It’s been hot around here (David Bowie is panting). So this is how we keep our girls cool. A kiddie pool filled with muddy water. The trick is the mud. They refused to stand in it when it was just water. All of them loiter around the pool during the hottest part of the day taking turns dipping their toes in the cooling mud.
If you missed the chicken class last night you’ve got another chance! Well, it will be an abridged version but I’ll be discussing chickens with Sylvia at the 21st Century Homekeeper on Saturday at 5pm central (3pm for us Pacific time people). Best part is that it’s free!
In other news, the chicken class preparation has taken pretty much all my time for the last week (extensive Powerpoint presentation) so I haven’t written much. Hopefully this coming week I can post some more stuff.
Own chickens but want to know more? I’ll be teaching and advanced chicken keeping class on October 10th in Berkeley from 6pm to 8pm. I’ll go over introducing new birds to your flock, health care from prevention to diagnosing problems, holistic and traditional care and when a vet should be contacted, nutrition and mixing your own feed and feed supplements and the life cycle of chickens including hatching your own. We’ll also discuss dealing with predators, bio-security and behavioral issues and answer your most pressing chicken questions. The class is through Biofuel Oasis and will be held at Sticky Art Lab in Berkeley. Check out Biofuel Oasis’ page on classes to register.
Yesterday there was an explosion followed by a fire at a local refinery. Fortunately for us the plume of smoke decided to travel in the exact opposite direction of where we live. We couldn’t even see it off in the distance. Which is a good thing for us. Not so good for those that were in its path. They had to shelter in place.
It did get me thinking though. If the winds were going in the other direction could we mitigate for such an event? Maybe but it would require some work. Last year Farmer Lynda wrote a great post right after the Fukushima meltdown about the tough decisions she would have to make if there was nuclear fallout.
The turkeys, though they would be unhappy about it, could be kept safe in Turkey Town. The chickens would be tricky because we’d have to quickly figure out a way to keep them confined to their indoor coop (which opens up to their yard directly). Not impossible, but it would take a little bit of time. The goats have plenty of indoor space that they could be confined to easily without much work on our part. Probably the best option would be to throw the chickens in with the goats temporarily – it’s not like they haven’t lived together before. The rabbits could pose a problem. The bottom of the rabbitry is open to allow their waste to fall away from them. Probably the best option would be to move them inside – if it’s not too hot outside. All of our animal feed is safely stored in metal trashcans – most of which is actually indoors. Hay is also stored inside, as is bedding materials.
The vegetables and fruits are another matter entirely. How do we keep them from being covered in dangerous particulates? We’d probably need to cover everything if we can. That which can’t be covered would require us to wash and peel them or remove the outer leaves, like on cabbage, before using them. Root vegetable would remain relatively safe though. Veggies that can’t be peeled like beans, lettuce and spinach would be the priorities for covering since they aren’t easily peeled.
I’m foreseeing some small changes around here to accommodate possible emergencies.
This is the fourth time Speckles has gone broody and wanted to be a mother. The previous three times have been pretty unsuccessful. The first time the chicks refused to stay with her. I don’t know if she really knew what she was doing and she didn’t seem all that concerned with them.
The second time she went broody we gave her some fertile eggs that I had ordered online. Apparently they didn’t make it through shipping unscathed so they never hatched. Our Black Australorp had also gone broody at the same time (her eggs didn’t make it either) so I gave them both 2 chicks each. Our Australorp proved to be a phenomenal mother. Speckles, not so much. She just wasn’t very attentive to them at all and eventually abandoned them. Fortunately the Australorp took on the orphans and raised them with her own two.
The third time Speckles went broody was earlier this year. She was enamored by the large clutch of turkey eggs that Duke had amassed and decided she wanted to hatch them herself. Unfortunately Speckles was not quite big enough to cover a clutch of turkey eggs so I removed her from that nest and put her on her own nest with 4 turkey eggs for herself. Only one of them hatched and it had a congenital defect and didn’t make it.
Speckles was 0 for 4. When she went broody again (we’ve now had 4 broody hens in the last month) I was hesitant to give her eggs. David Bowie (one of our White Rocks) was sitting on a clutch that was a bit too large for her so I decided to take a chance and give Speckles some of her eggs. I’m glad I made that decision because David Bowie ended up breaking all but the two and those ended up not being viable. While Speckles’ eggs didn’t all hatch she did end up hatching out two very lively little chicks. It’s been a week now and she’s doing great with them. She’s showing them how to forage, she dotes on them and if one is lost she runs to it and brings it to where she is. The thing that amazed me the most though is how protective she is this time around. She even had the balls to attack Squeek who got too close. Of course Squeek, the super dog, didn’t react and just walked away, but I was put at ease that this time Speckles knew what she was doing.
*Update: Susan is our giveaway winner! Look for an email from us to get your address.
I rarely ever read a “reference book” all the way through. Actually I have never read a reference book all the way through (not even my college textbooks). That was until I got my paws on A Chicken in Every Yard by Robert and Hannah Litt, owners of the Urban Farm Store in Portland, Oregon. It was an easy and quick read while containing quite a bit of information. It is a great primer for those that are planning on getting some backyard chickens. It’s also got some good information if you have chickens including a health section that goes over the most common ailments that your chickens might suffer.
It goes over various topics including some of the more popular breeds of chickens, brooding chicks (more on that below), litter management, feeding, predators, clipping wings and introducing new birds. A Chicken in Every Yard even includes simple plans for building a basic chicken coop. It discusses various options for runs that will effectively keep your chickens safe and happy. It breaks down how much time per day you’ll need to work at keeping chickens depending on what management system you’re using.The most interesting chapter, to me at least, was about eggs. I never realized there were so many different parts to an egg. It’s also got some delicious looking recipes that utilize those tasty homegrown eggs.
Because there are as many management styles as there are chicken owners, there are some things that they recommend that I personally don’t follow. Their recommendations include the use of medicated feed which is definitely an option but I wish they would have discussed other management techniques such as brooding without the need for medication. The one great thing they offer in their chapter on chicks is a checklist of all the supplies you will need if bringing home chicks.
This book is targeted towards those that will be keeping chickens as “pets with benefits.” If you want a book that also covers chickens for meat this wouldn’t be the book for you as they are clear in the very beginning that they will not be discussing using chickens for meat – even retired chickens. And this is really the only source of contention that I do have with this book. They don’t push the issue in regards to what to do if you end up with a rooster (while not likely with sexed pullets it’s still a possibility that people need to think about) and they “highly recommend” sending retired hens to farm sanctuaries if people don’t want to keep them past their egg laying years which I find very irresponsible. I always tell people that there are only two choices when you have chickens. They are either a pet or they are dinner. But don’t let this turn you off from the book because otherwise it’s quite good and if you are new to chickens you’ll be successful if you follow their recommendations (even if there are other ways to do things).
If you would like a chance to win this book please leave a comment with your beginning chicken keeping questions. For extra entries you can like us on Facebook for one entry and get another entry if you share this post on Facebook and/or Twitter (that’s 3 extra entries). Just leave a comment here that you’ve liked us (even if you already do) and/or shared this post.
The giveaway will go until midnight on Friday, June 22nd and I’ll announce the winner on Saturday, June 23rd. Unfortunately I have to limit it to residents of the U.S.
We’ve got some great events coming up that you should try to check out if you’re in the area.
This Saturday, May 12th, Tom and I will be at Loma Vista Farm in Vallejo teaching a small livestock health class. We’ll go over basic preventative care, natural remedies, over-the-counter options and when to call the vet. Our main focus will be on chickens, goats and rabbits. We’ll get to be out of the classroom and go see the animals while we discuss their care. We’ll also bring samples of what we keep on hand for their care including tools, supplements and feed. The class is free but donations to Loma Vista Farm (donations are tax deductible) are gladly accepted and much appreciated. Contact Loma Vista Farm to register. Call (707) 556-8765 or email through their site.
The following weekend is the Maker Faire. We’ll be there the first half of the day on Saturday running the East Bay Urban Agriculture Alliance booth in the Homegrown Village. Three of our chickens – Lefty, White Chicken and Big Red – will be with us. Come on by and ask us any of your garden or livestock questions. Learn more about the EBUAA and even sign up to join. Then later on we’ll be running a basic chicken keeping workshop. This workshop won’t be so heavy on healthcare but rather just the basics such as coop design, feeding, brooding, and other needs.
I had noticed that one of my pullets had this amazingly huge crop and that it didn’t seem to ever go down – even overnight. Picking her up and palpating the crop revealed that it was overly spongy and the size of a baseball. She also had horrendous breath. These were all signs that she had sour crop.
The crop is a pocket located on the chicken’s chest that holds food before entering the gizzard where it gets ground up. Chickens like to have a full crop when they go to bed in the evening and then by morning the crop is all emptied out to get refilled again. Sour crop is basically a yeast infection in the crop. A piece of food gets stuck in the crop and the natural yeasts for the surrounding environment starts fermenting that piece of food. As more food enters the crop, the yeast multiplies until the crop just becomes this fermenting vessel. The spongy feeling is from all the trapped carbon dioxide bubbles.
Fortunately, just like with sick chicken, there are natural ways to heal a chicken with sour crop.
Some websites say that you need to empty the crop. I’m hesitant to do this because it can cause the chicken to aspirate if not done correctly and it doesn’t actually help eliminate the yeast since it’s already established in the crop. So instead I just left the food in her crop and worked on attacking the yeast and resulting carbon dioxide instead.
The first thing I did was separate her from the rest of the flock. It’s not contagious so I actually did this mainly because I needed to keep her from eating the grain-based feed which provides more food for the yeast. So into the wire dog crate she went. We kept the crate in the chicken coop so she could at least be around the other chickens.
I put some raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar in her water. The bacteria, acetobacter, that turns alcohol into vinegar, would help balance out her pH. Her food consisted of 2 scrambled eggs with olive oil and plain, whole milk yogurt twice a day. The eggs provided her with protein. The olive oil helps break down the bubbles from the carbon dioxide that the yeast creates. The yogurt helped provide additional protein and carbohydrates. The sugar in dairy, lactose, cannot be fermented by yeast so it doesn’t add onto the problem. In addition the live and active cultures in the yogurt kill and consume the yeast. This works for all yeast infections, just so you know….
We kept her on this diet for 3 days, which was long enough so that her crop was completely emptied in the morning and her breath no longer smelled bad. She’s now happily scratching and pecking with the rest of the flock.
*Disclaimer – I am not a veterinarian and this is just my experience with dealing with sour crop. It worked well for me and for others. Please consult a veterinarian if your bird is very sick.
Our chickens generally don’t get formal names – except for our one rooster, George, and our first three hens Crystal, Loretta and Patsy. Instead we give them nicknames based on their behavior or appearance. Like Blondie, Escape Chicken, Pamela Chicken (after Pamela Anderson because of her abnormally large crop that makes her look like she has huge breasts) and David Bowie Chicken (who is blind in one eye which makes it a different color than the other eye). I’m sure you can guess how Sick Chicken got her name.
Last week I found Sick Chicken standing by herself in the coop all puffed up with her head pulled in and she had really runny droppings. Not a good sign. But other from that I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. While her droppings were runny, they didn’t really seem out of the norm (warning: grapic). I picked her up, which she wasn’t very pleased with, to man handle her. I needed to check her over for the obvious chicken problems. Massaging her crop I was able to determine that it was empty so it wasn’t a compacted crop that was giving her problems. I massaged her back end and determined that she wasn’t eggbound. Her belly wasn’t distended so I didn’t think she had egg peritonitis.
I was at a loss so I went to the trusty forum over at Backyard Chickens to see what I could find. Most of the posts that described the same symptoms were for pullets that most likely had coccidiosis. Sick chicken was too old for this to be the issue, plus she wasn’t producing bloody droppings so I was able to eliminate that. The only other possibility it seemed was internal parasites. But even that was a huge “maybe.” I didn’t want to worm her with chemicals if that wasn’t the issue because wormers can be hard on a sick chicken.
At first I just scrambled some eggs for Sick Chicken then put in some yogurt to help her gut bacteria. My main concern was just to get her to eat. All of the chickens rushed me and I only got a bit of the eggs to her. She did eat the egg that I did get to her though, so that was a good sign.
Fortunately food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) and cayenne pepper are “organic” dewormers. The next time I fed her I added some cayenne and DE to the egg and yogurt mixture. Chickens aren’t affected by capsaicin like we are (they don’t have the pain receptors) so she wouldn’t even notice the cayenne. After a couple of feedings of this she didn’t seem to improve all that much. I was happy she was eating, but she was still standing on her own all puffed up.
Then Jeanette reminded me about giving her some apple cider vinegar, which helps support the immune system and act as an antimicrobial while adjusting the pH of the chicken’s GI tract. So I added a bit of raw, organic ACV to the food mixture. The following morning she was clearly improving. She was moving around a lot more and is spending less time off by herself. After just a few more doses she was back to scratching with the rest of the birds.
While Sick Chicken is no longer sick, she may just keep the name though.
On our Facebook page I asked people what burning questions they had for us. One of the questions was what we feed our animals and what we spent per month on their feed. It’s a good question, especially for people looking to raise animals for food production. In addition they brought up the idea of dumpster diving to feed the animals. It’s definitely an interesting idea and could definitely work for some of the animals, but not all. Everything here will be estimates as I’m just starting to keep track of everyone’s feed separately (last year I just lumped all feed together).
First, what we feed our different critters. Nearly all of them right now get commercial feed. Except for the rabbit feed, all of the feed is certified organic. I’ve only been able to find one company that makes organic rabbit feed but I was really unhappy with the quality of the feed for the price so we went back to a conventional feed.
Our rabbits get a commercial rabbit feed from a local mill and orchard grass. They also get stuff from our garden and extra greens from the farmers’ market like cabbage leaves and carrot tops. Some of our rabbits will eat it up but not all. Our bucks in particular are uninterested in anything green. They go through one 80lb bag of feed a month which costs us about $24. The orchard grass is a lot less usually going through a flake every other week which can come to a bale maybe three times a year. Of course this can vary a lot though depending on how many rabbits we have.
The chickens also get commercial feed and garden waste, but they also get all of our kitchen scraps and oyster shell. Our twelve chickens go through a 50lb bag of feed every 3 weeks which also costs about $24. The oyster shell is $10 for 50lbs which will last us a year.
The turkeys also get chicken feed but no scraps or oystershell. They generally don’t want anything to do with kitchen scraps or yard waste. They are really good foragers though so they only go through a bag of feed every other month.
The goats have a much more specific diet because of milk production and their specific dietary requirements. While we have orchard grass we get fairly poor milk production when we feed it to them. Instead they get alfalfa, which has higher protein and calcium. When getting milked they get a dairy goat ration which provides them with additional protein and calcium along with trace minerals they need to stay healthy like copper, selenium, and vitamins. They go through one 50lb bag once a month which runs about $23. We also offer free fed loose minerals and baking soda for them to regulate their needs. The cost of this is negligible since it takes quite awhile for them to go through a 25lb bag. They do occasionally get garden treats as well. They go through one bale of alfalfa per month which can range between $16 and $25 per bale depending on the season and how the weather is acting. Most of this year the cost of alfalfa has been at the higher end because of our erratic weather.
In terms of dumpster diving I think the only animals that would truly benefit from it would be the chickens and the rabbits. I would want to keep the breeding rabbits on commercial feed but we could grow out the others on scraps. The chickens would still require oyster shell and supplemental commercial food, but it would reduce the cost greatly if we went dumpster diving for their feed.