Foxes are the most commonly known predators of poultry, this year they seem to be more prevalent than ever and not only that, but they are becoming bolder too with day time attacks being very common. I heard of one lady who had her pekin bantam snatched before her very eyes.
Badgers, Sparrow Hawks, Dogs and even Mink have all been doing their bit to reduce poultry numbers, but the predator I would like to talk about in this article is at first glance not very threatening at all, yet a closer inspection reveals a very destructive and often unnoticed and underestimated hidden killer of chickens!
Are your chickens dying of a slow agonising death?
Here at 'Hen House Poultry' we regularly write about red mite and I make no apology for doing so again; as they really are the Hidden Killer; particularly for chickens.
If you think that red mite does not affect your chickens, then think again.
If you think that regular cleaning of your poultry house eliminates them, then think again.
These are such tenacious little creatures that if you keep chickens, you are bound to suffer with red mite at some time or other. Wild birds can be carriers.
Red mite - not to be confused with red spider mites, (as even some books would tell you), are a little creature about the size of a pin head. They are translucent in colour but turn red after consuming the chicken's blood, (hence their name). In hot summer weather their breeding cycle is as little as seven days and they breed at a phenomenal rate. I have even heard it said that where you see one red mite, there are probably a million more!
So, how do they operate?
Red mite live in the cracks and crevices of the hen house and once the birds have gone to roost they come out from their hiding places, crawl along the perch and suck the blood of their host for a few hours; after which they return to their hide out. The numbers of mite build up at an incredible rate during the summer and before too long your chickens are having a fair proportion of their blood sucked away each night.
Eventually their bodies cannot replace the lost blood fast enough and they become anaemic. Egg production drops or ceases and the chicken slowly dies!
Broody hens can be particularly susceptible to this and if the conditions are right for the red mite, they will have killed the hen before she has seen out the 21 days needed to hatch out her off-spring.
How to properly tackle the problem
Unfortunately regular brushing or even disinfecting of the hen house will not eliminate the problem. To do this, repeated use of a specialised red mite killer is what's needed.
For years poultry keepers and breeders have used creosote or jeyes fluid to tackle the problem, but whilst effective, they are both rather toxic.
There are now just as effective, yet far less harmful options available to poultry keepers such as poultry shield and diatom.
Poultry shield is a liquid which when sprayed in the hen house kills red mite within 24 hours of contact, it breaks down the waxy coating of the mite and they then dehydrate and die. Diatom has the same effect, but comes in a powdered form; as the mites crawl over the powder it scores their outer coating and again they dehydrate and die.
There are also other products such as red mite powder which can be applied to the birds and acts as a preventative.
Out of all the killers of poultry, red mite is probably the most deadly and certainly the most hidden; so check your hen house thoroughly and never become complacent about this potential threat! Ben Tompsett
The Hidden Killer
How to Pick out a Gud 'un
When it comes to purchasing chickens there are many decisions to make; Large Fowl or Bantam, clean or feather legged, white, blue or brown egg layer, purebreds, hybrids or crossbreed, soft feather or hard feather and so the list goes on; but which ever breed you set your mind on, how do you know a good one from a bad one?
In this article we will establish some of the basic things to look out for when purchasing poultry. Following these simple steps can go a long way to spotting good quality stock.
The head of a chicken (and indeed other poultry) can tell you much about the general health of the bird.
Take a look at the 'head gear', young birds will not have much to show for, but in mature birds the comb, wattles and ear lobes should be a good red. If they look pale or scabbed it could indicate a potential mite problem. The eyes should look clear and alert; the ears should be clean with no discharge.
Moving down to the beak, make sure it is not twisted or overgrown and then take a close look at the nostrils, these should be clear and free from discharge. This Orpington cock shows a fine head.
An inspection of the birds vent can also reveal a few clues to its health. I will spare you a graphic photograph in this article, but by parting the feathers around the vent area it can be inspected for lice - These are usually a sandy brown colour and look like a small grain of rice, they tend to be found in this area because they drink from the vent.
The feathers around this area should be clean and free from faeces; a ?mucky bum? probably indicates loose droppings which in turn could be caused by an internal problem.
A careful look at the feet is worthwhile too. Make sure that there are the correct amount of toes (4 or 5 depending on the breed) and that the nails are clean, free from toe balls and not overgrown or twisted.
A glance at the underside of the feet would reveal problems such as bumble foot.
The legs should be clean and the scales relatively smooth, if they are raised or crusty, then the bird is showing signs of scaly leg mite.
Stance & Appearance
Finally, just step back and take note of the general appearance of the bird. Overall, it should have a good sheen on its feathers, look upright, alert and full of life just as the Japanese cock on the right. If hunched with dull, puffed up feathers, then it is probably not in optimum health. It's also worth feeling the weight of the bird; if too light it should be avoided. So when you next purchase some poultry, be sure to employ these four simple steps, which will go a long way to ensuring that you do succeed in purchasing a gud 'un!
With winter now upon us it’s well worth putting in a little extra effort with our poultry to ensure they come out of the other end of it fighting fit.
I am a strong believer that particular care during the winter really does make a huge difference to the performance of our poultry.
It is perhaps tempting to just do the minimum when it comes to poultry husbandry during the winter months and simply tread water waiting for spring to arrive, but neglect during this time can lead to poor results later on.
So, what additional care can we give to our birds to ensure that they ride the winter well?
Now is a good time to take a close look at the accommodation in which your birds reside. Ask yourself, does the woodwork need treating, does the roof need repairing or even replacing, is the house completely free from mites, etc, are the hinges, locks & latches all in good working order, is the wire netting of the run in good repair and do the residents have a good thick layer of clean litter?
This last point of fresh, clean litter is an important one; as winter weather makes it wet and dirty much more quickly, so regular cleaning out is a must! Also, be sure to let them out as early as possible in the mornings, as they need all the daylight they can get at this time of year.
A little extra attention and a few additional supplements at this time of year are very important for the welfare of poultry.
Making sure that a good quality and appropriate pellet or mash feed is their main diet goes without saying, but a few additions will help out too. A handful or two of mixed corn thrown in towards the end of the day as a scratch feed gives them activity and a full crop to keep them warm on the cold nights. Stirring in a little cod liver oil, poultry spice or similar gives them a much needed vitamin boost and helps keep a healthy coat of feathers.
Green matter can be lacking too at this time of year, so a supplement of the occasional lettuce, cabbage, apples or grapes will go down a treat.
It may also be a good time to consider worming your poultry.
Just because the weather may be cold and wet does not mean your poultry does not need water. Clean, fresh, cool water is a must for them, so keep those drinkers scrubbed and replenished daily to ensure they get this and be sure to keep the water defrosted. A little apple cider vinegar or poultry drink is good for the gut and general health and wellbeing of the birds, both of these can be administered through the water.
As I write this it is mid December, yet being in the depths of winter (and extremely short daylight hours) does not mean that your poultry will not lay eggs. Mine all live outside and do not have artificial lighting, yet with careful attention to their winter husbandry have got Marans, Pekins and Araucanas all in full lay. What you do with your poultry through these gloomy months really can make all the difference!
The Ultimate Mum
Watching a broody hen tending to her chicks on a sunny spring day, excitedly calling them over with the familiar clucking sound each time she finds a tasty grub; can only bring pleasure to those who observe.
She raises her brood with complete dedication and is fiercely protective of each and every chick. Quite simply the broody hen is a miracle of nature and would be described by many as the ‘ultimate mum’.
Indeed to the poultry hobbyist and small time breeder the broody hen plays a very important role.
In this article we will look at ways to maximise your broody hens’ potential, making the most of her motherly skills and instincts.n For there is nothing worse than a hen with just one or two chicks, when she could just as easily raise a dozen or so more.
1) Preparation of potential broodies, their housing and nesting material.
Sitting for three or four weeks takes a lot out of a bird, so it is important that she’s in tip top condition having been fed good quality feed and the right precautions being taken against lice and mites.
Mites in particular can kill a broody hen if they go unnoticed; they can multiply at such a rate that what began as a small infestation soon becomes a big problem. So not only must the hen be treated for such, but the nesting materials and housing too must be free of all creepy crawlies. This can be achieved by thoroughly spraying out the broody coop with poultry shield, or similar and the nesting material must be clean with a good dusting of louse/mite powder. An uncomfortable hen is far more likely to leave the nest.
The broody coop itself need not be very big, but it is essential for it to be placed in a quiet location away from the rest of the flock. It should also be watertight, fox-proof and have adequate ventilation.
2) Selecting your broody and setting the eggs.
It’s worth remembering that some breeds make far better ‘mums’ than others and some are much more likely to go broody.
Traditionally silkies and silky crosses (especially with the sussex) have been used by many breeders, but it may just be a case of using what’s available.
If you have a hen which has gone broody and wish to use her to brood some eggs it’s probably best to leave her be for a couple of days (to make sure she is properly broody) before moving her to appropriate accommodation. It’s important that she has separate quarters and not left to sit in the nest box where inevitably other hens will continue to lay eggs.
A broody hen needs peace and quiet, fresh water and readily available food. Mixed corn is good to keep their energy levels up, help them not to loose too much weight and assists in them keeping warm. Also plenty of nesting material should be used and a bowl shape created to ensure the eggs roll to the middle.
During the days she is broody and before setting the eggs it can be a good idea to place your hand under her a couple of times a day for which there are several reasons. Firstly it gets her used to you, She might peck your hand and appear quite aggressive at first, but after a few days of this she soon gets used to it which is of great benefit when it comes to introducing the eggs or even chicks from the incubator. (which we will get to later).
Also whilst placing your hand under her take a pinch of the nesting materials, take a good look to see if any mites are lurking within and take immediate action if any are spotted.
An early diagnosis of red or northern fowl mite could save you a lot of trouble later on.
Once she has been sat for several days (say up to a week) and you are confident she is sitting tight, the time has come to set the eggs.
Use only fresh clean eggs and place no more than she can comfortably cover – if too many are placed there is the danger some won’t be covered and will go cold. Also it’s a good idea to place an odd number as they tend to sit better in the nest.
The eggs should be placed under her one at a time and should be done after dark. If all goes well she will take then fine and continue to sit tight, it’s usually best to check on her a while later to make sure all is well.
3) Care during the incubation period.
Apart from an adequate supply of fresh water and food, it’s also important to ensue your broody is leaving the nest at least every two days and preferably daily. You will know if she has by the rather large and smelly deposit she leaves outside. If not then she must be gently removed from the nest daily, to allow her to defecate, feed and drink.
A broody hen can loose a lot of weight and some condition during the incubation period, so ensuring her daily break from the nest is imperative. She will only spend 10 to 20 minutes away, but it will do her the world of good and is also thought to be beneficial for the eggs to have a little cool down.
During the last few days of incubation it’s probably best to leave her to her own devices as she prepares herself and the eggs for hatching.
After 21 days (20 for bantams) if all is well the eggs should hatch, this is a crucial period in the whole process, as the hen will have raised the humidity in order to soften the shells allowing the chicks to hatch out of them.
It is imperative at this stage to leave everything alone and not be tempted to intervene. It is far better to let the hen do her job, for disturbing her could upset the humidity levels.
4) Introducing chicks to a broody hen.
Some people prefer to place young chicks under their broodies instead of setting eggs. Reasons for this include speeding up the whole process which will mean the hen will be back in lay sooner. Also it ensures there will be a good number of chicks in the brood, maximising the benefit of a broody hen.
To introduce chicks to a broody hen it’s important that the chicks are no more than a few days old and that the broody hen has been sitting tight for a good number of days, preferably a couple of weeks.
Then, as with setting eggs, place the chicks under the hen at night one at a time. Hopefully if all goes well she will accept them and begin to make the usual clucking noises as she reassures her brood. Again keep a close eye on them, checking them say, an hour later and then first thing in the morning to make sure all is well.
Which ever way you use your broodies, if tended to properly adhering to good husbandry practice and without interfering too much, they will most likely do a fabulous job in raising their brood. They are after all, the ultimate mum!
Watering your poultry
At this time of year we get in the daily routine of watering our hanging baskets, planters and borders full of bedding plants, but just how much care are we taking over the water supply to our poultry?
We should pay careful attention all year round to our bird’s water, but particularly so during the summer months when the weather can be hot and the birds are in full lay.
Did you know that a chicken's body is made up of more than 50 percent of water?
Water is a very important and basic need to provide poultry with. Too little water results in dehydration, excessive stress, and a decline in egg production. I remember the farmer who I used to work for as a nipper, telling me how important it was to provide the cows I had just milked with a drink, as they “needed fluid in order to make a fluid”.
It’s the same with chicken’s, the better layers will consume more water, as much of an egg is made up of water. You may well have noticed that the first thing a hen does when she has laid an egg, is have a drink!
Depriving them of water for 24 hours will take them 24 more hours to recover completely (not something to be recommended!) Mature birds need about 1 to 2 cups of water a day, with layers needing more water than non-layers. The weather/heat also affects how much water a chicken will drink. Water should be clean, fresh, and available at all times.
So, what about that drinker? – When did you last inspect it closely? During the long days of summer, green algae build’s up very quickly and so a regular scrub out with a bottle or scrubbing brush is a must.
Smell the water; it should be sweet smelling, not stagnant and stale. Replenishing the water daily will achieve this.
So with summer looming, remember, it’s not just watering your hanging baskets and bedding plants which needs close attention, but that of your poultry too!
If your poultry live outside then you will be aware of just how sticky the ground can become underfoot, particularly during the winter time. Poultry and mud do not go together well and it is not conducive of a healthy environment in which our birds should live.
I am often asked the question - ?what is the best litter to use in poultry enclosures?? So what options do we have when it comes to combating the mud?
Personally I tend to use what is easily available or what is suitable for the size of run.
Here are three options:
1. Straw - In smaller enclosures straw can work well, the chickens love to scratch around in it looking for any ears of wheat, so not only does it help keep their feet out of the mud, but keeps them more occupied too ? which can only be a good thing. It does however need removing fairly often.
2. Leaves - In autumn, leaves fall in abundance and can make a great litter too. A good thick layer really helps, but the leaves soon break down in wet conditions and therefore are only a short term solution.
3. Woodchips - This is my personal favourite. Local tree surgeons are usually only too happy to off load their collected woodchips; it's great because it lasts well and just needs topping up occasionally. Just make sure that thorn trees (such as hawthorn) or poisonous ones (the berries on yew for example) are not in the mix and this will make a great litter which smells good too. I use barrow loads of it in this pen!
Woodchips make a great natural litter, especially in a pen of this size.