Backyard Chickens, Chicken Health, homesteading

Heat Busters for the Coop!

We’ve got a scary Heat Wave starting today in California. Other states around us are going to be affected too. This could last for 7-10 days, break and then start anew!

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For those of you who have chickens but haven’t yet had to put a plan into place for protecting your ladies from extreme heat: NOW is the time. The key elements for helping your chickens beat the heat are water, shade, and ventilation. Here are some tips:

  1. Evaporative Cooling: If you have good soil drainage and moving air, you can spray down the ground with water early in the day. As the heat of the day increases it will pull some of the heat with the evaporating water, keeping the chicken area a bit cooler. Using misters can also be helpful, though they are a bit more expensive to install and run especially if you’re in a cooler area that doesn’t normally require you to help your beat the heat except for short heat waves like this.
  2. Freeze Treats: Frozen watermelon seems to be the favorite but other melons, berries, and veggies can work just as well. You could even mash or purée your mixed kitchen or garden scraps, put them in a metal bowl and freeze it for a chicken slushee!
  3. Extra Waterers: Leave out more water, and even extra water containers as the chickens will be drinking more often and shouldn’t have to stand around a crowded watered waiting a turn.
  4. Air Movement: Do you have a portable fan you’re not using while you’re out for the day? Run it out near the coop on an extension cord to keep the air circulating. This works especially well if it blows towards the chickens over something cold like a bucket of ice.
  5. More Shade: If you have potted plants, patio furniture or other large objects in the yard, rearranging them near the coop short term will help to cast more shade. Alternatively, o draped over the run can help create a larger shaded space. Something like this:

NKTM 50%-60% Sunblock Shade Cloth, Cut Edge UV Resistant Shade for Plant Cover, Greenhouse, Barn or Kennel

Don’t forget to remind your fellow chicken keepers about protecting their hens! For more ideas, visit the Dare 2 Dream Farms Forum.

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Backyard Chickens, Chicken Coops, Chicken Health, Farming, homesteading

6 Tips for a Rodent-Free Coop

If you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll ask you for a glass of milk. But, if you give a mouse chicken feed, fresh water, warm bedding, and a safe place to sleep, he’ll make a home in your chicken coop, invite his friends, contaminate the feed and water, and introduce parasites and diseases to your chickens.

Like the boy in that adorable children’s book, I don’t get particularly squeamish from rodents like mice. Rats, on the other hand, no thank you! But together, those rodents can be vectors for nearly 50 different diseases affecting chickens and humans, most notably salmonella, and can also commonly carry mites into the coop. Infestations of rodents have been linked to both farm and house fires. Rats also love chicken eggs, and in extreme cases, they can even prey upon baby chicks or sleeping chickens. So, as cute as the field mice may be, its always best to keep them away from the coop.

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Field mice: totally adorable, but best kept away from your chickens. Photo by: Bottle Branding
  1. Keep chicken feed and water out of reach. Chickens will give chase to rodents during the daytime, and they’ll occasionally catch them successfully. Mice and rats, being nocturnal, will come to feast when the chickens are sound asleep, so it’s best not to leave out a buffet for them.
    1. Store bulk or bagged feed securely; think metal feed bins or locking metal trashcans. Mice can chew holes in feed bags, and even through plastic feed bins and trashcans.
    2. Remove the chicken feed from the coop at night when you’re out locking up the chickens and store it safely with the bagged feed in a metal container. Alternatively, you can suspend the feeder so it hangs to keep it off the ground. Rats can cling to rope or even chain, so smooth cable is the best choice. Treadle style feeders require a hen’s weight to open and will easily keep mice from accessing the feed so you don’t have to remove it from the coop nightly.
    3. Clean up spilled feed.Even if you remove the feed every night, anything that’s on the ground will be a gold mine for rodents. TIP: Switch to pellet feed to help prevent chickens from making a mess with their food.
    4. Manual waterers make fresh water easy to access for rodents. Empty them nightly, and refill them with clean water in the morning for your chickens. Alternatively, switching to automatic watering systems like nipple waters will keep them from finding water in the coop.
  2. Eliminate large holes or gaps in the coop. Rodents can chew through wood and plastic, and mice can squeeze through openings even smaller than one inch.
    1. Use 1/2 inch hardware cloth or sheet metal to cover any large holes or gaps in the construction of your coop, and to enclose the run completely.
    2. Bury wire around the perimeter of the coop and run to prevent rats from tunneling to get into the coop.

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      1/2 inch hardware cloth used to cover ventilation holes in a chicken coop
  3. Tidy up the coop. Rodents thrive in messy, cluttered areas that don’t see much activity. Keep the coop clean, and the area around the coop free of debris to eliminate places where rodents can make a nest.
    1. Change the bedding regularly.
    2. Store fresh bedding in a metal container.
    3. Eliminate clutter and debris around the coop where rodents can hide.
    4. Keep the grass mowed around the coop, and the weeds at bay.
  4. Harvest eggs daily. Rats love chicken eggs, so leaving eggs in the nesting box overnight give them something to come for.
  5. Use Mint. Mint grown around the coop or dried and used in the nesting boxes or bedding can help deter rodents from coming around the coop. It’s important to note that this solution cannot be employed successfully on it’s own, and should be used in tandem with good coop and flock management to experience true benefits. In addition to keeping the rodents away, mint can also benefit hens through aromatherapy.

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    Mint grows easily and can be used fresh or dried in a chicken coop to deter rodents.
  6. Adopt a cat or dog. Even if the dog or cat doesn’t hunt rodents, the smell of a larger animal in the area will help keep mice and rats at bay, as well as other larger predators on the hunt for chicken dinner. Just be careful not to adopt cats or dogs with a prey drive.

If prevention is unsuccessful, don’t be hard on yourself. Although rodents do not always show up in areas with chickens, they are a natural cohabitant. There are plenty of ways to eliminate a rodent population but it’s necessary to be very cautious with traps and poisons.

 

 

Backyard Chickens, Chicken Health

5 Ways to Prevent Roundworms in Winter

I tend to love winter. Winter forces you to come inside early and let your body rest, snuggle up in some blankets over a movie and nice warm mug of hot chocolate, or spend time with your family having memorable and important conversations. But my husband, ever the farmer, despises the shorter daylight hours and the limits it puts on what he can accomplish and what he can grow. He swears the feeling is like a vice squeezing the life from him. But there’s something we can agree upon – winter is hard on our chickens!

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Dare 2 Dream Farms – hens foraging in the wee winter hours of daylight.

Roundworms are easily the most common worm to afflict backyard chickens, and your feathered babies are especially at risk in the winter. Roundworm eggs thrive with the limited hours of daylight and excessive moisture brought by winter. Infections are most commonly caused by chickens ingesting food or water contaminated with feces. Once infected, hens can suffer from serious symptoms that if left untreated can result in death. Here are five ways you can help prevent your chickens from getting an infection of roundworms.

  1. Prevent and remove standing puddles of water after rainfall. Roundworm eggs thrive in moist environments. Puddles of dirty water contaminated with feces are teeming with eggs and are a high risk for your sweet chickens when they’re looking for a convenient drink of water. Create a gentle slope for rainwater to run off or bring in a well-draining ground material like sand.
  2. Keep the grass cut short. UV rays can help to kill roundworm eggs, but there are precious few hours of sunlight in the winter. Plus, with increased rainfall, the yard will also grow more quickly, and the tall grass and weeds will protect the eggs from the sun’s UV rays. Keep the grass cut short so the UV rays can reach the soil and help keep roundworm eggs in check.
  3. Keep feeders and waterers clean. Use feeders and waterers that are designed for poultry in order to reduce fecal contamination, and make sure they stay clean. Put all food for your chickens in the feeders rather than on the ground for them to eat. Don’t let chickens roost or sit on top of feeders or waterers to contaminate them. You can also use one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per gallon of water to help keep the waterer clean.
  4. Clean the coop more often. If one egg is ingested, roundworms are quick to spread via feces. Rake the run and clean out the shavings in the coop more often than normal to reduce the amount of feces that could potentially be ingested when the birds are foraging.
  5. Be vigilant of wild birds. Roundworms are not host specific, and wild birds can easily spread an infection of roundworms to your backyard chickens. Now is the time to pull in your bird feeders, turn off the bird baths, and stop attracting wild birds to your yard. It’s also a good idea to move chicken feeders and waterers to areas that are harder to reach for wild birds.

Most importantly, know the clinical signs of roundworm infections so you can act upon them immediately:

  • increased feed consumption
  • weight loss
  • dull feathers
  • diarrhea, or fecal matter stuck to the feathers below the vent
  • pale comb, wattles and facial skin
  • listlessness
  • in serious infections, roundworms appearing in chicken droppings
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A Salmon Faverolle hen suffering from worms, with pale facial skin and the evidence of diarrhea stuck to the feathers under her tail.

If one or two birds show clinical signs of a roundworm infection, chances are that the entire flock is infected but not yet showing symptoms. It is best to treat the whole flock all at once. To determine if your chickens have an infection, seek out a veterinarian who can perform a fecal float test for you using the droppings from your chickens.

Backyard Chickens, Chicken Behaviors, Chicken Health

A Dusty Chicken is a Clean Chicken

Chickens have a natural way of keeping their feathers clean, healthy, and free of pests: dust baths! Rolling around in the dirt is a fun, social and preventative health measure that is important for all chickens.

Dust Bathing Social Bathing Dirt Bath

Description

Watching your chickens take a dust bath can be highly entertaining. They scratch at the dirt, making sure the spot is just right. Next they plop down in the wallow, wings flapping and legs kicking, working to cover all of their feathers with dirt and dust. Once sufficiently covered, the chicken will stand and shake out her feathers, leaving a cloud of dust behind, and proceed to preen her feathers. Seeing a dust bath for the first time may be alarming for humans, as chickens can lie very still in a shallow hole or their quick and repetitive movements can be mistaken for a seizure. Chickens like to take dust baths a few times a week, all year long.

Health Benefits

Dust baths are more than just fun and relaxing for your chickens, they are a natural preventative health measure for your birds. The dust absorbs the buildup of excess oil that parasites feed on, such as lice and mites. It helps diminish the population of any existing external parasites by smothering and suffocating them. Lastly, the preening that follows a dust bath helps to remove those pests. When given ample space, dust bathing is a social activity where multiple chickens will bathe together at once. In limited space, the pecking order determines who gets to bathe first.

Natural Bathing Areas

Chickens with room to roam will find themselves a spot to take a dust bath. Dry, cool places with loose soil or dirt are prime locations. Loose soil makes it easier for chickens to dig a small hole to roll around in. Keep an eye out for holes that are dug in dry areas where both you and your chickens have access, as they can be a tripping hazard. An open spot in your garden can be a tempting place to make a dust bath, but you can help prevent this by providing a specific dust bathing space for them in an area that works better for you.

Creating a Bathing Area for Your Chickens

If your chickens are confined to a smaller area, it is a good idea to provide them with a space to use for dust bathing. Most importantly, choose a place that is kept sheltered and dry. You can build a space modeled similarly to a children’s sandbox or raised planting bed, or repurpose something as simple as a large cat litter box, an old tire, a plastic swimming pool, or a storage container. Fill the area with dirt, dry soil, plain potting compost, mulch, sand, wood ash, or a mix of what you have on hand. You can also add beneficial herbs or food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) to their dust baths, but do your research before adding any foreign elements.

Let’s keep our chickens healthy and happy… and dusty!

Backyard Chickens, Broody Chickens, Chicken Behaviors, Chicken Health, WWOOF USA

Brood sounds a lot like Rude… Coincidence? I think not.

“To the broody hen the notion would probably seem monstrous that there should be a creature in the world to whom a nestful of eggs was not utterly fascinating and precious and never-to-be-too-much-sat-upon object, which it is to her.” –William James

 

… and that creature is me. Not to say that I don’t think eggs are a wonderful thing, because let’s be honest, I wouldn’t be working on a chicken farm if I didn’t. For me, eggs are an essential part of breakfast and baking cakes… but not much else. However, I’m not the one who squeezes an egg out of my body almost 260 days a year.

 

            Before laying an egg a hen will experience an increase in hormones, which usually returns to normal after the egg is laid. If the hormone level remains high, you may find yourself with a broody hen. This hen will do what she can to protect the eggs that she just forced out of her little chicken body. Broody hens will puff up their feathers, make terrifying noises, peck at you (which actually does hurt), and rip out their breast feathers in order to keep the eggs warm. She will not leave the nesting box except to eat, drink, and go potty once each day. Where as this is annoying for someone trying to collect eggs, the hens are just doing what their hormone crazed bodies are telling them to do. 

 

            Hens will often find a dark and private location to attempt to hatch their eggs. A larger hen will be able to incubate around 10 medium sized eggs, whereas a normal sized hen can incubate around 5. While this fact may fill your head with heartwarming scenes of baby chicks running around your backyard, unless the hen has had “relations” with a rooster, the eggs that she intends to hatch will be infertile. So if you want your hen to keep producing your morning eggs, there are ways to manage this. To get your hen to stop sitting on her nest of eggs:

 

  • Collect eggs daily, as many times as possible.
  • Remove the hen from the nest when you collect the eggs.
  • Close off access to the coop and nesting boxes during the day.
  • Separate the broody hen from the rest of the chickens for a few days and place it in a wire-bottom cage with only fresh food and water.

On the other hand, if your hen has had “relations” with a rooster these eggs could

actually become the cute little baby chicks you imagined. It will take a hen 21 days to hatch the fertile eggs. The hen should be kept in a safe place and have food and water nearby. And 3 weeks later… baby chicks!

 

Broody Mother & Chicks

Buff Orpington Mother Hen

 

Eggs are wonderful. Chickens are wonderful. Broodiness is not… but it’s better to have a broody chicken than no chicken at all.

By: Kristen Kelly

WWOOFer 

WWOOF-USA | Dare 2 Dream Farms

Chicken Health, Farming

Perks of Pumpkins

Every November, when Halloween has come and gone, our neighbor Jim gives us all the picked-over pumpkins from his patch down the road. We load up the bed of our old Ford pickup and truck tons of free feed to our pasture for the chickens. The hens effortlessly devour the piles of pumpkins, pecking a hole in one side and cleaning them out, seeds, membrane and pulp, leaving only the skin for us to toss in the compost.

 

These free pumpkins are a huge plus for us and for the hens. Not only do we save a pretty penny on chicken feed, but the chickens absolutely love it! The pumpkins are also a huge plus for our egg customers. The beta-carotene in pumpkins help create an even more beautiful orange supple yolk. So, what other great benefits are hidden in pumpkins?

Blue Andalusian Foraging for Pumpkins in Fall

 

NUTRIENT PACKED TREATS

 

Pumpkins are a low calorie fruit packed with protein, dietary fiber, anti-oxidants, and more. Most of the benefits are found concentrated in the seeds, but pumpkin as a whole packs a big ol’ nutrient punch, so let’s see what this chicken super-food is made of:

 

  • Vitamins A, C, and E: Pumpkin contains lots of anti-oxidants and boasts one of the highest counts of Vitamin A in its family which makes it a great immunity booster as well as a benefit for hear t health. 
  • Protein: About the same time that pumpkins ripen in fall, chickens molt, growing new feathers for winter. Since feathers are 85% protein, a chicken’s need for dietary protein increases tremendously. Pumpkin seeds, like sunflower seeds, are a really good source of protein, and naturally timed for the occasion! 
  • Beta-Carotene: The bright orange color of pumpkins indicates that they’re a storehouse for beta-carotene. Not only is this directly linked to an increase in beautiful orange yolks, but it may also play a role in cancer prevention. (Yes, chickens can get cancer too!) 
  • Plant-based Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Raw seeds, including pumpkin seeds, are one of the best sources for plant-based Omega-3s! 
  • Amino Acid Tryptophan: The same amino acid that made turkey famous is readily found in pumpkins too. Tryptophan is the ultimate mood-booster for happy hens. 
  • Zinc, magnesium, potassium, copper, calcium, and phosphorus: These minerals found abundantly in pumpkin seeds have a wide range of health benefits from immunity to heart health. 
  • Dietary fiber: Although the necessity of fiber is different in chickens than humans, a good source of fiber can help our feathered friends with nutrient digestibility, enzyme production, and organ development. 
  • B-Complex Vitamins: The fruit of pumpkins is a good source of folates, thiamin, niacin, and vitamin B-6. For your chickens, these B-complex vitamins help break down food and nutrients for them to use, and also help them respond to stress. 

 

THE THEORY OF PUMPKINS AS A NATURAL DEWORMER

 

 

Many backyard chicken blogs and forums are filled with excitement over the theory that pumpkins can be used as a natural dewormer. Outspoken chicken keepers tout their success with natural wormers when their healthy hens have a low incidence of worms. But most researchers have significant doubts about the true effectiveness of pumpkins as a wormer. Let’s break it down:

 

Pumpkins are part of the cucurbitaceae family which also includes other winter squashes, zucchini, and cucumbers. The seeds from these plants boast particularly high levels of cucurbitacin relative to other plant families. In test tubes, large quantities of cucurbitacin have been found to paralyze worms such as tapeworms and roundworms. This is where the excitement is born for using pumpkins as an all-natural wormer for chickens. However, the question is whether chickens can consume an adequate dose of cucurbitacin from pumpkin seeds, given the relatively small amount found in each seed, and the small size of a chicken’s diet, to effectively paralyze worms. So, although some homesteaders may suggest that it has worked for their pigs, cattle or sheep, the same dependable results may not occur in poultry. And the bottom line is that there is actually little to no research on worming chickens and other poultry at all, with formulated wormers, pumpkins, or other traditional homeopathic wormers, such as garlic and nasturtium. Research exists only for using formulated wormers on larger livestock.

 

Essentially, there is just no proof that pumpkins act as a successful wormer for chickens, but given how much our chickens love to eat them, and their excellent health benefits, there’s no reason not to feed them as a treat with a tiny hope that it could be helping to reduce the population of intestinal worms. Find your local pumpkin patch and see if you can work out a deal for the picked over pumpkins, or ask your neighbors for their carved pumpkins before they throw them out on November 1st.

Backyard Chickens, Chicken Behaviors, Chicken Health

Helping your Hens Molt Gracefully

Every year at about this time, panic sets in for our new clients as they notice concerning changes in their hens between feather loss and egg production loss. It’s excellent to hear that chicken moms and dads are aware of the changes taking place in their flock. And when they happen, it’s a good idea to give a quick health check up to the girls. But if its late summer or fall, and you see a combo of egg production changes and feather loss, you can rest assured that it’s just their yearly molt. Here are a few things you should know to help them molt gracefully.

 

DESCRIPTION

 

Molting is usually an annual occurrence in which both roosters and hens lose all their old, worn-out feathers and regrow new ones to prepare for colder winter weather. During a molt, hens require more nutrients and energy to regrow feathers, and in order to reserve these resources, they will either slow, or stop laying eggs. If hens do happen to continue laying eggs while molting, you can expect to see soft-shelled eggs because of the strain on their resources, so don’t be alarmed. 

 

Molting and Pin Feathers

Molting takes a period of weeks or months as it progresses through different parts of the body. When nearing a molt, feathers lose their sheen and become very dull looking. The progressive design of a molt helps to prevent a chicken from being barren of feathers as the weather begins to cool, although sometimes it is occasionally unsuccessful. The process of molting then begins with the feathers on the head, followed in order by the neck, back, breast, stern, thighs, wings, and finally the tail. Good layers begin to molt later in the year and finish more quickly, taking only 2-3 months. Poor layers start molting earlier, usually before September, and take much longer (up to 6 months) to finish.

 

FOCUS ON A HIGH PROTEIN DIET

 

Feathers are made up of 85% protein, so during a molt, a chicken’s need for dietary protein increases. Make sure to feed molting chickens a higher protein layer feed (16-18% protein). It’s also a good idea to limit treating hens with scratch; and instead, supplement with high protein treats such as:

 

  • Seeds (especially Black Oil Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds) 
  • Sprouted grains, such as alfalfa 
  • Mealworms and Earthworms 
  • Raw meat or fish (not chicken) 

 

Although you may read that feeding your chickens scrambled or hard-boiled eggs will help with protein, we don’t recommend it as it’s possible to instigate egg eating, a nightmare behavior in which chickens lay eggs and turn around to eat them because of their flavor and their high protein and calcium content. As always, Apple Cider Vinegar is a great health supplement when added to their water. It is packed with vitamins and minerals and acts as a natural health booster that can help chickens keep their energy up to get through a molt much easier.

 

PIN FEATHERS AND FEATHER PECKING

 

The new feathers that begin to grow in are called pin feathers. The blood seen in pin feathers is normal, and is used to nourish growth. However the blood in pin feathers can incite feather picking in a flock, especially because they’re all in high need of protein which is found in feathers. Keep stress levels particularly low this time of year, and keep an eye out for cannibalism. Tips for keeping stress levels low in a molting flock:

 

Move slowly around your hens.

Don’t introduce too much change at once. (Adding new birds, coop construction, introducing light, or locking them in the coop for longer periods than normal can incite bad behavior.)

Leave out treats for them to scratch and peck through for entertainment (pumpkins are readily available at this time of year and are a great low calorie, vitamin packed treat).

 

A GOOD TIME FOR DEWORMING

 

If you like to deworm your flock once a year, this is a great time to deworm your flock. While using a dewormer, eggs can’t be eaten, so it makes sense to deworm when there are fewer eggs to throw away. Additionally, this ensures they’re getting 100% of the nutrients they need for the molt from their diet, rather than being robbed by a mess of roundworms.

 

EFFECTS OF MOLTING

 

After molting, at the beginning of the next laying cycle, feed efficiency is improved, eggs are larger, and egg quality is better than it was at the end of the last laying cycle. Each passing year, though, production decreases overall so hens naturally won’t produce as well as they once did, and egg quality declines faster.

 

MOLTING CONTESTS FOR COMIC RELIEF

 

For pictures of really terrible molts, for assurance or entertainment, you can browse through the Backyard Chickens Molt Competition. Here are the links for this year’s competition as well as a couple years before: 20132012, and 2011. We all need someone who smiles at us when we’re having a bad hair day.