Chicken People – The Road to the Winner’s Circle

It’s that time of year again, we’re just under two months away from the Ohio National Poultry Show. It’s an exciting time in the competitive poultry world, not only are we coming up on fall show season, but much buzz has been made around the upcoming release of the documentary film, ‘Chicken People’. This film chronicles the road to Columbus, and what it takes to have that prize-winning entry. The film will be released on September 23rd, but in the meantime if you haven’t seen the trailer, check it out:

 We’d love to hear your poultry showing stories, so feel free to leave comments about your experiences and what you love best about exhibiting poultry!

 

 

Free Range Poultry, the Inside Scoop

free range chickensA hen lounges in the grass soaking in the sun, on her side with her wing partially open. The rooster pecks, watches, pecks, watches, then circles the flock, always on alert. A pullet scoots through a cluster of hens after a grasshopper, scolded by one of the older ones. Just a snapshot of the flock dynamics from a few minutes watching chickens in a large run or while free ranging.
If you enjoy this view like I do, free ranging or pasturing chickens is a pleasant way to raise your flock. The added food the hens or broilers pick up while foraging can help save on your overall costs, once fencing and predator prevention has been paid for.
When considering nutrition for free range or any poultry, first consider your overall goals. Are you raising for meat or eggs? Are you working to maximize egg production, size and eggshell quality? Do you have a flock for eggs and perhaps meat for your family and enjoy watching the flock more than you care about the number of eggs you collect? Are you rotating your flock maximize the nutrition from the pasture? What are your winters like and do you expect egg production in the cold seasons? Your answers determine your nutrition program for your flock.
Pastured or free range chickens pick up as much nutrition as the pasture has to offer, until they are full that day. If you have ever built a new run, delighted at the lush green grass and plants as you let your chickens out the first few days, only to be horrified at the decimation they caused in a short time, you understand how completely chickens will take advantage of the food sources in an area.
Here’s where the old adage, you are what you eat, comes in. Chickens will get the nutritional value of what they are foraging on. So, if they are free ranging on a fairly well-manicured lawn, the variety of species of plants and insects is quite limited. If they are being rotated weekly within an electric netting fence in a large field that’s mowed twice per year, housed out of a chicken tractor or hoop house, the variety will be much wider.
charlie barred rockNo matter where you raise your poultry, their nutritional needs are pretty much the same. They’re all individuals, just like us, so one hen may need more calcium, for example, than another to keep the same eggshell quality as another hen. Whenever we take away feeding consistency, we change what we know the poultry are receiving as far as nutrition. So, you can change how much nutrition they are getting, but their needs are the same. Whenever these needs for calories, vitamins, minerals and amino acids are not met, a bird will have a deficiency which can cause health issues. These health issues can range from minor to severe; from dull colored feathers and poor feather regrowth after molt or hen pecking, to decreased immune system that leads to susceptibility to respiratory infections.
So, does this mean you cannot raise your poultry out in nature with a varied diet? Absolutely not! Just keep in mind that the commercial feed and supplements that you’re feeding are that much more important because your birds are consuming a much smaller amount of them. For example, a chicken’s diet in a coop and small run is 90% layer feed, like Nutrena® NatureWise® Layer Pellets, and 10% a combination of scratch, calcium chips, unlucky insects that wander in and vegetable scraps. Since 90% of the hen’s diet is balanced for egg production, feather quality and overall health, the hen is healthy and produces large, thick-shelled eggs.
If we take the same hen, open the coop door and let her free range from 7am-7pm, the percentage of the layer feed she eats will dramatically decrease. Let’s say now 80% of her diet is free ranging, and 20% is layer pellets. Now, keep in mind, depending on where the flock is going, she can eat some yummy and nutritious things like insects, worms, frogs, all sorts of plants, flowers, vegetables, even mice. None of this is bad for her, chickens are omnivores and meant to eat all these things. The result we may see is that since the hen is not eating very much layer pellet, she may be deficient in vitamins, minerals or amino acids if she is not getting those from her environment.
Think about it like your diet. If you are eating three balanced meals a day, you’re most likely getting everything your body needs. If you are on the run and your meals are unbalanced and inconsistent, you may need to add a multivitamin, protein shake, meal bar or other supplement to prevent a deficiency.
So, give your free range hens a concentrated diet in addition to their free ranging and you will ensure that they get everything that they need in the smaller amount of feed they eat. For example, Nutrena® Country Feeds® Egg Producer is a concentrated formula that is high in energy, amino acids, vitamins and minerals that hens need to stay healthy and lay beautiful eggs for your family or customers. This type of feed is also helpful if you’re mixing in whole grains, fermented feed, compost or large amounts of vegetable scraps from your kitchen. It’s like giving hens all the amino acids, vitamins and minerals they need in a small amount like a meal/energy bar that we humans would eat.
Use nutrition as preventative medicine to keep your hens healthy and laying. And keep enjoying the sight of your flock and their antics outside!

Pecking order and water care, what do they have in common?

In any flock of chickens, there is a pecking order, ALPHA on the top, Omega on the bottom, and everyone in between. Basic flock psychology, is the flock is only as strong as the weakest member. We see this initially with baby chicks, if there is a weak chick, the rest of the flock will eliminate it from the gene pool. “Vote her off the island”, so to speak.

They may do this as adults as well, there may be a bird that they sense needs to be eliminated from the gene pool. This may be a healthy, egg producing hen. One of the ways they do this is to not allow the hen in question to drink. In hot weather they expire pretty quickly. I get phone calls from customers every summer, after the birds were posted, in most cases they died of dehydration. Adding a few extra water stations can easily prevent this, by allowing more options for birds to drink from. This simple step can be the key to keeping the entire flock healthy.

 

Test your Layer IQ and WIN!

Nutrena Layer IQ Quiz Enter Now!

Welcome to the 2016 Layer IQ Test! Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to answer the following questions to the best of your eggbility. Many dangers lurk within these screens, including poultry puns, corny jokes, and weak attempts at chicken humor. Proceed at your own risk. Click the image above to get started!

Raising Chicks in Two Phases

Phase I: The Brooder
Young chicks must have a brooder for warmth and protection. Prepare the brooder by cleaning and disinfecting it before the chicks arrive. Once it has dried, cover the floor with 4 to 6 inches of dry litter material. Pinewood shavings or sawdust is recommended to aid in disease prevention. Place the brooder in a draft-free location. Carefully Three Chicks Huddled Together in the Grassposition an incandescent bulb about a foot above the box floor to provide heat and add a second light in case one bulb burns out.

Newly hatched chicks will find their perfect temperature in the brooder. If it’s too hot under the bulb chicks will move away from the heat; if too cool they’ll move closer. Give chicks space to move about. Baby chicks huddle together when they’re cold, which can cause smothering or suffocation, so check your chicks regularly to be sure they are comfortable. Raise the height of the lights as they grow, because their need for artificial heat will diminish as they grow feathers.

Clean, fresh water is the most important thing to give your chicks. Make sure it is always available and that the waterers are clean. Chick starter grower rations are available in medicated and unmedicated formulas. Select one with 18% protein that has the vitamins and minerals chicks need to flourish. It is important for the right blend of nutrients to be age specific, as this feed lays the groundwork for the birds entire future.

Phase II: The Coop
Within a few weeks, your chicks will soon be big enough to move into their coop. As they grow it will become obvious that your brooder won’t hold them forever and forming a plan around how and when to introduce them to the coop or outdoors is a great idea. Here are some important things to remember when moving from baby brooder to adult coop.

  1. Chicks should be mostly feathered – At 5 to 6 weeks your fluffy chicks will start to resemble adult birds by growing out pinfeathers. These adult feathers will help them regulate their body temps better than fluffy chick down.
  2. Chicks should be acclimated – Although they start off at 90 – 95 degrees in the brooder the first week of life, you need to decrease this temperature each week until the temperature inside the brooder is close to what daytime temps will be. For the first few weeks (and especially if outdoor temperatures are fluctuating), you may want to bring the birds back into the brooder at night or in bad weather .
  3. Chicks should be integrated – nobody wants henhouse drama, and taking a few simple steps to introduce new birds to old will save a great deal of time and potential injuries. These steps include having a “get acquainted” phase when the new and old birds are in separate, but attached areas so they can interact without aggressiveness. You also want to do the coop consolidation at night so that the old and new flock wake up together to help minimize bullying. At this point it is also important to remember if you have youngsters joining your existing flock to only feed chick starter to all birds until the youngest bird is 16 weeks. The extra calcium in regular layer feed can harm young chicks.
  4. Chicks should be eating treats and grit – it’s a great idea to get your birds used to eating treats (if you plan to offer them) a few days prior to putting them outside. That way, you can use the treats in case you need to lure the birds into a secure space at night. Until they are used to thinking of the coop as “home base” they may need just a bit of encouragement. Just remember, if you start feeding treats (offer no more than 10-15% of the total diet) you also need to offer grit free choice to aid in digestion.

 

 

Chick IQ Quiz – Enter to Win!

Chick IQ Quiz - Test Your Chick Knowledge and Win Prizes!

Welcome to the 2016 Chick IQ Test! Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to answer the following questions to the best of your eggbility. Many dangers lurk within these screens, including poultry puns, corny jokes, and weak attempts at chicken humor. Proceed at your own risk. Click the image above to get started!

UPDATE: As of April 30, 2016, the Chick Quiz has come to an end. Stay tuned to the Scoop from the Coop and our Facebook page for the list of winners!

Keeping Dogs & Chickens

Introducing your birds to dogs (and vice versa)

Just like the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. When you are bringing baby chicks home or adding adult birds to your backyard, the first impression is important. It’s crucial to know that a period of adjustment and acclimation is normal.  Everything may not go smoothly the first day – but that’s okay. The key in the

Misty the mutt and her flock of hens.

Misty the mutt and her flock of hens.

process is to make sure that your birds are protected at all times.

Introducing dogs to chickens can be a touchy situation and is something best handled when you have some help. Having a dog that is trained and obedient to at least a “stay” command and to recall on command is very helpful in this situation. The main thing is to use common sense – dogs will likely be tempted by chickens if they’ve never been around them before. Do not leave dogs and chickens alone together until you’re sure the dog can be trusted.

To start introductions, begin slowly. The first step is to allow the dog near the birds while they are securely enclosed in their run or a cage. Give the animals some time to see and smell each other and grow accustomed to the noises, motions and actions of the other. Do this repeatedly until the animals are calm. After that step is successful, try holding your chickens while your dog is secured, either by a helper or in a kennel and again gauge everyone’s reactions.

When you feel comfortable, you can try letting your birds free range in your yard or garden area with the dog on a leash. Again, gage the situation and reactions. Every animal is different and their response to this situation will vary. Once the dog is used to the chickens being in and around the area and is not negatively responding, you can try a supervised instance of everyone mixing together. This introduction will take time, so don’t rush things and make sure you are patient with your dog; this is a big adjustment to their normal way of life.

Keep in mind, however, that some dogs simply do not mix well with chickens. For example, some breeds of dogs are bred specifically to hunt and capture birds. In these dogs, the prey drive may be extremely hard to overcome.  Signs a dog is exhibiting prey drive can include intense staring, ignores owner or other distractions, refuses to move, body tenses, motionless, crouching, rigid movements, lunging, lips twitching, pupils dilated.

If issues persist, you may want to look into professional dog training or you may need to come to the realization that free ranging your chickens with your dog is simply not an option.

What if my dog eats my chicken’s food?
When keeping dogs and chickens it is important that you don’t give the dog free run of the coop or main housing area. This is mainly due to the fact that ingesting some germs that may be present in your bird’s droppings (think salmonella) could make them sick.

The un-medicated food that you feed your chickens likely won’t cause any harm to your dog unless they eat a huge amount of it. If you are using a medicated food for your chickens, the medication is not approved for use for dogs. The tougher chore will be to keep your birds away from your dog’s food. This food is high in protein and often becomes a flock favorite once they discover where the food bowl is kept!

Best practice is to keep dogs and birds water and feeding stations separate to help reduce the spread of germs as much as possible and keep diets (both the dogs and the birds) as balanced as possible.

What about disease?

All animals can carry disease, and birds and dogs are no different. The main diseases that can be passed on to dogs may be able to be prevented by keeping the dog and birds in separate enclosures; many types of germs are borne in the fecal matter/dust of birds and contracted when inhaled by the dog. One of the top concerns of bird to dog transfer is salmonella. These bacteria are shed in the feces, so a dog that has access to the chicken coop may be more susceptible. Keep the coop and run area closed to the dog, even if birds are out ranging. Coccidiosis, while present in both birds and dogs, is species specific. This means the strains carried by poultry cannot be passed to dogs and vice versa.