Sunday, November 1, 2020

How do I heat my coop?

With cold weather starting in Wisconsin, we are get many questions about heating the chicken coop. 

Chickens can do very well in cold weather. The only problem is with the roosters. Some breeds 
have large combs that can freeze. Most times they come though it fine but there is a small chance they won’t.

Since we mainly raise and hatch purebred chickens we do heat the pens where they are kept. If these eggs get the least bit chilled they may not hatch. For these pens we use oil filled heaters. With these the heating element is in the oil so there is no chance of a fire. 

Never use heat lamps since a chicken can fly into the bulb. If it breaks, the hot glass can set the bedding on fire. 

You must stop drafts but make sure there is fresh air in the coop. With most older coops that is not a problem. We do keep a few chickens just for eating eggs. Unlike the purebred chickens, there’s no heat in these pens. We water them using plastic ice cream buckets and only give them what they will drink right away. Eventually the bucket will be frozen on the top. We then exchange it with a clean bucket and take the frozen one to the house to thaw out. 

Some people clean their pens every week or worse yet every day. When you do this the poor chickens end up with their feet on the cold wood or concrete. Leaving the litter build up is called the deep litter method. Years ago we would clean the chicken pens out once a year (whether they need it or not) just adding straw to keep it clean.

As always, ask questions in the comment section.

Dale, AKA Turkeyman

Saturday, October 3, 2020

How do I introduce new chickens into my flock?

 If you are buying chickens and want to keep them with your current flock, it's important to take a few extra steps to make sure the birds don't fight or pick on each other.

  •   Make sure they are about the same age. Size is not that important. You can mix standard & bantams if they are about the same age. Just don’t mix three-month-olds with mature birds.
  •   The best and easiest way is to put them in a pen that is new to both your current and new chickens. That way it’s not "yours" or "mine". 
  •   If you do not have an extra coop space try separating them within pen you have or putting a cage in the pen until they become used to each other.  

  •   If you have a large outdoor run you might try putting them together in the run during the day and separating them at night in your coop.
  •   They are going to fight some no matter what you do. So keep an eye on them and remember you’re smarter than they are.
As always, ask further questions in the comment section.

--Dale, AKA Turkeyman

Monday, April 27, 2020

Step-by-step tutorial: using a broody hen to hatch eggs

We've talked about broody hens here and hereBut maybe instead of fixing a broody hen, you'd like to have her set on eggs so you can get some "free" chicks. 

The first thing you want to do is make sure she does want to become a mother. (Check the links above for signs of broodiness.) Next, find a place away from the other chickens for her. If you leave her in the same pen, the other chickens will try to lay in the same nest and may even kill the chicks when they hatch. Only one hen per pen otherwise you may find two hens on one nest and the eggs in the other nest cold. 

Years ago, when we set several hens at once we used bushel baskets with covers. Twice a day, we would take the tops off and let them eat and drink. Then, when they went back to their nests we would put the tops back on and make sure there was one hen per nest. 

To set a broody hen:

  • You will need a nest box about the size of the one she is used to. 
  • Put some sort of bedding in it, but not so much the eggs could be buried.
  • Make sure it's fastened down so it doesn't move when she gets in and out.
  • It does seem to help if the place is a little on the dark side.
  • Place the eggs in the box and move the hen.
  • Always move her in the dark.
  • If you find she has rolled an egg out from under her you can toss it. Somehow they know if an egg is going to hatch. 
  • By the 23rd day, all the eggs that are going to hatch should.
  • Remember, chicks can go up to 72 hours before eating or drinking. 
  • You can move the hen and chick to their new pen. 
  • Give them water, but nothing so deep the chicks could drown in it.
  • For feed, it's best to use a chick starter. The hen will be fine eating it.
  • Remember, you will be getting straight run chicks: both pullets and cockerels. 
It's wise to have a plan in place in the rare case that after all of this the broody hen does not want to become a mother.

--Dale, AKA Turkeyman

Sunday, April 12, 2020

How can I make my own hanging chicken feeder?

**This project includes cutting with a saw. Adult supervision strongly recommended.**

While you have time on your hands, you might want to make your own feeder. This is a relatively easy and low-cost project. We made it in about an hour, but that included rounding up supplies. 

Supplies we used include: A five gallon bucket, a power or hand saw, a drill with a quarter-inch bit, ten quarter-inch bolts (about an inch long) with nuts and washers, plumber's strap, clamps or vise grips, ratchet straps, or feel free to improvise with what you have on hand.

Step 1. Find your bucket. We recommend using a five-gallon bucket. We used a smaller bucket for these pictures, but have found that a five-gallon bucket works much easier. You can use one with or without a handle. If it doesn't have a handle, just drill a hole in each side and use a piece a wire.

Step 2. Cut the bucket. We used a table saw, but if you can clamp it to something you can use a hand saw or saber saw. Cut around the bucket about two inches up from the bottom. After the bottom is off, cut along the side. If you want to use the handle that's there, cut fairly close to the handle. That will make it easier to attach together.

Step 3. Squeeze the bucket together until it's about an inch and a half smaller than the circumference of the bottom. The sides that you cut will overlap. A ratchet strap seems to work really well to hold the bucket in place. Once it's in position, clamp it.

Ratchet strap
Step 4. After it's clamped, drill about three holes down the side and bolt it together. Put the nut on the inside of the bucket so the chickens don't scratch themselves when they eat.

Step 5. Take the plumber's strap and cut three chunks out, each with eight holes. Bend in a L shape so there's one hole on one side and seven on the other. This will allow you to adjust the size of the hole for the feed based on the birds you are feeding.

Step 6. Drill three equally-spaced holes in the body of the bucket. Drill the holes about an inch from the bottom. Put a bolt and washer through the outside of the bucket. Put the plumber's strap onto the bolt with the "L" shape facing in. You'll want the L shape about an inch to an inch and a half below the bottom edge of the body of the bucket. Finger-tighten the nuts in case you need to re-position later.

Step 7. Position the bucket over the bottom so that it's equal all the way around. Mark each hole from the bottom of each piece of the plumber's strap with a marker so you know where to drill the holes.
Step 8. Drill the holes in the bottom of the bucket. Bolt the top to the bottom through the plumber's strap into the bottom. Tighten the bolts. 

You're done! You can hang the feeder with the handle or set it in the pen.

--Dale AKA Turkeyman

Friday, October 11, 2019

What's the deal with Easter Egger chickens?

You've probably heard about Easter Eggers, known for laying colorful eggs. While that's a common nickname, Easter Eggers are actually part of the Araucana breed.

Black, Blue, Blue Wheaten, Brown Red, Buff, Silver, Wheaten, and White Araucanas are recognized by The American Poultry Association.  Araucanas are believed to have come from South America during the 1920s or 1930s. These Araucanas laid blue eggs.
Araucana hen with tufts.

It's not just the eggs that set Araucanas apart from other chickens: they have no tail or tail bone and they have tufts near their ear lobes. The tufts are actually created by a lethal gene, meaning that some forms of the gene are fatal and results in chicks that die in the shell.

In the 1970s, Araucanas were bred with "normal" chickens, creating the Ameraucana cross-breed. Ameraucanas were admitted into the Standard of Perfection in 1984.

Purebred Ameraucanas have been crossed with other varieties of chickens, creating Easter Eggers, Rainbow Layers, Olive Eggers and other types of bird. Like most crossbred chickens, they are good layers. Due to the crossbreeding, though, not all Easter Egger chickens lay blue or green eggs.

As always, ask further questions in the comments.
--Dale, aka Turkeyman

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Why are my baby chicks huddled together?

One of the most common and easily fixed problems with young chicks is the temperature in the brooder. Check out this handy diagram, used with permission from our friends at Purina. 

Always remember, use two regular light bulbs and not heat bulbs. Heat bulbs can be a fire hazard, especially with chickens flying in the pen. For other tips on getting started with baby chicks, check out this post.

--Dale, AKA Turkeyman

Friday, March 8, 2019

How do I raise meat chickens?

Raising chickens for meat is a little different than raising them for eggs or show.

The first thing you should consider is whether you are going to butcher them yourself or take them to someone. Ask around to find a local processor. They should be ready to butcher when they are six to eight weeks old, so it’s wise to make your appointment when you get your chicks. The breed we like best is the Cornish Cross for meat chickens because they grow quickly. They are ready to butcher when they are the size you want (broilers, roasters, etc.)

The Cornish Cross use a different feed than the regular chickens. Most hatcheries recommend a 23% starter feed. I have found that a 26% to 28% medicated turkey starter works very well. At four to five weeks you should switch to a 20% to 21% grower pellet. Use up all the starter, just make sure you check the withdrawal time. Since some starter is medicated, you may have to stop feeding starter for a certain window of time before butchering. Check the tag on your starter feed for details. 

Some people say to take the grower feed away at night so they don’t overeat, but as long as you don’t have a light on them the dark will prevent overeating. You may lose some meat chickens. If you find them dead on their back that’s a heart attack. Larger birds are sometimes more likely to have heart attacks. If you find them dead on their breast it could be many other things. 

Meat chickens do not need a different sized pen than other chickens. Meat chickens might roost when they are two or three weeks old, but otherwise they are too heavy to fly.    

As always, ask further questions in the comments,
Dale, aka Turkeyman