A Hen is Down…I Repeat…

This morning I went into the coop to clean and poor Hilda was lying on her side in the breeding pen.  I went in to have a look and as she tried to get up, she stumbled over, indicating a leg injury.  My husband and I tried to feel if her leg was pulled out of it’s socket, and we think it probably isn’t, but she sure is hurting.

Hilda may have been injured during mating, or she could have hurt herself while jumping off the roost. In any case, she is done breeding until she fully recovers, which means we are another hen down.

When your birds are sick or injured you must immediately remove them from the coop and put them in a safe place where they can rest peacefully.  A sick or injured bird will attract the wrong attention from their coop mates.

I immediately put Hilda in a “sick bay” crate in the garage where she can comfortably rest.  I have given her some aspirin water to help with pain (1 aspirin tablet to 750ml of water), and of course some food.  It is difficult to know exactly what the injury is and how bad it is, all we can do is give her a safe place to rest and see if she improves over the coming days.  In January we had a hen display similar injuries, a week in isolation healed her and she was good as new, so here’s hoping we will be so lucky.  I will give her the aspirin water over three days and will check on her multiple times during the day to clean up any messes she has so she stays clean and comfortable.

We have moved Harriot (Ameraucana) in with Ragnar (Maran) now, which means 2 hens per pen, this will not yield many eggs for the incubator unfortunately.  We will try to put Dottie (Maran) in with Charlie (Ameraucana) to help with the OEE eggs; (Harriott the bully is in the other pen now, so maybe we’ll have better luck and Dottie won’t be picked on).

The reality is that we need more hens, so this summer we will be bringing in birds to increase the number of our breeding hens.  We thought 3 of each would be safe, but sickness, injury and death are a part of having chickens and we are learning that we need “back-ups” to help out.

Next year we will be set up better and we will have more knowledge to be more successful in this endeavour.

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Darn It! No Silkies

When you first embark on any new adventure, there are many learning curves.  It is fascinating how you can dive in, not knowing anything about what you about to do, but you will, and you do learn.  There will be frustrating and sometimes sad moments, but you will always come out of it with something, never being left empty-handed; knowledge and skill.

Last summer we collected 6 Silkie chicks from 3 seperate people.  We had been told that it is very difficult to sex Silkies, even at 6 to 8 weeks old.  As the Silkies reached about 6 months old, one by one they started to crow.  As our last 2 Silkies reached 6 months old, one started to crow and the other did not.  We thought, thank goodness one girl at least.  Yesterday Lily the Silkie crowed, DARNIT!  All boys, that means no Silkie chicks this year.

On the bright side, we were able to choose 2 nice boys as our breeding Roos for next year, and both from seperate bloodlines.  We have ordered 6 Splash Silkie chicks from Les Farm (a new bloodline), and hopefully our luck will be better for females.

As for knowledge; I needed to find out how to differentiate male from female Silkies so that I wouldn’t be saddled with all males again if we purchased older birds.  My research paid off and I found a way to identify the male, he will have “streamers” off the back of his head and a puffier tail.  The female’s barbless feathery down will be evenly rounded about her head, like a perfect puff ball.  You can search pictures online, which I have been unable to copy here for you, sorry 😦  The boys we have, do have these characteristics.  With our new chicks this summer, I will look forward to seeing perfectly rounded, puff ball heads….and no streamers!

Our breeding Roos, Jack and Fabio

 

 

 

 

A Jumper for Simon

The unexpected joy we have found in raising and caring for poultry is finding little characters in our flock that give our family something to talk about.

Last summer my daughter begged and pleaded to get a Naked Necked chick along with the other chicks.  I didn’t want to get one because if it were a boy, what would we do, she would want to keep it regardless. She agreed that if it were a boy, she may not be able to keep it.  There was an issue with the chicks we ordered when we picked them up, and we were able to select other chicks, so along with that we got an extra Naked Neck so our odds were better for a pullet.  As luck would have it, 2 Naked Necked (NN) chicks grew into 2 cockerels.  One was large with a large personality, the other was very small and slender and a  loner.  The larger  NN was a ladies man and as such a real pain in the ass, so we re-homed him.  The other one I (ironically) didn’t want to part with, he was quiet, didn’t bother anyone and just a strange little dude.  He rarely crows and rarely bothers the hens, he is a bit of an enigma.  I named him Simon, (I could just picture him with thick black nerdy glasses on).  He spends his day just hanging out on the roost, often sleeping and with his feed bag (crop) always full, yet so skinny!  He only has about 45% of his feathers, the rest of him is naked.

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Over the winter we had lots of chickens in the coop to keep each other warm, but as we sold our excess roosters and then moved breeding hens into the breeding pens, there were less bodies on the roost to share the body heat with. (He is the only rooster who sleeps in the coop overnight).  Over the last couple of weeks I have noticed that in the morning he is cold.  He stands on the roost with his tail down and his legs shaking.  So I would bring him in the house to warm up for a bit, then I also started putting him in the garage at night.  I tried making him an apron that the hens wear, to try and act like a jacket, but his legs are positioned differently and it didn’t fit right.  I tried thinking hard about how I was going to solve this problem, cause the weather is still cold and he is just not getting the cold out of his bones.  All I could think about is how it feels when you are so cold that you just can’t get warm, that must be how he feels.

So yesterday I broke out my crochet hook, a ball of chunky yarn and put my crocheting skills to task and over an afternoon successfully made him a jumper.  It is made in 2 pieces off the neck and with tabs off the front and back it buttons the 2 together.  So he is covered top and bottom, enclosing his core in a nice warm wooly sweater.

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Lesson here is, have enough chickens in your coop through the winter to keep them warm.  Chickens give off an incredible amount of heat (that is why ventilation is so important), keeping a non-insulated building surprising comfortable.  But if you don’t have enough chickens in your building, they will get cold and weaken.  Also, my poultry mentor, a fella who has been raising purebred poultry for over 40 years told me that a mixed breed chicken carrying the dominant naked necked gene does not have the cold tolerance that the true bred Naked Necked Turken does.

Thinking About Next Year

Our 30 eggs have been incubating now for 5 days and all is good.  We are expecting a Nor’easter storm tomorrow, so we are crossing our fingers that we have no hydro issues as the storm passes, that would be a disaster!

As I said before, we have been very fortunate to find Katy Touchette from Nova Scotia who breeds Welsummers and Black Copper Marans.  Katy is the Secretary for the Welsummer Club of North America and her line comes from a breeder in Manitoba.  Her Black Copper Marans come from a breeder in Quebec with 30 years experience and also from a breeder in Ontario.  Katy has invested in acquiring quality bloodlines from other provinces.

Welsummers and Copper Marans belong to a group of chicken breeds that lay dark brown eggs.  Welsummer eggs are a dark terracotta colour that are speckled and Maran eggs can be a dark chocolate brown.  Quality bloodlines and egg colour go hand-in-hand, the darker the egg, the better the quality of the bloodline.  (Or, the more the egg colour conforms to the description of the breed, the more pure the bloodline is to the breed.) Unfortunately, our bloodlines are not that strong as our egg colours are quite light in comparison. Katy’s egg colours are very dark, so we are very grateful to be able to add that quality and purity to our flock this season.

As we said before, our first hatch will be going to Katy, as we will be trading chicks, but the good news is, is that we are trading 12 chicks (I might talk her into a few more).  Pending the success of this first hatch, the remaining chicks will start to fill some of your reservations.

Next season we hope to offer Welsummers and Blue Copper Marans (our Splash Maran crossed with a Black Maran results in a Blue Maran 100% of the time).

An Apron for Tilly

I sometimes wonder if being a hen is a form of godly punishment set upon some delinquent soul. Not only do they have to squeeze a huge egg out, not just one day but sometimes every day or every other day, they also get roughed up by their man daily, sometimes multiple times a day.

A rooster is at least double the size of a hen, he also has huge legs, giant Spurs and feet with big claws, which is great when he is being protective, but horrible when it comes to his “husbandly” duties. Roosters are the least romantic animal, they are more liken to a serial rapist. Other male birds dance and sing for a female, wooing her until she cannot resist him. Not a rooster, instead he will grab the hen by the back of her neck feathers, drag her into position, climb on her back with his big feet, dig his claws into her so she can’t move, do his thing, then jump off and go about his day. A regularly harassed hen will begin to show the abuse, she will have feathers missing from the top of her head, her back will become bare and her delicate skin will have tears in it from the rooster’s claws.

Thankfully there is a way to protect your hens from those horrible claws, it is called a “hen saddle”, which I hate, I prefer to call it a “hen apron”. You can purchase fancy ones from the Internet, but you can easily make your own, it is not difficult, and if you have a flock of hens, you will likely need more then one.

We had a hen once who was bald, and it had little to do with Charlie, I think she was in an unending molt. At the time we only had her (Milly) and Prissy and Charlie. I saw a pattern online for a hen apron and I made it, it needed some alterations and I glammed it up to make her look gorgeous in it, because all her lovely feathers were gone. Well, she wore it like a queen and she literally thought she was one, that’s why she now lives somewhere else (but that’s another story). Anyway, in our new flock one hen looked battered, so I made her a gorgeous apron, well she stuck out like a sore thumb and all the other chickens thought she was an intruder and attacked her. Lesson here was that I needed to use material that was the same colour as the hen, I did, and no one noticed the new frock.

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Here are some basic instructions for an easy to make hen apron. I like to use felt, it is soft yet durable and the perfect material for this project.

You will need to cut a 10″ (inch) by 10″ square, then cut 2 strips 15″ long and 3/4″ wide, cut a 1″ square off each strip.


Think of this like a vest. You will need a space about 3.5″ between the wings (the back) and you will be cutting 3″ long holes out for the wings to fit into (like a sleeve/arm hole). The wing holes will be fitted 1″ from the top of your fabric. Below is a picture of the measurements.

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The center or the space between the wings is 3.5″, leaving 3.25″ on either side. The placement of the wing holes starts 1″ from the top, then draw a line 3″ down for the wing hole. On that line for the wing hole, mark the halfway point at 1.5″, here you are going to draw a line 0.5″ on either side creating that elongated diamond shape by joining all the dots. Cut that shape out and you have your wing holes.

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You will be sewing the straps on at the sides and aligned with the bottom of the wing holes. Once sewed on, pull and stretch the straps out to lengthen them, (you can do that with felt fabric).


Ragnar has favoured Tilly and she needs an apron, so today she got fitted with one. Slipping the wings into the holes is a bit tricky, so have some patience. Once the wings are in you cross the straps underneath her ensuring a space that you can fit your finger through for her comfort. Bring those straps up to the top and securely tie them. The tricky bit is making sure the fit is tight, but not too tight, the felt fabric has some forgiveness and flexibility, which makes it ideal and comfortable for the hens.


Now Tilly’s back and skin is safe from Ragnar’s claws.

Incubating Time

Over the past 9 days our 5 hens laid 30 eggs, wow!  Out of the 30 eggs, 4 could not be used due to all 3 non-incubating conditions: broken/cracked, dirty and irregular shape, but 4 out of 30 is not bad. We collected more Ameraucana eggs then Olive Easter Egger (OEE) eggs, 18 and 8, one less hen makes a big difference.

We are using 2 types of incubators, a homemade one and a Brinsea Octagon 20.  Last year we wanted to try and hatch out some of our eggs, but incubators are very expensive and at the time we did not want to spend the money to just experiment.  Well it is very true that you can look up anything on the Internet and we found lots of videos on line to help anyone build your own incubator.  We chose to build a styrofoam cooler incubator, which the video says would cost you no more then $20.  Obviously the video was from the States, because the materials cost us a bit more here and it ended up costing about $45, also because we had to try different wattage bulbs to get the right temperature.  We successfully built one using a 15lb lobster packing cooler (meaning you can pack 15lbs of lobster, hopefully you’re not confused, but just in case, hehehe), from a local fishmonger and a 15 watt light bulb (you’ll also need a digital thermometer with humidity, plug-in outlet adaptor, extension cord, a dish and sponge, 5×7 picture glass and duct tape, see below pics).  It took us a full day to get it set up, you have to punch holes in the cooler to achieve the right temp, and keep adding water, or taking it away to get the right humidity, all-and-all, a lot of farting around to get it just right.

A day before, or the morning of the day you want to set your eggs to incubate, you should get your incubators up and running in order to have the right temperature and humidity achieved before putting your eggs in.  I started in the afternoon and did not set my eggs until 10:30 pm that night.  You should place your incubator in an area of the home where the ambient temperature is consistent, the basement is an ideal place,(sunlight can raise a room’s temperature significantly during the day, which will effect your incubator).  Incubating eggs require a temperature in the range of 97F to 101F and a humidity of 50% to 65% (debatable), for the first 18 days then 65-75% the last 3 days. Your eggs should be placed in the incubator with the pointy end down and if you do not have an automatic turner, you’ll need to rotate them 3 times a day.  If you incubate your eggs above the temperature range, 1 of 2 things will happen, they’ll either die or hatch too early, reducing their viability, or too low and again they’ll die or take a long time to hatch, and again, reducing their viability.

Ours are set and now we just wait and hope that the eggs are fertilized (suspicious that Charlie is not being very manly), and they hatch in 21 days.  You can “candle” incubating eggs at certain time periods to see that there is an embryo and it is growing.  This is when you shine a light up through the egg and you’ll see a shadow inside if there is a growing embryo.  I have not done this before and I might try it.

Seeing that we only have 2 eggs in the homemade incubator, I will add the eggs I collect today.

Fingers crossed everyone 😉

 

When Your Pet Rooster…

imageCharlie is the first chicken we got, and up until today he has been my pet.  He love(ed) to be held and get some scratches, go on walks with me, and be just plain wonderful.  To say he has been really PO’d about this breeding pen business would be an understatement.

I was walking him in the run yesterday and he karate kicked me from behind, he has never done that.  Today, I went in his pen to clean as usual, and he grabbed my arm.  I will admit, my feelings are a bit hurt, but the reality is and understandably, his role in the coop has changed, he is now a breeding rooster.  He is in a confined space with laying hens and he is naturally programmed to protect them and his offspring at all costs, and his new role has triggered that instinct.  Ragnar, our Maran rooster who is in the other pen is doing the same thing.

So, our relationship with our roosters has changed with the breeding season in full gear.  I still have to do my chores and I still want to interact with my Roos, so I have adapted; while I am cleaning their pen, I hold them in one arm at hip level (so they can’t reach up and grab my neck or face) and do what I need to do with no drama.

Roosters can do a lot of damage with one swipe, their beaks are very strong and sharp.  They also have claws and Spurs on their legs that they also utilize when they feel the need to be protective.  Listen, I’ll take a mean pinch off a 3 foot tall goose over a rooster bite any day 😉

I am finding that poultry keeping requires you to continusly adapt, birds are a complicated bunch!

Hopefully after breeding season is over, Charlie will go back to being a pet, fingers crossed!