How to Catch and Hold a Chicken

At some point, all poultry owners will need to catch and handle their birds – for transport, medical treatment, or other reasons. Watch as Nutrena Poultry Specialist Twain Lockhart shows you the proper way to catch and hold a chicken.

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Select the right light for your winter coop

Bulbs_1_CargillHens lay best during long summer days but production drops off as nights lengthen in the fall. Installing a light bulb controlled by a timer in the coop keeps chickens happily laying through winter’s short days.

Here are some basic must do’s when lighting your coop:

  • Set the timer to turn the light on in the early morning and shut off shortly after sunrise.
  • Lighting does not have to be fancy or extremely bright. A good rule is that the light in the coop should be just light enough to read by.
  • For optimal winter laying, artificial and natural light should total about 15 hours per day.

To start an artificial lighting program, most chicken keepers simply screw an incandescent bulb into a fixture and control it with an inexpensive timer, without a second thought.  Thing again! That bulb is costing you money – and there may be better options. Incandescent bulbs, invented over a century ago, are inexpensive, work well in the cold, and create bright light the instant the switch is flipped on.  Unfortunately, they are fragile, burn out frequently, and are expensive to operate.   Incandescent bulbs convert most of the electricity they consume into heat instead of light.

About 20 years ago compact fluorescent bulbs entered the market.  Much more efficient than incandescents, fluorescent bulbs convert most of the energy they use into light, not heat. Unfortunately they are not ideal in the coop as they are fragile and don’t work as well in the cold. While fluorescents last thousands of hours before they burn out, when temperatures are below zero they barely glow. The bulbs also contain tiny amounts of toxic mercury.

A few years ago ideal bulbs for coops, outbuildings and barns entered the market.    LED, or Light Emitting Diode, bulbs are perfect for cold locations like chicken coops.   LED’s are durable and have no glass to break.  Their globe is plastic, comes on instantly at any temperature, hardly ever burns out, contains no toxic chemicals and is amazingly efficient. Their only disadvantage is cost, and that is rapidly dropping.

By giving your girls a little extra light through the winter and utilizing the right bulb to do it, you can keep them happy and productive even during the coldest months of the year!

 

Say no to crowded coops!

Crowded_Coop_WhiteIf hens are bickering and look a little rough, there’s nary a blade of grass in the run, and the eggs are dirty and not too plentiful the problem may be crowding.Chicken rearing books, blogs, and magazine articles usually recommend providing at least four square feet of coop floor space per adult bird. City ordinances also commonly require four square foot space per bird.

Newcomers to chicken raising buy or build a backyard coop and heed the advice and ordinance. But a tempting dilemma often arises.There are so many interesting chicken breeds that it’s hard to limit a flock to six. It’s hard to resist adding a few exotic breeds to the chick order. Then a friend calls to say she needs to get rid of her chickens. So, a couple of more birds go into an increasingly crowded coop. 

 Aside from the legal issue of exceeding the number of hens allowed by the town’s ordinance, crowding chickens is likely to create a dirty, smelly coop filled with stressed hens that may be aggressive, unhealthy, and unkempt.     

Crowding Causes Social Problems
In some ways chickens and people are alike.  Both need personal space, an ability to cleanse themselves, exercise, and mental stimulation. Cram many people into small unsanitary spaces and expect spats and smell to increase while productivity declines.The same happens with chickens.  Crowd them together and expect these problems:

  • Bickering that leads to downright aggressive behavior.
  • Broken and dirty eggs.   When too many hens use too few nests they break eggs.  Dirty_Clean_Hand
    The contents of broken eggs soil the unbroken ones and encourage chickens to begin the nasty habit of eating eggs
  • Dirty and disheveled looking birds.  Crowded chickens are dirty, have broken feathers, and sometimes even have sores resulting from other birds picking at them.

Sanitation and Disease
Too many chickens crowded together are a recipe for disease and dirt.  Eight birds in 32 square feet produce twice the manure as four birds in the same space.  Crowded birds need their coop cleaned more often than their owners are likely to do it.  They frequently tip over water buckets, resulting in wet smelly litter in the coop.  Because crowded hens are more likely to quarrel and pick at each other, open sores and broken feathers result that can led to infection. Disease carrying microbes thrive in crammed dirty coops.   

Four square feet of floor space per bird is a bare minimum for a healthy flock.  Give the birds a little more breathing room and flock stress will decline.  Hens will be calm, healthy, and clean.     

It’s tempting to include the size of the outdoor run when calculating the square feet per bird.   Extra space outside gives hens a chance to enjoy fresh air and exercise while discovering delicious insects, worms, and plants to eat.  Unfortunately they won’t go out when snow is on the ground, it’s raining hard, or predators lurk nearby. Consider the run bonus space and don’t count it when determining how many birds can be comfortably housed in a coop.  

 Chickens spend much time dust bathing and preening to keep clean.  Crowded hutches and muddy runs make grooming impossible.    Giving birds plenty of space with clean litter, fresh water, nutritious food, and a grassy run reduces bird stress while enhancing cleanliness and productivity.    

If it’s important to keep many hens in limited space there is an alternative.   Bantams are fascinating miniature chickens available in dozens of breeds.   Because they are much smaller than standard breeds more can be housed in a small coop and will be happy with a couple of square feet per bird. Some bantam breeds are prolific layers of tiny but delicious eggs. 

No matter your coop design, style or architecture, just remember that clean contented birds are fun to be around.  Stressed dirty ones aren’t.

How to supplement calcium to your flock

EggsThe shell of each egg that your hens are laying is made up of nearly 95% calcium carbonate by dry weight. To produce hard eggs, your chicken will be consuming up 20 times the amount of calcium in one year than the amount of calcium that is contained in her actual bones. As their keeper, it is your responsibility to make sure each chicken is consuming a steady supply of calcium in her diet.

DON’T Feed Egg Shells
There are some chicken owners who swear by reusing eggshells and feeding them back to their flock. Some people may crush these before feeding. Feeding your chickens their eggshells may seem like a convenient way to recycle them, but there are several health risks that will be brought upon them.

1. Risk of salmonella for hens. Salmonella can be found on the inside and outside of eggs. The kicker? Salmonella can be on eggs that seem to appear completely normal. Feeding your hens eggshells infected with this bacterium can cause this sometimes fatal illness. Some people prevent this by baking their eggshells before feeding, however, that is not always effective and is a time-consuming process
2. Risk of salmonella for humans. This is where the “domino effect” comes into play. If a chicken is eating eggshells with salmonella and becomes infected, this affects the eggs they are producing, and any human consumption of those eggs.
3. Can teach hens to start eating their own eggs. When chickens start to recognize their food as eggshells, this runs the risk of them eating and destroying the eggs they lay.

DO Feed Them Oyster Shells or Limestone
Though this may seem like a higher investment up front, feeding your laying chickens oyster shells or limestone instead of their own eggshells with pay off in the end. By cutting out serious health risks to your chickens and to those eating the eggs they produce, feeding oyster shells or limestone is a cost effective and safe alternative. In addition, a little bit of these products go a long way – a 50 lb. bag of oyster shell or limestone will last the average flock an extended period of time – up to several months for a flock of 6 – 8 birds. Feeding these products is easy – simply put the oyster shell or limestone in a separate container and allow birds access free choice. Your girls will take what they need.

Just keep in mind that when it comes to calcium supplementation for your flock,  ground limestone or oyster shells are safer options than feeding eggshells back to your girls.

How to prepare your flock for molt

Ready or not, molt is coming…the dropping feathers, the lessening egg production, the 100_3184embarrasment of a flock who’s in a full blown molt. We know that molt is a natural process, but what, if anything can you do to help your birds get ready to go through the annual loss and regrowth of their feathers? Can you help them prepare and get through the process faster or more easily? It turns out you can – here’s how:

  1. Start now. If you do not use supplemental light in your winter coop and your hens are 18 months or older, chances are good that one or all of your hens will experience molt in the coming months. Preparing for this transition now will help you stay ahead of the curve.
  2. Feed appropriately. Now is the time to dial up the protein and cut back on the treats. A higher level of protein is required in birds who are molting so that they can replace those protein-rich feathers. Treats like scratch and straight grains dilute protein content and should be avoided, or fed at no more than 10% of the birds’ total diet.  NatureWise® Feather Fixer™ from  Nutrena®is a feed designed specifically to help your birds get through molt quicker. It has elevated levels of protein as well as a mix of vitamins, minerals and amino acids that help maintain healthy skin and develop strong and beautiful new feathers. Start to feed Feather Fixer™ at least 30 days in advance of anticipated molting for maximum benefit to your birds.
  3. Clean the coop thoroughly. This is a great time to get you coop and run prepared for winter by giving everythig a thorough cleaning and disinfection. Include nest boxes, perches and cracks and crevices in your cleaning plan. Having your facility as clean as possible will help reduce the bacteria and chance of infection for birds with bare skin due to molt.
  4. Check for creepy crawly critters. Because molting affects your birds’ feathers, it is important to make sure that molt is the only challenge that is presented for feather regrowth. Parasites like mites and lice will affect feather quality and will be an added stress on birds who are molting. Examine your flock and their housing for any parasites and treat accordingly, repeating treatment as necessary.
  5. Monitor aggressive flock mates. If you have a flock member that has had a history of being a bully or acting in an agressive manner, you may want to take this opportunity to decide whether or not the bird should be kept in the flock or not. Tender, exposed skin and blood filled pin feathers can become prime targets for aggressive birds.
  6. Alert the neighbors. If you are in the habit of giving away or selling your eggs to neighbors, friends and family, you may want to alert them as soon as you see the drop in egg production that usually goes along with molt. They’ll appreciate being given a heads up that they’ll need to source their eggs elsewhere for a while.

Say “Cluck”! A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Chickens

We all enjoy the fun and frolicking of our flocks, and the desire to capture their beauty (or antics) through photography to share with others is part of ownership!

In order to do our girls justice from behind the camera lens, there are a few things to consider when setting up your shot.

Lighting – You’ll never get a good picture if you have bad lighting!

  • Early morning or late evening are often the best times for photography – the “golden hour” after sunrise or before sunset provides enough light for quality shots, without the harsh shadows of a high-noon sun!
  • If you can’t get out during that “golden hour”, then opt for areas of bright shade – a spot where the subject is in the shade, but there is enough open light around to keep your girls from turning in to dark areas on the photo – especially with the darker colored breeds.
  • Try not to use the built-in flash on your camera – it can often create harsh shadows and make your subject look flat.  If you have a nicer DSLR, try getting to know your camera’s various shooting modes to find one that helps you capture the natural light available without the use of flash.

Background – Clear the clutter!

  • This rule helps the viewer’s eye go right to the subject – and exactly what you want them to see.
  • Try to compose your shot to avoid things like the car parked in the driveway, unoccupied lawn furniture, or the lawn mower parked by the shed.
  • Avoid “mergers” – everyone has seen one of those photos where it looks like the subject has a random tree limb growing out of their head.  In the case of your chickens, watch out for a fence-post behind the bird, or worse, having two birds lined up so that it appears you own a two-headed chicken!
Clean-background-example

Zooming in, or getting just a bit closer, to the chick eliminates the building in the back corner of the photo, reducing visual clutter and increasing the focus on the cuteness of the chick! Creative cropping, as shown in this example, can be used as well, however any time you can “get it right” in the camera reduces the amount of fixing things on your computer.

Rules of Composition – Frame your shot!

  • Fill your Shot: fill the frame of the camera up with your subject, unless the background helps tell the story.
  • Change your angle: Seeing as chickens are fairly short in stature, get down on your knees – or even flat on your belly in the grass – to get a different perspective! Photos taken from your feet might make their shape look awkward too, so down on their level may result in a more natural looking bird.
  • Rule of Thirds – aka Avoid the Center:  Don’t put your subject dead center in every photo. It can lead to boring, repetitive photos. Imagine a grid in your viewfinder (you might even be able to turn one on in your camera’s settings) and place your subjects on those lines.  This trick can help create movement or visual interest in the subject.
  • Allow Room for Movement: If your subject is on the move – and what chicken isn’t – then allow “room” in the photo for the bird to move in to.  For example, if your girl is running to the right, frame her in the left side of the photo with space to her to run in to, rather than catching her running off the right side of the image.  Your viewer’s eye will thank you!
Changing your angle from slightly above to down in the grass can give a whole new perspective on your birds!

Changing your angle from slightly above to down in the grass can give a whole new perspective on your birds!

These are just a few quick tips that hint at the photographic possibilities with your flock. Give them a whirl, and enjoy the fun and creative memories you capture.  And remember, no matter what camera you use – whether it is your smartphone or a high end digital SLR – your composition can make or break the image you capture!

Bumblefoot – causes, treatment and prevention

The health and success of your chickens lies in your hands. Knowing what diseases Spurs_Bumblefootthey’re at risk for is critical for you to allow them to lead healthy lives. Bumblefoot, or plantar pododermatitis, is caused by introduction of staphylococcus bacteria and is found on the toes, hocks and pads of a chicken’s foot.  It is characterized by a pus-filled abscess that is covered by a black scab and is paired with lameness, swelling, and the infected bird’s reluctance to walk. To keep this becoming a fatal problem in your flock, learn the causes, treatments and prevention methods.

How did they get Bumblefoot?
Knowing how your birds can get Bumblefoot will help you to catch it early and even begin to prevent it. The disease enters through breaks in the skin caused by:

  • Splinters
  • Sharp wire ends
  • Jumping repeatedly from a perch (heavier breeds are at a higher risk doing this)
  • Skin irritation caused by poor litter management

How do I treat it?
The best treatment is catching it early, so you have a higher chance of beating it. Once you find it, use the following treatment methods:

  • Administer proper antibiotics for a specified amount of days, as prescribed and instructed by your veterinarian.
  • Soak the lesion in warm water filled with Epsom salts to soften the exterior. This will allow you to drain the lesion with hydrogen peroxide, filling it with antibiotic ointment once the pus and debris is cleared.
  • Keep the bird separate from the time you find the disease and until treatment is complete, and provide them with adequate bedding.

Can I prevent it from happening in the future?

  • Keep infected bird separate and disinfect the area where your healthy flock is housed.
  • Provide clean and proper bedding on a regular basis.
  • Have your perches less than 18 inches from the floor.
  • Eliminate all rough and sharp edges.

While you are treating birds infected with Bumblefoot, remember to be careful and to make sure you are protecting yourself from the infection with gloves and proper disposal of materials so it does not pass on to you and others.

How to personalize your egg deliveries

Keeping your egg cartons full can be achieved in the winter through artificial lighting in your coop.

Nearly everyone who keeps a small flock of backyard chickens occasionally has more eggs than the family can use.  Boxes of eggs can quickly stack up in the refrigerator. It’s usually easy to locate coworkers, neighbors, and friends eager to buy eggs, but because a surplus is sporadic and not always predictable it is hard to develop steady sales. Many people simply give away extra eggs.

Any eggs heading for someone else’s kitchen, whether sold or given, provide an outstanding opportunity to educate consumers about chickens and eggs. Few people know much about chickens and often harbor misconceptions about them. Adding a small information sheet into each carton of eggs may spark curiosity and interest in the recipient.

 

Below is an example of a short information sheet. You can print this up, make some copies, and insert one on the top of the eggs before you close the carton for eggs you are giving away. Personalizing this is a fun way to get people to feel involved in your flock. You can share your chicken’s names, favorite treats, and funny antics. You could even include a picture of your flock! Every once in a while you can change the wording, but providing a sheet like this with information on breeds, why backyard eggs are so delicious, and where to learn more is a great way to share your enthusiasm for chickens!

Please enjoy these eggs laid by 12 hens living contently in the backyard of the (your name) home.They are very freshDifferent chicken breeds lay eggs of different colors.The brown ones in this box were laid by Buff Orpingtons or Rhode Island Reds. Pale blue or greenish eggs were laid by Easter Eggers, and white ones by Leghorns. All are equally nutritious and delicious. Our hens live in a spacious coop with a large outdoor run where they enjoy sunshine and fresh air.  They eat insects, grass, and table scraps, but rely on commercially produced feed as the mainstay of their diet. If you have questions about how we keep and raise our chickens or would like information on how you can do the same, or if you’d like to request another egg delivery, please call us at xxx-xxx-xxxx. Enjoy your fresh eggs!

Putting information in each egg carton makes the owner of a small flock a chicken ambassador.

Put your chickens to work in your garden!

 

ChickensEnterCreating new vegetable garden space from an area of lawn is often hard work. Advice is often to spray the lawn area with Roundup or a similar herbicide, let the lawn die, spade the dead grass deeply or remove it, and then soften the soil and plant seeds.

That involves lots of work and the use of herbicides that many people avoid.  There is an easier way. Let chickens do the work.

Chickens love scratching up dirt, dust bathing in it, and gobbling up grass, weed seeds, and insects, worms, and other invertebrates they find while scratching. When confined to a small outdoor run even a few chickens will soon devour every bit of grass and convert it to bare dirt.

ChickenScratchingOne Iowa family recently converted a small lawn area into a vegetable garden using hens as unpaid helpers.  Here is what they did: 

1. Purchased a 100 foot section of seven foot tall light black mesh fence marketed to keep deer out of gardens, several seven foot metal fence posts, and 100 cable ties. Total cost was about $50, and the fencing will last for years and is highly portable.  

2.   Pounded the fence posts into the ground forming a rectangle around the lawn area to be converted to garden.  Attached the deer netting to the posts using cable ties.

 3.   The new garden area was immediately outside the existing chicken run, so the family cut an easily repairable hole in the existing fence that allowed the hens to move into the enclosed lawn area.    

Within 15 minutes the hens had abandoned their grassless old run and moved into the green grass. It took them about ten days to eat the grass, scratch up the soil, and make the area ready for planting. While eating grass, seeds, and worms they left droppings to fertilize the new garden plants.  

Spade_RAs soon as the ground was nearly bare of lawn the family repaired the temporary hole in the original fence, confining the hens to their old run. They spaded and smoothed the new garden area, added compost made from chicken droppings and kitchen scraps and lawn clippings and planted seeds.  Because deer are plentiful in the area they are leaving the temporary deer fence in place for the growing season but will remove it in the fall.

Using and portable fencing to confine chickens in an area being converted to gardens is easy, inexpensive, and flexible since the fencing can be used over and over to allow rotation of garden spaces.