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.
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!
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 position 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.
- 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.
- 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 .
- 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.
- 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.
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!
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
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.
The basic care of meatbird chicks is similar to other types of chicks. You’ll need to provide a heat source along with free choice fresh water and appropriate feed. An important part of raising meatbirds is allowing for enough space for them to grow. With a growth rate that is
second to none, these birds will become too big for a brooder that seems the right size in just a week or two. Make sure to plan for expansion of your brooder to allow the space to get bigger along with the chicks. A dry and clean brooder is always essential; this will keep the birds comfortable, discourage the development of flies, and help prevent disease.
Dual purpose breeds are traditional breeds like Orpingtons, Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, etc. They can be raised for eggs or meat. These birds are the slowest to finish and are typically harvested around 22 weeks of age. They have less developmental problems than hybrid meat breeds, and they will usually yield less meat.
Red Rangers are a type of meat chicken that provides a ‘happy medium’ between dual purpose breeds and Cornish Cross. They should be harvested around 12 – 14 weeks. They aren’t as delicate as Cornish Cross and have less developmental problems. In addition, they do better foraging than a Cornish. Their meat yield is in between a Cornish and dual purpose.
Cornish Cross is a hybrid and is the most common meat chicken. It makes up the majority of meat purchased in stores or consumed in restaurants. Cornish are very economical with their feed to meat conversion, which means they grow very fast – they
are usually ready to harvest around 8 weeks! A few things to be aware of with this breed: because of their rate of growth they can have problems with organ failure and leg issues. These birds do not do well when comingled with other breeds – it’s best to keep Cornish separate. Additionally, they are ONLY suitable for meat production – do not try to keep them long term.
For dual purpose chicks, you may choose to feed a meatbird ration from the start. However, if you have straight run chicks and are not sure which are males, you can start the batch on chick starter and then switch the ones you will harvest to meatbird feed once their gender becomes apparent.
For faster growing hybrid birds, you’ll want to feed a specific meatbird ration from day one. This will ensure that the birds are getting certain amino acid levels and protein amounts to encourage muscle development and growth. Because meatbirds have been developed to put on muscle mass quickly, the ration must be balanced to make sure that nutrients are present for skeletal and internal organ development as well. If the correct ration is not fed, the birds are more apt to fall victim to common maladies like organ failure and leg issues. Follow these simple feeding recommendations to help avoid complications:
- Feed free choice the first 3 days of life
- After 3 days, allow 12 hours with feed, 12 hours without
In previous articles, we’ve covered selecting chickens for kids as well as preparing your children and chickens to go to a poultry show, including how to wash your birds.
At this point my two girls (ages 5 and 7), were as ready as they would ever be to show a chicken. The birds were somewhat trained, the kids were fairly well prepared, and we hit the road. We arrived at the fairgrounds the evening before the show and took the birds to the waiting area. A vet check is required at our fair for all incoming animals. The vet looks to make sure that the bird has no nasty communicable diseases that could spread to the rest of the birds. Once we were cleared to unload, we took the birds into the barn and got directions from the barn manager as to which pens were ours. Then we put the birds in and immediately filled the waterers and feeders to make them feel a bit more at home.
The girls were hesitant to leave their birds in a strange place all alone that first night, but eventually we decided they were in good hands and headed for home. The next day was the big one – show day! We began by getting the birds fed, watered and checked up on. They were in good shape – more so than my girls who needed clean shirts and hair done and new jeans, etc. etc. The first rule when showing is to always look professional. A collared and nicely pressed long sleeve shirt is a great idea. Tuck your shirt in and make sure your hair is off your face. We talked about smiling and keeping their eyes on the judge while they were showing and – most important of all – don’t let your chicken get away!
The time for their class finally arrived and I have to admit, they did great! We had lots of adults on hand to help, but those kids had their birds in control (well, mostly). Each one did great and showed off their birds as well as answered questions from the judge. They all learned valuable skills and experience and earned beautiful ribbons! They were proud of themselves when the show was over and really enjoyed showing all their friends at the fair their birds.
All in all our chicken showing experience was a great one – and I have a feeling that we won’t be strangers to the poultry barn in the future!