Friday, December 19, 2014

The best bedding for your fowl

What's the best type of bedding or litter for my birds?

There are several choices for bedding your chickens. The amount you use is based on trial and error with your chickens' habits. Chickens have the same bedding in summer and winter. Farmers typically shovel out their pens in spring. A layer of lime is optional, but it dries the coop out a bit and helps reduce the smell.

Pine shavings. One of the best. Very absorbent and easy to clean out. Usually the same price as a bale of straw.
Straw. Works fine. Tends to mat down. Easy to pitch with a fork or shovel.
Shredded newspaper. Tends to pack down with the manure, but is great if it’s free.
Tree leaves. They aren’t that absorbent but again they are free.

Things to stay away from:
Hay. The chickens like to pick though it, but the hay hangs together when you clean the pen. Making it very hard. Usually you only use hay once unless it’s chopped.
Cedar shavings. The cedar is not good for poultry.
Sawdust. It gets into their “nose” and causes all types of problems. Plus they can eat it and plug up their crop.

Peat Moss. I haven't tried this, but it seems dusty.

A method to try:

Deep litter method. This is where you do not clean the pen but keep adding bedding until spring. If you smell ammonia it’s probably from around the waterer. Just clean that part up. 
Sixty years ago we used deep litter without knowing it. Back then everyone cleaned their pens in the spring (whether it's needed it or not).

Whatever method you use, once you've cleaned your coop put your bedding in the compost pile. It's probably best to position the pile so your neighbor's yard isn't directly downwind.

As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

photo credit: xupower via photopin cc

Saturday, November 15, 2014

How much space do I need for my poultry?

One of the questions I'm asked most frequently is, "How much room do I need to raise poultry?". 

photo credit: furtwangl via photopin cc

The amount of space you have for your birds is almost more important than the type of coop. The chart below is an example of the minimum requirements. If you crowd your birds there is likelihood of disease, particularly respiratory infections. Along with that it’s harder to keep the pens and birds clean if you have a small coop.


Space for Poultry

Broilers                            11/2 square ft per bird

Roasters                               3 square ft per bird

Bantams                               2 square ft per bird

Standards                             4 square ft per bird
Ducks                                    5 square ft per bird
Geese                                  10 square ft per bird

Turkeys (heritage breed)       8 square ft per bird

Turkeys                                 12 square ft per bird

As always, post further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

Saturday, October 25, 2014

How to find a farm-raised Thanksgiving turkey

Note from the farmer's daughter: my dad recently confessed that he didn't even like turkey before he started raising them himself. He used to put ketchup (!!) on them. ("Anything to kill the taste", he told me.) I can also attest that the difference in taste is worth it.

It’s not too early to be thinking about your Thanksgiving turkey. If you have never had a “backyard turkey” (one that is raised by someone at home who only has a few), your family is in for a treat. Backyard turkeys have better taste and they're juicier than those you find in the grocery store. 

How to find a local turkey farmer: If you are in Southern Wisconsin/Northern Illinois, contact us and we can help you find someone with turkeys available. Otherwise, talk to a local feed store, a poultry processor, look in the newspaper or on    

What type of turkey is best for Thanksgiving? Some families raise heritage breeds and some raise broad-breasted white or bronze. Click here to learn more about turkey breeds. If you like a lot of white meat the heritage turkeys might NOT be the birds for you. Heritage breeds typically have about 25% white meat of broad-breasted white or bronze.

Fresh vs frozen turkeys: We always have ours processed a week to 10 days before Thanksgiving Day. While we make sure our customers' turkeys spend less than a month from farm to table, we have kept our family's turkeys frozen for a year with no change in taste.

Price: Non-organic backyard turkeys are usually in the range of $2.50- $3.00 per pound. Most of our customers ask about the price the first time, but are sold after that.

Size: Don’t be afraid of a larger turkey especially if you like leftovers.  The problem is to find a pan big enough. I had a local welder build a special pan for our turkeys when my kids were in 4H. Those turkeys dressed at about 40 pounds, but those were raised for competition. Fitting a backyard turkey into your oven shouldn’t be a problem–we have a 30" oven and have had those big 40-pounders fit just fine.

Extra tips: We don't carve our turkey at the table, but we roast it the day before and use a NESCO to reheat it for Thanksgiving dinner. 

Backyard turkeys tend to cook faster than store-bought turkeys. Make sure you use a meat thermometer instead of just relying on a timer.

If you'd like to try raising turkeys next year for Thanksgiving, read our tips to get started.

As always, leave further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

photo credit: stereogab via photopin cc

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Poultry with true grit

While researching poultry feed and practices, you will likely come across suggestions for feeding crushed oyster shells or another type of grit to supplement your birds' diet.

Grit is used to help the gizzard grind up the birds' food. If you are feeding a crumble or pellet I don’t believe grit is necessary. If, however, you are feeding whole grains, mash or scratch feed you may want to offer grit. Free range chickens should find all the grit they need.

Oyster shells are used to supplement calcium in the birds diet.
If you feed a name brand layer feed there should be no need for oyster shells. Thin egg shells can be a sign of low calcium but remember the older the hen the thinner the shell.

We use neither grit or oyster shells. If it makes you feel better go ahead and use grit and oyster shells. It won’t hurt your birds.

As always, post further questions in the comment section.
-Dale, aka Turkeyman

photo credit: terriem via photopin cc

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Lights on for the layers this winter

Winter is coming and you dread the drop in egg production. Luckily, it's easy and cheap to fix by adding lights to your coop.

These simple steps should keep the girls laying all the way to spring:

Source: Wikimedia Commons
1. Set a timer to turn the light on in the early morning and shut off shortly after sunrise.

2. Don’t have the light come on at dusk. The hens will be walking around and will all of sudden be in the dark. Just think how you would act if you are walking in your house and suddenly the lights go out.

3. Artificial and natural light should total about 14 hours per day.

4. Lighting does not have to be fancy or extremely bright. The light should be enough to read by, but not enough to confuse pilots of passing airplanes.

While you're out installing lights, don't forget to check for drafts in the chicken pens to prevent frozen eggs this winter, too.

As always, post further questions in the comments section.

--Dale aka Turkeyman

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mother hen

You go out to collect eggs one day and you favorite hen is acting strangely. As you approach her she fluffs her feathers up, makes a funny noise in her throat, will not get off the nest and even pecks at your hand. As days go by you notice she spends most of her time on the nest.  

You have a broody hen.

Image courtesy of Flickr
Broody hens always want to set on eggs. If you have at least one rooster for every ten to twelve hens this is the perfect opportunity to increase the size of your flock. If you have more than twelve hens per rooster, simply separate a few hens with a rooster. The eggs should be fertile after the first day. Collect them every day. Do not wash or put them in the fridge. Put them in an egg carton pointy end down. If it takes more than a week to get enough put a piece of 2x4 under one end and switch ends morning and night. 

Move your broody hen to a place where she is alone. This is best done after dark. After a couple days carefully slip the eggs under her. Don’t overdo it. Up to a dozen for a standard size chicken and six to eight for a bantam. In 21 days you should have chicks. If the hen keeps rolling an egg out of the nest it’s probably a  bad egg. Somehow they seem to know.        
The hen will take it from there. Give her a little chick starter on the floor (it’s OK for her to eat) and water.

As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

Thursday, July 24, 2014

All's Fair in Poultry Shows

This entry written by Beth Tallon, Dale Wheelock's daughter.

"If you treat the bird with respect, the bird will respect you", says 17-year-old Lukas Reible, member of Bradford 4H club and Clinton FFA.

Lukas has been showing turkeys for seven years. He's had his ups and downs with the turkeys, but he says he's leaving a solid legacy in place for younger relatives and friends.

Lukas has a bronze tom that earned a second place red ribbon in Thursday's poultry judging at the Rock County 4H Fair.

"It got a red because it was missing its tail, so I grant that," he says. "Everybody else did very well, so I have a lot of blues and one top blue (ribbon)."
The Poultry Farmer inspects broad white toms.

Full disclosure: my dad sold the turkeys to the Reible family. As we made our way around the poultry barn, he checked the tags to see how other customers fared in the judging. He stopped to ask one dad how his veteran 4Hers placed.

"Not as well as we hoped," he said. "No champion this year."
"Then you must have done something wrong!" was the immediate Wheelock comeback.

He's only half joking. Starting in January, the 4Hers' care of the chicks is a key ingredient to their success. The birds' feather health, leg color and size (all viewed as "condition" by the judges) can be affected by the type of feed they eat, amount of sun they receive and cleanliness of their pens.

Sometimes, though, the birds can suffer on a technicality. First-year exhibitor Lauren McKay lovingly raised Sullivan the Sultan and Roosevelt the Rosecomb. While we were at the fair, they had yet to be judged, but their condition was good. The birds were easy to handle, which means less stress on them.

Sullivan the Sultan

Sullivan was a late bloomer, and the McKays were sure they had a pullet on their hands. My dad looked at the feathers and declared it a cockerel. Sullivan would likely receive a fourth place pink ribbon because he was entered as a female.

Roosevelt's chances seemed better. His feathers were also in fantastic condition, and he didn't have any gold in his hackles, which Dad deemed impressive.
We're awaiting updates from judging. 
Questions about poultry shows? Ask them in the comments!