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!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Cannibal Chickens

You go out to collect your eggs and find one with a hole in and nothing inside.
The next day there are two more  like that. Whatever could be happening?

The first thing to do is check your coop to see if any varmints could get it. This includes raccoons, opossum, and skunks.  Don’t forget your cats. They will also eat eggs. If doesn’t seem to be it then it’s likely to be the biddies themselves.

I have heard it said that chickens eat their own eggs because of a lack of calcium. To me this is unlikely for two reasons:
1. If you are feeding a good quality feed there’s no need for extra calcium.
2. The chickens don’t really eat the shell. They may run around with it and drop pieces here and there. This is the same thing they do with bugs, leaves and even a random mouse.

I have heard of people putting golf balls in the nest to stop it. The thing that works the best for me is to clip their top beak so that it’s blunt. It’s just like clipping your finger nail. Don’t worry if you get a little blood. It will stop. 

They will be able to eat fine, they just can’t break an egg. This is not like what large farms do with the commercial chickens. The beak will grow back.

As always, post further questions in the comment section.

-Dale, aka Turkeyman

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Predators

There will come a time when you start shouting, "Dadgum varmints!!!" just like Yosemite Sam.

Everything kills and eats poultry in a different way. Here are some ways I have seen in Wisconsin

Pet dogs:
They will attack, killing for sport and leaving what looks like a massacre.  


Feral dogs:
Usually only grab one bird and carry it off for food.


Cats:
One mistake is leaving your chicks in the same room as Fluffy. To a cat, chicks are food usually until they are half grown. They also will eat eggs.

Rats:
Will take babies and hide them so you don’t realize they are missing. Rats also will contaminate the feed and the building.

Fox and coyotes:
Usually they will just carry off one at a time but I’ve seen where they have killed several coming later back for the dead ones. We have had good luck leaving a radio tuned to an all night talk station.

Weasels:
Take babies to half grown chicks. They are very small so they can get in a rat hole. Trappers use a wooden rat trap to catch them. Most calls I get about a weasel killing turns out to be a mink.
Cats have been known to kill weasels.

Mink:
 
Particularly nasty. They seem to kill for sport and kill everything in the pen. They bite the neck or back of the head. Leading people to say the suck the blood, I don’t buy that. I have seen they kill a litter of kittens. It’s said that you only see they near water. Don’t believe that. We live a mile from any water and still have a problem They can also can squeeze through a small opening. They have very strong jaws and can break certain types of wire with their mouths.

Opossum:
Likes eggs and will take full grown birds. They eat them there. Also, they can climb and like to eat chicken feed.

Skunks:
Interesting thing is they like to eat the intestines. You find the birds looking like were processed. They will gnaw on the carcass if they are hunger. You may find a lingering odor. I have read the skunks will not attack full grown birds. Don’t believe it.

Raccoons:

If there is a challenge it’s the raccoon. They climb, dig and have little hands that can open things.
Courtesy of Flickr
Don’t use chicken wire on the outside bottom of your pen or tractor (moveable pen). This is most important for non-roosting birds such as meat chickens and waterfowl. If they crowd against it at night a ‘coon will reach in, grab a leg and chew it off. For a roost for chickens I like to use a pipe for the roost. With a wooden roost the ‘coon can walk on it to get them. It can’t walk on a pipe. 

I once got up in the night to dogs barking in a barn. I couldn’t find anything until I looked up to see a ‘coon hanging upside down on the rafters.

When a 'coon has been in the coop, you usually find just the skin and skeleton of the birds picked clean.

Hawks:
Pretty easy to derail. Put netting over the run and don’t free range your birds. If hawks are in your yard, the birds will just be gone.

Owls:
They are normally nocturnal but I have seen them in the daytime, so use the same precautions as hawks. Make sure to lock your birds up at night. Owls have been known to go right in the chicken house. Some say a light keeps them away but I’ve seen them fly under a yard light.




Most animals can be live-trapped. Don’t just take them a mile down the road and let them go. First, they will come back. Second, don’t give some else your problem.

 
As always, post questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

Friday, June 6, 2014

Happy Friday!

Hope your weekend is everything it's cracked up to be!





--Dale, aka Turkeyman

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Tutorial: The proper way to handle a chicken

Whether you're in the barn, at the county fair or selling at a swap meet you need to be able to safely get your chickens in and out of their pens. As a back-up, keep a fishing net within arm's reach to help with unexpected escapes.

In this video, Lisa demonstrates the Official 4H Showmanship way to handle a chicken. You may remember Lisa from the tutorial on pulling chicken spurs.


If you can't view the video, here's the lowdown:

-Carefully open the cage and reach in.

-Put your hand on top of the chicken.

-Slide the fingers of your other hand palm-up underneath the bird, grasping the chicken's legs.

-Your top hand should be holding down the wings and your bottom hand should be controlling the legs.

-Turn the chicken's head toward you and pull the chicken head-first out of the cage.


-As you hold the legs, keeping a finger in between the legs helps keep your hold should the chicken start to flap.


-Put the chicken under your arm in a football hold, with its head near your elbow. Maintain your hold on its legs.

-This way the bird will be more calm and you keep the wings tucked against your side.

-If the bird decides to poop, it's facing away from you and will poop on someone else!

Have other showmanship questions? Ask in the comments section.
--Dale, aka Turkeyman

Monday, May 26, 2014

The right way to sex turkeys, waterfowl and guineas

This is the second part of our discussion on sexing poultry. As with chickens, there are a number of reasons you want to sex poultry while they're young.
Click here for part one.

1.Caruncles
2.Snood or Noodle
3.Wattle
4. Major Caruncle
5. Beard
Turkeys, waterfowl and guineas all can be vent-sexed as day-olds. Like chickens, this is difficult to do and is hard on them.

Sometimes the best way to separate the males from the females is to keep your eyes and ears open.

Tom turkeys will have larger caruncles, wattles & noodle (the thing on their nose). They will also strut but hens will too, sometimes.

Geese are the hardest. They can be vent sexed as adults but this too is very hard . I’ve seen seasoned judges have trouble doing it. Sometimes the size of the bird will help.

Ducks are the easiest. An adult male will have a curled tail feather, but the best way is the hen has a very loud quack (like we all think of with a duck) while the male barely whispers . (It’s kind of like people).
  
Guineas: The males have a larger helmet & wattles.  The males make a "CHI-CHi-Chi-chi..." sound while the females sound is "buck-wheat, buck-wheat".


As always, post further questions in the comments section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

Friday, May 9, 2014

Separating the pullets from the cockerels

Note from the farmer's daughter: The official term for determining the gender of poultry is "sexing". This is a G-rated post. Get your minds out of the gutter! 
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Many municipal ordinances only allow pullets, or young hens, within city limits.
How do you tell the pullets from the cockerels, or young roosters, when they're little?

One to two day old baby chicks can be sexed by their wing feathers. Pullets have two rows of wing feathers while cockerels have one row. After two days the pullets' second row grows to the same length as the first row.
They also can be vent-sexed but this is difficult to do and is hard on the chicks.
  
There are many other methods that you can find online. Among them: 
  • Put a gold ring on a string, hold it over the chick and which way it turns tells you whether it's male or female.
  • Hold the chick by the back of the neck. If they drop their legs they are male, if they hold up their legs they are female. 
  • Make a loud noise. The females will run, the males will stand their ground. 

These methods are questionable at best.

  
As the chicks hit five to six weeks they can again be feather-sexed. This time you check the hackles (back of the neck). Females have rounded feathers-- male pointed (see picture). This works for all but Sebright bantams which both have female hackles.


Also note that hens sometimes will have small spurs (normally a male trait). Once they get to about eight weeks the male will have a much more pronounced comb and wattles.


Of course you can wait to see who crows and who lays eggs.
    
The easiest are sex link. These are crosses “made” by the commercial  hatcheries . The males and females are different colors.


We will talk about sexing turkeys and waterfowl another day.


As always, post questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman