Thursday, November 24, 2016

Throwback Thanksgiving

If you thought your Thanksgiving plans were elaborate, you forgot the ceremonial turkey walk! (There's always next year.)

Happy Thanksgiving from the folks at Ask a Poultry Farmer!

photo credit: dorothy sebastian tropical thnksgvng via photopin (license)

Monday, November 14, 2016

How to cook a backyard turkey

We've sold naturally raised Thanksgiving turkeys for more than 30 years. While we use the standard instructions to cook a turkey there are also a few tricks and tips for turkeys raised in small flocks. We'll use the term "backyard turkeys" to refer to turkeys that aren't purchased from a grocery store.

Smoked turkey
First, it's always important to thaw the turkey safely. Start planning in advance if it's frozen. If it's fresh, you should buy it only a couple days in advance.

Generally, this means you're in contact with the farmer or producer about when the turkey will be processed and have planned pick-up to accommodate your cooking schedule. 

Once you're ready to cook the bird, backyard turkeys cook about half an hour faster than store-bought birds. Keep an eye on the temperature and check the turkey 45 minutes before it's supposed to be done. An overdone turkey is a dry turkey.

Before the turkey goes into the oven, cut along the thighs (between the thighs and the body) so the thighs cook at the same rate as the turkey breast. Thighs typically take longer, and you don't want the breast to dry out.

If you don't stuff the bird it will cook faster.

Our family always cooks our Thanksgiving turkey the day before we plan to eat it. We carve it, then reheat it in a Nesco roaster with water. It stays moist and you don't have to wait for the turkey to finish cooking.

We have customers who brine, smoke or otherwise get creative with their turkeys. These are some basics to help you get started.

As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

-Dale, aka Turkeyman

Monday, October 24, 2016

Why is my chicken losing its feathers?

Your chicken is molting.

Molt is nature’s why of “rebooting” poultry. 

When the days got shorter and cooler chickens will slow down, stop laying and lose their feathers. They don’t have to be laying when they molt. They will take six weeks or more to grow feathers back and resume egg production. 
Photo via Flickr

Birds can go through either a hard molt or a soft molt. A hard molt means all the feathers are lost almost at once so molting is over relatively quickly. A soft molt means the feathers are lost and regrown gradually. Sometimes you may hardly notice a soft molt, except as a reduction in laying. 

There are actually two juvenile molts before a chicken's first annual molt. The first mini molt begins at 6-8 days old and is complete by approximately 4 weeks when the chick's down is replaced by its first feathers. The second mini molt occurs between 7-12 weeks old and the chicken's first feathers are replaced by its second feathers. It is at this time that a rooster's distinguishing, ornamental feathers will appear 

Waterfowl molt a little differently. The first molt occurs shortly after nesting. Drakes trade their gaudy breeding plumage for drab brown feathers known as "basic" plumage. The second molt occurs from fall to early winter. Only the birds' body feathers are replaced during this molt, in which drakes develop their brightly colored "alternate" or "nuptial" plumage. 

The manner in which waterfowl molt their flight feathers, or primaries, is unique among birds. Most birds undergo a "sequential molt," in which their flight feathers are lost one at a time from the innermost primary feather to the tip of the wing. This allows many birds to retain their flight capabilities while molting. However some waterfowl undergo a "simultaneous wing molt," losing all of their primary feathers at once, which renders them flightless for 20 to 40 days.

Ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Home remedies for chickens

Sometimes a home remedy can help your chickens and prevent a visit to the vet. As with all our advice, there are many different ways to raise chickens. Our suggestions are based on what's worked well for us in the past.

It's hard to give a conclusive amount to put in the chickens' waterers. 
Vinegar keeps water fresh and from turning green. It's also supposedly good for respiratory issues. If you have a chicken with respiratory problems, you need to get on it right away. If you wait a week trying vinegar before a small amount of the antibiotic L-S 50 from a vet, you'll lose the chicken. When you treat one sick chicken, you have to treat all of them.

Dust the chickens with wood ashes, an old-time remedy. It's one of several that work.

Tricks for baby chicks 
If you have them shipped in from a hatchery, put brown sugar in the water if they're stressed. Use about a tablespoon of brown sugar in a quart of water. This isn't a strict measurement.

If you hatch baby chicks and aren't prepared with feed for them, hard boil eggs and mash up the yolks. You can also used uncooked oatmeal. 

Leave questions and suggest your own remedies in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

Sunday, August 14, 2016

From Hen to Table: How an Egg is Laid

It's been a busy summer, but we're pausing to share this video from Nutrena's Scoop from the Coop. It's an excellent way to see how a chicken's egg production works. Thanks to Nutrena Feeds for allowing us to share it.

As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, aka Turkeyman

Friday, April 8, 2016

How do I raise baby turkeys?

Raising turkeys is similar to raising chickens, but there are some differences you should know.
Royal Palm tom

There are two types of turkeys: heritage breeds and broad breasted breeds. The heritage breeds are also called "ornamental" breeds. They include Royal Palm, Bourbon Red, Narragansett, Slate and Black among others.

Broad Breasted White and Broad Breasted Bronze are larger and typically raised for meat. We'll refer to them as whites and bronze.

Here's a handy reference from Oklahoma State's Animal Science Department.

Once you understand the breeds, you can decide which one you'd like to raise.

You raise the heritage breeds the same as you would raise chickens, including the feed. They are usually no more trouble than chickens. The whites and bronze, however, are a different story. You must use a 26% to 28% starter feed. I recommend a medicated feed to prevent coccidiosis. Click here for our entry on Feeding 101When they are ready for grower, I recommend a 20% grower in pellets if you can get them. This eliminates wasted feed around the feeder. 

All poults (babies) need a starting temperature of 95 degrees F. Be careful not to get over 95 degrees, and you must lower it by five degrees per week.  Stress can be a real problem for the poults. It's caused by overcrowding or being too hot. They must have plenty of room to move around. You can tell they're too hot two ways:
1. At 2-5 days they get weak, have trouble standing and die.  

2. At 10-14 days they start picking at each other. Birds almost always pick at the rear end, and once in a while at the wings.  Left alone, they will pick each other to death in a matter of hours.  If you notice picking, lower the temperature, make it dark in the brooder and put a piece of tape over the picked part. Put white tape on the lighter turkeys and dark tape on the bronze. Masking tape and electrical tape work well. This helps camouflage the wounds.

Some times in your turkey raising you find one of your bigger turkeys died. If you find the bird on its back that's a heart attack. This is not unusual in larger birds. However, if you find them on their breast it is a concern. Try to figure out what may be wrong. Make sure they have clean feed and water at all times.

As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale AKA Turkeyman

Friday, March 25, 2016

How do I get the most out of a swap?

Swap meets are very popular with poultry breeders. Here are a few tips to help you have the best experience possible. Want to try them out? The Walworth County Fur & Feather Swap is Saturday, April 9 in Elkhorn, WI.

Who holds swaps?
Most swaps are fundraisers for either a poultry club, 4H club or other youth organization.

Do I buy baby chicks at a swap?
Yes, but you must realize they might not be purebred and they might be straight run (mix of male and female birds).
"Take us home with you!"

How do I choose healthy chickens?
-The sellers will have them in boxes, cages or crates. You don't want the box to seem so crowded they can't move. It might be a clue the sellers aren't taking care of them at home.
-The birds should look generally healthy, with no runny nose or runny eyes. They should not seem lethargic. The birds should not sit with feathers fluffed up (not to be confused with broody hen), and should jump if you touch the cage.
-More than 95% of the people selling are honest people, but there's always a small percentage trying to sell a five-year-old hen as a year-old pullet.
-Find someone who is hosting the swap, and ask if they know the seller.

How early should I get there?
The earlier the better, since that's when you'll have the best variety. Most swaps have a food stand so you can have breakfast there.

What do I need if I buy birds?
-If you think you're going to buy something, bring at least a carrier or a few cardboard boxes with covers. If you think you're in the market for baby chicks bring a small box. If you are in the market for the bigger animal, bring a carrier. If you think you are not going to buy anything, bring both. (rimshot)

-In Wisconsin, you should get pullorum and typhoid papers to sell birds at swaps or show the birds at fairs. 

Even if you have backyard chickens, you should have papers showing it's from a Wisconsin Tested Flock, Wisconsin Associate flock, Wisconsin 90 day test papers, NPIP (National Poultry Improvement Program). By state law if you bring birds together you have to have one of the four types of papers. They should be in the name of the seller, so you know who sold the birds.

What should I ask the seller before buying the birds?
Most people will talk to you about the birds if you have questions.
General questions--what do you feed your birds, how long before the birds start to lay. You'll get a different answer from everybody but you'll average it out. General rule: people selling at swaps are really friendly.

If you see something you like but aren't ready to buy it yet, get their name and number so you can call them when you are ready.

As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, AKA Turkeyman