6 Steps for Backyard Poultry Biosecurity

As a poultry owner, you know how important it is to keep your birds healthy. By practicing biosecurity, you can help reduce the chances of your birds being exposed to animal diseases such as avian influenza (AI) or exotic Newcastle disease (END).

“Biosecurity” may not be a common household word. But, for poultry and bird owners it can spell the difference between health and disease. Practicing biosecurity can help keep disease away from your farm, and keep your birds healthy.

Recommendations provided by the USDA, for more information on this and other topics, visit www.ahls.usda.gov/.

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.

Keeping the Coop Happy During Winter

It’s no surprise that the winter months can be as long and arduous for chickens, as they are for us. Gone are their days of roaming free in the sunshine, while scratching up treats and exploring new places. The warmth of the coop becomes the new norm during these cold months, and the diet might start to feel as repetitious as their daily winter schedule.

Although commercial feed is an important mainstay for winter chickens, ambitious owners sprout grain to give their flock a winter treat of greenery. Table scraps also add diet variety but be careful as wet soggy foods can dampen the coop litter and create odor.

Among the best table scraps for indoor feeding are small amounts of salad greens, pumpkin and squash seeds, and bits of vegetables, popcorn, and almost any other food that’s relatively dry. Only put in as much as the birds can clean up in a few minutes.

Chickens love a snack of scratch grain or cracked corn, but only a few handfuls daily are all a small flock should have. Too much grain causes chicken obesity! A NatureWise Scratch Block of compressed grain sold at feed stores and left in the coop helps to provide exercise and diversion as the birds gradually peck the blocks apart.

Perhaps the most important help a flock owner can give birds is space. Cramming hens together in winter guarantees squabbling, pecking, and other social problems. Four square feet of floor space per birds is an absolute minimum. The more room the better, and a coop that has an array of perches and roosts at different heights and angles gives the hens a place to exercise, while adding three dimensions to a coop.

So go ahead, add some variety to their winter lives and just keep reminding your feathered friends, Spring will be back…someday!

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!