NPIP Certification

When it comes to keeping backyard chickens there are lots of decisions that a keeper needs to make. In addition to breeds, coops, whether or not to have a rooster there is NPIP certification. In the post I will detail what NPIP Certification is and if it is something that you want to do for your flock.

What is NPIP Certification?

In short NPIP stands for National Poultry Improvement Plan. The NPIP is a voluntary program overseen by the United States of Agriculture (USDA) and managed by each state.
The program monitors flocks and hatcheries for a variety of serious diseases that can devastate chicken populations and create serious problems for the poultry industry or backyard chicken enthusiasts.

The NPIP program was first established in 1935 as a way to eliminate Pullorum, a disease that devastated the poultry industry in the late 1920’s. The program was later refined to include backyard chicken keepers and test for other serious diseases such as Salmonella Pullorum, Salmonella Gallinarum, Salmonella Enteritidis, Mycoplasma Gallisepticum, Mycoplasma Synaviae, Mycoplasma Meleagridis and in 2006 Avian Influenza

NPIP Certified hatcheries adhere to a set of established standards that ensure that the birds they sale are free from diseases listed above. Testing involves taking blood samples from their flocks, swabs from their birds throats, adhering to sanitation and biosecurity procedures.

Hatcheries are required to test their flocks for the diseases included in the certification set out by the USDA. Testing procedures can vary from state to state but most require a testing for Avian Influenza (AI) and various forms of Salmonella. Typically a cross selection of 300 birds will be tested. If a hatchery has less than 300 birds than every single bird is then tested and must re-test annually to keep their certification up to date.

So what does this mean for the backyard flock owner?

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As a perspective backyard chicken keeper looking to start or add to an existing flock, it is best to buy from a breeder that is NPIP Certified. Most hatcheries are certified but there are a few out there that are not. Some hatcheries will list on their webpage that they are NPIP Certified along with their certification number. If you do not see where they are NPIP certified just ask. Any hatchery that is NPIP certified will readily and freely prove to you that they are certified and will give your their NPIP certification number. If they are certified you can be sure that you are buying from a reputable breeder or hatchery that holds animal husbandry to the highest standard.

As a backyard chicken keeper, if you plan on breeding or selling chicks or chickens it is a good idea to get your flock NPIP Certified. Not only are you ensured that your flock is healthy and that you are selling healthy birds but it offers you a hedge of protection should the birds you sold be reported sick. If there is an investigation into the origin of the birds sold you will have a hedge of protection in that your flock is NPIP Certified. That’s not to say that just because a source is NPIP Certified that birds cannot get sick. It will reveal in the event of an investigation that your flock is healthy and gets routine health inspections that is documented by your State Veterinarian.

It also give you a peace of mind as well. For example, if there is an outbreak of AI in your area, a State Veterinarian will be dispatched to your home to test your birds for AI. Since your property is cataloged in your county offices that you have chickens you will literally get a knock at your door requesting to test your flock. Some people find this comforting, others find it intrusive. Some feel that registering your flock and having them NPIP Certified relinquishes too much control to “Big Brother”. This is where the individual keepers preference comes into play. I personally have my flock NPIP Certified. Not only do I find it comforting that should AI be detected in my area, the USDA would be on it testing my birds. But if I sale any chicks or adult laying hens I am confident that I am selling healthy birds and have the certification to back it up.

How does an owner certify their flock?

If you decide that NPIP certification is something that you want to do, getting them certified is very easy. Simply look up your State Veterinarian on the web or in the phone book and give them a call. Simply tell them that you are a backyard chicken keeper and that you want to have your flock NPIP certified.

 

 

At that time your information will be recorded and you will get a call from a USDA agent in a few days to schedule a testing date. If you have a large flock say 50 birds or more, plan on taking the day off work to have your flock certified. The agents will literally test every one of your birds individually.

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They will take a small sample of blood and swab their throats. You as the keeper will be responsible for retrieving each bird, bringing them to the inspectors, and keeping track of who has been tested. Once tested each bird will be issued an ankle bracelet with a number on it, each number is specific to each bird and is logged into a computer. This number is their state ID. Should you need to call the State Veterinarian at a later date about a bird you will need to reference the number on their ankle bracelet.

This is another perk of having your flock NPIP Certified. If you have any questions about health or other illness related questions, you have someone to call. Many local Vets will not see “livestock” in their office. They may be able to answer some general questions but as for advising you in detail they may be limited. The State Veterinarian will know how to answer or direct your questions relating to your flock to qualified sources.

In my early days I called my local State Vet several time to clarity issues or find treatment direction for basic illness. They were an amazing resource that I readily used. If you call with a suspicious illness such as symptoms of AI, an inspector will be dispatched to your property to test your birds. If you have suspicious deaths (you do not know the cause of death) they will conduct a necropsy or an animal autopsy on the deceased birds to determine what took the animals life. It will then be determined if this is something to be concerned about in relation to the rest of your flock. They are an immense source of information and guidance if you find yourself in a situation where you need expert advice or help.

How much does it cost to get your flock NPIP Certified?

The final aspect the of NPIP Certification that I will touch on is how much it costs. The cost depends on your state, each state will have different rates and procedures of how they go about conducting a NPIP certification. In the state of Tennessee, where I live our State Vet charged $25 for an inspection and certification. It is in the best interest of the state that keepers certify their flocks so they try to make it simple and affordable.

Each year or every other year depending on your state, your flock will be up for renewal. Each year the flock owner is required to pay the nominal fee to renew their NPIP Certificate. The fee in my case was rendered at time of service directly the inspectors after they tested all my birds. Several days after the inspection of your flock takes place, you will receive a card in the mail with your issued NPIP Participant #. This is for your records or anytime you need to prove your NPIP status. Below is an old card that I received for a NPIP Certification several year ago.

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I have never regretted getting my flock NPIP Certified. Although I am not an active breeder I find value in knowing that my flock is healthy. I also found the NPIP certification process valuable in learning how to conduct my own health inspections on my birds and what dangerous symptoms to look for in relation to serious illness in my flock. The most important aspect that I value from the NPIP process is the network of contacts I can call should I find myself in the unfortunate situation where I need professional help for my flock. There is a peace of mind knowing that I am only a phone call away from people who are knowledgeable should I need to tap into that resource.

I hope that this post has helped answer some question relating to NPIP Certification. If you have any questions that I did not cover in this post please feel free to leave me a comment. I will get back to you as soon as I can. That’s what I’m here for.

As always, thanks for reading. Till next time keep on crowing!

~ The Kuntry Klucker Crew ~

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My Favorite Rooster Breeds

When acquiring a backyard chicken flock, most people chose a flock of ladies. But for those who want a rooster or two but are apprehensive as to which bread to choose, this post is for you.

My flock total clocks in at around 50, 30 or so hens and around 20 gents. The majority of my gents are broken up into four bachelor pens. A bachelor pen is a coop/pen assigned to just roosters. There are no ladies with the gents in their bachelor digs. Contrary to prevailing opinion, roosters can and do cohabitate well together. But there are some tricks to it. To learn about bachelor pens chick here . The rest of the gents are broken up amongst the coops that contain the ladies. I have three large coops that house my girls, within each of these pens I have two roosters. These gents care for and protect the ladies while they are out in the backyard free ranging. That means on any given day when the ladies are outside, I have 6 roosters in the yard with them.

For anyone who associates roosters with the nasty, blood thristy and aggressive barnyard bird stereotype, you may be thinking, that’s a lot of testosterone to have running around uncontained. Or is it?

Roosters unfortunately fall prey to a negative stereotype however, in reality they are not as aggressive as many think. Many people think roosters are as bad to the bone as they come, I beg to differ. Have you ever met a broody hen?

The roosters of yesteryear that haunt the dreams of those who have had negative encounters with them are often plagued by the game cock or other game birds. Yes, those guys can be a bit high strung and aggressive. However, due to the variety of breeds available the majority of roosters today are very docile and calm. Gone are the days of your grandparents flock which contained the rooster that starred in your nightmares. Many people today keep chickens for fun and eggs. Although some keep chicken for meat the majority of keepers are hobby enthusiasts. Thus, the breeds available today are suited for these purposes. That being said, below I will detail my favorite rooster breeds and why. So without further ado, let’s begin.

Buff Orphington:

The first stud that I will present for condiseration is the Orphington. My very first rooster was Roy, he was my first introduction to the worth and value of a rooster to a flock. Orphingtons as a breed are known as the “Golden Retrievers” of the chicken world. Their demeanor is calm, friendly, and low key. They are big balls of feathers, looking bigger than they actually are. Roy was much the same. He had a job to do and took it seriously but he was a gently giant. In my presence he was very calm and relaxed. He would beg me for treats that he could then distribute to his ladies. He was in one word a gentlemen. One day I witnessed his heroic efforts to save my girls from a hawk. He was prepared to lay down his life for his ladies until I heard his frantic call and came to his rescue. Had I not heard his cry that day I hate to think what I would have come home to. Lucky I was home and chased the hawk off of him. He made a full recover from his injuries and lived on several more years as the decorated protector of the flock. He passed away several years ago. I never thought I would miss a rooster so much. He taught me a lot about chickens and about the sacrificial nature of a rooster. Ever since Roy I have fallen in love with roosters. They are today one of my favorite creatures worthy of all the respect and admiration they deserve.

Cochin:

The next stud to introduce you to is Enigma. Enigma is a Motted Cochin Bantam. Like the Orphingtons, Cochins are also big balls of feathers. The cochin is a very docile and friendly breed. They girls make excellent mothers and the gents make excellent roosters. No bigger than he is, Enigma has established himself as the alpha rooster of the chicken yard, all the other guys answer to him. He is a very sweet rooster and takes very good care of his girls. He is calm around humans and will even allow me to pick him up for his health inspections without much issue. He too will beg me for treats that he can offer to his girls. He allows the girls to eat first and then if there is anything left he will partake. When free ranging outside he will often follow me hoping that I can give him a morsel to take to his favorite lady. I often time feel like a vending machine waiting to fill his order. Out of all my boys, Enigma is my favorite.

Polish:

These next guys with the fabulous hair are Polishes. Polishes are my favorite breed, I have more of them than any other breed on my farm. The Polishes are known as the “comedians” of the chicken world. As a breed the they are very curious and high strung. Due to their fabulous crests, their vision is limited thus everything spooks them, simple objects like their own dinner, coop mates, or surroundings will startle them. Due to their limited vision however they need to remain in the safety of a covered pen to protect them and their ladies from predation. I only allow my polish flocks out when I am in the backyard with them either working in the gardens or just chilling with my peeps. This aside, the Polish gents make great roosters for a keeper who does not mind their antics. They are very easy to pick up and hold and due to their limited vision. They are a bit high strung only because they cannot see well which is part of what makes the Polish such and entertaining breed to own. They easily get themselves into trouble and then cannot see well enough to get themselves out of it. Keeping this breed requires some planning on the keepers part. Because they are very curious they need a variety of entertainment sources while they are confined to their pens. Simple things like mealworms to scratch around for in the shaving or a bottle filled with scratch with small holes that they have to extract the scratch from. I  place parrot toys in their pens to give them something to play with. They will happily peck and play with the hanging toys all the while being spooked by it at the same time. They really are an endless form of entertainment in the backyard. The ladies will often perch on their keepers legs or arms making great lap chickens.

Silkie:

 

The second most numerous flock I have on my farm are the Silkies. Silkies are known as the “Teddy Bears” of the chicken world. Due to their feathers that are “fur-like” they are the cuddle bunnies of the flock. Silkies as a breed are known world over for being very docile, friendly, and calm. They are voted time and time again as the best breed to have for kids who want a coop of chickens to care for. I currently have a flock of 14 Silkies, 6 are roosters. Two roosters are in the coop with the ladies, the rest are in a bachelor pen I have set up for my access Silkie studs. My Silkie gents are very will behaved. They are not aggressive and will actually run from me when I try to pick them up. They are very shy and timid. The ladies are very friendly and enjoy interactions with their care takers. I have no trouble with my Silkie roosters at all. Like the Polish, its best to keep Silkies in the protection of a covered coop and pen unless you are outside with them. Due to their overwhelmingly shy and timid nature they would rather run from a predator than protect the ladies like most roosters do. When I can get ahold of the guys they are very docile and calm in my hands as I hold them. They would rather hide under a rock but are very easy going if I need to handle them.

Easter Eggers:

The final two guys I am going to introduce you too are Dracula and Frankenstein. These two guys are Easter Eggers and although not known as an exceptionally docile breed, these two boys are well behaved. I typically buy my chicks from hatcheries, however, last year I bought 6 chicks from my local feed store. 4 of the chicks I purchased were girls the other two are boys; Dracula and Frankenstein. The girls are in the Kuntry Klucker pen with Enigma, so these two studs are in a bachelor pen. They cohabitate very well and are very happy living up the single life in their bachelor digs.

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While there are many more breeds available, the breeds listed I have first hand experience with and can vouch for their temperament and disposition. Most roosters with the exception of the Polish and Silkie in my experience have a job to do and take it seriously. That aside, roosters are readily able to tell that their keeper is an ally and not an enemy. Providing food and treats for the girls only further establishes the keepers role as a friend and helper and not an enemy.

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Like any other subject there are always outliers, members that deviate from the norm. Roosters are no different, they are very much individuals, however as a whole the temperament of the breed does play a major part in the behavior of the gents. I have 20 or so roosters, the majority residing in bachelor pens. I do not have a problem with any one of my boys. Even the guys that are in the bachelor digs are very well behaved and display a temperament true of their breed. The two Easter Egger roosters that I have Dracula and Frankenstein are even very well mannered even though as a whole their breed does not agree. Thus, it is even possible to have a breed that is not renowned for being docile and calm and still end up with very friendly roosters.

I hope that this post has been helpful for those thinking about acquiring roosters for or with their spring chickens. It is very possible to have your cake and eat it too when it comes to keeping roosters. Selecting gents from breeds that are well known for being calm and docile is an excellent place to start. If you have any questions please feel to leave a comment, I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Thanks for reading, till next time keep on crowing!

~ The Kuntry Klucker Crew ~

 

 

 

 

 

“Hentirement”

When aquiring a flock of backyard chickens most people are excited about the farm fresh eggs they will be collecting from their own girls. Not much thought is given to what to do after they no longer lay regularly. Laying hens being associated only with egg laying has been drilling into our conscious by the factory farm egg producers.

The hens for production spend their entire life in small cages then are slaughtered between 18 months and 2 years of age because they are deemed unproductive at that point. It has become common knowledge that after the age of 2 hens no longer lay eggs and are worthless. I am here to challenge this presumption.

In this post I intend to prove that hens are worth much even beyond their laying years. A hen does not loose her wroth just because she no longer lays eggs regularly, I say “regularly” for a reason; I will expand upon this. But first let’s discuss the truth about laying hens.

It is of popular opinion that hens will only lay for 2 years. After this point they no longer lay eggs and are nothing more than chicken stock in terms of value. This is not true. The truth is that once a hen starts to lay eggs, she will lay dependably for the first two years. After that point, she still lays but maybe not to the tune of one egg a day as she did in her earlier years. A hen will lay eggs for as long as she lives.

Every hen is born with approximately 1000 yolk cells. These are all the potential eggs that she will lay during her entire life. The first two years of her life she will lay at the most “regular” intervals of her laying years. A productive laying breed such as the Australorp, Orphington or Rhode Island Red will lay about 3-5 eggs a week. That is about 156 to 260 eggs a year. So for the first 2 years of her life she will have laid approximately anywhere from 315 to 520 eggs. Assuming that she is born with 1000 yolk cells (as most laying breeds are), this mean she has only layed a little more than half of her total egg potential.

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Now, just because she is over the age of 2 does not mean that she will not lay anymore eggs. She will, she may lay 2-4 eggs a week instead of her initial interval of 3-5 eggs a week. She keeps laying eggs but slows down a bit. As she ages, she will slow down even more. If she makes it to 5 years of age you might expect to get 1-3 eggs a week. As she progresses even further in age you can probably count on 1-2 eggs a week.

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I currently have 5 Buff Orphingtons who are 10 years old. The life expectancy of an average backyard chickens is anywhere between 5-7 years. If well cared for they can reach 10+ years. For a backyard hen to make it past the age of 7 defies most odds. To reach the mile mark of 10 years and beyond is rare. This past May, my 5 “Golden Girls” officially reached this 10 year milestone. Even at this age my 5 Buff Orphington girls still lay. During the summer when bugs and other delectables are at the most abundant, I can  count on about 2-3 eggs a day from my 5 senior ladies. Some will lay that day, others will not. But as a general rule, during the time of the year when the days are long, warm and bugs are plenty, they will lay well. When fall arrives, the days shorten and the weather cools off. During this cooler part of the year they typically slow down to maybe 1 egg a day from the 5. During the coldest part of winter they will cease laying altogether, their bodies are using egg laying resources to keep warm in the bitter weather. This is just not observed by older hens but all hens. However, in the spring as the days warm again and the sun returns to our sky, they will pick back up the pace to 2-3 eggs a day.

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You see, even at their advanced age, they still lay eggs. The assumption that a hen will only lay for the first 2 years of her life is unfounded. She will lay eggs till the day she dies.

So really the question is not that they stop laying eggs but what to do after laying hens pass their peak laying performance. In the factory farm setting, after 2 years of age, the hens are sent to slaughter and a new batch is brought in. Although these girls still have plenty of laying years ahead of them, they are nonetheless considered expired and slaughtered. These ladies barley begun their lives when it was abruptly halted. For the backyard chicken keeper this is not the normal proceedings. We tend to hang on to our ladies well beyond two years of age.

The question then becomes, what to do with our hens that are so advanced in age that they no longer lay eggs. My 5 “Golden Girls” are not far from this point. I expect next year I will have collected the last egg from my Buff Orphington ladies. At this point I will consider them officially in “Hentirement”. Hentirement is the time in a hens life where she has officially stopped laying but still has much to offer beyond eggs.

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Here on The Kuntry Klucker Farm all may ladies and gents will live out their natural lives under the loving care of their keepers. Just because a hen stops laying eggs does not mean that she is worthless. Hens can contribute in many ways beyond the humble egg.

So, what can a hen who has reached “hentirement” offer you may ask. She can produce in many ways. For example, I have found that my older hens make excellent mothers. Since they no longer have to use their energy for laying eggs they focus their efforts elsewhere. I have found that when I bring a new batch of chicks to the backyard, my older ladies are the first to show them the ropes. Taking them to all the hot spots around the yard such as the dust bathing holes, water coolers, good sun bathing location, the feed buffet, introducing them to the best roosters and more. My older ladies have even adopted a few chicks and raised them for me. To read this story click here. 

Older hens although no longer laying still offer all the benefits of having chickens such as  providing compost for the gardens, eating the bugs on garden plants, tilling the soil and ridding the yard of all available weeds.

Additionally, I find that my older girls make the best lap chickens. No longer distracted by the needs of egg laying they become better companions. Instead of focusing on the necessities that go with egg laying they have more time to spend and bond with their keeper. Thus, my older ladies are the lap chickens of the flock. Not only is it adorable to be claimed by the hen, the younger generations see this and model their behavior. Thus my subsequent broods are friendlier and more personable towards their keepers.

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Finally, an older hen who has seen and lived through it all are the zen masters of the flock. No longer spring chickens learning the ropes of  life, they are the pros of what it means to be a chicken. My older girls are the calmest members of the flock, nothing surprises them. They know the dangers of life and help others avoid them, they know and roll with the changing seasons and weather patterns. They are the wisdom barring members of the flock.

Above all, they deserve all the honor and respect that is due them. They nourished me with their life during their laying years, it is my turn to nourish them during their twilight years. My older girls are the gems of my flock. They shine bright as they have been polished by the trials of life. For a backyard chicken to make it to the ripe old age of 10 is a feat that defies all the odds. I don’t know how much time they have left but I do know this, they will live the rest of their life grazing on bugs and bathing in the sun glistening like the gems they are.

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I hope you have enjoyed this post and possibly even helped you decide what to do after your ladies no longer lay eggs. It’s a personal decision for each and every chicken keeper. For me, allowing my ladies to live out their post laying years in “hentirement” is the decision I have made for my ladies.

The girls and I want to wish everyone a Merry Kluckmas and an egg-cellant new year!

Thanks for reading, till next time keep on crowing!

~ The Kuntry Klucker Crew ~

 

 

A Kuntry Klucker Halloween.

The trees are transitioning to brilliant colors of red, orange, and yellow. The days and nights are streadly getting cooler, days are visibility shorter, the animals scurry to prepare for the coming winter season as the first snowfall of the year covers the ground. All this symbolizes the coming of winter ushered in by the astronomical mid point between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice more commonly known as Halloween.

Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year, the stores become haunted with costumes and creatures of all sorts, caramel apples become a staple, and pumpkins color the store fronts a brilliant orange. A symbol of the last crop of the season, bringing a finality to the years harvest.

Children carve faces in their pumpkin and place them on the front porch, a tradition tracing back to the Druids to ward off evil spirits. Harvest displays appear on door steps along with a humble scarecrow overseeing the bounty of the seasons surplus. However, halloween traditions are not just limited to the humans during this time of magic and fantasy. Here on the Kuntry Klucker Farm, the girls also participate in the seasons festivities.

Every year after Halloween I frequent the local stores buying up all the pumpkins that did not make the designated cut to be Jack-O-Lanterns. The remaining pumpkins left are reduced in price making perfect carving projects for my girls. In addition to late fall fun and entertainment they provide, pumpkin are very nutritious for chickens. They supply an abundance of essential nutrients needed for my girls during this late season after all the bugs and plants have long gone dorment. Additionally, since they are large they will serve as boredom busters and focuses of activity for my girls for a good part of November going into December. Due to the fact that temperatures are below freezing at night, the pumpkins stay fresh for quite some time before giving way to the natural process of decomposition.

Over the years my girls have become excellent pumpkin carvers, enjoying the seasons final harvest of pumpkins and other fall delectables. They happily peck at the pumpkin anxious to get to the seeds contained in the center of the tasty orb. As they peck their way to the center they carve a design in the exterior of the pumpkin, essentially carving their Halloween pumpkin. All the finished projects are different each displaying unique features and designs all created by chickens. A true piece of chicken art.

Many people would not associate chickens with artists or even expect carvers, but my girls are here to prove that chickens are natures little artists. The girls enjoy their own version of the holidays as they share in the tradition of the season.

I hope that you enjoyed this post, it was a bit different than my traditional format but was fun to share with you just the same. As the fall season surrenders to winter I will be back with winter care and tips that I implement to keep my flock happy and healthy till the return of the Sun’s warmth.

As always, thanks for reading. The girls and I will see you soon.

Till then, keep on crowing!

~ The Kuntry Klucker Crew ~

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What is the life expectancy of a Backyard Chicken?

When considering the life expectancy of backyard chickens, several factors come into play. A good amount of these factors are dependent upon their specific breed, parent stock at the hatchery, how they were hatched (hatchery vs broody momma) and how they were raise from chick hood. A chicken keeper has control over some of these factors and no control over others.

Some breeds are just more delicate than others. For example, the Polish and Silkie in particular are a bit more susceptible to illness such as Wry Neck which can cause death if not treated quickly and effectively. You also have their sensitivity to winter weather in these and other breeds; which can make them less hearty in colder climates especially in winter. However, with proper care and provisions these breeds can and do live in colder climates without issue. I currently have quite a few birds of these breeds, some of which are going on their 5th winter as of this year. They to take bit more care, but for the joy they bring they are worth it. To read my posts on care for these breeds click her for Polish and her for Silkies.

However, these factors aside, there are many things that an owner can do which will contribute to an overall long life expectancy of their flock. In this post, I will share with you practices I have implemented in caring for my girls which have attributed to my oldest ladies celebrating 10 years of living the good life.

 

Here on the Kuntry Klucker Farm my ladies are pets and treated well even beyond their productive years. Even at 10 years of age they still lay. They do not lay as dependably or even as often as when they were younger, but they lay enough to let me know that they are still healthy and happy. Not all backyard chicken keepers allow their birds to remain on their farm past the point of productivity. Correspondingly, this blog post is specifically directed towards those who plan to allow their ladies to live out their natural lives long past their productive years. So, without further ado, allow me to share with you methods that I have implemented to ensure a long and happy life for some of my senior ladies.

 

I have been at this little backyard chicken hobby for 10 years now. My first flock started with 17 Buff Orphington chicks. I had no idea when they arrived in their little peeping box what joys were in store for me. I instantly fell in love with them thus began the greatest adventure of my life. Out of the original 17 that I started with, 5 remain. These are my oldest ladies now at the ripe old age of 10. For any chicken to reach 10 years of age is in and of itself a feat that defies the odds. Most backyard chickens, even raised as pets rarely make it past the age of 7, which is still considered a good long life for a pampered hen. There are cases here and there of a pet chicken making it to 15 years and beyond. However amazing, these instances are rare and far and few in-between. Most backyard or pet chickens fall somewhere between 5-7 yeas as a general life expectancy. However, if they are well cared for this expectancy can be extended by several years and beyond. Here I will list care taking techniques that have brought my ladies 10 happy years and hopefully many more to come.

 

Feed and Treats: All physical health begins with diet. For both human and animal, what you put in is what you get out. I have always been a consciouses eater, I do the same for my pets which consist of both mammal (3 cats)  and avian (50 or so girls and gent). I see to it that my ladies get a complete poultry feed that accounts for all of their nutritional needs. I am not a poultry scientists so I do not rely on my own knowledge to feed them what I think is a correct diet. Laying hens have a lot of specialized needs that need to be meet in order to lay well and remain healthy. For this reason, (contrary to opinions of other backyard chicken keepers), I allow my girls to have treat very rarely. I do not want to dilute the nutrition they really need from their feed by filling them up on treat which will only serve to reduce these essential nutritional requirements. Many treats commonly fed to chickens are not good for them. Items such as cracked corn, scratch, oatmeal, and other kitchen craps not only hinder their daily nutritional needs but can cause unhealthy weight gain and affect the absorption of various vitamins and minerals needed which is provided in their feed. Many keepers like to feed their girls treats, but in reality this is not in their best nutritional interest. I do however make one exception.

On occasion I will feed my girls dried mealworm. These little goodies contain nutrition that is essential for their health such as a good source of protein. During the summer months when they are free ranging, they will eat their fair share of insects which provide them with suitable amounts of protein. During the winter months this source of protein is not available, so I will supplement this natural part of their diet with dried mealworms. They are beyond excited when they hear the mealworm bag. I will sometimes use the mealworms as boredom busters. During harsh winter weather, issues such as pecking can result when the flock is “cooped up” for too long. I make entertainment and games for my girls to distract them from picking at each other during these times. But outside of this, their diet consist of a poultry feed developed to meet all their specialized nutritional needs. As a general rule, I will only feed my girls Purina Premium Poultry Feed. I have tried other brands on occasion but I find that when I feed them Purina they are much healthier, their egg shells are stronger, and their feather quality is much better. 

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Fresh water, vitamins, probiotics and electrolytes: Every day my ladies get fresh water. Additionally, especially during hot and humid weather, I will add poultry vitamins and electrolytes to their water. Living in the south we get extremely hot summers with lots of humidity making outdoor conditions nothing short of miserable. To assist my ladies in combating this weather, I make sure that they remain well hydrated. The vitamins give them an extra boost to keep them healthy due to reduce consumption of feed in response to the heat. These vitamins also contain electrolytes which further keep their bodies balanced during the heat. Several times a week I will add poultry probiotics to their water to keep their gut health in check.

The heat of summer is a great stressor on their little bodies its more dangerous then wet and cold weather combined. If you have large standard size breeds with ample feathering such as the Orphington or Cochin the heat is further compounded. I have over the years lost several girls to the heat but never to the cold or prolonged wet weather. Just like for us, high heat and humidity can be a swift and fast killer. To make these conditions easier on their bodies, I supplement their nutritional needs in their water.

During the hot summer months they will drink more than eat especially their feed. They will spend most their time grazing on the grass and other delectables they find in the form of insects and other creepy crawlies. Since I have supplemented their water, I have not lost any more of my girls to the heat. This has no doubt aided my girls in a log happy life of 10 years. During the winter I still add vitamins and probiotics to their water, once a week or so acting more as maintenance rather than essential survival of harsh summer weather conditions.

Clean and Dry Digs: Just like us, your girls also need a clean and dry place to call home. To underestimate the importance of a clean coop would be a detrimental condition for your girls. Although it is true that chickens are messy creatures, that does not mean that they can live in filthy unsanitatry conditions. If allowed, disease and other illness will run rampant in a coop that is not cleaned and maintained on a regular basis.

A chicken coop needs to be cleaned on a daily basis. Everyday the poop from the overnight shift needs to be removed and disposed of. If needed, the coop may need sprayed out with water and the pen cleaned depending of which method of litter you use. As for my flock, all my coops get cleaned daily. I removed the poop on the poop boards from the previous night. During the summer in order to keep the fly population down I spray off the boards to get them extra clean. I then replace the clean boards then move onto the pen. Removing from the pen floor poop and other debris whether it be feathers or what not from the previous day and night. Another reason you want to clean their coops daily is to keep a good watch on the conditions of their poo. As with all animal, fecal matter tells a story of what is happening inside the body. If you find blood or worms on the poop boards from the previous night a closer look may be warranted. I plan to do a post on chicken health in the near future that will help you diagnose and treat common aliment conditions. But for the sake of this post, keeping a close eye on your ladies poo can help you catch health conditions before they become severe or beyond treatment.

In addition to maintaining you coop cleanings you also want to make sure that they have dry digs. The coop should not leak, if it does some calking could go a long way. If you have a covered run repair any leaks that may have developed over the past few months. You want your girls to have a clean dry place to call home. These regiments will go a long way to having a healthy and happy flock. If you girls have a clean place to live, disease and other illness will have little opportunity to infect your flock. If you want your ladies to have a happy and long life it starts with a clean coop and pen. As they say, happy hens lay better eggs.

 

Protection from Predators: On the hills of a clean and dry coop comes a secure coop. It is no surprise that chicken tastes good. Many predators feel the same way. It is one of the major jobs of any backyard chicken keepers to make sure that your girls are off the menu of many predators which would love to shop in your yard for their next meal. This is one of the reasons that we keep our backyard ladies in coops and pens that are constructed with their safely in mind. Predation is early the most significant factor affecting the life expectancy of backyard chickens. Even when we do all that we can to insure their safely, unfortunate things can still happen. No only is this a disastrous event for a keeper, it’s a very stressful situation for the flock as well. If a keeper wants to give their flock some free range time to hunt and peck in the yard, this becomes ever more present on the mind of a dutiful keeper.

 

Although these dangers exist, I still chose to free range my flock during the day, weather permitting. One way that I have insured their safely even while free ranging it to fence in my backyard with a 6ft wood privacy fence. Additionally, running the perimeter of the fence on the outside, I have installed an electric fence to discourage any climbing or digging would be chicken dinner seekers.  This has narrowed my predators down to the flying (such as hawks) and crawling (such as snakes) verities. In the 10 years that I have kept chickens I have never lost a member to predator attacks. Since I live in the country I keep several roosters out with the girls providing additional protection. My gents have detoured their fair share of take out runs by hawks and other arial predators. I have even documented such an event. You can read the harrowing story of my Rooster Roy here and his tangle with a hawk which saved the life of my girls.

To insure a long natural life of your ladies, it is imperative that measures be taken to insure their safety and protection from predators. I have found that its a fairly straightforward procedure to protect your girls from the most common predators that will seek to dine on your flock. The only predators that are virtually impossible to protect your flock against is that of a bear or mountain lion. Although extremely rare, some cases of bear attacks have been recorded but bears are probably something that most of us are not going to even have to tangle with. Become familiar with the predators in your area and do your best to ensure your girls safely, discouraging them from taking interest in your flock.

Routine Care for Internal and External Parasites: The final point that I will make in regards to extending the life your backyard girls is care for the creepy crawlies specifically mites, lice and worms. Just like your dog or cat will need routine flea or worm care, so do your girls. Taking care of the external and internal parasites is a very simple and straightforward operation. Unlike your dog or cat the assistance of a vet is not needed.

At some point in your adventure with keeping backyard chickens they will get a case of mites or lice. Don’t worry though, you cannot get these mites or lice they are species specific (none zoonotic) and only affect birds. Your girls can however get mites and lice from wild birds. You don’t need to keep your girls locked up in solitary, they can be out in the yard and enjoy their normal activies because treating mites and lice is not difficult at all. If you look on the internet there will be millions of methods presented to treat mite or lice infestations. I will say this though, the natural methods do not work well. DE or diatomaceous Earth is not effective on mites or lice. Not only it is one of the least effective treatments it is very dangerous for you as well as your girls lungs. I would stay away from this as a treatment option. I only treat for mites and lice when the problem arrises. For the most part the ladies themselves will take care of their own external parasites by dust bathing. The act of dust bathing smothers the little beasties and cleans their feathers all at the same time. A good way to assist them in this endeavor is to make sure that they always have access to dust bathing medium, either through free ranging or by providing them with a sand box with a mix of dirt and sand in it for them. But, if the condition arises that you notice little bugs crowing on your ladies its time to bring out the big guns and nip this in the butt before it gets worse.

A heavy mite or lice load on a chicken can and will kill them. The little beasties suck blood to the point where they can become anemic and weak, if not treated it can cause death. To treat mites and lice I use a very simple yet effective product. Its called Eprinex, developed for cattle, at low doses its very effective in treating mites and lice on chickens. Eprinex can be found at Tractor Supply and other feed stores in your area. Its about $50 but since you use so little it will last you years. Simply get a syringe (remove the needle) and apply the liquid directly to your birds skin like you would a cat or dog (on the back of the neck). For a large or standard bird apply 1/2 cc or ml for a bantam bird apply 1/4cc or ml. If you have birds that have a crest such as the Polish or Silkie, apply a drop or two on their crest. These breeds are susceptible to mites and lice due to the fact that they cannot groom these areas. Reapply in 10 days, its that simple! I have found that I tend to have more of a problem with mites and lice in the colder months, specifically February and March. I am convinced that it is cold weather related as the birds provide the warmth and blood supply the beasties need during these winter months.

Eprinex

Now for the internal parasites. At some point or another you will run into a situation where your flock will need wormed. Chickens naturally will have a worm load inside them. Usually they manage it pretty well but at times such as times of stress they can become overwhelmed. Typical signs of worms are weakness, weightloss, fatigue and in a worst case scenario finding worms in their poop. Don’t freak out though, treating worms in your flock is very simple. As with the mites and lice there are many treatments out there. Again I will reinforce the fact that natural methods of worming are not very effective. If your flock or several members have worms you need to acquire an affective treatment and get rid of the little nasties before they kill your chickens.

Worms in chickens can kill them very fast, faster than you would expect. Additionally, if they have a heavy worm load you may even find worms in your eggs. If you ever see a spaghetti noodle in your egg yolks do not eat it! its not normal and the last thing you want it to get worms as well. My product of choice is SafeGuard. Originally developed for goats it is very effective at small doses for worming chickens as well. I specifically like this product because it is a broad spectrum wormer as well. It will not only take care of round worms but it will also take care of tape, flat, gape, lung and other worms that chickens can get. Some other wormers are only effective on round worms. Although round worms are most common in chickens they can and do pick up other worms in their environment. You can find SafeGuard at Tractor Supply and other feed stores. It usually runs anywhere between $30-50 depending on location.

To use SafeGuard to worm your girls you need to give this to them orally. The easiest way I have found to worm them it to put the wormer on a small piece of bread and feed a piece to every member of your flock. Once again use a syringe removing the needle. For a standard size bird you will need to put 1/2cc or ml on a piece of bread and have them eat it. For a bantam size bird you will need to put 1/4cc or ml for them to eat. Repeat this process in 10 days. The first dose kills all the live worms in their body, the second kills all the worms that were eggs at the time and hatched. After two worming sessions you are done and your girls are free of worms.

A word to the wise-there is a 10-14 day egg withdrawal during this period. After worming your girls, do not eat any of the eggs from those ladies. Since this is given orally the wormer will pass into the eggs and if you eat the eggs you will also ingest the wormer. After you worm them the second time wait the allocated 10-14 days, after that point you can begin eating the eggs again. I hate to waste the eggs so I use those eggs for crafts such as making ornaments and other things so that I am not just simply throwing them away. Other people might not care as much but since I decorate my house in chickens I like to make as much as I can using supplies donated by my girls. I will have to do a post on some of my craft projects to show you some of the things I have made. It’s a wonder how many cute things you can make with feathers they shed and eggs that are preserved as decorations. Anyway, SafeGuard is a very safe and effective treatment for worms in your flock. Just like the mites and lice, I only worm when I notice the need. Chickens are usually able to manage a small worm load but once it reaches a point they need a little bit of help.

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Taking routine care of internal and external parasites will go a long way to extending your ladies lives. If they are free of the pests that can make them sick or even kill them their bodies are in a much healthier state. Over the course of 10 years I have only really had to worm them a handful of times. I usually have more of an issue with the mites and lice during the colder months of the year. But even those situations are very easy to address and eradicate. Just like you extend the life of your cat or dog by keeping them flea and worm free the same applies to your chickens. In doing so you have bought yourself much more time to love and enjoy their company.

I hope that you have found this post informative or helpful. If you have any questions feel free to post them in the comments. I check my comments regularly and will get back to you as soon as I can.

As Always, thanks for reading. Till next time, keep on crowing!

~ The Kuntry Klucker Crew ~

 

 

 

Preparing Your Flock for Old Man Winter.

Summer has surrounded to fall, leaves wrestle in the wind, fall, then scatter on the ground. The gardens have been harvested, tilled under and prepared for the coming seasons rest. The girls are finishing their yearly molt, roosting increasingly earlier each evening. All this signifies the coming of winter along with all its challenges for the backyard chicken keeper.

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Many new backyard chicken keepers find themselves intimitated and possibly overwhelmed on just how to overwinter their flock. I know because I have been there. Over the years I have learned a trick or two on how to keep your girls happy, healthy, and comfortable as the outside temperatures plummet and the winter weather rages.

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The secret to successfully overwintering your flock is to keep it simple, enhancing your flocks naturally ability to weather the elements vs doing too much hindering their health. Many new backyard chicken owners make the mistake of judging their flocks level of comfort by their own. This is the first and essentially the riskiest mistake that a flock owner can make. This is true for several reasons.

  1. Chickens come factory installed with a down coat. The same coats that we put on when the mercury drips below a certain point is the exact same coat your girls are wearing. Many owners often forget that their ladies and gents are already bundled up for winter. Increasing the heat in addition to what nature has already provided hinders their health and can even cause death. Reasons are these.
    1. Heating the coop: If a keeper supplies additional heat to the flocks coop or pen, this additional heat will hinder the residents ability to adequately adjust to the falling temps. In the presence of a heated coop your ladies will fail to grow a down coat sufficient for the weather outside. This becomes problematic when situations such as a winter storm knocking out power for hours or even days. Since they are acclimated to a warmer living environment due to supplemental heat, when this source is suddenly cut off they can go into shock and die. Just like us, if their ability to keep warm is removed, they struggle to adequately adapt to this new situation thus falling victim to the cold temps. In the same situation we put on warmer cloths, huddle under blankets, sit by a fire, or if able drink and eat warm substances. All these necessities are not available to the backyard flock who suddenly finds themselves freezing due to their dependance on a heat source that is no longer there. This is the first and the most serious mistake that a backyard chicken keeper can make. It is best to let them adjust to the cooler temps gradually, growing in their thick and heavy down coat allowing them to weather the season as nature intended.
    2. Heat lamps:  The second mistake that new backyard chicken owners can make is the use of the humble heat lamp. Heat lamps = coop fires!!! I cannot recount how many times I have seen on social media or have heard about someones coop that has burned down due to heat lamps. Heat lamps are very dangerous for a variety of reason but when used as a winter heat source they can be deadly. Heat lamps, sometimes called brooder lamps consist of a large 500 watt red bulb that is used to create a warm environment to raise chicks. While heat lamps are a danger even when used as a brooder heat source, they are even more dangerous when used around adult birds in an enclosed space. Why? There is no way to safely mount a 500 watt heat lamp in an enclosed space where the occupants can fly accidentally knocking them down. With a coop full of pine shavings, dry straw, dust and feathers this is a perfect kindling source prime to start a fast, furious and complete coop fire. If you take anything away from this post please, please do not use heat/brooder lamps to heat your coop. They will in most cases cause a devastating disaster. There are much better more natural ways to assist your girls in overwintering the cold months. Below I will share with you safe methods that I employ to keep my flock happy, healthy, entertained and content during the long winter season.

But first, let’s answer a simple question. What does a backyard flock need in order to weather the worst of Old Man Winter? The needs of backyard chickens in winter are very few. All they really need is a clean and dry place to call home. They do the rest. It is the job of a keeper to provide these necessary accommodations in order to meet these basic needs of your girls in the winter. Chickens are well adapted to live outside all they need is a little help to weather the bitter winds and elements.

How is this achieved? The main thing that I do for my girls in preparation for the winter is enclosing their pen with construction grade plastic sheeting. The purpose of this are tripple fold.

  1. Wind Break: The plastic acts as a wind break. As the bitter winter winds blow the plastic surrounding the pen will block the wind allowing the girls to retain their body heat. Chickens are more than capable of generating their own body heat. Using their feathers and down coats, they can regulate the heat their bodies produce, thereby keeping warm in the winter. The cold winter winds disrupt this thermal regulation by lifting up their feathers exposing their skin to the bitter winter winds, loosing the warmth they worked so hard to maintain. The simple act of putting up a wind barrier helps them immensely. If allowed access to free range on a cold day they will come and go from the protected pen as needed depending on their individual needs. If it’s a cold day they will stay in the wind free environment of the pen. If it’s warmer, they may spend more time outdoors hunting and pecking. Allowing them access to the outdoors all the while providing them a wind free place to retreat to will keep them happy and content as they weather Old Man Winter.
  2. Precipitation Barrier: The plastic keep the elements out of the pen thereby providing them a dry place to call home. We are all familiar with the mystery that the cold winter rains can elitist when we are out in it. The same can be said for the snow and ice. Chickens to prefer to avoid these elements if they can. However, since they live outside their choices may be few. This to is a benefit of enclosing the pen with the plastic sheeting. As the elements rage outside the girls are protected from the snow, rain, sleet, and ice that often plagues us in winter. This along with a barrier to the wind creates a dry, wind free place for them to call home. Simply keeping the elements out of the pen helps them immensely as they weather the worst of Old Man Winter. If protected from the wind and precipitation the cold temperatures are not an issue for the flock.
  3. Clean and Dry Digs: Providing clean and dry digs for your girls to call home is essential. Along with providing a wind and precipitation break, a clean coop and pen goes a long way. The flock will undoubtedly spend more time in the protection of the coop and pen as winter runs it course. It is the keepers job to see to it that their winter digs remain clean and dry. This is simply done by making sure that the coops and pens are cleaned and maintained on a daily basis. This is necessary to keep moisture down in the flocks living areas. We all know that chicken poo can be wet and sticky. Due to the moisture content of their poo this creates an ideal situation for frost bite to settle on the combs and wattles of your roosters and larger combed ladies. Removing the poo daily from both the coop and pen prevents these conditions from taking place. Frost bite is no fun, it hurts and can be dangerous if not properly treated. As they say an ounce of prevention is better than a cure. By simply keeping the moisture levels down in your coop by removing the poo daily goes a long way in the cold winter months.

By simply enclosing your chicken pen in construction grade plastic, you provided a condusive habitat for your flock to weather the winter season and all that Mother Nature throws at them. Below are some pictures of my coops and pens that have been prepared for the coming bitter season.

As the bitter weather rages, the girls will be safe and warm in their pens. Below are some pictures of the ladies braving the elements in their winter digs.

Along with enclosing the coops and pens in plastic, providing your flock with some entertainment will go a long way.  During the coldest days or when a winter storm is raging your flock will undoubtedly spend more time in their pen. If this occurs for consecutive days they may begin to suffer from coop boredom. Just like us, if we have to spend a lot of time in a tight enclosure we will get a little restless and bored. Chickens are no different, it left too long in these conditions they will begin to peck at each other creating injury and a hostile flock environment. To prevent this give them a few chickens games to play and things to peck at. Below are a few things that I do for my flock that will distract them, keeping them happier, and healthier.

  1. Flock Block: A flock block is a very simple entertainment tool that I often use during the harshest part of winter. Additionally, due to the fact that they are unable to forage for grains and seeds in the yard a flock block provides these nutrients. A flock block is a large block that consists of seeds and other goodies compacted in a hard square shaped formation. The chickens will spend hours happily pecking at the seeds and other delectables contained in the flock block, keeping them entertained for days on end. One flock block will last my flock and entire winter. They are found at most feed stores and are usually under $20. It is also possible to make your own. At the end of this post I will leave a recipe that I use when I don’t want to purchase such a large block for my ladies or need something a little more tailor made for my girls.

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2. Peck the Bottle: This is a little chicken game that keeps my girls busy for hours. Not only that, it’s quite a bit of entertainment to watch them peck at the bottle. The supplies needed for this game are very simple. All you need is an empty plastic water bottle, 2 liter, or other plastic bottle that you have on hand and some scratch or cracked corn. Take the bottle and poke some small holes large enough for the corn or scratch to fall through. Inside the bottle fill the bottle half full of the treat. Place the bottle in the pen.

The flock will peck at the bottle trying to free the corn or scratch contained inside. This is about as close to a contact sport as a flock of chickens can get. One by one they will each peck at the bottle moving it around the pen in efforts to consume the treat. This will keep a flock busy for days. If you have a larger flock you may want to place more bottles in the pen for them to peck and chase around their contained living area. If you want to step up their game, fill the bottle with dry meal worms. Any flock of chickens will go crazy, working extra hard to get the worms out of the bottle.

bottle treat game

3. Cabbage in a basket: If you want to add some greens to your chickens winter diet veggies in a basket or suit feeder is a great choice. As the grass and other delectables have long since gone dormant for the season, greens are in short supply. To supplement your ladies diet with green veggies, this winter time trick is ideal. Simply take a suit feeder, open it, and place the veggies inside. Hang the feeder in the coop and let the games begin. Your ladies will go crazy for some fresh greens. Since it is cold outside the greens will stay fresh for a while. Once the suit cage is empty, simply refill and play again. You can also put a head of cabbage in a metal hanging basket and place it in the pen or yard for you girls to pick at. They will enjoy the fresh greens all the while staying healthy and entertained.

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4. Sand Box Spa: As winter sets in and the ground becomes covered and saturated with snow or rain the girls will find it hard to keep up their beauty regiments. Simply placing a sand box in the pen and filling it with sand goes a long way. If your pen is too small for fit a sand box, placing sand directly on the pen floor is a great alterntive. Not only does this provide them a place to dust bath it is also provides them a great way to stretch around.

Chickens love to scratch at the ground as they hunt and peck for delectable to dine on. In winter however, this past time is hindered due to the ground conditions caused by  winter. To keep them further entertained, sprinkle some scratch or mealworms on top of the sand and watch the fun begin. They will spend hours digging in the sandbox making sure that they have found and consumed every last morsel in the box. This will quickly become a flock activity that they love and relish during the cold miserable days of winter.

Finally, I come to my last tip for winter care for your flock and that is water. Many keepers underestimate the need for clean and fresh water for their flocks during the winter months. While they will drink a lot more water in the summer to stay hydrated and cool, water is also necessary for them to regulate their body temperature to stay warm. During the cold months while a flock is working hard to regulate their body temperature water is essential. For their little bodies to keep their furnace stoked access to fresh water is needed. The hurdle for chickens the keeper is to keep this water in a liquid site. One of the major hinderances to this process is the cold temps causing the water to freeze. To combat this, I use several methods.

  1. The haul it method: For those who do not have a large flock, simply hauling fresh unfrozen water to the backyard several times a day is ideal. If your flock is small and someone is at home during the day, this is the simplest and cheapest method to combat freezing waterers. Since it requires no electricity or expensive accessories, this method is best if applicable.
  2. Heated waterer: If your flock is larger and no one is home to see to the water needs of the flock, a heated waterer is ideal. Although these waterers are a little bit on the pricy side, they are a life saver for the cold days or stretches of below freezing temps. You can find electric heated waterer at most feed stores. I personally purchase mine from Tractor Supply. They range from $40 to $60 and are long lasting. I am still using the one I purchased 5 years ago and its still going strong.

heated poultry drinker

3. Light bulb in a metal tin: The last method that I use is the light bulb in a metal tin. Like the heated poultry drinker this method also requires that you have electricity supplied to your coop. If you have several coops, purchasing a heated poultry drinker for each one can get expensive. I use the purchased heated drinker for my largest coops but for the rest of my coops I use this simpler method.

Simply take a metal tin (cookie or other round tin), drill a hole just large enough for a cord, string the cord through the hole in the tin, purchase a light bulb and a socket cord (used for restiringing lamps) and simply screw the light bulb into the socket that is connected to the tin. Put the tin lid on, place the plastic or metal drinker on top and presto you have a heated poultry drinker.

The radiant heat from the bulb will keep the water from freezing. Since all you need is to keep the water warm enough to remain liquid a 15 or 25 watt bulb is best. You don’t want to heat the water too high making it too warm for the flock drink. The goal here is to keep the water from freezing not create conditions needed for cooking. This low watt bulb will supply just enough heat to keep the water in the drinker in a liquid, drinkable state. If you don’t have any metal tins around suitable for this purpose, a terra cotta flower put turned upside down will also do the trick.

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With this we come to the end of this post. Above are all the techniques, tools and tricks of the trade that I use to keep my flock happy, healthy, and content during the harsh winter months. As promised, below I will leave the recipe that I use to make a homemade suit treat for my girls. The ingredients used in this flock treat are typically found in every kitchen and cheap to purchase if needed.

The Kuntry Klucker Crew’s Favorite Flock Block

2 cups scratch grains

1 cup layer feed

1 cup old-fashioned oats

1 1/2 cup of raisins (for added fun)

1/4 cup whole wheat flower

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (aids in respiratory health)

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (helps circulation)

3 whole eggs (provides calcuim , shells included, crushed to fine pieces)

1/2 cup blackstrap molasses

1/2 coconut oil, liquified

preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, mix the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients and mix well. Pat into several small baking dishes, so your blocks are approximately 2″ thick (this way they can fit into suit feeders).

If you plan to hang the flock block treat in your chicken pen, use a chopstick to make a hole large enough for twine or rope to fit though.

Bake for 30 minus, then cool completely. If you try to remove them from the pan while still warm they will fall apart. Once cool, run a knife around the inside rim of each pan and invert to remove the block. Serve to a flock of very happy girls.

Leftovers can be refrigerated or wrapped in foil and frozen then defrosted as needed.

Enjoy!!

I hope you have enjoyed reading this post and found it helpful or useful. If you have any questions please post them in the comments. I will get back to you as soon as I can.

As always, thanks for reading. Till next time, keep on crowing!

~ The Kuntry Klucker Crew ~

 

Oyster Shells for your Ladies.

This post is dedicated to the care and wellbeing of backyard laying hens. In the post I will answer the following questions. What are oysters shells? What does it do for your hens? and Why are they important?

But before we get into the specifics of oyster shells, I first need to discuss some of the basics of what your hens body goes though when she lays an egg.

One of the most common questions I get is, “do I need to have a rooster for hens to lay eggs?” The answer to that is No. Your hens will lay eggs in the absence of a rooster. Now if you want to procreate your flock and hatch chicks on your farm then, for that you will need a rooster. But that’s a post for another time. For now were are just going to talk about how you hen lays eggs.

Each egg that your hen lays takes about 24-26 hours to complete. There are 4 stages in the egg laying process that I will cover.

Stage 1: The Yolk Releases

A hen is born with all the egg yolk cells that she will lay throughout her life. Each yolk is contained within its own follicle. When the yolk is released from the follicle it travels from the ovary to the oviduct commonly known as the reproductive track. This entire journey this far only takes about 15 minutes.

anatomy of chicken

Stage 2: The White forms

The formation of the egg whites takes your hen 4+ hours to complete. As the yolk leaves the ovary and travels through the oviduct it can be fertilized by a rooster. An unfertilized egg is known as a blastodisc, a fertilized egg is known as a blastoderm. If you do not have any roosters the blastodisc will continue its progress in his absence. The yolk (know known as a blastodisc or blastoderm) travels through the magnum and the isthmus sections of the oviduct. This is where most of the albumen (egg white) forms around the yolk, a thin outer shell membrane holds everything loosely together. When you break open an egg you will notice white spiral things connected to the yolk.  These spindles are called chalaza and attach the yolk to the shell. At this point the blastodisc resembles an egg missing the outer shell.

Stage 3: The Eggshell

The blastodisc (egg) gains the shell in the uterus via a shell gland. The shell takes about 20 hours to form and another hour or more for the pigment or color to be applied to the outer shell. It is this phase of egg development which requires calcium from your hens body. If she does not have access to calcium through her feed or supplemented in oyster shells, her body takes this critical nutrition from her bones. Over time, the depletion of calcium from the hens body weakens her bones leading to injury. This is why making oyster shells available to you hens is very important. Most feeds come “enriched” with oyster shells but this does not meet all the calcium requirements needed by your laying hens.

State 4: The Nest Box

Your hens lay eggs through their cloaca (the vent). Eggs exit through the same vent used for everything a chicken excretes. Tissues of the uterus expands with the egg until the entire egg passes through the vent. During the act of laying the egg a bloom layer is applied to the shell to protect the egg  and keep it clean. This bloom keeps bacteria from entering the egg which can spoil the yolk and contents inside the egg. It is for this reason that we refrigerate eggs after washing them. Once the bloom is washed off the egg the egg will begin spoiling. The outer layer of protection is removed which no long protects the egg from bacteria.

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Unwashed eggs can remain at room temperature for several weeks before they begin to break down. This is why eggs bought at the grocery store are sold in the refrigerated sections and kept cold. Farm fresh eggs only need to be washed prior to use. Otherwise, your farm fresh eggs can be stored at room temperature only needing refrigeration if you will not be able to use them for a long while.

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Now that you have a better understanding about you hens body and the process of laying eggs, let’s discuss and answer some common questions about oyster shells.

What are Oyster Shells?

Oyster shells are pretty much what they sound like, ground up oyster shells. They are an excellent source of calcium and a much needed supplement for your hens. Most chicken feed contains some oyster shell in the feed, but it is quickly absorbed by your hens and does not last long enough for them to gain the full benefit. Don’t get me wrong its better than nothing but your hens are not really getting what they need for their daily calcium requirements. Your hens require a long release calcium source which is not in all chicken feed brands.

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The only feed brand that I know which contains a long release oyster shell in the feed is Purina Poultry Feed. Purina can be found at Tractor Supply and many other farm and feed stores. If you cannot find Purina don’t panic. You can still use the feed that you currently purchase just make oyster shells available to your girls in addition to their feed.

I have found that a small dish attached to the side of their pen filled with oyster shell does the trick. You don’t need to worry about them going through it like scratch or even  feed. A hen will only consume what she needs. Her body will tell her when she needs extra calcium and how much she needs to lay her eggs. Each hens body is different, some may consume more than others. Don’t worry is if one hens consumes a lot while another hen consumes very little, their bodies know what their suppliment needs are.

What do Oyster Shells do for your hens?

Oyster Shells supply your girls with the calcium that they need to form strong egg shells. Most chicken feed brands have some oyster shell in the feed but not enough. Since hens do the majority of the hard work of making eggs shells at night, they need a supplement that will provide calcium during this time. The Oyster Shell that is contained in the feed is only accessible to the hen while she is eating. Oyster Shells that are supplied in addition to the feed are larger pieces. Sitting in her crop during the night they slowly grind down supplying the hen with calcium as she sleeps. it is in this way that your hens are able to make strong egg shells as they sleep, reducing the stress on her body and deleting her calcium resources.

Why are Oyster Shells important?

Oyster shells are important because they provide a calcium source that is required to make egg shells. If a hen does not have adequate calcium resources for her body to produce the egg shell it will weaken her bone structure. An egg shell is made almost entirely of calcium. In the absence of a calcium source from her food the hens body will take the needed calcium from her bones. Over time this can lead to bone issues with hens who are not getting enough calcium, in particular the leg bones. Often time the weakened bones lead to painful injury or even breaking the bones during normal activity. For the optimal health of your hens providing Oyster Shells aids in their overall health and longevity.

After providing supplemental calcium to you girls you will notice that the eggs she lays will be harder and have firmer shells. This is also  beneficial to your hens in that they are less likely to break during the process of laying. This is another risk to your hen. If an egg breaks inside a hen during the process of laying a soft shelled egg it can cause internal injury. Broken egg shells are sharp and can cut the delicate skin of her tract and vent. A broken shell during laying can often lead to infection and much pain and discomfort. Recovery is not always possible depending on where and how the egg broke inside of her. To prevent this and other unwanted issues with egg laying simply supply oyster shells to your laying hens.

I hope that you have found this post helpful. Keeping backyard chickens is a fun and  rewarding endeavor. Like us they need a little help in supplementing their diet. They can’t get everything they need from their feed but that’s an easy fix. Taking proper dietary care of your girls will lend to a long and happy life for your special ladies.

If you have any question please feel free to post them in the comments, that’s what I am here for.

Till next time, thanks for reading!

~ The Kuntry Klucker Crew ~

 

 

 

My top 5 Favorite Chicken Breeds.

 

 

Sorry it has been a while since I last posted. I took some time off during the summer for family vacations and such. But now I am back and ready to get back into blogging about Backyard Chickens. For those who regularly follow me, thank you for your continued support and for newcomers to The Kuntry Klucker, welcome to the coop. Ok, without further ado lets dive into the wonderful world of chickens.

 

I am often asked by potential chickens keepers which breed is best. Well, it depends on what you are looking for in your backyard flock. Do you want them for eggs, show girls for the fair, or backyard companionship. I am not versed on raising chickens for meat sorry, I cannot speak into that. However, there are many videos on youtube for those who choose to take that route with their flock. As for me, my girls are pets and considered family that happens to live in the backyard and make us breakfast.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. To answer this question I am going to list my top 5 favorite chicken breeds. Starting with number 5 and ending at 1 my absolute favorite.

5. Easter Egger:

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The Easter Egger gets its name from the colorful eggs that they lay. Each hen will have her own color that she will lay. The colors range from grey, blue, green, pink, to white or light brown. They are also sometimes referred to the rainbow layer. This year was my first exposure to this breed. Earlier this spring I picked up 6 EE’s at my local Tractor Supply, 4 hens and 2 roosters. My girls started laying about a month ago, so far the eggs are pullet size but getting larger. The egg colors I collect range between a light brown to pick. So far I do not have any blue or green egg shell layers. I was rather disappointed in this but love my ladies nonetheless. Temperament wise, they EE’s are very docile and curious. They follow me around the backyard as I do the chores for the day. They are very friendly and wonderful around my kids. I cannot say that these ladies are very broody but time may tell on that one. The two roosters that I have Dracula and Frankenstein are well behaved for roosters. They are bit wilder than my other rooster breeds, but all in all I would say they are on the docile side of the rooster aggressiveness specturm. I would get this breed again in the future.

4. Cochin:

 

 

I have 3 verities of Cochins. Frezzle, Black, and Motted all are bantams. I acquired this gang of Bantam Cochins going on 4 years ago. They are very friendly, look larger than they really are due to all their plumage, and very docile. Enigna, my Motted Cochin rooster is very well behaved. He has established himself as the Alpha rooster in my backyard flock. For no bigger than he is, he is quite the fearless rooster. He takes good care of all his ladies and is tolerant of humans being in his space. If some of the other roosters get too close to his girls he will run them off but never causes trouble. Devros is the current holder of the troublesome rooster title, but I will get to him later. These ladies despite their low egg laying potential lay straight through the winter. Their eggs are smaller due to their bantam size but are very dependable. These are the dolls of the backyard, the frizzle feathers on some of the hens are a show stopper. People often ask me what kind that chicken is. Many love their unique look and enjoy watching them effortlessly float across the yard as they run from place to place in the backyard. Keeping this breed is an absolute joy, I will most definitely keep this breed in the future.

3. Buff Orphington

 

The first flock which set into motion my adventure in keeping backyard chickens was a flock of 17 Buff Orphingtons. Little did I know what joys were in store when they first arrived at my door. I chose the Buff Orhpington as my starter breed due their renowned calm and docile personality. Legends of being a great breed for new chickens owners held true to the source. Today I have 5 of the original 17 Buff Orphingtons that I started with. Those remaining celebrated 9 years of living the good life here as Kuntry Klucker Farm residents. I love these girls for several reasons, I will list a few here for you.

First, these ladies are some of the best eggs layers. Even at their ripe old age of 9, these ladies still give me an egg most days. They will stop laying in the coldest part of winter and during molt, but for the most part they are still very dependable.

Second, they make excellent mothers. Every spring I can usually count on one of my Buff Orphingtons ladies going broody (meaning they want to sit on the nest and hatch chicks). For a self sufficient backyard chicken keeper such as myself this is great. I am able to grow my flock without having to purchase chicks. All of the chicks raised by one of my broody Buff momma’s have grown to be a wonderful additions to my backyard flock. Additionally, I have even had a successful  broody adoption by one of my broody mommas.  Several years ago, one of the chicks I ordered was struggling and needed a little help thriving. Miss Katie adopted the little White Crested Polish chick and raised her for me. The little one tuned into one of my most beautiful show girls which we named Aphrodite (read this adorable story here). If it was not for Miss Katie I am sure that I would the lost the little chick due to it frail nature. But luckily Miss Katie adopted her and the little one thrived under the care of a broody momma.

Third, due to their age, my remaining 5 Buff Orphingtons make excellent teachers. Over the years I have brought in new chicks from time to time. I raise them by hand then when they are old enough move them to the backyard. When a new batch of newcomers arrive in the backyard my Buff Orphington ladies take it upon themselves to show them the ropes. I have often many times come to the backyard and witnessed my Buff ladies leading the new ones around the the yard. The new arrivals follow them learning about the various hot spots in the yard, such essentials as the dust bath holes, clover patch for great greens, which garden plants have the best bugs, the watering hole, where to stay cool in the summer heat, and where to lay eggs. They have taken it upon themselves to be the welcoming committee in the backyard. As the oldest members of my flock, they have more than earned that position.

Finally, the attribute that I love most about the Buff Orphington breed is their friendliness. The are known as the “Golden Retrievers” of the chicken world. These ladies are very loyal, they greet me when ever I come to the backyard, they love to be held, and enjoy jumping on my lap for some petting and attention. They are indeed very lovable and more like dogs than chickens. As I go about doing the days chores they will follow me around keeping me company and interacting. These ladies are indeed the stars of my flock. I will most definitely make sure that I always have Buff Orphintgon’s amongst my backyard flock.

2. Silkie

 

Silkies, what is there not to love about this adorable Asian Breed. Known as the “Teddy Bears” of the chicken world, this breed is amongst the best for kids. As my boys grew older they wanted in on the backyard chicken business. However, they did not want to just help me with taking care of the chickens, they wanted their own flock of chickens to take care of. After doing some research, I found that one of the best breeds for kids to interact with are the Silkies. I never had Silkies before, so this was a new adventure for me.

After the little ones arrived, grew, and moved to the backyard we were thrilled at how adorable these little balls of fluff are. The Silkie is an Asian breed brought to the America’s via the Silk Road (a large training route throughout the Eastern World frequented by Western World Traders). Marco Polo even mentioned a “Furry Chicken” in his journal that he kept during his trip though China. So the Silkie is an old ancient breed one with much history.

But for our purposes Silkies are one of my favorite breeds. Although not known for dependable layers the Silkies give in many other ways. Silkie hens make great mothers. So much so, that I often have the problem of more broody Silkies than I have eggs for. Between my Buff Orphingtons and Silkies I will ALWAYS have a broody hen ready for the job of raising babies for me. Miss Donna, raised a clutch of 7 for me earlier this spring. All the little ones grew into beautiful birds that my kids enjoy interacting with.

Even the rooster are well behaved. I currently have 7 Silkie Roosters in my flock. All get alone well with each other and with the other roosters in the yard, well, except one. Devros is my barnyard trouble maker. He is not aggressive but tends to skirt the territorial lines set by some of the other roosters in my backyard flock. He thinks that he is  big bad bird, but realisticllay he’s not much bigger than a chicken nugget. Out of all my rooster (I have 18) he is the only one who likes to make a fuss. We keep him because he is so funny to watch. But even then for a rooster he is very well behaved.

One draw back of the Silkie is their feathers. Silkies get them name in part due to the fact that their feathers feel more like fur than feathers. This is because the feathers of the Silkie lack barbicels (those are the hooks that hold the feathers together giving them a sleek smooth appearance). The main feathering looks just like the under-down of regular chickens. The fact that the feathers do not hold together means a Silkie cannot fly. It also means that the feathering is not waterproofed and so a wet Silkie is a pathetic sight to see. For this reason, an owner keeping Silkies needs to make sure that they have a clean and dry coop to call home. During the cooler and rainy months extra attention needs to be given to make sure they stay clean and dry. If they do get significantly wet, they need to be towel dried or even blow dried – which they enjoy if it is done on a regular basis.

Silkie chickens are famous for their docile, sweet and nurturing temperament. Unlike most chickens that get excited as soon as the coop is opened, Silkie remains calm and collected. They enjoy getting up close and personal with their human caretakers. They enjoy being cuddled and groomed, making them excellent pets for kids. Their docile natures make them suitable for smaller backyards or small farms. When free ranging in a backyard setting or open space, they stick close to home not roaming too far. Silkies are our calm in an otherwise hectic world.

1. White Crest Polish

 

 

Without a doubt, the White Crested Polish is my favorite breed. We happened into these classy girls when my younger son decided he too wanted some chickens of his own to care for. We did some research on various breeds and found that the Polish like the Silkies are great breeds to have around kids. We already had a coop full of Silkies so we decided to bring this new Polish breed into our backyard chicken paradise.

From the get go we were smitten by these little top hat ladies. Even as chicks they had a little poof of feather on their head. In addition to looks, these girls have a delightful demeanor. Due to diminished vision, a consequence of their glorious crests, they will happily sit in the protection of their owners lap. Polishes become very attached to their owners often following them around the yard much like a dog. They crave human interaction and are happiest in the company of their owners. They get very excited when we come to the backyard, run, or coop. They want to follow us around and tell us all about their day. They eagerly bock, squeak, or trill all the details of their adventures. For this reason they are one of the noisier breeds, but that’s okay, because we cannot imagine our chicken yard without them.

Another benefit of this breed is that broodiness is not a trait that is possessed by the Polish chicken, broodiness is the desire to incubate eggs and hatch chicks. Some breeds are prone to broodiness such as the Silkie and Orphington, the polish is one of the few breeds that are not. Because of this, they will continue to lay eggs but they are not prolific layers like other breeds, they only lay about 120 small white eggs a year.

We are not too concerned about this aspect of the Polish because I have plenty of other breeds that lay well. I was attracted to the White Crested Polish for their distinguished looks and delightful personality. They are a bit high strung which only makes them that much more fun. My son absolutely loves his flock of WCP and cannot imagine his life without them. I will for the rest of my life always keep a small flock of White Crested Polishes. They are a fancy chicken for those who like to add a little class to their backyard flock.

I hope that you found this post helpful. If you are looking to start a small flock of chickens for you backyard, look into these breeds. You may find that like us they may be perfect for you.

As always, thanks for reading. If you have any question please leave them in the comments. I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Till next time, keep on crowing.

~ The Kuntry Klucker Crew ~

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Keeping Multiple Roosters in Your Backyard Flock.

Contrary to what is commonly thought, keeping multiple roosters in one flock is a worthwhile decision especially if your birds free range. It is a misconception to assume that only one rooster is best to oversee your flock. However, in order for multiple roosters to live in peace with each other, several requirements need to be meet. In this post, I am going to show you how my 6 roosters cohabitant while presiding over their girls. But first, allow me to introduce you to all the boys.

Dracula and Frankenstien: Dracula and Frankenstien are Easter Eggars they roost in The Kuntry Klucker, they grew up together and are buddies.

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Van Gogh: Van Gogh is a Polish part of the same clutch as Dracula and Frankenstein. Because they grew up together and roost in The Kuntry Klucker these three are civil with each other and get along well.

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Enigma: Enigma is a Motted Cochin, he is the oldest of The Kuntry Klucker boys. At 3 years old, he is the senior rooster in The Kuntry Klucker. He is civil with the other three roosters in the coop but prefers to put distance between himself and the others during the day while free ranging. He looks after the oldest girls, Buff Orphingtons who are pushing 9 years old this summer. He also adopted two White Crested Polish ladies that live in another coop further down the “coop-hood” as part of his section of girls to look after.

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Devros and Micky Smith: Devros and Micky Smith share responsibility in taking care of the Silkies that live in the TARDIS. They collectively look after these girls and will run the larger boys off that cross over their boundary line.

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To successfully keep multiple roosters in your flock these three requirements need to be meet.

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1.Ample Space

The first thing to consider in keeping multiple roosters is space. Roosters, if several are present in a flock will divide up the free ranging space into territories. Each rooster will look after a portion of the girls in “his” specified territory. Each rooster will know the boundaries of his dominion. If a rooster should step outside his bounds a confrontation would then ensue. To ensure that your roosters will live peacefully with one another they must have enough space to roam.

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For example, I have 6 roosters roaming my backyard every day. Three of my boys who grew up together (Dracula, Frankenstein and Van Gogh) inhabit the same territory. These three boys have their own hens but are more than comfortable to be near each other during the day, sharing the same territory.

My other 3 roosters are a bit more territorial. Enigma, who roosts in the same coop as Dracula, Frankenstein, and Van Gogh does not really appreciate these three individuals near his ladies. When they are in the backyard he will run them off from the section of the yard that he has claimed as his jurisdiction.

Devros and Micky Smith (my Silkie Roosters) grew up together like Frankenstein, Dracula, and Van Gogh they are civil in sharing the same territory with each other. However, if any other of the boys breech their territorial boundaries they will collectively run off the intruders.

2. Several feeding and watering stations

When free ranging it is the job of the roosters to look for food for the girls. He will hunt for bugs, seeds, or weeds for them to dine on. He will also lead them to food and water if he feels that it’s time for them to eat. Each rooster leading a section of the hens, multiple feeding and watering stations makes it possible for them to take care of the girls while avoiding confrontations over the food and water supply. Each of my coops have their own food and water plus an additional one in the yard to ensure that all my chickens and especially the roosters have ample access to nourishment for both themselves and their ladies.

3. Sufficient number of hens

The roosters and hens will decide amongst themselves who belongs on which rooster team, there needs to be enough hens to go around. It is typical for one rooster to manage and service anywhere from 6-10 hens individually. If there are not enough hens to divide amongst the boys serious problems can arise.

If there are too many rooster for too few hens the hens can become injured through over mating. The hens will be mated too often which can cause feather loss, wounds on her back, and other injuries by aggressive mating by too many roosters. If there are too few hens, fighting amongst the roosters will be more frequent as they compete for the hens.

To combat this problem there are a few solutions that can be implemented. If you want to keep all your boys, you can establish a Bachelor Pen for access roosters. I have two, one for my standard size boys and one for my bantam size boys. All members live peacefully in their bachelor digs.

Another option would be to re-home or cull your access boys. The long and short of it is either an increase in hen number is needed or a decrease in rooster numbers in needed.

I have about 50 hens total and 6 roosters in the yard to look after them and care for them when I am not around. I do have more than 6 roosters, my rooster total is actually 15. I chose the best roosters to be in the yard with the girls, the rest I have placed in bachelor pens. Not all roosters will be best for your ladies, some can be bit rough or too aggressive during mating or with other roosters. The roosters that have the best temperaments with the other boys and gentle with the girls made the cut.

If an unfortunate event transpires where I lose one or more of my boys either to illness or a predator attack, I will then pull from the bachelor pool to fill the job opening. I also keep my boys for breeding. I tend to gravitate towards the more rare breeds so being able to procreate my flock is of value to me. Thus, unlike a lot of backyard chickens keepers I hang on to all my boys. I have found throughout my years of keeping chickens that a rooster is a creature of value and worth. I may not need the service of all 15 at one time but there may come a time where I will need them.

I hope that you have found this post helpful in managing roosters in your flock. If you live in the city, roosters are most likely not permitted. However, those that live in the county or country have more options when it comes to roosters.

I am of the persuasion that roosters are an amazing creature. I value them for the part they play in the social structure of a flock. In the past, I have sustained a span of several years where I did not have a rooster. During this time I learned the true value of a rooster and the completion and balance that his presence truly brings to my flock.

Roosters are not the blood thirsty vicious creature of the past. When hand raised and raised with care they make a very admirable addition to the backyard or barnyard setting.

Before I go, I want to leave with you a video of my roosters greeting the new day.

As always, thanks for reading!!

~ The Kuntry Klucker Crew ~

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The Essential Beginners Guide to Backyard Chickens.

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So, you want to raise chickens but you have absolutely no idea where to begin. In this post I will tell you how I began my adventure with raising chickens and show you how to begin your own chicken journey as well.

It was about 10 years ago when I first thought about keeping chickens. I had never had chickens before nor was I raised around them. My grandparents had a farm where they raised produce and pigs. I visited every summer but that was the extent of my country upbringing. I had a pretty good handle on how to garden and grow crops but as to livestock, I had to start from square one.

In a world where we can buy literally everything we need at the store I waned to have a say as to where my food comes from. I wanted to have farm fresh eggs and a garden where I could grow organic produce for my family. I did research on gardening and how to cultivate this hard red clay that we have here in Tennessee into something useful.

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I found through this endeavor that soil conditioning and fertilizer in the form of manure is a good place to start. I also found out that chicken poop in particular is the best from of fertilizer. Chicken as opposed to cow or horse manure does not contain seeds because chickens process everything they eat. Due to their grinding organ, the gizzard all seeds are broken down into usable fuel for a garden. Cow and horses’s on the other hand do not process all the seeds they eat resulting in fertile weed seeds for your garden. So in order to have the homestead and garden that I wanted I had to get chickens. Thus stated the adventure with my backyard divas.

Why do you want chickens?

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If you are reading this blog post you have already decided that you want to get chickens. This is the first and foremost thing to consider before getting your first flock. Keeping backyard chickens is very rewarding with many benefits but they do require daily care and attention. Knowing why you want to dedicate the time and resources required in keeping a backyard flock is very important.

Know your zoning laws.

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Before you even look at coop designs and hatcheries you need to find out what your zoning laws require. Every state has a different zoning law when it comes to livestock. Unlike a cat or dog, there are strict laws concerning pet chickens or as the state views them “livestock”. If you are in the city, if they are allowed, you will be limited to a small number of hens in your backyard, usually 6 or so, omitting roosters. Most city ordinances do not allow roosters per the noise issue.

If you live in the county or country in your particular state then livestock is most likely permitted. But still you need to check your zoning laws to be sure of any and all restrictions. For example, I live in a rural county in East Tennessee. Although I am outside city limits I still have to abide by certain guidelines when keeping livestock. Such as my coops need to be at least 250 feet away from my neighbors front door, my animals must be contained by either a fence or pen attached to their coop, and I need to have a good waste management routine implemented to reduce both varmints and odors that may bother my neighbors. I have meet the requirements of all these stipulations and more. My girls coops are in our backyard which is enclosed by a 6 foot wood privacy fence. Their coops and pens are cleaned and maintained daily and I practice good manure management which aids in both good health for my girls and odor reduction.

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Do your research..Breeds, temperament, disposition.

 

 

This is where you need to ask yourself what kind of chickens do you want? Do you want to keep a flock of chickens for eggs or do you want them for meat for the table?

Do you want to involve your kids in keeping backyard chickens? Do you want to keep them purly for the enjoyment and fun of owning backyard chickens? What temperament do you want in your backyard flock?

These are just a few of the questions to ask yourself. Of course chickens can offer much for then eggs and meat, they can be pets, forms of entertainment and as much of a companion as a family dog. The spectrum is so wide ranging when it comes to chickens that you can literally have your cake and eat it too.

Most people want to have a flock of chickens that are docile and friendly. If kids will be involved with caring for the chickens this is most likely of upmost importance to beginning keepers. Luckily there are many breeds that would fit this bill. I will list a few of the most friendly breeds for you below. I have most of the breeds or have interacted with them at some point and can vouch for these breeds as being very friendly. As with people, chickens have personalities as well, some may not be as friendly as others but when viewed as a whole these breeds will be great choices for a beginning backyard setting.

Buff Orphington

Silkie

Polish

Silver Lace Wyandotte

Australorp

Cochin

Easter Egger

Brahma

Sussex

Faverolles

Leghorns

Rhode Island Reds

Plymouth Rocks

If eggs is what you want some of the best breeds for egg laying are Orphingtons, Australorps, Easter Eggers, Rhode Island Reds, Production Reds, Leghorns and Plymouth Rocks.

As for meat chickens, typically any standard or large duel purpose bird will do. However,   Cornish Crosses are typically chosen to meet this need. I do not raise chickens for meat so I am not educated enough to speak into this. There are many youtube and other sources on the net to help you get started on this path.

Where to get your chicks? Hatcheries or Feed Store.

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After you have decided what purpose you want your chickens to fill you need to decide where to get them. I have purchased chicks from both feed stores such as Tractor Supply and Rural King and from hatcheries. There are pros and cons to both. I will list them below for your consideation.

Feed store chicks

~ pros: cheap, no waiting time, you can hand pick your chicks, usually older chicks typically a week old or more, don’t need to be picked up early in the morning at the post office.

~ Cons: usually only basic breeds, depending on store the care of the chicks can be poor, easy to purchase too many (I struggle with this one, I want them all), typically sold as straight runs (not sexed, you WILL get both hens and roosters), chicks tend to be more high strung and flighty due to feed store environment, sold during the spring months only (February thru April) although some locations may have chicks in the fall.

Hatchery

~ Pros: Chicks are sexed (you can purchase only pullets or hens omitting roosters), chicks are usually in better health, can purchase rare breeds, chicks are typically of better quality, can order your chicks to be shipped any month (except winter months).

~ Cons: more expensive (you will need to pay shipping which can be as much as $45 depending on location), you will need to schedule a time to be home to receive your chicks ( you will need to clear two days from your calendar to pick up your chicks at the post office, they can be delayed in the mail), chicks will arrive at your post office (you will be called early usually between 5-7am to pick up your chicks when the overnight truck arrives), some chicks may die in transportation (be prepared to open you box and find dead chicks, this has only happened to me once in 10 years), orders typically need to be placed in November around Thanksgiving for spring chicks.

Given both methods of acquiring chicks, I prefer to work through hatcheries. Yes, it is a bit more expensive but I have several reasons for this preference. I will list them below.

1.) I like knowing that I am the only one to care for them from the moment they arrive. Such things as the feed I give them to the quality of the water and vitamins I administer in their water.

2.) I  like the wider selection that hatcheries offer. I tend to gravitate towards more rare breeds not offered in the feed stores.

3.) I find that they are healthier and less traumatized than those purchased at the feed store.

4.) I have found that they are less flighty. Chicks sold in feed stores constantly have hands grabbing for them causing them to be more flighty and high strung. The chicks that I purchased from the hatchery despite traveling are much calmer and easier to hand raise. Chicks bought from the feed store are very skittish and harder to hand raise. Due to their exposure to the feed store setting they are often terrified of hands.

If you decide that chicks from the feed store meet your needs, visit your local Tractor Supply or equivalent in your area and begin your backyard chicken adventure.

For those who decide after careful consideration that hatcheries are a better route for you, do your research before you order. There are many hatcheries out there to choose from. Who you order from will have a lot to do with what breeds you want. Some hatcheries specialize in heritage breeds where as others offer more of the rare breeds.

I have ordered from several hatcheries all with good experiences. I will list the hatcheries below that I have personally done business with and can vouch for their service and quality of chicks.

Cackle Hatchery – I ordered my first clutch of chicks from Cackle. 9 years later, I still have 5 of the original 17 Buff Orphingtons that I ordered.

My Pet Chicken – I order all my Silkies and White Crested Polish Chickens from MPC. They are great outfit and offer some of the more rare breeds of chickens.

McMurray Hatchery – I have ordered some of my very rare Polish breeds through McMurray. They also stock some extremely rare breeds if you are interested in something a little bit different for your backyard flock.

Preparing The Brooder.

 

 

Now that you have ordered or plan to pick up your chicks at your local feed store or co-op its time to set up their brooding digs. A brooder is basically a heated home for your newly hatched chicks. In nature, the mother hen would be the brooder. She would keep them warm, teach them how to drink and what to eat. Since you picked up or ordered your chicks you essentially have to be the mother hen to these little ones. Don’t worry, it’s really not hard at all. There are just a few very important steps that need to be taken to insure the successful transition of your chicks.

     what you will need:

1. Enclosed container with sides

     2. Heat source

     3. Feeder and Feed

     4. Waterer and vitamins to put in the water

     5. Pine Shavings

     6. Other accessories such as perches or toys to keep them occupied.

For my brooder set up I use a Puppy Play Pen these can be found on Amazon and most pet stores. I like to use these for brooders for several reasons.

~ 1. They are completely enclosed, this means that all the shaving stay in the brooder reducing much of the mess. The screened sides allow for air flow and visual access to your chicks. Due to the fact that the chicks can see and observe their world outside of the brooder, I find that chicks that are raised in puppy play pens are more chill and less flighty.

~ 2. They have a top. This will become important when the chicks get to the flying phase of their development.

~ 3. They are easy to clean, fold up, and store easily.

Heat:

As for the heat source, I discourage the use of heat lamps. Most people associate brooding chicks with the big red 500 watt bulbs blasting the chicks with intense heat and light. This was the common way of brooding chicks during our grandparents day. As for todays chicks, brooding has taken on a better much safer route to supplying heat to your chicks. Brooder lamps as they are known are very dangerous. There is no way to safely mount a lamp around shaving (kindling wood) and flying animals as to not accidentally start a fire. I cannot tell you how many times I have had people tell me or I see on facebook coop, barn, and house fires caused by the humble heat lamp.

In lieu of a hazardous heat lamp I use a Brinsea Ecoglow Radiant Heat Plate . These heat plates mimic the heat from a mother hen rather than blasting the chicks with unnatural light 24/7. These are a much safer option for heating and do not carry the risk of fires, injury, and death that the heat lamp bulbs of years past do.

Feeders:

Next, you will need chick feed and a feeder. When it comes to chick feed there are two school of though. Medicated or unmedicated. Medicated chick feed has a medicine in the feed to prevent or give the chicks an immunity to coccidiosis. Coccidiosis is a disease of the intestinal track which chicks are very susceptible to. Coccidiosis contributes to a large percentage of deaths in young chicks. The medicated feed prevents this condition giving them a much healthier start in life.

Unmedicated feed is also a good choice used mainly by people who choose to give their chicks a more organic start to life. Either is fine, you as the caretaker just need to decide which route is best for you. As for me I am pro medicated chick feed. Since I switched to medicated feed I find that I lose less chicks and that they are healthier from the get go. As for the feeder, feed stores have a wide variety of feeders to chose from. Just pick the one that fits your brooder set up the best.

Waterers and vitamins:

The type of waterer you have is very important. The goal of the waterer is to give your chicks access to clean fresh water taking great care to make sure that they do not get wet. Once again when it comes to waterers there are two schools of thought, traditional waterers or poultry nipple drinkers.

The traditional waterers are widely available at feed stores, just make sure that you get a small one to prevent the chicks from getting wet. The poultry nipples can be found at some feed stores, but most of them have to be ordered. I do not use the nipple drinkers so I cannot speak too much into how to train your chicks to use them. I know that others use them with much success, I have just never taken the steps to train my girls to use them. I find that the traditional waterers work best for me.

Like people, vitamins are very important to young growing chicks. I put vitamins in my chicks water daily for the first several months. The vitamins insure that the chicks are getting all the nutrients that they need to get a good start in life. Some vitamins have probiotics in them which gives them an additional boost in the right direction. Most feed stores have poultry vitamins available, I typically pick them up at Tractor Supply.

Shavings or bedding:

Brooder bedding serves the purpose of absorbing moisture, keeping your chicks healthy and happy. The safest bedding to use around chicks is pine shaving. Most feed stores stock pine shavings, they can also be found at Walmart if your local feed store is out. An important note about shavings, cedar in particular is toxic to chicks, take care to make sure that you use pine shavings in your brooder set up.

The pine shaving should be cleaned out once a week and replaced with fresh, more often if you have a quite a few chicks in your brooder.

How to Introduce your new chicks to the brooder and teach them to eat and drink.

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When you first arrive home with your new chicks, the first thing you want to do is teach them what water is and where to find it. After traveling for several days, they will be thirsty. To relay this important survival information to your chicks, dip their beaks in the water as you remove them from their shipping container as you place them in the brooder. Do this for every one of the chicks. You may need to dip their beaks in the waster more than once for them to make the connection. You will know that the connection has been made when they soon after drink from the waterer on their own. They will be thirsty so it will not take them long to appreciate the water.

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Chicks naturally have a pecking instinct, this means that they will peck at anything that is in front of them. It is your job as a caretaker to teach them what is safe to eat. The best way to do this is to line the bottom of your brooder with paper towels for the first few days. On top of the paper towels scatter some chick feed. The chicks will instinctively peck at the feed teaching them that “this is food”. If you put new chicks on the shavings they may eat the shavings mistaking them for food. After they learn to identify their food and the source by eating from the feeder you can remove the paper towels and expose the shavings. They will enjoy scratching in the shavings looking for food, much like adult hens do when looking for bugs in the grass.

Once everyone is eating and drinking on their own, you can take a sigh of relief. From this point on they are able to take care of their needs and will regulate their food as water intake as needed. The first week they will spend a lot of time under the heater and sleep a lot. Beginning in the second week they will be a lot more active and enjoy interacting with their caretaker.

Once the young brood is completely feathered out they can move into their outdoor digs. The time of year you acquire your brood will make a huge difference on when they can be moved outside to their coop. If you get them during the colder months say in February or March, depending on your location, you may have to keep them inside a bit longer. To get around this I typically request my hatch dates to be in May and June. During these months the temps are warmer especially at night. I do this so that I can get them outside a lot sooner. During these summer months I can even brood my chicks outdoors in a protected coop. I often resort to this method of brooding. I find that the chicks do much better early on if raised outdoors. Additionally, it frees me from the shaving mess and dust that chicks produce giving all of our allergies a much needed break.

I set up a brooder outside just the same as I would set up one indoors. I provide the essentials food, water, and heat. I simply purchase an industrial outdoor extension cord, run it to the coop and hook the power up. I am currently brooding a clutch of 6 White Crested Polish Bantam chicks in The Coop De Ville. All are doing well and are enjoying the coop life.

 

 

Getting the Coop purchased and constructed

Now that that you have your new additions home and brooding, if you have not already, it’s time to get their outdoor digs ready.

Once again, when it comes to coops there are two schools of thought, hand-built or prefab. I have done both and will link the blog post where I discuss this in detail here. Which ever method you choose is up to you. I really don’t think one is necessary better than the other, its whatever works for you and your family.

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I have 5 prefab coops and find with proper care they last a long time. I also have 2 hand-built coops that too with proper care are long lasting. Both prefab and hand-built coops will require care and maintance. My oldest prefab coop is 5 years old, my first coop, The Kuntry Klucker which I hand-built is 10 years old. What it really comes down to is your budget, skills in wood working, and time. It takes longer to build a coop as well as more money and of course the skills needed to conceptualize and execute.

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If building a coop is not in your wheel house that’s ok, Tractor Supply and other co-ops have a great selection of coops in their stores as well as online. I own three Tractor Supply prefab coops, I am pleased with all of them. They are holding up very well and make excellent homes for all my girls.

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I hope that is you have found this post helpful in staring your own flock of backyard chicks. It may seem daunting at first especially if you were not raised around livestock. It takes a bit of time and research, I can tell you that chickens once you get rolling with them are very simple creatures. They require little but give back a lot in return. Aside from the small amount of time they require, chickens really are lot of fun and are very rewarding.

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Here is a short video of my chicken yard. As you can see I have both prefab and hand-built coops. both make excellent homes for all my chickens.

 

Here is the link to my blog post entitled Bachelor Pens for Roosters that I mentioned toward the end of the video. If you need a solution for extra roosters that you want to keep a bachelor pen is a great option.

If you have any questions please post them in the comments, I will get back to you as soon as I can.

As always, thanks for reading! Till next time, keep on crowing, we’ll see you soon.

~ The Kuntry Klucker Crew ~

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