orders and foraging for food. Injuries, particularly foot injuries, aren’t uncommon. Most surface-level injuries will clear up on their own, but foot injuries are particularly concerning as the chickens’ talons tend to come into contact with their own manure as well as other pathogens in the soil and on the ground.
Common signs of a foot injury are difficulty walking or putting weight on the foot as well as lethargy. In the case of bumblefoot, a type of staph infection, both the chickens’ digits and sometimes entire feet can become swollen with pus-filled abscesses. Foot injuries should be treated and bandaged as soon as they are noticed.
Egg binding is an often tragic issue for chickens. It’s caused when an egg becomes stuck between the hen’s uterus and cloaca. Signs of egg binding include weakness, inability to perch, often choosing to sit or lay on the ground, straining, and a lack of egg laying. Egg binding can quickly become a fatal condition and will generally require a trip to an avian vet to fix.
Pasty butt, sometimes called pasty vent, is a fairly common condition that afflicts chicks. It can quickly become a life-threatening issue if not addressed. Pasty vent tends to be caused by stress and dehydration. It occurs when thick stools block the chick’s vent, preventing it from passing droppings.
Eventually, the chick will become ill and refuse to eat. Signs of pasty butt include smaller chick size and a pasty mat of droppings over the vent. This condition is easily treated by cleaning the affected area and removing the stuck droppings.
Breeding Araucana chickens
Breeding your Araucana chickens doesn’t differ significantly from breeding other types of heritage chickens. Providing your Australorp hens access to an Australorp rooster and allowing nature to take its course will yield healthy, strong chicks. A ratio of 10 hens for every rooster will typically yield good fertility rates. You can allow a broody hen to sit on her eggs or hatch them in an incubator. A quick guide to hatching:
- Incubation time: 21 days
- Incubator temperature: 37.5°C (99.5°F)
- Incubator humidity: 40-50%
- Egg turning: 4 times a day
- Candling eggs: Day 7
- Lockdown Date: Day 17
- Lockdown temperature: 37.2°C (99°F)
- Lockdown humidity: 65%
For more information, check out our comprehensive guide on incubating chicken eggs.
What to feed Araucanas
Up until about 20 weeks old, your Araucana chicks should be fed a commercial chick starter feed with 18% protein. This added protein will help your young chicks grow and develop into healthy birds. After 16 weeks, they can be switched to a 16% protein layer feed to support healthy feathers and good egg production. Chickens enjoy being put out to pasture where they can eat grass, bugs, and other plants. They will also gladly eat some fruits, vegetables, grains, and leafy greens. Free-ranging your birds will also cut down significantly on your feed costs.
For more information, check out our comprehensive guide on what foods chickens can and cannot eat.
History of Araucanas
Araucanas are a chicken shrouded in a bit of mystery. Their early origins are not documented, but they originated in the Araucanía region of Chile, which is where the chicken gets its name. It’s thought to be a relatively new breed of chicken, reaching Europe in the 1920s and getting APA recognition in the 1970s.