Home

FROM OUR BLOG

The Wing Lady’s Sliders

Hello October! It’s pretty gorgeous here in Southwest Minnesota. We love autumn and all that goes with it! That includes football season. Our boys both play and they are enjoying an unusually warm season.

If you’re like me, trying to figure out simple, healthy suppers that will satisfy our growing family is not always the easiest. Unless of course you’re a professional chef or are super organized…which I’m neither! Haha! However, I have been known to whip up something fun in the kitchen from time to time. And tonight, after our youngest son’s football game, I made these delicious sliders! They were a hit and I will absolutely be making them again!

The Wing Lady’s Sliders

Ingredients:

  • 12 Hawaiian dinner rolls

  • Shaved smoked ham

  • Sliced cheddar cheese

  • 8 eggs

  • 2-3 Tbsp milk

  • Salt

  • Pepper

  • Mayo

  • 1 Tbsp powdered or Dijon mustard

  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

  • Everything but the Bagel Seasoning (EBTB)

  • ¼ Cup + 1 Tbsp butter

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Using a serrated knife, carefully slice horizontally through all 12 buns so you have a bottom and a top section. Do not pull them apart! Lightly spread mayo on both top and bottom sections. Place the shaved ham on top of the bottoms. Then, add scrambled eggs. To cook the eggs, take a bowl and mix eggs, milk, salt and pepper (to taste). Place a Tbsp of butter into the hot pan. Pour eggs into a frying pan and cook until cooked, but still wet. The eggs will finish cooking in the oven. Place the eggs on top of the ham layer. Next, place cheddar cheese slices over the eggs. Carefully lift the tops of the buns onto the cheese.

In a separate bowl, mix ¼ C melted butter, 1 tsp Worcestershire, 1 Tbsp powdered mustard. Lightly pour and “paint” this mixture onto the tops of the buns. Sprinkle with EBTB seasoning.

Cover with foil and bake for 12-15 minutes.

Enjoy!

This recipe may make it into our normal meal rotation! It was so incredibly easy and absolutely delicious! And it was football player approved! I served it with some mixed berries and a side of bacon to round it out.

Until next time,

–The Wing Lady

Understanding the Autumn Molt

With the coming of autumn, leaves aren’t the only things falling.

You may have noticed some of your flock members dropping feathers. Every year, the sight of suddenly nearly naked chickens causes panic for new chicken owners.

Birds, almost overnight, start looking like a strong wind came and left them stripped!

Although it seems alarming, chickens will naturally lose their feathers every autumn during their MOLT.

A molt is the shedding of old feathers, to make way for new ones. In the same way humans shed skin cells daily and reptiles and crustaceans shed their old skins, chickens molt out of their old feathers.

The feathers they have worn all year do not last forever. After several seasons of use, the feathers get dull and dingy. Old feathers are difficult to preen, and no longer “zip-up” like they once did. With winter fast approaching, our chickens need a fresh layer of feathers to stay warm, so they go through a molt.

The timing of a chicken’s molt always coincides with autumn. Research has determined a molt is triggered by decreased daylight. As the days grow shorter and the sun sinks to bed earlier each day, we are left with less hours of daylight.

The characteristics of a molting hen are first and foremost a major feather loss. Feathers start to fall out first around the top of the head, then move down the body, finishing with the tail. All hens molt differently. Some hide it well, but others may look almost naked. You will definitely notice a large number of feathers on the ground inside your coop. Along with feathers, there will also be a lot of dander and white looking dust. This “dust” comes from the new feathers that are growing out.

Along with looking pitiful, a molting chicken is not feeling it’s best. Growing new feathers places a strain on the nutrients inside the body. Since feathers are over 80% protein, chickens will be sending almost all their energy into regrowth. This means a hen will usually cease laying while molting. Supplemental protein can be given in moderation, but egg laying generally won’t resume until after all new feathers have grown in.

-This can take a while, as the average molt lasts 7-8 weeks!

There has been some research done that better layers molt out quicker, some as fast as 4 weeks. Other birds can take up to 12 weeks to fully complete the process.

In addition to looking nearly stripped of their feathers, a molting chicken also doesn’t feel as spry as usual. They may spend a lot of time resting in a corner, acting slightly lethargic. Keep and eye out for illness during this time. Since you can see their skin well, it is also a good time to check for lice.

The new feathers of a chicken start growing out as soon as the old feathers fall off. These new feathers are called pin feathers. They look almost like blue needles. The blue color comes from the blood inside the shaft. These feathers are very fragile and even painful if touched. Try not to handle your birds too much during this time as a broken pin feather can bleed and bleed! You may want to keep an eye out for any other chickens pecking on a molting hen. The sight of blood can cause aggressive pecking in chickens, so watch out for bullying.

Giving your flock some extra sources of protein- in moderation- can help them get through this tough time. Some feeds such, as wild game bird feed, have higher protein levels, and can be added to their diet. Some people give their flock canned tuna, cooked eggs, cod liver oil, and I have even heard handfuls of cat food work wonders. Adding protein should only be done during the molt, as too much protein year-round can actually be quite harmful.

The autumn molt can be a tough time for a chicken. It is a normal part of nature, and you can help ease the process with added protein and a little TLC. Soon, your flock will all be sporting brand new, glossy plumage and back to their old selves!

 

Why Chickens Slow Down Laying in the Fall

The long, warm days of summer are coming to a swift end. Just as quickly, you may have noticed a sudden drop in your flock’s egg production!

Chickens will slow down laying during the fall for two reasons; less sunlight and the molt.

In the world of chickens, less daylight equals less prolactin.

Prolactin exists in most creatures and is a reproductive regulating hormone. Prolactin is responsible for stimulating the ovulation cycle in a hen. No one really knows why, but in our domestic chickens, prolactin levels decrease when days begin to have less than 12 hours of sunlight.

Without a normal ovulation cycle, hens slow, or even cease laying eggs.

Autumn days are over quick, and winter days even faster!

With less daylight to trigger prolactin, hens slow down their laying.

Another reason for egg production slowing can be due to the annual feather molt. Chickens lose their old feathers every year at this time and begin to grow a new set. Molting takes a great deal of energy and protein from the bird. Hens generally will almost stop laying during this time due to the energy demand on their little bodies.

One way to keep egg production up is to add a light to the coop.

There are many options for the backyard flock owner when it comes to lighting. There are even solar options available, with less dangling wires to threaten a coop accidentally igniting. Multiple light studies have been done in industrial sized laying hen houses. One study was even conducted on different colored lights and the various effects on egg production.

For a small, home flock, adding a light in the coop will keep egg production up in late autumn/winter, after the molt. Try adding extra light for a few hours early in the morning, instead of at night. That way, you ensure the chickens can see their way up to the roost with whatever daylight is naturally left. Keeping a light on at night, then shutting it off can be quite unexpected to your chickens. Leaving them confused and unable to see where to safely hop up onto the roost. For this reason, it is recommended instead to add hours of artificial light in the morning.

Try for at least 12 hours total of light, but not exceeding 16 hours.

(Be aware that having a light for your hens, and then abruptly not using one can confuse their natural hormones and send them into another molt in the dead of winter.)

Just be consistent, and if you sue a light, keep using it for the recommended hours daily until spring arrives.

You can also help your hens lay more in the colder months by supplementing their diet. Cold weather means less green grass and bugs to forage on if you let your birds free range. You can add some extra nutrients by mixing sunflower seeds and whole corn. Most feed stores sell a scratch grain, which is essentially a mix of pelleted chicken feed and multiple grains. Mix this in with your normal pellet or crumble for added nutrition. Of course, keep giving your flock table scraps during the colder months as well!

Experiencing a drop in egg production during cold months can be disappointing. With a little extra help, your hens may still give you a few eggs. Rest assured it isn’t your fault; just a normal part of a chicken’s yearly cycle! Spring will be right around the corner before you know it, and you will be back to having more eggs than you can eat!

Why can poultry be shipped through the mail?

Did you know millions of baby chicks are shipped through the mail each year in the U.S.?  You might be surprised that baby chicks can be shipped through the post office.  It’s not like you can take a puppy to the post office and ship it across the country, so how can hatcheries and poultry farms ship baby chicks?

 

It’s All in the Anatomy

In order to understand how baby chicks can be shipped, we need to go over a little bit of chicken anatomy.  Let’s consider how a baby chick is formed.  The chick develops within the shell and the developing chick feeds off of the yolk.  The yolk provides nutrients and energy that the chick needs to grow and develop.  The yolk is so nutrient dense that it actually provides a surplus of nutrients and energy.

Right before the chick hatches, it ingests the remaining yolk.  This extra bit of yolk contains enough nutrition to feed the chick not only during hatching, but up to three days after the chick hatches.  This ensures that the chick has plenty of time to recover from hatching and find food (if it were in the wild).

Baby chicks today can legally be shipped as long as they are shipped within 24 hours of them hatching.  Baby chicks have to be less than 24 hours old to be shipped in the mail.  Shipping them so soon may be shocking, but this allows hatcheries to ship chicks and have them reach their destination within the window of time that the ingested yolk can still provide them ample nutrition.

You may think that shipping chicks with food and water is a good idea, but in reality, it makes shipping much more dangerous for the chicks.  Chicks need to stay dry to stay warm in the shipping box.  If you add water, the chicks run the risk of becoming wet and cold.  Food in the box would also pose a threat if the chicks could eat but not drink.  The food may not stay in the box since the boxes used to ship chicks have holes in them that allow for ventilation.  If you had to keep food in the box, you wouldn’t be able to have ventilation holes.

Regulations and History of Shipping Poultry

The U.S. Post Office allows the shipping of day-old ducks, emus, geese, guinea, partridge, pheasants, quail and turkeys.  The shipping of poultry was made legal on March 13, 1918.  The statement released by the Postmaster General at the time said that “Live day-old chicks shall be accepted for mailing, without insurance or C.O.D privileges, when the package in which they are contained is properly prepared and can be delivered to the addressee within 72 hours from the time of mailing.”  The same rule still applies today.  Hatcheries can ship day-old poultry as long as the chicks will reach their destination within the first 72 hours of life.

There are also other hoops that hatcheries shipping poultry must go through in order to ship birds. For example, the date and hour of hatching must be noted on the box.  This may seem trivial, but it’s key to making sure that each box of chicks will make it to their destination before the 72-hour mark.

Poultry being shipped must also be disease-free.  Hatcheries can ensure that birds are disease free by following the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP).  The NPIP was put in place to “eliminate Pullorum Disease caused by Salmonella pullorum which was rampant in poultry and could cause upwards of 80% mortality in baby poultry. The program was later extended and refined to include testing and monitoring for Salmonella typhoid, Salmonella enteritidis, Mycoplasma gallisepticum, Mycoplasma synoviae, Mycoplasma meleagridis, and Avian Influenza. In addition, the NPIP currently includes commercial poultry, turkeys, waterfowl, exhibition poultry, backyard poultry, and game birds. The technical and management provisions of the NPIP have been developed jointly by Industry members and State and Federal officials. These criteria have established standards for the evaluation of poultry with respect to freedom from NPIP diseases.”

Adult poultry can also be shipped, as long as it meets certain criteria.  The adult birds also have a 72 hour window to reach their destination.  However, with adult birds, there are weight restrictions.  Birds must weigh at least 6 ounces and weigh less than 25 pounds. They also need to be shipped during times of the year when the weather conditions will not cause stress.

Shipping poultry in the mail is a very effective way to get birds to buyers.  In fact, there have been several studies that compare the mortality rates of birds shipped through the mail and birds that were shipped using other transportation methods.  The studies have shown that there is no significant difference in mortality rates and using the U.S. Postal Service is a safe, reliable option.

 

Chicken Combs Aren’t for Grooming

Chickadees, sparrows, and most other birds go through life with just feathers on the top of their head. Some, like cardinals, have gaudy crests. Chickens are different. They have fleshy combs on their heads with wattles dangling below.

What good are combs? No one is completely sure, but they are impressive. Combs may play a reproductive role.  A rooster might prefer cozying up with a hen sporting a tall single comb. Or he might prefer one with a more subtle pea comb.

Combs help chickens regulate their body temperature.  Warm blood circulating in a comb releases body heat into the air. Breeds originating in hot climates, like Leghorns and Minorcas, usually sport the biggest combs. That helps them keep their bodies cool during an Alabama summer but likely makes them uncomfortable during a frigid Maine night.  In contrast, the tiny combs of Brahmas and Wyandottes hardly ever suffer winter frostbite.

(Rose Comb)

There are at least nine types of chicken combs based on their size and shape.
They are:

Comb Type            Typical Breed

Buttercup             Sicilian Buttercup

Carnation             Penedesenca

Cushion               Chantecler

Pea                      Americana, Brahma and Buckeye

Rose                      Hamburg

Single                  Many breeds

Strawberry          Malay

V-shaped            Crevecoeur and Polish

Walnut                Orloff and Silkie

 

Genetics determines the type of comb a chicken has. Consider how varied people are.  They may have blond or black hair, see through blue or brown eyes, and show dozens of other traits caused by their genetic makeup. People have but 23 pairs of chromosomes, while chickens sport a whopping 39 pairs.  It’s no wonder chickens vary so much in appearance, personality, and productivity.

(Pea Comb)

Over hundreds of years chicken breeders used the bird’s vast genetic diversity to create breeds to look a certain way, lay lots of eggs, or gain weight quickly.  A tiny Serama bantam rooster weighs only 12 ounces, while a Jersey Giant can tip the scales at 13 pounds, yet they are the same species!

It’s ironic that the single comb is most common but is a recessive trait. Mate a single comb chicken with a pea or rose comb bird, for example, and none of the resulting chicks will have single combs. If all chickens freely mated it is likely single combs would be rare or even extinct.

Chickens are amazingly tolerant of different climates, but comb type is important when choosing which chicks to buy.  A Leghorn rooster’s huge single comb might freeze on subzero nights, while a Brahma’s tiny pea comb hardly ever suffers frostbite. Free ranging chickens with pea combs might be best suited to northern Minnesota, while big combed Leghorns easily handle Florida’s heat.

(Single Comb)

A fun part of keeping chickens is the great diversity different breeds show in size, color, personality, and type of comb.  When placing a chick order it’s easy to choose birds that have different types of combs.

Hard-Working Hens: How to Yield the Best Egg Production Out of Your Flock

At what age will my hens start and stop producing? Is there a breed that produces best? Is there a breed that produces best? How can I help my flock produce to the best of their ability? Do the seasons effect my hens? These are all such important questions to ask yourself as a flock owner. We all want our flocks to thrive and honestly, what is the point in a chicken (besides a pet) if they aren’t producing to the best of their ability? Though they seem like complicated questions, the answers are very black and white. Let’s dig in to the simplicity of maximum egg production!

At what age will my hens start and stop producing? – the anticipation is killing you; I know. Been there. Done that. Fortunately, because chickens grow so fast, you can expect your hens to start producing around the age of 16 – 24 weeks. Exciting right? Now on the other hand… Laying hens only average about 72 good weeks of laying. After this they slowly lay less and less until they eventually stop laying completely.

Is there a breed that produces best? – If eggs are your first priority when it comes to your flock, there are a few breeds that have really “pushed the envelope” when it comes to egg production. Breeds like ISA Brown, Rhode Island Reds, Leghorns, Sussex, and Australorps are all great choices when it comes to mass egg production. These breeds range from crossbreds to purebreds, so when it comes down to making your decision, I suggest doing some research!

How can I help my flock produce to the best of their ability? – The answers here are quite basic. Chickens are simple creatures, but there are a few key things that will help them thrive:

Good nutrition: Laying hens require a protein rich chicken feed that also includes an adequate amount of calcium. Your laying hens’ diet should consist of a protein level between 16% and 20%, as well as balanced level of vitamins, minerals, and calcium. Check the guaranteed analysis information listed on your current feed to ensure your hens are getting what they need. I personally feed NatureServe Layer Pellets, this feed has a 17% protein level and is jam packed with all kinds of goodies like probiotics, prebiotics, essential oils, and omega 3 fatty acids.

Let them be chickens: Chickens need time to be chickens. Time to scratch and roll around in the dirt, pick at some bugs, and blow off some steam. Without this time, they may become stressed and destructive to themselves or flock mates. Self-destructive behaviors like feather picking and bullying other members of the flock is not a good thing to have going on. Make sure you’ve got an adequate amount of space in your run to accommodate these things. Happy and healthy hens lead to a greater volume of eggs.

Do the seasons effect my hens? – Absolutely! Chickens pay attention to the seasons just like we do! They run off of something called “biorhythms”. Biorhythms are nature’s cues to chickens that tell them when start laying, mating or molting. Most people allow their hens to live out there day to day lives pretty naturally and freely. Owners that do not interfere with the biorhythms will naturally see a fluctuation in egg production across different seasons. Laying hens usually start laying in the spring and stop producing in autumn when their feathers start to molt. As we come into the fall season here in Indiana, I’m starting to see my hens slow down on production.

I hope you find this information as valuable as I did when I got my flock! Having a better understanding about things that help with egg production will surely help you ramp up production as you implement them into your personal flock care routine! I hope you all have a great week and happy laying!

How to Integrate Your Backyard Flock Into Orchards and Row Crops

  Put your flock back to work!

This was a lesson I learned years ago when I first became interested in growing my own garden. At a potluck with friends in Oregon I was blown away by my friend’s tomatoes.

I asked her: “What’s your secret?”

“Chickens!” she said.

As it turned out, she was using a backyard-scale crop rotation that incorporated her laying hens, occasionally allowing them to graze her garden beds, add fertility, eat bugs, scratch up the soil, and eat seeds. I realized that this integration was something I needed to try myself.

My poultry experience began soon after, with a small flock of ducks that I allowed to graze around my yard and garden. They did a terrific job of controlling insects, snails, and slugs while keeping the lawn mowed and adding fertility.

A year later, I took a job working on a diverse farm in the Napa Valley of California. The farm had laying hens, vineyards, fruit and olive orchards, and a vegetable garden. It was an obvious next step to use the old laying hens, who were no longer productive, in the vineyards and orchards. This was a great way to utilize old birds that would otherwise be destined for the soup pot.

On the farm, we used a system of electric fencing and mobile coops to move the birds around from place to place. On a farm scale we were using tractors to pick up and move the coop, but there are several ways to accomplish this on a smaller scale:

1) If you have a permanent coop, you can simply create runs using portable fencing and move them when you feel the chickens have done their job.

2) Set up more permanent paddocks that can be opened and closed to allow the birds in and out as you feel necessary.

3) Build a mobile coop that can be moved from time to time. (There are so many ideas for mobile coops—I will let you read some of the other blogs on flock journey to help you decide what would be best for you.)

In a setting where you have established fruit trees, chickens are a natural fit. They are easy to integrate by simply allowing them access to the orchard. The trees provide a natural habitat with shade, branches to perch on, and protection form airborne predators. The poultry provide benefits to the orchard as well. They help with insect control, improve soil, and control some weeds. Ideally you should also plant an appropriate, multi species cover crop that will help improve your soil.

Row crops, on the other hand, need a bit more planning. You can use chickens to improve the soil either before you plant the crop, or after you harvest. You can also put the chickens directly into certain crops that are tolerant of their scratching and pecking. A backyard crop of sweet corn or popcorn provides an excellent place to graze your birds.  Let your crop get to the point where it can provide your birds a bit of shade, typically July for most areas, position your coop near the crop, fence in the area (I like to use a electro net fencing to contain the birds, and provide some additional protection from predators), and if you want, throw out a bit of scratch or a few meal worms to encourage them to get out there and put some nitrogen down. You can leave them in the corn up to harvest and beyond!

Have fun with your flock and find a system that works for you.

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.

 

Chickens in vineyards in Napa Valley (above) Chickens in corn in Iowa (below)

Chickens in olive orchard in napa valley (below)

podcasts