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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Why Raise Bantams?

Why Raise Bantams?
To give an honest answer to my own post title,  I wouldn’t. 

I wouldn’t raise bantams. You see, I’m a big chicken kinda-girl. You show me an Orphington, Brahma or a big ole Cochin and I wan to wrap my arms around it’s fat fluffy self and bear hug all that lovely chicken plumpness. “I love big chickens and I cannot lie.” (Did I go too far?…I went to far.) But that’s ok.because big chickens are just a preference, and that’s all it is. I’m the same way with dogs. I love big dogs. Big pudding like lugs who like to slobber and lay their big heavy heads in your lap begging for a scratch behind the ear.

But preference aside, I love all chickens and if we weren’t blessed with a good sized piece of property and a comfortable run, then bantams would definitely be a consideration. In fact…that’s kinda how Zach and I started out.

I had chickens throughout my childhood but when I went to college I had to phase out my chicken addiction because my parents weren’t keen on keeping them for me. So sadly, I was chicken-less for about 5 years. Dark times…dark times. But then Zach and I got married and decided that we were going to start a small flock. We were living at my parents and didn’t want anything too big because we assumed we would be moving soon and wasn’t sure what the future might hold as far as backyard size. So we built a small triangle coop and filled it with four small bantams.

It was perfect! Even though I had dreams of one day raising Jersey Giants or Sussex, those four chickens tamed the wild beast within me and I got my chicken fix until we were able to buy our farm. I loved those chickens dearly. In fact, our Silkie is still my favorite hen.

So even though I wouldn’t choose to raise bantams now-a-days, that doesn’t mean that they’re not a perfect choice for someone else depending on your preference and situation. Their smaller size might be just what you’re looking for in a chicken. Here’s 9 reasons to love Bantams and a few considerations in choosing this breed. 

1. They’re Adorable!
Ok, so maybe I prefer larger chickens but it’s kinda hard to deny that bantams are cute. Especially when they’re chicks!

2. And so are their Eggs!
You might not get a jumbo omelet from just one bantam egg, but a few might work. Many breeds of bantams lay on a daily basis and the eggs can be used in the same manner as a normal chicken egg. Depending on the breed, about 2 bantam eggs equal 1 medium chicken egg and they come in many shell colors. They’re adorable to display and make for interesting craft projects.  

3. Less is More
Bantams and their pint sized stature require less food, smaller housing and they create less mess. So they’re cheaper to raise and require less effort as far as coop building and keeping things tidy. Like a full sized chicken, bantams help with insect control, their droppings can be used for fertilizer and though they may be smaller than a full sized chicken, their eggs are delicious and nutritious.

4. They’re Great For Kids
Children love bantams because they’re a perfect fit for small hands. Children can easily handle and care for a bantam because they weigh very little. The equipment is also easier to handle. Bantams do great with smaller, lighter weight feeding dishes and less water at one time so little ones don’t have to lug heavy water buckets around and can still have the experience and responsibility of taking care of a pet.  

5. Perfect for Small Backyards
If you have a smaller backyard with limited space for a coop you can generally keep more bantams in the same space than you would full sized chickens. This allows for more variety among the breeds you keep.

6. There’s Lots of Variety
Bantams come in all shapes and sizes with interesting feather patterns and body types. Some breeds are referred to as a True Bantam. This is a breed that is naturally small. Sometimes these breeds can be less domesticated. Some examples would be the Sebright, Mile Fleur d’Uccle and the Serama.

A Miniature Breed (which will also be called bantam), is a smaller version of a normal sized breed. Some examples would be Bantam Rhode Island Red, Bantam Cochins and Bantam Polish breeds.
7. They’re Popular in the Show Circuit.
Many people enjoy raising bantams to compete in shows. It’s a fun hobby and a great way to learn about different breeds and meet other poultry enthusiasts.

8. Little Chickens with Big Personalities
Bantams are hilarious. Every bantam we’ve ever raised has had some sort of quirkiness. Our Silkie is a spazoid, our Polish was in another world, and our little Cochin was the friendliest chicken I’ve ever had. If you’re looking for entertainment then Bantams are your breed.

9. They Make Wonderful Mothers
Bantams, especially Silkies make wonderful mothers. They will attempt to sit on and hatch out anything they can or dye trying. For more on this read my post Mamma Silkie’s at it Again, where our Silkie hen attempts to steal on of our turkey eggs.

A Few things to Consider
Raising bantams, for the most part, is just like raising full sized chickens only on a smaller scale, but there area few differences that might need noting. Bantams can be mixed with full sized chickens. We mix ours and they do fine, but I have had experiences in the past where they do better separated. Sometimes the larger chickens just plow them over. Also, full sized roosters can try to mate with your bantam hens which can sometimes be dangerous.

Be sure to lower the food and water dish to the smallest chicken’s height or have two stations accommodating each size. Also bantams do better with crumble size food rather than pellets.
Bantams can also fly really well. If this is an issue perhaps consider a closed in run. They are also notorious escapees, squeezing through tiny holes in fences, or cracks in the gate.

Ever hear the phrase “Mean as a bantam rooster?”…yeah me too. Ever wonder where those sayings come from? Well, as far a roosters are concerned this is maybe a gray area as far as the positive. I’ve had 5 Bantam roosters over the years and 4 out of 5 of those roosters were STINKERS!

To be fair, I posted a question to our readers to see what your experience has been and it was about 60-40. With 60 agreeing that bantams tend to have a size complex and make up for it with a LOT of attitude. The good thing about a bantam is that they’re so little that it’s hard for them to do much damage, though, I wouldn’t let a child around an aggressive rooster, bantam or not. So my advice is if you end up with a bantam rooster, spend a lot of time holding it, feed it by hand and hope for the best.

Though their attitude might be big, a bantam rooster has a small crow. In my experience they do seem to crow more frequently but it’s usually quite a bit higher pitched and softer. It doesn’t seem to resonate as far. For example, I can hear all our roosters through the house even with the windows closed, but I can’t hear our bantam Sebright.

by Jennifer Sartell of Iron Oak Farm    See more at:



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Breed Highlight: Silkies

Breed Highlight: Silkies

If you’ve ever seen one of these furry-looking chickens wandering someone’s yard, chances are your first thought was something along the lines of “what is that thing?” Possibly named for their silky-feeling feathers, Silkies look very different from your typical chicken breed. They have black skin, extra toes, and look like they’ve had a run-in with the fluff cycle in your dryer

White Silkie bantam.
Although their exact origins are unknown, most of the earliest documentation of silkies comes from China and other parts of Southeast Asia. Chinese medicine incorporates silkie meat, bones, and feet, which are shown to provide more anti-oxidants than other poultry. Early European explorers such as Marco Polo wrote accounts of these strange little birds, describing them as furry, wooly, and having hair comparable to that of cats. Eventually silkies made their way to the Western world via the Silk Route, and were recognized as an official breed in North America in the late 19th century. Carnivals and other traveling shows in the 19th and early 20th centuries often advertised silkies as chickens with fur instead of feathers, or sometimes tried to pass them as the cross of a chicken and a rabbit. Today, they are a popular ornamental breed.

Silkies are often considered a bantam (dwarf) breed, though their sizes can vary and there is an official bantam silkie. In the past we have kept a small number of silkies, and the males were ‘normal’ sized while the female was very small, though still larger than our bantam chickens. Common silkie colors include black, blue, buff, and white, though more color possibilities do exist. 

These fancy birds also have a strange comb that resembles a large bumpy walnut (our white roosters had reddish purple combs), as well as bright blue earlobes. You may have to push back the fluff to see their faces

Though we do not have any silkies currently, they tend to be very friendly when handled regularly. The last rooster we had regularly followed me around the barnyard and would eat feed out of my hand. Our hen typically laid one small, cream-colored egg every 2-3 days. I have read that silkies are very prone to go broody, but never had that experience with our own. The silkie genes seem to be very dominant, though; we have a lot of extra-toed mixed breeds!

For backyard flock keepers, a silkie can make a great and fanciful addition. Families with kids will love these gentle little birds. They’re chatty birds, and the males can be a little loud, so beware if your neighbors aren’t happy with all-day crowing sessions. Hens are known to go broody very easily, and will raise a clutch of any eggs they’re given to hatch. Don’t keep silkies if your end-goal is eggs –silkie eggs tend to be smaller than most, and there are other breeds which are much better layers. It should also be noted that silkies tend to be much more gentle than other breeds and are prone to being bullied, so watch out for your fluffy friends if you have a large flock.

As a recap, here are the pros and cons of keeping silkies:Pros
  • Friendly and gentle, they make great pets
  • Prone to going broody and will raise any chicks
  • Great conversation starter!
  • Often bullied by other chickens
  • Not great egg layers, will go broody easily
  • Does not do well in wet, cold climates
Silkies make great companions and pretty additions to your backyard flock! 

Check out if you are interested in owning your first silkies this Spring

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Monday, January 26, 2015

The Art of Handfeeding Chickens

The Art of Handfeeding Chickens 

One question we often get asked by people planning for their first flock of backyard chickens is this: how do I get friendly birds? How do you train pet chickens to eat from your hand? In most cases, the answer is simple: Handfeeding pet chickens is something you almost never have to specially “train” them to do. Chickens love to eat, and if the food is in your hand, then so be it!

Even so, we do have some tips to share that can help if you’re brand new and starting from scratch (pun intended), or in certain other situations where handfeeding chickens may present some obstacles.

Situation 1: Your brand new baby chicks all run, terrified, from your hand!

This is an issue that often happens with people brand new to chicken keeping, who may not immediately understand how to interact with chickens. For some it’s intuitive, but others may relate more intuitively to other pets.

If this is what you’re picturing when you think of pet chickens, it’s easy to achieve!
If this is what you're picturing when you think of pet chickens, it's easy to achieve!
You can do it in a few short hours

Imagine, for example, a dog person trying to interact with a cat with the same sort of play dogs often appreciate. Dogs enjoy a vigorous scratch behind the ears and some roughhousing, while cats tend to prefer more gentle handling offered on their terms, which does not affront their dignity. To approach a cat the same way you approach a dog is to invite the cat to regard you as a mannerless philistine.

Similarly, even though chickens are friendly and can make very good pets—even seeking out your lap and begging for affection— you must first understand how to approach them and interact with them. A person new to chickens may beg for my help taming “wild” chicks that run from their hand whenever it’s placed in the brooder; they are astounded when I have them rushing to my own hand in a matter of 30 minutes. Or just five.

Friendly chick!
Knowing how to interact with chickens is key

“But I tried the exact same thing!,” they protest. When I reached in, they just ran away! What gives?”
I explain that there are a few key things to keep in mind when interacting with chickens:
Chickens are prey animals, in contrast to dogs and cats, who are predators. Dogs hunt in packs and instinctively cooperate with members of their social group. Cats are solitary hunters. Chickens are certainly bug (and occasional mouse) hunters, but a pack of chickens does not coordinate to hunt down a single prey like dogs do. Chickens are solitary hunters like cats (what bugs I find, I eat!)… but unlike cats, they also organize into flocks, their packs, for safety.

While the hens forage, the roosters keep watch and sound the alarm when a predator is spotted. If there is no rooster, a dominant hen may take that social role. Chickens watch other flock members for clues; when one startles and runs for cover, especially if she is high up on the pecking order, they all may take their clue from her and emulate her behavior. Compounding this issue is that chickens are more or less “programmed” to avoid danger from overhead. This means that when you lean over the brooder and reach your hand in from above, every instinct screams for them to flee. The sky is falling!

The solution? Simple enough. Don’t lean over the brooder, and don’t reach directly down into the center of a group of chicks. Sit down and sidle or scoot over to the brooder obliquely. When you reach in, reach in to the side nearest you, rather than toward the chicks directly. Then just leave your feed or treat filled hand in there a while so they can get used to you. When your hand doesn’t turn into a five-headed bird-destroying monster, the most dominant bird in your flock will eventually come over to investigate.
The thing is, you only need to charm the dominant bird. The others will all follow their comrade. Once that first bird starts eating, the others will quickly follow, and voila! You are handfeeding chickens. Wash your hands afterward. Repeat this process a few times over the course of a few days, and they will take less and less time to approach your hand. With friendlier breeds, you may have them instantly rushing you in just a matter of a few hours or less.

Situation 2: You’re adopting adult birds, and they are stand-offish.

“Taming” adult birds can be a challenge even to experienced chicken keepers. What makes it hard is that birds are unquestionably creatures of habit, and where your affection isn’t a part of their habit, it will take a while to establish.

handtaming chickens
Once it is established, though, it is amazing!

What makes it easy is that chickens are overwhelmingly food-motivated. They also develop associative memories, so as simple as it seems, to create the habit of friendliness, ground feed them. Don’t immediately worry about handfeeding. In other words, drop something delicious on the ground and let them eat it while you’re there. Be aware that (1.) sudden, vigorous “throwing” motions can scare them (death from above!); (2.) birds that are more timid may be put more at ease of you are crouching or sitting than if you’re looming over them; and (3.) use feed or treats that come in relatively small tidbits that they’ll have to forage, rather than bigger chunks they can grab and run away with.

Leghorn enjoying treats
Some birds might be more tempted by a container of treats, but scattering some on the ground is usually more instinctually satisfying to chickens

Scratch works well, and our Kelp and Bug Crunchy Trail Mix, designed for chickens is a bit higher in protein (plus it provides micronutrients they need). Another favorite is mealworms. Sunflower seeds or chicken “crack” also work well.

Whatever you provide, you should leave just before they’re finished; leave before they do… thus, the treats are only around when YOU are around. They will come to associate you with abundance and deliciousness. 
Once they come rushing to your feet when you step into their area, you’ll be able to move on to the next step. While you’re crouched or seated, drop some treats to get them interested, but leave most of them in your extended hand. Just as with the baby chicks above, all you need to do is charm the most dominant bird, and you’ll be handfeeding your chickens in no time. With adults who are set in their ways, it may simply take a little longer than it does with baby chicks.

Handfeeding chickens
What is that in your hand? Is it for me?!!

Situation 3: Your flock is not comprised of friendly breeds.

This is the most challenging of the three situations. The truth is that a wild Penedesenca, under most circumstances, will simply not become as friendly as a Speckled Sussex, Silkie, or Orpington. Some breeds tend to startle easily, and may be regarded as “flighty,” but they are not actually unfriendly. They may just require extra attention to avoiding movements that may trigger instincts to flee from danger. But other breeds actively avoid human contact.

The best solution here is… if you want friendly birds, be sure to choose friendly breeds. (Our book, the My Pet Chicken Handbook, has the most comprehensive guide to choosing the right breed for your situation you will find anywhere.) But if you’re in a situation where you already have some avoidant breeds and want to tame them… you can do so, but it will require patience. Your wild or unfriendly breeds will sometimes not get near enough to you at first to eat any treats you may drop. So, start out by dropping treats or feed… then stepping back to allow them to approach. Again, the dominant bird will usually be the first to take the plunge. Stay where you are, and be very still while they eat.

Training chickens to handfeeding
It’s unusual with most breeds, but sometimes working toward handfeeding chickens takes patience!

Over the course of a few days (or possibly a few weeks, depending on how flighty they are and how well your body language says “I’m no danger!”), stand closer and closer to the treats as your chickens eat. Eventually you will be able to stand among them. Then proceed as above in situation 2: crouch down, extend your hand, and wait for the dominant bird to approach.

This will likely take longer with the wilder breeds than it will for docile ones, but most chickens can be tamed with just a little effort.

In the end, you may find your birds alert to every move you make. As soon as you step out of the house, they will all come running to see what you have for them!

Hey, there! I'm ready for my treats, get corn cracking!
Hey, there! I’m ready for my treats, get corn cracking!

If you are really interested in raising chickens you must follow this blog


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Vintage Wire Egg Baskets For Sale

Vintage Heavy Wire Mesh Egg Basket with Carrying Handle - Painted Yellow 

Vintage Heavy Wire Mesh Egg Basket with Carrying Handle - Painted Yellow

For more information or to purchase:

Primitive Collapsible Wire Mesh Egg Basket with Carrying Handle

Primitive  Collapsible Wire Mesh Egg Basket with Carrying Handle 

For more information or to purchase:



Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Top 10 chicken questions answered


Top 10 chicken questions answered

It’s getting easier for people outside the backyard poultry community to understand why so many of us choose to dedicate a portion of our lives to raising and caring for chickens. I don’t get the same reaction I used to from suburbanites when they find out I raise chickens through casual conversation. Instead most people end up telling me about someone in their neighborhood that is raising a few chickens. In fact, it has become quite easy to influence outsiders to take part in this “unusual” hobby simply by telling a story or two
This hilarious sign was posted shortly after Byron's dog was chased around the backyard by one of his chickens.
This hilarious sign was posted shortly after Byron’s dog was chased around the backyard by one of his chickens.
about our beloved chickens and their unforgettable antics.

Let’s face it, stories about dogs and cats are about as interesting as a glass of warm water and dry toast for dinner. Who hasn’t heard the one about the dog that chased its tail? It’s not that it wasn’t funny but I suspect your audience has seen this behavior before. Now tell the story about the rooster that chased your screaming mother-in-law around the backyard, suddenly people become very interested in what you are saying.

You’ll still have plenty of opportunity to talk about your dog when you raise chickens as the two can produce some entertaining and crowd pleasing stories, provided the story doesn’t end with the dog eating the chicken. I remember sitting on he back porch with my wife enjoying an ice cold drink when my 85-pound dog came running across the backyard with his tail between his legs and a Buff Orpington roosting on its back while a Barred Rock chased behind. The chicken on his back quickly jumped off as Farley (my dog) crawled underneath my chair for protection and some comforting. I’m not sure how that all got started but since then we have replaced our “beware of dog” sign with an “Area Patrolled by Attack Chicken” sign.

A good story doesn’t always have to involve the chicken but rather the chicken coop. I love to tell the story about my 2-year-old son getting his head stuck inside our chicken tractor yelling “No! No!” as the chickens pecked and pulled at his curly blonde hair. Trust me; you don’t have to make this stuff up! Raise chickens long enough (a few weeks will do) and you won’t have to look very hard to find a hilarious story to share.

But it’s not just the stories we share that make people from the small land owner to the urban adventurer commit to sharing their yard with a few chickens. It’s not just the fact that more people realize the health benefits of eggs from backyard hens, not to mention the more humane lifestyle they are exposed to. Could it then be they are looking for the blood pressure lowering effects associated with “pet” ownership that we keep reading about? Or could it be a way for people to escape back to the good old days by incorporating some of the sights and sounds we experienced during visits to Grandma and Grandpa’s farm? The real answer is most—or all—of the above.
After Byron promised his dog Farley unlimited eggs to snack on, Farley raised his paw and swore not to hurt the chickens. Byron does not recommend leaving chickens and dogs unsupervised but he does enjoy watching the playful interaction between the two while closely monitored.
After Byron promised his dog Farley unlimited eggs to snack on, Farley raised his paw and swore not to hurt the chickens. Byron does not recommend leaving chickens and dogs unsupervised but he does enjoy watching the playful interaction between the two while closely monitored.
Most people end up raising chickens after one of three occurrences: 1) Intensive research suggested the positive aspects of raising chickens outweighed any possible negatives, 2) Dad has trouble saying no to his kids and came home from a recent trip to the feed store with six chickens, a toy horse collection, and two bags of candy but forgot the new shovel he went there for, or 3) Drinking beer while looking at poultry-related websites.

Conversely, I think the reasons many people don’t raise chickens is because they believe chickens are strictly farm animals that require a lot of space, feel they don’t have access to the types of supplies required, or stay completely sober when surfing the internet. In reality you don’t need any more room in your backyard for a few chickens than you do for a dog and you can order a chicken coop, chicken feed, and most other poultry supplies online 24 hours a day.

But before you wake up with a hangover and an online order of Barred Rock chicks, let me at least bring forth some answers to the questions that most people ask before jumping into the backyard poultry arena. Keep in mind there are experts in the world of poultry like Gail Damerow, who have written books like The Chicken Health Handbook and Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens that can serve as guides into your new endeavor. However, although I am not qualified to be considered an expert, I did manage to read both books and have raised, or at least eaten, chickens most of my life, and spent the last 17 years in the poultry supply business, so I should be able to provide some unique insight into the world of backyard chickens.

To help do so, I have polled the operators at Randall Burkey Company who sell poultry equipment and live chicks on a daily basis and asked them to help me come up with the top 10 questions asked by people who are either planning to raise chickens or are new to raising chickens. Hopefully these turn out to be some of the same questions you might need answers to. Remember, no question is a dumb question if you don’t know the answer. I remind myself of that whenever I talk to a mechanic. “The battery’s dead! Doesn’t my car run off gasoline?”

Chickens enjoy foraging for their food and this economical time-release feeder offers an easy solution when there is less foraging material available. Chickens enjoy foraging for their food and this economical time-release feeder offers an easy solution when there is less foraging material available.
So here are the top 10 questions:

#1. Do I need a rooster for my hens to lay eggs?
Okay, stop laughing! You didn’t always know the answer to this question. I will tell you that this is the most commonly asked question we get, so no one should be embarrassed. The answer is no, unless you want chicks. If you’re just looking for eggs to eat and/or some nice yard pets, hens minus the rooster can provide you with plenty of farm fresh eggs without a single crow to wake you up in the morning.

#2. How long do chickens live?
The life expectancy of most standard chicken breeds shielded from predators and deep fryers can range from 8 to 15 years. There are many reports of pet chickens living as long as 20 years! With the increasing popularity of raising chickens as pets, I imagine someone will develop a new line of chicken coops such as nursing coops or assisted living coops for the growing population of elderly chickens. All joking aside, chickens are very hardy animals that rarely need a trip to a veterinarian, no matter how long they live.

#3. What do I need when my chicks arrive?
Boil some water and grab some clean towels! Isn’t this what we heard on television when the mother went into labor? However, with newborn chickens, we only need to boil water if we plan on cooking them. What you do need is a way to keep your chicks warm without cooking them. Depending on the number of chicks and your budget there are several options. Most commonly used and most economical is a single lamp infrared brooder with a 250-watt red glass infrared bulb. Of course you will need a perimeter to contain the chicks inside the heated area —something as simple as an 18″ high corrugated paper chick corral will get the job done. Place a small thermometer inside to ensure the correct temperature of 95° F is maintained, dropping 5° each week thereafter. A proper chick feeder and waterer is also necessary and you should provide ample space for the number of chicks inside. Pine shavings will work well as bedding and although there are many other options, you want to avoid using material such as newspaper that does not provide stable footing.

#4. At what age do hens start laying and how many eggs will they lay?
Typically hens will start to lay when they are around 5- 6 months of age and will lay approximately 200 to 300 eggs annually, based on the breed type. Breeds like Rhode Island Reds, Golden Sex Links, and White Leghorns are considered some of the most prolific egg layers. Peak production generally occurs at two years of age and slowly declines thereafter.
The Egg Cart'n Mini Byron uses in his backyard has a total of 24 square feet of living space. It will easily house 4-6 hens or 2 chickens and one 2-year-old boy.The Egg Cart'n Mini Byron uses in his backyard has a total of 24 square feet of living space. It will easily house 4-6 hens or 2 chickens and one 2-year-old boy.
The Egg Cart’n Mini Byron uses in his backyard has a total of 24 square feet of living space. It will easily house 4-6 hens or 2 chickens and one 2-year-old boy.

#5. How much feed do chickens eat?
The amount of feed a chicken will consume varies dramatically based on breed type, feed quality, climate, and other variables that make it difficult to provide one good answer. However, a typical laying hen will consume around 4 to 6 ounces of feed each day with an increase during cold months and a decrease during warm months.
Many types of feeders available today are designed to prevent feed from being scratched out to reduce wasted feed and lower your overall feed bill. Depending on where you are located, your chickens can nearly survive strictly by foraging for their food on a good size piece of property. Foraging for food is really the chickens’ preferred method of eating because it makes life much more interesting for them as opposed to standing around the all-you-can-eat food trough.
Even during the leaner times you can promote natural foraging behavior by hanging a “Free Range” feeder in your yard. With a timer that can be set to release varying amounts of pelletized feed, you can provide your chickens the sustenance they require while still allowing them the opportunity to act upon their natural instincts.

#6. How big does my chicken coop need to be?
Because chickens spend most of their active time outside of the chicken coop, generally 2 – 3 square feet per chicken is sufficient space. Remember, you will need to provide space to roost at night and space for the nesting boxes. If you plan on keeping them cooped up full-time then 8 – 10 square feet per chicken would do, counting the outside run. In this case, more is always better. If you are planning on buying or building a mobile chicken coop, space requirement is minimized because it offers you the ability to frequently move the coop and chickens onto fresh ground.
Don't let a slick nest box salesman sell you more than you actually need. This six-hole nest box will easily accommodate up to 24 hens.
Don’t let a slick nest box salesman sell you more than you actually need. This six-hole nest box will easily accommodate up to 24 hens.

#7. How many nest boxes will I need for my hens?
If you asked a slick nest box salesman, he would probably tell you the answer is one box for every hen and then tell you how much he likes you and how he is willing to give you a great deal if you buy today. Fortunately, I don’t think there are many “nest box salesmen,” especially slick ones. However, there are plenty of poultry supply companies that sell nest boxes and the answer they should give you is approximately one nest box for every 5 – 6 hens. Now this can, and does, vary somewhat but the point is this, if you have 25 hens you don’t need to purchase 25 individual nest boxes. In fact, one six-hole nest box would probably be sufficient for 25 laying hens, or 6 extremely pampered laying hens.

#8. What is the best way to deal with internal and external parasites?
Because we are dealing with an animal that we may eat or eat the eggs from, I prefer to recommend the more natural alternatives for treatment opposed to chemical use. “Food grade” diatomaceous earth (DE) is the fossilized remains of microscopic shells created by one-celled plants called diatoms and is the most popular natural product for controlling internal and external parasites. Chickens can be dusted with DE to treat lice and mites, and it can be mixed with their feed to control worms. Another alternative all-natural product is Poultry Protector, used to control external parasites such as mites, lice, and fleas. Poultry Protector uses natural enzymes to control parasites and can be sprayed in all areas of the chickens’ living quarters and safely on the birds as well.
Byron's friend Mike sprays Poultry Protector on a Buff Orpington. It's a non-toxic, all-natural product safe for use in the coop and directly on chickens to help clean away mites, lice, and fleas.
Byron’s friend Mike sprays Poultry Protector on a Buff Orpington. It’s a non-toxic, all-natural product safe for use in the coop and directly on chickens to help clean away mites, lice, and fleas.

#9. What is the best way to protect my chickens from predators?
Obviously, a well-built chicken coop is your first and best defense against predators. The coop should be designed to prevent predators from crawling through small openings or from tunneling under. Most troublesome predators come at night so it may be a good idea to place a few NiteGuards around your coop. NiteGuard Solar emits a flashing red light at night that makes predators think they’re being watched by something more terrifying than they are, forcing them to leave the area, and preventing predators from ever approaching your coop.

#10. How do I get my chickens to go in the coop at night?
Chickens instinctively move into their coop when the sun goes down. It may take a little coaxing for grown chickens to move into a newly built coop but once they realize it’s home, they generally go right in at night. Your job is to close the door behind them once they enter, and then to open it back up in the morning. If this sounds like something you don’t care to constantly deal with, you can buy an automatic chicken coop door such as the new Poultry Butler Automatic Poultry Door.

Whatever reasons made you decide to start raising chickens, personally I think you made a great decision, even if it happened to be alcohol induced. I guarantee you’re going to have some great stories to tell about your life with chickens, and I wish I could hear every one of them.

To those of you who already have chickens, don’t forget to pet the dog every once in a while. If you’re like me, you still love your dog but wish it were eggs he was laying all over the backyard. Now that would be a great story!
By Byron Parker, Randall Burkey Company Texas
Byron Parker will continue to share his experiences with products used in poultry keeping in future issues of Backyard Poultry. Byron is employed by Randall Burkey Company


Using Straw And Hay In A Backyard Chicken Coop

Using Straw And Hay In A Backyard Chicken Coop

We raise horses, chickens, and ducks on our small hobby farm and we buy both straw and hay our local feed store.

You might ask why we buy both — what’s the difference, after all? They look similar and both come tied up in bales — but hay and straw are two very different types of harvested material, each with a very different purpose on a farm.

Hay Let’s start with hay. Hay is primarily a livestock feed. There are various different types of hay available such as timothy, alfalfa, etc. but hay is generally grasses, and also some grains, leaves and legumes that have been harvested, dried and baled for use as animal fodder (or feed) before the seeds have formed (the formation of the seeds lowers hay’s nutritional value)
Horses, cows,  sheep, and goats all eat hay, especially in the winter months when there is no fresh grass available to graze. Smaller animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs also eat hay. Hay is usually a shade of light green and smells good – like a sunny field on a warm summer day.

Prices for hay depend on where you live, the time of year and the supply of hay available. Right now in our area, hay is selling for nearly $9/square bale. Round bales are also available, at far more economical prices, for larger herds of livestock.

Straw Straw is primarily livestock bedding. Straw is a by-product of the harvest, usually the stalks and stems of the cereal grains or grasses such as oats, barley, rye or wheat, which are harvested after the plants are dead, so straw is far drier and doesn’t smell nearly as good — although I think it does still have a nice, albeit it more faint, farm-y smell! Occasionally there will be some kernels left at the tips of the stalks (the chickens love to eat those!), but straw is mostly hollow stems. Although goats can eat straw, there isn’t as much nutritional value in it as there is in hay.

Straw is far less expensive than hay in our area, selling for under $4/square bale.
So logically, we use straw and hay for their intended purposes. Since hay is more nutritious, but more 
expensive, we buy hay solely for the horses to eat.  

Since straw is cheaper, dried and therefore less likely to mold or attract moisture, we buy straw for the backyard chicken coop and nesting boxes. Being hollow, straw also provides more of a cushion for the eggs in the nesting boxes and for the chickens to hop off the roosts onto. Because the hollow tubes retain warm air, straw is also an excellent way to keep your coop warmer in the winter.

Stacking straw bales along the inside walls and allowing for a nice deep layer on the floor in the winter is an inexpensive way to insulate your coop. Filling your nesting boxes with straw can help prevent frozen eggs.

Some say that straw can attract mites to your coop. I don’t agree. I have been using straw in our coop in warm, humid Virginia (optimal mite breeding ground!) for more than five years and never had any problem whatsoever. Mites and lice feast on blood and skin tissue, not straw. They are not going to live inside straw tubes for very long, if at all. I do sprinkle food-grade diatomaceous earth on the floor of our coop and in the nesting boxes as a natural way to kill parasites and also use lots of dried and fresh herbs in the coop which help repel them. Bottom line, straw is a far better choice for coop bedding than hay for us both because of its price and far lower moisture content.

So that’s why we buy both straw and hay. Hay for the horses to eat and straw for the chicken coop and nesting boxes. 

I do recommend using straw in your backyard chicken coop, but if you choose to use hay, for economical or logistic/convenience, just be sure to check it frequently and remove any wet or damp hay to prevent mold or mildew from building up in your coop litter.
by Lisa Steele
January 15, 2015

Monday, January 19, 2015

Keeping Chickens Healthy in the Cold Weather

Keeping Chickens Healthy in the Cold Weather

By Leigh Schilling Edwards

Cold feet !    As humans we tend to humanize our critters, saying to ourselves, “If it’s too cold for me, it must be too cold for my _______ (insert type of livestock here).” Too often we fail to note the massive physical differences and coping styles of our furry or feathery wards, and ourselves.

Put quite frankly, as homo sapiens we are physically one of the most bizarre and unlikely protectorates of the animal kingdom. While other animals have been granted a wide array of survival skills, instincts and automatic seasonal wardrobe changes, our own biggest asset is intelligence. And as great as intelligence is, intelligence alone does little to keep us warm in a hostile environment.

So – what do you need to do for your chickens? The following advice is for flocks of fully feathered, mature and healthy birds:

1. Ventilation. Ventilation is of utmost importance when the temperatures drop into the “Oh sweet Mary and Joseph it’s COLD,” range. Do NOT close up all the windows and vents – you need to leave something open.

Open vents in this cold? Have I lost my marbles?

Yes – I believe my last marble was lost some time ago by my children, but that has little to do with this particular blog post.

The reason ventilation is so important is to avoid frostbite. Yes – avoid frostbite. You see, any living critter that breathes will release moisture into the air and if that moisture can not escape, it becomes a problem.

A visual example of this is the defrost setting in your car or truck. On a cold or wet day, what happens if you forget to put the defrost setting on? Your windshield fogs up. This is caused when the heat and moisture you are emitting when you breathe condenses on the colder surface of the windshield.

Same thing happens in your barn or chicken coop. Think of those windows or vents under the eaves as your coop’s defroster. These vents allow the moisture to escape. If the moisture can’t escape, it will condense on the warm, exposed comb and wattles of your chickens … and freeze there. This causes frostbite.

Frostbite = Bad. Ventilation = Good.

Rooster in the snow

2. Dodge the draft. You want your ventilation to be above the level of your birds because moisture rises. You want to let the moisture escape, but you do not want open windows or vents at the same level as your birds. This is the wind chill factor thing at play. When it is frigid outside, that wind just intensifies the “oh-my-land-I’m-miserably-uncomfortable” factor in a big way.

If your birds are housed in a structure with a lot of gaps in the walls, consider creating a wind-block at roost level by stapling or nailing up some empty feed bags, tarps or plastic on the inside walls of the coop. Don’t worry too much about the areas below or above where your birds roost, but make sure the roost area itself is well protected from drafts.

Icy chicken wire

3. Water. You need to find a way to provide your flock with water a few times a day. In the coldest climates this may mean bringing fresh water out to your flock at least two or three times each day. Other methods include wrapping heat tape around a waterer, chicken-size freeze-resistant solar water troughs, heated dog bowls, and so-on. If you choose to use electricity in or around your coop, I can not stress enough that precautions need to be taken to avoid a fire hazard!

One note I need to add on the water thing is that if the temperatures will be in the negative digits, be sure your birds can’t step or fall into the water. Water can flash-freeze on a bird’s extremities and cause instant frostbite in these temperatures. You can help avoid this kind of situation by placing rocks in the bottom of the water dish. This will serve two purposes; it will prevent birds from getting into the water, and the rocks will also help maintain heat in a heated bowl.

Hens finding treats in the snow


So what about young, ill or frail birds?
Obviously the very young, very old and the infirm flock members will be at the highest risk of succumbing to the cold.

Do not rely on a heat lamp in the barn to keep sensitive birds or chicks warm enough in sub-zero temperatures. First, heat lamps are the No. 1 cause of coop fires. It is very risky to have a heat lamp in areas filled with dust and flammable bedding materials.

Second, with temperatures going well below zero, a heat lamp will not be able to create an ambient temperature high enough to keep young chicks or frail birds warm enough. Chicks especially need to be relocated to a room that has its own heat source or that is capable of maintaining a high enough ambient temperature to prevent hypothermia.

That said, chicks under a broody hen should be OK as long as they can not accidentally become separated from mom – say by falling out of a raised nest box.

Chick under a broody hen.And … that’s pretty much it. As a chicken keeper, do what you can to protect them from frostbite, drafts, dehydration and fire, and from there – well, just understand they are very well equipped to manage in cold temperatures. Chickens have been around for thousands of years, and in that time it has been necessary for them to acclimate to all kinds of weather extremes.

Lastly, understand chickens that are prone to heart failure are more likely to die during extreme cold snaps. If you take the above precautions and still find that a bird has passed away on an extremely cold night, it’s not your fault. It was just a matter of time for that particular bird.
It’s cold – and I do mean COLD in many areas of the United States and Canada right now, and over and over again people are asking about what measures need to be taken to protect their chickens though this arctic insanity.

The answer I give over and over is simply, “not too much.”

Cold feet !

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Cat Urinary Health

Cat Food Information for Urinary Health

Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) can be considered a catch-all phrase which describes several conditions affecting the lower urinary tract of cats. These conditions can be uncomfortable and in severe cases, life-threatening. Find out more about FLUTD and why nutrition is an important factor in treating and preventing conditions related to urinary crystals or stones.
Woman holding cat while sitting outside

Understanding FLUTD: Conditions & Symptoms

The three most common conditions are:
  • Feline idiopathic cystitis
  • Bladder stones
  • Blockages of the urethra caused by the accumulation of urinary crystals (urethral plugs)
These conditions may cause a variety of symptoms:
  • Blood in the urine
  • Frequent urination
  • Painful urination
  • Unproductive attempts at urination
  • Inappropriate urination (outside of the litter box)
Cat coming around a pot of flowers

Causes of FLUTD

The exact cause of these diseases is unknown. However, it can occur when crystals accumulate and form stones that prevent urine from passing. Crystals can also form smaller pieces, called plugs, which may block the urethra, particularly in male cats.
The two most common types of crystals associated with FLUTD are:
  • Struvite crystals that form when the urine pH is higher or alkaline
  • Calcium oxalate crystals that form in more acidic urine with a lower pH
Because urinary obstructions related to FLUTD can be life threatening, consult a veterinarian if your cat is showing any urinary symptoms.
High-key photo of cat drinking water

How Urinary Health Cat Food Can Help

A balance of nutrients helps maintain proper urine pH levels so it does not become too acidic or too alkaline and produce crystals.
If your cat is susceptible to struvite crystals, look for urinary health foods that:
  • Are specially formulated and have been tested extensively
  • Have the proper mix of nutrients which aids in the production of acidic urine to prevent struvite formation
  • Are low in dietary magnesium (less than 0.14%)
Managing your cat's feeding schedule is also important in maintaining the proper urine pH. Feeding multiple, small meals throughout the day helps minimize pH fluctuations.
Decreased water intake and obesity can be risk factors for FLUTD, so ensure your cat is drinking plenty of water.
While surgery is sometimes needed to treat FLUTD, many cases of struvite crystals or stones can be treated with specially formulated or prescription foods for struvite dissolution and feline urinary tract health.
If you suspect your cat has urinary stones or crystals, consult with a veterinarian before attempting to treat your cat with a targeted diet. Diets designed to dissolve and prevent struvite crystals may not be effective against calcium oxalate stones and may worsen that condition.

Posted by PetSmart

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Try Pigmy Goats As Pets

Tiny Pigmy Goats

Tiny Kid

Pet Goats

Pigmy goats are small breeds of domestic goats, which are not typically used for meat or milk, although they can produce milk in large quantities and can be eaten. These goats are more robust and continually breed throughout the year more than the meat and dairy goats. In most cases, these goats are kept as pets especially in urban backyards. Keeping a pigmy goat as pet will, however, have to be according to the local regulations of ownership of livestock, and this is because it is different in various towns and cities.
A pigmy goat can adapt to any type of climate and is considered as an asset in many ways. A male pigmy goat is known as a buck, and a female pigmy goat is referred to as a doe. The female pigmy goats weigh between 40 lbs to 60lbs while the male pigmy goats weigh between 40 lbs to 60 lbs. The pigmy goat height will range form 16 inches to 23 inches. Their color ranges from white caramel, dark caramel, medium caramel, medium grey agouti, silver light grey agouti, brown agouti, dark grey agouti, solid black and black with frosted points.

Pygmy goats are known to be polyestrous breeders as they can bear one to four young ones every 9 to 12 months. This is after a gestation period of five months. The pygmy goat is believed to have originated from Cameroon. They were later imported to the US from European zoos. They were mainly for using in zoos, and as research animals but they were later used by private breeders as pets due to their friendliness, hardy constitution and good natured behavior. It is important to take good care of a pygmy goat and one of the things that you need to look into here is their diet which should have greens and grains. It is also important to provide them with items to play with.

It is, also, advisable to provide a shed, as well as an accessible open area. You should ensure that every pygmy goat has a companion. Due to the fact, they are prey animals; they should have a shelter that is in a predator proof area more so during the night. You should always provide fresh drinking water to your pygmy goat. Keep in mind that if you treat the goat with respect it will be affectionate. A pygmy goat can also be trained although this will require a lot of time.

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