The February freeze is coming and I want to share some of our tricks we learned to make the cold easier and more efficient. During this time we use deep litter methods which creates good heat by natural decomposition of the lower layers with a clean dry layer on top. I rake our dead prairie grasses with a thatch rake storing it in barrels to save money on something they are just going to poop on. We don't believe in using heat lamps due to their danger of fires and also you don't want to keep your animals too warm. Doing so creates humidity in their shelter and also makes the change going from a warm house to the outside bitter cold hard on them. You're usually better off letting them get cold and use cuddle power to stay warm but in a draft free environment. You don't want to create conditions that can cause pneumonia and certainly don't want to start a barn fire.
Should you find the need to use heat lamps and your cuddle power is low, be sure to secure heat lamps with backup wires or chains. The last thing you want is a chicken to fly into it knocking it down and obviously don't put them in reach of goats. (Red lights are good for chickens as they can't see well in that color and sleep better. White lights are good if you want to trick them into thinking the days are longer so they lay more eggs.) A timer plugged into the heat lamp that comes on early in the morning works great. You want to also keep your outside wattage low to save money and also not overload your circuit.
Another great tool in the photos below is a Thermo cube. This saves energy and is a great option should you want to use a heat lamp but not create too much heat. It turns on at 35 degrees F and off at 45 degrees F. We use a heat lamp and thermo cube in our well pit. The cold at our house can freeze the pipes, cutting off water supply and using these saves some energy and keeps the water flowing.
Pictured below: We use heated dog bowls for chicken water. The wattage is that of a light bulb and they only turn on as the temperature reaches freezing. Personally I would stay away from those expensive metal heated bases for the metal waters because they have a high failure rate. They are always breaking and the dog bowls are way cheaper. They do sell expensive heated plastic chicken waterers but for that kind of money, if the plastic breaks in the cold I would be pretty upset. A flat back rubber heated bucket works just the same and we use them for our goats. The cords are protected by a spiral wire and they can't chew up the rubber.
Also pictured below is a heated hose. This keeps your hose from freezing and is great if you have a fairly short distance to go -- however they are also a bit costly. The distance of hose we need here on the farm is 150 feet so these don't work for us. We have a covered compressor next to our outdoor outlet and blow the hose out everyday and this works great for us but it's a pain.
Heated pet mats. We use these during the cold part of our kidding season for the goats. They usually cuddle with mom but I like to give them another warm option. Goat sweaters also work great for the newborns. A good and cheap do it yourself option we use is the sleeves of sweatshirts from the thrift store. All you have to do is cut the sleeves off and make holes for their legs.
Wi-Fi Thermometers: These are a great tool if you want to monitor the outside temperature in any outside shelter from inside your home. We use these in our chicken incubators as well. They also can measure the humidity which is important while incubating eggs.
Outdoor electrical outlet covers. These are very easy to install and are great if you need to leave cords plugged in outside. They keep them dry in the wet weather. Also pictured below is a special electrical tape. I'm not quite sure what its called but we use this when we need to join two electrical cords together to be left out in the weather. The tape is not sticky at all but somehow when it's wrapped it creates a chemical reaction that makes it bond together making a water tight seal. So cool.
The dryer vent below is a great use of lost energy. We use this on our dryer in the winter. Instead of blowing the heat outside it keeps the heat inside where you want it. The only hassle of this is to keep water in the base which catches the lint so there is no mess in the air and you have extra heat in the house. This works great in Colorado where the low humidity makes my lips bleed but I wouldn't use it in a place like Florida or your walls will be dripping and mold may form.
Most importantly is to keep yourself warm outside as well. Get some nice wool socks. A good pair of Carhartts plus compression under-layers (better known as long johns) makes a huge difference. The compression clothing is just that. It's made of 100% polyester, fits tight and wicks great. Getting out of the shirt makes you look like your trying to escape a straight jacket but they are completely comfortable to wear. Under Armor is the most popular brand of this type of gear. I personally buy mine on Ebay and the brand is Go-Gear. You can get a shirt, pants, and hat all for $50, where Under Armor can cost you $50 plus, just for a shirt. For guys this is a mentally better option than the old trick of wearing panty hose. I'm neither denying or confirming I've tried this option :p
These are just some of the tricks we learned over the years. They are great products that can sometimes be overlooked but they make winter just a little easier. It seems like just as you get done prepping for the winter your then prepping again for the summer heat. Just part of the joys of farming.
This was our first year raising hybrid meat birds. Prior to this we had only raised and processed heritage Rhode Island Reds for our own consumption. While we are not seasoned pro’s of meat birds, we sure did learn a lot just in the one first summer experiment and thought we would share what we have learned.
We had always heard of the Cornish Rock Cross, your traditional store bought chicken (also referred to as the Franken Chicken and now we see why.) We decided as curious farmers to find out the difference for ourselves. We had been trained that chicken was supposed to look and taste like what we have all always bought from the grocery store. After having only tried Rhode Island Reds that were half the size and had way less breast meat (the real normal chicken) we just had to try the hybrids and we wanted them to free range along side of all our other animals.
We bought 20 Freedom Rangers from Travis at Mountain Acres Farm in Black Forest and 30 Cornish Rock Crosses from another farm, as week old peeps for our experiment. We had a whole other coop separate from our eggs layers that we quickly named the “meat wagon.” Right off the bat we noticed that they were already double the size of our heritage birds that we would hatch in our incubators. They grew and grew fast. They also ate and ate a lot. This showed us the importance of only raising them in the Summer to save on feed costs as they would free range.
Freedom Rangers are ready to process at 12 to 16 weeks costing more in feed compared to the explosive growth of the Cornish, ready at 8 to 12 weeks. This is obviously way less than 4 to 6 months for a heritage breed. The Freedom Ranger in my opinion is your best bet and I will explain why in more detail.
Rangers have less breast meat and more dark meat than a Cornish but the flavor is just wonderful. Now being trained to the taste of the big plant chickens, I still prefer the Cornish for its double breasted white meat and Free Ranging them on natural feed and no chemicals makes a big taste difference making them all the better. But raising the Cornish has its complications.
As they grew… if you blink you might miss an inch of growth, we quickly realized that the Freedom Rangers were the only ones that would go in and roost and the Cornish’s stayed on the ground and had to be rounded up and led into the coops at night. This is likely a good thing. They are known to break their legs since they can’t support all that fast weight growth. It was then that we made new night time housing for them out of simple truck bed toppers that we bought at a local farm auction for just $2 a piece. This worked great for them. Both breeds as young birds seemed full of energy, healthy and behaved much like any other chicken.
The Cornish birds however started to look rougher as they got bigger. They are bred to pluck easy which created a pretty big problem for us. Their feathers were not coming in like a normal chicken and they looked like they had bald spots. This was also topped with a condition we learned of called “Aescites.” We learned that these birds are not recommended at altitudes above 6,000 feet. Aescites is a condition of excess fluids in the body and also is a condition of congenital heart failure which they are prone to due too their rate of growth. Out of the 50 birds, we only had one Cornish just die for no apparent reason. Our biggest problem was Cannibalism.
The high altitude causing the excess fluid created a condition where the fluids gathered in their belly close to the bum. This protrusion caused them to poo on themselves and they were not a pretty bird to look at. Actually we didn’t even want people to see them and think we took bad care of our animals. Raising them out on the free range with all our other hens was a bad idea. They did go hunting for bugs with the rest of the flock (but mainly stayed close to their feeder) however as you may know that when a chicken see’s something unusual such as missing feathers they peck out of curiosity.
Once they draw blood they then are drawn to that and become Cannibals. We had more skin damage which quickly became a pain while plucking them. We lost a few birds due too our egg layers pecking and the Cornish’s unwillingness to get away or stand up for themselves. One case was so bad that the whole tail from the oil gland to the bum was completely eaten off in just one afternoon. You may notice I don’t mention the Freedom Rangers much and this is because they grew so healthy and normal looking just like a normal chicken with no health or behavioral problems and we won’t be doing Cornish’s again despite the faster growth. The whole process of raising the Cornish just makes me nauseous to think of it but I got to admit the meat and large amount of the meat really tastes wonderful.
The popular Polyface farm that we love to follow for their great success, raises Cornish’s for meat birds simply because most people don’t know what a normal “real” chicken should look and taste like. Heritage birds just don’t sell as well because of the trend to corporate mass farming from the natural farmer. You will however still taste a difference in natural raised hybrid V.S. corporate raised chlorine bathed and antibiotic fed bird. The health benefits of a natural raised bird are always your best option, no matter the breed.
The Freedom Ranger did take longer (also meaning more feed) to grow; however they were virtually trouble free and fully feathered, healthy looking birds. Neither of these two breeds can be bred to hatch the same results. The Cornish get so big so fast they just can’t breed. The Freedom Ranger can breed but you won’t end up with a true Freedom Ranger being born and they will take longer to grow. They are a proprietary bird out of France so it’s hard to tell what breeds were crossed to result in the Freedom Ranger. The Cornish is also a mystery mix with 80 percent of them coming from 4 major companies.
In the end we could have let our Freedom Rangers live longer but as the Cornish grew older they started to slow down and we had a few that you could hear having a hard time breathing due to their breasts growing so big and squeezing their esophagus. We didn’t let them get past 12 weeks. The Rangers averaged between 4 to 6 pounds processed and the Franken chickens were 5 to 7 pounds with the males being the bigger birds.
Our first experience sure did teach us a lot and it was worth the experiment to know first hand. While the end result from both breeds did end the same with great tasting meat, we don’t recommend the Cornish if you take pride in the appearance of your flock. They were just not pleasant to look at and we didn’t want them to be seen by customers. I am really picky about my food and don’t like images of the animal in my head while eating dinner. This is just the way they were genetically made to be and the Rangers were so much more pleasant. We likely won’t be trying the Cornish again anytime soon. We gave them a happy and healthy free ranging life but some birds are just prone to more problems. It may cost more to raise a Ranger but you sure do feel better about your farm raising what we now consider a “normal” chicken. We’re sticking to Rangers and Heritage breeds in the future.
If you have free range chickens, this is the time of year for lice and mites. ( Winter... and no worries - they are a poultry and not human strain) Some birds will look perfectly healthy. The best way to look for lice would be by their bum. Mites are harder to see and the best time to see them is in the dark with a flashlight. We use Adams flea and tick plus. It has Precor in it which will kill the eggs as well so there is no need for a second treatment. There is no egg withdraw from Adams (We wait days anyway).
Another option is to treat with Ivermectin. Not sure the dose since there is an egg withdrawal period we try not to use it. Ivermectin even kills worms and it is simply applied to one area below the neck and absorbs through the skin. It's just the price you pay for free range chickens. They can get it from wild birds or any wildlife for that matter.
The only problem with these treatments is that you have to catch and remember witch ones you treated and that can be a pain if you have allot of hens. We place them in a separate yard when they are done. We tried diatomaceous earth in their daily food and I can't say that it really works since we did use it as a preventative.
Chickens can pick up lice and mites from wild animals such as birds, quail, and even mice. We have found that one of the best cures is to use the ashes from your fireplace (a little late now that summer is coming) and put it out in their favorite dusting spots... I wouldn't recommend putting it in enclosed places such as the coop since chickens are very prone to respiratory diseases. Another natural product is too use Diatomaceous earth. This isn't a cure but it's a good preventative. We also put just a little mixed in with their feed. It helps promote good digestion and kills any bad bugs they may ingest. I would also suggest spraying the coop and roosts with Permethrin since mites don't always stay on the chicks but get on them at night.
If you have a bad lice infestation, (you can see lice but it's harder to find mites. You have to catch the chickens in the dark and inspect their bums, since that's where they hang out) a good product to use is Adams flea and tick spray. There are two different kinds; the best one to get is the one that also kills lice eggs (Adams with IGR). You don't want to have to catch all your birds and re-apply a second time to kill newly hatched offspring that weren't killed as eggs the first time... it's just easier to do it once. You can usually tell if your chicks are loosing a lot of feathers besides natural yearly molting. They may also be loosing weight and scratching at eyes and ears allot. An all purpose treatment to do it all at once is Ivermectin (made for cows or horses) simply just dripping 1/2 a cc. on the back of their bare neck skin. This will kill all internal and external parasites at once. It kills mites, lice, and even worms. However it has been suggested to not eat their eggs for 10 days after application - yet, we have read of people eating them the day after with no issues. The most common worms for chickens is round works. You can sometimes find them in their poo after treatment. Allot of people like to feed their chickens earth worms but we have learned that worms carry other worms that can infect your flock. Luckily we only had to do all this once and our flock is now perfectly healthy. You usually learn as you go with all different animals. The internet can make you think your flock has every disease known to man muck like looking up human symptoms when your not feeling well. When all else fails... see a vet or see a doctor if the internet makes you think you have ten different illnesses. We have experienced a little of everything since we mixed the flock from many different craigs list finds... the best way to raise a perfectly healthy flock is to order all your chicks from a hatchery and wait until they get too laying age (6 months) but this is still not full proof from illnesses. We didn't know chickens were so complicated.
We recently acquired some new hens that we noticed right off the bat were not being taken care of very well. When we see the conditions some of our new kids are living under we find it hard to turn down the opportunity to give them a better life and take them home with us. We have some Rhode island reds and Americana hens that have developed the tendency to hen peck and eat the feathers of their victims. This behavior is usually the result of a diet lacking enough protein, boredom and eventually habitual.
Our youngest are 15 Rhode island babies at three months old that were looking a little rough so we are certain that the measures we have taken will cure this problem and we have seen drastic results in only three weeks. They were missing allot of tail feathers due to the picking. The problem worsens when blood is drawn. Chickens are attracted to the red color of the blood and this makes them pick even more.
What we have found to be a great cure is to increase the amount of protein in their diet (Scrambled eggs make a good meal for this) Also the use of peepers. They are the yellow blinders as seen in the photo. The chickens can't see directly in front of them thus making it hard for them to victimize the other hens. The peepers are a bit hard to get on and I would recommend having the help of another to hold the bird. Simply warm the peepers in water using the microwave and then bend them open then insert the points into the nose holes of the hen. I recommend watching the bird after releasing them because their instinct is to try and scratch them out. We have had a little blood from them trying to get them out but nothing to worry about. They very quickly get used to having them on and go about their day as normal minus victimizing their roommates.
Now for the victims that may be missing allot of butt feathers we use Wound - Kote by farnam which is a blue antiseptic spray to both help heal and make the area less appealing for them to chew on. We have tried some anti-pick specifically designed for this problem but only found it to last one day. Now when the day comes to remove the peepers we also like to use Vet RX on a Q-tip to clean their nose. Vet RX is also great to rub on their comb and waddle to make their color bright and healthy looking. It is also a good treatment remedy for colds, Scaly legs and eye worm. However for scaly legs we prefer to coat them with Vaseline, this is not only moisturizing but also suffocates any mites.