Archive for the ‘Chicken Chat’ Category

Laying Hen FAQs: The Broody Hen, Soft-Shell Eggs and More

Saturday, August 29th, 2020

You’ve celebrated the arrival of your first farm fresh eggs and your hens are laying breakfast daily – or so you thought. Have eggs suddenly gone missing from the nesting box? Do you have a broody hen taking a vacation from laying eggs? Don’t fret. There are ways to get laying hens back on track.
 
Hens are creatures of habit and may need encouragement to lay consistently. A comfortable nesting box environment and the right nutrition will help keep hens laying strong, so your family can enjoy farm fresh eggs each day.
 
Here are three commonly asked questions about laying hens:

1. How to get chickens to lay in nesting boxesList of common challenges with laying hens, including: How to get chickens to lay eggs in nesting boxes, how to break a broody hen and what to do when hens lay soft-shell eggs.

Once a hen begins producing eggs, she tends to lay in the same spot.
 
If you’ve ever found an egg in your flowerbeds, you know some training may be required to encourage hens to use nesting boxes.
 
Use these tips to help teach hens where to lay eggs:

  1. Place golf balls or decoy eggs in nesting boxes to help hens understand where to lay.
  2. Line each box with a thick layer of straw, or other bedding, to keep eggs clean and unbroken.
  3. Provide a 1-cubic foot nesting box for every four or five hens to help prevent competition and minimize egg breakage or eating.  
  4. Ensure all boxes are uniform and off of the floor in the darkest corner of the coop.

2. How to break a broody hen

What is a broody hen? You know you have a broody hen when she decides to sit on a clutch of eggs day and night. Hens go broody because hormones drive their instinct to hatch chicks, even when the eggs are not fertilized.
 
Some flock raisers allow hens to go broody to raise baby chicks. It can be problematic if you aren’t planning on hatching chicks because broody hens stop laying eggs after they’ve made their clutch. If she is overly protective of her eggs, wear gloves when breaking a broody hen since she may peck your hands as you collect eggs under her.
 
Collect eggs as often as possible to get a broody hen laying again. If the hen has a favorite nesting box, close it off to limit access. At night, move the broody hen from the nesting box to the roost with the rest of the hens. She’s less likely to return to the nesting box while it’s dark.
 
When all else fails, give the hen a change of scenery. Isolate the hen away from the nesting boxes in a wire cage or separate area of the coop. Provide her feed and water, and give her a vacation for 2-4 days. You can return her to the coop if she lays an egg. You may need to repeat this process a few times if she continues to be broody. Persistence is key to success.

3. Why laying hens produce soft-shell eggs

It usually takes 24 hours for an egg to develop. Occasionally, high-producing breeds can lay an egg in less time, resulting in a soft-shell egg.
 
Unhealthy hens typically produce lower quality eggs and can even stop laying altogether. If you notice a trend with hens laying soft-shell eggs, there could be another issue at hand. Common culprits include:

  • Hen age: As chickens near the end of their laying years (4-5 years old), they tend to lay larger eggs with thinner shells. If you have an older flock, think about introducing younger birds to collect plenty of quality eggs.
  • Pecking order: A bird low in the pecking order may not get enough to eat, particularly during cold weather when birds ramp up feed intake to help stay warm. Keep the peace in your flock by providing alternative places to peck, like a Purina® Flock Block®.
  • Predators: Occasionally, a predator may investigate your flock at night. The stress of the encounter can trigger hens to lay before the eggshell has a chance to fully form.
  • Treats: Extra grains or scraps can disrupt the balanced nutrition in layer feed, which may leave birds lacking nutrients. Limit treats to less than 10% of their overall diet or provide a healthy treat, such as Purina® Farm to Flock Hen Treats. If you see a change in production or eggshell quality, cut back on treats for a week to see if production improves. You may need to adjust how much you are spoiling your ladies.
  • Nutrition: At least 90% of your laying hen’s total diet should be a complete layer feed. You can help hens lay strong eggshells by offering a Purina® layer feed with the Oyster Strong® System. The calcium hens need to stay strong and lay strong is contained right in the feed – no need to supplement.

A soft-shell egg every now and then isn’t something to ruffle your feathers. When hens lay 200 to 300 eggs a year, a dud is bound to happen. If it becomes a regular occurrence or you see multiple soft-shell eggs in your flock, take a closer look at what is going on with the hens. There could be a larger problem lurking in the background that needs attention.
 
Want strong eggshells for your flock? Sign up for the Feed Greatness® Challenge.
 
*The Feed Greatness® Challenge is a 60-day feeding trial where you will feed Purina® feed, monitor your flock’s performance and health, take pictures and receive emails with helpful information.

Source: Purina Animal Nutrition

Stop by Argyle Feed Store for the highest quality supplies for your free-range backyard flock. We’re proud to carry Purina poultry feed products to keep your chickens healthy.

Free Range Backyard Chickens, the Responsible Way

Thursday, July 9th, 2020

Raising chickens for eggs is a great way to produce sustainable food for you and your family. It’s a great feeling to have one less item on your grocery list. Plus, backyard chickens can work wonders for lawns and gardens.

They provide high-quality fertilizer, aerate the soil and love snacking on pesky insects. Let them roam and they’ll reward you for it.

Backyard flocks come in all shapes and sizes. No matter how much backyard space you have or the climate you live in, nothing should hold you back from giving your chickens a free-range diet they love.

Purina® Layena®+ Free Range Layer Feed is a high-quality chicken feed made from grains and nutrient-rich insect protein. What kind of insect, you ask? Black soldier fly larvae. 

A breakthrough in sustainable protein

Brown chickens searching for insects on a grassy lawn with text overlay stating that Purina<s />®</sup> Layena<sup>®</sup>+ Free Range layer feed is made with black soldier fly larvae, a sustainable and nutritious source of insect protein.”>Black soldier fly larva has intrigued scientists for decades, thanks to the insect’s ability to efficiently reclaim nutrients from once forgotten waste and transform them into high-quality protein. As these larvae grow into pupae—their final, adult stage—they feed on recycled grains and other waste, increasing their weight by a factor of 10,000. They grow quickly!</p>
<p>That kind of rapid growth reduces the amount of space and time needed to generate large amounts of protein. Once acre of land (43,560 square feet) can yield about 1,500 pounds of soy in one year. It takes only 65 square feet to produce the same amount of black soldier fly larvae in one year.<br />
 <br />
The innovative use of insect protein allows Purina to deliver resource-minded backyard chicken owners a nutritious layer feed.</p>
<h2>Well-rounded chicken feed your flock will love</h2>
<p>The chicken feed you provide your birds should contain all the nutrients they need to stay healthy and <a href=lay high-quality eggs.

Purina® Layena®+ Free Range Layer Feed is made with grains and insect protein that mimic a free-range diet for every laying hen – whether they roam in the yard or not. The feed’s well-rounded formula supports digestive health, bird immunity, feather coloring and yolk vibrancy.

Here’s more information about Purina® Layena®+ Free Range Layer Feed:

  • A complete chicken feed for both hens that free range and those that don’t
  • Includes all the nutrients hens need to lay their best eggs – no need to supplement
  • Combines ground grains and black soldier fly larvae to meet the nutrient demands of your flock
  • No added antibiotics or hormones
  • Requires less land per pound of protein than other common protein sources
  • Includes targeted amino acids, antioxidants, essential minerals, prebiotics and probiotics
  • Contains Purina’s exclusive Oyster Strong® System for strong shells

Cracking the code for stronger shells

For years, many chicken raisers have fed oyster shells in addition to their layer feed. Oyster shells or larger particle calcium allows the hen to use that source of calcium for longer periods of time so she doesn’t have to rely solely on her body stores of calcium to make strong eggshells. This helps to keep the hen’s bones stronger. With Purina® layer feeds, it’s all in one bag.

Along with all the benefits of a sustainable insect protein source, Purina® Layena®+ Free Range Layer Feed also includes the Oyster Strong® System, bringing a blend of oyster shells and key vitamins and minerals to every bite of this complete feed.

The best chicken feed for your backyard chickens

Purina® Layena®+ Free Range Layer Feed gives your chickens the free-range diet they deserve, no matter where you’re located or how much room they have to roam. And it’s produced with a sustainable protein source, just like the eggs that come from your backyard flock. After all, that’s what raising your own chickens is all about, right?

Source: Purina Animal Nutrition

Stop by Argyle Feed Store for the highest quality supplies for your free-range backyard flock. We’re proud to carry Purina poultry feed products to keep your chickens healthy.

Chicken Treats to Feed and Avoid

Monday, June 29th, 2020

Healthy chicken treats can be fed in moderation along with a complete chicken feed. Be sure to follow the 90/10 rule – offer 90% complete feed to a maximum of 10% treats each day.

Rhubarbs or roses? Which is a tasty chicken treat and which should you avoid? Whether you’re new to backyard chickens or you’ve had a flock for years, it’s important to know the do’s and don’ts of feeding your birds.
 
As backyard chicken raisers, we love to treat our girls – especially as temperatures warm up and the flock spends more time outside. But it’s not really the treats that make the flock come running, it’s the attention. Chickens will come running for complete feed, just as they would for treats.
 
Backyard chickens have fewer than 350 taste buds compared to humans’ 10,000. Still, treats and foraging can be fun pastimes for the flock. If you’d like to offer treats and free-range time, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

90/10: The chicken feed rule to follow

Chickens require 38 unique nutrients at the correct levels. Purina® complete feeds are formulated to meet these demands. Choose one complete starter-grower feed for day 1 through week 18 and one complete layer feed for laying hens.
 
To prevent nutrient dilution, provide complete feed for at least 90 percent of the bird’s diet. The remaining 10 percent can be filled with chicken treats, table scraps or scratch grains.
 
But what does the 90/10 rule mean? Laying hens eat approximately 0.25 pounds of complete feed each day, which is about the same as one-half cup. When putting the 90/10 rule into practice, this means treats should not exceed 2 tablespoons. A few small chicken treats are all they should have each day.
 
For spring-born chicks moving to the coop, continue feeding a complete starter-grower feed until week 18. Wait until the first egg to introduce treats as growing birds require all 38 nutrients in their starter-grower feed to support strong growth.

What are the best treats for chickens?

Treats like scraps, scratch grains and mealworms are like candy for birds, which can quickly spoil their diet. The best treats for chickens are natural, healthy and wholesome.
 
Purina® Farm to Flock Treats allow you to spoil your hens but not their diet. Hens receive a mix of grains with vitamins, minerals and amino acids in every bite. These healthy chicken treats are a perfect complement to complete feed.
 
List of fruits, vegetables and treats for chickens that are healthy, and what not to feed chickens.Purina® Farm to Flock Treats are available in both 13% protein and 20% protein options. The high protein treat option provides an extra nutritional boost to keep birds strong during times like molt.

What can chickens eat?

If birds free-range or have treat access, start by feeding their complete feed in the morning before they go out exploring. Remember that scratch grains should be viewed as a treat and not be mixed with the complete feed.
 
Chickens are natural foragers, so trying new foods is inevitable. Chickens tend to avoid foods that are bad or harmful for them, but some are healthier than others.
 
When it comes to foraging, there is a lengthy list of plants that chickens love as treats. Dark leafy greens can result in darker, richer yolks. Lettuce, kale, turnip greens and chard are great greens options. Watermelon, strawberries, and blueberries make healthy snacks for chickens when fed in moderation.
 
A few flock favorites include:

  • Vegetables: Lettuce, beets, broccoli, carrots, kale, swiss chard, squash, pumpkins and cucumbers
  • Herbs: Lavender, mint, oregano, parsley, cilantro, thyme and basil
  • Perennials: Daylilies, hostas, daisies, roses, coneflowers and ferns

If birds are free-ranging, they will find their favorite plants and snack on them. Install a chicken fence or tunnel in the yard to keep them away from your favorite gardens and consider planting a chicken-friendly garden for them to explore. Place a Purina® Flock Block supplement in the yard to encourage natural pecking.
 

What not to feed chickens

Avoid treats that may cause an off-flavor in eggs. Garlic and onions are the two most common culprits that may impact egg flavor.
 
A few other foods should be avoided because they contain toxins that can make birds ill or even be fatal.

  • Avocado pits and skins are toxic to chickens as they contain a toxin called persin.  The flesh of the avocado is fine for chickens.
  • Undercooked or dried beans can be harmful because they contain a compound known as hemagglutinin, which can inhibit digestion of everything the bird eats.
  • Rhubarb contains anthraquinones, which can have a laxative effect. Rhubarb damaged by the severe cold can also contain a high concentration of oxalic acid, which can be fatal to chickens.
  • Moldy, rotten foods and very salty foods can result in excessively wet feces and may be toxic.   

Feeding chickens a balanced and complete diet is simple if you follow the 90/10 rule and are mindful of the foods your birds have access to. Start with a complete feed as the baseline and then be careful not to over-treat your birds with goodies. When you do provide treats, choose healthy, wholesome treats that complement a bird’s diet.

Source: Patrick Biggs, Ph.D. , Nutritionist, Companion Animal Technical Solutions

Six Milestones of Chicken Growth

Friday, May 29th, 2020

As you get started on the journey of raising backyard chickens, it’s fun to look forward to the milestones you will celebrate with your flock. From baby chick to retirement, there are six important chicken growth stages. Each stage signals nutrition changes for your flock’s complete chicken feed.
 
Graduating school. Getting married. Having children. Retirement. We celebrate many milestones in life. 
 
Key moments also happen for backyard chickens. While your flock won’t be buying their first new car any time soon, each bird will also go through important growth stages.

We recommend using these six chicken growth milestones as a roadmap to creating a complete feeding program:

1. Weeks 1-4: Baby chicks
Graphic showing pathway of chicken growth stages, including: Baby chicks, teenage chickens, laying eggs, molting chickens and laying hen retirement.

Start your birds strong by providing a complete starter-grower feed with at least 18 percent protein to support chick growth. The feed should also include amino acids for chick development, prebiotics and probiotics for immune health, and vitamins and minerals to support bone health.
 
Chicks are also susceptible to illness. If chicks were not vaccinated for coccidiosis by the hatchery, choose a medicated chick starter feed. Medicated feeds like Purina® Start & Grow® Medicated, are not impacted by the Veterinary Feed Directive and can be purchased without a veterinarian.

2. Weeks 5-15: The teenage chicken stage

During weeks 5 and 6, chicks will go through visible growth changes, including new primary feathers and a developing pecking order. Growing birds are now referred to differently. Pullet is the term for a teenage female, while a young male is called a cockerel. Between weeks 7 and 15, the physical differences between genders will become even more obvious.
 
Continue to feed a complete starter-grower feed, like Purina® Organic Starter-Grower, Purina® Start & Grow® Medicated or Purina® Start & Grow® Non-Medicated, during the teenage stage. Along with 18 percent protein, make sure the feed contains no more than 1.25 percent calcium. Too much calcium can have a detrimental effect on growth, but a complete starter feed has just the right balance for growing birds.

3. Weeks 16-17: When to switch from chick starter to layer feed

Around weeks 16-17, people begin to check their nesting boxes for the coveted first egg. At this point, consider layer feed options so you can make a smooth transition.
 
As compared to starter-grower, a layer chicken feed has less protein and more calcium. This added calcium is important for egg production.
 
Look for a chicken layer feed that matches your flock goals – whether that’s Purina® Organic Layer Pellets or CrumblesPurina® Layena® Plus Omega-3 or Purina® Layena®. In any case, be sure the layer feed is made with simple, wholesome ingredients and includes 16 percent protein, at least 3.25 percent calcium as well as key vitamins and minerals.

4. Week 18: At what age do chickens start laying eggs?

When birds reach 18 weeks old or when the first egg arrives, slowly transition to a layer feed. Make the transition gradually to prevent digestive upset.
 
On our farm, we have found it’s best to transition over time rather than all at once. We mix the starter and layer feed evenly for four or five days. If birds are used to crumbles, start with a crumble layer feed. The same goes with pellets. The more similar the two feeds are, the smoother the transition will go.

5. Month 18: Molting chickens

Once the first egg has been laid, it’s business as usual for a while. Around 18 months, feathers will likely begin to cover the coop floor. Welcome to the season of molting chickens!
 
The first molt usually occurs in the fall when days become shorter. Your flock will take a break from egg laying and shed feathers for a few weeks. This is a completely natural annual occurrence.
 
Protein is the key nutrient in a flock’s diet to keep them strong during molt. This is because feathers are made of 80-85 percent protein, whereas eggshells are primarily calcium.

When molt begins, switch to a complete feed with 20 percent protein like Purina® Flock Raiser®. A high-protein complete feed can help hens channel nutrients into feather regrowth. Once birds begin producing eggs again, switch back to a layer feed to match their energy needs.

6. Laying hen retirement

One day, the time may come for the veterans of a flock to take a vacation and retire from egg-laying. Although a laying hen will stop laying as she ages, she still has an important place in the flock as a steady companion who brings joy to the entire family.
 
At this point, transition back full circle to a higher-protein feed, such as Purina® Flock Raiser®. If you have laying hens in the flock, supplement with oyster shell to assist their egg production.

Stop by Argyle Feed for all your feed and supply needs for chickens and any other animals you may have. We carry a full line of Purina Poultry Products to keep your animals healthy. 

Source: Patrick Biggs, Ph.D. Nutritionist, Companion Animal Technical Solutions

4-5 Week Old Chicks

Thursday, May 14th, 2020

4-5 Week Old ChicksKeeping chickens, 4-5 Week Old Chicks: Your babies are growing up! By weeks four and five, you begin noticing that your chicks’ fluffy appearance slowly disappears and their fuzzy down is replaced with feathers of a mature bird. Chicks will usually be fully feathered by 5 to 6 weeks of age. You also observe their wattles and combs growing larger and taking on a deeper red color.

As they mature, chicks naturally establish a “pecking order” which determines each chick’s social position in the flock. Their place in the order will determine who eats and drinks first and ultimately who “rules the roost”. Although the establishment of a pecking order is normal behavior, you should be watchful for excessive pecking in chicks as it may indicate a more serious problem, cannibalism. This is when birds peck the feathers and other body parts of other birds and if allowed to get out of hand, can lead to bleeding, open sores, and even death.

Cannibalism can occur at any age and needs to be controlled as soon as it rears its ugly head. It is costly and can spread through a flock rapidly if left unchecked. Cannibalism is usually the result of stress, which can be caused by poor management. Some of these stressors may include crowding, excessive heat, bright lighting, noise, hunger, thirst, the presence of sick or injured chicks, parasites, or other stress factors. Providing the correct living environment in terms of these factors will help reduce the potential for cannibalism from occurring in your flock.

Things to do for your chicks this week
Your chicks require less heat as time goes by and they grow larger and more able to regulate their body temperature. Continue reducing the temperature each week to keep them comfortable to a minimum of 65°F. Continue providing clean fresh water each day and providing unlimited Purina® Premium Poultry Feed Start & Grow® feed in their feeders.As your chicks grow, adjust the height of the feeders and waterers. A good rule of thumb is to keep them adjusted to the birds’ back height while standing. This will help to keep litter out of feeders and waterers, as well as curious chicks. Around 4 weeks of age, ducklings and goslings will thoroughly enjoy the addition of a swimming area. Be sure if you provide this to keep any resulting wet litter cleaned up. Because of their water-loving, messy nature, it is best to separate ducklings and goslings from chicks.
 
Tips to grow on
Maintain good sanitation practices to reduce the chance of disease. Bigger chicks make bigger messes, so be sure to keep up. As the chicks grow, make sure they have sufficient space to prevent crowding. Additional feeders and waterers may need to be added now to allow adequate space for all chicks to eat and drink at the same time. Keep a close eye on your chicks for signs of possible health issues. Chicks that are sick may appear droopy or listless, have diarrhea or be unwilling to eat.
Looking ahead
Your chicks will soon be mature enough to leave the brooder and move into more permanent living quarters, the chicken coop. If you don’t have one ready, now is a good time to start looking into getting one and preparing it for new occupants. You’ll be surprised at how fast your chicks will grow and how quickly moving day will arrive. Many types of poultry housing are available for purchase or you can venture to build your own. Whatever you decide, make sure that the house you choose is ventilated, predator proof and provides protection from extreme temperatures, wind and rain.

 

Source: Purina Poultry

Caring for Baby Chicks: What to Do Once They Arrive

Sunday, March 29th, 2020

Bringing home and caring for your baby chicks is an exciting milestone in raising backyard chickens. The three key essentials for raising strong baby chicks: Warm, water and feed. Start chicks strong by providing a complete chick starter feed from day 1 through week 18.

For those of us welcoming new chicks, how can we give them a solid start?

To best transition chicks into a flock, provide comfort, care and complete nutrition from day one. A chick never gets over a bad start. The actions we take before chicks arrive and the care we provide in the first few days can help set-up our chicks to be happy and healthy long-term.

Before baby chicks arrive: Set up the brooder

Set up your brooder about 48 hours before your chicks arrive. This allows time for bedding and equipment to dry and the temperature to set.

Equipment for day one includes:Temperature chart for baby chicks provided by Purina Poultry

  • Brooder: The brooder is the first home of new chicks. Be sure it is comfortable, warm and draft-free with at least 3 to 4 square feet per chick. The area should be circular and expandable.
  • Heat lamp: Assemble a heat lamp in the center of the brooder for bird warmth. Hang the heat lamp about 20 inches above the litter, with 2.5 to 3 feet between the lamp and the guard walls. The temperature under the heat lamp, or comfort zone, should be 95 degrees Fahrenheit and adequate room in the brooder should be available for the chicks to get out from under the heater if they get too hot. After week one, gradually reduce heat by 5 degrees Fahrenheit each week until reaching a minimum of 55 degrees.
  • Bedding: Add an absorbant wood shavings bedding to the floor of the brooder. Place bedding 3 to 4 inches deep to keep the area dry and odor free. Remove wet bedding daily, especially around waterers. Do not use cedar shavings or other types of shavings that have a strong odor because the odor could affect the long term health of the bird.
  • Lights: Provide 18 – 22 hours of light for the first week. Then reduce light to 16 hours through the growing period or to the amount of light they will receive when they are 20 weeks of age.  The amount of light intensity required would be provided by a 40 watt bulb for each 100 square feet (10’ x 10’) of floor space.
  • Feeders: Offer 4 linear inches of feeder space for each bird. Clean egg cartons filled with feed make excellent and easily accessible feeders for young chicks. Provide low-lying feeders, or trough feeders, for after the transition.
  • Waterers: For every 25 chicks, fill two 1-quart waterers with room temperature water and place them in the brooder. To help water stay at room temperature, place the waterers in the brooder, outside the comfort zone (do not position underneath the heat lamp), 24 hours prior to the chicks’ arrival.

Introduce baby chicks to waterPurina Poultry tips on how to tell if chicks are too hot, too cold or content in the brooder.

Once chicks arrive, introduce them to the brooding area. Water, at room temperature, should be available, but wait a couple hours to introduce feed.

This gives chicks a couple hours to drink and rehydrate before they start eating, fresh, quality water is essential for healthy chicks. Dip the beaks of several chicks into the water to help them locate it. These chicks will then teach the rest of the group to drink. Monitor the group to ensure all chicks are drinking within the first couple hours. 

Teach baby chicks to eat

After chicks have had a chance to rehydrate, provide the nutrients they need through a complete chick starter feed.

Provide a chick starter feed with at least 18 percent protein to help support the extra energy needed for early growth. The feed should also include amino acids for chick development; prebiotics, probiotics and yeast for immune health; and vitamins and minerals to support bone health.

To provide all the nutrients chicks need for a strong start, choose a starter-grower feed from the Flock Strong® Feeding Program. Complete starter feed options include: Purina® Start & Grow®, Purina® Start & Grow® Medicated, Purina® Organic starter-grower and Purina®  Flock Raiser.

First, teach the chicks to eat by placing feed on clean egg flats, shallow pans or simple squares of paper. On day 2, add proper feeders to the pens. Once chicks have learned to eat from the feeders, remove the papers, pans or egg flats. 

Adjust feed as baby chicks develop

To keep feed fresh: Empty, clean and refill waterers and feeders daily. Also, raise the height of feeders and waterers so they are level with the birds’ backs as chicks grow.

As chicks mature, their nutritional needs change. At age 18 weeks, adjust the feed provided to meet the birds’ evolving nutrition needs.

Transition layer chicks onto a higher-calcium complete feed, like Purina® Layena® Crumbles or Pellets, when they begin laying eggs at age 18 to 20 weeks. For meat birds and mixed flocks, choose a complete feed with 20 percent protein, like Purina® Flock Raiser® Crumbles and feed this diet from day one through adulthood.
 
Are your new baby chicks arriving soon? Download our free e-book, My First Year with Chickens.


 

Three Steps to a Peaceful Backyard Flock

Wednesday, March 18th, 2020

Have you ever wondered what goes through a chicken’s mind?

Wouldn’t it be helpful if they could say, “My feathers are itchy!” or “I’m bored!”? Though humans and hens don’t speak the same language, simple changes can help backyard flock conversations go smoothly.
 
As backyard flock owners, we are tasked with becoming chicken whisperers. Keeping a peaceful flock requires us to interpret behaviors to decipher what our chickens are telling us.
 Purina steps for keeping chickens from pecking each other
During fall and winter when chickens are spending more time in the coop, chicken boredom can bring out changes in behavior, such as pecking.
 
Chickens are naturally inquisitive, but they don’t have arms and hands to inspect things. They use their beaks to explore instead. Pecking is a natural chicken behavior that allows them to check out their surroundings, including their flock mates.
 
Though pecking is a natural occurrence, the nature of this chicken pecking behavior can change when birds spend more time inside.
 
Understanding the difference between curious and aggressive chicken pecking is key to knowing when there is a problem. Not all pecking is bad. When it is gentle, this behavior is fun to watch. If pecking becomes aggressive, it can be problematic to other birds in the flock.

Three tips to keep a peaceful backyard flock:

1. Investigate the reason for pecking. 
If the pecking chickens become aggressive, the first tip is to determine if something is causing birds to act out. 
 
Start with a list of questions about the environment: Are the hens too crowded? Do they ever run out of feed or water? Are they too hot or cold? Is there a predator in the area? Is there something outside of the coop that is causing them to be stressed?
 
After the stressor has been identified, the next step is easy: remove the problem and the aggressive chicken pecking behavior may go away or diminish.
 
To maintain this newfound peace, make sure your birds have a minimum of 4 square feet indoors and 10 square feet outdoors per bird. Adequate feeder and waterer space is also critical.
 
If a new hen is added to the flock, there may be a period of uneasiness. 
 
Remember, there will always be some dominance in the flock as part of the pecking order. There are typically one or two boss hens who rule the roost. Once the pecking order is determined, the birds usually live together peacefully.
 
2. Chickens take baths, too. 
The next step to prevent feather picking is to keep birds clean. Chickens take a different type of bath than you might expect. They often dig a shallow hole, loosen up all the dirt and then cover themselves in it.
 
This process is called a dust bath. Dust bathing is an instinct that helps keep birds clean. On our farm, we make dust baths for our hens by following these three steps: 1. Find a container at least 12 inches deep, 15 inches wide and 24 inches long; 2. Combine an equal blend of sand, wood ash and natural soil; 3. Watch your birds roll around in the bath and clean themselves.
 
Dust baths can also prevent external parasites such as mites and lice. If external parasites are an issue, supplement your chicken dust baths with a cup or two of food-grade diatomaceous earth.
 
If you add diatomaceous earth, be sure to mix it in well. Diatomaceous earth can be harmful if inhaled in large amounts. By mixing the diatomaceous earth into the dust bath, it has less probability to become airborne while still helping prevent external parasites.
 
3. Offer an alternative place for birds to peck.  
Next, provide birds something to keep their minds busy. Perhaps the most fun of these three tips is to find chicken toys that bring out their natural instincts.
 
Interactive objects can make the coop more complex and exciting. Logs, sturdy branches or chicken swings are a few flock favorites. These toys provide unique retreats for hens who may be lower in the pecking order.
 
Another flock boredom-buster is a block for hens to peck, like the Purina® Flock Block. You can simply place this block in the coop for hens to peck. The block can be a fun experience for hens and prevent chicken boredom when they are spending more time in the coop.
 
The Purina® Flock Block encourages natural pecking instincts. It also contains whole grains, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and oyster shell to provide nutrients that contribute to the hen’s well-being.

Source: Purina Animal Nutrition

6 Week Old Baby Chicks

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020

chickdaysgraphicpurinaKeeping chickens, week 6:  Between 6 and 8 weeks of age, your chicks will be much larger and will need twice the amount of floor space they started with. It’s also time to start thinking about moving your chicks from the brooder to more permanent living quarters outside. If the temperature is mild and the chicks are fully feathered, they can be allowed outside during the day. If you purchased straight-run chicks (50/50 males and females) you may be able to distinguish the males from the females around 5 to 7 weeks of age. The combs and wattles of the males usually develop earlier and are usually (but not always) larger than in the females. Females are typically smaller in size than males. If you are still uncertain of their sex by appearance, you’ll be sure who the males in the flock are when you hear them attempting to crow.

Things to do with your chickens at this stage

Your chicks are able to regulate their body temperature by this time and should not need a heat source any longer unless the outside temperatures are still very cold. Keep temperature at 65°F if this is the case.

Prepare your chicken house or coop. Housing should provide approximately three to four square feet of space per mature bird and should contain sufficient feeders and waterers to accommodate your flock size so that all birds can eat and drink at the same time. Two to three inches of litter should be put down to minimize dampness and odor. A nest box for every four hens should be made available for laying pullets. Roosts can be considered for laying pullets but not recommended for meat birds because of the potential for developing breast blisters.

If possible, prepare an area outside the coop for your birds. Outside runs or fenced in areas will allow chickens to scratch and peck to their hearts desire, returning to the roost at dusk to sleep. The house needs to have a secure latch that is fastened each night if they are allowed outside during the day. An outside run attached to the coop with screening on the top and sides for protection will allow chickens unlimited access to the yard and save you time and worry.

Tips to grow on

Once you move your birds to their permanent residence, make sure they are protected from predators, especially at night. Even a latched door may not be secure enough to keep raccoons out.

  • Your birds are still growing so keep feeding Purina® Start & Grow® Recipe to help them reach their maximum potential. Chicks should remain on this feed until at least 18 weeks of age.
  • If your flock is a mix of chicks, ducks and geese, continue feeding Purina® Flock Raiser Recipe.
  • Turkeys can start on Flock Raiser Sunresh® Recipe at 8 to 10 weeks of age. Keep feeding this until market weight or laying age.
  •  If chicks were purchased for meat production, the normal weight for processing is 3 to 4 pounds for broilers and 6 to 8 pounds for roasters.
Looking ahead for layers

Laying pullets will need to receive a constant amount of light exposure once they reach 16 weeks of age to promote good egg production. For optimum egg production, a maximum of 17-18 hours of light (natural and/or artificial) per day is recommended. Gradually change your layer flock over to Purina® Layena® Sunfresh® Recipe at 18 to 20 weeks of age to support egg production.

Pullets will usually begin laying between 18 and 22 weeks of age. Increasing day length in the spring stimulates normal egg production, and egg production is naturally decreased in the fall when the days get shorter. Artificial light can be used in addition to natural daylight in the fall and winter months to maintain egg production all year long. If artificial light is not used, hens will stop laying when daylight hours decrease. It is very important that the supplemental light be consistent, as even one day without supplemental lighting can cause a decrease in egg production.

After 10-14 months of egg production, hens will molt and stop laying eggs. During molting, old feathers are lost and replaced by new feathers. It usually lasts between eight and twelve weeks (though it can be shorter or longer, depending on the individual hen and her environment) and it gives the hen’s reproductive system some much needed rest. Hens will return to production after the molt. Eggs laid in the next cycle are usually larger with improved shell quality but production typically drops about 10 percent.

Source: Purina Poultry

2-3 Week Old Chicks

Friday, February 28th, 2020
baby chicksKeeping chickens, weeks 2-3

With a clean brooder, fresh feed and clean water, your chicks are settled in and off to a good start by weeks two and three. It’s time to enjoy them. Chicks are very social and will provide hours of entertainment. You will see their unique personalities emerge as each day goes by and they will grow into mature chickens before you know it.

Now, listen to them.  Chicks will emit a soft cheeping sound when everything is right in their world. This sound can be used as a means of determining their comfort status. A chick that is stressed due to conditions being too hot or cold, wet litter, or one that is hungry or thirsty will have a shrill or higher pitched cheep or may cheep very rapidly. Translate this as a call for help and look for the problem.

Things to do for your chicks this week
  • The brooder temperature should be reduced to 85°F (lower 5° each week to a minimum of 65°F).
  • Chicks should be exposed to at least 10 hours of light per day after the first week.
  • Brooder guard can be removed now if it hasn’t been already. Chicks should be able to find the heat source by this time.
  • After the brooder guard is taken out, the feeders and waterers can be moved further away from the source of heat. As the chicks become more active and continue to grow, this will give them more space for exercise and will help keep the feeders and waterers cleaner and keep them from being heated by the heat lamp.
  • Any paper or pans used to feed should be taken out if you are sure chicks are eating from the feeders. The level of feed in the feeders can be decreased a little each week until they are half full at all times. This will help reduce the amount of feed waste.
Tips to grow on
  • Keep checking on chicks to make sure they are comfortable. Again, chick behavior is the best measure of the ideal brooder temperature.
  • Continue to provide unlimited feed and water at all times.
  • Clean and refill waterers daily.
  • Remember, good sanitation is critical to avoid health problems when caring for young chicks. Keep litter dry by removing wet and soiled litter and replacing it with clean, dry litter.
  • Always store feed in a well-ventilated, dry area that is insect and rodent free.
Looking ahead

A complete and balanced feed will provide all the nutrition your chicks need to grow into healthy, productive birds. Feeding extra grains or scraps to your chicks can reduce the amount of complete feed they eat and may prevent them from getting all the nutrients they need to grow and develop properly.

One of the most common and deadly diseases in chicks is coccidiosis. Caused by a parasite, it is spread through the droppings of infected birds. Coccidia love damp, warm environments so wet litter and unsanitary brooder conditions are a prime breeding ground for this parasite. Most birds will come into contact with coccidia at some time but appear to be most susceptible to the disease between 3 to 5 weeks of age. If chicks are healthy and live in a dry, clean, well-managed environment, they are often able to fight it off or may only get a mild case, which can even go undetected. Symptoms of coccidiosis can include diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, weight loss, no desire to eat, ruffled feathers and an overall sickly appearance. If you suspect coccidiosis, seek treatment immediately. Commercial vaccines and medicated feeds are available to prevent coccidiosis. However, the ideal prevention for this disease is maintaining a dry, sanitary, stress free environment through good management.

If you suspect disease or some other serious health problem in your flock, contact your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment options.

Source: Purina Poultry

 

Tips for Raising Chickens in Winter

Monday, January 27th, 2020

Raising chickens in winter can be a lot of fun. Some hens love wandering around the yard and their first snow sighting can be quite entertaining. A bird’s thick feathers are a natural protective coat, so most breeds are well-equipped for winter.

Here are a few tips on how to care for chickens in the winter: Tips on how to care for chickens in winter

1. How to keep chickens warm in winter:

Do not add heat lamps. Chickens, especially cold-tolerant breeds, can withstand winter temperatures without supplemental heat. A chicken’s body temperature is around 106 degrees Fahrenheit, and they have their own protective layer of feathers to keep them warm.
 
If you feel it is necessary to provide a source of heat, only provide enough heat to raise the temperature a few degrees. The hens will adjust to the cold temperature, but if it is 70 degrees Fahrenheit in the coop and 0 degrees Fahrenheit in the run, birds will not be able to regulate their body temperature.

2. What to feed chickens in winter: 

A common myth is to feed oatmeal to birds in the winter. This is not a beneficial treat for chickens. Oats contain some types of fiber that chickens can’t digest which can cause the contents of the digestive tract to thicken. This leads to a reduction in the bird’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients. Greens are also unnecessary. Hens may pick at hay and spread it around, but they are not going to eat it.
 
Feeding a complete layer feed like Purina® Layena®Purina® Layena® Plus Omega-3 or Purina® Organic Pellets or Crumbles will provide the necessary nutrition hens need through the winter.

3. Ensure feed and water isn’t frozen.

Consider heated waterers. Feed and water birds more often when it’s below freezing. Energy needs increase in winter. Animals expend a considerable amount of energy to stay warm and will eat more feed. Complete layer feeds include all the energy hens need. The 90/10 rule still applies in winter.

4. Allow exploration.

Birds can tolerate snow, cold air and ice water. There is very little muscle in the lower part of bird legs and feet. The movements are controlled by tendons that stretch from the upper part of the legs down to the toes. \Secondly, the blood entering the lower legs and feet are cooled by the blood returning to the heart. The blood returning is thus warmed by the blood going to the toes. The tissue receives just enough heat to avoid frostbite while also being provided with enough oxygen to keep things functioning.

5. Collect eggs more frequently. 

Temperatures below freezing result in frozen eggs. As the egg freezes, the contents expand and will cause the egg to crack.

6. Keep the chicken coop draft free.

But don’t seal it completely. Some air needs to be exchanged to prevent ammonia build up. Open the top vent or higher windows slightly so fresh air can enter and stale air can exit.

7. Keep the chicken coop dry.

Remove any wet spots daily. Provide more bedding than you would in other seasons so birds have a place to burrow and stay cozy.

8. Continue offering activities in the chicken coop.

Hens will spend more time in the coop, so offer enrichment. Logs, sturdy branches or chicken swings can work well and place a Purina® Flock Block® supplement in the coop for a nutritious place to peck.

 

Source: Purina Animal Nutrition