Saturday, February 14, 2015

Tutorial: Heart-shaped eggs

While some chickens lay blue eggs and some chickens lay green eggs, we're sorry to report chickens don't lay heart-shaped eggs.

Here's a short video showing how you can create your own: 

Happy Valentine's Day from Ask a Poultry Farmer!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Where do I find birds for 4-H or FFA projects?

Many folks don't just raise poultry, they enter their birds in county fairs and other shows.
Here's an example of backyard Rhode Island Red chickens. The backyard Rhode Island Reds have a lighter color and feathers aren't in as good condition as show-quality birds.

photo credit: sammydavisdog via photopin cc
Here's an example of a show-quality Rhode Island Red rooster. His feathers have a richer color and sheen.

via Wikimedia Commons.
Youth and adults who are going to show poultry in 2015 need to order chicks now or at least need be thinking about it. Check your premium book, which lists the entry information, classes and categories for the show. Some shows only allow cockerels and pullets, which are hatched after January 1st of the show year. Some shows allow cocks and hens, which are older birds hatched before January 1st. Some shows use a different date as a guideline, so it's best to check beforehand.
There are many places to get purebred or show quality chicks.

The big hatcheries
. These are fine for backyard poultry but iffy for purebred birds. My understanding is most buy their hatching eggs. Therefore they have no control over the breeding and quality of the birds.

Swaps. Most people selling at swap are good and honest, don’t understand the concept of purebred poultry. Ask where they got the birds or breeding stock. Find someone from the area and ask if they know the person’s reputation.

Craigslist and other online sellers. This can go either way. Ask the same questions as at a swap.

Local breeders. By far the best. You will be able to drive to their house and talk to them. They are also able to give advice on raising that particular breed of bird.

While you are at the show talk to other exhibitors to get leads for next year     

Advice. If they have a multi-page color brochure, can’t tell you where they got the birds or don't know about the breeders stay away for your show birds.

Buying quality birds from breeders with good reputations is a start, but birds can still develop crooked toes or broken feathers that could affect their chances when they show. As an exhibitor, you need to coax them along and make sure they're in top shape.

And always remember the old advice: "Don't buy the best chick from a bad flock."

As always, post further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

Monday, January 12, 2015

Tutorial: how to prevent frozen combs

With this cold snap, keep an eye on single-comb chickens for signs of frozen combs.
Combs are the chickens' radiator. They help regulate temperature. In the wintertime, combs can freeze.
This comb was partially frozen.

When combs freeze, it can stop them from breeding or worse, they can die.

Usually, the roosters with single combs are the ones affected. You can prevent it by putting Vaseline on the combs as it gets colder.

This helps insulate the comb, even in an unheated coop.

As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

photo credit: HA! Designs - Artbyheather via photopin cc

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas from Ask A Poultry Farmer!

Here at Ask a Poultry Farmer world headquarters, we want to thank you for reading our blog over the past year.

But what to get you? Something to keep your head warm, perhaps.
photo credit: f_jensen_at_sdr.vinge via photopin cc

Maybe some decorations for the tree.
photo credit: brixton via photopin cc

Toys are always popular at Christmas.
photo credit: Luc Peeters via photopin cc

We thought and we thought, and finally decided a personal thank you was best.

-Dale, aka Turkeyman

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