Getting My Ducks in a Row

I am what you would call a “newbie” to waterfowl. I have raised chickens for many years and thoroughly enjoy them. This past summer, I felt the need to expand onto our feathered family. Cayuga ducks.

Cayugas interested me because I live in New York and the Cayuga originates and take their name from an area of New York west of me, Cayuga Lake. Well, actually the origination of this species is debated, but that is one of the histories. Another is that they came from an English duck breed that was brought to America. If you are at all interested, check out this and other facts and fables about breeds at The Livestock Conservancy site.

Requirements in New York are to purchase six chicks or ducklings at a time, so I ended up with six Cayuga ducklings through my local farm store. I raised them in a stall in my horse barn, which worked really well. Later in the summer, they moved outside to a large grassy, fenced area with a small lean-to shelter with a kiddie pool to drink from and swim in. This fall, we created the duck area, with a homemade duck house, kiddie pool, water and feed tubs. Please remember, from a biosecurity perspective, it’s important to not mix species.

The ducks are doing great and I enjoy them very much. Their feathers are gorgeous; black, oily green and so shiny. They have very different personalities than the chickens and their antics can be very comical. It is winter now, and they seem to enjoy the cold. They are outside when it’s the worst and even sleep outside overnight in the snow sometimes.

There are many great resources out there for raising ducks. Here are a few things I have learned in these past six months:

  • Believe the books when they say ducks are messy! They need water near their feed and will bathe, drink, splash, excrete and play in every container of water you give them. This makes for a sodden, messy area. Things that have worked for me: Put the kiddie pool and water tub on top of a well-drained area. I use landscape timbers (4×4 posts) made into a frame on the ground, filled with small stones. This allows the splashed water to drain. Next summer I want to try a more rigid pond and put a drain in it, making it easier to clean.
  • Cayuga males and females have the same coloring. If you want to tell their gender before the males develop their curly tail feathers at around 10 weeks, listen to their quack. Once they start quacking, pick them up one at a time and listen to the sound they make. If it quacks, it’s a she. If it make a raspy bark sound, it’s a he.
  • I use tough, flexible rubber tubs for their food and water. This makes it easy even in the winter to clean and dump old feed or ice. I give my ducks warm water 1-2 times per day in a 24” round tub that’s about 6” deep and their Feather Fixer pellets in a smaller, shallower tub.
  • I handled my ducklings every day, sat in the stall with them, talked to them…Sure, judge me! But my ducks are not what I would say, friendly. They are aware and make better watch dogs than my dogs, quacking at anyone who comes in the driveway. They are curious and fun to watch and when I pick them up they relax, but they don’t run over to hop in my lap. This may just be the Cayuga breed, however I have read other people who say they are easily gentled.
  • Be sure to make a wide entrance to your duck house or shelter. We built the cutest duck house with a ramp and door, but had to widen the door in order to get them to go in. To make sure they would choose shelter when needed, we also reused a cracked plastic 100 gallon stock tank from my horses. Flipped over, with an opening cut out with a sawsall, this is their preferred shelter.

This experience of owning ducks has been a fun and educational one, and I encourage those interested to do your research. One thing is for sure, these beautiful creatures have added enjoyment and entertainment to our home!

Biosecurity for Poultry Shows

Biosecurity is always an important consideration for your feathered friends, but especially when attending poultry shows. Here is a list of some considerations to take into account when preparing, attending and returning home from shows.

  1. Pre Show: Pay close attention to the birds that you are planning on bringing to the show. It is a good idea to monitor birds at least 14 days in advance to the show. If your birds are lethargic or have any signs of illness, those animals should be left at home to prevent spreading disease to other animals at the show. We also recommend giving your show poultry electrolytes about a week before the event. The electrolytes can give a boost to the bird’s immune system, which will help the bird fight off disease.
  2. Shoes: Have a pair of shoes that are dedicated to your flock. This means that you only wear these shoes on around your flock at home. There are many poultry diseases that can be spread to your flock by wearing shoes in public places. There are potentially numerous avian diseases at poultry shows and you could carry those diseases on your shoes and bring them back to your flock at home.
  3. During the Show:
    • Make sure to clean water and cages daily. Do your best to prevent wild birds from eating or drinking from your feed and water. Wild birds are a primary culprit to spread avian diseases to poultry and your birds may have a higher chance of exposure to wild birds during shows events.
    • Make sure to separate different species of poultry. You should never have chickens, ducks, and turkeys co-mingled.
    • Do not share equipment with other exhibitors. It is a nice gesture to help your competition, but sharing equipment dramatically increases exposure to avian diseases.
    • Always wash your hands after handling animals.
    • Make sure to thoroughly clean your cages and equipment after the show. You can disinfect cages and equipment with household bleach and water at a ¾ cup of bleach per gallon of water ratio.
  4. Post Show Isolation and Best Practices: It is good to keep your show birds isolated from the rest of the flock for about 30 days after a poultry show. The show birds may not initially demonstrate any signs of illness or disease, but an outbreak could occur a few weeks after the show and cause an infestation to your entire flock. The stress of traveling and the show environment can weaken the immune system of birds and make them more susceptible to illness. For this reason, we also recommend that you wait at least 30 days before you show the same birds at the next event.

Good luck and take time to enjoy the showing experience!

Myth-Busting Medicated Chicken Feed

At Nutrena, and other poultry feed companies, feed is often formulated as medicated or non-medicated. There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to the medicated feed option. So, we’ve decided it’s time to bust the myths about medicated poultry feed. To level set, when we refer to medicated poultry feed, we’re talking about feed which includes amprolium. We currently offer a medicated and non-medicated chick starter/grower in our Country Feeds® and NatureWise® lines, to make sure you have the choice that works best for your flock.
Read our myth-busting facts below and to learn more about coccidiosis, read our other blog post here.

Myth #1: Medicated feed will ‘cure a bird with a cold or runny droppings’.
The fact:  The medication, Amprolium, will only help prevent coccidiosis, nothing else.

Myth #2: I do not want to feed an antibiotic to my chicks, so I do not feed medicated feed.
The fact: Contrary to popular belief, Amprolium is not an antibiotic. It is a thiamin blocker, and the cocidia parasite needs thiamin to multiply in the gut of a bird.

Myth #3: I do not want residual drugs in my meat or eggs.
The fact: There is no egg or meat withdrawal time for Amprolium in poultry feed. The FDA has deemed it safe to eat the eggs or meat from birds that have consumed it.

Myth #4: If I see an outbreak of coccidiosis (bloody droppings), I should start to feed the medicated feed immediately.
The fact: The dosage of Amprolium in medicated feed is not strong enough to fix an outbreak. Its purpose is to serve as a preventative measure. A stronger dose of Amprolium should be added to the water immediately if there is an outbreak, but a consult with your veterinarian may be necessary to fully address what’s going on.

Myth #5: I should always feed medicated feed
The fact: It is a personal choice, and coccidiosis can be managed with or without Amprolium. If there are wild birds present in the store where your chickens were bought, or on your farm, it may be a good idea to introduce medicated feed. But the decision is yours.

Myth #6: It’s a good practice to feed some medicated feed and some non-medicated feed as a mixture if I don’t want to give my flock too much medicine.
The fact: Feeding a medicated feed takes the guess work out of dosing, since it is formulated carefully. Mixing medicated and non-medicated feed reduces the effectiveness of the medicated feed. If you opt to use a medicated feed, a sixteen-week duration is what most experts recommend. If you have not started your chicks on medicated, it is OK to switch, but it may not be as effective.

Myth# 7: I should obtain a prescription from my veterinarian for medicated chick starter since there is new veterinary feed directive (VFD) starting soon.
The fact: Since Amprolium is not an antibiotic, no veterinary prescription is necessary. But, as with any medication, read and follow all label instructions for maximum efficacy and safety.

To learn more about what feed options are out there, visit NutrenaWorld.com.

Winter Water: Keep it Flowing!

Like all living things, chickens need water to thrive. But keeping your hens hydrated in winter can be a challenge when temperatures plummet. Consider these tips to keep the fluids flowing, even in the coldest climates. Above all, make sure your girls always have access to water that is fresh, clean and unfrozen.

Why Water Matters 

Granted, chickens don’t drink as much water in winter. But abundant liquid water is essential for a variety of reasons. First is egg production. Lack of water – even for just a matter of hours – can throw off egg laying, which may already be comprised due to molt and waning sunlight. This thinking applies to meat birds, too. Without water, they won’t have as much of an appetite and won’t grow as big.

Lack of water can also cause problems with digestion and a chicken’s ability to metabolize food. Chickens need water to help soften and dissolve their feed, and keep it moving smoothly through their crop.

Fresh Not frozen

Access to fresh, liquid water 24/7 is especially important because chickens don’t drink large amounts all at once. They take in small amounts frequently. That’s impossible to do if the water bowl keeps freezing.

You have two choices to prevent the problem: Haul heavy buckets from a distant source and replace the water each time it freezes, or use an electrically heated chicken or pet waterer. The latter are thermostatically controlled to keep ice from forming. (NOTE: Curious chickens have been known to unplug heated waterers.) In really cold locales, some chicken owners rotate two waterers. One stays in the coop half the day and is rotated out with a fresh one from indoors for the second half of the day. The waterer that gets removed then sits indoors to thaw, if needed.

Also keep in mind that even if your coop is heated or has a heat-producing bulb, the warmth may not be evenly distributed. If you have extremely chilly winters, always check the water bowl to make sure it’s liquid or not covered in an icy layer. While some chickens will “eat” snow, it’s unlikely they’ll ingest enough for adequate hydration.

Pecking Order and Water

New chicken owners may not realize that basic flock psychology can hinder water access. In fact, in any flock of chickens, there is a pecking order, Alpha on the top, Omega on the bottom, and everyone else in between the two extremes. This is seen initially with baby chicks. If there is a weak chick, the rest of the flock will eliminate it from the gene pool. “Vote her off the island,” so to speak.

The flock may do this as adults, too, if they sense the need to eliminate another adult from the gene pool (even a healthy, egg-producing hen). One way they do this is to keep the hen in question from drinking. Thankfully, wintering birds will expire less quickly from dehydration than in summer. You can help reduce the chances of this by adding a few extra watering stations that allow more options for drinking. This simple step can be key to keeping the entire flock healthy.

Along these lines, make sure your coop is big enough to accommodate your flock. A variety of issues may cause pecking or other aggressive behaviors. One common cause is possible changes in weather (winter’s cold) that would force the birds to spend more time indoors, where crowding may trigger aggression – and limit some birds’ access to water.

Keep the Coop Dry

While keeping water bowls filled with non-frozen water is critical, so is keeping that water in the bowl. Wet living conditions for chickens can foster cold and disease. Unfortunately, the downside to some electric water dishes, is that the birds can easily tip them over. A simple, level cradle made from scrap wood can solve the problem.

Your specific winter conditions (from mild to downright miserable!) will dictate what’s needed to keep your hens hydrated. As ways, stay diligent about flock care and you’ll keep them happy and healthy until warmer weather arrives.

Wrap up Some Love, with Holiday Egg Cartons

The best gift of all is giving…eggs! Check out these festive egg cartons for the holidays! With a quick trip to the dollar store and $10 in my pocket, I got all I needed to create this simple gift from the heart.

Option 1: Tissue Paper & Tulle

Start with one piece of tissue paper and fold it in half. I placed the egg carton upside down and a few inches from the end of the tissue paper. Then start rolling the tissue paper around the egg carton. After the egg carton is fully wrapped, I finished it off with wrapping a piece of red tulle around the tissue paper.

Option 2: Wrapping Paper

We all have extra holiday wrapping paper sitting around the house! I purchased this plaid wrapping paper from the dollar store for $1.
Lay the egg carton a few inches from the end of the wrapping paper (as seen in picture). Cut the other end a few inches from the egg carton. Once again place the egg carton a few inches from the end of the wrapping paper and start rolling. Use tape to secure the wrapping paper on the bottom of the egg carton. Then top it off with a bow or ribbon!

Option 3: Gift Bag & Ribbon

I purchased two different kinds of gift bags (one brown bag and one holiday bag) to use for wrapping the egg cartons. I cut the gift bag in half and carefully ripped off the handles.

Like shown in the third image, I once again rolled the egg carton in the gift bag. After tapping the bottom of the gift bag, I added a bow with green burlap ribbon and to top it off, I stuck a bundle of cranberries to add a festive accent.

These three options only took me about 30 minutes to complete. So, spread some holiday cheer and give the gift of fresh eggs!

Finding the Non-Layer

Crowded_Coop_WhiteIt’s not unusual for one or two hens in a small flock to eat their share of feed, relax, and rarely lay an egg.  Although most flock owners don’t attempt to make money selling eggs, spotting and eliminating freeloaders saves feed dollars and keeps the eggs coming.

The trick is figuring out which hens aren’t laying. There are several ways to spot the lazy hen, and backyard flock owners have an advantage. Unlike large laying operations backyarders normally only keep a few hens and visit the coop regularly. Even better, small flocks are usually composed of several different breeds with varied colored and patterned feathers. That makes it easy to identify specific hens and helps track down a nonlayer.
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How Many Eggs Should a Hen Lay?

The number of eggs a hen lays in each week varies greatly depending on the breed or strain, nutrition, weather, age of hen, and season or day length.

Hybrids developed for maximum egg production are laying dynamos as are many white egg breeds. If well-nourished and healthy, each bird will lay five or six eggs a week and sometimes more. In contrast fancy and exhibition breeds are often poor layers and may go for weeks without producing a single egg. Even when they are in full production two or three eggs a week per fancy bird is normal. Hens of any breed lay the most eggs during their first lay cycle and produce fewer eggs as they age.

Most backyard flock owners keep time tested standard brown egg breeds such as Barred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, New Hampshire Reds, and Wyandottes among others. They are good layers that may not be quite as productive as hybrids but each should lay four or five eggs a week.

Even the most productive breeds and hybrids sometimes include slackers. Here’s how to find her.

Observation

Anyone with only five or six hens of varied breeds can usually pinpoint the non-layer through observation.  Hens usually sit in the nest for several minutes before laying. Take note of which hens never seem to be in a nest and the culprit may be found. If the entire flock is of one breed they all look the same, making it harder to find a non-layer by observation. In contrast if a six hen flock is composed of six different breeds or strains with different colored feathers no bird has a look alike. That helps identify the individual that never seems to be in a nest.

An even easier way to spot a nonlayer is to configure a flock with birds that lay distinctively colored eggs. For example, Americaunas lay blue/green eggs, Rocks or Orpingtons produce light brown eggs, while the eggs of Marans and Welsummers are dark brown. Leghorns and Minorca produce snow white eggs. A flock of hens that each lays eggs of a different hue makes it easy to tell which one isn’t working.

Experienced flock owners use several techniques to spot a nonlayer, even if all birds are of the same color. Here’s how they do it.

The Eyeball Test

Hens that are run down, lethargic, and sickly looking usually aren’t laying. In contrast, birds that look great with complete healthy feathers, good size, and bright yellow legs and beaks may be prima donnas putting all their nutrition into looks rather than eggs. Hard working laying hens gradually get a little rough looking. As the months go by their feathers get worn. Breeds with yellow legs and beaks gradually see this color diminish as egg laying drains pigments from the body. It takes much work and nutrients to produce plentiful eggs and working girls show the strain. Good layers usually have healthy combs, while the combs of non-layers are often shrunken.

A Close Examination

Hens are easiest to handle when they are sleepy. So, the best physical way to locate a non-layer is to enter the coop at night with a battery lantern, flashlight, or headlamp so you can use both hands. Gently pick up each bird. Position her between your elbow and ribs with her head facing backwards. It may take gentle pressure from the arm to keep her wings from flapping, and by holding her feet between your fingers she’s not mobile and will likely sit quietly. Gently place the palm of the other hand on her pelvis. Bones that are easy to feel span the cloaca, where both droppings and eggs emerge. If a hen is not laying, the bones will be close together. If she’s laying they will be three or four fingers apart, providing plenty of room for the egg to pass out of her body. A laying hens vent or cloaca is usually moist and pale in color. A non-layer’s may appear yellowish.

What to Do With the Non-Layer

For many flock owners a non-layer is quickly destined for the stew pot. Usually nonlaying hens are plump and delicious but are old enough to have tough flesh. They are best stewed. Some flock owners would never dream of butchering a bird. It’s OK to let a non-layer stay in the flock, even though she’ll continue to eat expensive food without returning eggs!

Trick or Treat, Give Your Chickens Something Good to Eat!

There is a cool breeze in the air and the leaves are starting to turn rich hues in many parts of the country. Yes, fall is upon us. It’s that wonderful time of year that brings us many bountiful tidings, including pumpkin spice-everything, hay rides and trick or treater’s. But what does the fall season mean for your chickens? The answer, is likely already a part of your seasonal tradition!

If you are getting ready to carve those annual jack-o-lanterns, you can cringe a little less when scooping the slimy goo of seeds out, because it can serve a purpose this year! The guts of your pumpkins are in-fact a delicious treat to your chickens. Aside from your guys and gals loving the flavor of pumpkin contents, they are loaded with some great nutrients. Pumpkins contain vitamins A, B and C, as well as zinc. Vitamin E can also be found in the seeds. In addition, you can feed all parts of the pumpkin to chickens, just make sure the rinds are cut up some so they can easily eat.

After all the little ghosts and goblins have stopped by, you can even feed the jack-o-lanterns to your chickens! Just make sure there is no molding on the inside or outside. So get to carving, your ladies and gentlemen are awaiting a treat!

Molt Season is Here, but No Need to Fear!

Are your guys and gals 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 molt process, chickens can lose their feathers starting at the head and neck and working its way down the body. It can take 4-16 weeks for the molt process to be complete. But all of this is not in vain, the process actually serves a vital purpose in the health of your chickens, protecting them from skin infections, the cold and precipitation of winter.

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! Visit NutrenaWorld.com to learn how Feather Fixer can help you get through molt, naked but not afraid!

Chicken People – The Road to the Winner’s Circle

It’s that time of year again, we’re just under two months away from the Ohio National Poultry Show. It’s an exciting time in the competitive poultry world, not only are we coming up on fall show season, but much buzz has been made around the upcoming release of the documentary film, ‘Chicken People’. This film chronicles the road to Columbus, and what it takes to have that prize-winning entry. The film will be released on September 23rd, but in the meantime if you haven’t seen the trailer, check it out:

 We’d love to hear your poultry showing stories, so feel free to leave comments about your experiences and what you love best about exhibiting poultry!

 

 

Free Range Poultry, the Inside Scoop

free range chickensA hen lounges in the grass soaking in the sun, on her side with her wing partially open. The rooster pecks, watches, pecks, watches, then circles the flock, always on alert. A pullet scoots through a cluster of hens after a grasshopper, scolded by one of the older ones. Just a snapshot of the flock dynamics from a few minutes watching chickens in a large run or while free ranging.
If you enjoy this view like I do, free ranging or pasturing chickens is a pleasant way to raise your flock. The added food the hens or broilers pick up while foraging can help save on your overall costs, once fencing and predator prevention has been paid for.
When considering nutrition for free range or any poultry, first consider your overall goals. Are you raising for meat or eggs? Are you working to maximize egg production, size and eggshell quality? Do you have a flock for eggs and perhaps meat for your family and enjoy watching the flock more than you care about the number of eggs you collect? Are you rotating your flock maximize the nutrition from the pasture? What are your winters like and do you expect egg production in the cold seasons? Your answers determine your nutrition program for your flock.
Pastured or free range chickens pick up as much nutrition as the pasture has to offer, until they are full that day. If you have ever built a new run, delighted at the lush green grass and plants as you let your chickens out the first few days, only to be horrified at the decimation they caused in a short time, you understand how completely chickens will take advantage of the food sources in an area.
Here’s where the old adage, you are what you eat, comes in. Chickens will get the nutritional value of what they are foraging on. So, if they are free ranging on a fairly well-manicured lawn, the variety of species of plants and insects is quite limited. If they are being rotated weekly within an electric netting fence in a large field that’s mowed twice per year, housed out of a chicken tractor or hoop house, the variety will be much wider.
charlie barred rockNo matter where you raise your poultry, their nutritional needs are pretty much the same. They’re all individuals, just like us, so one hen may need more calcium, for example, than another to keep the same eggshell quality as another hen. Whenever we take away feeding consistency, we change what we know the poultry are receiving as far as nutrition. So, you can change how much nutrition they are getting, but their needs are the same. Whenever these needs for calories, vitamins, minerals and amino acids are not met, a bird will have a deficiency which can cause health issues. These health issues can range from minor to severe; from dull colored feathers and poor feather regrowth after molt or hen pecking, to decreased immune system that leads to susceptibility to respiratory infections.
So, does this mean you cannot raise your poultry out in nature with a varied diet? Absolutely not! Just keep in mind that the commercial feed and supplements that you’re feeding are that much more important because your birds are consuming a much smaller amount of them. For example, a chicken’s diet in a coop and small run is 90% layer feed, like Nutrena® NatureWise® Layer Pellets, and 10% a combination of scratch, calcium chips, unlucky insects that wander in and vegetable scraps. Since 90% of the hen’s diet is balanced for egg production, feather quality and overall health, the hen is healthy and produces large, thick-shelled eggs.
If we take the same hen, open the coop door and let her free range from 7am-7pm, the percentage of the layer feed she eats will dramatically decrease. Let’s say now 80% of her diet is free ranging, and 20% is layer pellets. Now, keep in mind, depending on where the flock is going, she can eat some yummy and nutritious things like insects, worms, frogs, all sorts of plants, flowers, vegetables, even mice. None of this is bad for her, chickens are omnivores and meant to eat all these things. The result we may see is that since the hen is not eating very much layer pellet, she may be deficient in vitamins, minerals or amino acids if she is not getting those from her environment.
Think about it like your diet. If you are eating three balanced meals a day, you’re most likely getting everything your body needs. If you are on the run and your meals are unbalanced and inconsistent, you may need to add a multivitamin, protein shake, meal bar or other supplement to prevent a deficiency.
So, give your free range hens a concentrated diet in addition to their free ranging and you will ensure that they get everything that they need in the smaller amount of feed they eat. For example, Nutrena® Country Feeds® Egg Producer is a concentrated formula that is high in energy, amino acids, vitamins and minerals that hens need to stay healthy and lay beautiful eggs for your family or customers. This type of feed is also helpful if you’re mixing in whole grains, fermented feed, compost or large amounts of vegetable scraps from your kitchen. It’s like giving hens all the amino acids, vitamins and minerals they need in a small amount like a meal/energy bar that we humans would eat.
Use nutrition as preventative medicine to keep your hens healthy and laying. And keep enjoying the sight of your flock and their antics outside!