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)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

What's wrong with my chick's legs?

If your chick can't hold its legs underneath it, you may be seeing "spraddle" or "splay leg".

There are many different opinions on the cause of this condition but the end result is the same–death of the bird.
To me it seems to be something that happens in incubation.
There are several ways to fix it by loosely attaching the legs together. Whichever one you use you must keep the legs under the bird's center line. 

1. A rubber band. (again, loosely attach to legs so you don't affect their circulation)

2. A band-aid

3. Vet wrap with tape
4. Plain tape

Leave on for two to three days. If needed replace it. Make sure the birds have access to feed and water.

For small bantam chicks we have had success taping them sitting with their legs under them in a Styrofoam egg carton. Put water and feed in the carton for about two days. 

As always, ask questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Where do I go to buy and sell poultry?

If you want to find a variety of chickens, turkeys and waterfowl the best place to find them in one spot is a traditional swap meet. Swap meets are a great way to buy animals directly from the farmer.

In our area of Southern Wisconsin, swap meets with animals are typically held in fall or spring. Farmers and hobbyists bring all sorts of small animals from gerbils to guinea hens and pigeons to peacocks. You'll also find equipment like nesting boxes, feeders, pet taxis and more.

Key tips for first-time swap-goers: get there early, bring a box/crate for the birds you buy, and bundle up! (Most important for those in the upper Midwest, like us.)

Swap in Beaver Dam, WI, Fall 2014

Some of the animals are show-quality, some are barnyard-ready. But you can usually negotiate a good deal with the sellers and add variety to your flock. (Remember the old saying: never buy the best bird from a bad flock!)

Swap in Beaver Dam, WI, Fall 2014
By talking with the sellers, you can learn more about their birds and whether they have more at home. That relationship can pay off next time you're looking for birds or eggs.

Swap in Beaver Dam, WI, Fall 2014
Ready to try out these tips? Check out the 20th Annual Walworth County Fur & Feather Swap Saturday, April 4, 2015 at the Walworth County Fairgrounds in Elkhorn, WI.

The details:
Rabbits, poultry, small animals, equipment, crafts
Admission is $2, children under 12 enter free of charge. 
Outdoor selling spots are $5. 
Indoor selling spots with one table are $10. 
Lunch stand on the grounds.
State law requires all poultry be accompanied by health papers. Copies will be collected before entry to the swap.

I'll see you at the swap,

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

Friday, March 6, 2015

I ordered chicks. Now what?

Your chicks are on their way! Are you ready?

First you need a brooder.

Next is bedding. As we've mentioned before, the best bedding is pine shavings. No matter if you are new or an old hand this is what you should use.

You can get by with shredded newspaper or paper towels but you will be changing it often.
Do not use cedar shavings. It’s bad for their respiratory system. Do not use newspaper. They slip on newspaper and can hurt their legs.

Next you will need a heat source. We start ours inside the house and use two sixty watt bulbs. Notice I said two? This is in case one burns out during the night. You can get an adapter to put the two bulbs on one cord. It needs to be about 90 degrees and lower it by 5 degrees per week. Once you put the new chicks in the brooder keep an eye on them for about an hour. They will tell you if the temperature is right. If they are huddling under the light they are cold.  If they are far away from the light they are too hot.

If the chicks are kept in a place that’s colder you are stuck with using a heat bulb. Be careful with them since they can cause a fire. I have heard of ceramic heat bulbs that should be safer to use.

Once you have your feeders and waterers, you need to prepare them for the chicks. The day before the chicks arrive, fill your waterers. Water from the tap is 50 degrees. You need to get the water to room temperature but never just use hot water from the tap. They think the warmth is their mother, try to get close and get wet (bad).

With chicks that are sent though the mail, some use electrolytes in the water. The older way is to put a teaspoon of brown sugar in a quart of water.

Make sure you have plenty of the right starter feed for your chicks. This will help them grow to be healthy birds.

Bronze and White turkeys need extra attention

As always, this is based on our experience. If you are doing something that works don’t change just because we suggested something different.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

 photo credit: Mugging for the Camera via photopin (license)

Friday, February 27, 2015

What's the best way to get poultry for the dinner table?

Someone recently asked me where to find a "stewing hen". That's typically an old laying chicken that's at least three years old. That's a very specific type of chicken, and tougher than the type you'd find in a store. To find that type of chicken, find a local butcher and ask them to recommend farmers who might have some. You can also look on Craigslist or other sales sites. 

In the spring, if you go to the local outdoor farmer's market, you can buy one and try it. If you're specifically looking for stewing hens, try asking the vendors with eggs. Even if they aren't selling processed chickens there, they probably have some at home.

For the best meat chicken on your table, typically a Cornish cross that's raised specifically for meat, build a relationship with the vendors at the farmer's market. Check on Craigslist and your local classified ads. This is also the way to find meat turkeys and waterfowl, although waterfowl are often harder to find. If you are having trouble finding waterfowl, ask your local butcher. 

Most areas have county fairs with 4-H and FFA kids selling their poultry at Fur and Feather auctions. This is a great way to find high-quality birds. If you talk to the exhibitors after the sale, you can usually find someone who has more birds at home. This has the added benefit of supporting local youth.

Bottom line: it's easiest to find your source for a local chicken dinner during the summer, when there are many different sales venues. If you cultivate your relationships with them over the summer, you can be a regular buyer throughout the year.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

 photo credit: Roast Chicken via photopin (license)