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 ~

 

 

 

Is it hard to raise Backyard Chickens?

Raising chickens is a fun and affordable hobby. Its called backyard chickens for a reason, this implies that one wants to raise a mini flock of chickens rather than a large operation. Now, don’t get me wrong, chicken math is a force of nature not to be taken lightly. But for the average backyard chicken enthusiast, keeping your flock at a manageable number is relatively easy. Its just takes the persistent enforcement of chicken birth control (aka. collecting eggs) and obtaining only a few number of chicks from reliable hatcheries. You can also ask one of your backyard chicken friends to hatch  you off a small starter flock. Other than that, keeping a small flock of backyard chickens is not inherently difficult.

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Chickens are very simple creatures, they do not demand a lot from their owners. Since chickens are very social animals they have plenty of company among their flock members. The needs of a chicken are simple. They need clean, fresh water daily. It does not need to be filtered or bottled but it does need to be fresh and clean daily. Simply filling up a clean water container every morning when letting the flock out of the coop is all this entails. They also need fresh and dry feed daily. It is always best to keep your feed in galvanized trash cans if you plan on keeping it outside. Not only will this keep your feed uncontaminated (from rats, coons and other wildlife) it will ensure that the feed will remain dry and thus not spoil. Chicken feed comes in large 25 to 50 pound bags, you will have enough feed to last a while depending on the size of your flock.  As you can see in the image below, I keep two galvanized trash cans outside of the pen, this is were I store the feed for the girls. Be warned, your chickens will very quickly  learn to associate the sound of the lids being removed from the cans as a makeshift dinner bell. My girls get very excited when they hear the all too familiar”clank” of the trash cans lids. I am suddenly surrounded by a group of girls eagerly anticipating its contents.

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Next, you will need a habitat. This is where a lot of chicken owners can be creative and inventive. You can do whatever you want to make your backyard chickens home personable to you, just make sure that is has a few very important qualities.

  1. Your chickens home needs to be large enough to accommodate the size of your birds as well as your flock.  A lot of coop descriptions will say that “this coop will fit 2-4 standard size birds”. What does that mean? Well chickens come in two sizes, standard or large fowl and bantam or miniature chickens. If you have 6 standard size birds you need to make sure that you choose a coop that can fit 6-8 standard size birds. Choosing a coop that fits less than that will cause stress in the flock. If the birds do not have ample room and feel over crowded many problems can result. Over mating of the hens by the rooster, cannabolism caused by pecking of flock mates, and of course illness due to the birds being under stress. So when choosing a coop, first know the size of your birds and based on the dimensions of the coop how many can fit comfortably.
  2. Your chickens home needs to be secure. This means not only does it need latches on the door to keep predators out, the coop also needs to have a pen if you choose to keep your girls in a pen vs free ranging. Most if not all coops bought in the stores usually come with an attached pen in its design. Make sure that the pen is enclosed with wire mesh that is galvanized with holes small enough to keep even the peskiest mouse out of your girls home.
  3. Your coop must be easy to clean. Most coops are designed with a drawer that can be pulled out from under the roosts to clean the dropping off from the previous night. Many chicken owner put pine shaving on this drawer to absorb moisture from the dropping and simply with gloves or a small hand shovel remove the dropping like you would clean a litter box. Either method is fine, just make sure the you clean the dropping out daily to keep flies and illness at bay.
  4. your coop must be draft free. When looking for or constructing a coop make sure that the coop has both ample ventilation while at the same time being draft free. It sounds like a double edged sword, I know. What this basically means is leave room at the top for air to escape while also protecting the birds from fridgid winter wind, rains, and other elements. Your coop does not need to be warm or heated. In fact, heat lamps are the number one cause of coop fires. Not only will a heat lamp fire kill your birds, coop fires can also damage other structures on your property including your home. Never use Heat lamps in coops, they are just too dangerous. Instead focus on keeping your chicken coop clean and dry. Chickens do not need heat, they come with down jackets factory installed and are well able to regulate their own body temperature given the right conditions, that being a coop that is clean, dry, and draft free. As long as your birds remain dry and protected from the wind and rain they will do just fine when it comes to surviving winter.
  5. The design of the coop. The design of chicken coops are endless. I have seen everything from little cottages to barn style chicken coops. Quite honestly, I think that picking out the perfect chicken coop is almost as fun as picking out what breed or breeds you want to raise. You don’t have to buy your coop prefab you can get plans off the internet and make your own from raw materials. Either way its up to you. We have done both. We made our first coop and pen from scratch. It was fun and we really enjoyed the process. The additional coops I bought as prefab kits that I put together.Both have advantages and disadvantages. The advantage of making your own coop is that you can make it as big as you want, the disadvantage is that it takes a while to construct and can be expensive. The advantage of prefab kit coops is that they come already made all you have to do is screw them together and you have a coop in about 45 minutes. The disadvantage is that you are limited by the designs that are available. Personally I like the prefab coops better. They are made with quality materials and are easy to maintain and clean. I cannot keep large numbers of birds in them so I usually have to get several but I don’t mind having to take care of more than one coop. Coop chores are so simple, more than one coop really does not make that much more work.

Here are a few pics of my coops. I currently have three and have plans to purchase one more. The first one is The Kuntry Klucker, this is the coop that hubby and I made from scratch. It took about 4 months and roughly $1000 from start to finish. This will house up to 20 standard size birds. The most I have ever had in this coop is 17. Even then they still had plenty of room.

coop-cadi-corner

Next is Roy’s Roost, it is a prefab coop. It will house two standard size birds or 3 bantom size birds. I bough it for Roy as his hospital coop when he was sick. Since his passing its purpose still remains as my hospital coop. When I have a girl that needs separated from the flock due to injury or illness I place her in this coop. I can better monitor her eating and drinking habits as well as administer medication if needed. The patient will remain here till she can be returned to the flock.

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This last coop is Betsy’s Bliss. I bought this coop to serve as a broody coop. This is where I will house a broody momma as she sits on her nest. This allows the mamma hen some privacy while still allowing her to eat, drink, and dust bathe normally. When the chicks hatch both mamma and chicks are protected from predators and curious flock mates. It will house one standard size bird and a few chicks or two bantam size chickens.

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I have placed these two smaller kit coops in my spice garden. When not in use they serve a decorative accents in my garden. I purchased these two coops about two years ago. They have survived the elements and mother nature very well. In the fall I put a coat of wood protectant on them to protect them from the harsh elements of winter. If we have heavy snow or ice in the forecast I will put 6×8 tarps over the top of them just to give them a bit of extra protection. Other than their size, I really do not experience any different in their function  or durability. I am very pleased with these kit coops and will plan on purchasing more as my needs arise.

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Other than the basic needs of food, water, and housing chickens are very simple to raise. The only other thing I can suggest is to have a chicken first aid kit on hand. I have built up my first aid kit slowly over the years. Basically you will need items to treat a chicken that may have injuries or illness. When taken care of properly chickens do not encounter much illness. The most complicated condition I have ever had to deal with was when several of my girls coming down with Bumble foot. I have a blog post on Bumble foot for those who wish to learn how to affectively and simply treat this condition.

Your first aid kit should include basic items such as: epsom salts, rubbing alcohol, peroxide, cotton balls, triple antibiotic cream, salve, and vet wrap. Vet wrap is very handy because unlike a band-aid it will stick to itself making it ideal for animal use. I cannot tell you how many feet of vet wrap I have used throughout my years as a backyard chicken keeper.

My girls have never needed any antibiotic treatment. I am usually able to treat minor ailment with natural methods such as apple cider vinegar in the water, electrolytes, and chicken rx herbal drops. Should my girls ever develop an infection that needs antibiotic I would consult a vet to assist me. In my experience, given proper care my girls have never developed any conditions that I could not treat at home.

As for the cost of keeping backyard chickens, once you have their habitat purchased or constructed they are very affordable to maintain. My 10 girls will go through a 50 pound of feed in about a month. I find compared to a medium size dog chickens are much cheaper to keep. Additionally, for all your work and dedication they will give you something in return, a beautiful farm fresh egg. In my book a pet that makes me breakfast is worth its weight in gold.

Thanks for stopping by and spending time with the girls and I. As always if you have any questions please feel free to post in the comments. I will do my best to get back to you as soon as I can.

Thanks for visiting, the girls and I will see you soon.

~ The Kuntry Klucker Crew~

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A Kuntry Klucker Christmas

snow 2014

Hey there again, the girls and I have a winter’s tale to share.

Last year we had the most snow that I have ever seen here in these hills in about 10 or so years. We were battered with two ice storms then several snow storms all within a span of a few weeks. When it was all said and done, we had an accumulation of 12 inches of snow on the ground. Now most people know that farm animals are all weather, not much seems to bother them. Well for my pampered poultry this was not the case. You see, I found out that my girls hate snow. They are scared to death of it. The white stuff might as well be an enemy that needs immediate extermination. I make sure the they are protected from predators in both their coop and pen. But snow, I can do nothing about. So,  after a few days of being cooped up (quite literally), I decided to try to get them out of their coop and pen for some fresh air. The result was as funny as can be.

higher ground

First, after I plowed my way to the coop, I had to convince the girls that the snow was not going to kill them. Upon getting to the coop I found this, Miss Betsy trying to get as far away from the nemesis white stuff as possible. She would not even put her pampered pedies on the pen floor, which was dry except for the parts near the edges where the snow had drifted in.

Next, I had to lure them out with their favorite treat. Scratch! Chicken scratch is a treat from the gods, they love this stuff. They practically fall over each other when I come out the the coop with a cup full of their choice eats.

tasting the snow

Miss Bossy was our brave taker, she cautiously approached her favorite treat laying in the dreaded white stuff. As the others watched carefully  to make sure that it was not going to kill her. Eventually they too ever so cautiously started to approach.

no further

After some time the rest of the gang got the idea that the white stuff was not a complete threat. The power of the scratch was just too strong. So the girls started coming out one by one. They are still not too sure about the stuff, so for a while they pecked at it and scratched in it finally deeming it safe to take the plunge.

deep snow

The sole brave taker again was Miss Bossy who took the plunge, wading in snow that covered her legs. If you have ever seen a chicken attempt to walk in deep snow, it is quite a funny sight. So while the girls are taking the snow in stride, Roy on the other hand is thoroughly convinced that he needs to somehow exterminate the white stuff. Since he is terrified of the white stuff, he decided that a decent growing was in order.

brave roy

For the first day, this was as brave as Roy got. He stood in the door way and restlessly crowed at the white stuff. After he finally decided that his efforts were to no avail he finally accepted his defeat. He stayed in the pen the rest of the day sulking. After all tomorrow is a new day, right? Well…

Meanwhile more snow fell the following night and the girls decided they had enough of the white stuff and refused to come out of the pen. So I decided to plow paths for them to walk on in the backyard. Apparently they do not like the feel of the snow on their feet. Come to think about it, I don’t think I would like it either. So with my snow shovel in hand I cleared several paths for the girls to walk on. I had no idea at the time, but this turned out to be the funniest thing ever.

You see, once I cleaned them a few paths they would only go as far as the path would take them. In other words, when the path ends the chickens stopped. Well, on the heels of that I plowed them a maze in the backyard. It was the funniest thing ever, I still regret not getting a video of the girls working the backyard maze. However, I did snap a few pics that day, below are pics of the girls trying to figure out how to navigate the maze in the backyard.

I will have to say that they failed miserably. They could not understand why they could not get back to the coop once they got fairly far into the maze. They would take a path and get stuck because it lead nowhere. Since they refused to walk in the snow they would bottle neck at a dead end. So after a while to help them out, I put a trail of scratch on the paths of the maze that would lead back to the coop. They took to that pretty fast, so after that for the rest of the white stuff’s visit they would only walk on those paths of the maze. It was quite an experiment in testing the chickens ability to learn, remember, and problem solve.

We will see what this winter brings but if we get more snow I will be prepared again to plow them a maze to solve. This time I will make sure I get a video of the fun and games. When it snows some people build snowmen, me I go into the chicken maze creating business. Ok, well I guess I did help build one snowman last year.

snowman 2015

Thanks for reading, The girls and I hope you have a wonderful Holiday Season and an Egg-celent New Year.

Till next time, keep on crowing.

The Kuntry Klucker Crew