As many of you know, I enjoy adapting ideas I see online and elsewhere for the enjoyment of our chickens. I have seen several versions of birdseed wreaths for wild birds on Pinterest HERE, HERE and HERE and decided to make my own chicken version.
My first two attempts didn’t work very well – don’t trust everything you read online! – and fell apart, but this, my third attempt turned out perfectly. Easy, quick, held together well and the chickens loved it!
Here’s how to make one for your girls.
1/2 Cup cool water
3 envelopes Knox unflavored gelatin
1-1/2 Cups Boiling water
1 Cup bacon, suet or hamburg grease, heated to liquify
8 Cups of a mixture of scratch, sunflower seeds, cracked corn, raisins, nuts or seeds
20 fresh or frozen cranberries
Spray Bundt pan with cooking spray and set aside. In a measuring cup, dissolve the gelatin in the cool water and let sit for a minute. Pour the boiling water into a medium bowl and whisk in the gelatin to combine.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the seeds and nuts, stir in the grease and then pour in the liquid gelatin. Mix well with a wooden spoon to be sure all the nuts and seeds are well-coated and all the liquid is absorbed.
Place the cranberries in rows in the indentations in the pan (I used three in half the indentations and two in every other indentation) and then carefully spoon the seed mixture into the pan. Press down with the spoon to pack it well.
Put the Bundt pan in the refrigerator overnight to set. The next day, take the wreath out of the refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Invert and tap gently on the countertop to unmold.
Tie a pretty ribbon in a bow at the top and then attach the wreath to your run fencing for your chickens or to a tree or fence to treat the wild birds.
I did switch out the fancy ribbon for a plain one when I hung the wreath in the run.
All backyard chicken-keepers have an interest in keeping their pet chickens healthy and happy and making minor adjustments to various aspects of their care can have a significant impact on their health and longevity. There are a number of small steps that can be taken to promote the health of backyard chickens.
1. Provide the correct feed: http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/11/feeding-chickens-at-different-ages.html
As basic as it sounds, chickens must be fed properly to perform optimally and to be healthy. Even though our great grandparents may have fed their flocks cracked corn or scratch, advances in science and the work of poultry nutritionists reveals that backyard chickens require much more nutritionally to live long, healthy lives, while producing maximally nutritious eggs. Chickens at different stages of development require different feed formulations. While the feed manufacturer’s recommendations for their products should always be followed, generally speaking, day old chicks through eight weeks old should be provided with starter feed. Adolescent chickens up to 18 weeks of age should be fed a grower or a flock-raiser type ration and laying hens http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/01/how-hen-makes-egg-egg-oddities.html
should be fed layer ration no earlier than 18 weeks of age or the the appearance of their first egg. Layer feed contains calcium that laying hens need for eggshell production but can be detrimental to younger birds.
Pumpkins are packed with antioxidants, vitamins A, C and E, minerals including copper, calcium, potassium and phosphorus, dietary fiber and protein in the seeds. Pumpkin seeds contain 30 grams of protein per 100 grams of seeds.1 When pumpkins are in season, I make my flock “Peeps’ Pumpkin Pie,” http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/10/chickens-pumpkin-seeds-and-worm
for a nutritionally power-packed treat. Unsupported claims propose feeding pumpkin seeds to chickens as a “natural dewormer,” however, there is no scientific evidence anywhere to suggest that pumpkin seeds are capable of deworming or reducing worm loads in chickens. As such, I do not rely on pumpkin seeds as a preventative measure or as a treatment option in my flock. I give my chickens pumpkins and pumpkin seeds simply because they’re nutritious and they enjoy them.
Homemade Flock Block Substitute- http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/10/flock-block-substitute-recipe-healthy.html
Flock Block is a commercially available treat for chickens that is intended to entertain them and fulfill their natural pecking instincts.They can be purchased at feed stores for approximately $13. I have purchased the product once or twice, but have always thought I could make a similar treat myself. I made my own treat block recently and am much happier knowing that my homemade Flock Block Substitute http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/10/flock-block-substitute-recipe-healthy.html
is a healthy, fresh, nutritious treat for my flock. The recipe includes Omega Ultra Egg, which increases Omega-3 levels in eggs, improves laying rates and chickens’ health and lends naturally occurring amino acids to the recipe, which serve as important building blocks of the protein in feathers and eggs.
A note about scratch. Scratch is affectionately referred to as ‘chicken crack’ for a reason; chickens love it, can’t get enough of it and it’s not the best choice for them. Scratch typically consists of cracked corn and a mixture of grains, which tends to lack an appreciable amount of protein, vitamins and minerals. Scratch should be thought of as chicken candy and only given in small amounts occasionally. *Scratch should not be mixed into the flock’s feed.*
3. Clean Water: http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/07/the-advantages-of-poultry-nipples.html
Provide clean, fresh water to chickens at all times. Again, this sounds like common sense, but most backyard chickens drink from waterers harboring fecal matter, bacteria and other organisms that can make them sick. The solution to dirty water is employing poultry nipple waterers. “Nobody who is raising chickens professionally has used cups, bell drinkers or troughs in the past 25 years. … Nipples have been used successfully on literally billions of chickens. The professional farmers across North America have made nipple drinkers the standard for all chickens. … The disease reduction is so striking that there is no doubt which [system] is better.” http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/07/the-advantages-of-poultry-nipples.html
8. Break up Broody Hens: http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/05/broody-breaker-when-hens-mood-to-hatch.html
A broody hen is one that is inspired to sit on a collection of eggs until she hatches chicks. Whether she is sitting on a clutch of fertile eggs or an empty nest, she will sit and wait for chicks to hatch indefinitely. In the 21 days normally required to hatch eggs, a broody leaves her nest briefly once or twice daily to eat, drink and relieve herself, neglecting her own health for the good of her anticipated chicks. Her comb will lose color, feathers lose sheen and she will lose a noticeable amount of weight. She can tolerate this drastic change in 21 day stints, but protracted periods of broodiness are unhealthy for her. She becomes vulnerable to external parasites, malnourished and emaciated. Broody hens that will not be permitted to hatch chicks, either due to the unavailability of fertile eggs or the preference of the chicken-keeper, she should be broken/broken-up http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2012/05/broody-breaker-when-hens-mood-to-hatch.html
as soon as possible to return them to their regular routines.
and should be avoided unless they are “seriously infested” with parasites. Even in that case, she writes, “the benefit may outweigh the danger of TEMPORARILY adding such materials” (p. 93, emphasis added).
Early fall is the time our chickens change their feathers. As winter approaches, this provides birds with a brand new set to give them the best possible protection from cold, wind, and precipitation (snow, rain, and ice). It is a great advantage for our birds to change their natural “clothing” each year just when they need the most protection.
This annual change of feathers is called a “molt”, and the fact that it coincides with the reduced daylight of fall and winter is no accident. In poultry, light stimulates the pituitary gland, causing hormone production. This in turn causes tissues to elongate and soften, including the ovaries, and results in egg production. As day length shortens, hormone production slows and egg production ceases.
We also have feather moisture at play. When feathers are first growing, the body is able to supply the feather follicles with nutrients – the follicles are soft , moist, and sensitive. As the feathers complete their growth, nutrients are directed toward other bodily activities – such as egg production. During egg production, much of the nutrition consumed is directed into the eggs. After months at peak production, little to no nutrition is available to the feathers, so they begin to dry out. This drying out is enhanced as the body seeks to find enough calcium to form eggs. The result is not only dry feathers, but brittle feathers that begin to wear and even break. As day length lessens, molt begins and the birds have new feathers just in time for cold weather.
In order to grow a good set of feathers, and for those feathers to last as long as possible, our poultry need good nutrition. This starts with a balanced diet having a good level of protein and vitamins. A good supplement can help ensure that adequate levels of oils and nutrients are available when poultry need them the most. Omega Ultra Egg™ offers a host of benefits as a supplement for molting poultry. The natural oils help produce wider, stronger, more weather resistant feathers. It also helps extend the useful life of feathers, these same oils making the feathers less brittle. The calcium and vitamins Omega Ultra Egg™ contains help provide increased levels of those needed nutrients.
So why are oils important? Natural oils help repel water – keeping the body of a chicken warm and dry on damp days. Oils also help maintain flexibility and prevent the feathers from losing moisture as their structures endure use over prolonged periods. Essentially, the internal moisture content of feathers ensures that the feather barbules, the small, hook-like structures that web together to form feathers, are flexible from the inside so that they do not break open. When feather moisture is lost, either from the surface becoming brittle or from the internal feather structure becoming brittle and breaking, the feathers begin to wear more quickly and lose their insulating and protective properties. Brilliant feather sheen is the result of good oils in the diet and of good feather moisture levels.
Calcium and protein also both play a role in feather makeup and quality. Protein is the main building block the body uses to grow and to produce feathers. Some producers find higher quality feathers produced from low protein feeds – causing slower feather growth and thus longer periods for the hens being out of production. My own experience, and that of those I have mentored, has been that better feather quality, and less time out of production, come when feeding higher protein feed (usually 18-22% protein feeds). Feathers contain calcium carbonate, and thus calcium is needed to grow and maintain good feathers. When hens are laying and there is too little or just enough calcium in their diets, feathers become brittle and hens may even peck at each other’s feathers a bit to gain this much needed nutrient. After all, there are no eggs if there is no shell; and we all know egg shells are made of calcium.
Extra nutrition is needed anytime birds undergo stress. Molt and peak production are just two examples of stress. Bad weather or harassment by dogs or small children are two others. The best plan is to have this supplemental nutrition incorporated as a regular part of the poultry diet. In this way, there is no deficiency to overcome or to aggravate a weakened condition.
I use Omega Ultra Egg™ as a supplement all year round. Not only do my birds have healthy feathers, it ensures that my birds have supplemental nutrition from which to pull during times of stress. The fact that the oils in Omega Ultra Egg naturally have the correct balance between Omega 3 and Omega 9 fatty acids, and that the eggs the hens are healthier for me is just icing on the cake.
So as you care for your birds during their time of molt, be sure that they receive everything they need to produce strong, healthy feathers that will last them through the winter until molting season next year. You will have happier hens and more eggs for your efforts.
Don Schrider is a nationally recognized poultry breeder and expert. He has written for publications such as Backyard Poultry, Countryside and Small Stock Journal, Mother Earth News, Poultry Press, and the newsletter and poultry resources of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. He is the author of the revised edition of Storey’s Guide to Raising Turkeys, which is due for publication this fall and will be available at bookstores by January, 2013.
This summer of 2012 has turned hot and we on the east coast have been hit hard with storms that have taken the power out for many days at a time. The chickens are surviving this handsomely, needing no electricity as long as they have food, shelter, and water.
As I try to sleep, windows open, a faint breeze stirring the hot, humid air, I reflect on just how well my chickens are taking the heat. My pens are airy, letting the air move and whisking away body heat. The roosts have plenty of airspace all around them. My chickens live in a wooded part of the yard; they love the shade the trees provide. My hanging feeders are under roof, protecting them from the rains, and holding enough food for a few days. I use plenty of water containers, providing a three or more day supply – which proved very advantageous once the power went out and the well pump had no electricity with which to operate.
Each morning I am awakened by a chorus of crowing – each rooster being sure he is the first to sing in the new day. The chickens begin their day scratching around in search of some breakfast. The majority of the day is spent satisfying both their hunger and their curiosity – exploring, scratching, running to see what another chicken has found. The hens quietly withdraw to the privacy of their nest, and then publicly announce, with a loud BAH-KA, that they have laid an egg. During the middle of the day, even in this heat, some of the chickens take the time to sunbathe. They lay on their sides, with one leg and one wing stretched out, basking in the warm golden sunlight. As I arrive to collect eggs and feed treats, they follow me around and hungrily peck up the corn and leftovers I provide for them. As dusk arrives they begin to take their individual places upon the roosts, settling in for the night.
Even without electricity my chickens are safe. I use a solar charger to power their electronet fence. I have a solar light in their yard to discourage predators. And my partner, Roxy, my chicken guard dog, patrols the property day and night driving away such dangerous creatures as deer, neighbors, hawks, and sneaky nighttime visitors like raccoons and possums.
For the chickens, nothing has changed. The loss of power goes unnoticed. Life is as enjoyable today as it was yesterday. This is due to the fact that electricity is not a large part of their experience and care, and to the fact that both pens and food and water systems are designed to be safe, comfortable, and to provide days of nutrition without the need for power.
Now is a good time for you to take a look at your pens and the care you are giving your chickens this summer. Do they have shade? And is the shaded area large enough for all the birds? Is it open enough to allow breezes to blow through. Do you have multiple waterers set out so that every chicken get a drink without being driven away by a bossy hen or rooster? Are the waterers large enough to provide several days of water if needed? Are the roosts roomy? Do you have plenty of feed stored in airtight containers? Is your fence strong and in good repair?
Are you feeding a diet with extra vitamins and a good level of nutrition? Remember, chickens eat less in the heat, so be sure you are using a good quality feed and supplement with Omega Ultra Egg – its vitamins and nutrition helping to ensure both good eggs and healthy chickens during the summer heat.
This summer is also a time for miracles. Each year I like to let a hen or two sit and hatch out a clutch of eggs. This year I had a Light Brown Leghorn sit on a small clutch of her own eggs – four to be exact. Twenty-one days later, she brought off a clutch of three healthy chicks. One of the interesting things about this, is that momma retained most of the redness of her comb during her broody stage. This can be credited to the extra nutrition she received from supplementing her laying mash with Omega Ultra Egg.
Momma hen is fiercely protective of her clutch and an all around attentive mother. She clucks to her chicks, drawing them to tasty food morsels. She warms them, letting them nuzzle under her breast feathers. Sometimes a bold chick decides to leap up on momma’s back to get a better view of the world. And woe betide the foolish human that picks one of her chicks up – momma is there in an instant, attacking with wings, beak, and feet, then retreating, spinning, and returning to attack again. A broody hen seems to have the courage of an army; even roosters avoid a hen when she is protecting her young.
If you decide to brood your own chicks, there are a few tips to keep in mind. Once a hen begins to go broody, she will spend most of the day on the nest. She will cluck and raise her feathers as she walks or if you disturb her nesting. You will notice she is missing many feathers on her breast, allowing the warmth of her body to warm the eggs, and later the chicks. She will begin to spend nights on the nesting box once she is fully committed.
Other hens will want to join her on the nest to lay their eggs. This will cause many eggs to be broken. It will also mean that the eggs she is sitting on will be at unequal stages of growth. For best results, move the hen to a secluded nesting site at night. Take care to disturb her as little as possible. Make sure the new site is secure, can contain day-old chicks, and preferably a little dark and private. Provide momma with good food and water, even though she will consume little of each. And after twenty-one days she will turn a batch of fertile eggs into a brood of healthy chicks.
Hens differ in their mothering ability. Some young hens will not sit the full three weeks it takes to hatch a clutch. Some hens make poor mothers – caring little for their chicks, even killing some or all of them. A fair number of hens can tell their chicks from those of other hens and may do harm to strange chicks. I have even had a hen that knew the chicks she hatched were the wrong color (were another breed) and refused them. Most hens are good to excellent mothers. A few are great mothers and will raise any chick offered to them. For the few that are bad mothers, often you can remove the chicks and raise them in a brooder.
I like to keep the hen alone with her chicks for the first few days. Often I will decide to integrate them with the flock after a week or so. I do this by placing them in a wire pen, within the yard of the flock – so that the other hens and rooster can get used to seeing them. After about two weeks, I will let momma and brood run out in the yard with the other hens while I am around to watch – a few little squabbles may happen as momma decides another hen has gotten too close to the babies. But if everything goes well, on the second day I will let the brood join the flock.
As the chicks grow and feather out, they will first join mom on the roost. Later, momma will decide that they no longer need her protection and they are abandoned to care for themselves as members of the flock.
With some good planning and proper nutrition, like that found in Omega Ultra Egg, your chickens can survive summer and power outages and can even raise a brood on chicks.
Hello from the great state of West Virginia. At the beginning of April we moved our household from Virginia to West Virginia to a new home. This was a very positive and exciting move, but laborious too as we had to move not only all our household belongings, but our animals and pens as well.
Moving with poultry takes a good bit of planning to avoid potentially lethal mistakes. Since we have both a guard dog for the chickens as well as the chickens themselves, we had to figure how we could transport both safely. We also had to dismantle the pens and set them up again in order to have a place for our hens. Planning had to include the transportation of dog, hens, and pens as well as the order of packing them. We had to know what we were going to do with the animals while we reassembled their pens and we had to know how long it all would take and how to feed and water everyone during this transition.
Since many of you may find it necessary to transport your poultry at some point, whether to a county fair, vet, swap meet, or moving to a new home, let me break down the basics that will keep the birds alive and healthy. Chickens can actually survive a few days without food and water if necessary. I don’t recommend stressing the birds this way, but they can survive. What will kill the birds are high temperatures, a lack of airflow, and too much sun in conjunction with one of the two preceding. So how do we address these three primary concerns?
I have a truck with a cap on the back. Seems like I have always had a truck with a cap and have transported poultry in such at all times of the year. The cap has the advantage of shading the birds and the disadvantage of restricting airflow. I open all the windows of the cap to provide as much airflow as possible. I also follow a rule a friend of mine suggested – once your birds are loaded, get moving and keep moving. Good airflow will help to overcome high temperatures.
I have several types of crates for different purposes. I have commercial, plastic crates that are extremely ventilated. I have Pullman crates that are four feet long and designed with four compartments – the fronts of which are extremely well ventilated. Lastly, I have enclosed boxes that are designed to carry individual male birds safely without damaging their tail feathers. These male crates are perfect for fall, winter, and early spring but they do not have a large amount of ventilation so are the worst possible crates to use during warm weather. For this move I used only the Pullman and the commercial crates.
Before loading the crates I counted my hens and the number of spaces I had available. I also feed the birds a good meal that included Omega Ultra Egg™ so that they would have full crops before loading. I also had to consider how many would fit on my truck without packing too tightly or airflow would be restricted. While the commercial crates could handle eight birds in summer when transporting a short distance, I opted to reduce the number in those crates to six. In the Pullmans I placed one bird per hole (four per crate).
I started loading all the birds, being sure to put them into the crates head first – which makes their natural tendency to go forward into the crate. I found myself in a position of have two extra birds, and so I placed two birds per hole in two of the Pullman holes. For these two doubled up pens I made sure they were in the last, most open positioned pen so that they received the most airflow. I also made sure the paired birds were pairs that got along well and which were smaller in size to reduce the amount of body heat possibly trapped in the pen.
I placed my crates into the truck after they were all loaded, and just before we were ready to leave. Until that time, the birds were crated in a shady and cool location. I put the Pullman crates into the truck facing the rear, in this way as I drove they would get the most airflow. Between each crate I placed 2×4 boards, to ensure there was air space between crates. (My mentor told me of a breeder who once placed his prize bird first into his truck. He packed the truck so tightly that the bird ran out of air and died before they arrived home. Air space is very important.) I place my commercial crates on top of the Pullman crates, placing 2×4 boards between them and being careful not to seal in the birds in the centermost holes of the Pullman crates. Once we started moving we drove straight through and all the birds made it to our new home safely.
Upon arrival, it was going to take several hours to set up the chicken pens and it was late at night. I opted for leaving the birds on the truck overnight. In the morning I got up early to make sure the sun was not going to overheat the birds, making sure I was parked in a shady location, and opened the tailgate of the truck so that more air could move. I fed the birds a breakfast of slices of apple. Apples make excellent food for crated birds. They are not too messy and provide a source of energy, food, and moisture. It took a couple of hours to set up the pens, but everything went well.
Once the pens were set up, I first filled water containers in each pen. My birds had gone twelve hours without fresh water, so I knew the first thing they needed was a good drink of water as they were uncrated. I removed each bird from its crate head first, being sure to maintain good control of its legs. I carried them cradled in the crook of my arms, their heads a little lower than their tails to keep them calm – never hold them upside down, as it can cause them to suffer strokes and is very stressful. Instead of tossing the birds into the pens, I lowered each one so its feet touched the ground and let it walk away. Doing this builds trust in the birds for being handled. Each bird walked over and had a satisfying drink. Next I feed each group a fresh bit of feed with Omega Egg Ultra to ensure that they got plenty of vitamins and nutrition and to help keep their stress level down and egg production up.
When I was done unloading, not only did all the birds survive in good shape, but the hens had laid eggs in the Pullman crates. One of the reasons I like the Pullman crates is that they feel like being on a nest for the birds.
I have had friends transport their birds to and from county fairs in the heat of summer with no bad effects. What are some of the points they follow for success?
Plenty of airflow around the pens
Never pack the crates too tightly – use boards and board scraps to maintain space around each crate
Never more than two birds to a pen if using a Pullman type, and never fill to capacity a commercial type crate
Load late in the day, near evening, or at night
Keep in mind how long the first birds loaded have sat in the truck without a breeze – once you start crating birds move quickly
Unload in the morning so that you are not stressing the birds by handling during the heat of the day
Remember, direct sun in the summer can kill crated poultry – use as much shade as possible without restricting airflow
Once you get moving, keep moving
If the birds will be crated for more than twenty four hours, stop and water all the birds (bring water cups for this purpose). Also feed the birds – corn makes a good feed for this purpose
Apples make an excellent food and moisture source and will help relieve boredom for transported hens
Cardboard boxes can be used, but large or many ventilation holes must be cut – even when the birds will only be in these boxes for a short time, as cardboard retains heat
Pine shavings or straw work well as good bedding sources. Bedding will keep the hens comfortable while traveling over bumps in the road
The most important things to remember are airflow and temperature during transportation. By keeping these tips in mind, you can transport poultry safely any time of the year.
December. This is the time of year for reflection and for remembering what we value. Do you remember what attracted you to poultry? What was that early fascination? What benefits has this passion brought to your life? Why do you put so much work into this hobby?
I start my winter mornings before the sun. I get up and go down to the barn where my guard dog greets me. The chickens hear me coming and the roosters all compete to be the first to announce the morning and breakfast. The world is largely cold and quiet in those dark early hours, but the chickens start to stir. They greet me with great interest and what I imagine is a bit of greedy hopefulness that the “man” may have a special treat today. Every now and then I even manage to remember to pause and just look around, watching the sky start to glow, smelling the fresh, cold air, hearing the sounds of the new day. Greeting each morning with the chickens is one of the wonderful experiences my hobby provides for me again and again.
Each evening, after I get home from a long day at work, I go down to the barn for my evening chores. As I collect my eggs and empty water buckets (so I don’t have to beat ice out of them in the morning), I observe my flock and decompress from the tensions of the day. By the time I get back to the house I feel relaxed again. Keeping my chickens is the best therapy I have ever found, and has a way of bringing good to a bad day.
In our family photo album is a picture of me when about 2 1/2-years old, showing a friend the neighbor’s flock of White Leghorn hens. Exposure to this and other neighborhood flocks probably is to blame for instilling the chicken bug into me. I remember standing and watching the chickens for hours. The way they interacted and moved and the noises they made fascinated my young mind. I still love to sit and watch the chickens. Their antics are humorous and even my neighbor, who was never fond of having chickens next door, has found watching the chickens to be a surprising delight.
Now when I spend time watching the chickens there is an additional sensation – looking over birds with high caliber type and color is a visual experience that, for me, compares to drinking a fine wine. I love the glossy feathers and rich colors. As my flock has grown in quality over the years I have drawn more and more satisfaction from observing it. This satisfaction is perhaps enhanced, owing to the fact that I have produced my own stock for over twenty years now – each bird representing generations of my selecting decisions. It is a blessing to have my chickens.
So as you reflect on the old year and plan for new, take a moment and consider all the joy keeping poultry has brought for you. What do you enjoy the most? Giving eggs to friends and family? Giving the birds treats?
As you make resolutions for this new year, be sure to include providing your birds with the best care you can. This should include treats that keep them in the best condition and in perfect health. If Omega Ultra Egg™ is not a part of your feeding program, it should be.
Text copyright ã Don Schrider, 2012. All rights reserved.
Don Schrider is a nationally recognized poultry breeder and expert. He has written for publications such as Backyard Poultry, Countryside and Small Stock Journal, Mother Earth News, Poultry Press, and the newsletter and poultry resources of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
There is a revolution happening all across the backyards of America; a revolution of hen keeping has found its renaissance. If you are reading this newsletter, then perhaps you are a revolutionary, a patriot of local, sustainable cuisine, a libertarian of food independence, a builder of a new food system, and an independent thinker. If so, you are part of a growing group of people who care about the nutritional value of the food they consume and the impact it has on the environment and society. And maybe, just maybe, you have found that keeping chickens is just outright fun.
Fall is the time of year when leaves turn red, yellow, and orange and fall from the trees. It is also the time of year that our best egg layers drop their feathers and produce the new ones that will protect their bodies all winter long. Feathers are an important part of the chicken — they help shed rain and snow, protect the birds from cool breezes, and trap body heat to help keep the birds warm all winter long. Feathers need to last an entire year, so the value of their durability, flexibility, and quality are much more than cosmetic for the home flock.
So what does it take to produce quality feathers? Don’t commercial feeds contain all the ingredients needed to produce and maintain good feathers? The answer to the second question is “No.” Commercial poultry feed has been developed to supply just the bare minimum of expensive nutrients needed to keep a hen in top laying condition – no extra expense has been considered and no consideration has been made in its formulation for the production of high-quality feathers. As a revolutionary you need to understand that feed formulation has economics as its guiding principle.
Feathers are comprised of many tiny, finger-like fibers, hooked at their ends, that are called barbules. As you might expect, the barbules hook together forming solid webs. It is the quality of these barbules meshing that gives good feather quality. Good feathers require a great deal of quality protein to produce. Vitamins, such as riboflavin, aid in producing durable, flexible feathers. And naturally occurring oils, such as those found in Omega Ultra Egg, are needed to maintain water resistance and sheen, and are used to prevent the feathers from becoming brittle and wearing out before the next molt.
Quality feathers are an essential for pastured poultry as the feathers are the hen’s natural protection from the elements. So it is as the new feathers are growing that we poultrymen (and women) should concern ourselves with feeding to grow better feathers. I suggest to you that this is the best time to feed out supplements like: probiotics, poultry mineral supplements, poultry vitamin supplements, oils as found in Omega Ultra Egg, wheat germ, and codliver oil, and to feed a protein supplement, like fish meal, or feed a breeder quality feed such as game-bird breeder layer crumbles. Omega Ultra Egg has high percentages of protein and calcium to help increase the total amount of those necessary dietary items.
November is also the best time to consider internal and external parasites. Both of these can reduce the quality of the feathers and will cause the bird to consume more calories to stay in good shape. There are some good wormers on the market for poultry, but if you don’t have access to these you can use an old method that was once sanctified by the U.S. Army (circa World War II), that of dropping walnuts with husks still on (preferably green husks) into buckets of water and allow to stand overnight. You use one walnut per gallon, though you can put in two or three walnuts and then add one or two more gallons of fresh water when you feed it out. This feedout a few times weekly will rid your poultry of internal parasites. For external parasites, I recommend adding wood ashes to the areas your chickens choose for dust bathing. This should be mixed in the soil a little bit so that it does not blow away. Don’t worry when your chickens eat some of the charcoal in the ashes – it is a natural anti-toxin and helps in the absorption of calcium. Your chicken poop may be black for a few days, but your chickens will be healthy.
Speaking of calcium, the practice of offering oyster shell, or another calcium source, free-choice alongside granite grit, is still an excellent idea for pastured hens. The grit is needed to help digest the choice food the chickens forage and the grains we feed them. The calcium will allow our hens to balance their own diets when their forage does not provide the needed levels. A lack of calcium is also one of the main causes of poor feather condition during summer months and can even lead to feather-pecking and eating (as will low protein levels). Again, Omega Ultra Egg can help increase calcium levels in feed.
So let’s feed our birds for good feathers and make sure they enter winter free of parasites. The result will be lower feed consumption, healthier chickens, and an earlier return to laying. The chickens will be happy and so will we!
Text copyright ã Don Schrider, 2011. All rights reserved.
Don Schrider is a nationally recognized poultry breeder and expert. He has written for publications such as Backyard Poultry, Countryside and Small Stock Journal, Mother Earth News, Poultry Press, and the newsletter and poultry resources of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
I must be famous. How can I tell? Well, I have an entourage.
My entourage is with me morning, noon, and night. They accompany me while I eat and while I work. I am never alone. I am fascinating to them. They love me, they protect me, they compete with each other for my attention. They argue amongst themselves and jockey for the coveted position nearest to me. When I stand up, they stand up. When I sit down, they sit down. If I go upstairs, they come, too. When I come down again, they come down, too. When I go in the bathroom, they come in, too.
This isn’t my first entourage. I am the mother of four boys, after all. But now the two oldest are on their own out in the world and the younger two are teenagers with friends and activities of their own. I had to get a new entourage.
Each member of my entourage has his or her specific role to play. Apple the Aussie cross is my personal assistant. She wakes me in the morning and lets me know when it’s time to do chores. She monitors my health and nutrition: She never fails to remind me of mealtimes.
Liesl the German Shepherd Dog is my bodyguard. Ever vigilant, she keeps constant watch on me. And on everyone around me. When I step outside the farmhouse, she makes a sweep of the perimeter and checks for suspicious activity. Like a true fan, she is devoted only to me. My husband Kevin could fall in the well and Liesl would never say a word. But let a strange car come down the driveway or naughty horses break out of the fence, and Liesl will let me know.
Hawkeye the Border Collie is my fan club. His role is to look adoringly at me to let me know that I am the coolest, most wonderful person on earth. No matter what I wear, or say, or do, Hawkeye gazes at me with admiration in his eyes.
I not only have an entourage, I have groupies, too. To be honest, my groupies are only part-time groupies. They only show up when I sit down to work at my computer and then they’re out of control. They jump on my desk and walk across my keyboard. They block my computer monitor with their bodies, flick their tails across my papers, and say “We love you. We love you…a little bit.” Sometimes I have to shut my groupies outside the office door in order to get any work done.
My entourage and my groupies are not the only proof of my fame. Outside the farmhouse door, the paparazzi lay in wait for me. I have only to step outside and they mob me, all shouting out their questions at the same time. Really, I wonder if the paparazzi have any idea how much they sound like a flock of squawking chickens? Even their camera shutters sound like the flapping of wings.
So, I have the fame, the next step is the fortune. They go together, right?
I work for chicken feed. Or at least my chickens do. That is what I will tell you when you ask how I train chickens to perform. I have trained chickens to jog on a treadmill, push a button, climb stairs, appear to be swimming, enter and exit an elevator, talk into a microphone, jump onto a desk and shake their tail in someone’s face, and many more behaviors for television commercials and print advertisements.
Most people think that chickens are dumb and just run all over squawking and flapping their wings like…well, like dumb clucks. But I know better. Chickens are highly intelligent birds with tremendous survival skills that have allowed them to become one of our earliest domesticated animals.
Chickens are useful barnyard animals. They peck at manure, eat larva and bugs, and aerate the soil with their scratching. They give us beautiful eggs on an almost daily basis. A flock of chickens is an excellent alarm system.
Chickens are surprisingly trainable, too. When I am looking for a chicken to train for a commercial or an ad the first thing I do is find one that is bold and brave and will eat out of my hand. A chicken has to be food motivated or I will never be able to keep it on the set.
If I want the chicken to walk towards me I hold the food just out of reach and reward it when it takes even the smallest step towards me. This training technique is called shaping. I use shaping to train all kinds of animals to perform. If I want a chicken to go to a certain spot I bait the spot with feed and the chicken is rewarded for going to the right spot. Eventually, the feed is removed and the chicken will still go to the spot.
Omega Fields Animal Ambassador, Pretty Peggy, was remarkably easy to train for her many appearances in Perkins Restaurant commercials. In one spot, she had to portray the downtrodden wife of a late rising rooster. We trained her to sit still on a therapist’s office chair and cluck and squawk on cue as if she was talking to the therapist. I trained her to do this by showing her food and rewarding her when she made noise but didn’t move position. Her appearances in Perkins commercials were very successful.
So, the next time you see chickens roaming and pecking in a barn yard, remember that they are a lot smarter than they look.
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I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this but I live not more than five miles from the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the Little House on the Prairie books. Her life story is taught in the local schools and I drive by her family’s historic log cabin site every time I head down to Pepin to the little grocery store or the school.
When I whiz past the tiny cabin at 60 miles an hour I rarely think about what life must have been like for Ma and Pa and little Laura, Mary, Caroline, and Grace. But yesterday as I fought through eight foot snow drifts and the wind bit into my face and tried to freeze my eyelashes together, I thought about it.
Everyone in the region had been warned about the big snow. The weatherman predicted a snownami, a snowmaggedon, and a snowpocalypse. And, just as it does when he warns us about tornados, it went in one ear and out the other. They are exaggerating, we Midwesterners say. 20-24 inches of snow? It can’t be that bad. They always say things like that. It will never happen. Life threatening wind chills of -25 to -35 below? We’re tough. We can take it.
And then we act like we had never even heard the weather guy. Even as the snow started coming down and it snowed for 18 hours straight people continued to try and go about their business. At least the big city and town people did.
Out here with our mile long driveways and dirt roads that amble and curve up and down the valleys, nobody is going anywhere. At least until the plows come. Our township roadman, Mr. Robert Stein, does a great job of plowing snow. But on days like this we understand that he has to keep the big roads open. And when there are 22 inches of snow and sustained 40 mile per hour winds it makes it a lot harder to get the job done. We are content to sit back and ride out the big storms.
Living on a farm and knowing that the snow was coming we prepped as best we could. Snow began falling late Friday night. By Saturday morning as we did chores we already had at least six new inches of snow on the ground. We were still able get the tractor out (thank you, John Deere), and we made sure that we fed twice as much hay as we normally feed to the horses so they could eat enough calories to keep warm. We put the older, more vulnerable horses in stalls thickly bedded with shavings and extra hay so they could handle the storm without being harassed by the younger, more dominant ones.
The sheep and chickens who normally bound joyfully out of the barn each morning, greeted me warily as I opened the door. The lead sheep ran out and, repelled by the blowing horizontal snow, immediately reversed himself and headed back. A few brave chickens who normally don’t mind the snow, stepped gingerly out, and quickly turned tail and fled inside. I put extra feed and hay in the sheep pen and filled the chicken feeders and told them they were on their own. With the door shut, the barn stays pretty warm from the heat generated by the nine sheep, three goats, and the 40+ chickens. Chores took longer than usual as we fought the wind and wet snow. We were happy to finish and go back inside to warm up.
The rest of the day felt like the snow days we had as kids. My younger boys were disappointed that it wasn’t a real snow day (it was a Saturday) but enjoyed having everyone home together. Even my oldest son, Wes, was home from college for a few days.
Because I own an animal actors agency and I am also a professional animal lifestyle photographer, I stay pretty focused and try to squeeze the work into every moment I have. But the big snow that had been falling for hours made me want to slow down and just appreciate the beauty of it from the warmth of my cozy farmhouse.
I didn’t edit any images, and the dishes and the laundry could wait as we watched It’s a Wonderful Life. Wes did his best to imitate Jimmy Stewart, changing the dialogue just enough to make us laugh, and the other boys said the all of the familiar lines with the actors.
As it grew dark, Wes and Warren started preparing dinner. This was a treat for me, as I am usually the chief cook around here. I smiled as I looked back on the relaxing day.
But being a farmer and an animal lover and responsible for our animals’ welfare, I knew it was time to go out and check on the animals one more time and feed our two recently rescued Morgans their second helping of grain for the day.
My two youngest sons, William and Walker, and I bundled up in fleece-lined hoodies, our Carhartt bibs and jackets, and double thickness rag wool gloves. Walker wore snow goggles, vestiges of Wes’s army service. William wore a Russian ushanka hat that ties under the chin to keep the wind out.
We headed out into the storm. The wind and snow hit my face and eyes like a frozen hurricane as I paused for a moment to survey the scene. Over 20 inches had accumulated throughout the day and the wind had whipped up drifts higher than the shed’s rooflines.
I sloughed through the drifts, making my way to the new barn to check on the mares first. They seemed surprised to see me; all four were tucked into the shed. Beauty the Morgan, and the two ponies raised their heads and looked at me as if to say, “What are you doing here? It’s snowing out, Dummy. Go back inside!” And Jenny my rescue Morgan mare, snorted impatiently as if to say, “It’s about time you gave me my grain.”
I fed Jenny in her stall and broke the ice out of her bucket and refilled it so she would have enough to drink during the long night. I turned off their lights, and told them I’d be back in the morning. I didn’t need to climb over the wood fence as I normally do because the snow had drifted over it and most of it was hidden. I waded through the drifts and made my way over to the granary where the geldings can get out of the wind.
Although they had plenty of hay inside the barn to eat, most of them chose to continue to chew on the round bale I had placed by the granary wall that serves as a wind block. They looked like the bison you sometimes see in National Geographic. They were covered in chunks of snow and frost lined their delicate eyes and nostrils. The geldings don’t seem to mind the cold. As long as they had hay to eat and could keep out of the wind they would be okay. I checked on Jack, my other rescue Morgan, and made sure he was happy in his stall with his new buddy Louis, one of my elderly horses, nearby. I gave them fresh water also.
I made my way to the chicken coop, which is actually a small gabled barn that houses the chickens, sheep, and goats. It was surprisingly warm inside; their water had not even froze. I gathered the two eggs that the laying hens had decided to give to me today and closed them up for the night.
Knowing that everyone was safe and warm, I started walking the 200 yards back to the house. In the distance, the house appeared to be smiling at me, as all the lights were on and I could see that William and Walker had gone in before me.
It was just me and the three dogs outside in the storm now. As I forced my way through the drifts it occurred to me how lucky I am that I could see where I was going. I glanced up at the powerful yard light that illuminated the farmyard and wondered about the people who owned this farm before electric power came in the 1940s. I remembered tales of farmers dying in their own yards by becoming disoriented in the blizzard and unable to reach the safety of the house. They weren’t kidding when it was said that farmers would have to tie rope between the barn and the house so as not to lose their way.
About halfway up a particularly deep drift I got stuck. After working myself out of it by leaning forward and crawling out, I decided to rest for a moment. I began to wonder what it would be like to freeze to death.
I lay there on my stomach with my face cradled in my arm in an effort to block the wind. I wondered how quickly the cold that was just beginning to seep through my heavy clothes would chill me to the point of hypothermia. The wind howled and raged around me and blasts of snow came off neighboring drifts and hit me square in the face whenever I looked up. I wondered if anybody missed me yet and what would happen if I were truly unable to move for some reason.
It was the dogs that discovered me. Hawkeye the Border Collie, Apple the Aussie mix, and Lisle the German Shepherd all descended upon me with a flurry of kisses and much jumping back and forth over my prone body as they tried to get me to respond. When I didn’t move, Hawkeye and Apple gave up. But Lisle lay quietly down beside me as if protecting my head and face from the wind. So it is true that dogs will do their best to protect their masters, I thought to myself as I pulled myself up and told Lisle that she was very good girl.
I caught my breath and made it the rest of the way to the house. Inside, the warm air was a welcome change from the bitter winds outside. I looked around at the comforts of modern life: heat that pours off the radiators, music coming from the iPod® in the kitchen, food in the fridge, the world at our fingertips through our computers, and I smiled, gratefully. I’m glad I’m not Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family in that little log cabin with no electricity. I am happy sitting in my warm house and just imagining what life would have been like five miles and 140 years from here. Where’s my copy of Little House in the Big Woods?
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