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. 

purina chicken feed

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 ~

 

 

 

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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 ~

 

 

 

My top 5 Favorite Chicken Breeds.

 

 

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

 

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

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

5. Easter Egger:

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

4. Cochin:

 

 

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

3. Buff Orphington

 

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

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

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

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

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

2. Silkie

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. White Crest Polish

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till next time, keep on crowing.

~ The Kuntry Klucker Crew ~

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