Sunday, September 20, 2015

Will there be a Thanksgiving turkey shortage?

The avian flu outbreak is creating a shortage of turkey-breast meat this fall, since thousands of turkeys were depopulated to prevent the spread of the disease. 

Now the big question is, "Will there be enough Thanksgiving turkeys this year?". 

The basic answer is yes, but they might be smaller.

photo credit: Turkey via photopin (license)
If you're looking for a turkey in the grocery store now, there will probably be fewer and they'll be more expensive. My sources tell me that the big producers will be processing the young toms earlier than usual, making room for another crop of toms only. You probably won't see the 25-30lb turkeys in the store, but you will see 12-15lb birds. 

This has no effect on the backyard birds. If anything there are more backyard turkeys since people thought there might be a problem. This is also the right time to line up a locally-raised turkey if you'd like to go that route. 
Click here for hints on finding a farm-raised bird.

It's interesting to note that chickens aren't as affected by avian flu depopulation as turkeys. Chickens are ready for the table in six weeks, where turkeys are ready in 24 weeks.

As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Meet the man inside the chicken suit

If you have specific questions that haven't been addressed in this blog, or if you just want to meet Dale for yourself, here's your chance!

Dale will be at the Walworth County Fair giving a talk on backyard chickens on Sunday, September 6 at 10:00am in KiddieLand.

He will cover the basics of raising chickens:

  • How to check zoning in your area
  • Creating an exit strategy
  • How to tell what the chicks will look like when they're adults
  • What to feed them
  • Building a coop
  • How to tell if a chicken is laying
  • How to defeat predators
  • How to get rid of parasites

As always, you may ask questions in the comment section of this blog.

Hope to see you at the fair!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Radio talk about the backyard flock

I've been interviewed by reporters about chickens and turkeys in the past.  Recently, when a local radio talk show host voiced concerns about a new ordinance proposing backyard chickens in Janesville, Wisconsin, I had to call in. 

The host asks a lot of questions about topics we've covered here on the blog:
Chicken talk

-The importance of an exit strategy
-Preventing predators
-Avian flu in backyard flocks
-Cost of raising chickens for eggs

-Most importantly, the smell

The show's podcast is here. I call in at 40:15 to set the record straight. Hopefully we answered a lot of questions for the audience.

As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

photo credit: Saved Photos-27 via photopin (license)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How are chickens judged at poultry shows?

Crested duck, 2014 Walworth Co. Fair, Elkhorn, WI
The Rock County 4-H Fair holds its poultry judging on Thursday. Exhibitors will showcase their chickens, turkeys and waterfowl in front of a professional judge.

When the average person is at a poultry show and looks at the birds they think, "That's a chicken, a duck or a goose." There's much more to it than that.

Birds are shown as class, breed and variety. A chicken example is American class, Wyandotte breed and Silver Laced variety.

With ducks and geese it's a little different. The classes are Heavy, Medium and Light. Ducks also have a bantam class. A goose example is Heavy class, Toulouse breed and Gray variety. A duck example is Medium class, Crested breed and White variety. (Pictured)

There are hundreds of breeds and varieties of poultry, and so a judge uses a book published by the American Poultry Association called The American Standard of Perfection to determine how the birds measure up. The Standard describes each class, breed and variety. It includes pictures to show how they should look. Each bird is judged based on how close they are to perfect as described by that book. There is also a Bantam Standard of Perfection for bantam, or smaller, birds. 

Basically, it's a beauty pageant for poultry.

Another great resource to learn more about poultry breeds: Oklahoma State University's Animal Science Department.

As always, post further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

Monday, July 6, 2015

When's the last time you made a chicken error?

Even the poultry guy can mess up.

A little background: We mainly raise chickens for show and not for eggs to sell. 
We typically incubate all the eggs from our purebred breeding stock. We then sell purebred chicks to 4-H members and others who enter them in fairs and shows around the region. 

Instead of letting the chickens keep laying past our six month breeding season, I decided to stop them from laying and extend their breeding life from two to four years. When it's not the breeding season they will still lay a few eggs a day. That's just enough for breakfast at our house.

To stop their laying, I started to feed only cracked corn instead of layer feed. That's an old trick. After about a week we started to get thin-shelled eggs. It took a couple days for me to realize that there is no calcium in corn and it was affecting the eggs. I was concerned the lack of calcium in their diet would lead to calcium deficiencies in the hens. Also, they need grit to grind the corn up in their gizzard.

So for the first time in many years we are supplying oyster shells along with the corn to improve digestion and the quality of the eggshells.

As always, post further questions in the comments.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman.

 photo credit: 168a via photopin (license)

Monday, June 15, 2015

My birds are eating. Why are they losing weight?

If your backyard poultry is eating but still looking "off", they likely have parasites.

Parasites are not fancy French umbrellas.**

Poultry mite. Source: Wikimedia Commons
There are two types of parasites: internal and external.

The main external parasites are mites and lice. The best way to check for these is to hold the bird upside down and move the feathers on its rear end. Look for tiny things scurrying away. If you see none look for small red dots around the vent. These are bite marks. The parasites go to the vent for moisture. 

To treat, use any garden dust with Sevin or you can get poultry dust at your local farm store. I’m not familiar with organic products, but those might be worth a shot. Make sure you treat the coop as well since they can live on wood for a long time. For some reason waterfowl don’t seem to have as large a problem with mites and lice.

Internal parasites include worms and coccidia.
Worms are pretty straight-forward; you look for "unthrifty" birds or ones that don’t seem to feel well. Then buy a poultry wormer and follow the manufacturer's directions.

Coccidia are little “bugs” that eat on the inside of a bird's gut causing coccidiosis. The bites cause scarring. This makes the bird unable to get the nutrients out of their food. The first sign is blood in the manure, next the birds start losing weight and die. Make sure you always feed a medicated starter. If you believe you have an outbreak treat as quickly as possible and treat your whole flock. Medication called Corid seems to work best.

As always, ask questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

**Note from Dale's daughter: we let him keep that "dad joke" in the blog as a Father's Day gift. You're welcome.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Should I get my backyard chickens tested for avian flu?

Our chickens are not tested for the bird flu.

My reasons are:

-It takes at least 10 days to two weeks to get the results back. In this time the flock could become infected.
-If your birds become infected they will die in 3 to 5 days.
-Most outbreaks are in very large flocks.

Symptoms include a swollen comb and wattle, not eating or drinking, listlessness.

The experts say two things will stop avian flu:
Eighty degree air temperature will kill the virus.
The virus is spread by migrating waterfowl. The migration is almost over.

The best thing to do is practice basic biosecurity measures and don't go into anyone’s coop or let anyone into yours.

In Wisconsin, the Department of Ag, Trade and Consumer Protection issues regular bulletins about the bird flu. You can find them and frequently asked questions here.

If your flock is one of the 19,000 registered with the state of Wisconsin, you will get automatic updates from the state about the flu. Wisconsin requires livestock registration. More information can be found here.

Read an article in the Janesville Gazette about the local impact of avian flu here.
We offer further common sense information in the Wisconsin State Journal and UW-Extension program here.

As always, post further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

photo credit: Bird flu via photopin (license)