10 Reasons to Keep Backyard Chickens.

1. Farm Fresh Eggs Daily:

There is just something about collecting farm fresh eggs from your backyard. In a day when we can literally buy everything that we need from the store, there is a purity is raising your own food. Farm Fresh eggs are one of the main reasons that people keep chickens. They are far superior to the eggs supplied in the stores. Additionally, you have the satisfaction of knowing that the eggs collected are from happy hens who are treated well even spoiled. If the flock is allowed to free range and forage for bugs, greens, and grains the nutritional value of the eggs are further increased. Additionally, high Omega-3 feed is also available in most feed stores further adding to the nutritional value of the eggs. The chickens are what they eat, as a consumer of the eggs we too are what they eat. Having control over our food supply brings a purity that money cannot buy.

2. Cruelty Free:

Not only will you get nutritious, organic eggs, but you can rest in the knowledge that your omelet is served up cruelty free. It’s easy to think that the eggs that are labeled “free range” found in stores are laid by hens who have access to open pasture and sunshine. This sadly is not the case. These eggs do not have the happy origins that the Industry would have you believe. The hard truth is that these eggs are laid by hens who are cramped in a shed much like meat birds or turkeys. They have no access to green grass or anything of the like. Many of these birds never see the light of day much like their battery hens counter parts. Less than 1% of chickens raised in the US are considered to be free range. Most free range chickens are raised on private family farms or are kept as pets by backyard chickens keepers and enthusiasts.

3. Pest Control:

When you acquire backyard chickens you also get a pest contol crew. Chickens love, love, love to eat bugs! They will happily rid your plants and yard of all available bugs. This allows you to grow organic veggies on your property. With chickens tending the plants the use of pesticides is no longer needed. Your new pest control crew will tend all your plants both veggie ornamental alike. Additionally, they will tend the soil by tilling the dirt looking for worms ariating the soil in the process. Chickens are one of the best natural pest control experts I have ever had. They even riddled my backyard of a yellow jacket nest. They destroyed the nest and ate all the larvae evicting the occupants virtually rendering the nest unlivable. It was one of the most interesting and amazing things I have ever witnessed.

4. Free Fertalizer:

If you want great gardens the first place to start is fertalizer. Chicken fertalizer is superior in many ways. Due to the gizzard, chickens process everything they eat. All seeds and other matter are broken down to usable susbstances. Thus chicken manure contains no weed seeds. Contrast that with manure from cows or horses which do not process everything they eat down to a singularity. Thus the manure from these animals contain weed seeds. Not just weed seeds but fertile weed seeds. When using manuer from these animals gardeners are often horrified at the amount of weeds that pop up in their gardens soon after. Thus chicken manure is far superior than manure from other farm animals. When it can be obtained organically is it specifically valuable.

Chicken manure purchased from stores sold in large bags is sourced from factory farms. All the chemicals that are feed to the chickens are passed into the manure. That manure is then spread on your gardens containing all the chemicals that were consumed by the chickens. So even though you intend to grow organic produce, the manure spread on your gardens is anything but. Sourcing this precious liquid gold from your own flock which is feed a high quality or organic feed will be far superior. If the flock is allowed to free range the benefits are compound even further. The coop shaving or manure from  well tended animals is an excellent source of nourishment for your gardens. You can be assured that what you are putting on your gardens contains no chemicals or otherwise dangerous ingredients. Manure from orgaincally raised chickens is sought out for this very reason. I have several people who ask me for my coop litter whenever I clean out the coops. They know the value of this material and use it for composting and/or spreading on their gardens.

As a backyard chicken keeper you will have first hand access to this wonder product. I compost and spread the litter from the coops on my gardens. I am rewarded with a handsome yield. People often aske me what I am feeding my plants to produce beautiful flower gardens and abundant veggie gardens. I tell them that my secret is the poo from my chickens.

In fact, coop litter is one of the fundamental reasons why I wanted to keep chickens. I have always been around gardens, gardening is in my blood. After purchasing my home I wanted to start some gardens. The hard clay here made growing anything virtually impossible. In order to condition the soil to produce a yield I had to cultivate it for my intended purposes. That meant getting my hands on a good source of manuer to turn this land into something that could produce crops. After some consideration I decided to get a small flock of chickens to produce the fuel that I needed for my plants. Years later, I have multiple coops and 50+ chickens I richly enjoy. What started as a need for a sustainable farm fuel has turned into a hobby that I thouourly enjoy.

5. Cut Down on Food Waste:

Nation wide food scraps make up about 17% of land fill waste (29 Million tons). Yard waste, items such as grass clippings, weeds, and leaves make up about slightly more at 33 tons. Chickens can reduce this needless waste by large amounts. Chickens are natural compsoters, eating most food scraps and turning the rest into nutritious fertalizer for your gardens. My girls are my compost tenders. In addition to their coop litter, I add food scraps and yard waste such as leaves or grass clippings to my compost pile. The girls will readily eat the footd scraps and much of the grass clippings leaving the rest to naturally compost. They will tend my compost pile daily by turning the contense over as they scower the pile for worms and other deletcibles. Using their natural abilities I allow them work my compost pile into usable fuel that I then put on my gardens. As a result the amount of waste that would otherwise go to the landfill I instead offer to my chickens.

Chickens can eat just about anything from veggies, fruits, pastas, and cooked meat as long as it is not spoiled. The only things to watch for are raw onions, garlic, citrus, avacado and potato peals. Outside of that, chickens can eat most of what is seen as food waste. Instead of putting these waste items in the trash I collect them in a small bucket and run them out to the girls. They absolutely love kitchen scraps and readily dispose of them for me. By having chickens not only do I get compost attendants I also reduce my food waste by a vast amount.

6. Save Heritage Breeds:

Because todays chickens are breed for different functions they look different from their ancestors. With the meat industry and the egg industry selecting out different traits to meet their needs, todays chickens are far from what they used to be. Heritage breeds are those breeds that exist outside the of the meat/egg industry.

As a backyard chicken keeper you take on the role of conservationalists by adding heritage breeds to your flock. By adding some of these rare or very rare breeds, you are keeping them from extinction. Since the meat and egg industry only needs a few breeds for production those left will become endangered without keepers propagating them. I have several of these breeds on my farm. I have a few very rare breeds and plan to add a few more heritage breeds over the next few years. Some of these breeds are what settlers kept as a food source for meat and eggs when first coming to this country. Others such as the Silkie which date back to the Chinese Han Dynasty around 206BCE were brought to the America’s via the Silk Road; a major training route through Asia. In fact, the Silkie was first mentioned by Marco Polo in his journals from his trip across China and Europe around 1290-1300. He recorded in his journal referencing a “furry chicken”. After Silkies made it to the Western World the breed was recognized and officially was accepted in North America in 1874. Today the Silkie is one of the most beloved heritage breeds kept by numerous backyard chicken enthusiasts.

It is through the interest of backyard chicken keepers that the Silkie has remained pure to its heritage and is propagated through hobby keepers and hatcheries. Another example of a beloved heritage breed is the Polish.

The Polishes have a complicated history, its not really clear where they came from. Their name is derived from the Dutch word “pol” which translates as head. Contrary to their name they did not come from Poland. It has been hypothesized that they originated in the Netherlands, while other enthusiasts think that they were brought to Europe during the time of the Mediaeval Mongols. Other fun loving chicken lovers such as myself ponder if their origins are not of this world at all. Possibly like H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, they came from Orion or another world out there, just kidding :-). In all seriousness though, no one really knows where this fancy breed came from. Even today a lot of mystery surrounds their origins. Maybe we will never know, but for rare breed chicken lovers such as myself that does not really matter. If anything this mystery makes these cuddly backyard buddies even more loveable . One thing is for certain, it is through the dedication of backyard chicken keepers that this fancy breed remains true to its ancestors wherever they came from.

In addition to the Silkie and the Polish, there are many other Heritage breeds such as the Orphington, Australorp, Wyandotte, Brahma, Rhode Island Red, Plymouth Rock, Sussex, Leghorn, Dominique, Jersey Giant, New Hampshire Red, Delaware and Welsummer.

7. A Lesson in SelfSustainability:

There is just something about keeping chickens that brings us back to our roosts. Times of old, days gone by when just about everyone kept a flock of chickens to supply eggs for the family. A time when gardening was not just a hobby but a way of survival. Cleaning coops and collecting eggs has a feeling of purpose that many are seeking today. In a world where we can literally buy everything we need at the store, being able to supply and grow your own food has a purity that money cannot buy. Knowing that you are eating a product that is not only organic but supplied by animals that are well cared for and happy brings happiness to the soul.

It’s this feeling of self-sustainability that many are seeking today. Growing produce is much more than just putting a seed in the ground and waiting. There is tending, feeding, and caring for the plant that has sprouted from the seed in order to gather a yield. Chickens provide much of those services for you. With their manure and coop litter they condition the ground making it fertile. As the plant matures they eat the bugs and till the soil around the plant aerating the soil. Finally, as they work your gardens they will continually feed your plants throughout the growing season by their droppings.

It’s this cycle that allows one to be self-sustaining. By keeping chickens your farm whether hobby size or plantation size they provide all that is needed to grow and harvest your own food. Additionally, along the way that will provide you with farm fresh eggs and plenty of companionship.

8. Educational Value:

Chickens are amazing creatures and can teach us much about their world and ours. Many associate chickens with meat and eggs but nothing more. Chickens contrary to popular belief are not bird brains at all, they are in fact highly intelligent creatures. Did you know that chickens can distinguish between 100 different faces both human and animal, they have full color vision, dream while they sleep, feel pain and distress, love to play, and mourn for each other. As you can see we have more in common with chickens than previously thought.

Chickens are very affectionate, they love to be held and enjoy human interaction. I have several individuals that are lap chickens, jumping on my lap as soon as I sit down. They have personalities just like humans along with likes and dislikes. They are complex creatures that are able to teach us much.

Keeping backyard chickens is an educational endeavor. It is astonishing how much keeping a few of these marvelous creates can teach you. Much of our figurative language we use today come from the complex social structure of a chicken flock.

Pecking order for example. This phrase used in everyday figurative language is derived from chicken behavior and for good reason.

A flock of chickens have a very complex social structure. The term “pecking order” comes from this highly structured hierarchy. A flock is organized into a hierarchy each member knowing their place within the group.

At the top of the pecking order is the alpha rooster. Answering to him will be the other roosters in the flock. Directly under the roosters will be the hens. The alpha hen is usually a little bossy in relation to the other hens in the flock. As for the rest of the members, position is established by literally “pecking” one another on the back indicating superiority. This behavior flows from the alpha rooster to the poor individual sitting at the bottom of the pecking order.

Once the pecking order is established all activities within the flock revolve around this order. Simple activities such as who roosts where in the coop. The order in which the flock exits the coop in the morning, and the order in which they return.

Observing this complex animal behavior in my own flock is very interesting. It brings home the literal and most descriptive meaning to the term “pecking order”.

Other everyday terms such as “cocky” and “hen pecked” are also very well explained by watching a flock of chickens. It’s amazing how much figurative language we as humans have adopted from the humble chicken.

Chickens also teach us about where our food comes from. After witnessing what is actually required by a hen to lay just a single egg, I have much more appreciation for my morning omelet and no longer take a simple egg for granted.

In the case of children, chickens teach responsibility. If children are involved in caring for the family flock they will learn valuable lessons. Getting up as the roosters crow to feed and tend the coops. Then locking up the coops at dusk and collecting the days eggs. Children learn an appreciation for the chickens as they tend and interact with the flock. If they have a small coop of their own with a few hens to tend, they will quickly become pampered pets. Chickens can become a family pet just like a dog. They are affectionate, intelligent, and enjoy interacting with their care taker. The girls on the other hand will quickly learn who their human is and look forward to seeing them every morning.

9. A Source of therapy:

Keeping backyard chickens is a source of therapy like noting else I have experienced. No matter how bad my day has been, my girls are always happy to see me.

In the morning when I enter the backyard, opening the coops for the day, they are delighted and greet me with anticipation. Clucking with joy as I prepare their food, water, and clean their coops. They are genuinely happy to see me. After a long hard day, I can always go to the backyard and find happiness on their faces. They flock with excitement as I enter the backyard. Sometimes flying in from the far corners of the yard, thrilled at my presence. Their joy in response to me entering their world lifts my spirits and brings joy to my day.

Like dogs, chickens love affection. I have several ladies and a few roosters who readily jump on my lap eager for attention as soon as I sit down. They enjoy the companionship from their human keeper. Once on my lap they tell me all about their days, clucking all the details as I eagerly listen. It’s hard to be sad around a flock of lovable backyard companions who are so happy to know that I am apart of their lives.

On days when I feel blue or down in the dumps a simple trip to the backyard is all that I need. Happiness for me does not come in a bottle , from the store or in a bank account. Happiness for me is a pair of boots and a flock of happy chickens.

Others have expressed the same in relation to their flocks. Chickens really are the anti- depressant with feathers.

10. Entertainment Value:

Chickens are clever creatures, each possessing a different and unique personality, because of this they are very entertaining creatures. Even as a flock chickens will capture your attention.

One of the funniest interactions that a flock can engage in is something I call “the chicken keep away game”. The game commences like this. A hen finds something delectable such as a juicy bug or big worm. She will announce to the flock with glee that she has found a prize. With the object in her beak she will run around the yard while the others chase her, wanting a piece of her find. Depending on how large the trophy morsel is, this could go on for some time. Changing beaks several times till finally someone eats or looses it, which ever comes first. This is just about as close as a flock of chickens can get to touch football.

If you have a flock of mixed breeds the entertainment value is increased. Some breeds have quirks or unique things about them that separates them from others. Take the Polish for example.

A funny chicken oddity is the Polish. Out of all the breeds that I keep, the polish holds the crown for comedy. Due to the feathered crests atop their head their vision is limited. Unable to see what is above them everything spooks them. Simple things in their environment can get a rise out of them. They have a tendency to be flighty and high strung for this reason.

In addition, they are a very curious breed, always getting themselves into trouble then not able to see well enough to get themselves out. They will often call for other flock members to come and rescue them from their predicament. Typically one or more of the rooster will come to their aid. I have 14 Polishes in my flock of various colors, all of them possess this particular niche for comedy.

I have spent many hours being entertained by my flock. At times its better than prime time TV. Before I had chickens I would have never equated them with comedy. My girls are now my go to for a happy hour with hens. I have to admit at times I will bring a few grapes just to stir the pot and watch their antics as they play the “chicken keep away game”. Let the games begin!

There are many others advantages of keeping chickens. The list could go on, I have only listed my top 10 reasons. I hope that you have found this post helpful. 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

Hard Choices.

The emergence of COVID-19 is impacting people in many ways. Everyone is struggling with some aspect of this virus, whether it be health or financial issues. The hardships that affect people are real, hard, and at times painful.

This blog is about the joys of keeping backyard chickens. For the majority of the part, keeping backyard chickens brings more joy than sorrow. However, in times of hardship decisions have to be made that one would rather no think about. If I told you that you will never experience this as a keeper I would be lying. That being said, this post is dedicated to 6 roosters that made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of the flock.

As COVID-19 has gripped the nation bring it to a stall, people have found themselves in the unfortunate situation where they have to prepare for the worst. Almost in unison entire population flocked to the stores in attempts to stock up on necessities for the upcoming pandemic crises. While preparing your self is a prudent move many took it too far depleting the stores and market of essential items. While toilet paper and paper towels oddly enough were hit items, other items were in high demand as well.

For me, one of the items that I need most is chicken feed. Before the pandemic hit I quietly and methodically stocked up on chicken feed. Buying enough for a few weeks, giving me a head start on the impending impact.

As days have turned into weeks, chicken feed is getting harder to come by. The stores were so blitzed that getting restocked is taking longer than expected. As soon as the stores get a shipment in, it disappears leaving some chicken keepers in a state of desperation.

I am unfortunately one of those backyard chicken keepers who have realized that supply is not meeting demand. I have a rather large flock, about 50 birds or so. Up till now this has never been a problem as I have found that providing for them is not an issue. Until now.

Due to the effect of COVID-19 and hoarding, I am having a hard time getting ahold of the quantity of chicken feed needed to sustain my flock. It’s in the face of this supply impact that I have had to make one of the hardest decisions for the better of my flock.

It has become increasingly clear that in order to adequately provide for my flock I need to reduce their numbers. In my wildest dreams I never saw myself contemplating such a thought. After trying other options first such as trying to find them new homes I was faced with the realization that no one right now wants roosters, they want hens. For much the same reason I have hens, I can understand their position. Out of options I knew the only choice I had left was to cull my access boys.

I have 18 roosters all with different purposes. Some I have for breeding, others for show, a few for flock protection and 6 that are unassigned. The unassigned group were placed in a bachelor pen till a situation arose in which I needed them. It was these 6 that I decided were the best candidates to cull thereby allowing the chicken feed to go farther.

I could hardly believe what I was thinking but at the same time I knew that it was the only way I could provide for my flock. After spending some time with my boys thanking them for their sacrifice I humanly dispatched them.

It was the hardest thing that I ever had to do. I love these boys but I also knew that under the circumstances gripping the nation right now I had to reduce the number of my chickens to adequately provide for the rest.

I cried, in disbelief that times have become so hard that I have to cull some of my roosters. Taking an animals life is never easy, it should never be taken lightly. The day that taking a life becomes easy we have lost our humanity and compassion for our fellow creatures.

I have dispatched birds before usually when they are sick, gravely injured or suffering. I humanely and painlessly end their life providing them the last gift of love that I can. I never thought I would ever have to use this method on perfectly healthy roosters that I intended to keep.

One by one, I thanked them for their sacrifice then quickly and painlessly ended their life. I have struggled with this ever since I knew that I had to make this hard choice. But in the end, I have to remember that they lived a spoiled life, were loved and departed this world by a loving owner who took care that they did not suffer in their final moments.

During this time of uncertainty and hardship we are all going to have to make some hard choices. I hope in the future that I never have to make a choice like this again. But as a chicken owner I have a responsibility to the animals that I keep. I have the responsibility to care for them and provide for all of their needs. I was forced into a corner by the impacts of COVID-19, in order to adequately feed my flock I needed to reduce their numbers.

Keeping backyard chickens has brought great joy to my life. I have loved every minute that I get to spend with my flock and relish taking care of them. But with that comes a responsibility and at times some hard choices. I know that what I did was the right thing but its never easy. My boys made the ultimate sacrifice so that their friends could live. I will never take ending an animals life lightly, I will however end their life humanely without suffering. It’s the last gift of love that I can give to any of my guys or gals. To the 6 boys, thank you for everything. Fly high guys, fly high. You were loved and sent into the great beyond by hands of love and compassion.

It’s Times Like This…

Empty egg cooler at my local Walmart.

As a backyard chicken keeper and blogger I am always presenting the advantages of keeping chickens. Chickens offers many advantages such as compost tenders, gardening associates, extermination forces, companionship and of course egg producers.

As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic and preparation for the impact on communities, people are taking steps to ready themselves. One of these readiness techniques is to stock up on goods and staples for an extended period.

Normally when this is done in an orderly fashion, stores are able to keep up with demand. However, when the impact of a crises hits suddenly, stores are often overwhelmed unable to adequately supply the demand needed by the public. In these cases empty shelves and vacant freezers are a common sight. Barren store shelves have another sociological effect, Panic! When shoppers planning to stock up for the forseeable future are greeted with empty shelves, the gravity of the situation becomes all too real. The scarcity of goods creates yet another threat to our situation often times solved by our primal instinct of “the strongest will survive”. As a result, fights over seemingly random items such as toilet paper, paper towels, canned food and essentials like bread and eggs are reported across multiple locations.

It’s times like this that I am so glad to be a backyard chicken keeper. While most people were raiding the stores for essentials and staples, I was quietly and methodically stocking up on chicken feed and other poultry essentials. It is often said that a country girl/boy will survive, this is indeed the truth, one of the benefits of being self sufficient. With a freezer full of frozen veggies from last years garden and fresh eggs being laid daily, we are often able to weather just about any economical crises.

COVID-19 Chicken Feed supply.

As the stores run out of important staples such as eggs, I am in the fortunate position to help out my friends and neighbors by sharing what I have with those around me in need. People often forget about us backyard chicken keepers till an egg recall or shortage is faced, then we are everyone’s favorite neighbor. In past supply shortages I have had complete strangers come to my door inquiring about purchasing eggs from me. I oblige when I am able to do so.

These events remind me again and again how fortunate I am to be able to keep backyard chickens. There have been times they have provided us our “survival food”. When natural disasters or other economical crises occur, there is just something about knowing that although the stores are bare the girls are still laying. Completely unaware of the situation unfolding around them, the girls go about their days sustaining us and others around us. There is a purity in not being totally dependent on the supply chain but rather your own land.

There are many benefits of keeping backyard chickens. Times of crises are one of those benefits. This is often forgotten till a situation arises that forces us to take stock. It’s times like this that I am ever grateful for my girls. They are a blessing that sometimes is not fully appreciated till situations arise and we become dependent on them.

When faced with uncertainties , people have their own ways of preparing. While most people were braving the long lines at the stores to ready their plans, I was preparing for my girls. I sustain them by making sure I have their essentials stocked for the upcoming crises. They will in turn sustain us and others in need through their eggs.

I wish everyone the best in weathering this storm. If we all follow the recommendations by our federal Government and local Public Health professionals we will survive. This is not the first time that humanity has been faced with an invisible enemy and it will not be the last. Take care and take care of those around you. If we band together we can fight this invisible foe.

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

~ The Kuntry Klucker Crew ~

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.

oyster shell

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.

purina chicken feed

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 ~