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)

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