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.

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.

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.

Tick-Tock, Tick Time is Here!

The warmer than average winter temps we enjoyed the past few years are taking revenge on our backyards.

High tick populations are the result. Besides being pesky, the risk of Lyme disease contraction is reason for concern.

One study recently conducted in Connecticut showed that nearly 40 percent of ticks tested this year have Lyme disease bacteria, according to an article recently published in The Day. In addition, ticks are simply out for blood- and are host neutral. Meaning, your chickens may get ticks, and be exposed to Lyme bacteria, too.

But birds eat bugs, right? When Lyme disease was realized as serious concern for humans in 1992, Vassar College in New York conducted a study to review the case for Guinea Fowl and reducing Lyme disease risk.

After all, the loud, shrieking bird consumes a diet that’s 90% insects!

They assessed the impact guinea fowl would have on tick densities in backyards over the course of a year.

It was determined that guinea fowl do reduce the amount of adult ticks found in backyards, but, unfortunately, didn’t reduce the amount of nymphal (young) ticks- the main connection to Lyme disease.

If you raise chickens, they’ll eat the ticks, too – just not as much as their rock-star cousin, the Guinea.

So what’s a chicken lady to do?

Well, because chickens are a host to ticks, too, we recommend a multi-angle approach to take care of ticks to protect your flock and your family, here are some quick tips to get you started:

Information gathered from:
http://www.caryinstitute.org/sites/default/files/public/reprints/Price_2004_REU.pdf
http://www.ct.gov/caes/lib/caes/documents/special_features/tickhandbook.pdf

Wouldn’t Ya Know, Nature Smart® Is Now Non-GMO!

New Non-GMO label: Nutrena Nature Smart®

At Nutrena, we appreciate hearing what you like most about our different lines of feed, but we also welcome feedback for what you’d like us to add for your girls. In our most recent research, 64 percent of poultry hobbyists were “very interested” in a non-GMO offering from Nutrena. We’re happy to announce that our Nature Smart® line will now be labeled non-GMO in addition to being a long-standing USDA-certified organic product line.

We’ve fulfilled requirements to be labeled as a non-GMO backyard poultry feed, and after careful review of the production and formulation practices of Nature Smart, we’re able to stand confidently behind a non-GMO label without changing the feed you’ve come to know.

Same Product, New Label

The best part about this new non-GMO label is that the feed you’ve become accustom to remains the same — the formulation is the same as it’s always been. Because the Nature Smart line has been USDA-certified organic for quite some time, the product has been made without the use of GMOs since the beginning.

According to the USDA National Organic Program — Agricultural Marketing Service, for all products certified as USDA-organic, the use of GMOs is prohibited. To meet the USDA organic standards, farmers and processors must prove they are not using GMOs and that their crop is protected from any prohibited substances. The USDA conducts on-site inspections to ensure that farmers are following their organic-system plan. Having had the USDA-certified organic label for years, Nature Smart meets the above requirements.

Nutrena Nature Smart non-GMO green stamps will appear on packages in the marketplace as soon as March, with a new non-GMO label appearing in the summer.

Continuing Choice

This announcement adds another layer of choice to our line of Nutrena poultry feeds. Because the Nature Smart formula remains unchanged, your girls will continue to find the same premium, healthy choice they love, with the added benefit of being certified non-GMO. As a brand, Nutrena aligns with the full spectrum of consumer choice, and is a one-source supplier of natural (as defined by AAFCO), organic, economical, soy-free and omega-3 feed offerings.

It’s important for us at Nutrena to listen to the feedback we hear from you and make improvements to meet your needs. We will continue to listen to your feedback across product lines, and develop our portfolio when possible as the needs of you, your family and your girls evolve.

Love is in the Coop: A Guide to Chicken Reproduction

Some surprising aspects of chicken mating make it possible for families to keep a few hens in suburban and urban areas and enable monstrous operations to produce commercial eggs at low cost.

Imagine the future of suburban chickens if a hen had to have a rooster present to lay eggs. Few cities allow anyone to keep crowing roosters, so it’s fortunate that hens lay eggs whether or not a male is around. Huge factory egg operations are also lucky that hens lay without a rooster present. If roosters were necessary to stimulate laying, commercial eggeries would need larger facilities to house male birds that eat but don’t lay. Egg costs would be higher!

Roosters are fun to watch as they strut around the coop showing off their gorgeous feathers. Having one makes keeping chickens more interesting while producing fertile eggs that will hatch. Roosters protect their hens from intruders. Having a rooster in the flock lets people observe the rather unusual chicken mating process which is very different from how mammals mate.

A rooster often employs a type of foreplay by prancing around the hen and clucking before mounting her. The transfer of sperm happens quickly without the penetration normal in mammal mating. The cloaca, or vent, of the male and female touch and sperm are exchanged. It’s called a “cloacal kiss” and requires a bit of avian gymnastics for both birds to position themselves so their cloacas meet.

Just what is a cloaca? Unlike humans and most mammals, a female chicken has but one rear orifice with three functions. It is where feces and eggs exit her body and sperm enter. The rooster’s cloaca has only two functions. One is to pass feces. The other is to transfer sperm to a hen.

A hen doesn’t need to mate every day in order to lay fertile eggs. She stores sperm in her body and her eggs will be fertile for at least a couple of weeks and sometimes much longer before she needs to re-mate. One rooster will easily keep eight to a dozen hens fertile.

Mammals produce liquid urine which leaves the body through the urethra. Urine contains urea. In contrast birds have no need for a urethra since they don’t urinate.  Instead they coat their feces with uric acid that exits their body through the cloaca as moist chicken poop.

Not producing liquid urine allows birds to have lighter bodies than mammals of similar size. It is an adaption that helps them fly. Fortunately, the lack of liquid urine makes keeping chickens easier. If they produced copious urine, bedding would quickly become saturated and smelly if not changed often. Instead, moist chicken feces quickly dries and becomes incorporated into the coop’s bedding. As long as it stays dry changing litter doesn’t need to be done often and the coop stays dry and odor free.

A chicken’s cloaca is an amazing organ. To keep eggs about to be laid away from feces she inverts her oviduct within the cloaca so there is little or no contact inside her body between feces and egg, which comes out clean.

If hens required a rooster in order to lay, few suburbanites would be able to keep chickens. And, if birds produced liquid urine coops would quickly become smelly and need frequently cleaning. Far fewer suburbanites would be willing to do much more coop cleaning and simply not keep hens. So, these simple adaptations meet several needs.

Myth-Busting Medicated Chicken Feed: Feeds That Include Amprolium

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 poultry 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.