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A Chicken’s Quirky Vision

If chickens sometimes act in quirky ways, it may be because of their vision.

 

It’s easy for people to assume that animals see things the way we do, but that’s not the case.  Animal vision varies greatly.  Like most birds, chickens see the world differently than their human caretakers.

 

Anyone who has filled an empty bird feeder is often surprised to see chickadees, nuthatches, and other wild birds almost immediately flap in for lunch. How do they know delicious seeds are in a feeder that has been empty for several days? Chickens do the same thing. Open the back door with a bucket of table scraps for the hens and they’ll immediately get excited and rush toward the person. How do chickadees and chickens know the banquet is ready?

Well, there are a few reasons. Birds have an amazing ability to detect motion and respond to it faster than humans. They’re ultra-observant, so the second the back door opens, the motion catches a chicken’s attention. A hen or rooster Immediately lets the flock know a treat’s coming. There’s more.

Chicken eyes are truly amazing.  They comprise about 10% of its head compared to about 1% on humans. This helps them have exceptionally keen vision in many ways that people can barely imagine.  Here are a few amazing chicken vision traits:

  • Their vision is tetrachromatic. Like most people they can see red, blue, and green. Unlike humans, they can also see ultraviolet light. So, their color vision is better than ours.
  • They can see in a 300-degree arc. Take a look at chicken eyes. They are prominent on either side of their head. Human or owl eyes are on the face. This wide visual arc lets chickens see a predator stalking from a distance behind them while still spotting a tasty seed in front of their beak. As a general rule prey animals, like rabbits and chickens, see in a wide arc but lack good depth perception, while predators, like owls and people, enjoy depth perception yet lack a wide range of sight.
  • Each chicken eye is different. The right eye is nearsighted. It focuses perfectly to find the tastiest seeds or bugs while the left eye is farsighted. That’s what helps the bird see both close and distant objects, but it comes at a cost.
  • Chicken vision is sort of like wearing bifocals. Focus is great close and distant but there’s a spot, humans might call it “computer distance”, where a chicken’s eyes don’t perfectly focus. That’s partly why they cock their head this way and that to get a good view.
  • People can move their eyes without moving their heads, so we can see to the left, right, up, or down. Chicken eyes are more fixed in their heads. If they want to look in a certain direction, they have to move their head.
  • Chickens, like turkeys and some other birds, can’t see directly under their heads. If they expose a tasty worm or bug when scratching in leaves or mulch, they can’t see it until they take a step or two backward.  Watch your hens next time and see this phenomenon.
  • Although chickens can see colors far better than people, they’re nearly blind in the dark. That’s why they seem almost comatose when roosting at night. Chickens know they are night blind so they seek a safe place to sleep before it gets completely dark…….make sure the coop is raccoon proof and the pop hole door is closed at sunset!
  • Baby chicks enjoy good vision almost as soon as they hatch but their eyes reach full potential when they’re only about 48 hours old. That’s why they can easily find food and water when they are just tiny babies.
  • Chickens are attracted to the color red. That can be good or bad. Often chick feeders are red to lure babies to eat. However, if a hen suffers an injury and red blood shows, her flock mates will peck at the wound, often making it worse.
  • Chickens have a nictitating membrane, a clear extra eyelid. It protects the eyes when they takes a soothing dust bath, yet still allows the birds to spot a stalking predator.

 

It would be fun to be able to spend an hour or two seeing the world as a chicken or chickadee does. That world would look different from what we see.

 

My Favorite Dish to Take to A 4th of July Celebration

The Fourth of July is always a huge celebration in our family.  We’ve had many family members that are active or have been active military members.  Each year, our family holds a huge cookout over the weekend to celebrate the holiday.  There are a couple hundred people present each year.  On Friday evening, they slaughter a whole hog and put it onto a cooker so that we can have fresh pulled pork Saturday evening.  Friday evening is a fish fry.  For both meals, everyone in the family brings a dish.  Some people bring sides, others bring desserts.  Over the years, I’ve become slightly famous for my dish.  

 

My Favorite Dish to Bring

When you think of celebrating the Fourth of July, you probably think of decadent, summery, barbecue style foods like ribs, baked beans, deviled eggs and potato salad.  When I first started bringing a dish to our family cookout about 10 years ago, I was trying to come up with something that no one else brought.  When you’re attending a cookout with a couple hundred people attending, that can be a difficult task.  I thought that I would try my hand at making the most American dessert I could think of- apple pie.

 

Each year when I make apple pie, I always bring home a clean pie plate.  It’s usually the first dessert to go.  The strawberry shortcake, banana pudding, brownies and other desserts get pushed aside until the apple pie is gone.

Tips for An Amazing Apple Pie

I’ve made dozens and dozens of apple pies over the years.  I’ve tried to make them many different ways and I can tell you that little things make a big difference when it comes to apple pie.  Here are some of my tips for making an amazing apple pie:

 

Make your own filling.

Don’t be tempted to buy canned filling.  Canned filling tastes good, but freshly made filling tastes incredible.  I use a combination of green apples and red apples to make my filling.  Peel your apples and chop them into thin, bite sized slices.  I like to cook mine in a large iron skillet.  Add the juice from half of a lemon to help keep some color on your apples.  Cook them in butter and a little bit of water with white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla.  You should have liquid in the bottom of your pan.  You’ll thicken that liquid with a cornstarch slurry.  The end result should be a gel-like consistency of apples and filling.

 

Make your own pie crust.

This step makes a huge difference.  Store bought pie crusts have little or no flavor.  A homemade pie crust will have more flavor and a better texture once it’s cooked.  If you have a go-to recipe for a homemade pie crust, use that.  I use flour, salt, butter flavored Crisco and cold water.  You want to make enough pie crust to have a bottom crust and a top crust.

 

Put your bottom crust down, pour in your filling, then cover with a top crust.  I use an eggs wash on the top crust and sprinkle it with white sugar, brown sugar and a little bit of cinnamon.

 

Making an apple pie from scratch can be time consuming, but it’s well worth it.  I promise that you won’t want to make it any other way once you’ve had it!

Reducing Flies in the Coop

Farms, chickens and flies.  They all go hand in hand.  Unfortunately, you can’t have animals (even chickens) around without having flies around.  Flies can be a big menace, especially if they find their way onto your or into your house.  Let’s talk about some ways that you can keep the number of flies down.

 

Preventing Flies

One of the best ways to keep flies down is to prevent them in the first place.  You won’t be able to keep all flies away, but you can do your part to reduce the number of flies significantly.  

 

Flies are attracted to a few different things.  They can be attracted to poop, food or animals themselves.  If your only animals are your chickens, then you’ll have less of an issue because most flies aren’t attracted to chickens.  Flies that bite tend to be more attracted to livestock like horses, cows and pigs because they can easily reach the skin and bite them.  The feathers on chickens make it difficult for flies to reach the skin easily.

One of the best ways that you can prevent flies from coming around is to keep your coop clean.  Clean up manure and poop frequently.  Flies will feed on this.  If you remove their source of food, they won’t show up as often.  

 

Reduce the amount of food that you leave out for your chickens.  Many feeders will only allow a little bit of feed to be exposed at a time.  This is ideal not only because it keeps the feed fresh, but it reduce the amount of feed that flies can get to.  Again, if you remove the source of food, the number of flies that come around will drop.

 

A great way to naturally prevent flies and other annoying bugs from coming around your coop is to use herbs. You can plant herbs around your coop, hang dried herbs in the coop or use dried herbs in the bedding, nesting boxes or in the run.  Many herbs have insect-repelling properties that will help to keep flies away.  Herbs like lemon balm, mint, basil, rosemary, tansy and citronella will help to keep flies away.  Your chickens will also enjoy these plants.

 

Getting Rid of Flies

Even with the cleanest coop, you’re still going to see flies.  So, how can you get rid of them once they find your way to the coop?  Luckily there are a few proven ways that you can cut down on the number of flies.

 

One of the best ways to reduce flies is to trap them.  There are many fly traps out there that are effective.  They aren’t appealing to look at, but they are very effective.  If you want to cut down on flies, a trap is a great start.  Two of my favorite traps are sticky tapes and the Rescue! line of fly traps.  The sticky tapes can be hung just about anywhere.  You can hang those from the roof inside of your coop or the run.  They’ll trap flies that land on them.  Once the tape is full, you simply take it down and replace it with another one.  It’s a simple and cheap way to catch flies.  The tape isn’t scented with an attractant, so it works by chance.  Flies that land on it to rest are captured.  It works, but it’s not as effective as the Rescue! fly trap.

 

The Rescue! fly traps work like a charm.  You’ve probably seen them around in Walmart or TSC.  They are bright green containers.  You mix up an attractant that comes with them and pour it into the bottom of the container.  Flies go into the bottom of the container and get trapped.  You can hang these or set them out on a flat surface.  

 

We use these fly traps every year and they’re extremely effective.  We’ve found that they become even more effective as it traps more flies.  The dead flies create an odor that smells like something dead, which attracts more flies.  I allow the fly trap to continue to fill up until the smell is too strong.  You can buy replacement attractant for these traps or you can simply replace the whole trap.

 

If you want to get fancy with your fly control, you can get a spray system that automatically sprays for flies.  It’s similar to the Air Wick automatic air freshener, only it sprays fly repellant instead of air freshener.  These devices are used in veterinary hospitals to cut down on flies.  Keep in mind that it’s releasing pesticides into the air, so that may be something that you want to avoid if you’re trying to raise chemical-free chickens.

 

Flies are a part of having animals, but these tips will help you keep flies at a minimum.  Try one or a few of them in your coop this year!

5 Ways to Spice Up Your Egg Sandwich

Egg sandwiches are a staple around our house. I make them on a very regular basis and while we gravitate towards the simple egg and cheese sandwich, there are times when we like to shake things up a bit! Depending on what we have on hand and how much time we have determines how creative I am in the kitchen. How about you? Do you like to create new and exciting things in your menu or are you more like me and cook because we need food to live? Hahaha In all seriousness though, egg sandwiches are great for any type of “cook”. They are simple, delicious, and packed with protein.
5 Ways to Spice Up Your Egg Sandwich

To make the simple egg and cheese sandwich, you fry an egg or two, throw some cheese on top, toast some bread and put it all together. Bam! You’re done and your kids are out the door in a flash. If you want to jazz things up and perhaps add some healthy options, go for it! We recently purchased a Blackstone Grill and LOVE it! We can whip out a lot of egg sandwiches at one time. However, if I’m just making one sandwich quick, I’ll just toast the toast in the toaster and use a frying pan for the eggs.

5 Ways to Spice Up Your Egg Sandwich

You know your family better than anyone. You can tailor each sandwich a little different to everyone’s liking. Or you could lay your ingredients out and have everyone “build their own”. Here are some combinations that go great together. We also like to switch it up between bread, English Muffins, and bagels. Our oldest son and I love our eggs over easy (a little runny!), while my husband and youngest son like a hard yolk. I will sometimes even scramble them for easy serving. Our daughter doesn’t care for eggs (everyone gasp!), so on these days, it’s a simple grilled cheese for her and she loves that!

Egg Sandwich Combinations

  1. Eggs (or egg white), Spinach, Tomato, and Gouda Cheese

  2. Eggs, Breakfast Sausage or Bacon (or both!), American Cheese

  3. Eggs, Canadian Bacon, Green Peppers, Colby Jack Cheese

  4. Eggs, Peanut Butter, Bacon, and a splash of Ketchup

  5. Eggs, Sliced Ham, Pepper Jack Cheese, Spinach, Chipotle Mayo

Your options are almost endless. These combinations are just the tip of the iceberg. You could add in almost any veggie you want and be good to go. I enjoy cooking with eggs because they are so versatile, are super healthy, and because we raise backyard chickens, they’re always available!

I hope your summer is off to a great start!

Until next time,

–The Wing Lady

Deworming Your Flock

Worms can be found everywhere in the environment. Worms exist on the ground, dirt, in animal feces, and on hosts such as crickets, flies, and slugs. If your chickens spend a lot of time in the coop, they are coming into contact with their own feces, whether through pecking on the ground, or getting it on their feet. Free-range chickens are equally susceptible to worms through all the pecking they do on the ground and via the bugs they ingest.

 

Signs of Worms

  • Messy bottoms
  • Unusual, foamy feces
  • Feces on eggs
  • Listless behavior
  • Less feed being consumed
  • Sudden, unexplained death (on rare occasions)

 

Most likely, your chickens have worms.

It is normal and usually no cause for concern that your chickens have worms. It is only when they become overloaded with parasites, that it can affect their health.

 

Is worming necessary?

 

It is not compulsory that chickens be wormed. Most parasites live in the digestive tract, and do not come into the reproductive system. It is very rare for eggs to contain worms. (but you should still always cook them).

For the health of the bird, worming twice a year, as well as preventative measures will keep your birds healthy!

 

Treatment vs Preventative

A treatment is giving a dewormer to your entire flock to kill any exiting parasites. This should be done twice a year, once in the spring, and again in autumn. Each treatment may require 2 sessions over a few weeks. There are several treatment options out there, and most can be found at your local feed store.

Preventatives are measures you can take to lessen the chance of worms. Preventatives should be done all year round.

Treatments

  • Wazine

This is my favorite dewormer! You can deworm your entire flock simply by adding the recommended dose to their drinking water. I use a couple capfuls to about 2 gallons of water. Wazine is mainly used for hogs and turkeys, but I have had great success with my chickens!

  • Safeguard Pellets

These deworming pellets are also a great go-to for chickens, goats, horses, and cattle. I usually buy a 1lb bag and split it amongst my 20 chickens, 4 goats, and 1 pony. Safeguard is dispensed according to weight. A normal sized chicken (about 4-5 lbs) should eat 2-3 pellets each.

  • Ivomec

Ivomec, or any ivermectin generic formula, works great for worming. Please be extra careful in dosing, since too much can cause serious harm.

  • Ivermectin Pour-On

4 drops applied to the base of the neck

1 drop for young chicks

  • Ivomec 1% Injectable

Orally give 0.1 ml per 10 pounds of body weight

Preventatives

 

  • Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth, or DE for short, has become common on most farms. It is readily available almost anywhere feed is sold. Sprinkle food grade DE all around the coop when the chickens aren’t inside. (Always wear a mask, as DE can damage your lungs-as well as any other animals). Sprinkle it in corners, on roosting perches, and on the floor. As well as ridding the coop of worms, it also kills any mites it comes into contact with. DE is made up of tiny particles of shells and crustaceans. Under a microscope, each particle looks rigid and sharp. These sharp ridges get inside any parasites’ body and essentially kill it by scraping. Sounds pretty medieval, but it works wonderfully for internal and external parasites! Add ½ cup to about 10 cups of feed and mix well.

 

  • Apple Cider Vinegar

ACV has long been used for countless ailments. Turns out, it can help keep worms at bay too! Simply add a small amount to your flock’s drinking water. It is widely believed the acidic nature of ACV creates an unpleasant place for parasites to live in the intestine.

 

  • Clean Environment

Worms are inevitable, but simply keeping your coop relatively clean can combat worms. Clean out the shavings of your coop often. Remove any piled up feces under roosting perches. Always provide clean drinking water.

 

The only true way to be sure of what worms your chickens have is to consult a veterinarian.

With a fecal sample, a veterinarian can identify the worms and recommend a wormer (as not all wormers kill the same parasites).

It is recommended to switch up which de-wormers you use to avoid parasite resistance.

 

Most dewormers are not actually made for chickens, so have no research on the effects on eggs and meat consumption. Usually, worms are inside the intestines or external. To be safe, always wait about 1 week after worming to consume eggs. I like to wait at least 2 weeks after worming if we are planing on processing meat chickens.

Incubation Timeline for Chickens

Hatching your own eggs at home is a really fun way to add to your flock.  You’ll want fertilized eggs to hatch.  You can either get these from your existing flock or you can purchase fertilized eggs from another farm.  The process of incubation can take place either artificially with an incubator, or with a broody hen.  We’re going to discuss the timeline of developing eggs and how you can manage them if you’re incubating them artificially.

 

Chick Development

It takes chicken eggs 21 days to hatch.  There’s a lot that goes on in those short 21 days!  When you’re hatching eggs in an incubator, you’re taking the place of the mother hen.  You’ll need to make sure that your incubator is keeping the temperature between 100-102 degrees Fahrenheit.  Even a half degree change can affect the chick’s development and slow hatching by up to five and a half hours.  The humidity should remain between 60-65% for the first 17 days of incubation, then increase to 70% for the last 3-4 days before hatching.

 

Another critical factor of hatching eggs successfully is turning the eggs at least three times per day.  Your incubator may do this automatically.  If it doesn’t, you’ll need to do this by hand.  Turn the eggs at least three times per day during the first 17 days of incubation.  This helps to prevent the chick from developing and sticking to the side of the shell.  The egg yolk will naturally float up within the shell.  Turning the egg frequently helps to ensure that the chick doesn’t get stuck on one side of the egg.

Incubator Timeline

Here’s what you’ll need to do during the incubation period:

 

Day 0:  The day before you place your eggs into the incubator, you’ll want to go ahead and set your incubator up.  Set the temperature and humidity to test it out before you put eggs in it.  It should be set before the eggs go in.

 

Day 1: Place clean, fertilized eggs into the prepared incubator.  This is often called ‘setting’ the eggs.

 

Days 1-18: Turn the eggs at least three times per day if your incubator doesn’t do this automatically. Use a pencil (NOT a pen) to mark side of the egg so that you can keep up with whether they have been turned or not.  Continue to monitor the temperature and humidity closely and adjust as necessary.

 

Day 7-10:  At some point during this time, you’ll need to candle your eggs.  This means taking a bright flashlight or candling light and holding it up to your eggs to check for viability.  Not all eggs will hatch.  Removing unfertile or dead embryos from the incubator will help keep the incubator clean and sanitary for the other developing eggs.

 

When you candle the eggs, you’ll likely see one of the following:

  • A clear egg with no visible dark areas or lines.  This egg is infertile or the embryo died very early. Remove this egg from the incubator.
  • A ring of red.  This means there was a chick that was developing, but it has died.  Remove this from the incubator.
  • Visible blood vessels.  This means there is a live, developing chick.  Blood vessels can be seen as early as 7 days.  If you don’t see blood vessels (or you aren’t sure) when you check at day 7, you can check again at day 10.

What’s Going On in the Egg?

It doesn’t look like there’s a lot going on from the outside of the egg, but the eggs that you’re incubating are bustling with activity on the inside.  In fact, your eggs will go from yolk and egg whites to a bouncing baby chick in just 21 days.  If you’re curious about what’s going on, here’s a timeline to let you know what’s happening inside of your eggs:

 

Day 1- By the end of day 1, the chick’s nervous system, head and eyes have started to develop.  There’s nothing to see yet, but those organs are already starting to form.

 

Day 2- Early in day 2 (around 25 hours in), the heart and the ear begin to form.  By the end of day 2, the heart has started to beat.

 

Day 3- The nose, legs and wings are starting to form.  You won’t see them for some time, but the development starts during day 3.

 

Day 4- The tongue starts to develop.

 

Day 5- This is a busy day! The permanent internal organs start to develop.  The sex is differentiated today, meaning you’ve got either hens or roosters at this point!  The aortic structure starts to form and thicken.  In a couple of days, the arteries will be visible when candled.

 

Day 6- The beak starts to form today.  It isn’t tough yet, but there’s soft tissues developing there.

 

Day 7- You should be able to see arteries today when you candle your eggs if the shells are lightly colored.  A strong candling light will help illuminate them more clearly, especially if the shell is dark.

 

Day 8- The feathers start to form.

Day 10- The soft tissues of the beak start to harden.

 

Day 13- The scales and claws on the legs start to become visible.

 

Day 16- The scales, beak and claws are hardened and no longer made of soft tissue.

 

Day 17- The chick will position itself to hatch and turn it’s beak towards the air cell.

 

Day 19- The yolk starts to enter the body cavity, rather than remain on the outside of the chick’s body.

 

Day 20- By the end of Day 20, the yolk should be completely within the chick’s body.

 

Day 21- Be prepared for your chick to hatch and enter the world!

 

Incubating chicks is such a fun and rewarding experience.  There’s a lot that goes on in the short incubation period.  If you haven’t hatched chicks before, now’s the perfect time!

DIY Composter

In addition to gifting a family with fresh eggs, a backyard chicken flock yields another benefit. Their poop.

 

“Soil needs animal manure to maintain health, and few additions to garden soil help produce abundant vegetables as chicken poop compost,” said Drew Erickson, Farm Manager at Rodale Institute’s Midwest Research Center north of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

 

Our garden produce is a side gift from our hens, and we use their manure in two ways.   We sprinkle a thin layer directly on the garden soil and gently work it in. Chicken manure is nitrogen rich. Adding too much can over fertilize plants, so we only use a little directly. Most of it gets composted before it reaches the garden.

 

“Compost is a wonderful soil additive. Good compost is soft, fluffy, rich in many plant nutrients and has a pleasant earthy aroma. No gardener ever seems to have too much of it,” said master gardener, Iris Muchmore.

 

Building a compost bin and allowing nature to convert raw manure, wood chips, yard waste and organic kitchen matter is a productive and easy way to use chickens to increase garden abundance.

 

Building An Almost Free Compost Bin

 

Around three billion pallets are circulating around the world. Many reach their destination, only to be tossed into a scrap pile. They seem to be everywhere, especially in industrial zones. Companies pay to have pallets hauled to the landfill, so giving them away saves them money.  Ask the manager for permission to take pallets and usually the answer is, “Sure, help yourself”. Four like sized pallets make an ideal compost bin.

 

Choose safe pallets of the same size and in good condition to make a compost bin.   Most pallets are stamped with the logo of the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) and several codes. All but locally made pallets must be treated to kill insect or plant pests lurking in the wood. Most pallets are heated in giant ovens to kill pests.  They are stamped HT and are safe to use. Others are treated with methyl bromide, a hazardous chemical. They are stamped MB.  Leave them alone!

 

Other pallet codes are interesting. Usually, the country of origin code is stamped on each one. The code key can be found on  www.universalpallets.com and other websites.  We’ve scrounged beautiful wood from Latvia, Poland, and Thailand as well as more common ones from the United States and Canada.

 

Four safe pallets of the same size can be easily made into a compost bin that will last a few years.

 

Assembling the Pallet Compost Bin

Materials needed:

* Four pallets of the same size. It’s a good idea to have a spare for parts.

* 50 feet of light nylon or poly rope and a knife to cut it.

* Hammer, nails, and handsaw. These are needed only if broken pallet slats need to

be replaced by new boards scrounged from the fifth pallet.

* Pliers to pull out exposed staples or nails.

To make the Bin:

Stand the four pallets upright to form a box.

Cut the rope into two-foot sections, thread it through two pallet corners and tie

tie them together so they form a right angle. Do the same with the other three

corners. Make rope ties toward the top and bottom of each corner.

 

That’s it. The bin is ready to fill.

Filling the Compost Bin

 

Nearly any organic material will decompose into compost, but a chicken manure/wood chip blend (called litter from the bottom of the coop) is our main ingredient.  Every spring and fall we dig it out of the coop and put it in the bin…..layered with leaves or lawn clippings. We soak the mix down with water and bacteria go to work.

 

Our chickens love snacking on kitchen waste, but not every organic material from the kitchen is appropriate food. We keep a small pail by our sink and add citrus and avocado peels, eggshells, and  food scraps. Every day we bring the pail to the compost bin, which is just outside the chicken run. Eggshells, grapefruit rinds, avocado skins, and anything else the chickens won’t or shouldn’t eat goes into the bin while tidbits they will eat go into the run.

The Fast Way. The Easy Way.

 

Most bacteria need oxygen to break down organic material.  Occasionally forking the composting mix from one bin into another fluffs it up, adds oxygen, and lets the material heat up and compost in just six or eight weeks.  It’s fast but takes work.

 

We do it the easy way by filling our bin with litter and other organic material, soaking it down, and letting it age without forking it as described above.  After six months it’s ready for the garden.

 

Many types of compost bins can be purchased ready-made, and plans for homemade ones are common on the internet.  None are as inexpensive as a compost bin made from scrounged pallets.

Raising Turkeys for Meat vs. Pets

We really enjoy raising turkeys on our little homestead. We’ve had our turkey, Tarzan, for six years now and he delights everyone who comes to see us with his strutting and gobbling! While we primarily raise turkeys for pets, we have accidentally raised turkeys for meat as well.

We accidentally raised turkeys for meat because we got the wrong type of turkey without realizing it. If you want to raise turkeys for meat or for pets – here are a few things to consider.

Raising Turkey for Pets

If you want to raise turkeys for pets, make sure you get a heritage breed turkey. Popular types of heritage turkeys include: Royal Palm, Bourbon Red, Spanish Black, Narragansett, Slate, and White Holland. Heritage turkeys can mate and breed in the wild. They grow slower and can live for a long time. Female turkeys also lay lovely speckled turkey eggs that are prized in the kitchen!

 

If you want to raise heritage breed turkeys for pets, you’ll want to take into consideration that they may roost in trees and be able to fly! Our turkey Tarzan got his name from roosting in trees. He’s so old, he can’t fly anymore, but he still climbs things to roost as high as he can.

Raising Turkeys for Meat

If you want to raise turkeys primarily for meat, you’ll most likely get one of the commercial breeds of turkeys. Like the Cornish Cross chicken, these turkeys have been bred to grow fast and have a large breast area. They can’t fly and most often, they cannot mate naturally.

 

To raise turkeys for meat, you’ll probably order new poults each spring, grow them out, and process them in fall. Common meat turkey types include Broad Breasted Bronze and Broad Breasted White.

 

Broad Breasted White turkeys are the most common commercial meat turkeys. Some raisers think they clean up a little bit nicer during processing, and they generally have a larger breast than the Broad Breasted Bronze. It takes about 16-20 weeks to fully grow commercial turkeys to slaughter weight.

 

Of course, you don’t have to keep heritage turkeys only for pets; you can also raise them for meat. They are usually smaller than meat turkeys and some people think they have a gamier taste. Heritage turkeys take longer to grow out if you want to raise them for meat. They take about 25-30 weeks to reach slaughter weight.

 

Do you have turkeys on your homestead? What’s your preference – meat or pets?

A Coop for Each Stage

Raising fluffy baby chicks is fun, until they suddenly have outgrown their first home! Here are the three types of homes your chicks will need as they grow.

 

Brooder Box

Babies (Day 1- ~7 Weeks)

When you bring home your baby chicks, the first thing you will need is a brooder box. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to be functional. One of the most dangerous parts of the brooder setup is the heat source. Whether heat lamp (buy the red bulb), or heat hover plate, always double check for fire hazards. Check on your chicks a few times a day to make sure they have clean water, food, and that the temperature is right. (95° F for the first week, dropping 5° F each week after that.)

Chicks need pine shavings for bedding, and ample space to get away from the heat if they feel too hot.

A large Tupperware box, stock tank, or pretty much anything that isn’t flammable, makes a good brooder. Do not use cardboard boxes!

Our little brooder is made from an empty, square water tank. We sawed off the top and left the metal cage around the plastic box. It is sturdy, easy to clean, and has worked perfectly for years and years. The best place to have your brooder set-up is in a garage or garden shed, somewhere with power and shelter from the elements. It is not advised to keep your brooder in the house. Baby chicks can quickly make a mess!

 

Grow-Out Pen

Teenagers (~7 Weeks- 4 Months)

A “grow-out” pen can be anything that keeps your fully feathered, yet still little, birds safe. After about 6-8 weeks in the brooder, your chicks should be almost ready for a bigger space outdoors. Bigger chickens are not kind to anything smaller than them. Adding chicks too soon, could be a death sentence for them, so it is best for your “teens” to have a little place of their own.

If the weather is chilly, please wait until they have become fully covered in feathers. If your climate is moderate and it doesn’t get too cold at night, a little head fluff is okay. If your littles start trying to fly out of the brooder to roost, its a good indication it is time to move!

Your grow-out pen needs to have small wiring. It does not have to be a huge space, but giving it a double layer of chicken wire, or better yet, rabbit wire, will keep predators away at night. The design could be anything you like! We have used our chicken tractor as a grow-out pen MANY times. We also used to keep teenager chicks in what is our current goat house.

You’ll find many uses for the grow-out pen when it isn’t being used!-and may find yourself bringing home more farm animals! (sorry husband!)

During the day, I like to open the door and let the teens out to forage. They will see it as their home, and will put themselves up at sunset, leaving you with the only task of locking them up.

 

Big Coop

Big Chickens (4 Months- Forever!)

Once your chicks are almost the same size as your grown birds, you can add them to your permanent coop. There will certainly be some pecking and fighting at first. They will establish a “pecking order,” but as long as no blood is drawn, it is safe to let them fight it out. I recommend leaving the whole flock up with the newbies for a few days. As long as your coop is big enough for them to get away from each other if needed.

A coop really benefits from having an attached fence. This allows the birds to get out, stretch and scratch if you decide to keep them up all day. A cheap, plastic garden netting over the top will keep out predators.

Your permanent coop will need the following:

 

Adequate space for the number of chickens you want.

Nesting boxes (1 per 4 hens)

Roosting branches

Shaded outdoor space

Sunny outdoor space

Enclosed section for nighttime sleeping (shavings for the floor)

Good Ventilation

 

Some pluses to consider adding!

Access to nesting boxes from outside

Automatic door

Window for ventilation

Rain catch for water

 

I hope you enjoyed these tips for being prepared with the right types of housing for your growing flock!

Poultry Watering Systems

Poultry watering systems come in many shapes and sizes these days, and your local feed store will have several options. So, which one is right for you?

There are advantages and disadvantages to any product, so choose the one that is best suited to your situation. As I tell any farmer, beekeeper, or gardener: “Do what works for you!”

Some of your choices for watering systems are:

-Metal founts

-Plastic founts

-Water troughs

However, my personal preference is poultry nipples. While the founts work, I found not only did they have a tendency to get dirty, but they would also often develop a tiny leak that would cause the whole thing to dump out, leaving a wet spot in the coop. If we didn’t catch it on time, the flock would run out of water. If you are going to use a fount, I recommend building a stand to keep it up off the ground and minimize some of the contamination issues.

The main advantage to poultry nipples is that the water you are giving your birds stays clean and cool as long as it stays in a shady place where the chickens can have constant access. They are also inexpensive and can be installed in a variety of ways to suit your needs.

For mobile coops, you can simply install them on the bottom of a five-gallon bucket and suspend it inside your coop. This setup should be sufficient to keep a small flock of backyard birds well-hydrated for a week without needing to refill.

If you have a larger flock in a mobile coop, you can attach the nipples to a PVC pipe by drilling the recommended size hole and screwing them in. I like to have at least one nipple per six birds, spaced out every 12 inches along the pipe. This pipe can then be attached to a 30- or 55-gallon drum as the water source. Fill your drum with water weekly and your chickens will have plenty of cool clean water to drink.

For a more permanent coop, you can use a set up a similar system using a PVC pipe attached to a water supply. If you are going to go this route you will also need a pressure reducer to take your pressure down to below 1 PSI. These are available to order, just be sure to look for the reducers specifically designed for poultry nipples. For the DIY enthusiasts, you can also build an inexpensive reducer by putting a stock tank float in a five-gallon bucket. Then hook the PVC pipe up to the bottom of the bucket and allow the water to feed into the line using gravity.

A few recommendations I have no matter which system you choose:

-Always plan on having a way to clean out the system. For the PVC pipe design, this can be as simple as a ball valve at the end of the line that allows you to flush the system. I like to run a bit of bleach through the lines at least every 6 months to keep things sanitary.

-In colder climates, plan on keeping your system from freezing by using heat tape.

-Train your birds to use nipples from the youngest age possible. I put them in the coop along with a fount when the birds are about a week old, then I raise the bucket as they grow and can reach up higher.

-Make sure your waterer stays in the shade on hot summer days.

-Have fun raising your birds, take time to observe their daily activities, watch and listen as they peck at the watering system to fulfill their needs. They are fascinating creatures, especially ducks!!!

Drew Erickson is Farm Manager for Rodale Institute Midwest Organic Center in Marion, Iowa. Learn more about Rodale Institute and their work in the Midwest at RodaleInstitute.org/Midwest.

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