The Buddy System – Horses and Hens as Companions

Have you ever wanted to diversify with companion species? If so, do you find yourself wondering, ‘What species go well together?’ Well that answer can be as simple as horses and hens! Not only is it okay, it is actually a good idea! Keeping chickens along with horses is a time honored tradition that certainly can be manageable, and even beneficial – here’s why:

  • Chickens are opportunists. When a pellet or kernel falls, they’ll be there to pick it up. This saves your horse from mouthing around on the ground to find bits of feed (a practice that can lead to ingestion of dirt and sand) and it reduces the amount of feed that is wasted.
  • Chickens are good horse trainers. A horse that has had exposure to poultry won’t “have his feathers ruffled” by sudden movements, loud noises, or the occasional appearance of an egg…
  • Chickens help prepare your horse for the trail. If you plan to take trail rides where wild turkeys, partridge, chuckar, etc. populate it can be beneficial to have your horse used to the patterns and noises of fowl by keeping a few chickens around. A little exposure to flapping, squawking and scurrying can go a long way to desensitizing your horse to those types of events out on the trail.
  • Chickens are nature’s fly traps. You and your horse hate bugs – but chickens love them. Chickens eat flies, worms, grubs, bees; if they can catch it they’ll nibble on it, which means it won’t be nibbling on you or your horse.
  • Chickens are low maintenance. Provide them with a cozy place to sleep, fresh clean water, free choice oyster shell for strong eggshells, grit for digestion and some layer feed and they will be happy and healthy.
  • Chickens help with the chores! One of a chicken’s favorite things to do is scratch the ground for hidden treasures. Give them a pile of horse droppings and they think they’re in heaven! They’ll have the manure broken down, spread around and out of sight before you can even think of grabbing a pitchfork and wheelbarrow!
  • Chickens are pets with benefits. Besides being a colorful and entertaining addition to your stable yard, chickens provide one thing your horse can’t – breakfast! Now if they could only cook it and serve it to you in bed…

A few words of caution about keeping chickens with your horses – make sure that your chickens are fed separately from your horse and that your horse can’t get into their feed. This will eliminate the risk of your horse consuming layer feed that is not designed for his digestive system. Also, provide roosts for your chickens that are away from your horse’s feeder if they are not put into a coop at night to eliminate waste of feed and hay due to chicken droppings. Make sure both your horse and chickens have fresh, clean water that is easily accessible to them at all times.

Breezes and Drafts – Proper Ventilation Keeps Chickens Comfortable and Healthy

The only difference between a breeze and a draft is temperature.

Both people and chickens savor a cool breeze on a sultry summer evening but that pleasant summer air transforms into a knifelike January draft that slices through the coop and chills hens.

It can frostbite tender combs, freeze water containers quickly and make life miserable for the coop’s occupants.

Proper ventilation is critically important to keep chickens comfortable, safe, and productive. Well-made coops enable managing airflow to welcome summer breezes yet bar frigid drafts.

Managing a coop’s air starts with litter and manure. Almost as soon as litter gets wet odor permeates the coop.

Soggy litter, caused by leaky roofs or tipped over water buckets, generates ammonia that no amount of ventilation can transport outdoors.   Well managed coops don’t smell.

The secret in preventing odor is to make sure no rain can enter and that any damp litter is immediately removed and added to the compost bin. It also helps to keep chicken density low. Crowded coops are more likely to be pungent than those where chickens have plenty of individual space.

Managing Coop Airflow

A well-designed coop has at least two windows on opposite sides for cross ventilation.  Ideally the chickens’ roost is located between them so the birds enjoy summer breezes while snoozing.

Windows should be easy to open and close so the volume of air that passes through them can be adjusted depending on the temperature.

During summer’s inferno, they should be wide open but cramped shut in winter.

Spring and fall bring mild temperatures and windows only need to be open an inch or two to let enough fresh air in.

Windows do more than admit air and light. They can be the entryway for raccoons, opossums, and even mink dreaming of a tasty chicken dinner. Windows should be configured to exclude predators while welcoming fresh air and light.

Good coop windows have three layers. The first is the glass that permits or excludes breezes depending on how far they are opened. The second is mosquito netting to keep biting bugs outside.

Insect screening is not strong enough to even slow a hungry raccoon, so the third layer is a mesh of wire strong enough to deter powerful predators.   A heavy-duty mesh screen can be made of 2X2 lumber with wire stapled onto it.

The frame is then screwed over the window. One half inch square hardware cloth will even keep out lithe mink.

Glass plus netting plus wire screen let in a summer breeze while frustrating hungry bugs and furry predators.

Breezes and drafts don’t just enter at windows. They discover every crack and hole in the coop and enter uninvited.

Even in the coldest weather fresh air entering through a few cracks brings the oxygen chickens need and voids moisture coming from their breath and manure.

A few narrow cracks are good but too many let frigid air in and can be an entryway for weasels.

Filling most cracks with caulking or expanding foam every fall helps keep both the cold and skinny predators outside.

Chickens have a high heat generating metabolism and feathers, nature’s best insulation, to keep the warm. In an uninsulated but draft free coop body heat raises the interior temperature a few degrees on the coldest nights.

When nature’s mid-summer furnace is going full bore roosting chickens pant to increase cooling evaporation from their throats, and they often hold their wings outward to void body heat.

Having plenty of roost space allows them to partly spread their wings. That and a cooling breeze helps hens enjoy a good night’s sleep. On the hottest and stillest nights hens may appreciate an artificial breeze from an electric fan.

Managing coop ventilation keeps chickens comfortable, clean and productive and is an important task of any flock owner.

Molt 101

chicken molting 101. What is chicken look like and why?

Are your chickens looking a little bare right now? It’s likely the result of molt, a naturally occurring process in chickens from August through December.

In the molting process, chickens lose their feathers starting at the head and neck and working its way down the body. It can take 4-16 weeks for the molting process to be complete.

But fear not, there are options to help speed the process along. Products like, Nutrena’s NatureWise Feather Fixer can help your birds get through molt quicker.

Additionally, educating yourself on the process of molt will help you and your flock get through this transition period seamlessly.

Take a look at the following resources to reference during molt:

 

Chicken Predators – What You Need to Know

Humans aren’t the only animal that enjoys a delicious chicken dinner.

Foxes, coyotes, raccoons, dogs, mink, owls, and some hawks also find chickens a meaty, easy-to-catch meal.

Discovering chickens killed by a mink or carried off by a fox is frustrating. Fortunately, predators can be foiled.

Predators are everywhere. No flock is completely safe from some carnivorous species that would like to eat them.

Raccoons and domestic dogs probably kill more chickens than any other animals and live in both rural and urban areas. Raccoons are surprisingly abundant even in New York City!

Often the first reaction a flockowner has when birds are killed is to seek revenge.

Shotguns and traps are sometimes used but killing a chicken-eating fox or raccoon can be both illegal and dangerous. Preventing predation is far more effective than shooting or trapping an animal or two.

Most chicken losses occur at night when raccoons, skunks, opossums, owls, mink, and weasels are most likely to prowl.

The best defense against night shift chicken snatchers is a sturdy tight coop. Chickens come inside at dusk and are almost comatose when sleeping. Once they get inside predators can easily pluck a plump hen off the roost.

The solution is making entry nearly impossible. That can be easier said than done, since a mink can ooze through a one-inch diameter hole while weasels can fit through even smaller cracks.

Some ways to keep predators out of the coop include:

  • At dusk and when you plan to be away until after dark, close and securely latch all doors, especially the pop hole door.
  • Cover all windows with sturdy wire mesh. Raccoons can tear through hexagonal chicken wire, so stronger wire is essential. One half inch square hardware cloth thwarts raccoons and even keeps mink out.
  • Fill in any holes or cracks in walls or around doors with concrete, caulking, wire, or expanding foam.
  • Watch for signs of animals digging tunnels under the coop walls. A concrete coop floor prevents this type of entry, but wire mesh placed on a dirt floor beneath litter and tacked to the coop’s side walls also works.
  • Eliminate predator hiding places near the coop. Piles of firewood, debris, old vacant sheds, and brush piles offer predators a safe haven as they approach. The fewer places they have to hide the less likely they are to invade.
  • Install a sensor activated light that turns on as a hungry raccoon approaches.

Preventing daytime predators from snatching chickens is more challenging as the birds are often outside.

Dogs are probably the major daytime chicken killers, but several species of hawks may also prey on hens.

Mink, foxes, and weasels are occasionally active during daylight hours but raccoons, opossums, and skunks rarely are. Preparing the run in two ways will reduce predation.

First, confine the flock with a sturdy fence that keeps chickens in and dogs out. Usually a stout four-foot-tall fence will prevent heavy chicken breeds from flying over it while excluding dogs and foxes. Light breed chickens are adept flyers and a six or eight-foot-tall fence may be needed to confine them.

Second, provide overhead protection. A sure-fire way to keep raptors from snatching an occasional chicken is to cover the run with wire mesh. Small outdoor runs can feature a roof that also keeps rain and snow off the ground.

Chickens, like rabbits and other prey species, recognize that danger can come from the sky. They are safer when the run provides some overhead cover.

A few shrubs planted in the run give chicken’s places to safely loiter beneath their intertwined branches. A picnic table placed in the run also gives birds a safe haven from the bright sun and overhead predators.

Predators are crafty and often catch chickens and their owners by surprise. Months can go by with no loss and then many birds can be killed in just a short time. Preventing predators from accessing chickens is the best way to keep them safe.

The Scoop on Rhode Island Red Chickens

Looking to add crazy-good egg production to your flock? Then Rhode Island Reds are the gals you’ve been searching for! This breed produces large, brown eggs, with roughly 260 eggs produced annually! With all of these great attributes, this popular breed is sure to keep your coop happy.

Growing Meat Chickens at Home

 “Oh we’ll kill the old red rooster when she comes, when she comes. Oh, we’ll kill the old red rooster when she comes when she comes.” 

Back in 1947 when Gene Autry sang those famous lines in “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” a chicken dinner was a treat served mostly when hosting dinner guests. Traditional chicken dinners came from old hens past their egg laying prime or roosters from heavy breed chickens like White Rocks, New Hampshire Reds, or Buff Orpingtons.

Since then, poultry breeders developed an amazing hybrid that grows at an astonishing speed and revolutionized human diets, making chicken a common meat. In 1960 the average American ate 63 pounds of beef but only 24 pounds of chicken. By 2016 beef consumption had dropped to 56 pounds while chicken soared to 90 pounds.

A dual-purpose breed rooster takes about 16 weeks to reach broiler size, and by then his flesh is staring to toughen. He also lacks the thick breast meat featured in many of today’s recipes. In contrast, a modern Cornish broiler reaches eating size in only six weeks and his tender meaty body includes a deep breast.

Hybrid broilers are amazingly efficient. Back in 1925 an average broiler chicken ate 4.7 pounds of feed for each pound it gained. By 2011 a Cornish Cross broiler ate only 1.9 pounds of feed to gain a pound of body weight. Feed efficiency and rapid growth has made chicken an inexpensive and healthy meat.

Big commercial growers enjoy the cost advantage of scale by buying thousands of chicks and hundreds of tons of feed. Small flock owners must spend more for chicks and feed to produce their own broilers. Then they must slaughter their birds. It likely costs more to raise broilers at home than buy them in the store, but there are outstanding reasons to do it.

Nothing beats the pride of producing food at home, whether home grown tomatoes or broiler chickens. They just seem to taste better than supermarket counterparts. Growing winter chicken dinners yields satisfaction as well as meat. Many hatcheries sell Cornish Cross and Red Ranger hybrid chicks all year. Ordering some to arrive in early fall will fill the freezer before Thanksgiving.

Cornish Cross Broilers are super achievers that produce the most meat on the least feed in the shortest time. These are single purpose chickens bred for meat only. Hens are slaughtered when they reach eating size and aren’t good layers. Cornish Cross Broilers get so heavy so quickly they have a hard time walking and prefer to stay by the feeder and eat. They need a special high protein diet and careful management.

Red Rangers or Red Broilers are a hybrid well suited for small flocks. They grow slower than Cornish but faster than dual purpose breeds and lack the health problems of faster growing broilers. Rangers enjoy foraging outdoors and can be raised with standard breeds. They produce the meaty breast most people enjoy and are ready for slaughter by 12 weeks. Hens can be kept and will lay about 175 eggs a year.

Before anyone buys broiler chicks they should determine how they are going to process them. Slaughtering and dressing chickens can be done at home for personal use. Several You Tube videos show how to do it in graphic detail. Another option is to bring live birds to a processing plant. Usually state laws require that dressed birds offered for sale be processed in a licensed plant.

Most urban chicken ordinances are written allow homeowners to keep a few laying hens and prohibit slaughtering. However, many families who raise chickens are part of a network of other poultry raising families. Some may live outside city limits where birds can be brought for processing.

Growing broilers in a small flock is more challenging than tending laying hens, but growing healthy in a backyard coop is satisfying and makes delicious winter meals.

Bathing Your Chickens

For many young 4-H’ers, it’s that time of year where they are preparing to exhibit their chickens at local, county or state fairs. Whether you’re entering the show ring soon, or just think your girls could use a good washing, check out these simple tips on bathing chickens.

Vacation Time – Keeping Chickens Safe & Healthy When Away

Caring for chickens and enjoying their beauty and eggs are part of a healthy lifestyle yet it comes with everyday responsibility. Every once in a while, a flock owner needs a vacation or weekend getaway. Ensuring that the flock is safe while its owner is gone can be challenging. There are solutions.

Many aspects of chicken care must be done daily. These include filling waterers and feeders, opening the pop hole each morning and closing it at dusk, and collecting eggs. Other tasks include fending off a predator, keeping bird’s safe during extreme weather and, rarely, caring for a sick or injured chicken,

FRIENDS, FAMILY AND NEIGHBORS

Nothing beats having friends, family or neighbors as temporary chicken caregivers.   Few people have ever tended chickens. While they may be eager to fill in, they likely need training and coaching.  A wise flockowner lines up substitute caregivers well before the vacation so there is plenty of time to train the sub. Having a few volunteers ready to fill in is invaluable should an unexpected trip come up at short notice.

A trusty substitute should be comfortable around the flock and know what needs to be done and where supplies are. Here are a few tips.

  • Leave a cell phone number and other contact information in case the sub needs to be in touch.
  • Before leaving fill all waterers and feeders.
  • Post in the coop in a plastic sleeve to keep it clean a written list of daily tasks.
  • Have plenty of extra feed in storage near the coop so the caretaker doesn’t have to buy any when you’re gone.
  • Welcome the caregiver to take eggs home to enjoy. Leave extra egg boxes handy to make carrying them easy.
  • Assure the caregiver that every once in a while, a chicken dies. Be sure he or she understands that this happens and is not his fault. Let the caregiver know how to dispose of a dead bird.There are ways to legally and safely dispose of a dead chicken. Burying is an option. Many communities allow homeowners to place dead animals in the trash if the body is placed in double or triple plastic bags. Check with your town’s sanitation department to learn the procedure. If it’s hot and trash collection won’t occur for several days it may be wise to triple bag and seal the dead hen and put her in a freezer until trash day.
  • Show the caregiver how to open and latch windows in case of severe weather.
  • Offer to care for their own chickens, pets, or home when they are away. If appropriate offer to pay them and bring them a small gift from the trip.

A WEEKEND GETAWAY

For a very short absence during mild weather it’s possible to set up a coop so the flock is fine without daily human attention. Having supplies on hand and the coop prepared for a couple of days absence makes leaving them untended possible even though it’s always best to have a substitute visit daily.

There are two possible problems in leaving hens without daily care. One is egg collection. Ideally eggs should be collected every day. When uncollected so many eggs can accumulate in the nest that some may break. Nests designed so eggs roll out for easy collection solve the problem. A second problem is opening and closing the pop hole. Solar or timer controlled devices can be purchased to automatically open and close the door at the proper time. Or, simply leave the hens inside for a couple of days.

Redundant waterers and feeders are important. Have at least two waterers in the coop just in case one leaks when you are gone.

Chickens should never be left untended if extreme cold or beastly heat are predicted.   Cold freezes drinking water and eggs, and chickens can die if left in a stifling coop without relief.

Everyone needs to get away once in a while. With a little preparation and good friends, the flock will be healthy and productive while its owner sits on a distant beach or enjoys a weekend in the mountains.