Saturday, January 16, 2016

How do I keep my chickens warm in the winter?

I’ve put off writing this for awhile since the weather here in Southern Wisconsin has been mild.

For the most part chickens tolerate the cold very well. Some breeds do better than others. The comb is the part of the chicken most at risk in the winter.

Chickens with rose combs fare the best. The main problem is males with large combs. They can freeze, turn black and slough off. They usually live although they will go off their feed, will not breed and sometimes die. I have heard that putting Vaseline on large combs help keep them from freezing. I have not tried it, but it used to be popular years ago.

Coops don’t need to be heated. Try to block off any drafts while leaving plenty of ventilation.

If you do feel you have to have heat do not use a heat bulb with adult chickens. They fly around and can hit the bulb causing hot broken glass to hit the bedding. Also be careful of the heaters that have coils that turn red when hot these also can cause a fire.

In the cold weather some people like to feed corn to boost energy. In a limited amount this is fine. The problem comes if you feed too much. Chickens need 15%-16% protein to lay. Corn is around 8% so you can see the more corn you feed the less protein the chickens receive. The chickens will stop laying.   

Water: We use ice cream buckets and try put in just what they will drink. Every few days we bring the buckets in the house to thaw out.

Frozen eggs: Sooner or later you will get eggs that have frozen. If the shell has not cracked it should be fine. However if they are cracked I would toss them. A crack could let bacteria in.

As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman
photo credit: DSC_0164 via photopin (license)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Egg matters

Trivia about eggs:
When a female baby chick hatches, it already has all the eggs it will ever lay.

When an egg is incubated, the white of the egg becomes the chick. The yolk is the nourishment. During hatching it is absorbed into the chick's body. This enables the chick to go for 72 hours without food or water.

The United States is one of the few countries in the world that puts eggs in the fridge. I think if you buy your eggs at the store they should go in the fridge because those eggs are required to be washed and sanitized. This takes the natural “bloom” off. If you keep your eggs on the counter, do not wash them until you are ready to use them.

Ever wonder how to tell if the eggs are getting old? A very simple old time way is to put them in water. If they lay on the bottom-- still fresh. If they bob up and down– iffy. If they float toss them. The reason this works is eggs lose mass (get lighter) as they age.

Sometimes you see a spot of blood when you crack an egg. A lot of people think this means it’s fertile. All it is a blood vessel that broke while the eggs was developing.  Don’t worry, go ahead and use it. Not any different than blood in a steak. 

A broody hen (she wants to be a mother) somehow knows if an egg she is sitting on is any good. She will roll the bad ones out of her nest.

As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman.

photo credit: honorarium via photopin (license)

Monday, October 26, 2015

How do I trim a chicken's wings?

We get a lot of question on how to keep chickens from “flying the coop”. My good friend Twain Lockhart sums it up very well in this video. If you decide to trim your chickens' wings, make sure you take extra precautions against predators, as described in this Ask a Poultry Farmer post.

As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

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