by Don Schrider
From the Workshops: Common Poultry Questions and Answers
April 3, 2012 3:31:12 PM CDT
Q. Do I need any special housing for my chickens?
A. Chickens do need a shelter to get out of the rain and sun, and to block prevailing winds, but they do not need expensive or elaborate housing. Very simple or existing structures can be made to work. They should have good ventilation, without drafts, and should be secure from nighttime predators.
Q. How do I heat my chicken house in the winter?
A. There is no need to heat the chicken house. It is better to have the building open on the south side, so that fresh air will wick away moisture, dust, and ammonia from droppings. Sealing a chicken house tight in the winter actually results in more cases of frostbite and respiratory ailments.
Q. What do I need to feed to get healthy eggs?
A. Chicken eggs have been found to be an excellent source of protein, and the cholesterol in eggs has been found to be the good kind – the kind that decreases the bad cholesterol. But eggs from hens that range and that receive nutritional supplements have been found to be much more nutritious. One of the best supplements currently available is Omega Ultra Egg™. Omega Ultra Egg contains stabilized, whole-ground flaxseed and vitamins that boost the nutritional value
s of eggs and, in particular, increases Omega-3 essential fatty acids. This is very beneficial for us humans as many of our foods are high in Omega-6 and deficient in Omega-3.
Q. How do I get more eggs?
A. There are a number of things you can do to get more eggs, but the most important points to address are the basics: clean air, free of dust; fresh water; fresh, not stale, feed; freedom from internal and external parasites; and an environment which allows the birds to express their natural tendencies (such as dust bathing and nesting in a secluded spot). The birds should also be in good body condition, not too fat or too thin. Adding more corn to diet is good idea when hens are thin. Adding oats to the diet is a good way to bring over-conditioned hens into production.
Q. I sometimes get soft-shelled eggs. Is there anything I can do about this?
A. Hens that range on pasture, forage in grass yards, or forage in gardens often need a calcium supplement – eating less layer feed. It is good idea to provide the hens ground oyster shell that they may eat free choice. Other ways of including more calcium in the birds' diets include crushing and feeding egg shells back to them (crush so they do not look like an egg) and feed Omega Ultra Egg™ supplement which contains calcium. It is also a good idea to have grit available to help grind up the foods they forage. Free choice charcoal, as found in wood ashes from your fireplace or woodstove, is another supplement offered free choice. Charcoal tends to draw in toxins and so is useful for free ranging poultry.
Q. What is the best breeding plan to use for my chickens?
A. While many people believe breeding and mating is about producing superior individuals, the role of breeding is actually to manage genetic relationships such that a flock may produce healthy offspring for many years. When space allows, Spiral Breeding is the best overall method to manage genetic relationships. In Spiral Breeding birds are divided into three or more breeding groups. Each group is given a name, like A, B, and C. Daughters of a group join their mothers in that group – so Group A pullets join Group A hens in the next breeding season. Sons are mated to females of the next group – so Group A sons are used only with females from Group B. Culling and selection are the tools that produce superior individuals, or, rather, cause these to be produced from a flock.
Q. How do I add new birds to my flock?
A. Chickens have a pecking order that allows each bird to know who has first “dibs” on treats and roosting spots. When new chickens are added, the birds often will fight or even bully the new birds while trying to assert their ranks. Chickens also have social skills – ways of expressing a lack of threat as well as dominance. So if new birds can be penned such that the flock can see them and get close to them, separated by a wire fence for instance, then, when allowed together after a few days, fights will be minimal when they are integrated. It is also best to plan to be around for some time when the birds are first put together. Fighting may still occur, but in this way you can intercede if a bird is pecked to the point of drawing blood. I like to introduce birds during the day when they can roam the yards. This way there will be places for those low on the totem pole to hide from any bullies.